Sunday, March 29, 2015

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 25 "The Best Laid Plans"

  Sigmund was sound asleep in the copilot's chair. He was snoring softly and his headset and glasses were askew. Sid had turned the headset off, so that air traffic chatter wouldn't wake the old man. Snake was blessedly silent in the back, curled up with a blanket on the small canvas bench. 

  After an uneventful two hours at cruising altitude, the PC-6 had entered a cloudbank just south of Dijon and through the strange properties of dimensional intersectionality, exited a different cloud into the night sky, somewhere over a densely populated area of upstate New York according to the GPS. Sid tried to get his bearings, jumping like that was always a bit disorienting, but something was very wrong. His altimeter read 9,750 feet, but his eyes told him that the concentric streetlights of some housing development he saw below them seemed to be much closer than that. 'Now what?' Sid wondered to himself. With Snake Thompson onboard, they were certain to have jumped to somewhere near Hubbard. But who else might be looking for him? He barely had time to ponder that question when it began to resolve itself in a most unusual way. 

  The dials all indicated that they were flying level, but the town seemed to be rising up to meet them . . . fast. It was extremely disorienting. Sid had learned from flying with both Chuck Yeager and Hugo Eckener that the senses can play tricks on you, and to always fly by your instruments. His readouts all said "everything's cool," but his eyes warned of disaster. Then, to his left, his eyes caught another odd phenomenon. The lights of the upward rushing town ended abruptly and then, with dizzying perspective, the orderly grid of a couple of towns appeared many thousands of feet below. Sid threw the stick hard to the left to dive toward the distant lights. The g-force of the violent bank was followed by a plummeting weightlessness. This awakened the snoring Sigmund, who began emitting an amazing stream of German profanities. 

  Adding to the chaos, from the back seat came a 'yeehaw' Yosemite Sam would have been proud to produce. Snake was for all intents and purposes, floating in mid-air, holding onto some structural members with all his might, but he seemed to in his element. Everybody was awake alright, but Sid had no time to explain what was happening. The Buddha was fighting the stick for control of the plane which was basically surfing on the massive cushion of air being displaced by whatever it was that was ascending beneath them. As air pressure built, the PC-6 shook and bucked like it was on a washboard runway and just when it seemed it would break apart, over the edge they went into . . . smooth air. 

  Once they'd all started breathing again, Sid circled around to get a better look at the vast mass that they'd nearly slammed into. It was a huge, saucer shaped craft. The thing was so big it was hard to get a sense of scale and he didn't want to risk getting anywhere near it for fear of vortices that would send them spiraling out of control. Whatever it was, it was probably looking for Hubbard as well. He'd seen enough, and banked hard right to put some distance between them and the huge disc. They'd need to set down, and soon, so Sid decided to find the nearest airport and get down on the ground. His GPS said that Elmira Corning regional airport was just 20 miles to the south. He found the tower frequency and proceeded to get permission to land. It was 21:42 local time and with luck, they'd be on the ground in twenty minutes.

•••

Hubbard hovered somewhere between fascination and panic. He was slinking among the tables at Toby's Bar and Grill, trying to make his way back to the Speaker's Lounge. His finely tuned sense of self-preservation said "escape," but his ego wouldn't let him take his eyes off the spectacle unfolding across the street in the park. It wasn't every day he saw his own imagination come to life  . . . well, at least it didn't used to happen before he ended up here in this strange place. 

  The flag with the X, he'd never written anything about that. The Espinol Star system had a flag, but he couldn't remember what he said it looked like. It didn't matter. This could only be one person, Xenu. The powerful build. The armored body. There were no spaceplanes, but still, it must be Xenu. This couldn't be good. He'd envisioned a ruthless monster, a real take-no-prisoners kind of guy. Ron couldn't help thinking that this is what "Revolt In The Stars" would have looked like, if only those downstat clowns had approached the studios correctly back in '79. That seemed like an eternity ago. What was in store for him now? An electronic trap? H-bombs? Implants? His cowardice overwhelmed his curiosity and he spun low to make a run for the back room and he ran smack into Melville's Indian, Quequeg.

  The towering man was tapping away at one of the Apple phone things, his face illuminated in a bluish light, "Hey, mister, Jane says I should get you out of here. Come with me" Quequeg said without looking away from the screen. 

  Ron decided that he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth at this point. He looked around the bar once more to see if his Commodore's Messengers had shown up to protect him, but they were MIA. The Indian just stood there absorbed in his device. 

  "Well? Are we going somewhere?" Hubbard asked trying to sound nonchalant.

  "Oh, sure, just finishing a text. I don't want Ishmael to worry." With that Quequeg put the phone in his pants and grabbed Hubbard's arm, pulling him along, crouching low. They made their way to the back room where he and Jane had been drinking wine before all hell broke loose, and there she was, standing by one of the bookcases that lined the walls. 

  "Come on, you two, shake a leg! I think that guy means business out there!" Jane said as she tugged her copy of Typewriter In The Sky forward from the shelf. With that, a section of the shelves moved outward slid to the left revealing a spiral staircase leading down a dank, brick shaft. Quequeg and Jane hustled Ron into the secret stairwell and the bookcase slid back into place behind them. They wound their way down the spiral and when they reached the bottom, a dimly lit tunnel ran off into the distance in a straight line. 

  "This leads to the Chemung river, Ron, Quequeg has a skiff there and he'll take you to the Peaquod, I think you should be safe there for a while" Jane said looking upward with a worried expression.
  
  Ron looked astonished, "The Peaquod? What the hell am I gonna do there? Go looking for a white whale? Oh, no, Sister, I'm going to R6 City and get to the bottom of what's going on here!"

  "I think you might be the white whale in this case, Ron, and I don't think your Space Ahab up there is exactly planning on taking you to a spa after what I saw him do to Rammy with that ray gun. Yeah, it won't kill you for good, but I bet that thing smarts" said Jane, exhaling a cloud of smoke. 

  "Here Ronny, here are some Kools and a book of matches in case your girls don't show up for a while. Quequeg has his phone, if you get into any trouble, you text me. When all this blows over, you really gotta come back and we'll have a nice chat, just you, Will, Herman and me. Now, scram already!" And with that, she started back up the metal stairs. 

  With just her feet showing at the top of the spiral, Hubbard heard Jane squeak, "I don't hear footsteps! Quee honey, just make him go if you have to." Then the huge tattooed man began to push a reluctant Hubbard down the dim passage way.

  "Okay! Okay Cochise! You don't have to manhandle me. Me savvy. Me savvy." Hubbard smirked.

  Quequeg glared at him, "I speak perfect English you know. You gonna be a jerk all the way to Massachusetts?" 

  "Massachu . . .are you kidding me?" Hubbard blurted out.
  
  The tattooed man was silent. Hubbard rolled his eyes dramatically, sighed heavily and they headed down the long tunnel to who knows what.

•••

  Sid looked around nervously for the huge saucer, but it was nowhere to be found. The blue lights of Elmira Corning airport were a welcome sight, and they were on the glidepath when Sigmund suddenly, and violently sneezed. This launched the nastiest loogie Sid had seen in the last 2,600 years onto the control panel. Flustered and horrified, Sigmund pulled out his handkerchief and hurriedly tried to wipe it up, in the process he flipped up the cover of the emergency fuel cutoff and flicked the switch to the "off" position. The truboprop cut out and they began to plummet from the sky. 

Sid tried valiantly to restart the engine, but they were so low that he figured his time would be best spent keeping them from hitting some hard object and bursting into flames. He really didn't want to do that again. The Chemung river was just to their right and in the moment, Sid decided wet and relatively soft was better than dry and hard. 

"Brace yourselves!" he screamed. He gave her full flaps, pulled back on the yoke and made a valiant attempt at a smooth landing, but the fixed gear skimmed the surface of the water for a moment and then, a sickening thud. The PC-6 did a faceplant in the shallows of the river and slowly arced over to land upside down in the cold water.

•••

  Hubbard and Quequeg trudged on into ever deepening water, it was up to Hubbard's knees by this point. Most of the dim bulbs at this end of the tunnel were burned out, and the few that remained, flickered and buzzed ominously. They had finally reached the end of the tunnel and before them a rusty ladder disappeared up a riveted, iron shaft. Quequeg climbed the ladder and Ron could hear him struggling with the huge iron lid.

  "Uh, you need help with that Chief?" Hubbard asked, hoping the answer would be 'no.'

  "No!" came the curt answer from above. Ron heard the iron cover fall aside with a resounding clang and the next thing he knew, Quequeg thrust a hand down to help him up. No sooner had the muscular Indian hoisted Hubbard through the manhole at the top of the ladder, there came a great wooshing from above followed by a tremendous splash that nearly knocked the two of them over. Something had crashed into the river violently, just ahead of them. It was dark enough that they couldn't really see what was happening.   

  "What the holy hell was that?!" asked Hubbard. They were crouched on a concrete pad next to the river. There was a rickety wooden pier with an ancient rowboat tied up to it just visible in the gloom. Quequg was already halfway to the boat.
   
  "Come on! Let's go see if someone needs help!" said Quequeg untying the line. "Well? Come on, they might be hurt!"

  "Uh, that's okay. I'll stay here. It'd be better if you go alone in that tiny boat" said Hubbard trying to sound concerned with someone other than himself.

  "This thing holds eight whalers and their gear. Get in! . . . Now!" roared Quequeg. 
  
  This Indian was getting awfully pushy, he'd have to do something about that when things calmed down. Hubbard jumped into the back of the boat and they pushed off. There was stirring out in the dark. There were several voices and it sounded like someone was speaking German. Then Ron heard it. That voice. That loud, bombastic, totally made up voice. It was his golem. It was Snake. 

