Darken Up The Skyway

 

 



I hardly ever make mistakes, but when I do, it's generally a big one. I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life when in the mid-60's I took some L.S.D. My interest was purely scientific; we had been informed of the C.I.A.'s MKULTRA experiments by an inside source and I was wondering, long before most of the rest of U.S.A. if - like peyote - there was an element of higher consciousness or religiosity to the experience. I wondered, in short, if acid could be used to make people worship me. (Incidentally, the famous recreational use of L.S.D. was a couple of years later, and you'll understand by the end of this chapter of my life why I steered away from the parties of the Merry Pranksters and Dr. Tim Leary, despite the frequent invitations.) I'm not opposed to drugs - the hopeless twentieth century hypocrisy surrounded the classification of mind-altering substances and the total failure to appreciate the needs of the addictive personality just leave me amused and angry.

At any rate. I mixed about one quarter of a milligram of acid into a glass of coke and swigged it down. Would that I had not, because it was either the acid trip from hell or an agony resulting from the direct gaze of God.

I found myself on an identical Earth standing outside an identical Parajito Mesa ranch house, and at first it was as if I was walking out to meet myself. Then - as the doppelganger approached - I began to believe that she looked and sounded a lot like my long lost sister Astarte, her hair dyed blonde to match my own.

"Greetings, Jacqueline Natla."

"Greetings ... stranger."

"I am no stranger. I am your very own harbinger, messenger, white rabbit, Gabriel, call me what you will."

"Well ... white rabbit. What is this place? It seems strangely familiar, like the real world, but ... reflected."

"This is ur-Earth and this is ur-New Mexico and I am ur-Natla, all circling the sun in an orbit directly opposite to that of the real Earth."

I started to giggle and the ur-Natla giggled in unison with me, starting and stopping on a dime. This amused me to start with, but then it began to frighten me. Nothing was right. The sand and the sky were subtly the "wrong" color and the house and the cacti were the "wrong" shape. ur-Natla was beautiful but there was something "incorrect" about her beauty, as if she were secretly a corpse made up to look alive, or secretly a "thing" not made of human flesh.

ur-Natla came very close to me and embraced me. I shrank away, shuddering deep within myself. She laid her cheek against mine, making my skin crawl and the bile enter my mouth. The horizon began to rock like a fairground ride and the sun to blink like a pulsar.

"I have a prophecy to give you," she whispered in my ear. "Previously you were brought down by your kin, your bloodline. This will happen again."

At that, I was plucked up into the sky. I saw the ur-Earth receding below me, and where the real Earth is blue, it was red. The ur-Moon had a malevolent yellow sheen and far off the distance I saw a red planet, getting closer and closer. It was Mars, and standing on the surface staring towards me and towards the real Earth were the Olympeans, silent and watchful.

I guess an old TV program must have been on, because I saw President Kennedy saying "First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to the earth."

Suddenly his eye was replaced by an empty socket and the back of his head exploded, splattering brains all over the American flag behind him. Worms began to crawl out of his mouth, and he had become a wizened corpse, cackling mindlessly and humping the podium in front of him like a copulating dog.

At that I started screaming.

"No," I was saying. "They will covert you. They will fuck you and pluck you for their own amusement. Do not invite them back."

Naturally they put me in a straitjacket and kept me medicated and under observation for days and days. I dreamed of clockwork soldiers and pumpkin-headed idiots whilst they gave me electric shock therapy.

I became silent enough for the doctors and lawyers, but I was never the same. When I was returned to real life, everything had changed and for me the world was a paranoiac's nightmare.

For about five years, between about 1965 and about 1970, my businesses were run by my faithful employee and friend Oliver Philo Farnsworth. I have difficulty remembering the exact dates, but hey ... if you remember the 60's you weren't there, right? It was Oppie who had made my fortune for me in the first place and now he maintained it whilst I took a "time out" from reality. The official diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I hardly visited the ranch house at Parajito Mesa at all, but had holed up on the top floor of the Xanadu Princess Hotel, Las Vegas. I had permanently hired the entire floor for my personal use, and - terrified of the sight of the sky and the sea, the things that had always been my friends - drew the curtains and bolted the door.

Let me describe a typical day for you.

There wasn't really a sunrise. I had the lights on all the time - ghastly strip lights - so that my rooms were as bright and sterile as an operating theatre. No doubt what with lapsing in and out of sleep I got approximately eight hours, but there was never a deep satisfying period of sleep and what sleep there was punctuated by nightmares whilst the waking periods were colored by fear.

I'd decide that it was morning - usually dictated by the needs of my bladder - and pee in a chamber pot. I'd taken to storing my urine in glass jars until I was sure that all the living cells sloughed off from my bladder wall were dead and incapable of being grown in culture.

I maintained sterile conditions; I was concerned with so-called "forward contamination" of my personal space by alien bacteria. I walked on sterile wipes and splashed about various bleaches and solutions of hydrogen peroxide. Because of my reluctant to allow a contaminated stranger into my space, my hair began to grow and grow. When I dared to clip my nails, I kept the clippings in a shoebox. No clones if I could help it.

My food was supplied through an airtight hatch. I had hired a firm to produce packages that was bacteriological inert, the earthly equivalent of astronaut meals. My water was sterilized and filtered and maintained at a strict pH.

I then spent the rest of the day glued to the bank of televisions in my room, making scrapbooks of cutting from the newspapers and reading financial and political reports from the various divisions of my companies.

I found it easier to watch the TV's with the volume turned down. The commentary didn't really help. On one screen there'd be some inept war, usually Vietnam. On another there'd be the semi-documentary coverage of the paranoia gripping the land in shows like 'The Fugitive'.

The thing that really freaked me out, however, was a short story by an English writer called Arthur Clarke called 'The Sentinel'. I quote; 'It was only a matter of time before we found the pyramid and forced it open. Now its signals have ceased, and those whose duty it is will be turning their minds upon Earth. Perhaps they wish to help our infant civilization. But they must be very, very old, and the old are often insanely jealous of the young.' At least they were making a movie of it. People would be warned.

I had gotten hold of the material relating to the "Space Program". The planned landings on the Moon. The probes to Mars.

""We're like mice nibbling at the cheese on a mouse trap," I wrote in my diary. "The Olympeans will return. I must try to halt the space missions, or at very least, prepare for the inevitable invasion."

I had turned my back on my past, on Atlantis, on my megalomania, but ...

My sane mind fought with my madness.

"Forget all of that," said the angel on my shoulder. "Live in the present. Live the American Dream. Leave 'Queen Natla' in the past, dead and buried."

I'd sit on my balcony, trapped in sunglasses and poncho, watching the city below me.

Did I owe these people anything? Atlantis was nothing more than a quaint myth and I'd already given my life once for it. Why bother?

"Put aside your self-importance. You have buried your identity and your past. Your past ... crimes. You have re-invented yourself."

And so I tried to smell the flowers and glory in the sunset over the sea and not to think of destiny, but every night in the clear desert sky I could see the Moon and sometimes Mars.

I would wake from a nightmare in which Zeus himself had come down to earth, burning up the President with a thunderbolt before ravishing his women - Lady Bird, Lynda and Luci. All this whilst disguised as a giant American eagle. Drunkenness, lasciviousness, blood lust and madness swept the world as their embodiments - Ares, Aphrodite, Dionysus - set foot again. And finally, my sister - in the guise of Athena - tried me in a public court and ordered me to be magically sealed like Merlin in a crystal cave for eternity for my foolish aged desires.

*********


I only have my notes and diaries and old newspapers to help me reconstruct that period and however I arrange the pieces I cannot achieve a logical chronology. I guess I'm not the only person who lived through that period who has that problem. So I'll give you the pieces instead of a narrative.

It was the 14th July 1965. I was listening to my old friend, the radio.

"Just you and me like the old days in the cave," I said, sitting in a closet with the door closed and the radio on my knee. "They can watch us through the TV but you are still loyal to me."

The program was called 'A Night of Encounter' and was about the latest Mars flyby by Mariner 4. Dick Bertal was interviewing some guy called Richard Haugland.

"We already know what will happen," I said to the radio.

They were discussing trajectories and the Soviets.

"I'm telling you. 1960, Marsnik 1 and Marsnik 2, BOOM on the launch pad. Boom! On the launch pad! Sputnik 22, kerboom! Zond, kerplooey! What more proof do you need? The agents and the harbingers of the gods are walking among us."

The radio didn't reply directly but the men on it talked of their hopes. Photos of the planetary surface. Maybe there'd be canals and pyramids. But what if the gods objected, I thought?

