Signs & Portents
A Hair, They say Divides the False and True
Miri had grown increasingly intrigued by the strange note she had received and had so far come up with about 500 not quite satisfactory theories to explain it. These ranged from a disturbed individual inspired in some way to go to such lengths, to some sort of astral projection through time. She had become quite cheerful about it, as she strove to solve the final mystery of who and why. But the more cheerful she became, the more Carl felt it necessary to compensate with worry.
She was presently doing some sort of survey of spiritualistic groups, who used the ancient past as their motif, trying to sort out any who had real academic knowledge of the subject as opposed to the imaginative, or hopefully to find one whose modus operandi matched what had happened, sending a strange message, or failing that, at least one whose belief system coincided with the content of the little note. To this end, she had acquired a formidable tome from the library, a two volume catalogue of the spiritual and metaphysical groups existing in the latter half of the 21th century. Against her son's expressed opinion, she had even made some casual inquiries to local chapters.
Carl was frankly concerned about his mother's constant preoccupation with the whole thing. The vast number of the groups, coupled with the realization that any one might be the one responsible for the note, made him feel both that it was a hopeless search and just a little out-numbered and potentially menaced. But Miri's energy was tireless, and he was half under the spell of it himself, even as he tried to persuade his mother that the sensible thing to do was to forget about the whole thing.
He had told his mother the bare elements of his encounter with Prunella. She listened with intense concentration, trying to absorb every word. He tried to play down the drama of it, passing "the agency" off as some eccentric notion of the girl's, not to be taken seriously. Now, he half feared that his mother
was trying to locate "the agency" in what was perhaps the most likely directory for such a thing if it existed. He thought it a bad sign when he saw, by examining the outgoing mail, she had ordered the two volume catalogue form the publishers to replace the library copy which she would have to return eventually.
Two days ago, thinking it would resolve things, he had taken the cryptic letter itself and made a return visit to the Gnostic University with Robert and Sharif in tow just in case he needed support. He told a very simplified version of the way in which Miri had acquired the note to Brother Gregory, he had seen no reason to over dramatize it. Brother Gregory denied any knowledge of the strange sheet of paper. But his expression took on a joyful look of enchantment, and Carl gathered that he regarded it as some sort of miracle, in potential, at least. He looked at the letter raptly, his hands hovering over it without touching, and he begged for an additional explanation from Carl, clearly trying to clarify the mysterious implications involved.
Quickly playing it by ear, Carl shifted the emphasis back to the common place and ordinary and told him that his mother was only trying to find out if it had originated from them, or if perhaps, she had made a mistake herself, and it was something from her own papers. Brother Gregory looked keenly disappointed, but insisted on giving Carl a complete tour of all the places where the photostats might have loitered on their way to Miri. This was a great deal more than Carl had expected, as he had assumed the Gnostics to be at least mildly secretive. He stood by while each individual who might have had a hand in the progress of the photostats was scrupulously questioned. All the responses were so genuine and unaffectedly unrehearsed, Carl became convinced that the Gnostics really knew nothing about this strange sheet of paper. It seemed likely that his mother was right, the Gnostics were a simple undeceptive cult, which left only the mystery of Prunella. Brother Gregory seemed a great deal more genial than he had first impressed Carl, and having noticed that Prunella was not among those questioned, he also ventured to make a casual inquiry about this friend of his, named Prunella Melchior, who he had heard might have joined the Gnostics.
Brother Gregory first searched his memory and then resorted to his files which he made absolutely no effort to conceal. Smiling brightly, he announced that yes, indeed, Prunella Melchor had been a member, but regrettably had to "go back East" to settle some urgent family problems. He seemed to feel that this last revelation had completely united Carl and him in fraternity. Carl decided it was time to leave, but heard a great deal more about the inner workings and goals of the group anyway, as Sharif had become smitten with the idea of joining. The aims boiled down to nothing more menacing than re-establishing the fine Gnostic traditions like Manichaeism which had lost out to Christianity in the Middle Ages. The effort to restore the bloom of Hellenic influence also seemed to have much to do with the use of hot tubs and Jacuzzis, diet and proper exercise. At last, Sharif was able to tear himself away.
