It's strange how some events don't quite turn out as we expect them to. Even slam-dunk, carved in granite, the-sun-will-come-out-tomorrow things can go awry. It's stranger still when, just before the moment itself, in that last fraction of a second, you know it's all going to go haywire.
So it was for L. Ron Hubbard, his cheeks wet with tears, supine in surrender to his third wife's repetitive accusation, when he heard the sweet sound of the key in the door. There it was, that feeling of "oh, shit," but it wasn't an "oh, shit" he could put his finger on, just a sudden, awful knowledge that things were somehow about to go south.
In that moment of change, several things happened. Two small dogs burst through the barely open door, charging over the recumbent Hubbard, painfully crushing his left testicle in the process. Their goal? Their beloved mistress, Mary Sue, who staggered back, gasping in a lungful of air as though she just surfaced from a long dive.
"Vixie . . . and Tzu! Where? How? My babies, my babies . . ." she repeated as she slid down the wall for the second time that day, only this time it was in an ecstasy of recognition. The dogs were beside themselves licking her face, whining and yipping with joy.
The next, nearly simultaneous event was Hubbard realizing exactly who it was who'd opened that door. "Fucking goddamn hell" he muttered to himself.
"There you are you sonofabitch!" Polly said, filled with rage at the sight of the man who had so abused her and her children.
Ron was frantically kicking backwards across the slick, institutional linoleum, in hopes of protecting his one untrampled ball, which he was certain would now be in jeopardy from the charging Polly and Sara. Then there were . . . Mormons. More goddamn Mormons! Of course, they'd be at the bottom of this kind of mayhem.
Mary Sue, who had indeed been deep in a loop, sat back in shock, taking stock of the surreal cast of characters before her. There was her husband, for whom her feelings were both powerful and ambivalent. Then there were her two predecessors, one was, by her husband's account, a needy, nagging harridan who tormented Ron and tried to poison his children against him, and the other, a golddigger and a slut who hoodwinked him into claiming paternity of a child she had with Jack Parsons. She recognized them from pictures in their Guardians Office files, but strangely, they were both about 35 and dressed like it was the '60s. Then there were two young men in white shirts. Were they policemen . . . or waiters? Everything was so strange.
"Ron? Ron! What the hell is going on here? How did they get here?" she shot a withering glance at Hubbard who was rising slowly against the far wall. "And you two! I know all about you two! What were you doing with my babies!?" she said clutching the writhing dogs to her bosom.
"That explains the dogs!" Sara said, trying to hold Polly back from doing god knows what to Hubbard. "Polly! The dogs! That's how we found him . . . and her, that's Mary Sue, they're her dogs!"
Polly looked Mary Sue from head to toe and said, "Well, aren't we just pretty picture then, the three little wifeys, all in a row."
Sara interjected, "Say, what did you mean by that 'I know all about you two' crack? I can only imagine what that asshole told you." Now it was Polly holding Sara back.
"Now, now, can't we all just get along here? We have so much in common . . . me, for instance!" said Hubbard hoping to defuse a tense moment with some jocularity, but he was utterly ignored.
"Mary Sue, we're on your side. That poor excuse of a man left you to rot in prison for a crime he planned! Why do you think you're in this place? It's a jail! My god, I read that he never even wrote you a letter!" said Sara with great emotion.
Hubbard cringed and he looked around to see if he might slip out past the Mormons.
"Prison?" Mary Sue said as if in a daze. Her face had lost all its color. She pulled the dogs close to her again. "I remember the trials, the appeals . . . prison" she looked at Hubbard with a lost expression. "Ron, you never even wrote me a letter . . ." she said rising, her once crisp dress whites now filthy with dust and dog hair. "I, I . . . believed in you. I trusted you. You said we were clearing the planet. I went to prison, Ron. You just . . . hid."
You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Nobody moved.
"Now, you just said it yourself Mary Sue, I was clearing the planet . . . WE were clearing the planet . . . you and I . . . together. But, I had to stay out of prison, to keep the research going." Hubbard said.
"Are we exterior?" Mary Sue asked suddenly. "Am I finally exterior?"
"Uh, yes, Yes we're all exterior! That proves I was right, doesn't it? Here we all are in Target 2!" he said, going with the flow.
"I don't feel exterior. Are these doll bodies? Where are we really? This all seems pretty solid to me. Don't you think it's pretty solid?" Mary Sue walked around touching the walls and doors as she asked this.
"He doesn't know any more than we do Mary Sue. Look at him, bloviating and lying as usual. You can always tell when he's on one of his rolls, just making shit up on the fly. Only difference now, is I think I can actually hear the cogs turning" said Sara. "Listen. Don't you hear them Polly? Clickety clack! Clickety clack! 'I was, uh, walking a zorpdog on Mars the other day . . .'" she said puffing herself up to do her best Hubbard imitation.
For the first time in decades, Mary Sue Hubbard laughed out loud.
