Sunday, February 16, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 10, "Don't Cry For Me Trementina"

  "Ronnie! There you are you sonofabitch!" The tiny woman put her drink down on the table and pushed two men aside like they were saloon doors and came charging around the pool toward Ron.

  "Well, well, well, if it isn't my old pal Alisa! Look at you, you haven't changed a bit" Hubbard bellowed, with a "goddam know-it-all bitch" muttered under his breath as the diminutive woman approached.

  They embraced with the air kisses of false affection, their cigarettes dropping ashes down each other's backs. Rand's coterie across the pool had sad expressions, like dogs at the back door.

  "My, my, Alisa, your friends over there look rather lost without you. I think we'd better join them" he said, looking at the crowd staring at them from across the pool.

  "Oh, if we must. They'll just mope like that 'til I get back and start to talk. So annoying, and as for our meeting here, don't rub it in," she said poking him in the chest .

  "Beg pardon?" Hubbard said not quite following her line of thought.

  "This afterlife business, or whatever it is. So humiliating to be so wrong. And who's the first one to shove my nose in it? That prick, Paul the seventh." She took a long drag of her smoke and let it out pointing to a small man in a chaise lounge near the bar. She waved at him stiffly. He was a kindly looking bald man who had combined voluminous bermuda shorts with black support hose as fashion. He hoisted his cocktail in salute.

  "The Pope, eh?"

  "We're crawling in fucking popes here, Ronnie. Crawling in them! They're not all bad. Darling, little JP 1 is a sweetheart but he cheats at Poker. His left eye goes like this," she was scrunching up her left eye spastically, "see what I'm doing here? That's his tell. I clean him out every time."

  "I'll be sure to remember that." Hubbard remarked dryly. It was going to be a long night.

  They were walking around the pool when she stopped to ask him, "Where are your people? Don't you have your caretakers yet? Or are you too fresh out of the loop? How long has it been?"

  "Since what?" Hubbard said with some irritation.

  "Since you came-to, Ronnie. Since you woke up in this . . . place. I came-to right about the time that little bastard who stole your organization had you all drugged up in Creston. I felt bad for you, I always had a soft spot for you, even if you were a bit of a blowhard." She was smiling now. "Remember that night in Manhattan? I was staying at the Barbizon and you wanted to take me dancing. Me, an older woman." She grew awkwardly coquettish. "You were such a rake back then, Ronnnie. Such a rake. I'll never forget that you were so taken aback at how forward I was about sex. It must have been what, 1932? I had just sold my first screenplay and you had just dropped out of George Washington University. What dreams we had for the world Ronnie, what dreams!"

  "Oh, it was a time, alright. I couldn't walk straight for a week!" he said, laughing nervously.

  "Ach! Still the same old Hubbs," she said bitterly. "You probably don't remember a minute of it, do you?"

  "Of course I do. I had seven dollars and sixty cents to my name, and I took you to that high-class, mob speakeasy up in Harlem. We had quite the repast and danced all night . . ."

  "And we walked out with that seven-sixty still in your pocket, as I recall." she said with eyebrow raised. "How did you do that, Ronnie? I never did find out."

  "Misdirection, dear Alisa, misdirection. That poor goombah at the door was so confused and flustered by the time I was through with him . . ."

  "So was I, Ronnie. So was I."

  "Oh, now, let's don't play the wounded flower, dear. You're one tough customer 'Ayn,' I learned a lot from you." He emphasized her nom de plume with no small amount of sarcasm.

   "Don't I know it." she said wearily. She looked over at her followers clustered around the table where she'd been talking with them. They looked like they were going to burst if she didn't come back over to them. "Ronnie, I'm parched, lets get another drink, shall we? Then, I'll introduce you around."

They continued around the pool, and back to the waiting acolytes who mobbed her with attention, shutting Hubbard out of their circle.

  "Back!" he heard her shout as the group of men and young women backed away from her deferentially. They looked like they had just been caught chewing on the couch, and skulked off to the sidelines, leaving more of the other guests in view.

  "Now, Ronnie, I believe you know Joe and Brigham?" Sure enough, there were the two founders of Mormonism. Joseph looked as impeccable as he had the night he ushered Hubbard into the cab with that awful little man (Mental Note: he'd need to audit that memory out). And, Brigham, well, nobody seemed to even notice the blood. Most likely everybody here was used to it, or worse. The pair held up pink drinks that looked like Shirley Temples in a toast. "And, I believe you know Mrs. Eddy." The woman who had watched him write (and god knows what else) stood under a tiki torch a good ten feet away. She looked at him furtively, waved weakly, and looked quickly away. "She's a charmer alright" Ayn Rand said sarcastically. "Oh, there's someone you really should know, Ronnie, my dear comrade and my mentor when I first got here." She moved into a crowd around a table and returned with a smiling, tan, stocky man in tow. He was sporting a bushy, sun-bleached beard and his head was covered with a broad straw hat. A loud Hawaiian shirt, white shorts and huaraches rounded out his overly casual appearance. The men at the table he'd been plucked from were similarly disheveled.

  "Que pasa, Ron!" he said with a thick Russian dialect. "You call me Vlad! Such a crazy thing this is, no? What you drinking, Ron?" Vlad waved at a bespectacled man with a thick shock of misbehaving hair, who he'd been sitting next to at the table. "Leon! Amigo! Mas cerveza por favor!"

  "Uh, I think I had a Mai Tai if I'm not mistaken" said Ron looking under his tiny umbrella. "I could definitely use another one."

  "Leon!" Vlad barked again "You heard the man, a Mai Tai, tovarich!" The man in the loud shirt turned back to Hubbard "We get you hooked up my friend. Leon is fantastic bartender." Leon was now busy in the thatched-roofed, outdoor bar, chipping away nervously at a block of ice with a big silver pick.

  "Well, it looks like you two are getting along famously" Rand said slinking up to wrap her arm around Vlad's muscular torso. Two of Rand's male followers glared at them.

  Hubbard looked this Vlad character up and down. What did she see in this beach bum?

  "So, uh, Vlad, what do you do here, or should I say what did you do . . . you know, back . . . then . . . before?" He was unsure of how to refer to one's former existence.

  "Really? You don't know? Well, I give you hint. Back then it was all proletariat this, and workers that, you know? The USSR? The October revolution? I make this? Lenin? Rings a bell, no?"

  "The hell you say! Vladimir Lenin? Alisa?" He was completely shocked. They'd always hated communism with such passion.

