|Chapter 16: Martyr
Word of the man on the mountain with the dark brown eyes spread like news of the second coming. Some ministers and theologians were calling it exactly that. Others were denouncing it as blasphemy. Popular commentators like Corey Becket and Sam Jinks were calling it a transparent Liberal plot to undermine the institution of the church.
Estelle Gidarb dismissed it as nonsense concocted by Hector Clay to erase not only the traditional image of Christ from human consciousness but the moral values associated with it. She accused him of trying to set himself up as the worlds leading moral authority and to set the stage for future attacks on her and Jack Fleetwood. From there, she launched into a bitter denunciation of charges made against Fleetwood by Leah Flores and Andrea Ulan that Jack Fleetwood was responsible for Blue Mondays death. She ridiculed the evidence they presented against him on Hector Clays program God, and facetiously suggested that the man on the mountain might be Blue Monday.
Jack Fleetwood laughed off Andrea and Leahs accusations of murder, then voiced his skepticism that the alleged flashback of the alleged holy man had any significance at all. He promised a thorough investigation.
At telewindow station WQST, Hector Clay, dressed in jump boots with the legs of his blue denim trousers stuffed inside, sat pensively in one of three blue easy chairs. His left ankle rested gingerly on his right thigh, higher above the knee than usual. He looked back and fourth from the guest chair in front of him to the interpreter chair on his right. Standing on his left side was Gail Parker, the young, attractive, tan-skinned, green-eyed associate producer who pointed to the empty chair across from him.
"What are you going to do about our guest?" she asked.
"You know who everybody is expecting to see. And, thanks to Janus and our friend from CBI, his interview ELF has a discourse signature thats closer to the original than any we have ever done before."
"But we dont know who he is."
"You can always ask him."
Hector scowled. "In what language?"
Gail sympathized with his dilemma as they discussed the ELF of the man on the mountain as if it were the man himself. "And" she said, completing Hectors thought, "who can we rely on to translate whatever language he spoke into English?"
"Exactly," said Hector.
Gail expanded on the idea. "The language problem is a hell of a lot bigger than turning his language into English. Ill grant you that. Every world, phrase and intonation is going to be scrutinized and debated throughout the world. And, if we get it wrong, its going to be used to justify everything from witch-burning to Gidarbing."
"Believe me," said Hector flexing his left foot and rubbing his palms slowly back and forth, "Im aware of that. The same thing could happen if we get it right. Who are we to say that the witch-burners and the Gidarbers arent right?"
"If compassion and good sense dont count, maybe they are right."
Gail put one hand on her hip. "How about this," she said. "Instead of sitting our own translator ELF in the chair..." Gail pointed with her chin at the center chair. "Why dont we have him speak in his own language and turn the translation job over the universal translator. Were not just talking to metro Detroit; were talking to the world."
It was a weak suggestion. Hector called her on it. "There is no such thing as the universal translator. If there was, we wouldnt have a problem."
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, I do," said Hector. "And you know what I mean. Every telewindow manufacturer in the world has his own built-in translator and there must be hundreds of after-market units that are supposed to be better than any of them. Im fluent in three languages. Youre fluent in six. Who do you know and trust who is fluent in sixty or six hundred or however many there are when you count the dialectsand you gotta count the dialects, right?"
Gail cringed, afraid of the direction he was headed in.
Hector went on. "Its not enough for a few communication experts to know that different dialects give different meanings to the same words, depending on where you are and when youre there. You have to be able to get it across to everybody for who-knows-how-far into the future. The most gifted team of linguists ever assembled to tackle that problem could go only so far. And a fair chunk of what they did then is obsolete now."
Ever mindful of the all-seeing-eye of FRED, Gail attempted to steer the conversation in another direction. "That," she said, "is because some ideas that you can express clearly with a single word in one language dont have a counterpart in others. You have to share the culture before you can share the language."
Hector missed the detour sign Gail was trying to post and went straight ahead to the subject she was afraid he would bring up. "With the work you did on the Piper Artificial Intelligence chip," he said, "you ought to know better than anyone how dangerous it is to ignore subtle differences in language in favor of the dominant cultures interpretation."
