A month after the official contract awards, Stephanie called Luke and me to her office. Barbas was there. “Gentlemen,” he said soberly, “The news will soon feature the Hawking Plan.”
“Great!” I replied, “There was lots of good press last month about the contracts. What’s this news report going to focus on?”
“Your God-damned butt-gas!” said Barbas, “The news will be all about your stinking butt-gas! About your idiotic modification of the scriptures of all the world’s religions! My security contacts in CentAsia and the MidEast gave me a heads-up that Tsar Sahbaka and his unlikely team of conservadores fiscales, advocates of the poor, profesoros de la Universidad for integridad académica, and religiosas locas will announce that TABB has been modifying religious scriptures. The news could come out this month, as soon as Tsar Sahbaka and his cohort gain access to the proof.”
Luke shook his head from side to side. He started to ask a question, but changed his mind. That confirmed for me he had no idea of the máquina del tiempo aspect of the Hawking Plan.
Barbas manipulated the codip and the before and after photos of the Dead Sea Scrolls appeared on the display wall behind Stephanie’s reclining chair. “As proof,” he continued, “They will show the film negatives of these photos and correlate them with changes they say they have detected in the e-texts.”
“Did Sahbaka get the film negatives?” asked Stephanie.
“My sources are not sure if he has them,” replied Barbas, “But the word is the guy who queried all your PIDs, Yitzchak bar Mats, is the source of the information and he’s probably the guy who took the photos and has the negatives or knows where they are.”
Stephanie manipulated her codip. A moment later information about Yitzchak bar Mats was displayed on the wall behind her. He was 53 years old and worked as a document custodian at the Shrine of the Book museum in Jerusalem. The two locations where he had recently lived were displayed on the wall behind her: Mats Camp: West Southwest of Be’er Sheva, at 31” 13’ 37.00º N, 34’ 44’ 59.25º E. Mats House: Southwest corner of Be’er Sheva, at 31” 13’ 17.45º N, 34” 45’ 46.52 E. Satellite maps showed the camp was about two kilometers, as the crow flies, from his house. However, the walk along the dry river bed between them was about five kilometers because the river curved. There was a dirt road north of the river bed between his house and camp that was about as long.
“Good,” began Barbas. “Let’s assume, for the moment, this is the guy with the film. He wouldn’t keep it at his house or camp because he knows we are suspicious and we could get a warrant.”
“Barbas,” I asked, “How could we get a warrant to search? It’s not illegal to have film is it?”
“OK, Jim. Bar Mats’s employment contract at the Shrine of the Book prohibits unauthorized photos. Even if he did not take the pictures, I know some guys in Israel who owe me a favor from years back who probably have the contacts to get a warrant. If I was the guy with the film, I would put it in a metal can and bury it in the desert.”
“Why a metal can?” asked Luke. “Wouldn't plastic be better?”
“God-damned engineers!” blurted Barbas. “He'd put it in metal so he could find it with a metal detector. Some stupid TBI engineers once buried a secret code gadget for me while I was on a clandestine mission. It was in a plastic baggie and I had to dig up a wide area to find the thing! That almost gave away my identity. Idiot engineers! If they had put it in a metal can I could have located it accurately in a minute! You can't get along with 'em and you can't get along without 'em. Worse than my ex-wife, may she rot in hell.”
“Thank you,” replied Luke. “I once did a project for the TBI and I was impressed at how the secret agents sometimes were smarter than my fellow engineers. One time I even ...”
“So,” interrupted Stephanie, “Assuming bar Mats is the guy with the photos and assuming he buried them somewhere near his house or camp, what shall we do?”
“Go dig them up!” I replied. Everyone looked at me! I was surprised to hear myself say that. I had intended to simply think it to myself. I put my hand to my mouth.
“Jim,” said Barbas enthusiastically, “I like that idea! We can contact some of my old amigos en persona and get some real leads. Stephanie - let’s make it look like a TABB team building exercise!”
“Whoa,” I cried. “I didn’t mean we should do it – as in me – don’t we have TBI guys who do that stuff?”
“Yes we do,” answered Stephanie, “But we’ve got no real evidence to get the TBI officially involved yet. We don’t know if this bar Mats guy has anything to do with this. He’s our only suspect so far, but we shouldn’t focus down too narrowly too soon. In any case, why don’t we do it? The studies are in process and you have worked so much unpaid overtime evaluating the proposals and all, and I’m no longer carrying that baby around, why not take a paid vacation?”
“What about your new baby?” asked Luke, “Don’t you want to be with Diega as much as possible?”
“I hate her crying!” said Stephanie. “I can afford to pay the nanny to work full time. DG - that's what we call Diega - is cute when she’s happy and clean, but she sleeps most of the time and cries and poops and pees a lot. I need a break from both DG and work!”
“Why am I in on this thing?” asked Luke, “I had nothing to do with the religion aspect of the Hawking Plan.”
“You were at the DoHiMuTo,” said Barbas, “The Documentary History Museum of Tokyo when the Dead Sea Scrolls were supposedly modified, right?”
“No!” shouted Luke, “The PID records are false.”
“Luke,” replied Stephanie, “I believe you. You are religiosas locas and won’t lie. But the PID records are what they are. No one will believe you were elsewhere. If those documents were actually modified, you and Jim are the guilty parties!”
“Religiosas locas?” Luke asked, “That means ‘crazy religious’ doesn’t it? Even if my Latinized first name is Lucas that doesn’t make me locas! And, who the heck said the Dead Sea Scrolls were actually modified at the DoHiMuTo? I thought we concluded they were photo shopped or the film negatives were changed or something like that.”
“Luke,” said Stephanie, “Are you by any chance familiar with the contra-terror program of the TBI?”
“Sure,” Luke replied, “The TBI lead the heroic war against the crazy Islamistas in the mountains and deserts. One of my former college roommates who went to work for the TBI told me personally how he was tortured. That covert war plus the positive ID technology finally put those terrorists out of business. Everybody knows that.”