  "Oh Ronnie, we were all going to change the world, weren't we? Vlad was no different. He had such good intentions Ron, you have no idea. Suffered such loss! Things haven't exactly gone well for his endeavors in the last half century or so. You think your successor was a little monster? Well Vlad's was the monster of the century. How would you like to have that on your conscience? Your little tyrant squirreled away a few hundred mil, slapped a few executives and broke up a few families, boo hoo. His killed tens of millions!"

  Vlad interjected, "You have no idea, Ron. After I die, everything goes south. Then every time some jackass thug pins a red star on his hat, kills a few million people and it gets laid at my feet. Not fair Ronnie, not fair at all. I tell you this, if that slob Stalin ever comes out of his loop, I don't know what I'll do to him. But as it stands now he spends his days burying the dead at a vast, ugly gulag along the Kolyma. Day after day. Over and over again. He can rot there forever for all I care."

  "Excuse me, but may I cut in here?" said a sleekly elegant, blonde woman. Her bleached hair was pulled back in a chignon and she wore white linen capri pants and bolero jacket over an olive green halter top. She had come click-clacking out of the crowd on impossibly high heels and inserted herself forcefully between Rand and Hubbard. "Ayn, cara mia, who is this man and why have I not met him?" She turned to Hubbard and grasped his arm, "Señor," she said breathlessly, "my name is Maria Eva Duarte de Perón . . ." She paused expectantly for some kind of recognition to set in. When it wasn't forthcoming, she continued," . . . and what is yours?"

  The woman was so intense Hubbard actually backed away slightly, he thought she might try to eat him.

  "Down girl" said Ayn. "Really Eva, give the man some room to breathe, piranhita. I'm sorry Ron, someone is a bit starved for fresh meat."

  Ron was flattered, "I remember you, my dear. I seem to remember hearing a recording of the musical about your life Mrs. Perón. What was the song? Don't Cry For Me . . ."

  ". . . Argentinaaaaaa!" the blonde woman sang painfully, "the truth is I never left you. All through my wil . . ."

  "Enough Eva! Whose party is this anyway? Mine, that's whose. You write a book and we'll hold one for you, now run along! Vamoose muchacha!" Rand shooed the dejected blond into the cocktail crowd. The combo started playing a jazzy version of that very song and Eva was making a noisy attempt at getting up on the bandstand to sing.

  Lenin looked pained. "I better go ward off disaster, bublitchka. I see you later, up in suite. Good to meet you Ronnie! See you round the circuit." he walked toward Eva who was tussling with the vocalist of the jazz combo. "Eva, baby, look over here! Let's go get cocktail . . ."

  "I don't know what I'd do without him." Ayn took Ron's arm and they strolled toward the bar. "Well, Ronnie, we really are a couple of pikers aren't we? I mean compared to most of these folks here, we barely made a dent in history."

  "Well, now, Alisa, I wouldn't say tha . . ." Ron began to protest, but she cut him off.

  "Ron. For all my writing and lecturing, all I managed to accomplish was to create a slavishly unthinking, pampered, selfish whining class. Reason without compassion is monstrous, Ron. Monstrous. And you? You really haven't had time to see what's been done in your name, have you?" She looked softer. Concerned. "I suppose you really haven't had the time to unpack all that you've done. It isn't fun Ronnie. If it weren't for Vlad . . ." she trailed off.

  "Exactly what's been done in my name? Joe and Brigham went on about how I made mistakes and started to show me some computer thing the other day with Mike Rinder and something about Miscavige and buildings. I couldn't really follow, to be honest."

  They reached the bar and the bespectacled man with the wild hair handed him a fresh Mai Tai. "I think you find this one a bit better than hotel drink" said the Russian.

  Hubbard pulled the umbrella out, ate the fruit off the stick and took a sip. It was spectacularly strong. "Well, Leon, that's a hell of a drink you've made there! What do I owe you?"

  "Introspection, Ron. Real introspection" he said with intensity. And with a curt salute, he returned to the group of scruffy, bearded beachcombers at the table by the pool.

  "What the hell did he mean by that, Alisa?" He felt the weight of the charm bracelet in his pocket and willed away the fresh memories that were bound to it.

  "Let me see it, Ron." Ayn was holding out her hand expectantly.

  "Aw, fercrissakes, not you too! Can everyone here read my mind?" he said.

  Again, a sudden silence. No music. No talking. And everyone was looking straight at him. Time, or whatever passed for it in this place, stopped.

  "Ron!" Ayn was shaking him violently now. "Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, snap out of it!"

  Everything slammed back to normal. What the hell was that time stopping thing? It was just like the incident with those drunk men back at the Bulgravia Arms.

  "What is that, Alisa? Why can't I do it? And don't tell me it takes time." He was really spooked.

  "It's a feature of this continuum, Ron. You do get used to it after a while. But don't change the subject, back to the business at hand. The bracelet please. There are clues in it, if you look for them."

  He reached into his pocket with his free hand and pulled out the gold bracelet. He handed it to Ayn/Alisa and she examined each one carefully.

  "Ah! See? This one, here. The little mask. You know what that one's about?" she asked.

  "The Three Musketeers?" Ron said uncertainly.

  "No! It's Guy Fawkes, the famous traitor. He plotted to blow up Parliament."

  "In England? Does this have something to do with St. Hill?" he wondered.

  "There's been a development. A group formed recently. A group opposed to Scientology, Ronnie. Anonymous. He's their symbol. The protestors wear that mask for anonymity."

  "Protestors? Well, we'll find out who they are and sue them. We'll ruin them, that's what we'll do!" Ron was getting agitated at this news.

   "It's not so easy Ron, not with the internet. Nobody is afraid of your lawyers anymore. Everyone knows all your secrets. I mean OT-III, let's face it, hon, it wasn't really your best work, now was it?"

  He leaned in closely to her. He was almost whispering, "Alisa, I . . . I was so high when I wrote that. I really thought it was true. My followers, they were lapping up the Space Opera stuff. I think I was convinced that it was a real memory . . . I thought . . ."

  Ayn interrupted him. "Oh, and this one. It's the symbol at the Trementina base, the one you can see from orbit!" She was fingering a filigree charm, made up of two interlocked circles with two interlocked diamond shapes.

  "Trementina? What in Sam Hill is that?" His life was, evidently, weirder than he thought.

  "It was a project of Miscavige's, to create an underground bunker where all of your works could be stored on steel plates in titanium caskets for eternity. There are several bases, actually."

  "What? How the hell much did he spend on . . . " then he did an unintentionally comedic doubletake, "did you say 'eternity?'" He was warming up to the idea. It sounded important. But his reverie was short lived. Taking form before him was an interesting sight. If he wasn't mistaken, The King of Rock and Roll was charging angrily toward him from the lobby door, with a gaggle of excited young women trailing behind.

