Blood. Ron felt like he was going to pass out for a moment. For all the bloodied tough guys in his ripping yarns, he hated the sight of blood in real life.
"Aw, Joe, you didn't warn him?" said the man in the track suit wearily.
"I was distracted, Brigham, accept my apology." Smith turned to Hubbard and to explain, "the blood you see. It's not really there. It's a . . . symbol."
"It's a fucking curse it what it is!" bellowed Young. He shoved the silver book (there was that fruit symbol again) into the hands of the shorter of his missionaries, who took it into the other room to the table where Hubbard and Smith had just eaten. "Don't be afraid Mr. Hubbard. The blood, it's not wet, really. Look," he said wiping his hand on the remaining missionary's spotless white shirt, "clean as a whistle."
Smith interjected, "We think it's some kind of punishment, or warning or . . ."
"A fucking, goddamned curse!" roared the bloodied man in the track suit.
"Really, Brigham, don't be so dramatic. We can only speculate, and look, we have a guest, isn't that cause for rejoicing?"
Young rolled his eyes and clapped Ron on the back, "Welcome to Hell, Hubbard, welcome to Hell!"
And with that, he motioned everyone back down the long hall in into the family room where the short missionary had opened what Hubbard had assumed was a book of some kind. It wasn't. It was yet another device with a screen. They seemed to be everywhere.
"You're not quite what I'd imagined" said Ron.
"I'd have thought you'd appreciate the role of the attack dog successor well played. You can't say I did otherwise, right Joe?"
"Oh, quite, Brigham. Quite," said Smith placatingly.
"Here's the straight deal Hubbard. Time has passed since you died. Things have happened. Joseph is an old softy, but I take a different tack. Straightforward. Direct. You screwed up Hubbard, you left your successor with no tools to grow your faith. Joseph, on the other hand was smart. He made sure that there would be prophecy available to me, that I could commune with the almighty and change doctrine as fresh winds blew. And blow they did."
"What the hell do you mean by that?" Ron said defensively.
"Look at your struggling successor. Ruthless. Ambitious. Devoted. Scheming. Everything any religious leader would want in the man following in their footsteps, ensuring that their legacy lives on. But you left him an unchanging, unchangeable canon, sir. You made yourself infallible. Your "tech" can't be altered by your own decree. You, sir, are a fool."
Now Hubbard was beginning to get angry with this blustery guy, "Pat Broeker's perfectly capable, he can handle that. I left him six more OT levels to go with."
"That would be fine if he were your successor, which is definitely not the case!" snapped Young.
"What do you mean? I left explicit instructions that Pat, Starkey and Annie were to take over when I died. Who the hell did then?"
Smith and Young just looked at Hubbard while the missionaries suddenly busied themselves tidying up the kitchen.
"Well? Who then? Tell me! Tell me dammit. Oh no . . . not Miscavige! Say it's not Miscavige."
Joseph put his hand on Ron's arm, "That brings us to your religion's biggest problem, scientific progress. You locked your organization in a changing world with no way to significantly alter it. Really, you should have left revelation or channeling or automatic writing as an option for the poor boy" Joseph said looking somewhat disappointed.
"Miscavige. That little bastard. I should have known he'd pull something like this! What the hell happened? What the hell has he done with my religion?"
"Lafayette, you really can't blame him, he's done a wonderful job with the restraints you left him in, so many lovely buildings" Joseph blurted out, trying to find something positive to say.
"Buildings, Joseph? Buildings? All that matters is bodies in the shop! Starts up the bridge! There's nothing about buildings in the tech!"
"You were a science fiction author Lafayette, and I hate to say it, but you really missed the boat. You failed to recognize the rapid change of technology as a possible hazard for continued growth. There's something new in communications called the internet, or the World Wide Web. It's a sort of network of computing machines that allows constant communication around the world in a flash."
"With total anonymity, Lafayette," interjected Brigham.
"Will you stop calling me goddam Lafayette! It's Ron!"
"Very well, Ron," Young said sarcastically, "your critics, those that you had silenced with barristers and thugs, well, they became untouchable, and the stories flowed. Unflattering stories."
"We're not judging brother. We all have our . . . stories."
Hubbard felt deflated. "How much do the wogs know about the upper levels?"
"Everything. All of your OT Levels are online for anyone to see" Smith said absently picking at some lint on his trousers.
"OT III? I'm ruined! I'll be a laughingstock! I worked so carefully, so long to figure this gig out, to prepare people for each new level. The first the TRs for hypnotic induction. Once you've got 'em that way, boy, you can feed 'em anything you want and the cash just keeps flowing in . . ." Hubbard's reverie faded as he remembered exactly what they were discussing.
"Xenu is a household name now, I'm afraid. That's why our news is so bad, Ron. You have no idea what this internet has done to our church as well. But for us at least, when public opinion shifts, "God" can shift as well. I imagine we'll be sealing homosexual couples in the Temple before the end of the 21st century."
"Homos? The hell you say! They're 1.1! Covertly hostile. Root 'em out boys, root 'em out and keep 'em out! It's the only wa . . ."