Gail shrank inwardly, horrified that Hector would be so careless in linking her to the virus that was changing how the ubiquitous Piper AI chip interpreted the most common form of lower-class, African-American speech. "I didnt do anything," she said.
"The hell you didnt. That change you made from the way the AI chip used to treat ebonics to the way it works now, made it possible, for the first time, to create intelligent ELF personas of people Like George Washington Carver and Mohammed Ali. Remember what happened the first time we tried to interview George Washington Carver? Not even Vivian could make one that worked the way it should have."
"I wish she were here now," said Gail, sadly, knowing that Vivian would not have allowed him to say any more about it than had to be said to get the job done. Hector didnt have to tell Gail how he felt about her absence. It was as though a part of him were missing, the part with the most sense.
Gail doubted that Vivian would have allowed any computer program, even one as remarkable as Janus, to do what Hector had allowed it to do. "Look," she said, "Youre going to be on in less than two hours. We have to make a decision. Is it going to be the man on the mountain or isnt it?"
Hector sighed deeply. "Do we have a choice?"
"None I can think of. I have to tell you, though, that the good-looking guy from CBI that Vivian hired to do our time tracking and religious programming is running scared."
"Whadaya mean, running scared?" asked Hector, afraid that the man hed never seen in person who had set up the program had vanished the way Vivian hadif he had ever truly existed. Hector suspected that the mystery man from CBI was actually a VRP that Vivian was hiding behind for her own reasons. He could think of no other reason for not being able to meet him in the flesh. "Do you know where he is?"
"He hasnt bailed out on us," said Gail, "but you can tell hes thinking about it."
Hector relaxed. "Havent you thought about it, Gail?"
She smiled. "I guess so. But I think its different with him. The man on the mountain really scared him."
"Are you sure thats what it was?
"Well, it could have been more than one thing. He already looked upset about something when I went into the VRS with him to help with the final Janus cut. I asked him what was wrong. He said, Nothing. But he said it like you would if somebody had a gun to your head. For all I know, someone did have a gun to his head. It was, after all, a VRS. I dont know where he was in the flesh or who was with him. Then again.... I cant explain it, but when the final cut came together, it was as if he was as shocked as everybody else to see the man on the mountain. He kept muttering something like, the last thing he saw. My God! or "Oh God!" or something like that. He looked like hed seen a ghostlike the man on the mountain was a ghost or the McPhail ELF was the real thing speaking from the other side. It was creepy. You dont know how close I came to not flashing you the green light to go with it the way it was."
"We may be in for a bumpy ride, but Im glad we stayed on the road. This way there wont be any question in our minds, at least, about the content. It was the only way I could think of to do it. All I needed to know was whether it was Janus or the programmer who came up with the final product and whether it fit the parameters I set for it. When you flashed me the go-ahead signal, I had to go ahead."
Gail agreed. Ordinarily Hector would not have trusted a computer program to make the kinds of decisions hed allowed Janus to make for the captains funeral. Even though Janus was no ordinary program, it was hardly capable of making politically sound decisions. All it could do was stir the ingredients of a question asked by a programmer and spit out a coherent answer.
By asking Janus to do in 20 minutes or less what the captain would have done, Hector thought he was playing it safe. Which is to say, he thought he knew Aaron McPhail well enough to safely predict the kinds of things he would say at his own funeral. The last thing he expected was an enigmatic show and tell that cut off at the critical moment and put him on the hook for momentous revelations of truth to come. He couldnt even say with authority who the man on the mountain was. His strong personal feeling that it was Jesus Christ, didnt make it so.
"I have to have some time to myself," he said.
Gail put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I understand, Heck." She looked at her wristband time display.
The time was 6:14 p.m.
"I guess we have some time we can stand to kill," she said.
"Yeah, time to kill," said Hector thinking of what a terrible expression that was. "...I think Ill take a drive."
He walked to the door as best he could without limping too much and pulled a dark brown parka off the coat rack.
"Are you going to change those pants?" asked Gail.
Hector shrugged. "No, whats wrong with 'em."
"Theyre blue denim," said Gail.