  "Ayn! Goddamit, why didn't you tell me this bastard was gonna be here? I'da brought a fuckin' gun!" bellowed Elvis Aaron Presley. The gaggle of fans squealed with delight. "Shut up!" he commanded. They complied, looking suddenly contrite.

  Hubbard was instinctively calculating an escape route. The singer looked like he meant to do him some real harm. The cocktail crowd parted like the Red Sea for Moses. Elvis was nearly upon him when Ron suddenly found himself surrounded by . . . girls. They were his messengers, come to protect Source.

  Ayn thought it was quite a sight. Two grown men, surrounded by posses of young women, facing off by a swimming pool.

  "Outta the way, babes!" the King snarled angrily.

  Hubbard gathered more of the girls in front of him.

  Elvis ratcheted the tone, "Come outta there! You messed with the wrong country boy's family you sonofabitch!"

  He had to be talking about Priscilla and Lisa Marie. Hubbard remembered reading GO reports of the effort to secure her back in the '70s. This could get out of hand quickly.

  "Elvis! Elvis, stop it now! We can all talk abou this like adults!" Ayn was hopping up and down in front of Elvis' caretaker/fans, holding her hands up in front of her (as if she could stop them). "Please, you know how I feel about displays of force. This is my soirée and I won't have it." She was getting the upper hand, now. Elvis was visibly calming down.

  "That bast . . ." Rand shot him a look. "uh, sorry, ma'am, that man over there, conned my ex-wife and my beautiful little girl out of millions of dollars That was my money he stole! My money!" It looked like Presley was getting hot under the collar again.

  Elvis looked young. This wasn't the fat, druggie Elvis that Hubbard had mocked when he died in 1977. This was the sleek, young Elvis that his fans remembered from the '60s. Elvis had rudely rejected Ron's overtures to visit the Celebrity Center and Hubbard never forgot it. His famous sneer was now directed at Hubbard.

  "Aw, hell, I guess it really doesn't matter, anymore. My little girl's all grown up and she told you where to go, Mister. Called your cult worse shit than I did, and she did it in song. Ain't that a kick?" He was laughing with pride now.

  What did he mean by that? Did Lisa Marie blow? Was she a musician now? Hubbard was too fresh out of the loop to follow a lot of the facts being thrown at him. But he surely didn't appreciate the joking and degrading from this fellow. He thought he should put an end to this with a display of humility. "So, uh, I suppose we might just shake hands and be done with this disagreement." Hubbard said as casually and affably as he could.

  The singer regarded Ron suspiciously. Then Rand poked Elvis in the side and said "shake," like she was scolding a bad dog. An "aw shucks" look washed across the King's face and his girls parted for him. Hubbard wasn't taking any chances and reached through two layers of  messengers to shake Elvis' hand.

  And that was it. The King turned away and went to sit with the Russians, though his fans continued to give Ron the stink eye.

  A mixture of relief and guilt swirled through Hubbard. He wanted to kick himself. He had hidden behind teenage girls! He hoped it wasn't too obvious to everyone else. With the danger past, his young messengers turned their attention back toward him. The dozen lovely young ladies were wearing their CMO dress whites, and they all appeared to between 15 and 20 years of age. They fussed over him, one brushed off his suit, another lit a fresh Kool and placed it in his mouth and one proffered a clean ashtray, while another took his drink and held it at the ready. Funny. He didn't recognize any of them. They all seemed to know him though.

  "So, where are you girls from?" he asked in a fatherly tone.

  They said nothing. They just smiled blankly and stood by a few feet away.

  "They won't talk much, Ronnie. They're caretakers. They aren't real people, so they don't have much to say. To paraphrase Dickens, they're the chains we forged in life . . . or something. None of us know much about what's behind this continuum, but the caretakers are part of the package. Not the sharpest tools in the shed. There are a few who might join you who were alive once. But you'll recognize them. They won't be so . . . generic.

  Come to think of it, all these girls looked like they could be sisters. Blonde. Tall. Shapely. At least they seemed better behaved than Elvis' excitable troop. "Will they do my bidding?"

  "Anything. But take care. Sid and I think they might be some kind of test." She looked deadly earnest.

  "Ah, Sid. So you know the ol' Buddha, then?"

  "Of course, we all do. We're all big fish in this small pond, Ronnie. Some of us are just bigger than others." She shrugged and took his arm again, shooing the messengers away. "Leave us girls, he's safe now." The messengers moved away to sit over by the fire pit. They never took their eyes off him.

  "So, uh, Alisa," he cleared his throat nervously, "what do I do next? How will I know where to go? I was on my way back to my hotel when I ended up here? Should I try to go back to that awful flea bag?"

  "If it's still there. It may not be. You see, we're not sure any of this is really here. Things are so fluid at times. Here," she said pressing an object into his hand, "I want you to have this, it has my number in it." It was one of Steve Job's Apple phones. She showed him how to turn it on and how you would slide your finger around and the screens would change function. Then she introduced him to Siri.

    After his lesson Ron asked, "So, is she, um, real, this Suri?"

  "Siri" Ayn corrected him.

   "Whatever, what I mean is, does she understand my questions?"

  "As far as I can tell, it's just a program in the phone's memory, but as I said, things are fluid. Just say, 'Siri, call Ayn, and pronounce it correctly, Ron or you'll get somebody else, I really don't go by Alisa anymore."

  "Well, you'll always be Alisa to me." Were those feelings again? Affection? Regret? Resentment? They mixed together and swam around in his head until he shook them off.

  "It's been a long night Ronnie, I think I'll go up and join Vlad, have a nice fuck and get some sleep." She watched him for a reaction.

  "You still know how to make a fellow blush, now don't you, Alisa?"

  "Good night, Ron. I'll be seeing you around." And with a peck on the cheek, she walked back to her pack of followers. "Alright! Alright! Who has to tinkle before bed? Come on everyone, let's go . . ."

  The party was winding down. The Russians were heading inside with some other party goers. Joe and Brigham were nowhere to be seen. A few Sea Org drones were cleaning up and that Perón woman was leaving with the band. She saw Hubbard and mouthed "I'll call you" pantomiming a phone with her hand. He waved back, somewhat relieved and turned back to find his messengers, but they were gone. Hmmm. Did they only show up when you were in trouble? And where did they go when they went? It was all just as well that it was ending. He was tired now.

