I submitted a story into the latest Mirable Visu Contest. Someone gave me a bad review and I realized that in order for the story to work you had to have read "Bellwether's Asteroid," which you haven't (except you MJ).
I have been saving "Bellwether" for a time when I can edit it down and try to sell it to a mag or an ezine, but now I think I have an opportunity.
The contest story is here. It's called "Won't Get Fooled Again" and is Anonymous Prose C07. I am going to rewrite it into past tense (I did present tense for the contest, and that was fine for 700 words, but I wouldn't be able to (or want to) sustain that) and that will be the first episode in the proposed Horror serial.
To make that story make sense here is:
(Wait for it Major John)
“A very queer suicide.” The lawyer beside me said. I grunted. “I mean plenty of people shoot themselves in the head, but how often do you hear of someone shooting themselves in the back of the head, huh Padre?”
“Oh, the sheriff fully investigated it and there is no doubt that it was a suicide.”
“How is Mrs. Bellwether?”
“She’s holding up. She is a trooper.”
We pulled into the rolling driveway of the Bellwether’s Hawaiian estate. The mountains framing the wide mansion complete with the black scar of the burned out observatory.
As we pulled up to the house I could see people standing around in un-Hawaiian black. Justin’s mother was bent over in the rocker under the shade of the porch. Beside her was one of Justin’s cousins. I got out, but stopped to comment to the lawyer, “Just because he shot himself does not mean it was a suicide, Mr. Thomas.” I closed the door firmly.
“Mrs. Bellwether.” I said quietly.
“Andy?” She slowly lifted her head and squinted red eyes at me. I smiled gently at her. She returned the smile.
“So glad you’re here. Thank you Amelda.” She dismissed the younger woman.
“I came as soon as I could. There are no regular flights here from Avarua.”
“It’s alright. He didn’t linger long. He did mention you.”
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘tell Andy Vogt.’ It was one of the last things he said.”
“Tell me what?”
“That was all he said. ‘Tell Andy Vogt.’” She tried to stand up, but grabbed her back and moaned in pain. I reached out and steadied her. She smiled again. “And you with your bad leg. Whatever happened to your fancy steel leg?”
She indicated my right leg. A bleached white bone peg protruded from my pant cuff.
“I donated it to an orphanage. This one is a gift from the people of Suwarrow. It’s whalebone.”
“Whalebone? Are they trying to make you into Captain Ahab?”
“I don’t think they ever read the book.” I touched the eye patch over my right eye and involuntarily smiled broader than I would have. My scared face opened in a terrible grimace. She looked up and sighed.
“You know, you should smile that way more often.”
“What, and scare all the children?”
“Well, it’s about that time.” A young priest came hurriedly out the front door. He seemed slightly nervous around the people in the house.
“Who is that officiating?”
“Oh, we asked Father Michael Lange from our local parish to do the honors. We didn’t know when you would make it.”
A light group of people made their way across the lawn and down to a small family plot on the east end of the lawn. Some were family, but I didn’t think that I had ever met most of the rest of them.
“These people, other than my brother’s family, are mainly from groups that Justin and I supported both through monetary gifts and volunteering. They are good people who are here for the funeral as much as for the reading of the will afterwards.” She gripped my arm tightly and breathed heavily.
The burial was short, but not really simple. They buried a bronze jar of Justin’s ashes, which was slightly unorthodox. Father Mike seemed to struggle with the right words to say because of that and because of the alleged suicide. He made it through slightly ungraciously. I had to grit my teeth a couple of times.
The family members seemed to be genuinely saddened and the others had looks of sincere loss on their faces.
Throughout, Mrs. Bellwether held tight to my arm. Her silent sobs shook her a few times, but I believe only she and I knew the depth of her grief.
After the jar was lowered and the flowers were thrown there was an uneasy period when everyone wanted to leave, but they were reluctant to look anxious to attend the reading of the will.
“Mrs. Bellwether would like a few last moments alone with her son. Please go inside and we will be in shortly.” I told the relieved group. Father Mike was the first to leave.
We stood in silence for a few minutes after we were alone.
“One of the last things he said was ‘tell Andy Vogt.’”
“Yes, you told me.”
“He said only two other things at the hospital. He also said, ‘not suicide.’”
“I didn’t think it was.”
“I don’t think that was the only thing he wanted to tell you. I know that you and he we roommates so many years ago, but I really believe that you will understand this if anyone can.”
“Hm. What was the third thing he said?”
“The last thing he said was, ‘love you, Mom.’” She swallowed back a lump. “I love you too son.”
“Let’s go inside Andy.”
“Well, it’s about that time.” Jerry Thomas the lawyer was standing at Justin’s desk and rubbing his hands over his open attaché case. Despite the large, overstuffed chair that was reserved for Mrs. Bellwether near the desk, we both sat on wooden chairs near the back of the room. We knew what we were getting, or so we thought.
Thomas read through all the paperwork. He did, “yadda yadda” over some of the legalese, but it was still dry and thick. What I got out of the meat of the wording and out of the stunned silence of the representatives of the local charities was that he gave them nothing. Not only did he not give money to groups he had previously been more than generous with, he also withdrew any moneys that had been in trust funds and grants that he had administered. In affect he took money away from groups like Friends of Hawaiian Astronomy, the Keep Hawaii Dark Society, Keck Observatory, University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy and Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site.