“There was another aspect of TBI contra-terror. It is still TBI-Secret and must not be revealed to anybody without an official ‘need to know.’ As I’ve told you before, I was at the TBI before I came to TABB to be Chief of the Infinite Future Branch. Barbas, here, was one of my mentors. In his younger days he was personally involved in some of the most heroic parts of the contra-terror program.”
“At the time,” said Barbas, “I was young and foolish.”
“Now,” replied Stephanie with a broad grin, “You’re old and foolish.” With that she rushed over, sat on his lap, and gave him a big hug and a warm kiss on his cheek. Barbas and the other long-toothed barbas grises at the TBI took me under their wing. At first I was an intern, then a graduate student doing part-time work-study for them, and then they gave me my first job after my PhD. They told me about their máquina del tiempo, which means ‘time machine.’”
“Engineering technology,” replied Luke, “Has not yet been developed to reverse time and I don’t think it ever will.”
“These were not physical time machines, Luke,” she continued, “Rather; the TBI went and modified the scriptures of a certain religion as they appear in the e-texts and e-photos on WIN, which is equivalent to going back in time and changing history.”
“Good idea,” said Luke, “The Quran could stand some editing. I’ve heard it was the moderate Imams who finally tamed the Islamistas and called off the suicide bombers. I didn’t know about the TBI ‘time machine’ program but it seems they did real good there!”
“Thank you Luke, on behalf of Barbas and the others at the TBI who gave their lives to defeat religion-based terrorism. It wasn’t my idea and they did it before I joined the TBI. Barbas told me they had to make the same changes in the originals or oldest extant copies of the scriptures to prevent religious historians and literal believers from proving that the changes had been made.”
I watched Luke closely, hoping against hope he would not make the connection between the TBI máquina del tiempo project and the claim the Dead Sea Scrolls had been modified at the DoHiMuTo, which, of course they had at my direction. Luke's head was bobbing up and down and he was smiling broadly. He gave Stephanie an enthusiastic thumbs up!
Suddenly the smile vanished. Luke put his right hand to his face and glared at me. “Stephanie,” he began in an even, foreboding tone, “Are you about to tell me you authorized Jim to play ‘time machine’ with scriptures to promote human space travel?” Before she could reply, Luke continued, “Jim, my friend who I thought was honestly searching for his true faith, did you direct changes to the scriptures of the world’s religions – including Judaism and Christianity? I mean – now I think you even changed the Dead Sea Scrolls! You put space travel words into the Dead Sea Scrolls? You modified documents that are 2000 years old and were only discovered a hundred years ago? You, an historian for God's sake? You, a rabbi? What were you thinking man? Was that why we visited the DoHiMuTo? It's true, isn't it?”
I looked down, too embarrassed to face my dear friend. Silently, I shook my head up and down, very slowly, up and down.
Luke stood up and punched at the air. We remained silent wondering what he would do next. He turned towards me, grabbed my chin, and forced me to look him in the eye. “Hola Diego,” he began, uncharacteristically using Inglañol, “Did you also change the oldest copy of the 1611 King James Version? Diego, say it isn’t so!”
Before I could answer, Barbas interrupted. “I have a retired amigo who has done antiquity digs in the desert. I’ll bet she’d love to come along and help us look like archeological researchers.”
“Not yet,” I replied to Luke, “But, I confess it is on my to-do list. I promise to take it off and ...”
Luke gritted his teeth. He held his hand up to my face like a stop sign. “’Get thee behind me Satan.’ For it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’. Say no more about your evil works to me.” That was the worst moment of the worst day in my entire life.
Luke and I protested but Stephanie was the boss. So, by March 3rd, five of us, Barbas, his lady friend Betsy, Stephanie, Luke and I were off on a “team building exercise” to the area west southwest of Be’er Sheva in Israel. Barbas and Betsy rented a four-wheel-drive vehicle and two camping caravans. They set up an “archeological dig” camp along the dry river bed about four kilometers south-southwest of Be’er Sheva and had the camp stocked with freeze-dried food and barrels of fuel and water. They also rented appropriate digging equipment, clothing and footwear for us.
When Stephanie, Luke and I arrived, we were pleased with the setup. Using the powers granted by her scepter, Stephanie had created a false identity for herself, under the name “La Reyna Abeja” and one for Barbas, under “Barbas Grises.” La Reyna and Barbas posed as archeology Professors from Yale and Princeton. Betsy used her true identity; Professor Emeritus at Harvard, which I suspect was her cover while she was a TBI agent. Luke and I used our true identities as TABB employees being rewarded for our work on the Hawking Plan.
La Reyna named the two caravans after my children, Rebecca and Adam. “Why did you choose those names?” I asked, “Why not just ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ or ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’? Why my kids names?”
“Jim,” she replied, “I thought you would like it! I met Adam and Rebecca at the TABB family picnic last summer, and I thought they were both delightful kids. You and Esther have done a fine job.”
The women shared the Rebecca caravan, with La Reyna in the private bedroom at the rear, and Betsy in the front bunk over the driver’s and passenger’s seats. The Adam caravan was for the men. Barbas would get the rear bedroom the first week, Luke the mid-bunk and I the front one. We would rotate positions each week.
Barbas showed us maps and satellite photos of the area between the Mats House and Mats Camp. He had arranged with former TBI colleagues for satellite images of the area. Sophisticated TBI software compared monthly satellite photos and noted changes, such as those that might have been made to bury a can of film. He reduced the two-hundred candidate sites to twenty by imagining he was Bar Matz. He would hide it within walking distance of the Mats House or Camp, not too close or far from the dirt road, and relatively isolated by the terrain, such as in a hollow or a dry canyon.
The top twenty candidates were indicated and located on his map. He said our team would stage an “archeological dig” at each site while he used a metal detector to search for the can of film. He estimated it would take two days at the first site and a day for each additional site, for a maximum of three weeks.