"I like blue denim," said Hector, slipping into the dark, heavy jacket with the fur-lined hood.
"That sounds like another, no."
"It is. Wish me luck."
"Good luck," said Gail.
"Thanks," said Hector, "Im gonna need it."
Meanwhile, as Andrea Urlans blue Mercedes steered itself off of the freeway with Andrea behind the wheel and Leah close to her side, Andrea clicked on the message center T-window.
Leah frowned. "Andrea," she said, "Youre not gonna run that funeral thing again, are you?"
"Just the last part," said Andrea.
"Thats what Im talking about. Weve both seen it 15 times from 15 different angles and we cant even tell if its an ELF, much less Jesusor Mosesor some wino looking for a good place to take a wizz."
The face of the man on the mountain filled the message display.
"They didnt have to look for a place to go back then, Leah. The whole world was their toilet."
"Back when?" challenged Leah. "That cut could have been taken yesterday, for all we know."
Andrea rolled her eyes. "The funeral was three days ago."
"Okay, thee days ago. Thats still a long way from 2,000 years or more."
"Then where were the highways and power lines? Maybe it was only five or six hundred years ago. Some people think that guy is Mohammed."
"Moslems think its Mohammed. What does your father think?" asked Leah.
"He believes its Jesus. So does my mother and one of my brothers."
"Your father is an Episcopal minister," said Leah. "He sees Jesus. Jews see Moses. Who knows what Buddhists and Animists see? My mother goes to a Bible church three times a week. She used to have the traditional pictures of Jesus all over her houseYouve seen them, the Western European-looking guy with the neatly trimmed beard, the blue eyes and the straight brown hair."
"You forgot the halo," said Andrea sarcastically. She was rotating the picture in the window as she spoke until the mans head was tilted back and she could zoom in on his nostrils.
"Dont tell me youre counting nose hairs again...For Christ sake....Damn....Oh, Andrea, what good is that going to do. A really good ELF-maker is going to put in all those details that Blue told us to look for. He admitted that he couldnt always tell an ELF from a human being himself, and he was the best ELF-maker there was."
"One of the best," corrected Andrea, conceding the fact that an exceptional ELF-maker could make an exceptional ELF that ordinary people would never be able to detect. "Anyway, you were talking about your mother and the Jesus pictures."
"Yeah. Shes so sure this guy is Jesus that she ran off hard copies of him from the window to put in place of the pictures she had. She threw all of the old ones out. You know how irreverent my dad is about that religious stuff. I should say, how irreverent he used to be. HellI mean, hes a true believer now."
"Arent you?" asked Andrea.
"Yes," said Leah without hesitation. "I believe. But I dont have one solid reason why I should."
"Me too," said Andrea somberly. "And me either. I wonder what Blue would say if he was alive to see what we have."
Leah rolled the thought around in her mind. When she was through, she lifted her eyebrows. "Maybe well find out tomorrow at his funeral...."
P.J. Shields and Gloria Castleman had some definite ideas about who the man on the mountain was in the chrome-framed, wall mounted, medium-sized T-window in Glorias entertainment room.
"Its Abraham," said Gloria.
"It doesnt matter who he is," said P.J., certain that the mystery man was either a manifestation of God or one of His messengers. "If it did matter, wed know."
Gloria was sitting upright on her Kelly green, Mediterranean-styled couch, while P.J. lay stretched out on his back with his head in her lap. The three days shed known him were like a lifetime. While one hand reached back to fondle her lacy, mint green curtains, she stroked his hair lovingly, touched, as always by his keen insight and the purity of his desire to be one with God. She knew many people who made such claims. P.J. was the only one who was totally convincing.
How horrible it was for him, of all people, to have been used the way he had been used for so many years as an instrument of murder. How merciful for him to have blocked out that part of his life from him memory. How fortunate for him to have found her in time to save himself. How fortunate for her to have recognized who he was in time to have saved herself. The thought of how Vince had tried to warn her and how she had ignored him until it was almost too late, made her queasy.
She closed the window, bent her head down and kissed P.J. on the tip of his nose. He was stable now. It was time to tell him the truth.