Mary Sue turned to Sara with a look of dawning awareness, "No! It was the Van Allen Belt! It was the Van Allen Belt, wasn't it Ron? Or was it Venus? You were always going exterior, weren't you? I tried for hundreds and hundreds of hours and you always said it was my own fault that I couldn't. I was CI or out ethics. But you! You were always off inspecting some implant station or Marcabian Ice Cream parlour!" Mary Sue was having her 'aha' moment. "It nagged at me Ron. My god, how it nagged at me. I told you once I thought you were making it all up as you went along. I actually fell for your excuses and explanations. Your stupid Wall of Fire! How could I have been so stupid?"
"But Mary Sue, we're dead! Look at them! They're only in their thirties, but they're dead as doornails! We all are, but we're talking here in Target 2! I was right all along!" Hubbard bellowed.
"This proves nothing. We could be in the Christian, or the Muslim heaven. Or, maybe it's hell!" She grew thoughtful and walked over to Ron, who backed away from her approach. "I suppose this could all be happening in my brain. Maybe I'm lying in a hospital somewhere, in a coma. That could be true, couldn't it?" she said looking at Polly and Sara as though they were some kind of museum display.
"Um, no Mrs. Hubbard, we're not in heaven, at least not that our Prophet has been able to tell. We are all technically dead" said the taller of the two men in the white shirts. "The Prophet says that he thinks we're in a place, a reality where leaders of humanity go. I'm sorry, let me introduce myself. I am Elder Cooper, Orbel Cooper and this is Elder Chalmers. We're with The Prophet Joseph Smith. We've been sent to retrieve Mr. Hubbard."
"Joseph Smith? The Mormon Joseph Smith?" Mary Sue looked puzzled.
"They're all here Mary Sue. Oh, I've met Jesus, Mohammed and The Buddha. Hell, the Buddha and I are old pals. I call him Sid. And we met Joan of Arc and Chairman Mao and, well, some . . . uh, others . . ." Hubbard said, trailing off not wanting to bring up Quentin or Nibs.
"Jesus? You met Jesus of Nazareth? Well, I certainly hope he never read any of . . ."
Hubbard cut her off, "Oh, very funny. Very funny. As a matter of fact, he did know about me. He did. He said I was right though, that he was just a man after all and that we were all in this together and suchlike. He gave me a smoke!" Ron looked nervous.
Mary Sue had a puzzled expression, "So, Orville . . ."
"That's Orbel, with a b."
"Sorry, this is all very confusing for me. Why am I here? I'm no leader." said Mary Sue.
"Well, you could be here to interact with Mr. Hubbard, to free yourself from your connection to him, but we think you might be here on your own merit. You have a small but loyal following to this day. Time will tell. You don't need a lot of followers to be here, just ask Mr. Hubbard." said Orbel gesturing toward a now glowering Ron.
"What are you so upset about?" queried Mary Sue.
"Oh, it's just a little joke at my expense that everyone seems to think is terribly funny." Hubbard said defensively.
Polly turned her back on Hubbard and addressed his current wife. "Mary Sue, I hope you'll understand that we didn't mean to upset you, we were told that we had to find Ron, to free ourselves. We've been in a sort of netherworld since we each died. I've been 'living' in what looked like Philadelphia since 1963 and Sara here died in 1997 and had a house nearby, though we both just met today. Joseph Smith told Sara that we were living in a sort of 'waiting room.' Honestly, it's all new to us, too."
"But Vixie and Tzu. How did you find them?"
"Well, they were sort of the key to our finding you . . . literally. We were wondering who these dogs were, and why they showed up in the same exact way, both running out in the middle of the street and causing accidents. Vixie ran in front of Polly's car this morning and Tzu darted out in front of us on our way here. The coincidence was just too much. As you spend more time here, you'll see that there are no accidents in this reality. They were obviously attracted to us since we were looking for Hubbard and you were with him. It all just sort of fell together. What did you call it Orbel? Inter . . . something?" asked Sara.
". . . sectionality. Intersectionality. It's a force here. People come here to free themselves from intense and negative attachments to the leaders that dwell here. Intersectionality makes things happen. We don't exactly know how. It has to do with intention" Orbel explained.
"So people who died will be trying to find Ron for some kind of release? A release to where? Aren't we already dead?" asked Mary Sue with a look of concern.
"Just those with an axe to grind, so to speak. Those hurt or negatively affected by Mr. Hubbard or his ideas" said Orbel.
Mary Sue looked at Ron with an expression of concern which morphed into a sudden, impish grin, "Oh my, Ron, you're going to be a very busy boy."
Everyone looked at Hubbard for one uncomfortable moment.
"Well, what do we do now?" asked Sara. "Aren't we supposed to disappear or something now that we've seen him?"
"Not necessarily" said a voice from the outer hallway.
A handsome man wearing khaki slacks and a white polo shirt walked in through the open door and extended his hand to Sara, "I am Joseph Smith, Sara. So wonderful to meet you in person. Our little mission was quite the success! And you must be Polly. Also a great pleasure." Then he noticed Mary Sue standing there, and a look of wonder came over his face. "And can this be Mary Sue Hubbard?" Mary Sue Nodded. "Oh, my dear, please call me Joe, so very happy to make your acquaintance" and then with a deadpan aside to Hubbard, "you're still in one piece, for now" a wink followed.