Smith interrupted him, "Oh, Ron, grow up! That's been one of the main weapons used against your "tech." All your critics have to do is point to some of your more ill-advised passages regarding homosexuality as proof of how out of touch your ideas are. Marriage and adoption rights for homosexuals have been enshrined in the constitutions of most states lately. Being "Gay" as they sometimes call it is no longer universally derided." Young and Smith shared a long, knowing glance. "Times have changed, Ron, times have changed. But there's the rub. Your Mr. Miscavige can't change. You set it up so that he can't alter your writings. Oh, he's tried revising some of your mistakes . . ."
"The hell he has! That little shit better not have changed one goddamn semicolon! The tech was perfect!"
"Are you even fucking hearing this Hubbard? Do you ever listen to anybody?" bellowed Brigham Young, now leaning forward with his hands on the dining table, the veins in his bloodstained temples bulging.
"Miscavige could have been a great leader if you'd left him the tools!" Young was growing more agitated, "He could be in total control of millions instead of the few thousand that still believe. Take my approach to the years after we lost Joseph. 'Making History Perfect,' I called it. That meant controlling history Ron, controlling it by changing it as needed. I collected the written journals of all the apostles since the founding of the church and I made sure that they were "perfect." If they weren't, well, they just might have gotten lost." he gestured toward the trash can next to the island. "I expanded on our in-group language. Hell, I bet you didn't know I invented a new alphabet for even better control! The Deseret Alphabet was genius, I tell you. Genius. Your church is collapsing and Miscavige is failing Ron, but it's not his fault, it's yours. You got greedy and you made the fatal mistake, you began to believe in your own invention."
Ron just sat there staring straight ahead. Young signaled one of his missionaries to do something with the keypad attached to the silver television/book thing at the other end of the table.
"Pull up Rinder's blog. The thing about the EUS OT report."
"Did you say Rinder? Mike Rinder? He was one of my most trusted boys toward the end." Ron said smiling hopefully.
Young lit into him again, "Well, he's turned against the church Ron. He claims to be a follower of yours, but he's bent on destroying everything you built. He just posted the stats for the Eastern United States online. They're pathetic Ron, Totally pathetic. Nobody's going into your churches anymore. Miscavige had kept things going by prevarication, sheer cunning and sleight of hand. He's a hated man, Ron, he's done . . . things . . ." Brigham trailed off, he was shaking and looked pained. He softened and went on, "Look, Ron, I did things too" he said indicating the phantom, spattered crimson all over him, "one does what one has to. But Ron, you left him no other course, no flexibility." Young turned away and walked toward the fireplace.
Smith got up and put his hands on Ron's slumped shoulders, "I'm sorry that Brigham has been so . . . brusque with you, Ron. I admire what you did down there, I really do. It was a remarkable game in many ways. Inventive and freewheeling. But, you just didn't take change into account. Sadly there's really nothing we can do to change things from here. The communications are frustratingly one directional. Brigham can be very passionate about our business. I was hoping to ease you into your new existence. We have so much in common, you and I. I hope we can be friends and I can show you the ropes, as it were. Eternity can be lonely. Very lonely."
Ron was still staring at the small image of Mike Rinder with a young woman he assumed was his daughter. It was all too much to take in at once. He needed a smoke. "I . . . I gotta smoke now," he said heading toward the sliding door. The night felt as cool and soothing as the smoke in his lungs. From the outside, it looked like Smith and Young were about to have a bit of a Donnybrook. The missionaries rushed from their cleaning duties and got between the two prophets. Smith and Young seemed hypnotized, frozen. Memories of his cherub came back to him . . . stop. Stop. Stop.
Next thing he knew, the missionaries were back in the kitchen cleaning and Smith had his hand on Young's shoulder. Was he crying? These two were damn strange, but, then again, wasn't' everything around here?
"Ron," Smith said imploringly as he stepped out onto the patio, "I do hope you'll forgive our lack of tact with you. Visitors are infrequent and newcomers we can relate to, so very rare. I do hope you'll forgive us."
"Uh, right, no, not a problem, Joe, not a problem."
"Now, I really am terribly embarrassed but Brigham and I have an engagement we must attend, so we'll be sending you back home now. We've called you a cab. I do hope that's acceptable."
"A cab? There are cabs here? How will I pay for it?"
"In your pocket, Ron, there's a hundred." Smith said looking down at Ron's filthy sailing pants.
"I don't think . . ." Ron thrust his hand in his pockets and there was, indeed paper in the right-hand one. He pulled out a crisp hundred dollar bill. It had his picture on it with his commodore's cap and an ascot. "What the hell?"
"It's how things work around here Ron. You'll get used to it. We'll send for you again soon. I promise." And with that Smith took him around the side yard and escorted him to a hulking, yellow 1947 Checker cab that sat purring in the end of the driveway. The livery on the door consisted of a red, flying horse with the words "Emanator Cab Cº." in Brush Script below. Smith helped Hubbard into the wide, mohair back seat. He then went around to the open passenger window and said "Bulgravia Arms, R6 City. And, Habibi, take good care of him, he's new." The cabbie nodded and they shook hands.
Young and all the missionaries had joined Smith in the driveway. Ron watched out the back window as they receded into the distance. He turned back to the front of the cab, where the short driver barely cleared the seat back. He was dark complected and wore a white kufi over his black, curly hair. The driver adjusted the mirror to get a look at his fare. "El Ron Hubbard! Providence brings you to my cab at last! You have no idea how long I've waited for this moment. Such an honor for a humble small town booster such as I."
Hubbard recalled Smiths words: "It isn't always safe." He swallowed hard. It was going to be a long ride.