Equally surprising was where the money did go. It didn’t go to anyone in that room. It went to the Mother Earth Society and the Gaia First Organization. Other than family members, all of Justin’s money went to groups that actively opposed space exploration and astronomy.
I leaned down and whispered out of the corner of my mouth, “Did you know…”
“And now for the other big surprise.” Thomas reached behind the desk and pulled up a milk crate full of notebooks and computer disks. “This goes to Father Andrew Kyle Vogt, Society of Jesus. It contains all of the late Mr. Bellwether’s astronomical data, notes and photographs.”
All of the representatives of the charities were too professional to let any disappointment show. They all paid their respects to Mrs. Bellwether and left politely.
“Well, I’ve done enough damage for today. Sarah, give me a call when you need me.” Lawyer Thomas snapped his attaché case shut and slithered out.
“We’ll clean up, Aunt Sarah.” The family members went off to tidy up the teacups, glasses and small plates from the finger food that had been provided before the ceremony.
Father Mike slipped into the kitchen for one last belt of cognac before slipping right out the side door.
I stood over the unexpected milk crate.
“Maybe that will help you make sense of this.” She patted my arm and turned to follow Father Mike to the cognac. “And then you can help me make sense of this.”
The crate had four binders full of hand written notes, portfolios of photos, a box of zip disks and a box of CDRW. There was a computer at the side desk, but I took the earliest binder and went for a walk.
I read as I walked up the hill to the charred remains of Justin’s observatory. He had written me that he had built it. He was quite proud that it was the most professional and largest amateur observatory on the islands. He alone of the amateurs was able to take advantage of what the “big boys” enjoyed. He had had a 500mm Maksutov-Cassegrain that he had built himself. He had gone on and on about how deep and large the pier was, how it was mounted directly into bedrock. He had raved about the mount and the motors and computerized controls not to mention the elegance and utility of the observatory itself. He told me everything about his CCD “cameras” and the images he had gotten from them, things that not even the Hubble had seen, because they didn’t know where to look.
He had told me this in several excited emails before, during and after construction of the building and the equipment inside. I didn’t understand half of what he was writing about, but from his demeanor and tone I knew that it must be extremely impressive and very dear to him. Why had he destroyed it and himself?
I opened the binder I brought with me. It wasn’t a very long walk to the remains, but it was steep and I don’t walk very quickly. The binder dated back to when he began probing the depths of the skies, right after college. He bought a used 8” Newtonian and set it up in his backyard whenever he wanted to stargaze.
He quickly bought more gadgets and was getting into so much detail that I could barely follow. I had started my college career as an Astronomy major, but quickly changed to Poli-Sci when I found out how much math was involved in Astronomy. After you get done with all the gee-whiz of looking at planets through telescopes the way you distinguish any of the billions of other points of light is by math. Justin wallowed in that sort of math. He earned an Accounting and Astronomy double major at Illinois. This binder was full of math.
There was something that caught my eye near the middle of the book. He had started looking for asteroids. He wrote that he was sure that mankind would eventually use the vast wealth of materials in the asteroids to make spacecraft, satellites and space stations rather than dragging up materials out of Earth’s gravity well. He was convinced that if he could identify asteroids he would eventually be able to use that in a case for owning them. He thought this would be a tremendous business venture. He was very rarely wrong about business ventures.
As he was looking for these flying mountains he did make a discovery. At least by this binder he thought he had made a discovery. In 1988 he claimed that he found his first asteroid. He submitted his findings to the International Astronomy Union and received a preliminary designation of 1988LE for it. Two years later when it was confirmed he named it “Sarah” after his mother.
Toward the end of he book he made another discovery. This one was designated 1993FF. He wrote that he would name it “Aachiang.”
I nearly fell over stepping on a loose stone from the observatory with my peg. I looked up and saw that I was within the debris field of the former observatory. It wasn’t until then that the acrid smell of burnt things assailed me and again almost caused me to fall.
Some of the bricks or stones of the building had exploded in the fire and there was a debris field up to a quarter mile from the foundation. I tucked the binder under my arm and picked my way through the broken bricks, stones, glass, steel and other unrecognizable items that lay in the grass. Here and there I would see something that looked like part of a computer.
Fifty feet around where the building stood, the grass was burned black. The foundation was burned black too.
The building had been octagonal and about the size of a three car garage. I walked up to the foundation, which stood about a foot out of the ground. Inside the steel that was left was twisted and half melted. There was still a thin trail of smoke coming from some of the things and on my cheek I could feel the heat still rising. In the center of the floor was the granite pier on which the telescope mount was bolted.
The granite pier was a two foot round cylinder that stuck three feet out of the floor and went all the way down to bedrock. The thing weighed tons. It was cracked through and leaned at a strange angle. Atop it was a pile of molten steel that must have once been the mount. Beside it was a larger pile of steel that only vaguely resembled a large tube. It must have been the telescope. In the few areas that were not melted I could see dents that looked like they came from an ax.
He wanted to destroy the telescope and the observatory completely. He wanted to stop all money going to astronomical research. He wanted to stop astronomy, amateur and professional. Why?
I looked up at the sky and then bowed my head for a short prayer. I prayed for the strength to understand. I went back down to the house.
The house was quiet and clean. I found Mrs. Bellwether sitting in the shade on the back patio. As I walked up, Whipple, Mrs. Bellwether’s dog stood up on shaky legs and growled at me.
“Shh. Down Whipple. That’s Father Andy. He’s a friend. I am sorry about Whipple Andy. It isn’t you, it was that cat of Justin’s.”
“Justin’s cat Bubbles? He wrote to me about her.”
“Yes, well right after Justin, after he destroyed the observatory the cat came racing in the house and found Whipple. She started picking a fight with him. She would not leave him alone even after he swatted her away several times. He finally picked her up by the neck and shook her to death. It was like she had a death wish. He hasn’t been right since.”
“Suicide by dog. That’s a new one. Tell me, was Justin getting more and more frustrated and frantic as things led up to the, shooting?”
“Yes. He seemed very agitated and was getting more so by the night.”
“By the night?”
“Yes. He seemed to be the worst after he woke up. He would spend hours up in his observatory and then come down at first light and sleep for a few fitful hours before waking up screaming.”
“Did he calm down about a day or two before destroying the observatory?”
“I wasn’t here. I was in Honolulu on a philanthropic visit to the museum, but the house staff said that he did not. He kept getting worse and worse, right up to the end. They said that the last day was the worst. Why?”
“Suicide victims often have a period of calm after they have made the final decision and before the last act. This is further proof that it wasn’t a suicide.”
“Why are you so sure that Justin didn’t commit suicide? I mean I can’t come to grips with the fact that my son killed himself, but why don’t you believe?”
“Oh, I think he killed himself, I just don’t believe he intended to.”
“You think it was an accident that he shot himself in the back of the head?”
I sighed and eased myself into a chair next to her. “I don’t believe that Justin would purposely take his own life.”
“Right after my accident I was thinking about suicide, I mean I had just lost my wife of only one month, I lost a leg, maybe my eyesight, my career was over and I didn’t know how to do anything else. My life was over in my mind and I wanted it to end physically as well. Justin came to me then. He was the one how convinced me to keep living. He said that only cowards commit suicide, because they are afraid of life. He said it take a brave man to stand up when life knocks him down. Justin said ‘a true champion gets up, even when he can’t.’ Just telling me that meant nothing to me, but he stayed by me day and night. He said that he was going to be there because I was in a dark place and he was going to show me the way out. He kept at me for three days before I cracked.”
“I know that if he had felt suicidal he would have reached out to me long before doing anything. He pulled me out of that tunnel and he would have turned to me for directions if he found himself there. I know he didn’t commit suicide and since he wasn’t killed by anyone else I have to figure out just what he was trying to do.”
“Did you learn anything up at he observatory?”
“Did you know that he recently signed a contract to have the observatory he built in New Mexico razed?”
“He faxed the contract off the morning he destroyed this one.”
“Didn’t he build one in Illinois too?”
“Oh, he dismantled that one when we moved to Raton.”
I stood up. “I am going to look at the rest of Justin’s astronomical notes.”
“I’ll have coffee sent to you.”
I replaced the binder I had taken with me up the mountain and drew out the second one. Apparently the first binder was a record of his observations in Illinois, the second was from Raton, New Mexico.
Justin had made a fortune in stocks and he decided to take his mother to New Mexico for the mountain air and the lack of humidity. He still traded over the net, but he bought a large Spanish villa outside of town an immediately began building an observatory and a new, more powerful telescope.
The time he spent on his “hobby” increased to an almost full-time obsession. I had gotten hints of this from his emails, but I had no idea of the true immensity it had become to him until I looked at that binder. It was crammed full of notes, data, spreadsheets and theories. I couldn’t understand almost all of the math, but I could understand the dates and times. It was no wonder he never found time for a wife. At first he was making his fortune and then he was searching the skies.
Here and there I started seeing references to Aachiang, the asteroid he found in Illinois. He observed it over and over. He plotted the observations. He calculated the orbit. He calculated the size and composition. He calculated the orbit again, and again and again. Apparently he was trying to calculate the most accurate data for the thing, but I never saw anywhere that he submitted that information to anyone.
He found other objects and submitted their positions. He did this for nine other asteroids and comets. Three of them turned out to have been discovered by other people previously. He calculated their orbits, sizes and compositions. He submitted that information. He even had two of the objects confirmed and them Comet Winfield (after his father) and Asteroid Amelda.
Three quarters of the way through I found a rare bit of editorializing. Justin wrote: “I am having the damnest time determining the orbit of Aachiang. Maybe it is because I can’t nail down the size and composition. The half-assed analysis I can do is never the same! Each time I take a reading I get a completely different answer. One time it is type C; one time it is type M. That’s not possible. I NEED a better telescope and a better place to observe. I MUST find out what Aachiang is.”
“The police have been all through that and they didn’t find anything.” Amelda had walked into the office carrying a tray of coffee. She set it on the desk and began to serve.
“Did you know he named an asteroid after you? Black please.”
“Yes.” She smiled broadly as she poured and handed me a cup. “He was very proud of all his discoveries. He said it made him feel like Columbus and Galileo. He and I used to write and phone each other about it all the time. I came to observe with him whenever I could and I had my own telescope that I used to stargaze with when I was at home. Justin would often tell me what to look at and then ask me what I thought. Sometimes he would send me pictures that he made with his big telescope. I must admit I was slightly jealous, until he named one after me. Then I knew that he just wanted me to share his enthusiasm, he didn’t want to rub it in.”
“Did he tell you about all his discoveries?”
“Yes, oh, do you mean the ones that he didn’t really discover. Yes, he told me that he discovered things and then he told me that they were already discovered. He laughed about those, used to laugh.” Her smile faded and she stared off into space as she poured herself a cup. “He said that that only made him feel more like Columbus.”
“Did he ever tell you about Aachiang?”
She sat down. “What is that?”
“An asteroid he found.”
“The only two named asteroids he found were Sarah and Amelda. He named the comet Winfield.”
“He found another that he named Aachiang. He never told you about it?”
“Justin never named, or even discussed the names of his objects until they were confirmed. He used the standard IAU numbering system to refer to them until then. The only three he had confirmed were Sarah, Amelda and Winfield.”
“Have you been through these records?”
“No. He emailed me all the time with everything he was doing. He showed me the books many times when I came to visit, but I couldn’t follow the math. Can you?”
“No, but he wasn’t that expansive with his emails to me, and he did leave them to me so I figured that he was trying to tell me something.”
“Tell you what?”
“I don’t know yet. Do you want to see about Aachiang?”
She made a sour face. “I don’t really want to go through those books. It would be too sad. If you say that he named another asteroid then I would have to assume that it was confirmed.”
“It was 1993FF and was never confirmed. I think he was trying to confirm it on his own. I think that was why he moved to New Mexico and eventually here.”
She stared at me and drank the last of her coffee. “And he destroyed his instrument and observatory AND shot himself because he could not confirm it? Is that what you think, Father? I think that that is…” She bit off her words. She stared at me and then stood up. She took a deep breath and looked at me with caring eyes. “Father, I think you have been staring at numbers too long. Maybe you should take a break, get away from the books. Maybe your head will be clearer then.” She smiled weakly and turned to leave.
“Amelda, did he ask you to destroy your telescope?”
Her shoulders shook as she took a deep breath and turned to face me. “That’s why I was here before the end. I was concerned about his mental state. He called me and demanded that I smash it and never look at the stars again. I got on the next plane out.” He mouth was a tight line of fury.
“You’re right. I will keep looking for something more, some other thing.” She looked at me one more time and left. I watched her go. Did she smash it? I returned to the binder.
There was nothing more to find in that binder, but it took me hours to pour through it. I tried to decipher the math, especially the charts and spreadsheets regarding Aachiang, but couldn’t without Justin’s notes in the margin. Mainly they were exclamations not suitable for general audiences. When I straightened up again, my back and stump ached, it was dark out, I was famished and the coffee was all gone.
I figured that this was the best time for a break. My curiosity had a strangle hold on my brain, but my body could take no more. I decided on a quick dip in the ocean, something that always made my leg feel better. Then I would ask for a sandwich and start on the computer disks.
Outside the office I found the maid.
“Malia, I would like to go for a swim, could you tell me which room is mine?”
“Ah, Father. I was just coming to get you for supper. Swimming, oh that’s not a good idea. The ocean is angry. There is a tropical storm coming in from the south. Maybe you can just come for supper?”
“Well. If I can’t swim, I would really like a bath.” I rubbed my right thigh for emphasis. “I would rather take a sandwich in the office afterward. I have work to do.”
“Yes, Father. I will tell Mrs. Bellwether.”
“No. I will tell her, please just tell me where my room is, where Mrs. Bellwether is and please ask the cook for a sandwich.”
Minutes later I was in the front parlor with Mrs. Bellwether.
“Don’t feel like eating?”
I shook my head.
“Me neither. I didn’t want anything, but Pila the cook insisted on a late supper and I must be a good hostess. I have family to look after.”
“How many have stayed?”
“Most of them. They really are good people and although I want to be alone right now they want to be here when I need shoulders to cry on. I am sure I can make them understand why you won’t be there though. Go on. Keep looking through Justin’s things. Find what you can and let me know.”
I squeezed her shoulder and clumped off for my much needed bath.
My room had a veranda and I went out on it to take a look. The mansion was about a mile off the shore, but everything was dark. The clouds boiled dark and ominously. Lightening flickered deep within the gathering tempest. The only things I could see under the low hanging black clouds were the whites of the breakers. There was no way to see the stars or even most of the sky. A thought flashed into my head that Justin had somehow managed to keep the sky hidden from all of us in every way.
My bath was expectedly unsatisfying. The ache in my leg, all the way down to my missing toes was worse than ever. A hot ham sandwich and a new urn of coffee waited for me on the desk. I put the first disk in the computer.
The binders had been slightly difficult to get through because of the preponderance of the math and charts, but the disks were worse. There was no easy way to browse through them, but Justin had still made little comments in them, typed in the margin. I slowly worked my way through the first series of disks. They include plans for the new telescope and the new observatory. They included charts, graphs and tables based on observations from a smaller, store-bought telescope that he used until his big one was ready.
I learned nothing new, my coffee and sandwich got cold and the wind picked up. Next were CDs.
I put the first one and notice a file named “Personal.” I opened it right away. It seemed to be a diary rather than a scientific notebook. It began with: “Hooray! The observatory and my new baby are ready! Aachiang, your ass is mine now.”
I scanned through it and it seemed to be mostly happy stuff about how he felt and what great strides he was making with the new equipment. Then I got to a strange part that made me stop and read thoroughly.
“I must have dosed off last night while I was tracking Aachiang because I can’t remember between one and two in the morning. Strange.”
It was strange all right. I had never known him to do that. No matter how many all-nighters he pulled he was always able to stay awake when he wanted and sleep when he wanted.
Granted this was the middle of the night, but he had been stargazing for years going back to naked-eye work and stuff he did at the observatory in school and had never had that happen. On top of that, this was his obsessive passion, the thing that he had moved to Hawaii for and built a world-class telescope and observatory to look at. Now he was falling asleep when observing it? I wondered if he had gotten sick or drunk or someone had drugged him. That didn’t seem likely, but it wasn’t as impossible as the idea that this thing put him to sleep. A week later he remarked the same thing only later in the night. I could find no outside explanation for it, at least none that Justin hinted at.
This happened several more times over the year, which was the extent of what was on that disk. He would loose some time during the night. I looked back to make sure and it only happened when he was working with Aachiang. Each and every time after that first entry he would dose off, as he put it. It varied from fifteen minutes to more than an hour, and it never seemed unusual to him.
What did seem unusual to him was the fact that he still couldn’t determine just what class it was. In his writing: “Aachiang defies classification. I think I am just going to decide that it is a composite of several materials and it is far more complicated than I ever imagined. I must have dosed off for more than an hour tonight, but the equipment kept right on working, no worries.”
Lightening flashed outside followed two seconds later by a booming thunder that shook the desk light. I changed to the next disk. It was much like the first. I searched for the “Personal” file and opened it.
“I had the strangest dream this morning and it gave me quite a fright. My overall opinion of dreams is that they are the mind’s way to organize memories from the day. They are strange and logic-less because they are from one portion of the mind while the other portions of the mind see them as new experiences and try to interpret them.
“Well, I must have been thinking about Aachiang more than I realized because it seemed that I dreamt about it the whole time I slept. I felt like I was flying through space. I passed the moon and Mars, all the while keeping the glowing dot of Aachiang in my sight.
“There I was flying past Mars and I had to dart around Deimos and Phobos to avoid hitting them, but they didn’t interest me at all. Don’t you wish you could always control your dreams? If I could have I would have stayed in Mars orbit and examined her two moons. They will be great pieces of real estate someday, but no. I stayed on course. Always on to Aachiang.
“As I went past Mars I seemed to slow down. It felt like when you dream someone is chasing you and you just can’t run fast enough. No. It felt like you are running to catch something and your feet are frozen and your legs just won’t move fast enough to keep up with your goal. I felt like that. As I flew I was slowing down, all the while Aachiang was moving away on its mysterious orbit.
“I reached out to grab handfuls of vacuum, I reached for the stars, but I just couldn’t move fast enough. I think I heard light tinkling laughter. Then I smelt something heavenly, sweet and salty with just a touch of cinnamon. Then my mother was a giant standing on Jupiter and offering me oatmeal.”
After that he concentrated more and more on Aachiang. More often than not he was also on that day, writing about dreams he had. They all concerned his getting closer and closer to Aachiang. I noticed that he never wrote about his other dreams and the more he concentrated on Aachiang the less he concerned himself with other observations.
Before coming to Hawaii he had found nine minor planets and comets and now, with the best equipment and the best viewing site he found no more. By the end of the year, and the disk, he wasn’t even looking for them. He had given himself totally over to studying this thing he called Aachiang.
Three lightening bolts flashed at the same time with the thunder. The lights flickered. Rain started pelting the windows. I decided that it would be prudent to view the last disk with the laptop by battery power.
“The dream today was the worst one so far. I was traveling through space again. This time I was out with nothing around me; and Aachiang was straight ahead, like a mountain floating in ether. The general shape and appearance in that dim light was that of a coiled lizard, scaly and armored. As I grew nearer it turned. I thought that it was turning to face me, but of course an asteroid has no face. As it turned I felt more and more like it did have a face and it was turning to look at me and to be seen by me. I cringed at the idea of looking at the face of Aachiang. I don’t know why, but I knew that it would be a bad thing to look at its face. I told myself that this was the opportunity of a life-time, that so very few people ever actually got to see what their asteroidal discoveries look like up close and personal. I didn’t want to get ‘personal’ with it. I tried to stop now. To fly or swim away. I pumped my arms and legs; I twisted and turned my face away. More and more it turned. I could see its profile, the shadows of its face. I snapped my head back and screamed.
“I fell off the bed and woke my mother with the scream. My neck hurt and I remembered that I had hurt it earlier in the observatory. Did I fall screaming in the observatory too? I am going to stay away from the telescope for a week. I will take a vacation.”
“Three days away with mom in Honolulu. She got tired of shopping so I am back here. I have a surprise. Go to ‘Personal 2’ after this. This is the last entry. I guess I will go up to the observatory now.”
“Personal 2” was a video file. I opened it and saw Justin’s face while he had been sitting in the very chair I was in.
“Hello. Isn’t this cool. I am going to video-record every personal thought I have now. I am also going to add video to my data recordings. See you soon.”
He was far less cheerful in the next file. His face was gray and he was sitting in the shorts he wore to sleep. His hair, to include his eyebrows, was in total disarray.
“God. I don’t know where to start. I saw it. I, I dreamt I saw it. In my dream, I went right back to where I was when I woke up screaming. I was right behind Aachiang and it was turning to face me only, only this time I couldn’t turn away. I felt like Aachiang was holding my head with invisible hands and making me look. The thing was so complex and mottled in that dim light. Somehow I knew it was ten kilometers on the long axis and five on the short. It was turning on the long axis like a crocodile with its legs and tail curled up underneath. I felt like a speck of dust, as tiny and insignificant as a flake of dead skin floating in a beam of sunlight, but this was not sunlight. This was the gaze of Aachiang.