"And then there are the ones that made it out the atmosphere," I rambled to myself. "Mars 1 - 'failed on the way' to Mars. Sputnik 24 - 'failed to leave earth orbit'. Mariner 3 - 'bumped into a solar orbit'. They must have spacecraft. It's the chariots of the fucking gods."

I'd measured the aerial photos of the Nazca Lines. Probably just Indian paintings to attract the attention of the "sky gods" who brought the rains, the archaeologists said. "Sky gods?" Were they kidding? I guess archaeologists and aliens don't mix. I wondered if the Nazca Lines were something to do with the descendants of Atlantis, bastard generations fathered by the Maian Regiment gone native, the half remembered lore of the Atzlan Confederacy? It didn't seem very likely.

My brain buzzed with half theories, half facts, all polished to a glossy paranoid sheen. Ignorance and trauma give rise to conspiracy theories, but just because you're mad doesn't mean that you're automatically wrong.

Good job it was ten years before Mariner sent back the "face" from Cydonia, that constellation of accidentally aligned shadows and craters. That famous "face" that resembled a Cyberman from Doctor Who or Qualopec, depending on your mind-set. If I'd seen that in the 1960's I'd have been bouncing off the walls.

"You're linking too many disparate facts together," said my sane mind. "You've created some sort of monomaniacal monomyth from ill-remembered stories, in which everything is connected. What next? All of the gods are the same? Odin is Zeus? Jesus is Attis? Drivel, not worthy of a scientist."

But I wasn't listening to myself.

I may have phoned into the radio program and blurted out all my theories to Bertal and Hoagland. Or maybe that was just a dream. Or maybe I've blanked it out due to my deep embarrassment, like a lover sneaking away from a drunken night before.

*********


I became aware of strange noises as I lay in my self-prescribed oxygen tent, gazing sightlessly at the ceiling. Sometimes they would be from below me and sometimes - more unsettlingly - they were from above me, from the roof of the Xanadu.

One sound, the most frequently heard, sounded like the rolling of a giant stone doorway. It would cross the ceiling and I would follow it from one side of the suite to the other. Something about it echoed of Atlantis.

Then there were squeaks and giggles and whispers. They reminded me of the spirits of the dead come to drink at a trough of blood.

Then one day - I could have sworn I was dreaming until I realised that I was awake - I could hear the sounds in my rooms. I lay petrified under my bed sheets, waiting for Lords know what manacled apparition to appear before me.

The rumbling sounds crisscrossed my closed bedroom door, sometimes halting, sometimes speeding up. I could see under the door a shadow speeding. At one point a tentative hand tried the handle, but ceased on finding the door locked.

The rumbling stopped and then there was the pattering of what sounded like the paws of a small animal. I heard a thin fairy voice half-humming and half-singing in an unknown tongue.

There was a last rumbling and then silence.

When dawn came, I ventured out, gold-plated ornament in hand as a weapon.

There was little evidence of my visitors, except for what looked like a tiny paw print, and on one place, a muddy smear patterning like the underside of some sort of tendril or tentacle. There was an apple on the floor, with a chunk taken out of it by what I thought was a long incisor or maybe a claw. The suite smelt disconcertingly of rosewater - or was it putrid flesh?

I shuddered and did what I never do, that is, drank a mixture of sour milk and brandy for breakfast.

Eventually I rang reception.

"Hello", I said, tentatively. "Who am I speaking to?"

"Good morning, Ms. Natla. This is Edward Bundy, the night manager."

"Good to hear from you, Mr. Bundy."

"How may I help you Ma,am?"

"Did you ... send anybody up to my suite last night?"

"No, Ma'am. As per your standing instructions."

"I could have sworn I heard ... something. An animal maybe."

"That's strange, Ma'am. I have no note of that at all."

"Very good, Mr. Bundy." I wasn't relieved. If anything I felt a bit foolish. "What I really rang for was a fresh bottle of brandy, to be sent up by the dumb waiter to the air lock. Put it on my account."

"No charge to you, Ms. Natla."

"No charge?"

"Your money is no good here. Orders from the house."

"Orders from the house?"

"I'm the kind of woman who likes to know who's buying their drinks, Mr. Bundy," I said, with a faint smile in my voice.

"It's not a matter that concerns you, Ms. Natla. At least not at this point."

I was too tired to argue. "Anything you say, Mr. Bundy. Anything you say."

*********


According to the history books Stalin's daughter first met Frank Lloyd Wright's widow at Taliesin West in 1970, but according to my faulty memory they met earlier than that and I was there.