  The hotel was ablaze in floodlights. He didn't remember it being quite this grand back in his day. There was a chorus of frogs somewhere out in the warm night. The frog's shrill call combined with the sweet perfume of jasmine on the warm air was quite beautiful. The grit and racket of R6 City seemed a distant memory. He walked down the long colonnade toward his room, reminiscing about the first time he saw Clearwater, and how he pulled the wool over the eyes of those chumps on the city council back in '75. He was thinking that his 'United Churches of Florida' scam really was a bit of genius, when he heard someone crying. It sounded like a girl.

  He saw where the tears were coming from. There was a young messenger sitting in front of his door, she was hugging her knees with her head down. Her long blonde hair covered her like a golden mantilla. He never knew what to do when someone was crying, so he said "Now, what could a Commodore's Messenger possibly have to cry about?" trying to sound kindly.

Ayn had said he might recognize one of his messengers someday, and he did, the instant a 12 year-old Shelly Barnett looked up at him, red-eyed, sobbing, "I hate . . . him, sir. I . . . hate him so fucking much."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 9, "Death for the Dead"

  'Commodore' the girl had said, 'Now, that's more like it,' thought Hubbard. And such a lovely young lady, too. Tall and attractive in her crisp navy suit. He noticed that she was wearing a charm bracelet filled with strangely familiar symbols. He'd given Mary Sue such a bracelet with a charm for each child (of hers) when Arthur was born. But this one was different. He noticed an ARC triangle. A tiny cherub. A gorilla. That angel from the Mormon spire. A crescent moon. A buddha. An odd, grinning man's face wearing a wide brimmed hat (a Musketeer?) and dozens of others.

  The young woman saw that he was staring at it. "Isn't it pretty? Each one means something very special. I love how they jingle!" she chirped, shaking her wrist merrily.

  He smiled and then he caught his reflection in the mirrored wall of the front desk and recoiled. He looked like a bum.

  "Would you like me to show you to your room, Sir?" the young woman said with a note of concern.

  Hubbard took one more sweep of the lobby to see if Sid had followed him in. Empty, except for a couple of Sea Org cadets pushing a cart of bulging file folders who snapped crisp salutes as they passed. "Well, I suppose I can't refuse an offer like that from a lovely young lady like you," he said suavely, unable to resist turning on the charm, even in his present state.

  "Do you have any baggage with you today, Commodore?" she asked earnestly.

  "No, no, I'm, uh, traveling light, you see. Top secret business." He had now turned the charm up to 11. "This getup, the stubble. You see, I've been doing a bit of research into the Whole Track. Very hush, hush, you know."

  "Oh, Yes, sir. Of course . . ." Lisa said, nodding conspiratorially.

  Was she stifling a laugh? She'd better not be. Maybe she was just sneezing. 'Don't be so paranoid,' he thought.

  The young woman turned and began searching for a room key in the rows of boxes. They were all empty except for one. She pulled the key out . . . "One seventy four!" she said holding the key up triumphantly. She was displaying a little too much verve for Hubbard. He loathed a simulacrum of enthusiasm. "It's the Tropical Terrace Room for you, sir!" the young lady said rather theatrically. She seemed to be doing her best to evoke the mystery of the islands.

  Hubbard felt a twinge of . . . something. 'What was she up to?' he thought. But now she had him by the hand and was leading him through the lobby at an ever quickening pace.

  "Oh, you are going to love this room, Commodore! It has all the comforts, sir, all the comforts. And it has peace and quiet. Your research can continue in complete and total silence. Like I said, you're going to love it!" They were almost jogging at this point. She was growing more manic as they approached the room. Lisa was squeezing his hand really hard now, and, if he was going to be honest, she was getting a bit scary.

  She released his purpling hand. The front desk girl was shaking as she put the key into the door. Alarming at first, she was just getting annoying now. The young woman finally got the door open and without taking her eyes off him, she bowed dramatically, scraping low to usher him in.

  All at once she sprang into action. Miss Lisa McPherson, Clear, was now speeding around like a coke fiend.  "This, this, this is the door. The door. The door! The doooooooor!" she sang in a fake operatic voice followed by shrill giggles. "The closet door! The cabinet door! The door to the bathrrrrroom. The commode-door!" A shrill laugh, then, "the bathroom is for, well . . ." she cackled hysterically, her voice pitched high, "the bathroom is for shitting shit all over the place!" More uncontrolled cackling, almost crying now. "Shitting shit, shitting shit, shitty, shitty, shit-shit . . . SHIT!" she was barely able to get the last 'shit' out when she suddenly resumed with enhanced intensity, "the windows, you can see through them. See? See how you can see? Outside. Through the glass?" More cry/laughing. "These are drawers you can put . . ."

  "Stop! Shut up! Just shut up!" Hubbard bellowed. "For gods sake, be quiet and get your restimulated ass out of here! You, young lady, are clearly stuck in some kind of incident! Go get some auditing! Out!" The young woman was now out of control veering between tears and hysterical laughter. He steered her to the door, pulled the key from the lock, and with a final shove, ejected her out into the colonnade. He slammed the door behind her.

  Silence.

  That was strange. The young woman stopped laughing the second he shut the door. Like turning off a switch. Well, it didn't matter. Maybe he could finally get some rest and clean up.

  Hubbard turned around and headed back toward the  . . . bed. Wait. Where was the furniture? And what was that smell? There was furniture when he came in here a moment ago, and art on the walls, but now the room was stripped, save for a mattress on the floor. But the walls. The walls were smeared with . . . well, he didn't want to know. He pulled his sweater collar up over his face. No use. It was gagging.

  Well, he may have been exterior for 28 years, but he was still the Commodore, goddamit, and he was going to get to the bottom of this. He charged for the door in a right fury. But something stopped his hand as he reached for the doorknob. A fear. A terror, really. He froze.

  This was silly. He was already dead, what the hell could happen to him? But that dread. It was the girl. He could feel her there, right other side of the door. Just . . . there, waiting for him. There was no peep hole in the door, but he knew it. He could feel it. He put his hand on the door and it was freezing cold, so cold he was afraid his hand would stick to it. He backed away. The door was giving off a frozen mist now, like the dry ice fog in a cheap sci-fi flick. It gathered just above the floor, pouring out to fill the room. He was transfixed. She was there. He knew it.

  He instinctively backed up. He kept backing up until he hit something with his heel. He spun around but now the mist was about thigh high, so he could see nothing below his waist. The mattress! It was the fucking mattress! He started to laugh, with the stress and fatigue of it all. "Old man, you still know how to scare the crap out of yourself after all these years," he said to himself, but his bravado and smile quickly faded. He looked back at the door, mist was now pouring down it like a waterfall. There was a chain lock and a deadbolt. He made his way through the waist high fog and pulled his sweater off to use as a glove against the cold. He locked the deadbolt and slid the chain into place. There. He was safe.

