“Good morning Jim” said La Reyna, with absolutely no hint of the tragedy that had befallen Barbas and Betsy the day before. “Our laundry dried nicely in the desert air and I’ve folded it all. I’ve also made some breakfast for us. Have you seen or heard from Barbas or Betsy?”
“No,” I replied, going along with the charade.
“Well then, let’s go look for them. Perhaps one of them sprained an ankle and they decided to camp out until this morning.”
After a quick breakfast, she and I walked from our camp to the dirt road. She walked west calling to Barbas and Betsy. I walked east doing the same. As agreed, after five minutes, we returned to our camp and got into the four-wheel.
La Reyna drove west and we stopped south of the Mats Camp. This time La Reyna sent me to walk northeast, past the Mats Camp, while she walked southwest, both of us calling for Barbas and Betsy.
As I rounded a corner along the path, I saw two people in the distance, walking away from me. My heart stopped – were these walkers Barbas and Betsy? Had La Reyna made some kind of terrible mistake? Was she giving me a loyalty test to determine whether I would stick with her and her Hawking Plan despite danger of death? Was she simply playing a horrible practical joke?
I hurried closer, lengthening my stride to a run. I could tell, by the way they were walking, that one was a man and the other a woman! After a brief moment of elation, I got close enough to see they were not wearing backpacks, both had dark hair, and the woman was far too broad in the beam to be Betsy. As I continued to run, my good feeling turned to anger at how Barbas and Betsy had been killed in cold blood.
The thought that the walkers might be Sahbaka’s people suddenly crossed my mind. I stopped dead in my tracks. However, by that time, I was less than fifteen meters (about fifty feet) away and the couple had heard me and turned around. I knew it was too late to avoid talking to them and my best course of action was to involve them in my sham search for Barbas and Betsy.
The walkers were both stout and appeared to be in their mid to late forties or early fifties. The man was bearded and about Barbas’ height, but even more barrel-chested. He looked like an Israeli version of a Japanese sumo wrestler.
“Shalom,” I said as I got close enough for conversation. They returned my Shalom. The man smiled and asked, in Hebrew, what I was doing running on that dirt path on this fine morning. I replied, in my stilted Hebrew, that I was looking for two friends who were hiking in the area, a man and a woman in their sixties or seventies, with gray hair, and probably wearing backpacks. I said I was concerned they might be lost or injured.
The woman walker said they had not seen anybody fitting that description, but, if they did, they would help them get back to Be’er Sheva. I thanked them, turned around, and headed, at a run, towards where the four-wheeler was parked.
La Reyna was pacing back and forth waiting for me. I told her about my chance meeting with two walkers and her impatience turned to something like panic. This was the first time I had seen her react that way. She grilled me on what they looked like, what they had asked, and what I had said. When I told her they spoke Hebrew, she calmed down.
“That means they’re not Sahbaka’s people,” she said. “In fact, it’s good you ran into them! That will add more veracidad to our story!”
We got back into the four-wheeler and drove further west, to the area where we had hiked the day before. We parked at the same place in the dry canyon. La Reyna lead me up the hilltop where she knew there was WIN coverage. I realized she did that to create a PID record of our attempt to find Barbas and Betsy. I noted how carefully she avoided walking down into the hollow where Barbas and Betsy had been killed and where she had killed Tsar’s people.
After an hour of “fruitless searching,” La Reyna motioned me back into the four-wheeler and headed to the police station.
At the Be’er Sheva Mishteret Yisra'el (Israeli state police station), La Reyna recounted our story, assuring the officers on duty our archeological guides were experienced hikers and campers who had ample water and snacks when they were last seen the day before. She told the police she was not exactly sure where we had hiked because Barbas and Betsy were in charge, but she knew it was a few miles west of our camp, which was five kilometers (about three miles) west southwest of Be’er Sheva along the dirt road that ran along the north side of the river bed.
After giving the police statement, La Reyna and I drove to a motel where she secured two rooms, one for herself and Betsy and the other for me and Barbas. She phoned the outfitter where the caravans and digging equipment had been rented and asked them to clear the camp and move the caravans to the motel parking lot.
We had a nice lunch in a café adjacent to our motel and then walked to the Mats house, less than a kilometer (about a half mile) away. It was an old U-shaped building, two stories high. The lower floor appeared to be a warehouse or some sort of factory. However, the upper floor seemed to be apartments. Some had wash drying on clotheslines. La Reyna and I walked into the dirt courtyard and I spotted Yitzchak bar Mats’ name, in Hebrew, on one of the doors:
יצחק בר מת 72 לו לו
“That says,” I explained, “Reading from right to left, ‘Yitzchak bar Mats’ then ‘72’ in Arabic numerals which you can read, then Lamed Vov and another Lamed Vov which are the Hebrew numbers for ‘36’ twice, because Lamed is thirty and Vov is six.”
“Hey,” replied La Reyna enthusiastically, “Seventy-two harks back to the Septuagint miracle you told me about! It is also the number of study contracts we issued! Oh my! Also, thirty-six twice is seventy-two! I think this is a very good omen.”
“I don’t believe in omens or numerology,” I replied, “However, seventy-two in Hebrew letters would normally be written as Ayin Beth, because Ayin is seventy and Beth is two. It would not be written as two Lamed Vovs. I hesitate to tell you this because I don’t believe in it, but Lamed Vov is kind of a special number in Jewish mysticism, because there are supposedly thirty-six tzadikim – righteous men for whose sake the world exists. Ku-ke Lu-ke and I were discussing exactly that just before you ran back to us during the unpleasant incident in the desert west of Mats Camp. Luke had some scientific system theory that scepter-holders had to be in some control hierarchy and there were thirty-six high-level scepter-holders at the third level up and …”
“Remember when we were in Tokyo?” interrupted La Reyna, whose mind had clearly wandered into another world when my reply veered into Jewish mysticism and Luke’s hierarchy theory, “And you asked me what ‘DoHiMuTo,’ as the Japanese words ‘dohi’ and ‘muto’ might mean?”
“Yes,” I replied, “You said ‘misguided servant’ or something like that.”
“Would you return the favor? I wonder what ‘Yitzchak bar Mats’ might mean in Hebrew?”
“Well,” I said, “’Yitzchak’ is a pretty common Hebrew first name, which translates into ‘Isaac,’ our second patriarch. An American or European Jew with that Hebrew name might be called “Isaac” or ‘Ira’ or ‘Isadore.’ ‘Yitzchak’ as a Hebrew word could also mean ‘to giggle’ or ‘to laugh’ or ‘to make fun of’ and so on. ‘Bar’ when in a name, means ‘son of.’ ‘Mats’ could be ‘to die’ or ‘to be crazy about’ as in ‘to die for.’ So, putting it all together, his name could be ‘Taunt, son of Death’ or, putting a positive spin on it, ‘Laugh, son of Crazy’. You pick the one you want!”
“Remember when we were in Atlanta?” asked La Reyna, changing the subject, “At the TABB regional HQ and you suggested we should simply ask Yitzchak bar Mats for the Dead Sea Scroll film?”
“Yes,” I replied, “It seems to me you dismissed that idea ‘with prejudice’ as the lawyers would say. Have you changed you mind? Are we going to visit with him now?”
“Not right now,” replied La Reyna, “But later this evening I think we may come back to his apartment.”
I put on a happy face. “Let’s hope he is more of a ‘Laugh, son of Crazy’ guy,” I said, “Than a ‘Taunt, son of Death’ type.”
My smile disappeared when La Reyna added, ominously, “Hopefully, for all our sakes, Yitzchak bar Mats will be laughing or taunting elsewhere at the time of our visit.”
We walked back to the motel and were pleased to find our caravans had already been moved there. “Get some extra clothes and your bathroom stuff out of Adam and I’ll get some stuff out of Rebecca,” said La Reyna.
I quickly gathered the things I’d need for a few days at the motel and took them up to my room. I watched a bit of TV, brushing up on my Hebrew, and then took a nap.
I was awakened by a phone call from La Reyna informing me it was time for dinner, which we had at the café adjacent to the hotel.
After dinner, La Reyna said, “Please change into some dark clothing and that navy blue cap you have and meet me at the caravans in fifteen minutes.” I did as instructed. I had no idea what we were up to and simply decided to “get along while going along.”
La Reyna was dressed in black tights and a black baseball cap when we met at the caravans. She had retrieved a couple of sacks from one of the caravans. The sacks were heavy with rope and other climbing equipment. La Reyna picked up one sack and motioned for me to carry the other one. We walked through some back alleys to the Mats house.
When we got there, La Reyna removed a grappling hook from my sack and and some rope from hers, assembled them and threw the hook up to the balcony behind the Mats apartment. She hooked a pulley and ascender to the rope and helped me pull myself up. Once I was safely on the balcony, she pulled herself up and joined me.
La Reyna motioned to me to be silent as she opened the rickety door from the balcony to the back of the apartment. We found ourselves in a dark, dank hallway that smelled faintly of urine.
As we walked along the hallway we heard a friendly voice say, “Hello, welcome to my home. I’m Yitzchak bar Mats but you can call me ‘Izzy’.” As our eyes adapted to the faint light, we could barely make out the form of a short, barrel-chested man with a large belly. He had a “Cheshire cat” smile on his bearded face.