I had an idea that if I could arrange a meeting between women of influence from East and West maybe we could use our influence to stop the Space Race.

My first thought was a video conference. I'd had my hotel room and all of the conference rooms at Natla Tech affiliates fitted with a device that we had covertly designed with IBM. (We'd designed a number of things together, including the prototype of a heuristically-programmed algorithmic computer with Chandra and Langley's group at IBM's plant in Urbana, Illinois.)

The videophone device, a pale echo of Tihocan's aetherscope, was called the Imagephone Alpha.

"Hello?" I said loudly into the microphone. "Is that you Mr. Farnsworth? I'm talking to you now on the videophone."

"Good morning Ms. Natla," replied a black and white Oppie, looking not quite straight into the camera.

"I saw the arrival of Svetlana Stalin on the news reels and I wondered if she personally knew Mr. Kosygin?"

"You're breaking up."

"MR. KOSYGIN! REMEMBER HIM AND LBJ IN NEW JERSEY?"

At any rate, that conversation made me realise that if I was going to try and get a meeting together I'd have to be there in person. But how?

I kept abreast of the scientific literature, more for amusement than enlightenment, and an article from the more crackpot fringes of medicine had caught me eye. It might provide me with the perfect cover.

The meeting was arranged in a house near Mount Rushmore, a house built by Oglivanna's former husband Frank Lloyd Wright, which had its own private airfield that I could be flown into.

My "illness", which I'd invented for the occasion, I'd named Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Any exposure to the outside air, I'd let it be known, would throw me into a massive allergic fit. The real truth was that I didn't want any of me leaking out into the environment and providing a scent for the Olympean hunters that I was sure must be on my trail.

So I clumped down the steps of my jet dressed from head to foot in a white environment suit, towing my air supply behind me like a bag lady with a trolley. With the outside microphones switched off, all I could hear within the vaguely-trapezoid helmet was my own breathing.

I felt an air of unreality as I strode up to the house. Inside the part-glassed roof shed a blinding amount of actinic mountain sunlight onto an incongruous scene containing - boxed in by whitewashed walls and white plastic floor tiles - some anachronistic Louis XVI furniture. Whatever Frank Lloyd had originally intended, the new owners had as much sense of harmonious interior decor as a race of aliens. The room was as sterile and overlit as an operating theatre or the bathroom in a futuristic nightclub.

I switched on my helmet speakers, and suddenly every click of a shoe or clink of a coffee cup was magnified and sharpened as in a fever dream. Two women, both dressed in rather severe collarless suits, were murmuring together in what I supposed was Russian or another Slavic language, Mrs. Lloyd Wright having originally come from the Balkans.

They rose to their feet as I entered and the younger woman - a plump pink-cheeked woman with a crooked self-depreciating smile and a bouffant hairstyle - came forward to greet me, hand held out stiffly.

"I am Nadezhda Alliluyeva Stalina ... but you may call me Svetlana." She giggled slightly. "And this is Oglivanna Frank Lloyd Wright."

"Nee Olga Ivanovna Lazovich," said the older woman, "but you may call me Mrs. Lloyd Wright." She was in her sixties and had white highlights in her hair that reminded me of the Bride of Frankenstein.

I took their hands in my white gauntlet. "And I'm Jacqueline Natla of Natla Technologies," I said, "and you can call me whatever you please."

I appraised them. Both Oglivanna and Svetlana, the latter despite a layer of cheerful humor, had hard eyes. They were like eaglets. I could envision us as a formidable triumvirate against any Olympian plot.

Since it was obvious that I was a nutjob (I assumed), I tried to think of some reasons why we should be careful "out there". I tried to make them see the message, not the messenger.

"What about if we bring back some bacterium or virus from the upper atmosphere that devastates life on earth?" I said. "What about if all these tales of UFOs have some basis in fact? Should we be messing about in outer space? Aren't there better things to spend the money on?"

But it turned out that neither of them had any useful contacts.

"Have you not seen 'Doctor Strangelove'?" said Svetlana. "Both of our empires are run by the military-industrial - how do you say it?"

"The military-industrial complex," said Oglivanna. "Yes. The Space Race has nothing to do with exploration and everything to do with mutually assured destruction."

I gazed at them though my visor. "I ... genuinely thought it was about exploration," I said.

They laughed.

"If the SSSR can send a robot to the Moon," said Svetlana, "then we prove that we have the financial and technological ability to put a nuclear bomb on the White House."

"And you approve of this?" I said to Oglivanna.

"Of course not,"` she snapped. "I'm a theosophist for God's sake. Why do you think I live in a commune?"

"She pretends to be a hippy," observed Svetlana, "but really she's a businesswoman."

"Whilst Svetlana pretends to believe in democracy and the American Way."

"Don't we all?" I said.

I picked up some good business tips - as Svetlana wrote in her book 'The Faraway Music' (written after she had became a "replacement" for Oglivanna's dead daughter, also called Svetlana);

'This hierarchical system was appalling: the widow at the top, then the board of directors (a formality); then her own close inner circle, making all the real decisions ..... Mrs. Wright's word was law. She was a 'spiritual leader' and self-appointed minister, preaching on Sunday mornings on matters of God and man ...'

Svetlana was not keen on this matriarchal system � Russians prefer patriarchies - but it was one that I recognised and valued from my days as a God-King in Atlantis. After a few years, when I regained my senses, I put many of Oglivanna's precepts to work in my own management of Natla Technologies, and I like to think that we provided a template for the future. I consider Mrs. Thatcher, the Premier of England, and I like to think that I see a pale imitation of myself.

But as for stopping the Space Race - it was pointless even to try, at least by political means.

*********


Then, one day - I can't remember the year - 1968, 1970? - the ghost was revealed.

I'd been too scared to leave my room when the noises were going on, and I'd viewed with some trepidation the evidence left by my night visitors.

One evening - it wasn't even dark - I looked up the corridor towards my private elevator and there was a girl. She said nothing, but stood there with a blank expression. She was dressed in a thigh-length cotton dress of indeterminate colour. I remember that the dress had puffy sleeves and the girl had dark eyes. I wasn't good with the ages of American children but I guessed that she was between five and ten years old.

I was frozen to the spot, as was she.

Was I dreaming or hallucinating? My suite was supposed to be airtight.

I stared at her, silhouetted against the gilt and red of the elevator doors. I must have blacked out or been lost in a waking dream because she vanished. In my dream there was a deluge of blood.

Then, the next night, I heard her.

I found her sitting on a window ledge, singing to her doll. The words made no sense to me at first as she not only had a heavy accent, but she appeared not to know the meaning of the words, as if she'd learned them by rote in class, or from the radio. Eventually I was able to decipher them and I realised it was from a current pop song.

She was whispering, in broken English;

'I climbed on the back of a giant albatross
Which flew through a crack in the cloud
To a place where happiness reigned all year round
Where music played ever so loudly
.'

She followed this with a bizarre hummed version of 'Hole In My Shoe', with the occasional garbled snatch of lyric thrown in for good measure.

I lost my nerve and backed away before I could speak to her.

Finally on the third night I heard the sound of something being rolled across the floor that I'd heard so many nights before.

I flung open my bedroom door just in time to see the little girl speed past on a tricycle. The rolling sound was the tires and the track marks that I'd thought were tendrils were tire tracks, I watched her busily trundle down the corridor before slowing down for the corner and then trundling off again in a purposeful manner.

She rode into the kitchen and, standing on the saddle, helped herself to an apple. She produced a penknife from her pocket and, cutting a small segment from the apple, popped it into her mouth.

"Hey!" I said, softly. I crouched down. "Those are my apples."

The little girl stopped chewing for a second. Then she smiled cheekily and offered the apple to me.

I took it tentatively. The normal thing would have been to take a bite, but I was wondering who she was and whether she was contagious. I realised that I'd have to risk it if I wanted to find out.

"Yum yum," I said, taking a bite.

The little girl giggled.

"What's your name?"

She looked at me with a dark-eyed stare. She obviously didn't understand.

"My name is Natla."

The girl wrinkled her nose. Then she ran up and embraced me.

"Yes, OK, that's nice," I stammered, trying not to over-balance.

But I returned the hug.

*********


I'd always been interested in the works of Dr. Seuss and I proceeded to formulate a whole theory about ancient Earth and ancient Mars based on his work. I should add that I mean Professor Doctor Eduard Seuss, as well as Alexander du Toit and Alfred Wegener, and their theories about the supercontinents of Gondwana and Pangea.