Sara shook the Prophet's hand, in awe of coming face to face with history in such a solid way. "So you're Joseph Smith? Really? Do you know Jesus too? Well, of course you would, wouldn't you? I'm sorry, that was stupid of me . . ."
Joseph looked pained and said "No, not as stupid as you might think" there was an uncomfortable pause and then, "it's complicated." He took Mary Sue by the arm and started walking together toward the door, "You must have a lot of questions and while I don't have all the answers, I do have some. Are these little fellows yours?" he said pointing to the dogs dancing around her feet. Mary Sue nodded. "Oh, aren't they just darling . . . "
"Hey, I thought you came for me!" said Hubbard with a hurt look.
"It really is always all about you, isn't it? Well Ron, your wife has just come out of her loop, and if she will accept the invitation, will be our guest for a while at Mountain Meadows. Now, I didn't forget you. I had my boys drop off a tire for your disabled car. Your messengers are waiting just over there" said the Prophet as they all emerged into the afternoon sun. The two messengers waved enthusiastically to Hubbard from the old, silver Cadillac.
"So Joe, Polly and I aren't going to disappear or go free?" said Sara, nervously.
"Evidently, you'e not done here for some reason, but this ought to help you feel a bit more free" Joe said gesturing toward a flawless, metallic aquamarine, '66 Thunderbird convertible. "You'll find your luggage in the trunk. Drive around, explore the universe a bit. The keys are in the ignition."
"How did you know?" Said Sara beaming at the Mormon.
"How did he know, what?" asked Polly.
Sara looked expectantly at Joe who answered "a little fishy told me."
Polly looked more confused than ever.
"The car, it's from a movie that I really loved. Let's just say it was about two women who woke up from living as chess pieces in men's games" said Sara with welling eyes.
"Did it have a happy ending?" asked Polly.
"After a fashion, and besides, we've already got that part down pat. Let's hit the road, old girl and I'll tell you the story!"
Joe stood there with Mary Sue on his arm and said, "Well put Sara. In Hubbard's game, you were just pieces to move about the board, all three of you. Now, you're not only the players, you'll making the rules in ways you could never begin to imagine before. You're not done here yet. This is a fascinating place, you never know who you're going to run into out there. If you need help, you'll get it."
Mary Sue looked overwhelmed. "So, I'm going with you?" she asked Joe. "That sounds good. Wait a minute though." She walked over to Sara and Polly. "I know I said that I knew who you were, but I've a feeling I've probably been wrong about an awful lot of things. I may not know you, but I think I know what you've been through, some of it at my bidding. This is all so strange, so very strange. I hope maybe someday we'll meet again."
Sara and Polly each took one of Mary Sue's hands. "It's a deal. You get your bearings. We'll see you around" said Sara.
"Thanks again for taking good care of my babies, they mean the world to me." And with that Joe helped Mary Sue and the dogs into the back of his Escalade and they drove off with Elders Cooper and Chalmers bringing up the rear.
Hubbard just stood in the doorway, looking dejected, trying to get his flyaway hair under control as Sara and Polly cruised slowly past, getting a feel for big T-bird.
"He's fatter than I remember" said Sara.
"Really? He looks about the same to me . . . like a walking lie" said Polly looking back over her shoulder as they drove out the first set of gates into the unknown.
Hubbard stood there feeling sorry for himself until he remembered that there were fresh Kools in the Brougham. He gestured for the girls to bring the car around to him. When it arrived before him, the taller Messenger got out and opened the door for him. As he settled in, Cigarette Girl handed him a Kool, he lit it himself, and the menthol and nicotine smoothed out his nerves and the world was back to a reasonable level of comfort. They'd reach R6 City by nightfall and then he'd read what was in those folders he'd stacked up in his room, and get to the bottom of all this nonsense.
When the Mk Ultra VIII Eternal Energy Cell™ was being marketed by the Voltar-Invay Consortium on Marcab VII, they were called to the carpet for their extravagant claim of "eternal" by the MBBB, who watched out for the best interest of some 850 billion citizens of the Confederation. It turned out they were really old Mk VIIs that been over produced a few decades before and sat in a storage orbital ever since. They just slapped some new cladding and graphics on them and hoped nobody would be the wiser. I guess things haven't really changed that much in the last 75 million years.
Before he was sentenced by the Court of the Imperium on the litigant world of Tremant Prime for commercial fraud, Mirx Invay, CEO of the embattled energy cell Consortium was quoted as saying "Oh, come on your honor, so it's not technically 'eternal.' The franxxing things should be good for 75 million years. That's certainly as good at eternal, isn't it?" The judge agreed with that point and like so many wealthy citizens, Invay got off with a slap on what would pass for a wrist had he been a vertebrate.
Meanwhile, in a certain Electronic Mountain Trap . . .