“We’re here for the Dead Sea Scroll film,” said La Reyna, quite calmly and directly. “If you give us the negatives and all copies, we won’t give you any more trouble.”
“No trouble for me,” replied Izzy, “But first, please tell me, who are you?”
“It doesn’t matter who we are,” replied La Reyna in a gruff voice, “Just comply and we will be gone.”
“I’m sorry,” said Izzy, “But I’m not in the habit of talking to anyone who has not been properly introduced. Who are you?”
“I’m your WORST NIGHTMARE!” La Reyna shouted, “Don’t make me hurt you.”
“What makes you think you can hurt me?” asked Izzy in a mocking tone. His teeth reflected the dim light and highlighted his broad smile.
La Reyna didn’t reply. Instead she ran towards Izzy and swung her right leg in a karate kick to his face. I watched in amazement as Izzy just stood there as the leg began its rotation. Then, at the last possible instant, after the rotation had been committed, he pulled his head back several centimeters (a few inches) and La Reyna’s foot sailed in front of it, a mere centimeter (fraction of an inch) from his nose. Her canvas-shoed foot hit the concrete post to Izzy’s left with a loud thud. La Reyna fell to the floor and cried out in pain.
“My dear La Reyna Abeja,” Izzy said in his most friendly voice, “If you keep doing that I’m afraid you’d screw yourself into the floor.”
Despite the objective danger of the situation, I felt strangely at ease. Izzy’s voice seemed hauntingly familiar. I just stood back and observed the confrontation as if it was a movie. “She has screwed everything else,” I thought to myself, “Why not the floor?”
La Reyna got up and limped towards Izzy. “How the hell do you know my name?” she demanded.
“I know lots of stuff,” Izzy replied, his Cheshire cat smile still in place. At that moment, my eyes had adapted sufficiently to the darkness to make out that Izzy was none other than the man I had met earlier that day – one of the two walkers near the Mats Camp. I hadn’t made the connection earlier because Izzy had spoken Hebrew at our first meeting and was now speaking English.
“I can wipe the floor with you!” La Reyna shouted, and, with that, she pulled her right arm back, clenched her fist, and aimed a blow to Izzy’s head. Once more, I watched Izzy stand there until the blow was committed.
I was amazed how calmly motionless Izzy was able to be in the face of imminent danger, with no hint of fear. His eyes remained focused straight ahead, neither looking left nor right nor up nor down. As La Reyna’s fist approached his face, Izzy suddenly ducked down. I was surprised at how quickly this very large and apparently out-of-shape man could move.
La Reyna’s fist sailed slightly over his head, barely rustling his sparse hair. Once again I heard the dull thud of flesh hitting concrete as her fist struck the post behind him. She cried out once more, in rage and in pain. In the faint light, I could see that her right hand was bloodied and her pinky seemed out of joint.
“Can’t we all get along? Why can’t we talk?” asked Izzy, in a voice as friendly as before. His smile brightened a bit. “I know La Reyna is not your real name.”
La Reyna limped rapidly towards him without saying a word. She drew her left hand back and unleashed a tremendous blow to Izzy’s midsection. “Bong!” went her fist against his big belly and again she cried out in pain.
“I’m sorry, my dear La Reyna,” said Izzy in a kindly tone, “But I took the precaution of putting a brass bowl down there as a cummerbund. Did you know that cummerbund is a Persian word that means ‘pot holder’?”
He laughed, as did I, but La Reyna was in too much rage and discomfort to appreciate the joke.
“Shalom Izzy,” I said, holding my hand out to shake, “I’m Jim O’Brian. We met this morning near your camp.”
“Shalom, Jim. It is good to see you again!” replied Izzy, gregariously grasping my hand and hugging me as if we were old friends, which, if you counted that morning as “old,” we were. “Now that we’ve properly introduced ourselves, won’t you come in to my humble abode? If you’d like, you may bring your ‘lady’ friend.”
Izzy opened a door near the end of the hallway and we all stepped into his small, dimly lit kitchen. The rich smell of chicken soup greeted our noses. A rotund woman – who I recognized from our meeting that morning – and who I guessed must be Izzy’s wife, waved at us and said Shalom.
She looked at me and suddenly realized I was the runner she and Izzy had met on their morning walk. She introduced herself to me as “Bertie” and, in Hebrew, mentioned our earlier meeting. We hugged as if we were close relatives, which, in a way, we were.
“La Reyna,” I said brightly, “This is Bertie, Izzy’s wife. These are the walkers I met this morning near their camp!”
La Reyna hardly acknowledged Bertie. “It’s a small world,” she said glumly, as she limped into the room, looking at her bloodied hands.
Bertie said “Marak. Some soup you should nihana, enjoyment get. Yisav, Sit.” and gestured for us to sit on two of the old wooden chairs around the kitchen table.
“Bertie,” said Izzy, “You are right! A couple bowls chicken soup for my guests, please.”
Bertie ladled the thick soup into two bowls and set them down in front of La Reyna and me.
Izzy brought a couple of spoons and some napkins to us. “Ess, geszinter heit,” he said cheerfully, “Eat and be well!”
“I don’t want any of your God-damn soup,” shouted La Reyna, “And, with my broken hands I couldn’t eat it even if I wanted to.”
“YOU HEARD WHAT IZZY SAID!” I ordered, “BE A GOOD GIRL AND EAT SOME SOUP! Here, I’ll even spoon feed it to you.”
I was surprised to hear myself order her around.
I was even more surprised when she meekly complied.
I gave La Reyna a couple spoonfuls of soup, took a couple for myself, and then repeated the process until the soup was gone. There were Hebrew Aleph-Bet noodles floating in the soup and I noticed some forming the word tzadic!
It was by far the best chicken soup I had ever tasted.
“Izzy and Bertie,” began La Reyna, “Thank you for your hospitality. I apologize for breaking in on you and for my behavior earlier. This soup is wonderful!”
“You are quite welcome,” said Izzy.
Bertie nodded and muttered something in Hebrew I could not make out.
Izzy took a large tureen out of the cupboard and filed it halfway with warm water. He added a half-cup of white powder, a cup of clear liquid, and several red drops from a small bottle. He asked La Reyna to put her hands into the bowl.
She obediently did so. The water in the tureen turned a deeper shade of pink as La Reyna’s blood mixed with it. Izzy put his own hands in and massaged and straightened her fingers. She winced in pain as he clicked her errant right pinky back into place.
“My dear,” Izzy said, “Please flex your fingers a bit and they will soon feel better.” She did as requested. I could see it was very painful at first. After a few minutes of clenching and flexing, however, the grimace on La Reyna’s face disappeared.
“What in the world did you add to the water?” she asked, “My fingers feel much better and they’ve stopped bleeding!”
“Oh,” Izzy answered, “That’s just some Witch Hazel and Epsom salts.”
“What were the red drops?” I asked.
“Oh,” Izzy replied with a wink, “Just some vegetable color to make it look like it was something special.”
“Just vegetable color?” asked La Reyna. “It works like a miracle!”
“Yes,” replied Izzy. “You may know the story of the rabbi who could ‘see into the future’ when he stood on a ladder. He admitted he could see the future just as well standing on the ground, but the ladder made his feat seem more impressive. Vegetable color works as well as a ladder and it’s a lot easier to schlep around!”
“That’s one of my favorite stories,” I said, “Do you remember I told it to you some months ago Steph … I mean La Reyna?”
She hesitated and then replied “Yes,” but it was clear to me she did not remember.
I turned towards Izzy and asked, “May I use the restroom?”
“Sure,” he answered, “The toilet is the third door on the right.”
As I walked down the hall I passed a closed door on my left that looked unusually modern for an old apartment. Next, on my right, was the doorless living room which barely had space for a sofa, a straight chair, and a TV set on a small stand. The door to the next room was slightly ajar. I could see it was the bedroom. It held a small double bed jammed against one wall and accessible from only one side, as well as a rickety wardrobe with open shelves. The third door was to the ancient toilet. As I sat on the “throne” I marveled at the old claw-foot tub to my right and the tiny wash sink near the door. The lone window, over the tub, opened into an air shaft.
When I returned, Izzy motioned for me to stand by the modern door I had seen earlier. Izzy unlocked it to reveal a large computer screen, an ultra-modern codip, and other electronic and computer equipment.
“If you don’t mind,” said Izzy, “Would you like to show me the list of e-texts, e-photos, and relic documents you have modified so far in your ‘time machine’ project?”
I thought briefly about asking La Reyna for permission to show this ultra-secret TABB document to Izzy. “Izzy,” I asked earnestly, “Are you a tzadik? One of the thirty-six Lamed-Vuvniks?
“A nudnik, Bertie says I am, but, as for the rest, I’m not allowed to say,” answered Izzy.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” I replied.
“You can take it any way you want,” said Izzy cheerfully, “That is something I dare not acknowledge nor deny.”
“You have just told me what I needed to know,” I replied. I felt a warm religioso feeling throb through my body. For me, that was quite unusual. “It is an honor to be in your presence, My Liege, I bid you homage.”
“Thanks,” answered Izzy, “But that ‘My Leige’ stuff is for high TABB functionaries, not for lowly document custodians like me.” With that, he motioned for me to validate my identity and sign in to his computer, which I did. A few keystrokes later, my TBI-Secret list of updated documents appeared on the screen.
Izzy’s hands flew over the keyboard and, in a few moments he had produced a revised list of documents, indicating which could remain in the updated form and which had to be reverted to their original form. I could not believe anyone could edit a long document as quickly as he did. At that moment I was convinced he was a tzadic and a magician and an expert linguist, not to say a truely amazing typist.
I reviewed Izzy’s suggestions. After about fifteen minutes, I finally detected a pattern that revealed deep understanding of the needs of the Hawking Plan to prevent religious backlash as well as all reverence due for ancient writings thought to be Holy Scripture by a significant proportion of the population. About eighty percent of my "updates" had to be undone.
“How in the world,” I asked, “Were you able to review over four thousand updates? I spent months evaluating and agonizing over these writings with the best translators and religious historians. How could you come up with a pattern for which updates were acceptable and which were not, and then type it all out in this form, in only a few minutes, while I watched? You are a wizard in addition to being a tzadik!”
“Jim,” asked Izzy, “Have you ever heard the story of Mozart and Allegri’s secret mass?”
“No, I’m sorry, but I’m not up on classical music.”
“Well,” continued Izzy, “In the 1630’s, the Pope ordered excommunication for anyone who transcribed Allegri’s Miserere, a secret mass. Mozart, when he was only fourteen years old, heard it one time in the Sistine Chapel and was able to produce a copy of the entire score.”
“Amazing. How in the world did he do it?”
“Well,” continued Izzy, “As a musical prodigy, he did have an excellent memory for music, but that was not the whole story. Any piece of fine art, such as an operatic score, must have an underlying structure that might be called the ‘basic unifying concept’ that unites all the elements of the complicated piece. Mozart did not have to remember all the specific details. All he had to do was listen carefully for the ‘threads of simplicity’ and remember them. Then, he was able to reinvent the details! Of course, as a musical genius even at that young age, he was able to discern that ‘unifying simplicity.”
“Amazing,” I said once more. “I guess it is true that my list of over four thousand updates had a simple unifying pattern to them. At first, I must confess, I had to puzzle over each proposed modification. I had to discuss and even argue with my assistants before I could come to a decision. However, after about one-thousand changes, the task seemed to become far easier.
When one of my assistants proposed a change, I had an almost instant feeling, as if some supernatural force was guiding me, as to whether or not I should approve that modification. I could almost ‘smell’ it!
“What is amazing to me is that, in only a few minutes of looking at my list, you were able to recognize the ‘threads of simplicity’ in my work, and then come up with your own patterns for the ones you approved and disapproved. Despite my familiarity with my initial list, it took me over a quarter-hour to discern your pattern, your ‘basic unifying concept.’ You are a genius in addition to being a tzadik!”
“You are way too kind as well as gullible, Jim,” replied Izzy. “What I did has nothing at all to do with the Mozart story. I just told you that to check your reaction to it. Unfortunately, you have almost no resistance to anyone you classify as an ‘authority figure.’ In their presence, you ignore the ‘lights’ that guide you and become a blindly obedient servant. That, Jim, is your one great failing. You are smart and industrious, but you ‘go with the flow’ way too easily.”
“I’m sorry. I’m a ‘dohi muto.’ You are entirely correct.”
“What? I don’t understand what your attitude towards authority figures has to do with the DoHiMuTo museum in Tokyo?”
“Nothing, Izzy. Sorry, that’s a private joke between La Reyna and me; I should say Stephanie and me. In Japanese, ‘dohi muto’ could mean ‘servant without lights’ or ‘misguided servant.’ I’ve allowed her to corrupt my better judgment and lead me to disfigure the scriptures of all the world’s great religions as well as violate the tenets of academic integrity. I have failed my duty both as a cleric and a scholar. I apologize.”
“Yes, the 'unsweetened' part threw me off a bit, but it could mean 'misguided' as well," replied Izzy in a kindly tone. "I acknowledge no official authority to give people guidance, but I know that recognizing our own failures, is the first step towards self-improvement.”
“Thank you for your understanding. But, please tell me how you came up with your pattern so rapidly after seeing my list for the first time.”
“Let me confess it was not the first time I had access to your list!” replied Izzy, with a wink. “Have you met the idiot manager in the TABB Atlanta office who is responsible for the Hawking Plan? The bozo guy who fancies himself an expert en español, but can’t tell modern Spanish from medieval Catalán?”
I knew exactly who he was referring to. “Yes,” I answered, “Dingleberry.”
“No Jim. That isn’t his name. His name is Wagner, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But he is a bozo as you said – the biggest jerk-off at TABB – and also a dingleberry!”
“Twelve languages I know. But I don’t know what kind of fruit is a dingleberry?”
“So,” I laughed, “You’ll have to look it up sometime on the WIN when you are in need of some humor!”
“So I will. Well, that jerk-off Wagner sent me a text message a month or so ago. He only signed his last name, so let us call him Dingleberry Wagner – or would Bozo Wagner be better?”
“How about Bozo D. Wagner?”
“That will be it! So, your Atlanta TABB colleague, Bozo D. Wagner, sent me this very courteous message asking me, quite nicely I might add, to please turn over the film he thought I had of the Dead Sea Scrolls. You know, both before and after you sent them to the DoHiMuTo for what you call ‘updates.’ In his message he wrote he was attaching digital versions of those film photos. What he actually attached was your super-secret file containing your list of updates! Except, he had mangled the medieval Catalán in a vain attempt to turn it into modern Spanish.”
I sat there open-mouthed.
“Jim, I spent many days working on your list before I decided on the parameters and the template for acceptance and rejection. I prepared my list of suggestions and all I had to do when you came was substitute my list for the one you brought up on my display. I would appreciate it if you would have those changes accomplished as soon as you get back to Orlando.”
"Izzy, I promise to do just that. Let’s shake on it! I don't even have to consult with Stephanie!
We not only shook hands, we also hugged.
“Izzy, even though I’m a rabbi, I am definitely not a literal believer. Yet, when I held the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in my gloved hands, I experienced a deep religious feeling. In the desert near your camp, when we were hiding from some gunmen, I realized I had seriously sinned and I cried out to God. Yet, for some reason, I cannot make myself believe in a literal, personal God. As a holy man, who I think is a tzadic, whatever that may mean to a non-believer, can you help me find my personal God?”
“Jim,” replied Izzy, in a serious voice. “We each must find our own version of God. Despite what you seem to think, I do not believe – at least not literally – everything I read about God. Also, I do not claim to have magical powers that distinguish me from any other man or woman.”
I was dumbfounded. “But, but …” I stammered, “I saw, with my own eyes, how you deftly avoided Stephanie’s blows and how you made her turn her anger and rage against herself. How you made her self-inflict great pain. How could an ordinary man, who – quite honestly – doesn’t appear to be in great shape, do that to a woman who is in tip-top shape and also a martial arts expert?”
“Mind over matter. As a document custodian in the Shrine of the Book museum in Jerusalem, I have all day and all year and my whole life to read documents. When I read, I learn. Fortunately, I can read and understand a dozen languages pretty fluently. The important thing is to have faith in yourself! The key is to remain calm and not get angry.”
“You are amazing!”
Izzy's Cheshire cat smile reappeared. “It was pretty dark in that outer hallway, but I am intimately familiar with the locations of all the concrete posts. My eyes were dark adapted because I had been there longer than Stephanie. I have trained myself to stand perfectly still and not give away my intended movement by hand or eye or head gestures. I jut my head forward and stand on my toes so I can rapidly pull my head back and drop down if they aim at my head. And, you know about my brass bowl cummerbund to protect my belly!”
“OK, but, if you wait for them to wind up and begin to swing their leg or arm, how can you be sure you will react in time?”
“For anyone to decide to move and then to initiate the movement, it takes a least two alpha cycles of their brain. That’s at least two-tenths of a second. Once initiated, they can’t change their movement for a minimum of two more alpha cycles plus the time to counteract the inertia of their moving leg or arm. So, what I do is wait until about a second before the blow will strike and then I duck or move backwards or both. That only takes me two alpha cycles plus the time to overcome inertia – a total of half a second. It would take them about a second to recognize and correct their blow. Therefore, they are usually too late and they strike the concrete post! It is plain psychology and basic brain science and simple physics. It is not magic.”
“But, what if she had grabbed you in a head lock, or kicked you in the groin, or if she had a knife or a gun?”
“I know how to wrestle very well," said Izzy with great confidence. "I have a small brass jock strap with sharp, outward-pointed spikes down there. She wouldn’t have a chance! I know enough about her, through my WIN research, that I was quite sure she would not come here with any weapons. However, I have prepared my hallway with some mirrors and nets and other simple gadgets that I could have used to counteract almost anything she might have done. On the other hand, she could have injured or even killed me. It’s a chance I take! As they say, ‘faint heart never won fair maiden.’”
We both laughed at Izzy’s adaptation of romantic advice to martial arts. “Izzy,” I said, “You showed me your electronics closet. Surely you must be a high TABB functionary to have such equipment?”
“Anyone can buy that stuff at Radio Shack,” replied Izzy, with a twinkle in his eye. “You just need to know what to buy, and you can find out all about it by doing research on the WIN.”
“So, you have no TABB or higher order hierarchical scepter-holder authority or power to order me to revert eighty-percent of the changes I have made to the various scriptures?”
“None that I can speak of,” replied Izzy, somewhat ambiguously, “Right now I am only using my ability to appeal to your sense of right and wrong. Nearly everybody has that sense. Some people ignore it or trick themselves into disobeying their inner reason, the ‘lights’ that guide them. I have developed an ability to ‘turn the lights on’ and bring people back to their natural state of reason.”
I looked at Izzy's kind face. It seemed to glow in the light. “I have tried," I said, "But I cannot believe in a personal God. But I do believe you are a tzadic with magical powers. I know what I just said defies the light of reason, but I cannot resolve the contradiction. Can you please help me?”
“Jim, you have helped yourself today. If it makes you feel better to believe I’m a tzadic – or have some ‘magical’ powers – go right ahead and believe it! All societies have some illogical beliefs that contradict reason, yet it appears these foundational myths are necessary for the survival of great civilizations. I cannot explain why this is the case, but it is. If something is, and has been for a long time, then, I guess, it ought to be. The ‘Naturalistic Fallacy’ be damned!”
"OK then," I said, “Let’s go tell La Reyna – oh, I should say Stephanie – about our agreement!”
Stephanie still had her hands in the bowl of pink water and was discussing the recipe for chicken soup with Bertie when we returned.
“La Reyna, my dear,” began Izzy matter-of-factly, “Or should I call you Stephanie?” Stephanie rotated her head up and down.
“Here is what you shall do when you return to Orlando. I reviewed the list of updates Jim had ordered. I gave him a list of suggestions and he has agreed to follow my ideas and undo about eighty percent of the changes he made to the scriptures of the world’s religions. I assume you will approve his decision?”
“Did you give the TABB-Secret list to him Jim?” challenged Stephanie.
I shook my head left and right.
“Izzy, how did you get the TABB-Secret list of updates?”
“Bozo D. Wagner from TABB-Atlanta sent it to me. It was a mistake on his part, I believe,” he said, smiling.
“My Leige Dudley Wagner is an idiot! Bozo is far too kind!" Shouted Stephanie. "Did he give you the right to interfere with my employee and give orders to TABB regarding the Hawking Plan?”
“ESTEPHANIA!” I said in my most authoritarian voice, “Izzy here is a tzadik. A holy man! We must abide by his suggestions. They trump anything you or I or TABB has to say or do. Tell Izzy you will do exactly what he has suggested. For all our sakes, it’s the only alternative we have to get out of the mess we’re in.”
“Hola Diego!” she replied in amazement. “What in hell is a tzadic? Have you gone religiosas locas on me?”
I smiled at her. “A tzadic is a righteous man, or woman I guess, one of only thirty-six alive today for whose sake the world exists. You are the one who will be crazy locas if you don’t listen to this Lamed Vovnick, this very holy and righteous man.”
Stephanie thought about it for a minute and then said, “OK Jim, now I remember what you told me earlier about tzadics, but I reject all that spiritual nonsense. However, Izzy, I approve your suggestions. Not because of that tzadic hocus-pocus-locas, but because I realize you are right. Thank you for helping resolve our problem.”
Izzy nodded and said “You are quite welcome and thank you Stephanie. As I told Jim, I do not acknowledge or deny any of that tzadic stuff.”
"You neither acknowledge nor deny it?"
Izzy remained silent and flashed her his cheshire cat smile.
She stared at him for a moment and then changed the subject. "I have to tell you about an opposition group led by a high TABB Planning Board member named Tsar Sahbaka. Have you heard of him?”
Izzy shook his head up and down.
“What, if anything, can you do about him?”
“He will be taken care of in due time,” answered Izzy, glancing at the clock on his kitchen wall.
“Also,” continued Stephanie, “There’s a messy situation in the desert west of your camp we have to resolve. I spoke to the Be’er Sheva Mishteret Yisra'el about it today. Would you like me to give you the details?”
“I’m well aware of the desert situation. And I take responsibility for leading you and your pawns and Tsar and his pawns on your fruitless search for a non-existent can of film. I didn’t intend for anyone to pay for this with their lives. But, what is is, and, I suppose, it ought to be. I will help you resolve it in the most discrete way. At my urging, the Be’er Sheva Mishteret Yisra'el are currently doing absolutely nothing about it. I promise it will be taken care of very soon.”
At that moment an alert sounded on Izzy’s computer. He rushed to read the display. He then closed and locked the door to his computer equipment closet. “Bertie,” he called to his wife, “We have some more guests. More chicken soup please!”
“If you’ll excuse me,” said Izzy with a twinkle in his eyes, “I don’t know why you TABB people insist on climbing up the balcony when we have a perfectly good front door and stairs up to this apartment. I’ll be back in a few moments. Please stay in the kitchen.” He left the kitchen via the door to his balcony.
Stephanie and I watched in silence as Bertie defrosted some more chicken soup. We heard metal clanging and then belligerent voices and a scuffle from the hallway outside the kitchen door. The door bulged inwards as someone or something hit it with a loud thud.
I stood up and walked towards the door. “Thanks Jim, but here you should stay,” said Bertie, “Izzy don’t need help … God willing!”
Several minutes later, we heard a loud “bong!” A minute later, Izzy came through the kitchen door with two more guests. The older man, who Stephanie and I instantly recognized as none other than Tsar Sahbaka, had a bloody left hand and was limping on his right leg. The younger man, who I did not know, was limping on his left leg and had a bloody right hand.
“Gentlemen,” said Izzy, “I think you know Stephanie Goldenrod and Jim O’Brian. Stephanie and Jim, you know Tsar Sahbaka and this is his younger son Preench. Gentlemen, please have a seat opposite Stephanie so you can put your injured hands into the tureen of healing water.” Tsar made a fist with his right hand. He shook it at Stephanie and spat into the tureen.
Preench touched his father’s shoulder with his left hand and whispered something to him. He then sat and put his bloody right hand into the tureen. Tsar sat down and slowly moved his bloody left hand towards the healing water.
Stephanie had to move her hands to one side to make room for theirs and there was a brief scuffle for space. Tsar glared at Stephanie and she shot an angry look back at him.
The father and then the son winced as Izzy massaged their hands in the now even darker pink water. As he had done with Stephanie, he asked them to alternately clench and flex their hands and they did. After a few moments, it was apparent their hands felt much better.
“I am sorry,” Izzy began, “To have brought you here under these painful circumstances. But, you did come here of your own volition and your injuries are, after all, self-inflicted. However, there is some good news! After mixing your blood in my healing tureen you are now ‘blood brothers and sisters.’ You will soon seal your peace over some of my wife Bertie’s wonder-working chicken soup.”
“I have agreed to nothing,” shouted Tsar. “This terror of a woman is not my ‘blood’ anything! Yesterday her henchmen killed my older son and my comrades and also my daughter in a sneak attack in the desert west of Be’er Sheva. She has abused her scepter privileges. She has ordered changes to be made in the holiest relics of my religion. When I return to my base I will see to it she gets ‘exploded’ and has her scepter taken away for good. Within a month, our diverse opposition group will put the final nail in the coffin of the Hawking Plan.”
“Dad,” pleaded Preench, “Don’t you realize the game is over? This man, Izzy, is a chudodei, a wizard of some sort. We must listen to him respectfully and give due consideration to his opinions.”
Tsar glared at his son, but said nothing.
“I was there,” continued Preench, “When my dearly-departed brother and sister killed an old man and woman in cold blood. I think they may have simply been hikers who happened to come upon our dig. I quit the group after that, and returned to our camp. That is probably what saved my life. I don’t know who killed my brother and sister and the others in revenge. However, looking at it objectively, they had some justification.”
Tsar began to speak. “Chudodei?” is all he said. He briefly stared at Izzy, as if trying to see his soul. Then, he alternated his glare between Preench and Stephanie.
Bertie placed steaming bowls of chicken soup before the father and son. Izzy immediately gave them spoons and napkins. “Ess, geszinter heit,” he said cheerily, “Eat and be well.”
Tsar used his right hand and Preench his left. It was comical to see them use their unfamiliar hands for eating. Izzy stood behind them as they ate their soup, staring intently into their bowls.
"What are you looking for in the Aleph-Bet soup?" I asked.
"Oh," replied Izzy, quite seriously, "A message from the future. Perhaps the floating letters will form a sentence. Perhaps it will be a quotation yet to be uttered by some as yet unborn philosopher who will say it one-hundred-twenty years from now and it will become famous in centuries to come. You can never know."
"What a wonderful idea!" I replied. That triggered the thought that we on the Hawking Plan had our máquina del tiempo to change the history of the past and Izzy has his own time machine to peer into the future. I hung my head in shame.
After a while Tsar and Preench finished Bertie’s “wonder-working” soup, except for what they spilled on the tablecloth. “Thank you for your hospitality,” said Preench, “The soup was excellent and my hand feels much better. On behalf of my father I apologize for the way we burst in on you. We fully deserved our self-inflicted punishment.”
“Thank you Preench,” replied Izzy, as he sat at the last available chair around the small table, “Your father should be proud of your judgment and I pray he will abide by your wise counsel.
“Tsar, based on what the Mishteret Yisra'el, the police in Be’er Sheva, told me, and what Preench has just acknowledged, the unfortunately deadly violence was initiated by your oldest son and your daughter, now sadly departed. Therefore, I request that you hire some discrete operatives to clean up the bodies in the desert west of town.