“I knew it saw me out of the corner of its vision. I somehow knew the thing had vision, or knowledge, a kind of sight; and now it could see me. It kept turning, bringing me into sharper focus. My god, it could see me. It knew I was looking at it.
“I saw the end, the 'face’ fully in profile now. There was nothing at all about it that looked vaguely like a face, but somehow I still knew it was a face, and it was smiling. It wasn’t smiling at me. It was smiling at the fact that I was looking at it.
“I tried to close my eyes, but I couldn’t. I tried to look away, but I couldn’t. I tried to throw my arms over my face, but I couldn’t. All I could do was look at that giant mountain of rock turn slowly to look at me with stony eyes and lithoid smile. I was naked and Aachiang was smiling. The smile never broke, never wavered, never moved as it turned, but I could hear a voice. It was a voice that reverberated through my body. I could feel the waves of it in my chest and in my bones. It said, ‘Bellwether. Justin Bellwether. Justin…”
“I was screaming ‘no, no’ and looking around for someone to blame when I realized that I was awake and my mother was calling me. I guess I frightened her with my screaming. I frightened myself.
“Why does this dream frighten me so much, and what in my waking day could possible make me dream this stuff? Nothing is frightening me in real life. Aachiang, ooh.”
Here he stopped and held his head in pain.
“Strange, my head throbbed with a headache just now. Anyway, it frustrates me it doesn’t frighten me. I don’t understand. I think the best thing it to meet this fear head-on. Whatever it is in my waking life that is unnerving me, I won’t let it stop me from doing what I want to do. I am going to use this dream. Maybe I am subconsciously giving myself clues as to how to investigate Aach- um, it. Tonight I am going to try to confirm the physical dimensions.”
He had spent all the previous night looking at Aachiang. He spent the next night at it too. The next time he appeared he was combed, shaved and well dressed in warm casual clothes.
“Well. Whatever that dream was, it opened up a correct idea. I managed to coax the dimensions out of that sucker and sure enough it’s approximately ten by five clicks. I wonder what secrets today’s dream will reveal.”
I thought that he seemed to have gotten over whatever fear he had that was affecting his dreams, or that the dreams were causing. I was wrong, and he was blacked-out for nearly two hours that night. On the disk he looked like hell again. This time his face was pale white, but flushed. He was obviously in a cold sweat.
“It saw me. Aachiang saw me. Damn the pain. It has been in my head since the dream. There I was a dust mote in space. Aachiang turned to look at me with the ancient stony eyes, only; only it didn’t ‘see’ me. It saw through me. It saw everything inside me to the smallest quark and it saw everything I ever was, or, god help me, everything I ever will be.
“Aachiang saw all this and laughed. Only, I didn’t hear it. I saw it, like people on acid hear colors and see sounds. I saw the laughter. It was like reading lips or an oscilloscope. In my mind the flashing colors and lights seemed like a high maniacal laugh that cut through me. It made every bone reverberate right along with the lights. I felt as if I were made entirely of funny bones or as if it had dragged fingernails across a blackboard and my bones were the blackboard. I shivered uncontrollably.
“ ‘You seek to know me. I know you. Everything about you. I will show you everything about me.’
“I say it said these things, but I really didn’t hear them. It was more of the colors and lights. I knew that was what it said, but no sounds came. The words just formed in my mind. I was aware that I was screaming and no sounds were coming.
“ ‘Don’t scream, it will do you no good and you have much to learn.’
“The calculations were there in my head. I saw them, the calculations that told me the mass of Aachiang. They were in my head, but they were slimy like pustules filled with shards of glass. In my mind they smelled as sharp as ammonia and as ugly as rotting flesh. I saw the formula slide around in my brain. I imagined it squeaking and squealing and making grating sounds at the same time. I knew that having those numbers and formula in my mind was causing damage somehow as they slid around.
“They are in there now scratching and scaring my thoughts. I thought that writing them down would relieve their burden on my mind, but it didn’t. The pain is still there and so is the chill that that laugh sent through me. I must go back to the observatory. I have no choice.”
The next entry was for later that same day, but he had never gone to bed or left the observatory.
“It keeps coming. The knowledge keeps coming in jagged bits and pieces that are tearing at my mind. They don’t come in dreams anymore. I know when they come. I know when they have always come. They come when I blackout at the observatory. I feel myself bobbing up and down, in and out of consciousness. I can’t leave the telescope now. I can’t stop making images of that thing. This is why I came halfway around this planet, this is why I built all of these things and now it has complete control of my mind.”
His eyes rolled back into his head and his mouth fell agape. He stood and went to the telescope without turning the camera off. The next few hours were captured on the video, but there was not much to see. It only showed Justin making adjustments and occasionally standing still as stone. Then he would go back to work.
There was eight hours of this before there was a loud knock on the door. Justin ignored it but soon the door opened and Pila, the cook stepped in. He was carrying a plate of food, but as soon as he saw Justin’s blank stare and white complexion he dropped the plate and took Justin by the shoulders.
Justin was not a small man, but Pila was a huge Polynesian with very little body fat. He shook Justin, but Justin still did not respond. Then he picked him up and put him over his shoulders. “Mrs. Bellwether told me to look in on you and do what I could to convince you to be reasonable. I think this is the only way I can make you see reason.”
He walked out of the observatory. The video went off on its own as if on a timer. The lights went off too. All the lights in the house went black except the glow from the laptop on the desk.
I heard the storm, felt it rock the house, saw the lightening and smelled the ozone. People were running around to make sure there was no damage, to light candles and to reassure each other, but I kept at the computer. I was so close; I had to know what happened next to Justin.
The next entry was date the next day, nearly twenty-four hours later. Justin looked like he had been bedridden but he looked reassured. He was close to the camera and he was whispering.
“Thank god, if there is a god, for Pila. He gave me just the chance I needed and now I know what to do. I have small hope, but there is hope.”
Thomas the lawyer’s voice could be heard over Justin’s shoulder. “Just sign here Justin.” Justin turned and signed something.
“Thanks Jerry. See you tomorrow.” He turned back to the camera. “Pila went to the observatory and got me this disk so I could make this. Andy, this is for you so pay attention.”
“It was rough there when Pila brought me back to the house. I wasn’t aware of that at all of course. I was under the control of Aach; well better not say the name. I only knew what it was pouring into my brain. It was …” He stopped and the color ran out of his face again. I could see him struggle to get control.
“I have to tell you, but if I go under please know that you must kill me and keep all this, this information from getting to anyone.
“I know what It is now and what it wants. I could never have fought it off. It, It’s just so mind bogglingly powerful. It had a hold of me, of my mind, but it had no idea how fragile and weak my mind, any human mind is. It almost squeezed too hard. Finally It realized that it had to let go a little or else they would have put me in a rubber room and my usefulness would be over. You see it has a mission for me, It always had, and It had to let go a little to let me continue with it. It isn’t done with me, but this does give me a chance to escape, but I am getting ahead of myself.
“When Pila brought me back to the house he didn’t tell my mother how bad I was. He put me to bed and let me sleep. Ha, sleep. That was what he thought I was doing. I may have been doing something like dreaming, but I was not asleep.
“I was with It and It was showing me things. Again, they seemed like dreams. I was in a place that looked like the sky or one of those Caribbean bays where the water is so clear you can see for miles. I could see further than I ever have. It seemed like I was floating in a perfectly clear sea that was bigger than the Earth itself. I should say we were floating there, because beside me all the time was the image of It, watching me, leering at me, laughing at me.
“The sea we were in was beautiful with clouds above and below, boiling and churning. The clouds seemed to be keeping the water/air in the sea from getting out.
“I saw this and then slowly I realized that it was rather dim there. There seemed to be more of a glow from lightening and friction between the clouds that there was sunlight.
“That was when I saw these huge balloons coming toward us. They looked like balloons with fins and tails or whales bloated to three times their normal girth. As they approached I realized that they were bigger than any whale that ever lived on Earth. They were swimming in family groups. The newborns were as long as blue whales on Earth.
“They were moving along in such a way that I could tell they were feeding. They had to be feeding on something like krill or plankton, because I couldn’t see anything except a slight cloudiness in an otherwise perfectly clear sea.
“Suddenly they started moving with more purpose. I would say they were frightened of something. The largest ones surrounded the smaller ones. Then I saw what scared them. It was a pack of giant shark-like things, only they had wide thin fins. They were slightly longer than the young balloonthings, but much thinner. They swam around the herd of balloonthings and nipped at the adults guarding the others.
“That was when something hit one of the big balloonthings. It came ripping out of the sky and you could actually see the shockwave as it fell. It hit the balloonthing so fast that in one instant it was there and the next it was just gone. Something as large as a small city was gone in an instant. I think that if I had really been there I would not have been able to even see it, but everything was slowed down for my benefit and I could see It chuckling beside me.
“The shockwave hit the herd and some of the sharkthings nearby. The ones directly in the path were splattered as if hit by god’s shotgun. The blood and flesh flew in all directions. It was beside me laughing hysterically. I felt like puking.
“Some of the creatures survived, but were floating aimlessly in a daze. Others were trying to reform into a defensive group again. I could feel the fear.
“Then something else ripped the sea apart. It must have been a huge meteor. It smashed through and again the shockwave shattered flesh and bone. This one was bigger and I could see that it was shattering the sea itself. The equilibrium that the clouds and sea had was torn apart and the sea was spraying up and down and out.
“Some of the animals that were stunned were caught and thrown out of the sea into the clouds and burst or were crushed. I couldn’t hear, but I knew they were screaming. I began to cry. More meteors tore through and more. Through it all It was laughing and I had to float there until it was all over. In the end the only things left alive were It and I.
“What I had seen had to have been Shoemaker-Levy hitting Jupiter, and I saw it form inside. My god, there were living creatures there and now they were all dead.
“I reassured myself that it was just a dream. Next I was standing in a jungle. It was there at my shoulder, smiling.
“The jungle was bright and full of ferns. Here and there were flowering plants and a few grasses, but mostly it was ferns. From the sights around me I knew it was hot and humid. I could almost see the air. It must have been thicker than on Earth I thought.
“Then I saw a dinosaur. It looked pretty much like Jurassic park. It was a small one, but I knew where and when I was. I looked up at the sky. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that It was laughing already.