  "Uh, maybe we should rethink this whole rescue caper. Whoever they are, they sound fine out there" said Hubbard nonchalantly.

  Quequeg glared at Hubbard. "Maybe you want to swim back and face your spaceman, huh?" he said as he rowed powerfully through the water.

  "Oh, nevermind. Just row, will you, Chief?" Hubbard crossed his arms petulantly and braced himself for the fawning that would no doubt be lavished on him when Snake realized he was in the boat.

  Sid had managed to get his passengers out of the supine aircraft and onto the fuselage. They had struck a sandbar just below the surface and flipped. Fortunately the short takeoff and landing design of the Porter meant that Sid was able to bring the plane down at a relatively low speed.

  The Buddha had just gotten Sigmund and Snake settled on the plane's belly when he heard a somewhat nasaly voice in the dark river yell "ahoy!" Hubbard. It had to be Hubbard. Sid had pulled the emergency kit out of the plane and grabbed the flashlight. He swept it across the dark water until he spotted a figure emerging from the gloom. It was Hubbard alright. He was standing in a rowboat, like a pudgy, ginger, George Washington, waving like he was in some watery pageant. There was a powerfully muscled, tattooed man rowing them across the river. 

  "Well, if it isn't my old friend Mr. Hubbard!" yelled the Buddha.

  "Sid? . . . Sid? Is that you?" Ron was uncomfortable. Hearing Sid's voice made him feel like he was going to cry. Emotions were colliding, so bluster was called for. "Well, of course it's you! I thought we might find you out here. I told old Quepod here not to be scared, and that we had to go out and rescue my old friend Siddartha!"

  If looks could kill, Quequeg's expression would have reduced Hubbard to a paste. Just as they were about to reach the capsized plane, the tattooed man jacked the oars hard in the river, dumping Ron, in his moment of selfless grandiosity, into the frigid waters of the Chemung. 
   
  "Sorry boss. Me not wanna hitum big rock" Quequeg said smiling wryly at Hubbard who was gasping in the icy shallows.

  "Oh, Maitreya! How unfortunate." said Sid, wading out to the floundering Ron. He winked at Quequeg as he passed the rowboat. He got Hubbard to his feet and they slogged onto the sandbar and the waiting boat.

  "Well I'll be a pickled polecat, if it ain't Ron Hubbard!" hollered Snake as he galomphed through the water to help Sid fish his creator from the drink. "I knew you were in a Jam, Ron! Yes sir, I just knew it!" he barked, slapping Ron on the back so hard, water shot out the man's nose.
  "Now wait just a second. Who was in a jam here? It wasn't me!" Ron said haughtily. "Why, if we hadn't come along when we did . . ."

  ". . . then we'd have had to swim to shore all by ourselves! That's nearly thirty feet!" said Sid sarcastically. 

Quequeg was helping Sigmund into the boat as the bickering trio approached them. He pushed the boat off the sandbar and helped the rest of the men in. 

  "Where we go now great white chief?" Quequeg said in his best Hollywood Indian 
voice.

  "Hell if I know! Just get us out of of the open, will you Quepog? We're sitting ducks out here." said Hubbard sharply

  "Hey, Great White Fail, it's Quequeg. Now settle down, you almost got my phone wet."

  And as they rowed down the shining, dark river, the stars burned brightly, Hubbard and Quequeg sniped and snapped at each other, and Sid tried his best not to laugh. 

•••

  Meanwhile, back at Toby's Bar and Grill, things were not going exactly according to Xenu's plan. After the big floor show on the ship, he had expecting to land, march into the bar, snag Hubbard and take him back to face the music aboard the Teegeeack Express. Xenu had worked that crowd to a fever pitch and everyone was waiting for the guest of dishonor to show up. Now, here he was on Teegeeack and there was no Hubbard. It was just maddening. To make matters worse, the diminutive woman who called herself Jane wasn't afraid of him, either. He was Xenu! He used renegades! Come to think of it, that's all he could think of when the woman had asked him about himself. "I am Xenu! I use renegades!" When did he start talking like a bad Steve Reeves movie? He was usually so full of wit and swagger. He just didn't feel like himself.

  "Hubbard, huh? He was just here. I wonder where he went? Anyone here see a chubby, redheaded writer in here lately?" said Jane innocently, looking around the bar. No answer from the crowd

  "Impudent woman! I demand Hubbard! I will have him as my slave!" bellowed Xenu theatrically.

  "I don't know, maybe he was in here and maybe he wasn't. We usually only get characters in here" she said sipping some red wine from a large stemmed glass.

  "Characters? What do you mean by 'characters?'" said Xenu. He had a bad feeling about this all of a sudden.

  "Well, you're a character" said Jane matter of factly.

   Xenu eyed her suspiciously "None who dare speak to me have called me that! 'Fabulous,' yes, but never 'a character!'"

  "No. I mean you're a character. A fiction. Hubbard wrote you into existence. That's where you came from. Look around. Most of the folks in here are fictional characters, like poor Ramtha who you incinerated a while back. The bartender there? That's Seth, I wrote him! Wave at the nice alien Seth." The bartender waved grimly, rolled his eyes, and returned to sweeping up broken glass. "That chick there, with the rabbit? Quan Yin. Totally made up. And they're just the beginning." She looked at Xenu for some sign of expression but all she could see was her reflection in his faceplate.

  "But I am Xenu! I . . . used . . ."

  "Renegades! I know, I know." said Jane finishing his sentence for him. "What does that even mean? Look, Xenu honey, can you remember your parents? Your first school? Any brothers or sisters?"

  That question usually got them. So few authors seemed to write really full backstories for their characters. Who really cared about the childhood or school days of some cardboard cutout villain? People today want action and all the computers leave them with the attention span of a weasel on a double cappuccino! Still, Jane never knew how characters who found their way here would react when confronted with reality. It really depended on how well written they were. Was there enough "there" there for a character to have an existence on their own? Jane finished her glass of wine and watched Xenu intently. The huge warrior was stock still. It was unnerving not being able to see any expression. He just stood there. Breathing.

  Then, slowly, the towering overlord reached up and fumbled with the catches on his facelplate and with trembling hands, lifted the mirrored visor. Suddenly, everything was a jumble and he could barely remember anything about himself, and now, to make matters worse, he was certain that his mascara was running. Yes, nothing was going according to his plan . . . whatever that had been.      

•••

  It had been a confusing, deeply disturbing week for Mary Sue. 
  
  Joe and Brigham had been very kind to her, but her mind felt like it was being torn apart. Seeing Ron again, waking up in that awful place. Polly and Sara. It all reminded her of things she'd done. Awful things. How she'd built her life around that man and his ideas. How could she have been so duped? Joe said she should be gentle with herself, but how could she? When she thought of Ron she was filled with rage and self-hatred. When she thought of her broken family, despair and regret. She could barely allow herself to think of Quentin, of that awful day at La Quinta. Part of her had died that day and now, well, all of her was dead and yet, strangely alive. And here she was in this lovely home, with this strange pair of fellows. 

  They seemed to want to help her, but why? They were nice enough and were very sweet with Vixie and Tzu. It was all too much at times. But she remembered what Joe had told her, "focus on the present." Yes, the present was pretty nice. Here she was, relaxing with a cup of tea after a lovely meal. Out the window, there was still snow blanketing Mountain Meadows, and Joe had lit a fire in the fireplace. Brigham and Joe came in from the kitchen with some dessert on a tray, and suggested they relax with some TV. And so, they settled on the large sectional in front of the huge television built into the bookcase. Yes, something sweet after dinner and some television would be nice. 

  "Well, what shall we watch?" Mary Sue asked as she tucked into a fat eclair.

   Joe looked at her with a slightly odd expression as he fussed with a remote control covered with buttons, "You just sit tight, Mary Sue. Oh, Brig, this thing is so complicated! Which one of these is HBO?"

Sunday, October 05, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 24 "When You've Got Id, You've Got Id"

  Sid was always surprised that there were so many notables in this reality that he had somehow missed meeting during his twenty six hundred odd years here. Sigmund Freud was a fascinating character and he couldn't wait to dig in and find out where the man stood on so many of the concepts he fathered at the dawn of the 20th century. That would have to wait though, for following the good doctor across the little square was Hubbard's golem, the always loud and extremely loquacious Commander Thompson.

  "Hey there chief! Good to see you again! Sid, isn't it?" Thompson said embracing the Buddha in a manly hug with profuse back patting.

  "Yes, it certainly is me, Snake" said Sid straightening out his mussed lapels. "I assume I'm here because of something regarding our mutual, red-haired acquaintance?"

  Freud interjected, "It was I who requested your presence Lord Buddha, so that we might help this poor man with his search for his friend."

  Sid grimaced at the honorific. "Please, Dr. Freud, do call me Sid, I really prefer it. The whole lord business has really turned out to be a bit of bust, hasn't it?"

   Freud let out a sharp laugh, "Of course! Of course, forgive me, Sid. The modern day is so informal and I am remiss in keeping up with the times" said Sigmund, waving his huge cigar about for emphasis. Then he pulled Sid aside and whispered in his thick, German accent, "I was hoping you could shed some light on my . . . new freunden, here."

  "Siggy! Aw, what the hell do you mean? 'New friend' my aunt Fanny! We've know each other since the teens! You taught me everything I know about the mysteries of the human mind! Remember the night we picked up those two Latvian sisters in Vienna? You couldn't possibly forget the tortoise and the wooden leg!" Snake roared with laughter and slapped the visibly annoyed psychiatrist on the back. "That song they sang for us? How'd it go, Siggy? How the hell did it go . . . 'Leck mir den Arsch fein recht schön sau . . ."

  "Commander! That is quite enough!" bellowed the now beet faced doctor.

  Sid was digging his fingernails into his palms in a futile effort to suppress laughter.

  "So, you can see my problem, now?" said the exasperated Freud.

  "Aw, come on, Siggy! Don't be such a prude, I mean sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, amirite?" Snake burst into another round of guffaws.

  The more Freud tried to compose himself, the harder it was for Sid to not laugh. He decided to change the subject and calm things down a bit. "So, Commander Thompson, is Hubbard in some kind of trouble? Fallen down a well or something? I must have been summoned here for more than just a character reference."

  "To be sure, Sid, to be sure!" Then Snake took on a serious demeanor. "I got an itch in my britches says that ol' Hubbs is in hot water again. I think he might need my help. I know he can can fight like a wildcat and shoot straight as a crow flies, but he's only one man." The commander valiantly acted out the last part of his description. Sid was nearly slackjawed at the performance.

   "Well then, I suppose we shall have to see where fortune takes us." Sid was still trying to maintain a straight face. "I have an aeroplane over at the landing patch just outside the village. Shall we go and see what we can see? Will you be joining us Dr. Freud?" asked the Buddha.

  Sigmund eyed Thompson nervously, then looked at Sid, "Only if you promise to keep him quiet for five minutes. That man, he hasn't stopped talking for a week! I think I am losing my mind with him sometimes!"

  Snake stood there, mute, with a 'who me' look on his face.

  Sid took Sigmund by the arm and they began to walk toward the plane followed by a contrite Snake, "Absolutely Herr Doctor, I'll fill you in on what I know. Honestly, I think you'll find Hubbard a fascinating case study. Our friend here is very much a part of his psyche. In fact, he's entirely a figment of Hubbard's imagination."

  "Really? That's fascinating, do tell me more! I love a good figment . . ." and with that they made their way to the waiting plane and the wild blue yonder.

•••

  Bob was reeling from meeting all these people in whose lives Hubbard had loomed so large. He listened with rapt attention as Lisa described her last days at the Fort Harrison. How she recently learned that she had been in a loop there, waiting to confront Hubbard, and then how she found herself on this ship. He met Quentin and his afterlife partner Noah, both of whom took their own lives as a result of Scientology. He met Malcolm Goldblatt, a once wealthy, devoted Scientologist, who had given everything to the cult and died discarded and penniless. There were dozens more lives lost to Hubbard's nonsense on the ship, and he heard many of their stories. It was late, and people were beginning to drift off to bed. There were evidently lovely quarters for everyone down the long curved corridor from which they had entered.

  Vaughn suggested that they should all get some sleep when Ayn brought two young women dressed in flawless '60s cocktail dresses. They both looked very familiar. "Bob and Vaughn, I know we're all tired and need our beauty sleep, but I wanted you to meet Margaret and Sara, both of whom were . . ."

  "I know! I know both of you!" said Bob rising to shake the hands of two women whose stories had so captivated his imagination. "Sara Northrup and Margaret Hubbard!"

  "Please, call me Polly. It's so strange meeting all these people here who all know so much about us!" said the first Mrs. Hubbard.

  "Sure. Polly. It's an honor. I just want you to know how much your stories affected me, actually all of us who were critics of Scientology, and there are many of us back, well, still alive on Earth. You were our heroes for what you endured. And, Lisa, and Quentin . . . all of you. It's kind of too much" said Bob, welling with emotion for the umpteenth time that night.

  "Well, this lady and I have been catching up and comparing notes and I'm gonna call it a draw" said Sara with a broad smile at Polly. Then she turned to face Bob, "And you, Bob! You put up quite a fight. I've read about you, and I'm sorry you had to leave so soon. That's a tough one. I was lucky, I made it into my seventies."

  Suddenly, there was a chiming sound that seemed to come from everywhere at once, and the lights  dimmed slightly. A soft voice announced, "Sleeping cycle is now mandatory. Please return to your guest pods. Follow the floor lights. Follow the floor lights."

  Vaughn asked Ayn, "So, I didn't even ask, has anyone here seen this Xenu character, or anyone at all running this thing?"

   "I haven't seen him, but when Vlad and I were picked up, we made our way to this place following the lights on the floor. When we came in here, there was this amazing apartment and on the table in the entry way were those glorious flowers with this note." Rand pulled a folded piece of paper out of her suit pocket, on it was this handwritten greeting: 'Welcome Ms. Rand and Comrade Lenin. I am on my way for a long overdue rendezvous with our mutual acquaintance, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. There will be others joining us on our voyage, would you be so kind as to act as host to them? Yours Truly, Xenu.'

  The handwriting was very familiar to Minton, it was Hubbard's own script. He recognized it from the handwritten scrawl that was OTIII. The document was leaked to the internet from the Fishman affidavit. It was as familiar as his own hand.

  "Well, I guess this makes as much sense as anything lately" Bob said with a weary smile. "I think we should all turn in. How will we know which lights to follow to our 'pods?'"

  Ayn pointed to the floor "It's quite amazing, Mr. Minton, you'll only see the ones meant for you."

  He walked to the now open portal in the wall leading to the corridor. "Oh, I see, it's leading down to the left."

  Other guests were heading off to bed down the sweeping arc of the hallway in both directions, but Bob could see no lights for them, only his own. "Well, I guess this is goodnight, Ms. Rand. I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to talk. I was never a fan, but you're a hell of a fascinating woman."

  "Well, I hope I'm more fascinating now! Don't hold my rather simplistic work against me. We usually change after a while in this reality, Mr. Minton . . . if we take an honest look, that is." She clasped his hand warmly and ushered the last few stragglers into the hall. "You'll all be awakened by the chimes. Just follow the instructions. Good night all."

  And with that, the opening in the wall began to fuse shut, and soon there was just the long seamless curve of the corridor. Bob, Lisa and Vaughn walked for a while, chatting about the events of the evening when Lisa turned and said "This is my stop." She faced Bob and held both his hands in hers. "You don't know what this means to me. I don't know what's in store for us all, but thank you for tonight, for what you did, that's all I can say." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and stepped through the opening in the wall into what looked like a lanai in Hawaii.

  Bob stood staring at the wall for a moment. The myriad events of last 20 years swarmed and darted in his head like a school of sardines pursued by a shark.

  "Come on brother Bob, let's keep moving. We don't want ol' Xenu to get cross with us" said Vaughn putting his arm on Bob's shoulder. They headed down a few more meters until Vaughn stopped. "You still see lights ahead? Mine stopped here." As he said that, the wall did it's goopy vanishing act and there was a beautiful suite of rooms with saltillo tile floors and a moonlit beach beyond the balcony. "Crazy. If these are the bad guys, where do I sign up?" He stepped in and said "nighty night Bob. We'll compare notes in the morning."

  Bob Minton watched the wall close and walked another couple of meters until the lights stopped in front of the now familiar glow of an opening. His room was a warm, Irish cottage, complete with oak log in the fire and a gale blowing outside the windows. His favorite kind of night when he lived on the Emerald Isle. The wall closed behind him and the featureless metal assumed the shape of timbers and plaster. In the bedroom was a feather bed built into a curtained nook. He laid down in the fluffy whiteness and was asleep before he knew what hit him.

•••

The PC6 climbed steeply out of the grassy field that was Champex Lac's airport. The late afternoon sun panned across the cabin as Sid banked hard to the left to avoid a looming alp. Sigmund was in the passenger seat and wore a full headset and mic like Sid. Commander Thompson was relegated to the spartan rear cabin and had to amuse himself by looking out the windows and talking to himself.

  Sid had been explaining Hubbard's life to Dr. Freud, who then asked "So, this Hubbard invented this Snake character to what . . . make himself more important? Fascinating! And I suppose I should be flattered that he used him as sort of direct association to me and my theories, most of which have been overthrown, and rightly so."

  "Don't be hard on yourself, Sigmund. We all go through it. I gather you've been here long enough to get the lay of the land, as it were. We all made mistakes. And, besides, isn't it wonderful to see when real progress is made on the foundations one has laid? Much of what you created changed the way our species saw itself. Progress continues to this day."

  "Ja, ja. I suppose it does. Well, enough of that, we could have quite the mutual admiration society, just the two of us! Back to the topic at hand" Sigmund said gesturing toward the fiction in the passenger seat behind them. "Have you ever encountered any of your ideas made flesh?"

  Sid replied "Oh, yes. Green Tara and I have tea quite often. She's rather enlightened, if I do say so myself. I must say I'm very relieved that I didn't invent Kali!"

  "Like you, I have met with my followers. Ach, the stories! So many abuses of my ideas! I do what I can to help them transition beyond this place, but I have never had the feeling that any of them were anything but real." There was a long pause, then Sigmund added in a wistful tone, "I had an imaginary monkey as a child. I think I should very much like to see him again."

  Sid smiled. "Well, now you've gone and done it! I imagine we shall have to keep our eyes peeled for errant monkeys in the days to come!"

  The conversation continued as the small plane climbed into a cloud bank and disappeared into the blank whiteness within.

•••

  The chime was almost imperceptible at first. It grew slightly louder and then, all at once, the sun began to stream through the windows of the little cottage suite. Bob had fallen asleep in his clothes on top of the downy mass that was his feather bed. Suddenly, there was the sound of an iron knocker on wood. He walked groggily over to the door. As soon as he formed the intention to open it, the glow began, and soon Vaughn was standing in the opening with two steaming cups of coffee.

  "Are you gonna ask me in, 'cause these fucking mugs are starting to burn my hands!" said Vaughn shifting nervously on two feet.

  "Oh, god, yeah, come in, come in! How was your room? It looked like Baja or . . . "

  "PV" Vaughn interrupted.

  "Puerto Vallarta? Theresa and I vacationed there a few times. Beautiful place." Bob said absentmindedly as he tried to straighten out his slept in clothing.

