Signs & Portents
Alas! It is All Delusion
Miri had searched the apartment furiously, unable to stop herself, even though she knew the procedure was useless. She eyed Catwood suspiciously where he lay asleep. But no, a cat would never have been able to consume a whole sheet of paper.
Had she been in the habit of putting it away in a drawer or some place, the whole thing would be more explicable. Sometimes, a person's mind wandered, causing something to be put in a ludicrous place if one put it away. But she had deliberately elected to keep it out in plain view and in one spot only.
Less than ten minutes ago, she had looked at it again. A sudden new thought had come to her about it, she knew that the Gnostic University's photostats came from Egypt and assorted Middle Eastern museums. Perhaps the trickster who had written the message was located in one of these? It was possible, but she had come up with no thought as to how she might check up on it. She had gone to the kitchen to fix herself a cup of coffee. When she returned, something almost electric in the air had caused her attention to go to the dramatically empty spot on the desk. She had gone to work at once, every sheet of paper in or on her desk had been sorted and resorted.
She had searched under and over every physical aspect of the room and even resorted to removing books from the shelves and shaking them out, finding many a forgotten note, the perennial habit of a scholar, closing books on such things, intentionally or otherwise, but no trace of the strange message which she had come to think of as "the artifact," a printed message where no printed page was historically available. And it was, absurdly enough, addressed to her.
No, this search was absurd, and she had now been over the room with a fine tooth comb anyway and checked the kitchen to be sure she hadn't carried it away with her when she had gone to fix the coffee. The "artifact" was gone, even as it had come.
She wished she had thought to copy it, but now was a little late to think of that. Or would it have done any good? The disappearance now placed the whole episode very clearly in the category of supernatural phenomena. There were cases in occult and psychic research where tapes got mysteriously erased, photographs did, or did not, show things, other evidence simply vanished or evaporated. When the phenomena operated that way, it usually made a clean sweep, if she remembered correctly, and didn't leave behind any traces.
Taking down her style book, she began to carefully letter the message, duplicating it by hand from memory. She felt she had done a reasonably accurate, if not perfect job and felt better, the task had helped to fill up her sense of loss.
It was as she had strongly suspected, a supernatural matter from start to finish. And one thing she had learned in pursuing her interest in such matters. There was no way to honestly separate supernatural phenomena from the workings of the minds of the subjects. Copious evidence demonstrated that all such things bore a profound connection to the psychology of the person experiencing them. Why should it be any different in her own case?
It had been no accident, for example, that she had just spent long hours translating a tractate written by an individual, who in his physical life almost 2,000 years before, had been known as "Alexander of Armenia," before receiving a "modern" message from one who called himself "Alexander of Aram."
Armenia could be more precisely defined as the "Land of Ararat," but there was not much distinction between the two names. They both came from that period of around 1100 to 1500 B.C. when many of the areas of the Fertile Crescent had been called "Arams," of one kind or another: Paddan-Aram: "Aram of the Plains," (since boundaries were uncertain, very likely inclusive of at least portions of what would later be called Armenia); Aram Naharaim: Aram of the Two Rivers before the Greeks called it Mesopotamia; and Aram Zobah, Aram Maacah, etc. Aram and Armenia both came from the same root meaning simply a "high place," sometimes in the sense of mountainous, sometimes in the sense of sacred or holy.
Aramaic itself had been the lingua franca of the ancient world until Greek and finally Latin began to supplant it. She had never quite forgiven the biblical translators who had altered the marvelous poetry of the reference to the patriarch Israel as "a homeless Aramaean" to a punctilious "perishing Syrian," in an attempt to present a precise geographical background for the "Aramaean," who was also a "Hebrew," a patronym indicating he descended from Eber, who was the forefather of Noah, who through his son Shem, was the forefather of all the Semites or "Shemites." She was not herself in favor of trying to associate "Hau-Ivri" (Hebrew in its English transliteration) with the word for "crosser or passer," not when the genealogical text pointed out twice, as if to emphasize the point that Shem was the father of "all the sons of Eber."
She could smile at this passion to eliminate even a seeming contradiction from an ancient text crammed with contradictions and paradoxes and made more lovely and mysterious because of it. It was only an attempt to flatten a powerful affect from a modern world itself awash in contradiction. She had no problem accepting that biblical texts were the songs of an ancient people and would never fit the mold that the Indo-European tried to jam them into. But, was she perhaps trying to flatten the affect of this strange message from Alexander of Aram/Armenia?
Suddenly, she fancied she could see Carl Jung in the room, but he was only sitting at his desk smiling like the picture in her book. On the night he had died, a storm had come up and the great tree under which he had loved to sit had been struck by lightning. It was a symbol that would have been readily understood in ancient times, ancient man would have found it a small significant miracle and would have told stories and written songs about it. It was capable of touching the modern consciousness also, but in a different way, and the feelings about it would more likely be ambiguous.
She realized that she must try to encounter this whole experience of the message at a different level. Her reactions so far were not a solution, they were a defense against the reality of it. This weird disappearance could be a signal that her approach was disallowed because it did not follow the rules of the game. But how could she discover what the rules were? She tried to look at the matter more directly and literally.
There was the distinct possibility that some sort of autonomous identity was operating here. She had resisted that idea, but perhaps he came in peace from that other side of time where "modern" and "ancient" did not exist. Who was she to try to segregate him from modern time, especially, as he had demonstrated that he could not be so summarily dealt with by producing an anachronistic printed note. Maybe there was some urgent reason for his intrusion into the present continuum, perhaps he had come at a critical point in world time.
It occurred to her that perhaps only Sharif had been right in all the debate and investigative rigmarole of the past week or so—he had said: "What about reincarnation?"
About reincarnation itself, she could not say, for she had no idea how it could be separated from other realities. It just did not seem it could be quite as simple as a soul bouncing along from body to body in a sequence stretched along the time line as it was perceived and measured out by the conscious mind of modern man. There was too much to indicate that this sort of time had no concrete reality outside of man's own mental processes and perceptions.
Modern physics had shown that time was relativistic and hopelessly intertwined with space or distance and motion and speed. Miri was not sure, it was not her field, but she thought that she recalled that particles which exceeded certain speeds traveled backwards in time, and that travelers at high speeds near the speed of light would experience time quite differently from stationary people. But, of course, nothing about the universe was ever "stationary" anyway, it was all traveling through space at fantastic rates of speed, so it was all complexly relativistic. Was this small bit of anachronism on this tiny mote of the universe all that remarkable?
As she acknowledged this, a feeling of positive energy came into the room. Quite suddenly, she realized that she did not know one person who could write passable Levantine Aramaic and make up strange ciphers. There was at least one such person still alive in this confused modern world, after all. It was herself. Was she somehow the medium through which this influence operated? Was that the secret of it?
At this point, she became aware that Alexander of Aram had become quietly visible in the room. He was not completely visible, but she could certainly make out his semi-transparent image easily enough. He had a basic Semitic look about him, similar to that recorded on the magnificent gold helmet mask of Sargon the Great, but he was taller and leaner than the stocky Assyrians, and he tended towards fairer skin and blondness. Or was he simply gray? He was not a young man. His costume was a hodgepodge of what might have been Thracian fitted trousers and knee length tunic over which a dark colored circle of toga hung, proclaiming him to be a citizen of the Empire, perhaps in mourning.
He flickered for a moment by the desk where the missing message had rested, but wound up seated in a chair across the room. Miri hesitated, the thought of something which could produce a sheet of paper, seen and handled by other people, was not exactly a reassuring consideration.
"Peace be unto you, Alexander of Aram," she said, using the age old Semite ritual greeting.
"And unto you also, Peace, Miriamne of Berkeley."
She said nothing further for a time. Then she asked, "Why have you come this long way to talk to me? And what have you to tell me?"
"Ah, well," he murmured, his voice a rustling whisper not quite audible.
He stroked his chin and seemed to wait for her to answer her own question. The terrible feeling grabbed at her then that he was no imaginative projection of some part of her own nature, but the ghost of Alexander of Aram, still alive in that place where he would always be alive. Then, he was gone from her sight.
"You must help me, Alexander," she called after him. "The way is too dark, you must light the way."
Robert and Carl were still in Karshipta, the old Westwind. They had reckoned on spending time in the Westwind, to get used to it and had moved their computers there. She thought of calling them, but decided against it. What could she tell them? She had seen a ghost, but only for a few minutes.
She went to bed that evening without attempting to do any work on the palimpsest which she had received from the Gnostic University.
Although it wasn't her habit, she was nocturnal by nature, she fell quickly asleep. Two dreams came to her in the night, in the first, she was in her own apartment and lights were constantly threatening to go out. She kept going to the light switches trying to adjust or fix them, but no matter what she did, the light flickered and began to fade. Then the dream changed, she found herself in some kind of vast building. All around her stood groups of people talking to each other. She sensed that she knew them although none had faces she recognized or could put a name to. They appeared to be waiting for something, but just what was unclear.
It came to her that it was her duty to tell them about herself and what she did. She started to speak, realizing in the same instant, that there were no words to explain what she did. But words came—"I can go back in time, I do things with time," she said, "it's really very easy." And as she spoke, illumination also came to her and she knew it was easy. It was all a matter of just moving in certain directions and you were automatically transported back thousands of years.
The people did not seem to hear what she said, or reacted as if she had said something too outlandish to be comprehended. They filled up the awkwardness with polite socially acceptable conversation. She realized after several tries that they really could not hear her and there seemed only one last resort, to demonstrate what she could do and see if that attracted their attention. She sensed that they would be oblivious to this too, but all the same, she had to try. It meant that she must leave them, for once this process of time travel was started, there could be no coming back.
She became aware again of the vast structure that enclosed them and realized that the first part of her journey would pass through it. She wondered what the structure was and the words came to her "way station." She was already starting her journey when she realized that beneath this "way station" was a vast subterranean area filled with frightful dangers, ultimate terrors of a kind that could not even be looked upon safely. She knew the people were oblivious to this, and she cried out, as she was carried away by the time travel forces. "Beware! Beware of the others!"
When she was borne through the way station it transposed into a tunnel like expansion and disappeared, and grinding whirring, whining noises were all around her. Over this deafening racket, she heard some human voice call out, "Libra, Libra, the Magnus Annum!"
But she passed through it quickly, and safely outside, all was calm and very clear. She made precise, unerring turns along a pattern that was quite familiar to her, and suddenly she was standing on warm earth in her bare feet. Sheep were all around her, she saw their dark brown faces turn to look at her and could smell the musky animal odor of them. Several pressed close around her bare legs. She became aware she was holding a long staff in one hand that curved over in a loop much higher over her head than she would have supposed should be.
It seemed a fine quiet place to be, and she thought to herself, pleased, "3500 years!" Then she became aware of her brown skinny arm, discovered she was wearing only a loose soft dress which reached only half way to her knobby brown knees. She was not herself anymore, she realized with almost pleased surprise. She picked up a strand of her hair and held it out to see. It startled her to see that it was shiny with oil and very, very black and the experience woke her.
The dream left her with an oddly contented feeling. Except for the first segment, and she reassured herself that at least the lights did not go out completely, the dream seemed to auger well. An interpretation was beyond her, at the moment, but the fact that it was the perfect model for a dream of reincarnation occurred to her.
Could there be something in the belief in reincarnation that she needed to look into? The idea did not ring true somehow. She found herself without the key to solve what seemed some great mystery enclosed in it. She did wish her unconscious would not throw these strange astrological references at her. They gave a certain charm to her dreams, but she had never really been able to see them as other than enigmas, no matter what approach she tried. What could there be in
the broad generalized meaning of the sign Libra that applied, helpfully anyway, to her present circumstances?
Alas! it is delusion all;