"Vince Costello was there at the funeral. You remember him, dont you?
"Of course, he said. He spent half the trial giving me the evil eye."
"He used to date your mother before you came to live with her."
The mention of his mother brought a look of pain and confusion to his face. "I dont know any of my mothers friends. In fact, I dont remember much about her, except that she was a pretty blond and she was gone a lot. One day she left and didnt come back."
"Is that how you remember what happened?"
P.J. thought hard, knowing deep down that there was more too it but not being able to bridge the huge gaps in his memory that would tell him the whole story. He could usually remember enough and observe enough to bluff his way through moments like this if he kept a cool head. "Uh-huh," he said. "Does Costello know something I should know?"
Gloria bit her lip, uncertain about how to proceed. "Yes. I do, too...He tried to tell me what he knew before he left for the funeral, but I wouldnt listen. That night, when you were asleep, I called him and told him he was right."
"Right about what?"
"Do you remember why you came to see me that day?"
"Sure," he said. "I had one of my killer headaches. I couldnt get rid of it. I knew you were a pharmacist. I thought you might have something. That stuff you gave me was the only thing that ever worked."
Gloria didnt question his story. It impressed her as being a reasonable account of events absent the memory of what had really happened.
"How do you feel now?"
"Great. Not even a trace of pain. I havent felt like this since I was a kid."
Glorias eyes narrowed to angry slits. "Since your Grandmother beat you so bad you had to go to the hospital."
P.J. winced. "She didnt mean to hurt me. She..."
"Lets not talk about her. Lets talk about the hospital."
"What about it?"
"It wasnt one of the Fleetwood hospitals, was it?"
"Yes, it was. Why?"
"Youve been taking the medication you got then ever since, right?"
Glorias simmering blood reached the boiling point. "Throw that shit out!"
P.J. sat upright, puzzled. "I need it."
"No you dont. Thats whats been giving you those headaches."
"How can you say that? You dont even know what it is."
"It comes in little, round pills. Black pills The generic name is Mnemonoline 726. I dont know what they told you it is, but I can tell you that its manufactured by Condor Labs. And I can tell you that it was prescribed by Dr. Rupert L. Gieldgood."
"How do you know all that?"
"My grandfather was a pharmacist," said Gloria, "My father was a pharmacist. When the government stopped regulating new prescription drugs, it was up to individual pharmacists like them to do their own testing. I was only a little girl then, but I remember M-726 because the testing went on until I was in college. There were way too many bad side effects, but none that couldnt be fixed with two or three aspirin tablets and a swig of orange juiceexcept your sense of smell. Im afraid thats gone. But, thats nothin; my sniffer doesnt work half the time, either. Its not like losing your hearing or"
"Aspirin and orange juice?" said P.J. incredulously. "Is that all you gave me?"
"Yup. It was all you needed. If you dont take any more of those little black pills, you wont need any more aspirin and orange juice."
"Ill be damned," breathed P.J.
You almost were, thought Gloria, wondering what he would think of her and himself when he learned that she was literally betting her life on her prognoses of a full recovery. Though shed already made up her mind to tell him the truth about the Strangler and the so-called copycats who were, more than likely, also on M-726, she thought it best not to give it to him all at once. She took his hand.
"I could see you were hurting as soon as I opened the door," she said.
P.J.s failure to react in any way to her fictitious story, told her that he was going with the flow of events as he truly recalled them. She needed to know if he would detect any dissimilarities between her version and his of what happened next, or if he would simply absorb it into his false memory as though it had been there all along.
She continued, with a total fabrication that was consistent with his false memory but constructed of whole cloth by her. "When you described your headache," she said, "I knew what was causing it."
P.J. squinted, thinking, I dont remember that...wait a minute. Now I do. Sure, thats what happened. His thoughts were written plainly on his face.
Gloria took note. "I saw the same prescription as yours on the web for three of Gieldgoods other patients. One of them lives in Chicago now. Another one moved to LA The third one was visiting Lansing from New York when Gieldgood saw him. Without Mnemonoline 726, their brain injuries were supposed to have killedem. Thats how it was supposed to be with you, too, wasnt it?"