Why Mars, you ask? Serendipidy, partly. Plus ... there was the Martian feature known as Nix Olympica, the "Snows of Olympus", christened by Schiaparelli in the last century. Christened by him after a vivid dream, according to urban myth. Back then we didn't know Nix Olympica was a mountain, a monsterous extinct volcano, a geological feature so large that it was visible from the Earth. It was only renamed Olympus Mons in 1972 after the Mariner 9 mission. I wondered about Schiaparelli's dreams. Were they dreams or were they something else? Were my strange compulsions and terrors coming from the same source?

I ordered Natla Tech to purchase the most up to date computers and commissioned some backroom boys to produce a model of Earth's continental drift from as ancient time as they could manage, using all the available geological evidence. I also ordered the digitisation of all the Mars maps and photos that I could lay my hands on - my contacts at least proved useful for that.

"Ms. Natla," said Oppie, at one point, seated behind a glass screen in the vestibule of my suite. "This is a vast investment. Are we sure that it's strictly ... useful?"

"Oppie, I may be mad. But it's my money and my companies. I'm afraid you'll have to humor me. Besides, we can probably sell the information afterwards and recoup the costs - even for our mining operation, our data will be potentially useful."

"Even the data about Mars?" said Oppie, pushing his bottle thick glasses back up his nose and passing his hands over his flat, severely parted hair.

"As I said - humor me."

"Of course."

"And ask the computing experts to compare the geography of Mars to ancient Earth. Map one on the other."

Oppie's lower lip trembled and he looked extremely anxious. "Ms. Natla. As your accountant I feel it is my duty to point out that this is completely ..."

"Insane?"

"Speculative. Why on earth should Mars resemble ancient Earth?"

"Why on earth indeed, Oppie. Think of it as therapy if you like."

"I'll send you the forecasts for the cost."

"Good man."

The calculations took ... well, I seem to remember that it was months. Maybe years. Eventually I ordered that the printout of the most promising results be sent to me. The models of Earth ranged from the most recent "50 million years/Cenozoic/Tertiary/Paleogene/Eocene/Lutetian" to the most ancient "510 million/Paleozoic/Ordovician/Canadian/Tremadoc". I spread all of the maps, including those of Mars, on the floor and began to spend many hours looking from one to another.

I know now I was wrong, but I convinced myself.

"Mars is a map of ancient Earth," I'd whisper in the early hours of the morning. "Look - two Mount Olympus's. And the Argyre - it lies between India and Australia. The Argyre - known as Salakawagara known as Java. It all fits!"

I stopped washing and eating and my fingernails grew longer and longer.

One pre-dawn I remember sitting bolt upright in the pile of rubbish and half-eaten food and tightly scribbled notes.

"Where's that encyclopedia? Let's see - Mount Olympus Greece is, oh, 100 million years old. But Mars resembles most Earth 500 million years ago! So ... so?"

I pulled my hair out in clumps and bashed my head on the wall until it bled.

"My God! Not only could they shape the surface of a whole planet as a memorial to ... to what? To them! Something insufferably ancient. But the whole point is ... the point is they must have done it in recent time. Or else why would Mount Olympus be on the map? And if Schiaperelli recognised the map in his dreams ... then they are still here. They influence us! They can shape whole planets! And we're firing stuff at them!"

And I dribbled blood from my mouth where I had bitten myself.

They took me away and despite the Cuckoo's Nest book they shocked me again, and pumped me full of chlorpromazine.

*********


As you know I recovered completely eventually and now, as I dictate this I am completely sane.

Several things changed after the second round of E.S.T.

They cleaned up my floor in the Xanadu Princess, and after my lawyers had been at them, they released me and gave me a part-time "helper" called Critchton (still in my employ as staff many years later).

This time the electricity and the drugs reawaked the growth of my wings, but the doctors could not surgically remove them straight away as I was too weak. This was a very fortunate thing, it turned out, for without my stubby half-grown wings I'd never have rescued Aþkðn and thus Aþkðn would not have rescued me.

I'd taken to sitting on my balcony in the sunshine, wrapped in a shawl and my wings, looking down on the city with my binoculars. There were no more air filters or air locks. I was letting the world see me amd smell me and sense me. After all - my fear of Olympeans and aliens had all been a schizoid delusion, or so they told me.

"I hear you," I said to the psychiatrists, "but even if I'm wrong, I vow to make myself as strong and secure and as powerful as I can manage. I owe it to my fellow man. Just in case."

And we all laughed.