  "How the hell do you think they do this Bob?" Vaughn was stroking an ancient looking timber in the wall. "That door looks so real, it's even in three dimensions, but as soon as you walk up to it to leave, it knows and just melts away. Hubbard didn't have this good an imagination. Hell, I edited and even wrote some of the Mission Earth crap, this wasn't in any of it."

  "Vaughn. We're dead. In an afterlife, inside an afterlife . . . in a spaceship . . . with Ayn Rand and Lenin fercrissakes. Really. You want logic?" Bob took a sip of his coffee and smiled, "did you make this?" Bob said pointing at his mug.

   "Oh, naw" said Vaughn, "I just thought it would be nice to show up with coffee and it was on the counter in my little casita as I was leaving. You know how things go around here."

  "My point exactly. Timbers. Coffee. Flying saucers. It's all the same in this place." said Bob confidently. "Define reality."

  Then the chime started up again and the soothing voice spoke again: "Guests, please gather in the Rebel Lounge. Follow the floor lights. Follow the floor lights."

  Bob looked at Vaughn with a raised eyebrow, "I guess that's our cue. Shall we?"

  "After you Brother Bob, after you . . ."

  They followed the illuminated floor plates and the same crowd from the previous night began emerging from their rooms, joining them in the corridor as they went. They made a left and the corridor climbed in a slow arc upwards. They were heading toward the center of the saucer. The group reached another corridor that curved off in both directions, sitting concentrically within the outer ring. Again the walls were featureless until a very large area of the curved wall ahead began it's opening glow. A huge 8 meter section of the wall opened and a large circular room surmounted with a transparent dome was revealed. The group began to enter cautiously, looking around at the grand space. The ship seemed impossibly large inside from what they had seen from below. It was hard to tell with that blinding light, but still. This thing was vast. The room was very much like a Las Vegas dinner theater. There was a stage with a raised dais on which a sleek metal throne sat. Glistening metal ribs in a long arc lined the wall behind the stage. There were tables and chairs spread throughout the huge room with what appeared to be bars on either side of the space. What they served was not apparent.

  Ayn Rand was in yet another Chanel suit, this one orange with chocolate trim and brass buttons. "Come in! Come in everyone! Find a table and sit where you like."

  The crowd began sitting at tables in different groups. There were at least 50 people now. Bob was asking Vaughn who most of them were as they settled in at table up front. Bob looked around for Lisa and saw her waving from the entrance, he waved back, motioning for her to come up and sit with them. She had Polly and Sara in tow.

  They were all chatting about their rooms when the dome overhead went totally opaque, and the lights began to dim. There was a murmur from the gathered guests when a deep announcer voice boomed out in a cadence that would have made Don Pardo proud, "Llllllladies and Gentlemen, won't you please stand for your host today, the Marcabian Marauder, the Terror of Teegeeack, that randy rebel, Looooooord Xenu!"

  There was a low murmur as everyone stood and looked around. Suddenly a tympani drum roll filled the air and a follow spot pierced the gloom, illuminating a very tall, muscular figure wearing blindingly polished armor with a long red cape. His head was covered with a mirror finished helmet. He strode forward through the tables, arm raised in a parade wave, as the cheesy synth-pop music played. He was followed by muscular blond man in a short toga and gold sandals, and a dozen men armed with some sort of rifles. They wore silver body suits and short capes.

  "Okay, Hubbard definitely could have written this music" whispered Bob whispered to Vaughn, who promptly elbowed him in the ribs.

  Xenu took his place in front of the throne on the dais, and the man in the toga stood to his right. The dozen soldiers lined up flanking their overlord, standing six to a side. The awful music built to its frantic, overblown crescendo and the lights came up on the stage. The audience remained in the dark. Nobody knew how to react. After a long, awkward pause, there was a smattering of golf applause as the guests sat back down at their tables.

  Xenu wrapped his crimson cape around his body with a theatrical flourish and sat down on the huge throne. The bodybuilder in the toga, fussed with Xenu's cape to drape it over the throne, just so. He then undid two latches on the reflective helmet and lifted it to reveal the huge man's hard, chiseled features. Xenu sat there for a moment, surveying the nervous crowd. He then stood, threw his cape back with a flourish, and flounced down to the apron of the stage and stood, hand on hip, peering out over the audience and gushed, "Terry! Can we have the house lights up? Uh huh, more . . . more . . . little more . . . too much . . .  down a skoche . . . stop! Perfecto!" He shielded his eyes from the glare with his gloved hand. "Well, well, well! Look at what the photon gravitor dragged in!"

  Bob leaned into Vaughn, "He sounds like a bad drag queen!" Vaughn looked like deer in the car headlights. He poked Bob in the ribs harder. Bob let out a loud guffaw.

  "Who laughed! Who was it!" The audience was frozen in terror. Xenu strutted stage right and stared down at Bob who was now helpless with laughter. "Alright boys! What's so funny over at table six?" Xenu said in a sing song manner. "Ooooooh. Is that attitude I detect? I do hope you brought enough for everyone!" Xenu walked down the steps and into the audience. He made his way to Bob and Vaughn's table.

  "Am I not quite what you expected, Bobby, hmmmmm?" said the hulking intergalactic overlord with an exaggerated pout. He walked up to the now frozen Bob and ran his massive finger down his chest. He was right in Bob's face now, "You were expecting some macho Tone 40? Some Darth Vader nasty, nasty?" Then Xenu stood and raised an arm in a move Vanna White would have been proud to immitate. "Oh, Mary, no, no, no! I'm Hubbard's evil overlord, remember?" He worked the front of the audience like a master showman. "I gotta be 1.1 on steroids, honey! I am more than just the product of a muddled mind!" He stopped back in front of Bob again, moving in closer to his face with each word. "I am the powerful, muscular, sassy, sexually secure superman of ol' Tubby's nightmares!" Then he shot back up to his full 7-foot magnificence and gushed "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I don't just have fashion sense and a huge . . . saucer" he paused, perfectly manicured eyebrow arched for effect. "I don't just have gravatic manipulators and antimatter cannons. I don't just have millions of psych drugs! Oh, no! I know where Hubbard is and I have renegades! We're all on the same side, poppets! And, we are going to have so much fucking fun!"


Sunday, September 21, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 23 "And You May Ask Yourself, How Did I Get Here?"

   Several days earlier, in The Universe Just Next Door:

  It was a glorious New Hampshire morning with the sun shining warm gold through the hardwoods across Phillip's Pond. As usual, the man had risen with the dawn and headed to the kitchen where the pack waited patiently for the whir of the can opener to signal breakfast's imminence. The man fed the beasts, made coffee and a rasher of bacon with some toast. There were some perks to being in this odd reality, like never being sick and all you can eat bacon.

Bob Minton was a relative newcomer to the afterlife. Like so many billions before him, his death had been a complete surprise. Actually he had to be convinced that he was really dead. Everything felt so normal here. But he could be stubborn like that. Much of his life had been such a struggle, but he grew to love a good fight, and his grit and determination yielded many wins, especially in the financial arena. There were, however setbacks to counter the victories, and none so epic as those he suffered in his fight with Scientology. The cult was a far more dangerous opponent than he bargained for. Though things had gone down in flames after that war was lost at the turn of the century, his last years on Earth, spent in Ireland, saw his life coming together at long last. But, that didn't last long.

  He'd come to forgive himself in those last years of his life. Forgive himself for his rashness. For his impatience. He had no regrets for taking on the monolithic darkness of Scientology. Having been bullied from a young age, he hated abusers with a blinding passion, and to him there was no target more irresistible than L. Ron Hubbard's brutal invention. No, his regrets were the fallout, the collateral damage of the fray. He'd underestimated the cult. He never imagined what lengths it would go to, what it would be willing to do to his wife, his marriage, his relationship with his children. He had tragically misjudged the depth of the well from which David Miscavige drew his bile and rage.

  But that was a universe away, now. Another reality. This one felt so dreamlike and pleasant. There were others living here around Phillip's Pond, but the first person to greet him was a bit of a surprise, being one Robert Vaughn Young. The two of them hit it off instantly, though Bob was hesitant, considering that he had been in a relationship with the man's ex-wife, a woman he'd dearly loved and wronged in so many ways during those dark days just after the turn of the century. But Vaughn was forthright and forgiving. He laughed easily and listened like a therapist when Bob found himself in his new surroundings.

  On this particular morning, Vaughn arrived precisely at quarter after six, his approach betrayed by the excited baying of Bob's beagles. The dogs related to their master's friend using the simple formula: Vaughn = treats. Bob was feeling a bit anxious about their fishing expedition today. Vaughn had said he said they 'had to talk' something about, 'important business'. For Bob, that always triggered childhood memories of his abusive father. "Son, we have to talk" would inevitably lead to rage, beatings and worse. Every time. He'd just been talking to Vaughn about how that childhood fear followed him all his life and into this one.

  His pal seemed jovial enough as the dogs mobbed him at the door. "Coffee before we head out?" asked Bob.

  "I have a thermos full right here, so we're good to go whenever you are. I packed a lunch" said Vaughn scratching the ass of the most insistent of the five beagles.

  "So, what was this big deal you wanted to discuss, this news?" Bob asked, washing the remains of the coffee grounds down sink.

  "Well, I'm afraid it's about Hubbard" Vaughn paused to let Bob take that morsel in.

  Bob stopped his chores and looked down into the sink with a thoughtful expression.

  Vaughn continued, "I had these two Mormon missionaries at my door the other day, and they said something about my having to interact with Hubbard, that he was awake from a trance or some damned thing, I don't remember the exact term they used. But, anyway he's been in a sort of coma since he bought the farm back in '86 and now he's up and about. I know it sounds weird, and I can't explain it, but it instantly made sense to me, and I felt you should know. They said something about becoming free. I know things are nice around here, but I have this feeling that free would do us both a world of good, brother Bob." The beagle kept jumping up for more scritches, but Vaughn was already washing his hands.

  "Siobhan! Let the man alone, girl!" Bob said swatting the insistent beagle away.

  "Hubbard?" Bob had an expression like he'd just remembered some awful, long forgotten smell. "Shit, I never even thought about him being . . . well, here. Where is he, anyway? Did they say?"

  "Jeez, Bob, I don't even know where we really are, other than it looks an awful lot like New Hampshire. Who knows where that asshole is." said Vaughn as he picked at the bacon leftover from Bob's breakfast.

   "So, why did Mormons come and tell you this? Shouldn't it have been Sea Org? What exactly did they tell you to do?"

  "Honestly Bob, I don't really remember. I was so taken aback by the whole thing, I was totally distracted trying to figure out what the connection with Hubbard was to Mormons. I missed most of what they said. I do remember them saying 'You don't have to do anything Mr. Young, everything will unfold.'"

  "Say, you're not related to Brigham Young, are you?" Bob walked up to his friend and peered intently at his face, looking over his glasses for comic effect. "Maybe that's the connection."

  "God, I hope not! I don't need that kind of grief. Anyway, they said we don't have to do anything, so I suggest we do just that, nothing. And speaking of doing nothing, let's hit the pond, old man!" With that, Vaughn headed out onto the porch with the dogs. Bob gathered up his gear and, took a last sweep of the kitchen and joined Vaughn out on the dock where he was loading their gear into Bob's beautiful Gar Wood 20' utility boat for another day on Phillip's Pond.

The fish weren't exactly jumping into the boat. After lunch Bob said they should call it a day and head back to cook the few bass they'd hooked. Vaughn finished his beer and concurred, they should cut their losses and head back. The old Chrysler engine fired up and Bob began to head back across the glassy surface of the lake, but something was wrong.

  Phillip's Pond was only about a kilometer long, and they were at the far end from his place, but the further they glided through the water, the further the far shore seemed to get! In fact, the whole lake seemed to be expanding away from them in a strange, vertigo-inducing retreat. Bob cut the motor and shot the now very sober looking Vaughn a 'what the hell' look. They slid through the still water for a while until the boat slowed to a crawl. That didn't stop the shoreline, however. It continued to retreat into the distance. The phenomenon was compounded by a building cloud cover. A dull gray ceiling, now spread from horizon to horizon. The world was silent and reduced to two things: water and air, with their small boat smack in the middle of it.

  Vaughn was the first to speak, "Bob, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

  They both laughed nervously.

  "I'm gonna have to agree with you, Mr. Young. I don't think we're much of anywhere at present" Bob replied. His face had gone blank. The same way it did when he knew the storm was about to come . . . 'we have to talk, son.'

  And come it did. A rumbling at first. A dull, low pulsing, too rhythmic for thunder. The water around the wooden boat throbbed in a quilted pattern with the growing vibration. A soft wind began to blow from the . . . well, from somewhere. The sound grew in pitch and volume. Vaughn tapped Bob on the shoulder and pointed up to a growing glow in the dark cloud deck directly above them. The light intensified as the sound built.

  Their bodies buzzed with the lifting tone, and Bob was worried that the boat might start breaking up, when he noticed one of their empty beer bottles float upward past his face. Eerily, other objects started to rise and he felt himself lift slightly. After a few terrifying, floating moments, there was a sucking sound below as the boat broke the surface tension of the lake and rose to scoop the two ascending men up in its gradual climb. A sense of gravity returned as the boat lifted them. At about 500 feet they caught up with that first bottle which gently touched down on the deck as they continued to rise into the now blinding light above.

  The two men huddled in the small space up toward the bow of the Theresa M. with their eyes shut tightly against the all enveloping light. The sound changed pitch and rose suddenly until it was inaudible and everything just stopped. There was a slight thud as the boat came to rest on a hard metal surface. They opened their eyes and crawled out from under the dashboard. They were in a large, circular chamber with a vaulted dome above. Everything was bathed in an low, blue glow.

  "What the fuck was that?" said Bob, "where the hell are we?"

  "Like I said, not in Kansas, but that's the best I can offer Bob, that's all I've got." Vaughn was staring up at the seamless welkin overhead.

  They weren't alone in the huge space. There were chairs, sofas, one bed, a bicycle and several other vehicles in there. A Cessna 172 sat on the other side of the huge structure in the blue gloom. They could make out a Jeep Wrangler just to their left and an old Thunderbird convertible just behind them.

  Bob was about to respond to Vaughn when there was an otherworldly sound from below, and one of the hexagonal floor plates began to glow with a chartreuse light. It pulsed and hummed pleasantly.

  "I think they want us to get out Bob" said Vaughn looking over the gunwale.

  "I think we'd better do as they say" replied the captain of the now useless boat.

  They clambered awkwardly out of the tilting hull and stood on the plate. Sure enough, the next one over lit, and when they moved on to that one, as expected, the next one lit and so forth until the duo stood at the far wall. The Cessna and Jeep were empty and the road-caked T-bird was vacant as well.

  Bob looked expectantly at the wall, "Well? Isn' this when you . . ."

  And just as he said 'you', the wall began to glow with that same limey light. An opening formed as though the wall had transformed into some kind of liquid. Strange. They passed through the glowing ring into a corridor. More floor panels lit and they were off down the long, curved passage.

  "You have any idea what the hell this is about?" asked Bob.

  "I think I just might." Vaughn looked at Bob with an mischievous grin and said, "Xenu."

  "What the fuck? Are you kidding me? You're kidding . . . right? Tell me you're kidding."

  "Think about it, you've been here in this life for a few years now. You know how things work, kinda strangely? So many daily events turn out to be metaphors, and most coincidences are usually made manifest in some way. The Mormons show up. We hit the lake. This crazy shit happens." Vaughn stopped and looked at Bob. "Think about it. Hubbard was all about spaceships and Venus and Marcabians. Maybe this is a kind of joke or something?"

  "I'm not laughing" said Bob.

  "Come on Brother Bob, I studied that old crackpot for years. I think there's more to this than meets the eye" Vaughn clapped him on the back and they headed down the featureless corridor until they heard . . . laughter? It sounded like there was a party behind the wall. Yes, it was definitely music and laughter and it was getting louder. The wall beside them began to make the now familiar greenish glow.

  Vaughn looked at Bob, "I think we found the spot."

  "Or it found us" said Bob uneasily.

•••

  Meanwhile, in Burlingame, Mr. S.G. Lokavid was getting it together. His preflight checklist was going well and he'd be airborne within the hour. The fog of his regeneration had cleared and he felt awful. Not physically, but at heart. He felt responsible for Hubbard's abduction. He hadn't heard anything from Joe either. He knew that Joe was basically a petty man, and still held dreams of grandeur encouraged by Brigham's martial streak. Sid worried that if Joe found Hubbard, he'd only encourage his delusions further and the man wouldn't make any progress for decades, if not centuries. Joe was a relative youngster in this reality, he hadn't even tried to kill himself . . . yet. Smith tended toward the prissy and cautious, so he rarely put himself in harm's way. Sid could tell that Joe really missed his followers and the adulation, but he was also an intelligent and thoughtful person, so he was hard to predict. Mo was absorbed in some fairly heavy interactions with his followers who were arriving in droves. Wouldn't be able to help now. Sid would have to find Hubbard himself.

  The Pilatus PC6 Porter he'd chosen for this flight wasn't the most luxurious form of transportation. Small, light and robust, these planes were built for alpine search and rescue, and he'd need it for the rugged, high altitude landing he'd have to make at the end of this trip. Intersectionality was tugging him in this direction, and after two thousand years in this place, he knew better than to resist the pull. He fired up the Pratt & Whitney turboprop and taxied out to 01R-19L where he'd await clearance for his trip into the mountains.

•••

  The wall glowed more brightly and then a small hole opened up in the center of the light and expanded until the opening was large enough to walk through. The volume jumped suddenly as the party inside was in full swing. There were about 20 or so people mingling and jazz trio playing in the corner of what looked like a large Manhattan apartment, circa 1960. There was even a city view through the floor to ceiling windows on the opposite wall.

  "Come in! Come you two, we've been waiting for you!" said a Chanel-clad Ayn Rand. She turned to the crowd, hands raised, "everybody, we have some more guests!" Ayn ushered Bob and Vaughn into the foyer. The music stopped and the party goers settled down and turned to see who had come in.

  The two men stood there uncomfortably until Vaughn said, "Uh, Hi there, I'm Vaughn Young." he looked around the room. "I'm beginning to recognize a few of you from, well, life. I see Quentin Hubbard over there by the piano! Hey Quentin!" Vaughn waved at Hubbard's son, who smiled and raised his glass. "Oh, and this here is . . ." Just as he was about to introduce Bob and woman pushed her way out of the crowd.

  "Oh my god! I know! I know who he is now!" said Lisa McPherson rushing up to hug the man who had lost so much defending her memory.

  "I know what you did. They showed me after they picked me up! How can I ever thank you for what you did?" She had Bob in a total bear hug, the side of her face pressed hard against his chest. "You're a hero. You're my hero."

  It was Lisa. After all those years, he knew that face so well. He held her out at arms length, "Is it really you? I . . . I don't know what to say . . . I feel like I failed" tears were welling in his eyes.

  "Oh, god no, you didn't fail! You didn't know what they were capable of . . . none of us did."

  Bob was sobbing helplessly now. Lisa and Vaughn held on to him. Normally, he wouldn't allow himself to show this kind of emotion, but it was all crashing down on him now. His childhood abuse. The losses he suffered. All his good intentions and all the harm done. Ayn, who had naturally taken control of this little band of abductees signaled the band to start playing again.