"Its a lie. Gieldgood is like one of those mad scientists they used to make creature movies about."
P.J. didnt like what he was hearing. It had an uncomfortable ring to it. Could it have been the ring of truth? And what was it that the dead, toasty had said about God and the truth? "God is Truth," thought P.J. Thats what the nigger said, all right. Then he thought, nigger? Toasty? I wonder what the monkey-eyed man on the mountain would have thought about me calling one of his prophets a nigger? Monkey-eyed? God forgive me. I didnt mean it....
Gloria misread P.J.s worried expression. He was quick enough to pick up on it. "Youre saying that Gieldgood came up with a formula to turn people like me into blood-thirsty monsters?" He smiled, trying to put the monkey-eye business out of his mind. He thought he was making a joke.
Gloria did not smile. She looked at him with the saddest expression hed ever seen and squeezed his hand.
He snatched his hand away. "You think Im a monster?"
"Not anymore," she said.
P.J. scooted farther back on the seat as if shed spilled hot coffee on the spot where hed been sitting. He didnt really know this woman. Maybe she was nuts. Or maybe, she just had a nutty since of humor. "What?"
Once again, Gloria had no trouble reading his expression. "Im not crazy," she said. "And neither are you. But what Im about to tell you is going to sound crazy as hell. All I ask, is that you hear me out, okay?"
P.J. eyed her warily. He couldnt figure out why she was saying what she was, but a faint voice echoing off the dark, empty caverns of missing time, told him to listen.
Gloria licked her lips. "Sometimes it really is better not to remember a traumatic experience until were better prepared to cope. Thats why nature invented temporary amnesia. But M-126 was invented by Condor Labs to serve another purpose....P.J., I want you to think hard about this. Do you remember what I was wearing that day when I opened my door to you?"
P.J. blinked. He didnt remember. Then again, why should he? He pouted. He was going to protest, to tell her how unreasonable it was for her to expect him to recall a silly little detail like that three days after the fact. Something stopped him. It was that faint voice again, a voice that sounded vaguely like his own. It was beginning to annoy him.
Hummm, he thought, wondering why the notion of her question being a silly little detail had brought him up short. There must have been something unusual about her dressno, it wasnt a dress. He was sure of that. Could it have been her shoes?
A picture of her in red party shoes, a red party dress and whorish red lipstick flashed across his mind, bringing with it an ephemeral surge of dark, unspeakable feelings that couldnt have been his own. No, it wasnt the shoes or the dress or the lipstick. But thinking about them again, if only to reject them, made him awfully uncomfortable.
"Think!" prodded Gloria. "It should be easy."
P.J. folded his arms and wrinkled his nose. Hed lived with memory loss for...as long as he could remember. There were lots of things he couldnt recall. Gloria knew that. Hed told her about it up front. Was this a test? Could the pills she gave him for his headaches have the side affect of boosting his powers of recollection? P.J. bore down, trying to squeeze out the mental equivalent of one more sit-up from an exhausted body.
He couldnt think of a thingexcept jade green penguins. That was stupid. No, try as he might, he could think of nothing. He was about to tell her that when an image of her in the nude skipped across his mind. He shook it off. No, he thought with a chuckle, that couldnt have been it. But the image persisted. With it came the idea that his headache hadnt clobbered him until then...until the moment he realized he was looking at a naked woman and reacting to her in a physical way. Could that have been a memory...Noooo!
"Yes," said Gloria. "I was as naked as a fawn, and the headache didnt start until you were already at the door."
How does she do that, thought P.J., as though she had read his mind rather than his face and body. As strange as it was, what she said seemed to fit. How else could she have come up with the same image he had if it hadnt really happened? But he did recall being knocked to the floor with pain before he went to see her. He remembered seeking her out for the express purpose of getting relief. He remembered collapsing in her arms and trying to describe the pain. He remembered all of that. He remembered...that she was wearing nothing but jade green earlobe receivers in the shape of penguins.
"You were wearing green penguins," he said.
Gloria let out her breath and tugged at the pearl-colored apple receivers she was wearing. "Thats right," she said. Now, let me tell you about that medication...."
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison