This is a fictional story I wrote many years ago. It deals with evil imaginations and artificial intelligence, angels that travel in time, read minds, have power over nature, etc. Some of the pseudo-technical dialog is true but some is just gibberish. Lord Jestocost (it means “cruelty”) comes from the imagination of Cordwainer Smith whom I much admire as a science-fiction writer and thinker.
“Oh! Clever human nature, victim of your inventions, disastrously creative!”
— Ovid, quoted from Amores, Book III.
Court Square Tavern. Charlottesville, Virginia. Summer of 1998
Barletta said not without enthusiasm: “To replicate human intuition on a computer like the one you’ve been describing would take a far more complex technology than what is available today. In fact, modern systems are merely electronic idiots capable of adding at amazing speeds yet lacking the least real ability to reason”.
Myron cut him short: “What about artificial-intelligence programs? Don’t they have some sort of intuition at least on a very basic level?”
“As a matter of fact, those programs, while useful for performing certain tasks, only give the impression of being intelligent. Of course, we haven’t yet defined ‘intelligence’ for the purposes of this discussion. There’s a trap somewhere in artificial-intelligence programs and sooner or later one falls into it.
“What is it?”
The priest could not help smiling slightly.
“Programmers define the boundaries of the logical range for the program’s operations and state in advance the benchmarks that will determine an operation’s success or failure”.
With a frown, Myron strove to follow his mentor.
“I don’t quite understand how that can devalue the machine’s intelligence”.
Father Barletta went on: “For instance even if it’s the first time in my life that I’m doing something, I can still determine its value. I know whether I like it or not, and I can evaluate the gains and losses. I can also understand that what is a total loss for me is nevertheless advantageous for the survival of my children or my tribe, and I may decide to do it even if it takes my life. I can have hunches, premonitions that bring me closer to finding a truth. We know all too well how those things work empirically yet we cannot reduce it to terms that a computer can understand. I believe we are at a standpoint and we won’t break through until we figure out how to apply quantum physics to the problem of artificial intelligence.
“I see”, said Myron, thoughtfully.
Lowe, who had not uttered a word so far, broke the brief silence with another question.
“I can’t really discuss this issue at length since I’m just an assistant. But the research people at the Institute have been working for many years on what they call symbiotic intelligence. It’s a cross between artificial and natural systems, a hybrid of sorts. The other day Kramer told me they’ve achieved some astounding results with a technique employing cat neurons. The brains are subjected to near-absolute zero temperatures and then they’re sliced off into micrometric sections. Then by using a system which numbers and maps out the brain cells in each cross-section they’ve managed to attach terminals onto its dendrites. I’m told the reaction speeds in some cases is simply mind-boggling”.
Father Barletta watched him in amazement and could not help asking.
“But… if the animal dies in the process… How can that brain receive impulses? Where does sensory information come from?”
“I can’t give you a lot more details since I really don’t understand this issue, but according to Kramer, the animal… well… in a way…neurons don’t quite die but are kept dormant or in a state of suspended animation”.
Utterly amazed, Father Barletta stood gaping at him He did not know the Institute was working on such an advanced project at that time and he wondered how they had been able to keep it a secret.
“I’d like to talk with Kramer about it” he said, breaking the momentary silence. “I think he’ll join us this afternoon. Am I right?”
“Yes you are. I don’t think he’ll want to miss the reading of the next chapter of Myron’s book. A few days ago he told me how much he was enjoying the novel”.
“Good, I’ll wait until the reading is over and ask him about that project. It sounds like science-fiction” concluded the priest while he signaled to the waitress to bring him a beer.
“It’s sweltering hot today, isn’t it?”, said Myron, lolling back in a chair and belching quite uninhibitedly. “In any case, thank heavens we have cold beer”.
Just as he said that, Kramer’s ungainly figure became visible behind the glass door. Entering, the man waved a greeting at the table… “Gentlemen..”. he said, bowing rather mockingly and grabbing a chair, “I think I’ve lost a gallon of fluids on my way here. I decided to walk all the way from home. That was a big mistake but I’ll make up for it by drinking huge quantities of good beer. Providing Father Barletta allows me to indulge in this small excess of course”.
The priest made a good-natured gesture.
The waitress came over with a tray full of froth-topped glasses. “Ah! You’ve read my mind” roared Kramer with a satisfied look. He wiped his forehead with a paper napkin and zeroed in on the nearest glass.
“What’s new, gentlemen ?” he said after a long gulp.
Father Barletta could hardly wait. “What’s that symbiotic systems business?”.
Kramer’s countenance was transformed…. “How did you learn about it? He asked, looking at Lowe with an inquiring look. Lowe just managed to say: “I hope I haven’t made a mistake in mentioning the project to Father”.
“Not at all”, said Kramer. “Ever since the Pentagon pulled the plug on their funding, this matter is no longer top secret. On the other hand, we’re not alone on this and I think we were a little behind the people at Triangle Park. At any rate, we’ve made some headway. Let Myron read the story and then I’ll tell you all about it. I’m dying to know the end of that chapter about the night escape. Reading a book while it’s being written is an awful torment for such an impatient person as myself. I couldn’t put up with it if it weren’t such a good excuse to stop by and have a drink from time to time. Come on, Myron, buddy. What do you have for us today?
Smiling, Myron arranged the pages of his manuscript and started to read. That part of the story occurred a few meters away from the tavern. During another remote summer, in 1812, an extremely exhausted rider, after riding on horseback all through the night, informs Thomas Jefferson that a regiment of English Dragoons is marching up Three Notched Road towards the village, in search of him…. Myron kept reading while his friends listened attentively.
In the Realm of the Guardians
We could almost say that at that very moment, though not at the same time exactly but at another time, in the infinite present unknown to mortals, Oormel-Iaentael felt that one of his brothers from the remote Region of the Powers was calling him. A soft feeling stirred his mind. There is no alarm among angels but permanent discretion. In a flash, he was briefed on his next mission. His temples throbbed slightly on receiving his instructions. He responded with the respectful formula:
“Let me be the lesser among you, brothers. Let me serve under your wings”.
“There is evil at the gates of the mortal’s realm, Oormel-Iaentael”.
“Allow me to understand”. Said the guardian angel, looking down and joining the tips of his wings together.
Oormel-Iaentael understood. The light brought the message from a mind far away like waves sweeping softly over a sandy beach.
“… first you must seek out a man in who is in a different layer of time”.
Now the blue glow encircled him. Extending his wings in a wide arc, he descended into the timeless region where everything occurs at one single point and in an infinite number of moments. Anointed with sufficient strength to annihilate a thousand galaxies, Oormel-Iaentael penetrated the dark region of tomorrow, today and yesterday in search of a red-haired young man.
Back at the tavern
Evening was falling as Myron finished his reading. The lights were turned on at the Court Square Tavern. The group would now wait for the next chapters to be read on the last Thursday of every month. Father Barletta was still wanting to know more about the symbiotic systems. It struck him as incredible that they should deal with a serious topic like that in such a casual manner.
“So… Kramer… please tell me about those systems at the Institute. It sounds absolutely fascinating. Tell us whatever you can”.
Kramer took off his thick steamed-up glasses and wiping them, began to speak: “It all started a few years ago when we were looking for a speedier method for operating conventional warning mechanisms like fire alarms; burglar alarms etc. The algorithm we created was extremely successful. Somehow the Pentagon heard about it. Apparently they had been looking for something of that sort and they planned to use it to activate advanced military warning systems for missiles, torpedoes and so on. We were allotted a large sum of money to suit the program for military objectives. Almost immediately a couple of security experts moved in to safeguard our work. At that time, about three years ago, one of our researchers, Peter Laval, while working on another project, discovered how to preserve the response capacity of brain cells after death. Back then he was trying to ‘freeze’ the state of the brain at the time of the patient’s death to study further the final effects of some maladies such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. Working on very narrow sections of animal’s brains (such as rats, cats and monkeys) Laval managed to join nano-connectors onto the dendrites of some neurons in order to simulate a number of stimuli using a special computer. This led him to the discovery that in some situations the reaction of the treated tissue was much faster than his computer’s ability to measure it. Frustrated by this drawback, he consulted us. That’s how the two projects got connected. What was a stumbling block to Laval was a godsend solution to us. By reversing the course of the process, we began to use electronic sensors to simulate easily solvable problems, using the cells trapped between wafer-thin nearly solid helium walls. It’s like a brain slice sandwiched between two glass panels. Within a short time we were able to achieve very fast decision speeds. We tried out several animals but concluded that the cat’s brain was the best because its cells are bigger and faster. After a while we submitted a functional sample of the system to the Pentagon. You can’t imagine their reaction! The only thing they understood was that we were trying to trust multimillion-dollar military equipment to the hands of a frozen cat. As the CIA confirmed that the Russians had shelved a similar project, the Pentagon decided to drop it too, and that was the end of the military involvement with the Institute. Anyway, we continued to work. Six months ago, a New York based company, MortCorp, made us a good offer: funding to develop the product in return for 30% of the profits and the right to use the system commercially.