The first day, our eager team went to “site Able” where Betsy gave an informative lecture on archeological digs and the flora and fauna of the desert around Be’er Sheva. Then, while Barbas scoured the area with his metal detector, disguised as a walking stick, Betsy set up the grid and explained how archeologists track their finds.
Just after the noon meal, Barbas detected some metal and we amateur archeologists extended the grid to that area and began to dig in earnest. Within a half hour we found an old bullet casing – not the can of film. Betsy insisted on taking photos, marking it as a “find” and listing it in her record book. This process went on for the remainder of that day and the next. Other than the photos and the records in Betsy’s book, as well as a box of scrupulously labeled old metal junk, site Able yielded nothing but sore hands, arms, and backs.
At camp that late afternoon, Barbas announced we were in for a treat, an old-fashioned camp cookout. He had gathered some fallen tree branches and built a fire ring of rocks. The menu was hot dogs and buns and a bottle of kosher wine. He had obtained special permission from La Reyna for the wine, using the excuse that it was kosher and we were in the Holy Land. He poured a small cup of wine for each of us and toasted “to our health, may it never be worse!”
Luke was hesitant to drink the wine because his church forbad alcohol. “Isn't the wine supposed to be Christ's body and blood according to the Old Testament?” asked La Reyna.
“Yes,” replied Luke, “They probably used alcoholic wine in Jesus’s day, to preserve the grape juice from spoiling. That is no longer necessary given good sanitation and refrigeration. However, in honor of being here in the Holy Land, where Jesus Himself may have consumed wine, and after all this is kosher, I'll have one small cup!”
As dinner proceeded, Barbas consumed a second and third cup until he drained the bottle. He arose and danced around the fire. “Say Jim, or is it Luke?” he asked, “Who brought the yellow manual toothbrush I saw on the shelf of the head of the Adam caravan?”
“It was me,” I replied, “I wasn't sure we'd have reliable electricity in the camp so I bought it at a camping store.” Both Luke and Barbas had brought their ultra-violet laser supersonic tooth wands that stimulated the gums, killed germs, flossed and cleaned the teeth.
“Reminds me of an old camp song,” said Barbas cheerfully: "That old yeller toothbrush with bristles so fine. / That old yeller toothbrush with bristles so fine. / My father he used it. / My mother refused it. / My sister abused it. / And now, now it is mine!” La Reyna joined Barbas in a hearty laugh and I half-heartedly went along. Betsy seemed embarrassed by the song and Luke smiled and tried to chuckle but it was clear he didn't understand it.
La Reyna danced with Barbas around the fire, singing the key line and adding some of her own: “My sister abused it. / She surely confused it. / My sister abused it. / Though no one excused it. / My sister abused it / She sorely misused it. / And now, now, now, now - now it is YOURS!” She pointed to me as she sang the final line, skipped over, sat in my lap, and gave me a hug and a kiss on the lips.
That evening as I prepared for bed I considered how I could use that lap dance and hug and kiss in my autoerotic routine. While brushing my teeth I thought I detected a strange taste. Had Barbas put something on the toothbrush as a mean joke?
We spent the third day at site Baker. There we dug up more junk, plus a badly gnawed bone. Betsy was not sure if it was human or not. The fourth day, at site Charlie, we found evidence Betsy interpreted as very recent digging. It could not have been more than a month ago. She critiqued their technique as not compatible with good archeological practices. Barbas worried the recent digging was evidence that bar Mats had returned and recovered his can of film.
La Reyna suggested our team spend an extra day at site Charlie, seeking evidence of who the recent diggers might be and what they were looking for. The only unusual things we found were a few beer cans and food wrappers as well as some buried human scat. These finds confirmed the digging was recent, but were inconclusive as to their purpose. They could have been anything from a family picnic to a high school “archeological dig” to bar Mats recovering the film can. La Reyna decided to simply record what we found and move on.
That evening, as I returned from my evening walk, I saw La Reyna hurriedly exiting the Adam caravan. I wondered what she had been up to in there. That strange taste on my toothbrush persisted throughout our Israeli adventure. Perhaps I was confabulating it?
The sixth day at site Dog, the seventh at Echo, and the eighth at Fox were similarly unproductive. I had been looking forward to the eighth evening because Barbas had to give up the private bedroom in the Adam caravan to me. I was delighted to find a real mattress on the queen-sized bed, unlike the thin foam mats in the other bunks.
I was sleeping peacefully when I was awakened by the squeak of my bedroom door opening. The scent of lemon blossoms greeted my nose and I sensed the presence of an intruder. Before I could react, the bed rocked a bit and I felt a warm body sitting astride me. With a tremendous push, I shoved that person off and the two of us crashed to the floor in the narrow aisle beside the bed. It was La Reyna!
A moment later Barbas came storming into the room, a flashlight in one hand and his gun in the other. “What in hell is going on?” he demanded. I got off of La Reyna and back onto the bed.
La Reyna stood up and, quite calmly, spoke to Barbas. “I’m sorry for the commotion,” she began, “This was entirely my mistake. I had trouble sleeping and took a walk in the desert. When I returned, I got a bit confused and thought this was the Rebecca caravan. I went back to what I believed was my private bedroom and jumped into bed, apparently startling poor Jim here. His reaction was quite normal.”
“Right!” said Barbas, as he dropped his gun and turned on the safety. “My dear, I could have killed you. Please be more mindful in the future, my love.” He and I walked La Reyna to the caravan door. Luke, in the front bunk, had slept through the whole event. La Reyna gave me a hug and a kiss and then did the same for Barbas. In the privacy of my bedroom, I had a wonderful autoerotic fantasy with Stephanie. I slept very well the rest of the night.
The next three days, at sites Golf, Hotel and India, came up empty. What had started as a grand adventure deteriorated into mere back-breaking labor. At one point, Luke inadvertently tossed a shovelful of sand into Barbas’ face and tempers flared. Barbas drew his gun and threatened to kill him. Betsy reverted to her professorial demeanor and began making ridiculous demands regarding the accuracy of locating and recording our “finds.” La Reyna, for her part, worked extremely hard – this, she explained, was a good substitute for her normal physical exercise regimen. She scrupulously followed Betsy’s archeological dig rules. She tried to keep our team spirit up. Luke and I simply wanted it all to be over.
On the morning of the twelfth day La Reyna announced there would be no digging. We would spend our morning at leisure and then go into Be’er Sheva for a nice lunch at a café. Betsy offered to lead an adventurous morning hike and give us information on the geology of the dry river bed. La Reyna urged Luke and me to come along. We reluctantly agreed. Betsy packed a couple of knapsacks with water and energy bars and we all piled into the four-wheel drive.
Barbas drove us down the dirt road, heading west, about two kilometers beyond the Mats Camp, to an area we had not previously explored. He followed the dirt road and then drove along a dry canyon north for a couple hundred meters. We got out of the four-wheel drive and walked further north along the canyon and then east to a high point where we could get a better view of the area. Betsy gave an interesting lecture about the geologic history of the area and answered the questions La Reyna, Luke, and I asked.
La Reyna urgently motioned to stop talking and drop to our knees. “I hear voices,” she whispered, “off to the east.” The voices were too distant to make out. La Reyna took her scepter out of her jacket pocket and pointed it in an easterly direction, down into the hollow from which the voices originated. She explained that a scepter had the ability to directly query PIDs of anyone within a narrow cone of its axis and up to about thirty meters away without any need for WIN coverage. “We’re too far away to get a direct PID reading,” she whispered, “You all say right here and I’ll sneak closer.”
After a few minutes the voices stopped and La Reyna came running back. “They heard me and I think they saw me,” she said quietly. “Six to eight men and women were digging and speaking a language I couldn’t identify. I got a few direct PID readings but couldn’t decode them because there’s no WIN coverage down in that hollow. I’ll go up the hill to the north where there may be WIN coverage from Be’er Sheva there and see you at the four-wheel.”
Barbas, Betsy, Luke and I hiked back to the four-wheel drive as quietly as possible. A quarter hour later, a white-faced La Reyna joined us. “I got some WIN coverage and decoded the PID readings. Four of them are from the southern Russia-Kazakh border area. That is where our CentAsian conservadores fiscales adversary Tsar Sahbaka is from. The other two are from Iraq. I don’t recognize the names and I couldn’t do a search on them because the WIN coverage is so spotty it would have taken too long. What shall we do?”
Barbas thought for a while and spoke. “They are probably Tsar Sahbaka’s team also looking for that God-damned can of film bar Mats hid. They saw you and probably detected the direct PID queries transmitted by your scepter. It’s too dangerous for you, as a scepter-holder, to be out of contact with the WIN under these circumstances. If they capture you and the scepter in a non-WIN area, the authorities will not be alerted to come look for you. If they do it in a WIN area, the authorities will come and blow our ‘archeological dig.’ Either way, you have to stay here where it’s safer.”
“So,” said La Reyna after a bit of contemplation, “Should we just return to our camp or go into Be’er Sheva as we originally planned for lunch at a café like nothing happened?”
“No,” replied Barbas. “If they saw you they’re probably organizing a search party and may set up an ambush along the dirt road to town. You stay here with the boys. Betsy and I will don our knapsacks and take a little hike in that direction. If they discover us – and we’ll make enough noise so they are sure to do just that – we’ll appear to be a couple of ancient Americans out on a desert adventure. Betsy is slim and fit like you and, from a distance, they’ll assume it was Betsy they saw twenty minutes ago and call off their search.”
“OK,” replied La Reyna.
Betsy and Barbas put on the knapsacks and headed out. He turned back and shouted, “If we don’t return in an hour, you can just go into town for lunch. We have enough energy bars and water to survive in the desert this evening and even into tomorrow. If need be, we can hike the four kilometers to our camp. Don’t worry about us!”
La Reyna, Luke and I sat silently in the shadow of the four-wheel drive. About ten minutes later we heard three closely-spaced shots east of our location. Then a few minutes silence and two more shots. “You boys stay here,” said La Reyna firmly, “If I’m not back in an hour and Barbas and Betsy don’t return either, drive to our camp and wait there. I’ve authorized your PIDs as ‘keys’ to this four-wheel.” She took a water bottle and stuffed a couple energy bars into her jacket and ran in the general direction of the shots.
Luke and I sat silently for several minutes. “We can hide over there,” he whispered, pointing to a shady area of boulders about ten meters away. “Someone might come by and see the four-wheel but we’ll be safe if we hide.” We each found a suitable rock to sit on where we were unlikely to be spotted. Luke sat so he could see towards the east, where we expected La Reyna, Barbas, and Betsy to return. I sat where I could see the four-wheel.
“If I see anyone coming,” he said, “I’ll tap you on your left shoulder, and if you see anybody you tap me on my right. That will be a signal to be silent and turn around and observe.”
We sat there in silence for a while and then I spoke. “What do you know about the scepter-holders, Luke?”
“Only what’s been made public, plus some informed speculation,” he replied. “I’ve never worked on that technology or been read into the secret parts of it so I’m free to talk about it.”
“All I know,” I replied “Is that Stephanie is a scepter-holder, that they call themselves the ‘700 club’ but there are supposedly sixteen-hundred of them, and they have some special powers. I didn’t know about the power of scepters to directly query PIDs, for example, until Stephanie did it back there. Ordinary PID readers can query other PIDs but those PIDs won’t respond unless the querying PID is on their authorized list. Apparently Stephanie’s scepter can read any PID. What are your speculations about the scepter holders?”
“Jim, on this mission, we’re supposed to call her ‘La Reyna Abeja’ – ‘the Queen Bee’. If I tell you everything I know,” said Luke with a sly wink, “Will you tell me everything you know?”
“Sorry, Luke,” I replied, “I have certain information you don’t have an official ‘need to know.’”
“Does it have anything to do with that phony PID data about me being at the DoHiMuTo on June 11th last year?”
“I can’t say,” I said sheepishly, “I just can’t say.”
“That sounds to me like a ‘yes’,” replied Luke, a bit testily.
“Let it sound any way you want,” I replied, in as friendly a manner as I could manage under the circumstances.
After a while, he spoke up. “Sixteen hundred people are way too many for there not to be a hierarchical structure. If the scepter-holder system was properly designed, according to system science theory at least, there would have to be several grades above the lowest class of scepter-holder.” He took out his read-WINs and put them on.
“Luke,” I observed, “There’s no WIN coverage here …”
“Right,” answered Luke, “But there are processors and software in read-WINs. I’ve got a program for ‘optimal span’ – you know the ‘magical number seven plus or minus two.’”
“What the heck is that?” I asked, “And why would I care? Where are we going here?”
“Well, back about a century ago, a psychologist named Miller discovered that human perception, such as sight and smell and taste and memory and so on, is limited to five to nine gradations. He called it 'the magical number seven, plus or minus two' or, more scientifically, the 'span of human perception'. An engineer named Glickstein, about sixty years ago, proved the optimal span for any structure is one plus the degree of the nodes times 2.71828459, the natural number ‘e.’ For a one-dimensional string, the degree is two and optimal span is around six point four. He also showed with Shannon’s information theory that the range five to nine was, at least theoretically, over ninety-six percent efficient and four to twelve was over eighty percent efficient. And that’s not just for control hierarchies like a management chain, but also containment hierarchies in all types of physical systems and even software systems like …”
“You just told me how to build a clock,” I laughed, “All I want to know is what time it is! Please, tell me why I give a hoot about the range five to nine or the number six point four?”
“About forty years ago,” continued Luke, “A management expert named Meijer rediscovered the optimal span theory and proclaimed that all management structures must adhere to it! Did you ever notice how nearly all departments at TABB have either six or seven workers to each manager? How each second-level manager has six or seven first-level managers working for him or her?”
“Yeah, come to think of it,” I replied, “That’s how it is. On the other hand, when I worked in a factory as a college summer job, we had about a dozen guys and gals in our team.”
“Well,” replied Luke, “The lowest level, like a platoon in the military, can have ten or twelve or sometimes a bit more. The theory only applies when the workers have to interact with each other in complex ways, not when they’re doing grunt work.”
“OK,” I replied, “So, where are we going here?”
“If you’d quit interrupting, I’ll tell you,” Luke said good-naturedly, “According to the optimal span program in my read-WINs, sixteen-hundred scepter-holders would break down into about two-hundred-fifty first-level ‘departments,’ each with six or seven scepter-holders and one higher-level scepter-holder ‘managing’ them. The two-hundred-fifty second-level scepter-holders would report to thirty-six third-level scepter-holders who, in turn, would report to six fourth-level scepter-holders who would report to the top dog scepter-holder.”
“OK,” I replied, “So the scepter-holders are hierarchically organized … Wait a minute, did you say thirty-six?”
“Yeah,” replied Luke, “There should be thirty-six scepter-holders at the third level. What about it?”
“Well,” I began, very seriously, “We have a tradition in Judaism that there are thirty-six ‘tzadikim’ or ‘righteous ones’ for whose sake the world exists. No one knows who they are. When one dies God somehow chooses another. They are sometimes called the ‘Lamed Vovniks’ because, according to gematria, which we discussed some months ago, the Hebrew letter Lamed stands for thirty and the letter Vuv for six, which adds up to thirty-six.”
“So,” replied Luke with an intensity of interest that surprised me, “There would be thirty-six especially powerful scepter-holders who would regulate the rest! I’m not one-hundred percent pleased with Stephanie’s ethics – I should say La Reyna’s ethics – and I’ve wondered why the higher-level scepter-holders don’t rein her in.”
“Neither am I,” I replied, “But, sadly, when she gives me an assignment, such as altering the scriptures of all the world’s religions, despite my better judgment, I go along with it!” I opened my mouth and then covered it with my right hand. “Dohi muto!” I exclaimed, “I’m a ‘misguided servant.’ My ‘guiding lights’ have gone out.”
“What are you saying about the Tokyo DoHiMuTo museum?”
I lowered my head to my chest and rotated it left and right. “Luke,” I began, “Let me confess that, yes; as you guessed back in Orlando some weeks ago, I did order changes to be made in the oldest extant copy of the 1611 KJV. After you found out about the máquina del tiempo I countermanded that order. No changes will be made.”
“Jim,” said Luke very quietly, “At that time I was a bit angry with you. But, after thinking about it, I concluded it was not my role to protect the 1611 KJV or any other copy of God’s words. I have faith God will protect what needs protection and allow modifications to what needs to be modified. I forgave you a month ago.”
“Thank you, Luke. Thank you very much. Perhaps you believe having you find out about the máquina del tiempo and my feeling guilty about ordering changes to the very relic you considered the absolute word of God, and my countermanding my order to change the 1611 KJV was God’s way of protecting it?”
“Perhaps,” answered Luke, “And, have you considered the possibility this whole event, and our adventure in the Israeli desert and the danger we face from the recent shooting is God’s way of giving you the gift of faith. I pray to God it is!”
“Are you trying to convert me to belief in God? Do you expect me to embrace Christianity?” I asked.
“It is the mission of every Christian to spread the Gospel. In these anti-religious times that is dangerous except in private in the company of friends. Please take my efforts as a compliment. As an indication of my high regard for you and my trust in your judgment.”
“This talk of conversion reminds me of this guy who goes to his rabbi,” I said. “He tells the rabbi his son is converting to Christianity and he can’t argue him out of it. The rabbi says, ‘What a coincidence you came to me! I also had a son! He also converted!’…”
“Is this one of your jokes?” asked Luke, a frown on his face.
“So,” I continued, ignoring Luke’s question, “The rabbi tells the guy what he did when his son converted. He prayed to God and God answered! Do you have any idea what God said?”
“Yeah,” replied Luke, “I know what God said. He said ‘What a coincidence you came to Me! I also had a Son who converted.’ Right? When your faith is in danger of awakening you make a joke. I think you are afraid to allow your true faith and religious feelings to come out!” Luke stood up and looked to the east, from where we expected La Reyna to return. He shook his head and sat down.
“Luke, I’ve been thinking about your faith in the Genesis creation myth in the face of your detailed knowledge of biological evolution. I assume you also believe in so-called ‘intelligent design’? I’ve heard there are scientists who believe in that pseudo-science but I’ve never had the opportunity to talk to one, face-to-face.”
“Well, I do have some special knowledge of biology and genetics, due to my role in the Hawking Plan and some biotech work I did ten years ago. However, I’m not an expert by any means.”
Luke stood up again and flexed his legs. “The mainstream scientific explanation of the origin of life on Earth is that atoms naturally join together into molecules, such as two hydrogen atoms joining with an oxygen atom to form H2O, which is water. Some molecules form long chains. A random bunch of these molecules can form what are called ‘autocatalytic cycles’ that can sustain themselves if they happen to be trapped in porous rock or some other semi-pervious material. That, of course, is all scientifically true.
“The next step in the mainstream scientific explanation is where I, and the ‘intelligent design’ scientists, have problems with it. The mainstream scientists say some of these long-chain molecules randomly happened to form primitive RNA, which, though not quite alive, can reproduce itself and also act as catalyst for the formation of some proteins. The step from RNA to primitive DNA is, they claim, almost inevitable, although it has never been reproduced in a lab.
“So, they claim, DNA was produced. It has the double-helix that makes it more stable than RNA so it has ‘memory’ capability. They claim primitive single-cell organisms called ‘prokaryotic’ cells, like blue-green algae, came into existence. According to their timeline, it took a couple billion years for the prokaryotic cells to evolve, by random mutations and genetic crossover according to Darwinian evolution and natural selection, into eukaryotic cells. Once that happened – eureka! they claim – you have multi-celled plants and animals and, eventually, some billion years later, Homo sapiens!”
We heard a sound from the direction of the dirt road, and soon saw a plume of dust. Apparently, a car or truck had passed on that little used road. We dropped down on our knees and remained silent until it became apparent we had not been observed. “Please continue,” I said. “It’s a bit technical but I want to understand.”
“OK, the scientific ‘intelligent design’ proponents – one is a member of my church – do not believe random processes were capable of creating prokaryotic cells. Most scientific ‘intelligent design’ advocates do not believe, even given prokaryotic cells, they could ever evolve into eukaryotic cells for multi-cell plants and animals. Not even given two-billion years. Even primitive biological cells are so complex they could not have come into existence via random processes. A design that complex demands a Designer!
“Therefore, ‘intelligent design’ requires God at least for Creation of the first prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. He planted them here on Earth. After that, it is possible random mutations and genetic crossover could explain the evolution of life on Earth. Of course, those of us who are believers do not think God went away after the first biological cells were planted on Earth. We believe He continues to intervene in the process of evolution to this day.”
“So,” I replied, “God is not dead?”
“You are paraphrasing Nietzsche, who claimed something like ‘God is dead.’ Of course God, after due consideration, came back and said ‘Nietzsche is dead.’ Only the latter assertion is certainly true!”
“Well,” I said, a satisfied look on my face, “If primitive cells are too complex to come into existence by random processes and require a God to create them, who created God? I mean, God is certainly more complex than primitive cells, so He must have been created by a Super-God. Then, who created Super-God? Is it Super-Duper-God, is it an infinite regress of ‘Gods all the way up?’ I know the standard answer: ‘God is Eternal, He has always existed.’ That, if you don’t mind me saying so, is the ultimate ‘cop out’.”
“I do believe God is Eternal, and we will never know how or why. It is something we have to accept by faith.”
“Why not accept the scientific account of the origin of life you outlined for me? In billions of years, random mixing of atoms and molecules could, according to the Laws of Nature, result in primitive RNA, then DNA, and then living, reproducing biological cells.”
Luke smiled. “Jim, my friend, I have two questions for you. First, if some ‘scientist’ told you a tornado had swept through a junk yard and, through random mixing and matching of bits and pieces of hardware junk, a shiny spaceship appeared, what would you say?”
“I would say it was possible,” I replied, “But so unlikely I would rather believe some competent engineers had designed and built that spaceship. Bolts and metal sheets are not on a small enough scale. But, I believe long-chain molecules, given sufficient time, could come together. As you explained, RNA and DNA have sufficient stability of memory as well as flexibility to evolve.”
“That’s a good answer,” admitted Luke, “And one I have to accept. The ‘tornado in a junk yard’ is a ‘cheap shot’ and I only mentioned it to test your understanding of my outline of the accepted scientific explanation for the origin of life on Earth. Although some of my fellow church members would disagree, I have to admit the scientific explanation is possible, though I disagree with it!”
“OK Luke. You said you had two questions for me. Now that I’ve passed your test with the first one, which you admit was a ‘cheap shot,’ I’m ready for the second!”
“Great. Here it is: where did matter and energy and the Laws of Nature come from? They are quite complex. Who created them?”
“Well,” I replied, “Don’t scientists day they have always existed? Don’t they believe the Laws of Nature are unchanging and unchangeable, the same at all times and in all places?”
“Exactly,” said Luke, “Isn’t that as much a ‘cop out’ as believing God is eternal and unchanging?”
“Well,” I replied, after thinking about it for a moment. “It saves a step or two. But I guess we have to accept, on faith, the basis for our existence. You are right! At least with your system, which I wish I could believe in, bad people will get their just deserts … eventually. Speaking of which, where in hell is La Reyna?”