Throuigh the binoculars I could watched the cars and buses and the occasional pedestrian. I noticed that all of the pedestrians looked poor, and were usually not white. I wondered what that meant.

One car caught my attention. It was extremely unusual - some kind of convertible. I would never have identified it, except by chance I saw an article in a motoring magazine. The car was made from a kit, had a chassis mainly made of wood, and was called the M-505 Adams Brothers Probe 16. I peered at the registration - 655321 - and got it looked up by my friends in the LVPD. Stolen, thought destroyed, I was told.

I'd see the car in the distance, zooming around the network of backstreets off the Strip. They'd have the top down, and would be joyriding. There were four kids, all wearing masks of the new President and of what looked like Governor Reagan of California. Sometimes they wore bowler hats.

Then, one afternoon in winter as one of those thunderstorms that move in from Mexico approached, I saw them just below me. They had accosted two pedestrians, a mother and daughter. As I watched, they tore at the woman's clothing and throwing her to the ground began to kick her viciously. The child looked up at the hotel, right up at me. Her hands framed her face and she was screaming silently. It was my little night visitor from before.

I grabbed up my gold poker and launched myself from the balcony. I spread my half-grown wings and managed a glide.

I could see the ringleader, a gangly youth wearing a President Nixon mask. He had pulled down his trousers and was strutting back and forth whilst his compadres held the girl, no doubt intending to make her watch. The mother lay inert. She was bleeding whilst Nixon Mask sang a beautiful song.

With a Maniaen shriek I sped from the sky just as the lightning flashed and the downpour started.

I landed on Nixon Mask, knocking him over. While he sprawled, I smacked Reagan Mask around the head with the poker.

The gang ran away in great terror, leaving their leader and the girl standing in the rain. The girl's mouth was a rictus and I could see the whites of her eyes as she looked up at me from under her brows.

I knelt and examined the woman. Whatever they'd done, she was dead. I looked at the girl and the girl looked at me. She staggered.

I did a dance of rage, almost a dance of joy, singing in the rain as I kicked Nixon Mask where he lay. He begged but I dispensed justice. I removed his eyes with my clawnails, and then almost dismembered him. I felt his testicles burst like the grapes under the stamping feet of a Bacchanalian dancer as he died screaming. I spread his blood onto my face and arms and breasts. It reminded me of myself, and I felt his life force flow into me. It reminded me of the good old days.

The girl watched the violence with her thumb in her mouth, and her body wrapped around itself. She didn't run or hide.

Afterwards, I showed the girl her mother. I arranged the mother's body in the car, with the body of her murderer at her feet. I helped the girl place coins on her eyes, but not on his.

"Bye bye," I said softly, with my arm around the child. I took her freezing wet hand in mine and mimed waving with it. She hummed on a single note and then buried herself against me.

I took the girl under my wing as I torched the makeshirt pyre with his Zippo, and did something I hadn't done for years - offered up a quick prayer to the Lords of the Sea and the Sky. We ran for the hotel as the wooden chassis and the gasoline ignited behind us.

"How do you get in?" I asked her. "We need to avoid reception."

Up the fire escape we went, to the sound of fire engines approaching.

Near the top, she montioned me to stop, to wait.

Later, she let me back into my own floor, scrambling through a hole in the air conditioning like a mouse. Her tricycle was in the dumb waiter.

Her name was Aþkðn.

*********


I remember watching Elvis shake hands with Nixon and watching the National Guard under the command of Governor Reagen open fire on the students on the Berkeley Campus. Apollo 13 had failed. The joy born in the 50's that been young in the 60's died in the 70's. It hardened my resolve.

"It is my duty not to turn my back on my duty," I said to Aþkðn. She just watched me without speaking, as her English was rudimentary, as was my Turkish. It turned out she'd come via Germany with her mother in search of opportunity. I was an American citizen, kinda, and I felt that America owed her one. So I became her guardian.

"I have to discover what is left of Atlantis," I said. "Look at the wars and the bombs, and crime and poverty. The human race is destroying itself and the planet. And should the Olympeans return, I must be ready."

It was time to wake up and smell the coffee. OK, sometimes my head still hurt and I had occasional nightmares. But my injured psyche told me that the world need a superpower, and it was neither Washington nor Moscow. I'd suffered my forty days in the hot, hot desert, and now it was time for me to resume my imperial destiny.


*********





Dragged And Washed With Eager Hands