  "Oh, man this is kind of weird, isn't it?" said Bob through his ebbing tears. "I mean, my girlfriend's ex and the woman I tried to avenge are comforting me at a cocktail party . . . in a spaceship that looks like an apartment and we're all dead . . ." he started to laugh at the delicious ludicrousness of the idea.

  The three of them were now laughing every bit as hard as Bob had been sobbing.

  "Well, I see you've all met Ms. McPherson!" said the hostess walking up to them with a martini in her right hand and a cigarette in her left. "Mr. Minton, I'm Ayn Rand. We're associated by way of our intersection with Ron. Of course, we're all associated with him here, all of us are on the road to meet with him. Some of us as fellow leaders of men, some of us as his victims" she looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "and I suppose, some of us as both."

  "Oh, I'm sorry about my big entrance here. Everything is a little bit much for me these days" said Bob wiping his face with his hand.

  "Here, use this" said Ayn handing Bob a cocktail napkin with the words "Teegeeack Express" printed on the corner in a gay, 1950s script.

  Bob continued, "Thanks. Now, Miss Rand . . ."

  "No! You must call me Ayn! All my friends do. I insist!"

  "Okay then, Ayn, can you tell us where we are and what we're doing here?" asked Bob.

  Ayn took a long drag off her Nate Sherman and a short sip of martini and began, "Well, as best as I can figure out, at this point we've all been hijacked by Hubbard, although he has no idea he's doing it. We're probably between realities in this saucer thing. It's hard to explain, but there are many universes intersecting, probabilities if you will. Is this an afterlife? Well, I can safely tell you that I'm dead for all intents and purposes, but somehow I exist here in this place where the only other denizens are leaders of other humans. Religious figures, movie stars, politicos. There's a mindset to us. Maybe that's why we're all trapped in this place to reflect on what we've done. You, on the other hand, your life was affected intensely by your relationship to one of us. In this case, Hubbard's church.

  "And speaking of churches, I can tell you there are no gods running the show here. Not that we have seen. Some of  us have been here for thousands of years and there's been no communication from 'above' as it were. So here we are in a spaceship from Hubbard's own imagination and . . ."

  "Xenu! It's Xenu isn't it?" said Vaughn excitedly.

  "Very good Mr. Young, it is indeed Xenu . . . after a fashion. Though how our imaginary creations come to manifest here is not well understood, but intersectionality drives it. Hubbard was in a sort of coma for decades, but he's awake now, and he's drawing all those he touched in life to him." Ayn stubbed out her cigarette in her empty martini glass and looked around for a waiter. A compact man in a toga and sandals appeared with a tray. "Thank you, love. Could you get me another?" she asked. The man nodded and headed over to the bar in the corner of the room.

  "That's a lot to take in, all of this is a lot to take in" said Bob. He turned to Lisa, "I still can't believe I'm talking you you. You can't know how much this means to me. I want to know everything. Everything that happened to you."

  "I'll tell you the whole story, Bob, but first, can we get a drink? I'm parched."

  "After you, Lisa, I could use a good belt right about now myself."

•••

Sid knew which heading to follow. After two thousand years in this place, you just know things. You follow your instincts and they'll usually serve you in good stead. The plane passed through some cloud cover at 9700' in the Central Valley, just over Modesto, but when it emerged on into the clear again, the Alps were spread out before him. You also got used to things like that. Gray spots. Fuzzy patches. Indistinct intersections that suddenly take you where you need to go. Sid checked his GPS unit and there was a pulsing red dot that indicated a rough landing strip near a small village at about 4800' feet. He guided the sturdy plane to a smooth enough landing on the grassy alpine strip. There was a small hanger with a windsock and a bike rack at the end of the runway. He moved the plane into a parking area with a couple of old Marchettis and an ancient Fokker D.I, came to a full stop and powered down.

The map said the town was called Champex Lac. Sid slipped out of the flight jumper he had on over his light cotton suit and placed it in the back of the plane. He stepped out into what felt like a warm summer day. He pulled out his iPhone and reviewed the odd email he received yesterday regarding Hubbard. The missive was signed 'Dr. F.' It read:

  Esteemed Mr. Lokavid, Some time ago, I was out for a stroll through the countryside when I came across a most curious fellow. The man is obsessed with a Mr. L. Ron Hubbard. He seems to be quite devoted to the chap, who by this strange man's account is one of the greatest people to have ever lived. The man is called Commander Thompson, yet he insists that I call him "snake." I can only imagine the obsession that lies behind that moniker. The chap has a delusional belief that we were acquainted in life. He says that he once studied with me in Wein, yet the years he describes us working intimately together would have found me in London. I've been an admirer of yours for quite some time and had a feeling that you might be able to shine some light on this vexing subject. Can you come to see me in Champex tomorrow? I shall wait for you by the fountain at three.
Dr. F.

  Sid's new Apple watch read 2:48pm as he wound his way through the charming, immaculate town. He rounded a corner where the local tobacconist's shop was and there in center of the neat town square stood the fountain. And what a fountain! It was a life-sized gorilla of finely carved black obsidian. The gorilla was depicted wearing a traditional alpine dirndl and pouring water from a wooden bucket into the basin of the fountain. Sid was marveling at the sheer strangeness of the monument when he noticed a distinguished gentleman came striding across the square.

  Bowing graciously, Sid said "Dr. F, I presume?"

  On a sunny, summer's day, in a small square, in an obscure town, in a place that was a dead ringer for Switzerland, Sigmund Freud nodded and tipped his hat to the Buddha.


Sunday, September 07, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 22, "X Marks The Spot"

  They had been driving for too long. Hubbard felt certain that R6 City would only have been a couple of hours away, yet here they were driving through the middle of nowhere. It was pitch black outside the burgundy velour cocoon of the Cadillac.

  "Say, ladies, shouldn't we be there by now?" Hubbard asked, putting his hand on the driver's shoulder.

  "Another cigarette, sir?" said Cigarette Girl proffering a fresh Kool.

  "No. I asked a question! Now, I'd like some clear com for once! Where the hell are we?" he was getting irritated again.

  "There should be a gas station or roadhouse up ahead sir, we'll pull over and find out how far away we are" said the driver calmly.

  "Oh no you don't. I can see it now, we'll go in there and there'll be Atilla the Hun or Aimee Semple McPherson, or somebody else who just has to tell me what a fuck up I am! No, sir. We're not stopping again." He was adamant.

  "Sir, we'll have to get gasoline sooner or later" said the driver. Cigarette Girl tried to make herself small and invisible.

  "Now wait just a goddamned second! Sid and I drove all over hell's half-acre and never stopped to plug in his electric car, but we have to stop and get gas? How does that work? How does anything work in this fucking place!?" exasperation was rising.

  "I don't make the rules, Sir. I just follow them" came the reply from the driver.

  "Well, I make the rules in this car, and we're not stopping!"

  "As you say, Commodore. As you say" said the young woman, staring straight ahead.

  They drove on with Hubbard slumped in the back seat muttering under his breath about "not many followers" and "insubordination" and "booby traps." They were off the highway, it had turned into the Main Street of a sleepy looking town when the engine began to sputter. The motor quit and the driver strong-armed the huge car to the curb behind a red Corvair station wagon with New York plates.

  "SonofaBITCH!" Hubbard yelled over and over again. He was in full tantrum mode, slamming his fists down on the armrests rhythmically with each uttered 'son' and 'bitch.'

  The girls sat silently in the front seat, waiting for the storm to pass. Eventually, the Commodore had exhausted his spleen and sat, panting and crimson in the back seat. "Well, now what. Now what?"

  "Sir, it looks like there is a bar open on the corner. We'll go in and see where we are" said the chauffeur. 

  "The hell you will! I'm not gonna sit here alone while you two go traipsing off into the dark. Not again. We'll go together" said Hubbard with his best Tone 40, command intention. 'Fake it 'til you make it' he used to affirm to himself.

  The small town they found themselves in was unassuming. They could've been almost anywhere from the looks of it. The place certainly didn't look like R6 City, it was too clean and tidy. The street signs on the corner read Water Street and South Walnut. The bar was on the street level of an Edwardian era apartment building. There was a red, neon sign in the window that spelled out "Toby's Bar & Speaker's Lounge" in cursive script. Below that was a funny, cartoonish alligator logo with the words "Best Sausage Sandwiches in Town" painted on the glass. There were other neon beer signs in the large plate glass window. The bar was tucked beneath two stories of modest looking apartments. Ron checked the clock in the car when they got out, it said it was 9:42, but who could tell in this reality?

  The night was crisp, and there were two couples laughing and smoking outside the bar's front door. Aside from the sound of a small plane overhead, the town was pretty quiet. He'd always loved bars when he was younger. He prided himself on his ability to go into any pub and within a half hour have a crowd of people in rapt attention, and usually leave with his pick of the ladies if he was really on the beam. Hell, he was getting younger in this place, maybe he still could summon the ol' Hubbard magic, he thought. 

  But then, he hesitated. This reality was so full of twists and turns. He'd just been ambushed by three wives, a prophet, and two dogs! Everyone he encountered seemed to come stocked with a full set of opinions about him. It was unsettling to say the least. Would this place be just another one of those traps? He peeked in the window and saw what appeared to be an ordinary, bar in an ordinary town. It looked jolly and warm. "What the hell . . . ladies, after you" he said holding the door open in a courtly manner.

  Ah! There was that great bar smell. Stale beer, pine-sol and smoke, blessed, cigarette smoke. The crowd was thick and the chatter loud. He and the girls made their way to the bar against the far wall. The room was as long as the building with what appeared to be a large back room. Also packed with revelers. 