“I know some highly qualified former Mossad agents and will have them contact you later this evening at your camp. They will do a perfect job for a reasonable fee, which you will be kind enough to pay them. I will urge the police to turn a blind eye in that area tomorrow. After they have it all cleaned up, including the hikers, all records of the event will be ‘lost in cyberspace’ as they say. The alternative is for the Mishteret Yisra'el to detain you all and investigate further. Which choice do you select Tsar, and you Stephanie?”
“Izzy,” said Stephanie, “I respect your judgment, and thank you for resolving this problem in a mutually satisfactory way.”
"Sir,” said Tsar, “I certainly do not wish to be detained by your Mishteret Yisra'el. I doubt they would be fair to a Muslim like me. I was not there during the shooting, but I am positive my son would not have attacked those people unless he knew they were hostile to us. Were they innocent hikers? You tell me! Who shot first? You tell me!”
Tsar glared at Izzy and then at Stephanie. They remained silent.
“As for what my young son said a moment ago,” continued Tsar, “Preench seems to have fallen under your power. Perhaps he is correct – you are a chudodei of some sort. Never-the-less, without admitting any guilt on the part of my oldest son, I will pay your operatives to clean up the mess in the desert. I assume they will arrange a decent Islamic burial for my dear son and the others, and my daughter?”
“Of course,” answered Izzy. “I suppose you will want to attend the burials and that will be arranged.”
Tsar and Stephanie said “yes, thank you,” in unison.
“As for the Hawking Plan,” continued Izzy, “I think it should go forward with all deliberate speed. It is our duty to preserve biological life as well as human civilization for all time. Human civilization on Earth will not last forever. Also, the Hawking Plan will be a tremendous shot in the arm for scientific and technological advances that will affect medicine, communications, transportation, and robotics, as well as many other fields. With the decline in large-scale warfare, and the associated technological-scientific-engineering-military-industrial complex, we need an alternative area of competition to stir advances in human knowledge.”
“Sir,” interrupted Tsar, “The Hawking Plan will be taking TABB funding derived from all geographic areas and will spend it, in the Production Phase, almost entirely in NortAmer, Europe, and EastAsia. That is totally unfair to the people of my region and the other less developed areas. TABB money should be spent equally to benefit all peoples, including the poor, less educated masses in underprivileged areas of the Earth. All I demand is simple justice!”
“The best way to advance your area,” replied Izzy sharply, “Is to encourage education and industrial development and eliminate the cultural practices that suppress women. Women are over fifty percent of the population and should be encouraged to participate at that level as they do in most of the civilized world. As for equality, you and your family, and others in the ruling classes in your region have a far more unequal share of the available resources than do the upper classes in NortAmer, Europe and EastAsia. People in your area of the world will get a proportional share if and when they deserve it!”
“Sir!” said Tsar in a gruff voice, “You have no understanding of the culture or history of my region. All I want is simple justice for my people …”
“Izzy,” said Preench, interrupting his father, “You are correct! My father is sincere in his desire to help our people, as was my older brother, and my sister, but they are from a different age …”
“Chudodei,” muttered Tsar, staring at Izzy. He turned to face his young son. “Preench, you are a coward. You ran away from a battle yesterday. I have nothing to say to you …”
“Father,” replied Preench. “Dear Father, I know you want to help our people, but opposition to the Hawking Plan is not the best approach. TCs based in NortAmer, EastAsia and Europe will get most of the production funding, but it is also true that TCs based in those regions pay more taxes per capita because of their relatively greater prosperity. Our region has won several conceptual study contracts and, if we follow through, we will be able to get some of the production contracts.”
“In šaʾ Allāh, Allah willing,” replied Tsar. He then turned his gaze towards Izzy, and cleared his throat. “So, Sir,” he began matter-of-factly, “Duc-ter Goldenrod has won this game? Is that what you are telling me?”
“As you know,” said Izzy, “Stephanie chose the pseudonym ‘La Reyna Abeja.’ the ‘Queen Bee.’ Your name, ‘Tsar Sahbaka,’ means ‘King Dog’ or ‘King Boot’ in your language, I believe. So, just as the Queen takes the King in chess, Stephanie has taken you in this competition. Please say you will cease your opposition to the Hawking Plan.”
Preench turned to look at his father, a pleading expression on his face. Tsar clenched his fist again. They all sat in silence for a minute or more awaiting his reply.
Finally, Izzy broke the silence. “As I said before, the alternative is for the Mishteret Yisra'el to detain you all and investigate further. Which choice do you make Tsar?”
“I am an ordinary man,” said Tsar, “And you are a wizard with magical powers. You have used your chudodei powers to intellectually seduce my young son. I can hardly recognize him anymore. I have no choice but to accept your recommendations. I will fully comply with your judgment.”
Preench leaned over and kissed his father on the cheek.
“And Izzy,” continued Tsar, “Let me say thank you for your efforts.”
“You are quite welcome!” said Izzy, without the slightest hint of sarcasm.
Izzy turned to Stephanie and went on, “Now that that is settled, we have other matters to resolve. My dear, you have abused your scepter privileges and must ‘voluntarily’ give them up. You may remain as chief of the Infinite Future Branch of TABB to continue leading the effort for the Hawking Plan, which must go forward at full throttle. I will see what I can do to get you a deputy with scepter privileges.”
Stephanie was silent. She simply rotated her head up and down.
“Tsar,” continued Izzy, “You have also abused your scepter privileges and must ‘voluntarily’ give them up. I recommend you go back to running your businesses because your nephew has made a total hash of it. I have it on good authority the rosy reports he has been sending to you are lies. If you do not return within a few days, there may be no construction crews and factories and distribution centers to return to a month or two from now.”
“How do you know my nephew is running my businesses?” demanded Tsar. “My nephew has increased factory sales and developed new construction contacts. He would not lie to me, his dear uncle!” He clenched his left hand into a fist, which caused him to wince. “Has Duc-tor Goldenrod been sending spies to my area to investigate my companies and publish false information about my nephew?”
“Not at all,” replied Izzy, “I have done my own research, using public sources. In accordance with TABB’s policy on ‘fair play, free market competition,’ all financial data is public knowledge, available on the WIN. In the reports he has filed with TABB; your nephew claims to have increased sales by twenty-percent. Yet, according to the reports filed by your suppliers, your nephew has purchased about forty-percent less raw material, and used fifty-percent less electricity and thirty-percent less water over the past twelve months than a comparable period a year ago. You can’t increase the sales of items unless you also increase purchases of raw materials.”
Tsar banged his right hand against the table. He said something in his language that sounded like it was most likely a curse.
“I also noticed,” continued Izzy, “Your businesses accounts with suppliers are not current. Your nephew has applied for loans from banks that cater to high risk enterprises. In addition, I checked the reports of the transportation companies that deliver your products to customers, and they have decreased by fifty-percent over the past year, not increased as would be implied by your nephew’s sales reports. I will send the data to you tomorrow morning.”
Tsar lowered his head and covered his face.
“I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” continued Izzy, in a most empathetic voice. “The only thing your nephew has truly increased is your TC value-added taxes, which are computed on the basis of the difference between purchases and sales. By purchasing less and claiming to sell more, he has increased that difference! This, unfortunately for you and your family, is the truth. In the past, you have demonstrated your abilities as a businessman. You now have a chance to attempt to reverse the course. I sincerely wish you the best of luck.”
“Sir, an ordinary man like me,” said Tsar, “Cannot compete with a person like you. Yes, I will voluntarily give up my scepter. I have some ideas for who should replace me on the TABB Planning Board …”
“Yes,” replied Izzy, “I will see what I can do for your son Preench to be nominated as a scepter-holder and take your place on the TABB Planning Board. Is that satisfactory?”
Tsar’s face showed his astonishment at the suggestion, as did Preench's. Before Tsar could reply, Preench touched him on the shoulder and they gazed at each other. It was a long, hard, serious look.
“Well?” asked Izzy.
After a long pause, Tsar finally shook his head up and down.
“Izzy,” Stephanie asked, “Who will be my deputy? Could it be Jim?”
My face showed my astonishment at the request.
“No,” replied Izzy, “Jim, despite his better judgment, has been too eager to please you and would not have the backbone to rein you in. He is a hard worker and very smart, but he cannot resist your seductions. I think Luke Mathews would be a better choice. Throughout this whole unfortunate episode, he has been an honest voice of reason. He’s fully familiar with the technology and program schedule and goals for the Hawking Plan and everybody trusts him.”
“How in hell?” demanded Stephanie in shock and anger, “Do you know about Luke Mathews? By what authority do you dictate who my deputy will be?”
“My dear,” replied Izzy calmly, “I claim absolutely no authority to dictate anything. All I can do is make suggestions that you, on the basis of your own reason, will voluntarily accept. I know about Luke Mathews because all TABB Planning Board reports and meetings are available on the WIN to anyone with the time and inclination to read them. I have carefully studied all your documents, from the original ‘Request for Information’ to the ‘Request for Proposal’ to the presentations you and Jim and Luke and all the others made to the TABB Planning Board in Tokyo. I’m just a humble document custodian – I enjoy reading documents.”
“But,” Stephanie objected, “Luke is a religiosas locas. OOPS, sorry for the Inglañol ...”