  Then he heard it.

  What was that? Panting? A faint, shallow, raspy breathing? It was behind him in the room.

  "Alright! Who the hell is doing this?" he said, trying to sound tough.

  The door was so cold he had to move away from it or freeze. He pulled his nasty sweater vest back on and moved toward the kitchenette on his left. There was nothing in the drawers or cabinets to use as a weapon. The breathing continued, weak and rattling with pleurisy.

"Bang!" went the metal skin on the fire-door as it popped in contraction from the assault of cold. Hubbard shot forward and fell over onto the mattress.

  He wasn't alone.

  If he could have shit or pissed himself, he surely would have. He couldn't move. A cold, dry hand grasped his arm. He recoiled, but the nearly skeletal hand held tight. He couldn't really see for all the mist around him, but he could hear. And what he heard was a jingle. The jingle of charms.

He tried again to wrest his hand free, but this time the whole body came forward with it. It was Lisa, but her beautiful face was almost cadaverous, covered with sores and eyes sunken deep in their sockets. She was trying to talk.

  "Q-q-quiet" she barely whispered, gasping short, sharp breaths between words, "I'm . . . clear . . . no . . . sick" she said pleadingly. "Just . . . need . . . quiet. Rest. Introspect . . . " she trailed off, coughing weakly, her rattly lungs betraying her condition.

  "What do you want? Who are you? What happened to you?"

  "Come . . . closer, I . . . don't . . . have . . . much . . . time." she rasped.

  He had no choice. Her hand may have been barely skin and bones, but he wasn't going anywhere until she was done with him.

  "Did . . . did I . . . do this?" Hubbard asked, afraid of the answer. Now he was shaking.

  She just looked at him with her graying pupils. "You know . . . who," she said.

    "I know what?" he asked softly, but her hand had relaxed, her breathing had stopped. She was still. He lay there in shock for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he rolled off the mattress onto the floor and backed up against the wall. The mist was dissipating. The front door looked normal again, save for all the condensation that had pooled at its base. He turned to look back at Lisa, but she had gone all translucent. She was evaporating with the wisps of fog around her. Only her circle of golden charms remained.

  Death for the dead.

  Death for the dead. Those words kept repeating in his head. Where had he heard them before? Death for the dead. He was still shaking badly and felt like he might vomit. Opening the bathroom door, he expected more excrement, but he saw instead that the room had returned to its previous, pristine state. There were fresh, white towels and flowers placed on the back of the commode . . . and it didn't smell. He shut the door behind him and staggered to the toilet. Clutching the rim, he dry-heaved a few times. Nothing came out. 'Not always safe' Smith had said. "Not safe. No shit," Ron announced bitterly to the porcelain bowl before him.

  He got to his feet, peeled his stinking rags off and showered for the first time in, what . . . 28 years?

  After all that he'd been through, the hot water was paradise, and the soap smelled of sandalwood, which reminded him of his first wife, Polly, and a life so very long ago. He luxuriated in the shower until the stench of death for the dead was gone. The thick towels were like the ones he'd insisted on when he was kitting out St. Hill. So long ago. When he emerged dripping and refreshed, there was a fine, English shaving kit with a ceramic mug full of lather and a boar bristle brush waiting next to the sink. He scrutinized his reflection as he shaved in front of the bathroom mirror. Not bad for, what was he? Seventy-something? He looked more like fifty. His teeth even looked better, his hair fuller and less gray. What was the other thing that Joseph Smith had said? 'That could change?' "Well, I guess it has" he said to the mirror, feeling rather pleased with himself.

  The idea of putting on those horrible, stinking rags he'd been wearing was unappealing, but he couldn't wear a towel everywhere, so he headed out of the bathroom to see if there was some soap to wash his clothes out in the kitchenette. He was only half surprised to find the room fully furnished, the kitchenette stocked. Best of all, here were fresh undergarments and beautiful blue suit arranged on a valet next to the closet.

Ron Hubbard loved luxury and he especially loved fine clothing. He savored the experience of putting on a crisp, fresh shirt and a perfectly tailored suit. It all smelled expensive. On the bureau, there were ruby cufflinks and a watch. But not just any watch, it was a gold Vacheron Constantin Reference 4178 Chronograph, the one with the alligator strap. He bought it for himself when Dianetics went on the best seller list the first time. He reached for the timepiece but stopped, noticing the charm bracelet sitting next to it. Feelings again. Was that sadness? Regret? Maybe, for a moment, then he shook it off. Hell, he was young again! And hungry! He fastened the jewelry and watch, pocketed the bracelet and admired himself in the full length mirror of the closet door. He was back.

  Feeling a bit more like himself, L. Ron Hubbard walked purposefully to grasp the doorknob, and . . . hesitation. The hesitation was slight, but it was there. But, she was gone. He'd watched the girl exteriorize right in front of him. Nothing could be done about whatever happened to the her. It wasn't any of his business anyway. He didn't even know her. He grabbed the knob and opened the door. No Lisa. Just the perfume of a balmy Florida evening and the boozy sound of a jazz combo coming from the pool area. He strode out into the night to reclaim Flag as his own.

  There was a cocktail party by the pool. Finally. Some human company. Fashionably dressed people were all milling around with drinks and, (yes!) cigarettes. The party was gay and the chatter, lively. The center of attention seemed to be a small, intense brunette who was holding court by the buffet table. Her audience hung on her every word.

  "Commodore?" A Sea Org waiter appeared proffering a lit Kool and a rum drink with a festive umbrella in it.

  "Uh, thanks, son. So, tell me, who's that little broad over there with all the men around her? I can't quite make her out . . . " he asked pointing across the pool.

  "Oh, that's Miss Rand, sir. This is her book party. She's staying in the Presidential Suite. I hear she's very interesting."

  "Oh, she is, son, she is . . ."

Sunday, February 09, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 8, "The Koan of Silence"

  The elegant stranger was now before Hubbard, arms still outstretched expectantly. "Maitreya," the man had called him. Another one of his fanciful whoppers back to bite him in the ass. Was this how it was going to be from now on? Maybe this was hell after all.

  "Mr. Hubbard . . . Ron, I may call you Ron, mayn't I? So much more friendly, don't you think?" said the man in his perfect, clipped English.

  He was at least 6 foot five, with aquiline features and glistening, ebony hair pulled into a knot on top of his head. He had the palest alabaster complexion Hubbard had ever seen, and beautiful, golden-brown eyes framed in what looked like eyeliner. "Another goddamn fru . . ." Hubbard started to think, but caught himself.