  "What'll you have, friend?" said the thick, bald bartender. Hubbard couldn't quite place his accent . . . sort of European sounding, or maybe Israeli? Odd. "What delectable drink can I create for you, Mr. Hubbard!" said the man slamming his hand down on the bar with enthusiasm.

  "How do you know . . . oh, nevermind, I'll have a seven and seven" he yelled over the din. "Ladies? A beverage for you?" he asked turning back to his Messengers, but they were nowhere to be seen. Oh well, they'd be back when he needed them, they always seemed to turn up. 

  He leaned back on the bar, lit a Kool, and scanned the crowded room. 

  Some of the people looked oddly familiar to him, though he couldn't quite place them. 

  "Here's your potion, Mr. Hubbard" said the barkeep cheerfully. "That'll be a buck fifty." 

  Hubbard was taken aback. Money? Then he remembered the bill in his pants back at Joe's, right before he got in the taxi. It seemed so long ago. He reached into his right pant pocket and there, sure enough were some bills and coins. These were twenties, also with his picture on them. "Can you break this?" he asked the squat man.

  The bartender held it up to the light. "Can do, sir! Nice likeness, not like some of the other crap I get in here! Look at this piece of shit!" he said offering Ron a hundred dollar bill from the till. 

  On the money, Hubbard saw a horrible, grimacing face wearing sort of war helmet, with the word 'Ramtha' under the engraved portrait. Ramtha. Ramtha. Where had he heard that name before? Television? Yes, it was television. He vividly remembered watching the Merv Griffin show in his motorhome in Creston, and there was a blond woman on the show claiming to speak for some disembodied spirit called Ramtha. Some of what she was saying sounded like she'd cribbed what he'd cribbed. He remembered thinking that she might be PTS, and writing that name down to tell Pat Broeker to get someone to look into it. Ramtha. 

  "So, what's this all about? Why does this guy have money here?" he asked the barkeep.

  "You'll see. You'll see . . ." said the little man laughing jovially.

  "I'll see what?" Ron asked, but the bartender had busied himself fixing a strawberry daiquiri for a heavily tattooed, bald, Indian further down the bar. 
  
  Hubbard sipped his seven and seven and looked around to see if anybody looked like they might know the score in this joint. Amid the rather ordinary looking crowd he began to notice that there were more than a few rather extraordinary looking characters now that he'd been able to settle in a bit. There was that Indian character down the bar and a few others in Flash Gordon get-ups. Maybe there was some kind of costume party happening. A tall, majestic Chinese woman in flowing robes, sipped a green drink while holding a white rabbit. Just as he was about to find the bartender to order another drink, there was a commotion at the door. The grimacing man from the bill that the bartender had showed him was standing there, bigger than life, in the doorway, and he didn't look happy.

  "Seth!" his voice boomed out dramatically. "Thou defamest me again!" bellowed the giant.

  "Oh shit, here we go again" said the tall Chinese woman, "asshole's back in town."

  The compact bartender climbed up onto the bar and held his hands in the air, "Ramtha! Good Ramtha. Friend Ramtha. There is no excuse for violence. Are we to have a repeat of last month so soon?"

  "I shall make last month's bloodbath seem as mild as one of your outdoor eating events!" roared the heavily muscled warrior in the same vaguely European accent in which the barkeep spoke. "I shall make you all my slaves!" he bellowed at a surprisingly impressive decibel level.

  The Chinese woman rolled her eyes wearily and leaned over to Hubbard, "don't worry about it, honey, he does this all the time, he's very insecure. It's just how he was written." Her rabbit squirmed uncomfortably in her arms.

  "Uh, sure. Sure thing." Hubbard said backing into the crowd. So far, this stop wasn't going too well. The giant, armored man lunged toward the bar knocking other patrons aside and roared, "I am real, I tell you. REAL!!!!" he said lifting his huge battle club above his head. The stout bartender stood impassively, showing no fear.

  To Ron's left, he saw that the crowd was parting, and a small, slender woman holding a glass of red wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other tottered up to the raging hulk. 

  "No, Rammy. No, you're not" she said dryly looking over her cat-eye glasses.

  The huge warrior froze in position, his eyes fixed on her as she approached.

  "Rammy, put your hammer-thingy down, you're scaring our guest here" she said looking directly at Hubbard. 

  "But I am RAMTHA!" the room shook and a few of the crowd fainted. Then, he slowly lowered his massive war-hammer, "I am Ramtha . . . I am." he said dejectedly.  

  "No, baby" said the small woman, "you were just made up by an angry hack in a suburban kitchen. Now you can stay here and have a drink with the others if you behave. Look, there's Lazarus over there. He's a good listener. He knows the score." she said patting the now dejected looking warrior on the back. "If you won't behave, it's back to your void." She stared-down the hulking man with intensity. "I mean it. Be polite or scram!" she said. 

  The huge beast-man looked half as big as when he came in. He went and sat in the front window next to a bearded, rotund man to sulk.

  This whole time Ron had been moving slowly toward the front door.

  "Not so fast Hubbard!" said the woman, "we have some shit to talk about. The name is Jane. Jane Roberts, and I believe you stole some of my ideas."

  He knew it! I was another goddamned trap! Jane Roberts. Crap, how did she know? How did everyone here know everything about him?

  "Come on back here with me, I've got some characters for you to meet. It's okay, Ron. We're all friends here, even him" she said gesturing toward the now contrite Ramtha. "He's just a bit self-absorbed and out of control, just like his creator."

  The diminutive brunette led him through to the back of the bar and then through a beaded curtain with a hand lettered sign saying 'Speaker's Lounge: Private' above it. The ceiling was high and the room warmly lit. There was a mezzanine balcony to the left and, the back wall was floor to ceiling bookshelves with a ladder on rails. "I know Ron, it's a bit weird being here, isn't it? I couldn't quite believe it when I got here. It was like I never went anywhere, yet everything was different. If I was dead, where was Seth? There was nobody I recognized . . . at first. It was nothing like my after death vision, at least not like I had written about. Create my own reality? Hah!" she laughed. "Hey, your smoke's almost out, have one of mine" she handed him an unfiltered Camel.

  "Uh, no thanks. I'll have one of my own. Menthols, you know" he said as she set down her wine and picked up a huge mid-century lighter and flicked the flame into being to light his Kool.

  "Ugh! I can't stand menthols, but, to each his own, eh?"

  Jane Roberts was tiny, with a high, nasaly voice, but he felt as though she had a very powerful presence. To Hubbard, she seemed very comfortable in her skin and laughed easily. He envied that natural grace in others. He always tried to bluff his way through life, to emulate that ease, but he was certain people saw through it.

  "So Ron, you purloined a lot of sources my friend, a lot of sources. And speaking of sources, I see that you and Sid have been hanging out quite a bit. He's a real kick, isn't he? I like him. Not quite what I imagined the Buddha would be like, but then again, nobody here really is what you expect, except, of course for them" she said gesturing toward the door leading to the noisy bar room.

  "What do you mean by 'them?'" he asked.

  "Most of those characters out there are, well . . . characters!" she said making a dramatic gesture with her cigarette. "The bartender? That's Seth. My Seth. From my own imagination now into my own 'life,' if you can call this life." She stubbed out her cigarette and proceeded to rummage through a large purse on the couch for another. "This place is my concept. The Speaker's Lounge. A sort of metaphysical contrivance where all the great spiritual teachers would gather and watch man's follies, like it was some football game on TV. Somehow our characters have form here. It's kinda crazy. I wrote about the Speaker's Lounge a few times. It can get pretty lively in here on a busy night. Surely you remember . . ." she looked slyly at him as she wrestled the huge table lighter up to light her smoke.

  "I honestly don't remember reading your books" said Hubbard hoping she wouldn't pick up on his lie.

  "Oh, but I remember reading yours!" she said pointing her cigarette at him as she backed over to the bookshelf on the far wall. She turned to point to each book in order, "Typewriter in the sky. Fear. Ol' Doc Methuselah. Golden Age classics!" She grew more animated now. "You know I wrote sci-fi from the time I was a teenager. I sure as hell stole from you! I'm pretty sure you returned the favor in the '70s." She had now gone behind the tiki themed bar to open another bottle of red wine. "Check this out. Chateau Margaux 1995. Stunning Ron. Fucking stunning. Get this nose, you won't believe it. You can smell the earth in it! I love the smell of the earth. My beautiful, beautiful earth." Jane looked wistful.

  "Let me take a sniff" Hubbard said as he crossed over to the bar.

  Jane poured him a glass and handed it over the bar. "Take a deep drag off that, Ron. Amirite? Superb. I could never afford wine like this when I was alive" she said looking into the distance.

  "Who are you kidding? You were a best-selling author! You must've been raking in the dough!" He wasn't going to fall for this story.

  "It was a comfortable, middle-class living Ron, but I didn't have the Midas touch like you did. We bought a nice home, but my medical bills were through the roof. It was a struggle."

  "Cancer?" Hubbard said holding up his cigarette.

  "No! Can you believe that?" she laughed bitterly. "And I was a chimney! No, it was RA, rheumatoid arthritis and an overactive thyroid that did me in. Worst part was, I knew it was coming . . . that it would get worse. It was terrifying. It's what killed my mother, I just lasted a lot longer than that hateful cow did."

"I guess I can look back and be grateful for the experience . . . almost. I've learned that it's what motivated me to create Seth, the fear. The sheer, existential terror of what I knew would be coming, forced my creative hand, as it were. Seth was the benevolent father and mother I never had. Kind. Wise. Funny. A part of myself I just desperately needed to be real."

  "But wait a second, now. I remember reading about how you swore you were uneducated in science and physics and you used that as proof that you couldn't be consciously creating Seth." said Hubbard.