“Ningún problema, comprendo español y inglañol,” interjected Izzy.
“… In plain English, he is a crazy religious nut cake. How can we allow someone like that to wield a scepter?”
“I have seen no evidence of that,” replied Izzy. He hesitated for a long moment and then continued, “I guess you don’t know he called me from the Be’er Sheva airport yesterday afternoon. He obtained my ID number by querying my PID in response to my PID query on him when he was in Tokyo with you and Jim.
"That sanctimonious worm!" cried Stephanie, "Is that how you learned about the shootings? Was he trying to squirm out of responsibility, that ..."
“Luke was quite discrete and said nothing at all about the tragic incident in the desert. He told me after nearly two weeks as an amateur archeologist he missed his family and was going home early.
“He told me he had accessed WIN information that I was a document custodian at the Shrine of the Book museum in Jerusalem and asked if I happened to have the original film of the Dead Sea Scrolls before and after they were sent to the DoHiMuTo, and, if so, if I would agree to give them to you or destroy them. He made an impassioned plea for continuation of the Hawking Plan, laying out the most rational arguments for it. He gave logical answers to every technical question I had about it. We spoke for nearly an hour and he impressed me as someone who is extremely competent and totally honest and rational. Never once did he resort to emotional or religious appeals.”
Stephanie gritted her teeth but remained silent.
“Do you have any evidence Luke’s religious beliefs have in any way affected his work? On the basis of his presentations to TABB and our conversation yesterday, I have full confidence in him, but I will listen to any evidence you may have on this issue.”
“Well,” Stephanie said, after thinking for a while, “I believe he is slanting the conceptual study contracts towards the ‘Panspermia’ alternative because it is a stalking-horse for so-called ‘intelligent design.’”
I looked at Stephanie in amazement that she would bring that up to defame Luke - and in front of Tsar Sahbaka, the leader of the opposition to the Hawking Plan!
“The Fundamentalist Christian religious ‘scientists’ who believe in ‘intelligent design’,” continued Stephanie, “Think biological cells could not have originated from random mixing of molecules and therefore must have been designed and created by God. According to them, once God created the original biological cells, something like Darwinian evolution and natural selection took over, leading to the current diversity of biological life. They also believe God guided the Darwinian process and still does.”
“Allahu Akbar,” shouted Tsar, “Allah is great! Allah created the Heavens and the Earth and all life in six days.” Preench touched him on his shoulder and he quieted down.
“So,” asked Izzy, ignoring Tsar’s outburst, “What’s wrong or unscientific about that belief? I don’t happen to think ‘intelligent design’ is a correct theory – I believe life originated on Earth through random mixing of long-chain molecules and so on – but it is certainly a possibility that some space invaders seeded the Earth with biological cells billions of years ago, isn’t it? As my great-grandfather used to say, ‘vas you dere Schlomo?’”
I was amazed at Izzy's breadth of knowledge and courtesy and good humor. He knew he held all the cards but did not lord it over anybody. His totally modest demeanor was further 'proof' to me - a non-believer - that he was a tzadic. My head buzzed from the "short circuit' in my conflicted brain. I had to continually remind myself I did not believe in any supernatural God or any of this tzadic hocus pocus locas. yet, at the same time, I had no doubt I was in the presence of a tzadic!
“Well yes,” I added, determined to channel my thoughts back to the safe paths of science and reason, “If we select the Panspermia alternative, which at this point appears to be the preferred choice, we will be sending frozen primitive prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells to Earth-like planets in other solar systems. We will include robot-run genetic engineering laboratories and a full set of modern genome data, so those primitive cells can be defrosted and grown and mutated and artificially selected to evolve into more complex forms, according to the genome data. I guess the same thing could have happened with life on Earth.”
“Good thinking Jim,” said Izzy. “However, there is a problem with ‘intelligent design.’ Proponents argue that biological cells are so complex they could not have come into existence by random chance, and therefore must have been designed by God. I ask them ‘So who created God?’ God is certainly more complex than primitive biological cells! So God, according to ‘intelligent design’ arguments, couldn’t have come into existence without a Creator, such as a Meta-God! But who created Meta-God, Beta-Meta-God? Is it an infinite regress of superior Gods?”
”La Ilaha Ila Allah,” interrupted Tsar, “There is no God but Allah!” Again, Preench put his hand on his father’s shoulder and he stopped talking.
“Excuse me,” interrupted Preench, “The ‘intelligent design’ advocates, like almost all true believers, say that God is timeless and has always existed. That’s how they get out of the infinite regress.”
“That has always seemed like an evasion to me,” said Stephanie. “How could something as complex as God have come into existence or been in existence for all time past? Ridiculous!”
“It is an evasion, I agree,” said Izzy, “But accepted scientific theories are not much better.”
“What do you mean?” asked Stephanie.
“Well,” replied Izzy, “The matter and energy that make up the Universe and follow the Laws of Nature are certainly as complex as any God, yet scientists believe they have always existed. Matter and energy as Einstein taught us, are interchangeable. There may have been a time before the ‘big bang’ when there was nothing but energy. So energy has existed for all time past. Scientists also believe the Laws of Nature are eternal and unchanging everywhere in the Universe. How is that logically different from what Preench reminded us was the literal believer’s idea that God is eternal and has always existed?”
“It is just a matter of semantics!” I said brightly. “The most died-in-the-wool scientists and the religiosas locas must put their faith in some ultimate ‘cop-out.’ That type of faith is at the root of all scientific reason.”
“So, my good friend Izzy,” said Stephanie, “Do you mean to tell us here that you, who Jim thinks is a tzadic and Preench says is a chudodei, which he said was a wizard of some sort, are a non-believer?”
“I cannot say I’m a tzadic or a chudodei, or a wizard of any sort, but I can say I am definitely not a non-believer,” replied Izzy as he put on his Cheshire cat smile. “I am not a literal believer in the Jewish scriptures or any others I have read, but I do believe there is a Meta-Power in the physical Universe that Consciously guides the events of the world in a generally progressive direction.”
“Izzy,” said Stephanie skeptically, “That makes absolutely no sense to me.”
“I hate to agree with Doc-tor Goldenrod,” said Tsar, finally joining the conversation, “But if you don’t believe in the literal existence of Allah (or any God separate from and above the Universe, it doesn’t matter what name you may apply to Him as there is only one God), I don’t understand how you can believe in a ‘Meta-Power’ that, as you say, ‘Consciously guides the events of the world in a generally positive direction.’ That makes absolutely no sense to me.”
Stephanie shook her head up and down as did Preench.
I smiled. I knew what was coming.
“As Einstein said when he was accused of being an atheist,” replied Izzy with great earnestness, “I believe in the God of Spinoza.”
“But, Spinoza was an atheist,” Stephanie and Preench replied in unison.
“Oh - heavens - no,” said Izzy quite slowly and seriously, “Spinoza was the most God-infused man our people have produced since Moses.”
“But,” interjected Preench, “He was excommunicated by his fellow Jews!”
“Like all peoples,” replied Izzy, “We sometimes make mistakes. Our mistakes tend to be big ones! Historic ones even! Our mistakes have contributed more to the knowledge of human civilization than the non-mistakes of everyone else combined!”
“So?” asked Preench, studiously ignoring Izzy’s unsupportable hyperbole. “Who or what is this ‘God of Spinoza’? Who or what is this ‘Meta-Power in the physical Universe’ you say is ‘Conscious’? If this ‘God’ is physical and in this Universe, show Him or Her or It to me!”
“If it was daytime,” replied Izzy, “I would ask you to look directly at the Sun.”
“You can’t look directly at the Sun,” said Preench, “It would burn out your eyes! But we can look at the Sun through a dark glass or with a pinhole camera obscura.”
“Or we can take a photo of the Sun,” added Stephanie. “Izzy, can you show me a photograph of your God?”
“Excellent,” replied Izzy. “If you can’t look directly at the Sun without going blind, and the Sun is a tiny speck in the whole of the Universe, how do you expect to see or comprehend the God of Spinoza, which is the whole Universe?
“Just as your view of the Sun through a camera obscura or a dark glass or a photo is a tiny fraction of the brilliance of that star, every image you have ever seen directly with your eyes is a tiny fraction of the true image of God. Every beautiful vista, every view of the stars, every microscopic image of bacteria – all of these are small parts of God. Spinoza’s God is the physical Universe.”
“OK,” I said, assuming my professorial demeanor, “Spinoza and Einstein and you are ‘Pantheists.’ But how can you prove that the physical Universe is Conscious? How can you know whether the Universe ‘guides the events of the world in a generally positive direction’ as you claim?”
“I believe,” said Izzy, quite slowly and with a very serious expression on his face, “That the Earth is a developing organism that may have evolved something like Consciousness at a level above that of any of us humans here on Earth. That is something I can't prove, but which I would like to believe. The reason I would like to believe it is, absent an external Creator God who I can't reasonably believe in, if the Earth is not Conscious, we will certainly wipe ourselves out with nuclear or genetic or some other technology and destroy human life and civilization sooner or later.
“I cannot prove it, but I have faith! I believe it with all my heart and mind. Can you prove that you are conscious? Or Stephanie? Or Tsar? You would say you experience consciousness and you have faith that Stephanie and Tsar, as apparently normal human beings, also feel consciousness as you do. But, can you prove it? No!