  "You're learning fast," laughed his new companion, "but then again, you were very adaptable and quick on your feet in your prime." The man's smile was utterly unnerving to Hubbard. "But how rude of me to prattle on without a proper introduction. I am Mr. S. G. Lokavid, but you must call me Sid."

  "Well, Sid, as  you can see, I'm in a bit of a pickle here."

  "I should say so. I imagine you're in quite a state. Still a bit groggy from all that time in your loop." The tall man was picking bits of lint off the arm of his perfectly tailored suit. "Do you like it?" Mr. Lokavid asked.

  "Oh, I had a few suits in my day. That looks like a London cut from Anderson & Sheppard." Hubbard said straightening out the filthy sweater vest he had been wearing for god knows how long.

  "Very good Ron. Your're getting clearer. Well, lets get you to the hotel, shall we? We've got to get you cleaned up before the Keynote." The pale man was now looking at the small, glass tablet in his hand.

  "That's the second time you've mentioned a keynote. Are you speaking somewhere?."

  "Oh, when am I not speaking somewhere?" the man laughed. "But no, my companion in the car is addressing his faithful at a convention. A major announcement. He's been a bit down in the dumps and needs encouragement. I thought I'd give him a lift and tag along for moral support."

  "So, what was that business about 'my loop'?" Hubbard asked.

  "Ah, the loop. It's a phenomenon, Ron. It happens to all of us when we first transition to this place. Some pass through it quickly, some take longer." said Sid smiling kindly.

  "Well, according to some people, I took quite some time." Hubbard felt a twinge of failure although he didn't really know why.

  "Oh, goodness no Ron. There are some who preceded even me who still haven't come-to."

  "Exactly, how long have you been here?" Ron asked.

  Sid tapped at the glass surface of the small device in his hand. "Siri, how long have I been here?"

  An oddly accented woman's voice came from the object, "Sid, you have been here two thousand five hundred ninety seven years, two months, seven da . . ." Sid cut the voice off by pressing a button on the side of the thing.

  "So, it sounds like you're the head honcho around here." said Ron.

  "Oh, my gracious no. Just another being on another path in another world." said Sid thoughtfully. "But these things will have to wait for later, Ron. We really must be on our way."

   Sid helped Ron to his feet and the two of them crossed the empty road toward the low car now clearly visible in the half-light. The man in the front seat had been reading something, but was now looking at them as they approached. Sid opened the back door and Ron huffed himself into the leather seat. "Hello there. I'm Ron Hubbard," he said thrusting his hand toward the man in the front seat. The man looked awful. He was terribly thin. He swam in his black turtleneck.

  "I know who you are." said the man with cold disdain.

  Sid slid into the driver's seat, and the car came to life with sound and light. A huge screen that took up most of the dashboard showed the name 'Tesla' appeared and right after that, a map. Sid touched the screen and the map moved.

  "Tesla?" Hubbard asked, "is that the name of this car?"

  "Tesla! I know, I know. Why would I not drive a Fisker instead? I get an awful lot of ribbing for that."

  "I imagine I have a lot of catching up to do" Ron said to no one in particular. The frail man in the passenger seat was silent. And speaking of silence the car made almost no noise at all. About the only sound it made was the rumble of the tires over the broken pavement.

  The sun broke over the jagged mountains in bright spears, bathing the three men in a warm honey-gold. There was the soft sound of a gong. It came from the small, screened device that Sid had set in a tray between the seats. He held it to his ear and began speaking in a singsong language. 'Hindi' thought Hubbard. This guy was awfully pale for an Indian. Sid finished his conversation and turned to his front seat companion. "Steven, how is your announcement coming? Are you ready for your big day?" he asked encouragingly.

  The dour man just stared at the glowing tablet on his lap. He seemed to be tapping at a keyboard on the screen itself. "It's not like I thought it would be, Sid. I'm not at peace. I'm not in control and I don't like it."

  "Amen to that, brother" Hubbard muttered under his breath.

  "What was that?" snapped the thin man.

  "I said 'amen to that,'" Hubbard enunciated the words in an exaggerated fashion. " I understand your discomfort. Calm down, already." This guy was getting on Ron's nerves.

  Sid cleared his throat, "My manners fail me once again! Forgive me gentlemen. Ron, I didn't introduce you two properly. Ron Hubbard, meet Mr. Steven Jobs."

  "I tried that already, didn't seem to interested in pleasantries." Hubbard said dryly.

  "Excuse me for not dropping everything I'm doing to make you feel welcome here in singularityville." said Jobs sarcastically.

  "Parinirvana!" said Sid cheerfully.

  "Target 2, goddamnit." said Ron. He was beginning to get the hang of this.

  They rode in silence save for the odd clicking sounds coming from the tablet on which Jobs was furiously tapping. Sid was smiling wryly.

  "Well, Ron, I can hear the cogs turning in your mind. 'What are we all doing here?' 'What do we have in common?'" said Sid after a while. "I know you've met some of the others; Joseph, Brigham, Mary and, of course, Mo."

  "Okay, I get the whole religious leader angle. So what church did 'ol sourpuss start?" he said gesturing toward the front seat passenger.

  "Apple Computer. His followers are very devoted and worldwide." he said holding up the glass screened device he had been talking into. "Computing devices, technology. Communications. All facilitated by the World Wide Web. Something that you failed to foresee, Ron."

  So that's what that little fruit symbol was on every one of these glass screen things he kept seeing everywhere. "Apple, eh? The ol' knowledge of good and evil routine. That's straight out of R6!" he said professorially.

  "Actually, the bite was added to the logo to give it scale, otherwise people would have thought it was a cherry." said Steve Jobs sternly, he added "And in case you're not clear, I didn't start a religion, I started a corporation, and at least I kept mine as such."

  "And just what is that supposed to mean?" asked Hubbard with growing enmity.

  "I know your history, 'Elron', your real history. I was a seeker. I looked into Scientology when I was younger. Total bullshit. Your flim-flam started out as the "modern science of mental health" but when it failed to stand up under FDA scrutiny, bam, suddenly it's a religion. But I gotta give you an A for effort, Hubbard. Maybe even an A+." The wiry man was still fixated on the screen in his lap, but he was finally smiling.

  "Alright you two, don't make me have to stop this car . . ." his two passengers glared at him in tandem. "Really, lighten up, the both of you, eternity is too short for such seriousness." They drove on in silence.