  "I thought you didn't remember reading any of my books" Jane said slyly. "No, Ron, remember how I said I was a fan of yours? I devoured philosophy and science-fiction books when I was a kid. They saved my sanity. My mother was a very broken woman, a resentful monster who terrorized me from her sickbed. The world of sci-fi and speculative fiction was my escape. It made reality bearable to me." She sat for a moment and exhaled a puff of smoke. Jane turned to Ron, "I was afraid, Ron, but I wasn't wired for religion. I wasn't buying what they were selling. Most religious experience is fueled from fear, don't you think?" She looked earnestly at Ron. It made him a bit uncomfortable.

  "Well, anyway, I think it was no accident that Seth 'appeared' to me just as my body began to deteriorate. You don't know what it's like Ron, do you? To slowly loose your mobility? To be crippled with agonizing pain? To not be able to do the simplest things for yourself and watch your beloved die a little every day as you struggle? No. I don't suppose you do, do you?"

  Hubbard fumbled with his belt loop uncomfortably. It was getting too emotional for him.

    "Anyway, I can see this topic is making you a bit uncomfortable. You don't do well with feelings, do you, hon?" she said with a look of compassion.

  "I never have . . . liked . . . those. Feelings, you know."

  "Well, I read your later works and that's pretty evident. Looks like you were projecting your own reality out on all your followers, Ron." Jane flicked an ash into the large ceramic tray on the table. "That's one thing I got right, boy. I made sure that there would never be an official Seth religion, not while I was alive, at least. Of course, people being people, my followers did exactly what I told them not to do when I croaked. The Seth Center. The Seth Alliance. The First Bank of Seth." She laughed at her own joke. Hubbard just stared at her blankly. "Well anyway, blah, blah, blah. Seth told them to run in the other direction if somebody told them they had the capital T truth. But people just don't listen. They want someone to tell them it's all going to be okay . . . boy, don't I know it." Jane stubbed out yet another cigarette and took a deep swig of her Margaux. "You did just the opposite. Started your own religion, and did it ever pay off! You raked in bucketfuls of cash. I gotta say I really hated you back then. Just hated you and your whole authoritarian thing. I thought you were such a charlatan. And, of course, you were!" She laughed that breezy laugh again and Ron's stony expression made her laugh all the harder, "Come on, Ron . . . admit it! Embrace the shithead that you were or you'll be stuck in this crap for ever, or at least as long as this place lasts."

  This was too much. Hubbard got up and started for the door.

  "Ron. Honey. It's all gonna come back to bite you in the ass. Haven't you figured that out yet? It's karma, baby, or intersectionality or, whatever . . ."

  He stopped, but his back was still turned to her.

  "I know Sid says there's no such thing as Karma, but Ron, look at how things have gone since you got here. Come on Ronny, sit back down, just for a minute." Jane was now settled into a rocking chair with a freshly lit Camel.

   He turned toward her. "How do you know what's been going on since I got here?" he said defensively.

  "Ron, I've been here two years longer than you, only I didn't go into a loop. I woke right the fuck up after decades of pain and fear. Suddenly,  I was young. I was strong! I could dance and run again! I embraced a vision of an afterlife, so I think I was just ready for it. I also didn't have much in the way of a body count to have to face. Let's be honest Ron, you made one hell of a mess out of one hell of a lotta lives."

  Jane rose and began to pace as she spoke, "I've had a lot of crow to eat since I got here. I had to face that I knew, deep down inside, that I was making Seth up the whole time. Sure I claimed I was skeptical, and I was, but I would spin these tales off the top of my head. They were so beautiful and seductive. A universe that cared . . . about me! About all of us! With the success and the fans, I just bought my own party line. The irony was that I'd end up in an afterlife to find out that the afterlife I invented was bullshit. We didn't create our own reality when we were alive. We didn't 'pull it in' as you put it. That concept did give me a sense of control over my declining body, it dulled my fear, but it also made me hate myself for creating such a living hell. What had I done to deserve it? For me, Seth was the joyous and positive side of my life, the compartment I put all my hopes into, but he couldn't save me from death. Nobody could. I lost that battle, just like you did."

  Hubbard thought about his fears. Dentists. Doctors. Pain. Death. Being alone. Feelings.

  Then a smile spread across his face. "Well, it looks like we both beat the grim reaper, now doesn't it? Maybe we weren't so wrong after all?" he said with a palpable smug satisfaction.

  "Well, it may not be the gift you think it is. You do know that we can't die here, right? Hasn't anyone told you about that, yet? No suicide. No accidents. Oh, you'll feel the pain, but they don't kill you. You come back and it drives you mad after a while."

  Hubbard shuddered. "I recall Sid saying something about that . . . and a few others. It is a bit of a daunting though, I suppose. So exactly what are we here for? Just what is it that I'm supposed to do then, fall to my knees, weeping for all my sins? Is that what's expected of me?" asked Ron.

  "Don't be glib Ron, it's unattractive. I can't tell you what you're gonna get out of this place. No one can. Not even the ones who've been here for thousands of years. Some will try to manipulate you maybe, but ultimately, you're your own worst nightmare here. You gotta let go. Deal with those you wronged. Owning your shit is a start, Ron and let's face it, you're full of it. If you want to think of it in your own framework, I'm here to help you through your own wall of fire."

  Just then, the tattooed Indian stuck his head in the beads and said "Uh, hey Jane. You seen Ish in here tonight?"

  "He's probably waiting for you back on the Peaquod, honey. Just like last night, right? You alright to walk?"

  "Oh, uh, right. The ship! Yeah, I'm alright. Thanks Jane" the Indian looked a little embarrassed and  said to Hubbard "oh, sorry man, I hope I didn't interrupt" and backed out leaving the beads swaying.

  "Characters, huh? Is Melville here?" asked Ron.

  "No, not tonight. I think he has a card game on Tuesdays" Jane replied getting up to replenish her glass of wine. "More?" she said holding up her glass.

  "Oh, sure. Why not? It's not like I'm going to be driving or something. What about all the other people out there?" Hubbard said gesturing toward the still swinging beads. "The ordinary looking ones, Where do they come from? They can't all be leaders or characters."

  "Lots of them are here to find the people they followed. Some are mine and our paths will cross. Some are William's, that's Will James. He lives just across the Chemung on Walnut. We hang out a lot together now that he's forgiven me for writing his "after death journals." God he was pissed. He's in here most nights. There are others. Depends on the night and intersectionality's strange pull." She polished off the glass she poured and lit another smoke. "Look, I've got people to see and a cat to feed and I've been up since dawn." She came around the bar and bent down putting a hand on Hubbard's knee. "I don't mean to jump all over you, Ron. But, for all the magical seeming abilities we have here, all we really have is each other and a few helpers. If we don't learn from each other we stay miserable. All that shit you did. You gotta own it. I'll be here if you want to talk." With that, she bent over, gave him a demure peck on the cheek and said, "nighty night, red. Go find your girls. I bet they're out there now."

  Hubbard watched her pass through the multicolored wood beads and into the crowded bar. He sat and swirled the Chateau Margaux in the glass. It had legs. He was looking through the glass when he felt a vibration. A thrumming pulse that shook the whole building. He got up and headed out to see what was happening. The crowd in the bar was nearly silent now, most had moved to the windows to see where the blazing white light that was bathing the town was coming from. The whole building was shaking as the sound began to drop in frequency. Glasses were now jittering to the edges of the shelving and falling like lemmings the floor. Seth and a couple of patrons tried to hold back the rows of moving liquor bottles behind the bar. Some plaster fell from the ceiling and then one of the big, plate glass windows shattered. The crowd jumped back from the remaining windows and moved into the center of the room.

  Whatever the source of the light was it was getting closer. The blazing white light was too bright to look at. All of the streetscape looked overexposed. Then he saw it, the huge saucer shaped craft that was emitting the blinding beam. It lowered itself over the lawn of the park across Water Street, vaporizing several trees in the process. An unseen force smashed flat several wrought iron benches and the small stone restroom in the park and the huge vessel settled onto its massive landing gear as the light dimmed to a dull glow. The thrumming continued for a few seconds and then stopped altogether.

  Ramtha was the first out the door, battle hammer raised above his head. "Who dares to come before Ram . . ." and before he could get out the "tha" there was a blinding pulse of light that left nothing but ash where he had stood. The crowd at Toby's was on the verge of panic now. Hubbard had dropped below the windowsill and was peeking over the edge, trying to get a better look.

  There was a sudden mechanical clank from the ship and icy vapor vented out of a growing opening on the underside of the saucer. A section of hull had lowered to form a long ramp from which a shaft of yellow-greenish light shone onto the flattened grass. There was movement inside the misty opening, and Hubbard watched as a phalanx of what appeared to be soldiers began to emerge from the vessel. They were about two and a half meters tall and dressed from head to toe in silver body-suits with elaborate utility belts, short capes and visored helmets. They all carried exotic looking rifles whose barrels ended in sharp, conical tips. Out they marched in perfect formation and following the first couple of dozen came an even more impressive figure. Clearly the leader, his massive physique was clad in form-fitting, polished armor that dazzled in the light. His red cape was floor length and there was a curved, upturned collar behind his head. The figure's reflective helmet came down over his face and he was followed by an equally muscular man in a short white toga and gold knee-high sandals. Behind them came an entourage of robed figures bearing a variety of cases and trays. These minions were then followed by another phalanx of soldiers bringing up the rear.

  When the last soldier from the last group had stepped onto the grass, the troops stopped and the massive, armored figure turned to one of his entourage and snapped his fingers. A robed figure rushed up to the leader, kneeled before the armored man and offered him a long pole wrapped in fabric. The mighty figure grabbed the pole and unfurled a flag that bore only a large X. He stepped out of formation and thrust the pole into the grass. The assembled soldiers raised their weapons and let out a roar of approval. They began to move forward in unison, they looked like they meant business and they were headed straight for the bar.