“You could tear Stephanie’s and Tsar’s brains open and all you would find is a complex network of electro-chemical machines we call neurons, a type of living eukaryotic biological cell. We say Tsar has a ‘mind’ but where is it? Show me a photo of Tsar’s mind! You cannot! Stephanie has a mind and is conscious and understands English and Japanese and many other things as a result of the interaction of billions of these neurons. However, do any of the neurons understand English or Japanese? Are they conscious at the human level? No!”
“How in hell?” interrupted Stephanie, “Do you know I understand Japanese?”
“This is all atheistic sophistry,” cried Tsar, speaking over Stephanie. “Sound and fury signifying nothing!”
“No, no, no!” replied Preench, firmly contradicting his father. “We humans are conscious and understand languages and many other things about the world, all as a result of the interaction of a complex network of neurons – relatively simple electro-chemical machines. Why couldn’t the Earth, or some parts of it, be conscious as the result of international trade routes and communications networks between people? Complex networks of telephones and radios and computers and the WIN and so on have expanded over the past several decades. They link all parts of the Earth together like the nervous system of a developing human being.”
When Tsar and Preench were done with their side conversation, Izzy, looking at Stephanie, said something to her that sounded like Japanese. “Oh, yes, my official TABB resume says I understand Japanese!” replied Stephanie.
Izzy smiled and cast his glance to Preench. "You are absolutely correct. Your father should be proud of you!" Tsar stared at his son and then back to Izzy. He shook his head left and right. After a moment, he looked back at his son and smiled brightly for the first time that evening.
I would like to believe,” continued Izzy, “That the advent of Homo Sapiens and the invention of metaphoric language and writing and international trade and, yes, international warfare, initiated something like Consciousness as a property of the whole Earth. I would like to believe that the Earth, due to the trade and technology of humans, has developed Consciousness that is above and beyond what we, mere humans, can contemplate. If the information transfer processes between billions of cells in the human brain makes me and other humans conscious, why couldn't a similar process, on a larger scale, make the Earth Conscious?
“Since I don't believe in any external ‘spirit’ world or a supernatural ‘Creator’ external to the physical Universe, I believe my consciousness, and yours, is only due to the exchange of electrical and chemical signals between billions of biological cells, neurons in our brains and central nervous systems. It is purely a matter of information exchange, in little electrical pulses and chemical discharges, between billions of electro-chemical machines, which is all that the biological cells are, that creates my consciousness and yours.
“Is it that big a leap to believe that something like Earth-level Consciousness may arise from the interaction and information exchange between billions of humans and other animals on Earth, augmented by written metaphoric language that provides a memory that exceeds any single human lifetime, and is currently being greatly enhanced and amplified and speeded up by telephone, radio, TV, computers, and the WIN?
“I cannot prove the Earth or the Universe is Conscious, but it is reasonable to believe that. It makes perfect sense to me. Let me start at the beginning and tell you why. If life originated on Earth, as I believe it did, some three and a half billion years ago, it was because some long-chain molecules, by random mixing and chemical reactions of various atoms and molecules, happened to form some kind of primitive RNA.
“From that moment on, nothing was purely random any more. Paraphrasing Shakespeare, that first RNA molecule had a dream of so airy and light a quality that I dare not call it consciousness. That dream was but the shadow of a shadow of consciousness!”
At that moment, Bertie dropped a pot as she was putting it back into the cupboard. It made a loud “clang” and everyone turned to look at her. “This story have I heard many times before,” she said, holding up her index finger. “Selah – Stop and listen!”
Everyone laughed. Then they turned their attention back to Izzy.
He paused and silently stared directly at each of us, in turn.
As Izzy’s eyes met mine, I felt that religioso feeling welling up in me again. At that moment I was absolutely convinced I was in the presence of a tzadic. “Tzadic,” I heard myself whisper.
“Chudodei,” came the echo from Preench, and “Wizard,” from Stephanie. Tsar shifted anxiously in his chair and mouthed the word “Chudodei?”
“Hundreds of millions of years of such dreams of shadows of consciousness,” continued Izzy, “And primitive RNA haphazardly reproduced itself and, in the process of copying errors, it happened upon a lucky mistake and became some kind of primitive DNA. DNA is a close cousin of RNA, but capable not only of reproduction, but of a sort of genetic stability due to its double helix structure. DNA was a level higher – it was no longer a dream or a shadow of a shadow. It was not yet consciousness, but it was a true shadow of consciousness.
“Hundreds of millions of years of such shadows and reproduction of innumerable variants of RNA and DNA and proteins led to a miracle. It was bound to happen sooner or later given the vast quantities of molecules on Earth and unlimited time. The Laws of Physics and Chemistry virtually guaranteed it, but it was a miracle never-the-less.”
Izzy stood up to emphasize the miracle. All our eyes were focused on him.
“What happened?” he asked rhetorically, as he sat down again. “Some primitive prokaryotic cells developed and they were capable of survival and reproduction by splitting in half, what we call ‘mitosis.’ These bacteria-like single-cell creatures developed, not through totally random mixing of atoms and molecules, but as a result of the knowledge of reproduction and generation of proteins stored in the primitive DNA code. When I say DNA is a ‘true shadow of consciousness,’ I mean that the developing genetic code, stabilized over ages by the evolving DNA, captured the formula for survival and reproduction and handed it down to future generations of prokaryotic cells.
“On a different scale, this DNA knowledge is similar to the way we learn and then hand down our languages and religious myths and customs and science and technology to future generations of humans.
“As the RNA and DNA and proteins reproduced and developed further, evolution and natural selection did their work. Only those strands of DNA that happened to have the code for the best survival and reproduction survived and reproduced and evolved into more survivable and therefore more conscious code. The primitive prokaryotic cells evolved into a wide variety of more well-developed bacteria.
“From that point on, with RNA and DNA and a somewhat stable genetic code, with the instructions capable of constructing primitive amino acids and other proteins, the Universe became truly Conscious, but at a very low level, like an embryo in the womb.
“As the developing single-cell life struggled for resources, it was ‘cell eat cell’ like the ‘dog eat dog’ competition we see between TCs and geographic regions today. Cells continued to evolve. Each time a cell split; there was a small chance of a mistake, a random ‘mutation.’ More often than not, the mutated daughter cell was less survivable, did not fit as well with the environment, and died off. However, some tiny percentage of mutations was beneficial, and those cells were capable of garnering more resources and surviving and reproducing more successfully.
“The mutations may have been random, but evolution is not a random process. As the genetic code developed, it ‘learned tricks’ for keeping segments of the code relatively immune from mutations during the copying process and thus enhancing reproduction and survival rates. Those cells that best fit the environment are more likely to survive and reproduce and evolve in a controlled way that was definitely not random. I would call this true Conscious at some low level.
"Fast-forward two billion years to the evolution of multi-cell creatures and the invention of sexual reproduction. Now, instead of relying solely on random mutations, the offspring’s genetics consisted of selections from his or her mother and father’s DNA, which is called “crossover.” That invention speeded evolution greatly, because the offspring inherited proven genes in different combinations, and those with the combinations that best fit the environment rapidly displaced their less capable brothers and sisters.”
Izzy paused and looked at Preench who was listening intently. Tsar looked confused, but then gazed at his son and, once again, he smiled.
“Within a billion years of the advent of multi-cell life,” continued Izzy, “Evolution and natural selection lead to a fantastic variety of plants and eusocial insects and schools of fish and flocks of birds and, some hundreds of millions of years later, packs of mammals and primates and Hominids and tribes of Homo sapiens. With these developments, group Consciousness originated. The animals invented primitive languages, consisting mostly of warnings, threats and requests. Hominids and even Homo sapiens spoke that type of language until relatively recently.
“Another miracle happened about six to nine-thousand years ago!” Izzy said, standing up again to emphasize his point. “A brilliant Homo sapiens invented primitive metaphors to enrich their language! He or she thought and then said something like ‘the Earth sleeps under a blanket of snow.’ He or she was the first Homo sapiens with a human-level of consciousness, because, without metaphoric language, human-level consciousness is not possible. What we experience as true consciousness is not possible absent metaphoric language.
“Over the next few thousand years, metaphoric language developed more richness and complexity and then another miracle occurred. A brilliant human invented a true written language. Of course, prior to that time, humans had used piles of pebbles and knotted ropes and lines in the sand as counting devices and as signs and symbols. However, until these picture languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese ideographs developed the complexity necessary to capture metaphoric concepts, they were not true written languages.
“Written language, inscribed on clay tablets and stone and papyrus, communicated knowledge between neighboring tribes. This information was also handed down to future generations, unmodified …” As he said “unmodified” Izzy looked directly at me.
I heard myself whisper “dohi muto.” I squirmed in my seat and cast my eyes down, staring at my hands.
“The Consciousness of the Universe took a giant leap forward,” continued Izzy, “As picture-writing evolved into alphabetic writing and communication via written language transcended the limited memory and lifespan of any single person. Written communications broke space and time barriers, and that was the start of truly Global Consciousness. In those early days it might have taken several generations for great ideas to spread worldwide, but, with written language, they were guaranteed to do so eventually. The advent of the telegraph, the telephone, radio, TV, Internet, and the WIN has speeded new ideas so they spread instantly, and, as Preench so nicely said, that has Globalized Consciousness.”