"See you later," called Sharif, when they parted at the door to the apartment building.
Less than an hour later, Sharif and Barry arrived to pick up Carl for their appointment to see the saucer contactee who received messages from the Hyades. Carl had been so preoccupied with other matters that this mildly disagreeable obligation had slipped his mind. He wished that he had spared enough time to think up a plausible excuse for not finding out more about flying saucers, but it was obviously too late, unless he wanted to disappoint the other two rather badly. They were plainly expecting to have a ride with him, if nothing else, as neither of them owned a car.
Sharif and Barry, were bristling with the expectation of a fascinating evening. Barry was normally fairly immune to most exotic things, but flying saucers were his great weakness. Carl was not so sure. He had no prejudice against the belief in saucers as strange unexplained phenomena, having once been a witness to a sighting himself of what, he supposed, would have to be so classified, but he drew the line at "cultism" and this had all the earmarks of that. Well, he thought, when your life is filling up anyway with the strange, maybe it's better to go with the flow.
"Church of the Septuasyllabic Lyre" read the sign over the entrance to the otherwise ordinary ranch style dwelling. However, the "pastor" of this church, Morton Wilson, had no real religious inclination.
After about a two week interval of complete seclusion and rest, during which he had done some heavy thinking, he had become convinced that what had happened to him was the single most important thing that had so far happened in the history of the planet. Obviously, he had an obligation and responsibility toward it, even though he had faltered under the strain of trying to do too much too soon.
It was perhaps for this very reason the Hyadeans had set him back on his native soil to recoup his strength. But they had done the best they could to assure him of their continued good will and support. Gari's message on the road back from Redding had been proof of that. His responsibilities seemed to boil down to two: one, to firmly re-establish this vital contact with the stars (for that, he would have to depend to a great extent on the Hyadeans themselves, but he had to believe that they understood that) and two, to get as many other people (intelligent people with open minds) as he could also aware of this incredible situation.
About half way through his period of seclusion, another encouraging thing had happened. Alecto's face had impinged itself on the screen of his home computer. Her transmission was very garbled and seemed to fade in and out, but at the last, she had said quite clearly that she would return.
This seemed to prove that the Hyadeans had the capability of using Earth technology, but were having some problems with it. There was nothing he could do to help on that score, but the episode convinced him of the urgency of beginning to pave the way for them.
Accordingly, he summoned his friend and lawyer, Don Walton to his house. His experiences with the press had been bitter. His University job was gone now, so far as he knew, he learned he had been transferred to "extended sick leave" without consulting him. His ex-wife now refused to allow him to see his children, claiming he was a bad influence, and none of his former colleagues seemed to know him anymore. He had made some small tries to communicate only to encounter aloof evasions and hasty excuses. He had to plan his strategy with great care, and see that his subsequent actions were done right, and that was where Walton might be helpful.
He was taken aback when Walton suggested he establish himself as a religion. It was certainly a weird point of departure. But Don Walton was very convincing, he described the pitfalls and snares Morton had not even thought about, all awaiting the unprotected and unwary.
"Oh yes," Walton said, "they can really hassle you if they decide to do it. Look, it's child's play to become a religion. All you have to do is state what you believe—that can be one sentence, a paragraph, at most. I can write it up for you myself at the office. You list officers, that's you, your members, that will come later. Oh hell, if you like, I'll put down my own name! And presto, you're a religion. It's the only route, Mort, and it's that simple."
He went on to explain the benefits, protections, and freedoms that a religion enjoyed as opposed to a private individual and Morton became convinced. It was a big package for the price of adopting a label, even if you found that label a bit odious. And it would protect him from some nasty repercussions that might otherwise come his way.
His mind at rest about legalities, Morton had devoted himself to the technical aspects. What he needed was a duplicate of the lyre. He felt it was possible that he had received subliminal instructions from the lyre when he had been connected to it, but would it emerge? It would be good to at least try to construct a crude facsimile of the lyre. Since his main need was to be able to receive more explicit instructions from the Hyadeans, he began to line up all the receivers he could think of, planning to design it around the computer where Alecto's face had first appeared. The Hyadeans seemed to favor plunging right into things, so he would try to duplicate them. In the process of the design, he also discovered it required considerable screening to deflect random unwanted signals.