“I wish I knew, she’s been gone for nearly twenty minutes,” replied Luke. “I do know La Reyna is an evil person and I have absolute confidence she will get exactly what she deserves.”
Before I could respond, we heard five more sharp shots, also from the east. I felt a warm sensation in my crotch and realized I had peed my pants. We sat silently for a few minutes.
“What if La Reyna doesn't return?’ I cried, breaking the silence. “And Barbas and Betsy? What will happen to us? What if we get shot and killed out here in the desert? What will happen to our families? They could be widows and orphans tomorrow ...”
“Don't worry Jim,” interrupted Luke, quite calmly. “Don't worry about the future, God is already there! God provides. The Lord givith and the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the Lord!”
“I’m a very weak person,” I whispered sadly. “She’s a God-damned temptress tool of Satan, and I’m her willing accomplice, her dohi muto. I deserve to get shot here in the desert. God forgive me for I have sinned. Sh’ma Yisra’el, Adenoi Eloheynu, Adenoi Echod.”
“Hola Diego,” whispered Luke, using my Latinized name to signify the unusual nature of my utterance, “You’ve finally found both God and Satan – a ‘foxhole conversion’ – those gunshots have finally scared some sense – and faith – into you …”
I did not reply. Instead, I kneeled and traced the words of the Sh'ma in Hebrew in the dust on the stone next to me:
שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד
Luke watched intently. He bent down and pointed to each letter, right to left, mouthing each sound "Sh .. Muh .. Yuh .. Ess .. Ruh .. El .. Yuh .. Huh .. Vuh .. Huh ..." I recalled him telling me he had once tried to learn to read Hebrew and he apparently still remembered the letters. He looked at me with a “spiritual” expression on his face. We stood briefly and hugged each other. I was trembling but he was calm. We sat on our appointed stone seats. A few minutes later, Luke tapped me on my left shoulder. I turned around to see La Reyna running towards the four-wheel drive. We scampered towards her.
“Luke! Jim! In!” She urgently motioned to us as she jumped into the driver’s seat. “I’m really angry! Good Lord I could kill Sahbaka! The enemy is near!”
We took off down the dry canyon to the dirt road. Luke and I looked at each other. We silently mouthed messages: “What happened?” “Should we ask her?” “No, silence is best right now.”
Once on the dirt road, she drove as fast as possible given the rough conditions. We buzzed past Mats Camp and, two kilometers later, flew into ours. “Go and grab your laundry and also Barbas’s dirty clothes,” ordered La Reyna, “And get back here pronto!”
Some moments after we came out with our laundry, La Reyna emerged from Rebecca with her laundry and Betsy’s. She was wearing a different shirt, jacket, shorts, and shoes. Had she told me we had time to change clothes I could have changed my pissed pants.
We all jumped back into the four-wheel with our laundry and La Reyna drove us into Be’er Sheva. She said absolutely nothing. We could see by her demeanor we were to remain silent as well. We drove around the southwest neighborhood of Be’er Sheva until we came upon a non-descript café. She parked the four-wheel, and turned to us.
“Act totally normally,” she said. “We’ve been on an archeological dig with Barbas and Betsy for a week and a half as a TABB-sponsored team building exercise. We took today off and Betsy led us on a nice geological exploration in a canyon west of Mats Camp. Barbas and Betsy packed their lunch because they wanted to be alone together. They’ll hike back to our camp this afternoon. We three came into Be’er Sheva to have a nice café lunch, do our laundry, and buy some things. This is the first time in a week we’ve had solid WIN coverage, so we’re also going to send messages to our families, amigos and colleagues back in Orlando.”
It became clear something terrible had occurred in the canyon. I had no idea what it was. Why did La Reyna choose to come into town and have lunch precisely during this crisis? Luke and I shook our heads up and down and remained silent. The café proprietor looked at the rough clothes and dirty boots Luke and I were wearing, and my wet pants, and sat us at a rear table, adjacent to the restroom. I excused myself and retreated to that room to try to dry my pants.
While on the “throne” I used paper toweling to blot up some of the urine from my underpants. As I did so, I noticed my hands were shaking. I was also a bit light-headed and felt some chest pains. Fearing I might faint, I stood up and staggered to the sink. I washed my face with cold water, getting some more liquid on my pants.
As I stood looking in the mirror, Luke’s voice bellowed through the thin door: “How beautifully blue the sky. / The glass is rising very high. / Some people say I know not why. / That we shall have a warm July.” The words were the song of the Major General’s daughters from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. Why now, of all times, would Luke would be singing it, and so loudly in public? I heard La Reyna answer with the following verse about pirates and dreaming!
Has the whole world gone mad?” I asked myself.
I emerged from the restroom not a whole lot dryer than when I went in. I stormed over to the table and asked, “What the hell are you doing? Everyone in this café is looking at us!”
La Reyna responded brightly: “Things are seldom what they seem. / Sing together as a team.” She excused herself to the rest room.
“Luke,” I demanded as I sat down, “What in hell is going on?”
“Jim, my hiking and digging buddy,” he exclaimed, “La Reyna said we should ‘talk about the weather’ so I remembered that song from ‘Penzance’ and she joined in.”
“Have you two lost your minds?”
“Jim,” Luke whispered, “She wants to be noticed. Something awful happened in the canyon and this is her alibi. Don’t worry; you and I did not commit any crime so we won’t be punished. God will take care of us. He will ‘let the punishment fit the crime’.”
I suddenly understood the game and reared back and began to sing in a loud voice: “My object all sublime / I shall achieve in time. / To let the punishment fit the crime / The punishment fit the crime.”