Tsar turned and smiled at his son. This time it was he who touched the other on the shoulder. Preench turned back and kissed his father on the cheek. Noting this, Izzy paused his lecture and walked over to them, putting his left hand on Tsar’s shoulder and his right on Preench’s. Stephanie and I smiled. Bertie stopped what she was doing and threw a kiss to her husband.
“I truly believe Global Consciousness,” continued Izzy, “Is guiding human civilization in a generally positive direction. From the very beginning, trade between nearby tribes adjusted itself until one tribe dominated the other or they reached a balance that benefited both. As trade expanded over greater distances, and monetary systems were invented, a greater variety of products was made available to more people. Of course, trade conflicts and struggles for scarce resources often led to fierce battles between neighbors and wars between nation-states.
“Superstitions developed into well-organized religions that tended to strengthen the resolve of those nation-states that adopted religion and became convinced God was on their side. Some religions transcended nation-states and became transnational power brokers, organizing crusades and jihads and, in our lifetimes, religion-based terrorism. All these ‘holy’ causes have been exploited by nation-states to extend their power and dominance over others.
“As craftsmen developed their skills and designs, that knowledge became the basis for the origin and advance of engineering and science. Those nation-states that best encouraged development of engineering and science gained dominance over others. Nation-states with political systems that achieved a better balance of inherited and earned wealth tended to gain more strength than those that did not.”
At this point in the lecture, Preench shook his head up and down enthusiastically. Izzy paused and looked at him and then at Tsar. Tsar turned to look at his son and smiled once again.
“Political systems evolved from monarchies, run by a small cadre of noblemen, to more or less representative republics, where a larger percentage of the population participated in the decision making and more equal sharing of resources. It turned out that more or less democratic republics tended to be stronger than monarchies and dictatorships as proven by the wars of the twentieth century.
“The codification of genetic engineering standards and protections and the resolution of global warming and the war on religion-based terrorism took decades, but Globalized Consciousness finally came to reasonable decisions that have stabilized the natural environment and eliminated religion-based terrorism by establishing a positive ID world and encouraging moderate Imams to stand up in their communities. Of course millions of people died in that process, and things could have gone out of control and wiped out human life and civilization at any time in the past – or the future!
“The outsourcing of most government functions to transnational corporations, and the rise of TABB as a kind of ‘world government,’ has virtually eliminated large scale wars, and raised the standard of living for most of the world’s population, but at the cost of independence and freedom.
“Globalized Consciousness makes ‘decisions’ in a way similar to how a person makes them, only much more slowly. Tsar and Stephanie have come to what I consider a pretty good agreement this evening.”
Hearing this, Stephanie directed a weak smile towards Tsar and he reciprocated. I gave Stephanie a light hug and Preench kissed his father's cheek once more.
“It unfortunately took nearly a year of political struggle within TABB, and the organization of a diverse set of different interest groups by Tsar and a group of influential TCs by Stephanie. Then it took the unfortunate deaths of Tsar’s and Stephanie’s pawns in the desert west of here.
“Tsar and Stephanie came here in search of a non-existent container of film and found, instead, a solution to their differences of opinion. In each of their brains were groups of neurons, millions and billions of them, that were spoiling for a fight. That was what led them to physically attack the concrete posts in my outside hallway. That fight resulted in self-inflicted pain to all involved.
“As a result of that pain, other groups of neurons in their brains gained ascendancy. When they arrived in my kitchen, Stephanie and Tsar had conflicting thoughts in their minds – the result of different groups of neurons battling for control.
"When Tsar heard my suggestions, he had to choose between giving up his scepter and withdrawing his opposition to the Hawking Plan or continuing to fight it, at the risk of going to jail in Israel for instigating the murder of Stephanie’s pawns. Stephanie had to agree to give up her scepter and accept Luke Mathews as her scepter-wielding deputy in return for having her Hawking Plan go forward.
“As I watched these conflicting thoughts buzz around in their minds, I analogized them to the thoughts of the Globalized Consciousness. It took over forty years and the deaths of many innocents, but the decision was finally reached to put down some out-of-control fundamentalist religionists. I think that was a step in the general direction of progress. The Hawking Plan will go forward and that will be in the right direction. The CentAsian region of TABB, under what I believe will be the enlightened leadership of Preench, will move in more positive social and educational directions ...”
“OK Izzy,” Bertie interrupted in her broken English, “How about its past time to go to bed?” She winked at him and clasped her hands on her heart.
“Yes my love,” Izzy replied, “In a moment.” He returned the wink and clasped his hands just below his belt.
Bertie looked at the kitchen clock and motioned with her hands that a moment to Izzy was likely to take much longer.
"My lovely Bertie," said Izzy looking at his rotund wife, "When I look into your eyes, time stands still."
"Right," she answered with a smile, "And seeing your punim would a clock stop!"
“OK,” continued Izzy, “Now that that tangential issue has been resolved, I need to know if Stephanie, as a condition for keeping her job as chief of the Infinite Future Branch of TABB, will accept my suggestion that she give up her scepter and nominate Luke Mathews to be her deputy and become a scepter-holder.”
Stephanie nodded her head up and down.
“So, all that is settled!” said Izzy. “Thank you for coming to my humble abode and you know my door is always open. Next time, use the front door if you don’t mind! I’m sorry to end this tête-à-tête but Bertie and I like to retire by ten PM and it is already past our bedtime. I suggest you each recover your climbing equipment from the outside hallway and depart via the front stairs.”
Tsar and Preench stood and thanked Izzy once more. Unexpectedly, first Tsar, and then Preench hugged Izzy. Suddenly Tsar approached Izzy again and kissed him on both cheeks and Izzy reciprocated. Preench did the same. Then, they left.
Stephanie stood up and walked over to Bertie to thank her once again for the delicious soup.
“Izzy,” I asked, “Do you have time to answer a question that has been bothering Luke, Stephanie, and me for some months now. This may be the only chance I ever get to ask a tzadic.”
“Jim,” answered Izzy, “I never acknowledged I was a tzadic.”
“But you didn’t deny it either!” I replied. “My question is about faith and reason. Are they opposite sides of the same coin, like yin and yang and light and dark, and an accelerator and brakes, or are they completely separate, as far apart as they can get? Stephanie holds to the former view and Luke to the latter.”
“Yes,” answered Izzy, “Both conclusions are true! Both Stephanie and Luke are correct.”
“How can that be?” I asked, “Either they are opposite sides of the same coin –or – they are as far apart as possible, they can’t be both, can they?”
“Of course they can,” replied Izzy. “Just as an accelerator and brakes are both parts of a car, both necessary so you can go as fast or slow as you wish, when you press the accelerator the car goes faster and when you jam on the brakes the car stops – totally opposite from each other.
“The same is true of faith and reason. Faith is the accelerator of the mind. It allows us to take tremendous flights of fancy, without which we would not be fully human. However, without reason to act as a kind of brake, pure faith would take off and endanger us, as happened to Icarus who failed to heed reason and listen to his father Daedalus. As you recall, Icarus flew too close to the Sun and his wax wings melted and he crashed and died.
“On the other hand, pure reason would prevent any kind of scientific or technological advances. No one has more faith than scientists and inventors! And the venture capitalists who fund them! And, none of them are successful unless they also listen to their reason.
“Take the north and south poles of the Earth as an example. They are both opposite sides of the Earth, are they not? If you travel on the curved surface, they are as far apart as you can get on Earth, yet there is a shorter path between them if you could dig a wormhole through the center of the Earth. Indeed, Luke, I believe, used that exact example when he was answering questions for the TABB Planning Board in Tokyo.
“You mentioned Luke as having the view they are a million miles apart. When you talk to him, give him this example, which is analogous to the one he himself used at the TPB.
“The Earth has only three dimensions but the Universe, cosmologists believe, has ten or eleven dimensions. The extra dimensions that we cannot experience except intellectually are probably more tightly wrapped. They may be curved by the gravitational force of the mass of the Universe. So, like the north and south poles of the Earth, two points that appear to be far away on the surface of the Universe may be much, much closer than they appear to be if you take a wormhole through the center. Faith and reason could be those two points: as far apart as they can be on the surface, but actually very close through a wormhole.
"Oh, and also please record this on your read-WINS and play it for Luke. I want to tell him something that came to me as I was reading his comments on 'time tunneling' to the TPB, tell him the fabric of spacetime curves but light goes straight. That is why starlight passing near the gravitational field of the Sun appears, to us, to curve. Although I'm not a physicist or an engineer, I have been reading about both string theory and Einstein lately and it came to me that if a supposedly 'straight-edge' measuring stick was actually slightly curved, a straight light beam would appear to be curved and longer than it actually was.
"I'm convinced the Universe is finite and far smaller than it appears based on measurements by existing scientific instruments. The ten or eleven dimensions of the fabric of spacetime are all curved and wrapped up in each other making many Earth-like planets as close to us as faith is to reason, if only we can discover how to travel via a wormhole.
"That is the key to the ultimate approach for the Hawking Plan! I cannot answer any questions about this idea that the fabric of spacetime curves but light goes straight, because I do not understand it at all. Yet, it was revealed to me in a very clear vision and I have a very strong feeling Luke, or some other members of your scientific and technological team will use it to save human life and civilization for an infinite future!"