When Carl, Sharif and Barry entered the church, they were confronted with the sight of an incredible Rube Goldberg assortment of machinery that occupied one end of the living room. Carl could make out the computer, a common device for measuring barometric pressure, and what looked like the innards of several high fidelity amplifiers, but much of the tangle was baffling.
Morton strode to the front and read a long statement that detailed his own experiences with a long sequel that reiterated all the statements the Hyadeans had ever made to him. Carl, Barry and Sharif seemed to be the only ones in the church. Morton finished by explaining that the device behind him was not truly the Septuasyllabic Lyre as it existed on the Hyadean ship, but was, he humbly hoped, a rough approximation of that marvel transposed to presently limited Earth technology. He finished with a flourish, explaining that he had already received a message through the machine, but that there were still some reception problems which he knew the star people were even now struggling to overcome.
He then graciously invited each of them to come forward and try to receive through the Lyre, if they liked, but please not to handle the elements of the machine as it was delicate. Sharif bounded forward eagerly and received a set of earphones and had his wrists locked into the ends of two sets of handcuffs whose extensions wound back to some unseen place in the contraption. Carl flinched at the handcuffs, but Sharif was soon seated, legs folded in the Lotus position and looked quite content. Nothing but silence ensued.
After a time, Morton removed the handcuffs, leaving Sharif looking rather wistful.
"Anyone else?" inquired Morton.
Barry and Sharif pushed Carl forward inspite of his protests. He was duly handcuffed and fitted with earphones and Morton retired to a seat beside the telephone. Waiting a decent interval, Carl was about to signal that he wanted his freedom, when he suddenly noticed that Morton was receiving a message via his computer. Curious, he looked on, then the printer begin to spew. The message was intriguing, and addressed to him. He had told no one his name so far as he knew. He picked it up to make sure that it was addressed to him. But Morton raced up and soon it devolved into a tug of war with them.
"It's mine, everything that comes out of that computer is mine."
"The message is addressed to me," protested Carl, feeling a little silly.
Barry and Sharif defended him stoutly and the argument was finally settled by having Morton print out a duplicate copy. They left the church after that and only then did Barry and Sharif look at the message. It read:
"Sound's kind of fatalistic," ventured Barry.
"You said it. And I don't even know any Alex. But I have a feeling that he gets around some."
Morton was bent over the duplicate of the message, his curtains drawn, his emotions in turmoil, trying to make some sense of it. Was it authentic? It had not come in like the other one at all. It had come over the telephone line which still connected his home computer to the big one at the University. He had never had it disconnected and he had clearly seen the phone signal light just as the message had started. It was that which had first alerted him to what was happening.
But when he had seen the content of the message, he had not known what to believe. The implications were mind boggling. It could mean that they were coming back for him. His heart pounded as he read it over once again. Yes, that was one possible interpretation of it.
And the signature, Alex and P. Given the transmission problems, that "P" could easily have been intended to be a "G," a "T," or an "M." That did not worry him. But that young man's proprietary attitude toward the message—what did that mean? Was it conceivable that the Hyadeans had transferred their attention to that young man? It was the thought of that betrayal, after all his suffering, that turned his tortured emotions to anguish.
And almost equally horrible, perhaps he was being hoaxed. Was it possible that trio of young jackasses had some friend stationed at the University who had sent the message somehow to cause him this torment? Were they even now laughing at him? Yes, it was possible. There was no getting away from the hard fact of it. That would explain the "CARL O'LEARY," a little extra touch to make it more humorous, including the struggle he had with the young man. His story had been told enough, even in distorted forms. Someone could have concocted this episode. It was unspeakable, but there it was.
Very gradually, a little comfort came to him. He realized what he must do. As soon as the Hydeans communicated with him again, he must work out a set of recognition signals with them that would make all future messages unmistakable. Until then, he could only watch and wait.