  The desert spread out in all directions but signs of civilization began to emerge, housing subdivisions and small motel/casinos appeared. They were still the only car on the huge freeway. They exited toward the Vegas strip and drove into the parking lot of a huge conference center. On the marquis was a giant black screen and there was that apple with the bite taken out of it with the words "Welcome to Mac Universe" in white below it. Nothing made much sense. Where was everyone? There were a handful of people milling around in front of the main doors wearing blue t-shirts and chinos. All of them had white lanyards around their necks with small glass tablets on them that they checked compulsively. A heavily tattooed young man with a shaved head and a waxed, red mustache and long beard ran up to the car as it came to a stop at the main door. The rest of the young people in the t-shirts were very excited and quickly surrounded Jobs, ushering him into the building.

  Hubbard regarded Sid in the rear view mirror. "Okay, I get it. You're the Buddha. Sid. Siddartha, right? And that asshole is," he pointed toward the conference center doors," well, I suppose he' some kind of computer genius priest or something. But I have questions. What is this place? Where the hell is everyone?"

  "I didn't make this place, Ron. I'm just a person, like you. Like Steve. Like Mrs. Eddy and all the others here. Men and women of conviction and belief. We had our ideas about the world. We had our fears. We missed the truth as often as we found it. Heaven? Hell? Nirvana? Asgard? Do they exist? I cannot say for sure, Ron. From my many years here in this place, I can tell you only a few things. In the passage of time, it is parallel to where we came from, and I believe, parallel to other universes as well. From whence it comes is a mystery. It changes as Earth changes, though communication is one way only. We have no influence there but for our writings and actions past. Our beliefs shape our experience here. Terrifyingly at times. I suspect that the quality of our follower's lives shape it. Our interactions with each other shape it. Is it eternal? I know not. We can manipulate things here. You manifested that bus stop, for instance. But is this real in the sense of how it was when we lived? Not really. We live in a dream at times, sometimes a nightmare. But we are deprived of one thing Ron. Our followers. We have the caretakers. They watch and care for us, especially when we first arrive and are in the loop. As I said, some never come out of it. They can't seem to handle the repercussions of their life on Earth."

  Ron tried to take it all in. He thought about his "home" in the Bulgravia Arms. Well, that was certainly no reflection on him. No sir. That would have to be changed. Maybe he could whip this place into shape with some management tech. Find the ruins of these clowns and put them on the cans.

  Sid was shaking his head. "It takes time Ron. It takes time. Take it from someone who knows. I know you think you can just go ahead with what you used to teach in life, but it's not going to work here."

  This was getting exasperating. "So, can you read my mind or what? That's the fourth time in the last couple of days I swear my mind was being read. Well, why can't I read yours?"

  "Like I said, Ron. It takes time. Now, shall we go up to our rooms and get cleaned up before the presentation?"

  "Well, I don't suppose I can object to that . . . much." he grumbled.

  Siddartha was chattering on about how it was going to be 'bloody hot,' adding that at least it was 'a dry heat' as he guided the car beneath a glitzy, two-story port cochere. Sid was still blah, blah, blahing about 'nothing is as it seems' and 'the sound of one hand clapping', but Ron was impatient. He got out of the car and barged through the sliding doors only to find himself standing on the checkerboard, tile floor of the Fort Harrison hotel in Clearwater. He was at Flag. He turned around to look for Sid, but he and the car were gone. Ron bolted back through the automatic doors to find that the blast furnace hot of Las Vegas was gone too, replaced by the sultry humidity of central Florida. He stepped back into the air conditioned lobby. Like most everyplace else, it was empty save for a lone woman behind the front desk. Maybe she could offer him some direction at last.

She certainly was pretty, with curly blonde hair and bright, smiling eyes. "Commodore, welcome to The Fort Harrison and Flag, the Mecca of technical perfection! I'm Lisa, how may I serve you today?"

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 7, "Number 1.1 Son"

  "Never thought you'd see me again, did you?" said Geoffrey Quentin McCaully Hubbard.

  The elder Hubbard was silent. He wouldn't look at the slight young man before him. He backed away and started pacing small patterns like a trapped cat, he was looking for that cab driver. "You goddamn A-rab sonofabitch! Is this some kind of fucking joke? Was this your idea, you goddamn bastard?! Where are you?" Ron yelled into the dark.

  He could just make out the cabbie dancing among the blue runway lights beyond the fence, he was singing something Hubbard didn't recognize. He looked back toward his . . . he couldn't even think of the word 'son.' He thrust a pudgy finger toward Quentin, "you better not be here to blame me for . . . this!" he sneered, gesturing toward the idling Sunbird. "Do you know what you did to your mother? What kind of shitstorm you caused me? What the hell is this, anyway? Some kind of This is Your Afterlife bullshit?" He muttered to himself as he paced, agitation building. He looked like he was desperately searching for a way for all of this go just go away. He stopped in front of Quentin. "Well, 'son,'" he said acidly, "I'm not playing this goddam game. No sir. This is madness, that's what it is. It's mad!" Where the hell was that cabbie? "Habibi! Hab . . . bib!" he yelled again. And in yelling, his voice cracked and he started hacking violently. He was bent over gasping between coughs. 

  "Sir, are you alright? Quentin asked. He put his hand on his father's back, who instantly recoiled from the touch. "Get the . . . hell . . . away from me!" he half-coughed, half-gasped."You're not Quentin. I don't know who the hell you are, what kind of operation this is, but you're not him. You're not!"

  One thing Quentin was sure of: this was definitely his father. 

  Until now, this new existence had been so wonderful. Flying lessons. Learning to cook. Watching the planes come and go from his tidy home at The Airport. Studying his flight manuals. And then there was Noah. Until Noah showed up, it had been lonely, but when he came into Quentin's world, everything just lit up. But now, with his father, fat and red-faced in front of him, all the darkness came back. The constant upheaval. St. Hill The Apollo, and Flag. Brutish, paranoid, cruel Flag. The Sec Checks. The stats. The expectations. That last RPF. The closet. The lies. The gripping fear of his own father. All of it, back with this huffing, lumpen monster.
   
  "Don't you understand, Dad? Couldn't you see? I just wanted to fly. That was all I ever wanted." Then, it all came pouring out, "You still don't get it! Thanks to you and your bullshit church, I hated my own life. Your own child hated his life! Everything always had to be about you! About our eternity! Well, 'Daddy,' I wanted to fuck you and your church up, and . . . and," he was hyperventilating at this point, "I false reported and ran because I wanted out. I wanted to fly. And Dad, I did." He softened as he caught his breath again, "I flew. And omigod, it was so beautiful. That first lesson in an old Cessna 172, Dad . . . you have no idea. I remember going back to my motel that night and feeling so free. Free enough to . . ." Quentin paused, thought better of his train of thought and continued, "Well, free enough." The son turned away from the father to face the depths of the desert night. "But the next morning, I knew. I knew you'd find me and that I'd cave, and it'd be the RPF and then the RPF's RPF, and more of the dark." There was a long pause, "I don't remember doing it," he looked over toward the still-fuming car, "I really don't. But here I am, so I guess I did. I did do it . . . didn't I?"