“The planet killer came through the sky like all the movies. I just stood there. I already knew that there was no way for me to look away. I stood there and watched all those animals die. I watched them get ripped apart. I watched the fear, the pain and the confusion.
“Then It spoke to me through Its laughter. ‘I was here as well. I will show you more.’
“ ‘You couldn’t have been here and on Jupiter and anywhere else.’ I said. ‘Those asteroids were destroyed and you have been around all through those times.’
“ ‘Yes, and no. This asteroid had been in existence since this thing you call a system was created. I have been in existence since before the creator was created. Your creator was nothing, insignificant, worthless.’
“It looked at me, through me as It did before, but this time It let me see It better than I ever had before. It went on and on, into the past and on into the future. It was so much more than 1993FF that I could only catch the smallest glimpse of what it really was, and my mind could not understand.
“ ‘You are a creature of time and space only.’ It said and laughed at my ignorance and stupidity. I had a flash of inspiration. It was like an explosion in my brain and I felt every neuron fire and then pop until my mind felt like a bowl of mush. This thing that I had been calling Aachiang was just the tip of the iceberg. 1993FF was only the smallest portion of thing that was Aachiang and it was beyond space and time.
“Imagine the surface of the ocean is our universe. Then you can see that it was beyond our universe, outside of time and space mostly. Above and beyond the laws of physics and capable of anything, but what it wanted was destruction and terror and hate.
“It planned to use me to get it and I had no choice. It would fill my head with images and formulas until I had to let the whole world know, and I would have the knowledge to prove what I would tell them. Not about Jupiter and the dinosaurs, but about Its plans for us. I had never asked It any questions until now.
“ ‘You are going to destroy Earth. Aren’t you.’ It laughed. I will show you in time. I have plenty of time, but I must go now. Rest. I will be right here, but rest now. We have much more to see.’
“I woke screaming again. Pila was there and he calmed me. It took hours before I stopped sobbing. I could hardly get any air and I had to write something down.
“It had shown me the formula to calculate Its orbit before, but now it showed me another number. It flashed in my head and demanded to be remembered until I had to write it down.
“Eventually I regained my composure and some of what it had showed me had slipped into a dream memory: there, but barely understandable and difficult to remember until it is brought out again. You see It needed me to be a sane reporter of asteroid 1993FF. That was why It let me go. It wants me to spread fear and terror and apprehension and hatred all over humanity until the end time when It comes to destroy our world. It had nearly showed me as much. Suddenly I had a waking revelation.
“It didn’t know how weak and insignificant I am. It miscalculated that. It said that it knew everything about me but that was a lie. As inconsequential as any of us are, It can barely understand our limitations. What it knew of my senses was sight. As far as It knew, I had no others, because five limited senses are as alien to It as something existing beyond space and time. It knew I had sight because that was how I came it know it. That is why all my dealing with It were based in the visual medium.
“Now stay with me, because this sounds unhinged, but I think it is the only way for me to escape Its grasp. If I cannot see anymore then It will be at a loss to know how to control me. I will be a useless instrument of Its chaotic machinations. It will undoubtedly find another pawn, but I will be free to live what life I have left.
“The problem is, I don’t think loosing my eyes is the answer. It doesn’t use my eyes, It comes straight into my brain, but it comes in visually.
“Andy, I remember when I sat beside you in the hospital. Both of your eyes were bandages and the doctors didn’t know if you would be able to see at all. You said that you kept ‘seeing’ the accident replayed over and over in your head. You saw it though you had no vision in your eyes. You still had the ability to remember vision and to imagine visions.
“What I must do is take away all my ability to remember sight and all my ability to imagine sight. I must somehow remove that portion of my brain that controls sight.
Oh my God. I thought when I read this.
“My plan is to take one of my mother’s pistols and shoot myself in the optic nerve. With a lot of luck I will be able to do the job all myself. With a little luck the doctors will have to fish the bullet out and destroy what I miss. With no luck, well, I do hope there still is a God and He has a place for us.
“I have made all the legal arrangements incase the worst happens. I am also leaving all this data to you. Hopefully you will be able to go through it without me and know that it all must be destroyed utterly. Noone must be able to follow in my footsteps. Obscure the path as much as you can Andy. We do have some time before the end, but it must come as a surprise, that way It will get as little pleasure out of it as possible.
“I have to go now Andy. I must do this thing before It finds out and takes control again. If you are watching this then I have either succeeded in blinding myself or I have ended it another way. Good luck.”
His face screwed up in pain and struggle. I believe that I saw him fighting against Aachiang.
“I must show this to you Andy. I am sorry, I can’t help it.”
He held up the number that he had written when he had woken the last time. It was the date of the end of the Earth.
I didn’t know it at the time, but lightening had struck the house and came right into the den where I was sitting. The fire consumed the room and all the contents. I was lucky to escape with only minor burns. Again it was Pila that was a lifesaver.
When I recovered I was lying in bed. The sky was clear and it was the night after the storm. Mrs. Bellwether and Amelda sat at my bedside. Pila was making me some soup.
I smiled lightly at my nurses and then a shadow fell over me. I said something that I didn’t mean to say, and didn’t want to say.
“Amelda. Did you smash your telescope like Justin told you to?”
“No. In fact, I brought it with me, why do you want to do any stargazing?”
My face screwed up in concentration. I fought it, but it was no use.
“There is something Justin wanted me to show you. Remember I told you about Aachiang…”