Restaurant patrons turned and stared. Luke replied: “The billiards sharp that anyone catches / His fate’s extremely hard. / He’s made to dwell in a dungeon cell / On a spot that’s always barred. / And there he plays extravagant matches / In fitless finger stalls. / On a cloth untrue, with a twisted cue / And elliptical billiard BALLS! ”
I joined in for the final line, over-emphasizing the “balls!” As we two friends laughed together I felt a lot better. I had done nothing wrong and Luke was right, God, however He (or She) might be thought to exist, would protect us! Don't worry about tomorrow - God is already there! La Reyna returned and we three “buddies” laughed and sang and ate the excellent café food. It sure tasted good after a week and a half of freeze-dried camp food.
While we were eating, I brought up the topic of the Ten Commandments. “Luke,” I began, “On my first day at work, La Reyna asked me about the Ten Commandments, mentioning that the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions included three different versions of them. Since we are here in the Holy Land, I’ve been meaning to ask you which version is the one God gave to Moses not far from where we are now.”
“The version in the King James 1611,” replied Luke.
“Well,” I countered, “Now that we have good WIN coverage, I’ve brought up the Ten Commandments. I’ll beam them to your read-WINs and La Reyna’s. There are three different versions in the KJV! Look at Exodus 20 and 34 as well as Deuteronomy 5.”
“OK,” replied Luke and La Reyna. “I have them.”
“Please notice,” I continued, “The keeping of the Sabbath is found in all three versions; however it is number four in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, but number five in Exodus 34! Also notice Exodus 34 has only three Commandments in common with the Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 lists of Commandments. It is missing some of the ‘biggies’ – the ones about ‘honor your father and mother’ and prohibition of killing, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting!”
“I guess,” laughed La Reyna, “They invented máquina del tiempo well before my graybeard mentors!”
“This café is not the place to resolve this issue,” said Luke. “I’ll have to get back to you on it after I do some more checking.”
La Reyna drove the four-wheel all over Be’er Sheva on a “sightseeing” tour. She found a motel with a laundry room and we filled both machines with our dirty clothes. Having solidly established our alibi, we returned to our camp.
While Luke and La Reyna hurriedly strung a rope line and hung all the damp laundry out to dry, I headed into the Adam caravan to take a shower and don some dry clothes. As I left the Adam caravan, a grim-faced Luke entered it. “I’m going to take a shower,” said Luke, “And then I’ll be seeing you after a while. It might be quite a while.” I assumed Luke meant he was going to take a nap after his shower or perhaps a walk or something. I entered the Rebecca caravan and was greeted by La Reyna, who was also grim-faced.
“Jim,” she began, “Please have a seat, I have to tell you exactly what happened in the canyon.” I sat down in the dining area of the caravan with La Reyna opposite. “Barbas and Betsy are dead,” she said, “Killed by Tsar Sahbaka’s people.”
I sat there dumbfounded, panicked. I didn’t know what to say.
“After we heard the gunshots and I left you and Luke by the four-wheel, I went looking for them. I heard joyous voices and snuck up. There were five men and one woman dancing around the lifeless bodies of Barbas and Betsy. I saw one of the men run away to the east but the others continued to shout praises to Allah as the woman pulled Betsy’s jacket off of her. Finally, one guy took Barbas’s gun out of his hand and tried to fire it at him. When it didn’t work, he stuck it in Betsy’s crotch. Then they headed east, singing a song!”
I shook my head and said nothing. I took my trembling hands off the table and placed them on my lap.
“As soon as they were gone,” she went on, “I grabbed Barbas’s gun. Tsar’s people couldn’t use it since it was coded for his grip and fingerprints. Barbas also had it coded for Betsy and me. I took the gun and quickly caught up with the murderers. I was so angry I shot them, one by one, without a warning. I shot the woman last, as she drew her gun and turned to face me.”
“Sh’ma Yisra’el,” I cried. “What will happen to us now?” My hands began to quiver and I felt faint once more.
“I took Betsy’s jacket from the dead woman,” La Reyna continued calmly, “And used it to gather the guns from that bitch and one man. I used the jacket to carry the guns back the short distance to where Betsy and Barbas lay. I dumped the guns near their bodies. I used the jacket to wipe Barbas’s gun clean and placed it in his hand. Rigor mortis had not yet set in. Since he had fired his gun during his battle with them, he had powder burns on his hands and clothing. If anyone finds his body before we dispose of it, they’ll assume he shot Tsar’s people before he passed out and they died from their wounds a short distance away. I covered Betsy’s body with her jacket.”
Feeling faint, I stood up and tried to walk to the sink to splash cold water on my face. On the way I fainted, striking my head on the dining table as I went down.
I awoke several hours later, finding myself in La Reyna’s bed in the Rebecca caravan. She was beside me reading an e-book. As she saw me stirring she threw it to the floor and quickly sat astride me. I was helpless to resist her seduction.
After we were done, I noticed it was ten PM and I felt hungry. I prepared three cups of instant noodle soup and went to the Adam caravan to get Luke. I found a note in Luke’s empty bunk:
I’ve had enough of this adventure. My wife and children come ahead of my job and I’ve decided to go home to them. I took some of my personal things and plan to walk into town and get a bus or taxi to the airport and catch the next sleeplane back to Orlando. May God bless.
La Reyna accepted the note calmly. “OK. Here is the story we’ll use. Luke was missing his family and planned to go home early. That was why we took today off from digging and went on a final geological tour and had lunch at the café in town. When we got back to our camp, Barbas and Betsy had not returned. We had to wait for them, so, instead of driving Luke to the airport, he volunteered to walk into town and take a taxi or bus from there to the airport.
“When Barbas and Betsy still hadn’t hiked back and it was sunset it was too dark for us to drive the rough dirt road into town to get help. We knew they were experienced hikers and had ample food and water and warm clothing and so on, so we didn’t think it was urgent to seek help.
Tomorrow morning we’ll go out and call to them. Then, we’ll drive along the dirt road and look for them. When we don’t find them, we’ll drive into town and report them missing to the authorities.”
I rotated my head up and down. We each ate our noodle soup in silence. Then, we split Luke’s cup. I retired to my bed in the Adam caravan and slept soundly.