  Hubbard looked away. He'd never heard so much as a disagreement pass the boy's lips before. This was new. They stood back to back for a moment, arms crossed in exactly the same pose.

  "The next thing I knew, I was in . . ." Quentin paused and stared up at the vault of stars overhead, ". . . well, another place, not far from here. They said you'd turn up. And here you are, exactly the same as always."

  "The same as what? How would you know anything about me. You weren't interested in anything I did, in my life's work. I offered you the world on a platter and it meant nothing to you. Nothing!"

  "Brigham and Joe said you'd be exactly the same, and you are." Quentin was looking down at his shoes. This behavior was something that made Ron seethe with anger when his child was young. No confront! The little sissy had no confront then, but he seemed different now. 

  "The Mormons? How do you know about them?" Ron demanded.

  "They sent for me a few days ago, two Missionaries came to my hangar."

  "You have a hangar?" Hubbard seemed taken aback. The kid had finally done something impressive evidently.

  Quentin looked slowly up from his shoes, until he was staring directly into the old man's beady eyes. "I have whatever I want, now, and you're really not on my flight plan."
  
  Quentin turned away from his flabbergasted father and resumed his stargazing. He began moving his hands about like they were two planes in a dogfight. Another habit that drove Hubbard to distraction once upon a time. 

  The two of them stood there in the dark, dirt lot in frozen silence. It was then that Hubbard noticed one of the stars blazing in the velvet black growing brighter. Slowly at first, then increasing in brightness and moving laterally in the sky. One light resolved into two distinct lights and then he could hear it, the whine of jet engines on approach. He looked over at Quentin, who was now lining up his airfoil/hands with the approaching jet. It looked big, really big. It was clearly coming in for a landing. The vast, plane, maybe a 747 or something equally huge, was almost upon them now and looked as though it would set down on the runway, just beyond the fence. As it passed over the thin pines at the end of the lot, Ron could see that it was a glistening white in the moonless moonlight, and on the floodlit tail was the same huge, red, winged horse he had seen at the gas station. The plane swept majestically past, and disappeared behind the trees to land quietly in the distance. After a few seconds, there was the roar of the reverse thrusters, and then the four engines spooled down to a soft keening, and the night was quiet again. 

  Quentin was lost in the reverie, "home" he said to himself. He smiled.

  "Well, now what?" Ron snapped.

  Quentin was pointing past him now, and said "I think that's my ride." 

  Ron turned around and saw that the plane that had just landed had pulled off the runway and was taxiing toward them. The tarmac ended just past the fence where they were standing and soon the screaming engines drowned out something Quentin was saying. The landing lights were blazing right at them, and out of the brightness came a small figure dancing animatedly towards the the father and son that stood on the other side of the chain link. 

  "Mo!" Quentin yelled. "Q-bird!" the cabbie responded waving his cap. The disheveled man who had driven him across the desert was now dressed in an immaculate, white airline captain's uniform with the red Pegasus symbol on the bill. "Time to go home Quentin. You drive," said the cabbie, slapping the preflight checklist across Quentin's chest. 

  Quentin's eyes lit up "You're kidding, right? I'm not rated on a 380!" he yelled over the now idling turbofans.

  "You are now" replied the captain. He put his arm around Quentin and they walked toward a set of towering airstairs that had just pulled up to the plane. Before they reached the bottom stair, Mo looked back over his shoulder at Ron. It was a look of pity and it felt like a bullet. Quentin was talking animatedly as the two of them walked up to the open door. A young man in a tee shirt and jeans met them at the top step. He hugged Quentin in the doorway, the Captain put his hands on their shoulders, and the three of them disappeared into the plane. A steady beeping heralded the departure of the truck carrying the airstairs, as the main cabin door was secured by what looked like the boy from the old gas station. 

  L. Ron Hubbard watched them enter the cockpit where he could see Quentin taking the pilot's chair. He was laughing with the cabbie and the man who greeted them. The cabbie settled into the copilot's seat. After a while the engines spooled up briefly to a sharp shriek and the plane began its long taxi to the opposite side of the airport. 

  In those moments, Hubbard felt a weird mixture of pride and . . . was that regret? It was hard to say. These feelings collided and blended in him until the plane came roaring back down the runway, began its rotation and took to its cushion of air, passing almost directly over him. And as the plane climbed into the moonless moonlight, the pride and regret faded, and the cold resentment of what Quentin had done to him returned to cover him like a familiar blanket of snow.

  The plane's lights receded into the inky dark, soon all he could see were the wingtip strobes. He looked around, the ancient Checker was gone, as was the Pontiac. It was silent once again. His resentment settled to a dull roar and he set about the business of what to do next, and that was find a ride. He started back toward the highway on the road that led to this godforsaken patch of desert. He had walked for about a fifteen minutes when he really began to panic. The vast dark of the desert and a sense of loneliness he'd never known before gripped him. He fumbled for the pack of Kools in his shirt pocket. Gone. They must've fallen out in the cab. This already long night seemed longer still. 

  Maybe he should have headed out into the airport instead of retracing his steps like this–who could tell what to do in this bizarre reality? He ached to sit down, and as he formed that thought, he saw an old fashioned bus stop up ahead with a small shelter and a bench. A metal sign read 'Route 422 - Wheatstone Bridge.' That seemed familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. Nothing else, though. No timetable, nothing. It didn't matter. The bench felt like a feather bed to him at this point. He was exhausted and despite what had just happened and, the unfamiliar cocktail of emotions heated by a wicked nic fit, the old man leaned back onto the shelter wall and fell into a dreamless sleep.

The sound of talking woke him. Someone was speaking in a clipped Oxford accent. He opened his eyes. In the hint of dawn he saw . . . something. They were lights or . . . were they eyes? Yes, they looked like sinister white eyes, about 20 feet down on the opposite shoulder of the road. He sat up and let the sleep roll off of him. As his wits coalesced, he could see that they weren't eyes after all, but that they were lights on the front of some sleek, futuristic car. They looked like they were drawn on with light. Strange. The voice came from an elegantly dressed man standing next to the car. The man was talking into some kind of handset, and Hubbard could make out another man in the front passenger seat. The man on the phone stopped talking when he saw Hubbard looking at him, and began to walk across the road toward him, arms open in greeting. 

  "Maitreya! We've found you at last! Come along then, we don't want to miss the keynote!"