That’s about it. This month the people at MortCorp finished enlarging our lab so that they can use the system. We’ve also incorporated a new supercomputer -CRAYG- which has enough storage to implement the MortCorp programs. It would be great if you could come over one of these days for a demonstration. I guess before the end of the year we’ll have an adequate number of biological cells so that we can tackle somewhat complicated problems. Maybe you can give us some research work to do to try the machine with real life challenges. We’re going to need complex problems to test the capability of the first symbiotic machine. We’re making history!
Father Barletta listened in amazement to his friend’s monologue. Kramer kept giving the particulars of this new technology’s potential. Although his curiosity to see the results had not waned, an ominous feeling came over him as the thought of the unexpected implications this new invention would bring upon mankind. His ruminations were focused on a more or less distant future. Little did he know how the machine would soon affect his life.
In the Royal Dominion of His Majesty, Virginia. Early in the Fall of 1764
Oormel-Iaentael entered Time at the right moment. As usual he took on a personality appropriate for the age he was visiting. In this case Chocktawmoat, the hunter. The man he was looking for was coming up the path and just as it would invariably happen to someone walking along unfamiliar trails, he awkwardly fell when the ground gave in under him, into a deep ravine between two hills. The recent rain had turned the slope into a deadly trap. The red-haired young man ended up barely grasping at some roots that were beginning to detach themselves from their moorings. He saw the shadow of the Indian appearing above the rock. “¡Tchkima ta kntawat!” said the red-haired man. As he asked for help in the hunter’s language, he noticed his mouth was full of red dirt.
“Kntawat mat ktaara ngaraan, I’ll help you if you don’t move… Red-hair”. Was the response uttered this time in the language of the white man. The Indian threw a long branch over to the red-haired man which he caught hold of with his free hand. A few seconds later he was standing on solid ground.
“Tchka-tchah, thanks for saving my life”.
“My name is Chocktawmoat” said the warrior lifting his hands in a sign of friendship.
“My name is Thomas” said the Redhead still dusting off his lapels and holding up his dirty hands in the same way.
“Only the reckless walk on the hill after the rain” said the warrior, smiling.
“Not only the reckless. Also daring fools like me” Thomas reproached himself aloud.
The warrior laughed and started walking. Thomas followed him downhill. They stopped by a brook and sat down to take a rest, sharing the tobacco Thomas carried in his backpack.
“What were you doing on the hill, Redhead?” asked the Indian.
“I was picking plants”, answered Thomas.
“There are plants everywhere. What do you pick them for?”.
“To send them across the wide waters where other men examine them and place them in…” Thomas did not know the word for ‘books’.
“In books?” asked Chocktawmoat
“Yes, in books. You speak my language very well”, said Thomas
“You speak my language very well too, Red Hair”, said the hunter smiling.
Shortly afterwards they heard shouting and noises from across the brook. Thomas got up instantly and seized the musket which was the only weapon he was carrying. Far out in the valley a shot and the long whistle of a bullet shattered the silence of the afternoon.
Charlottesville, Virginia. Early in the Fall, 1993
A few weeks went by and eventually Kramer invited Father Barletta to see the system. The two men carefully put on protective paper suits and walked into the sanctum where the cell units were lying in neat order on white racks. Hundreds of wires were coming out of the plastic plates containing the silicon boxes where the cells that have been once used for mouse-hunting now decoded difficult problems of symbolic logic. The room was kept at 50º Fahrenheit and the priest wished he had brought along some warmer clothes. The green paper suit, however, was adequate. In the middle of the room, with its processor immersed in ten gallons of liquid nitrogen, stood the supercomputer. It was designed to create symbols that the cell units would process ceaselessly, as they were caught in a world they had never pictured when they had a consciousness of their own.
After a tour of the processing room, they went back to the lab where the temperature was much more pleasant.
“This is really fantastic. Thanks for sharing it with me” said the Jesuit
“My pleasure” replied Kramer while he walked his friend into his office. “We must turn this into a game of sorts. I hope you have some very difficult problems for Morris to resolve (that’s how the researchers call the system, referring to a cat that used to sell pet food on a TV commercial). I think it’s ready for a sample of what the real world has in store for it”.
That afternoon they created the matrices to solve a standard astrophysics problem. Morris took only ninety seconds to work out the problem and to find the ‘Chandrasekhar limit’, the proportions of a star likely to become a black hole. Father Barletta was overwhelmed with wonder.
“Do you realize it took Dr. Chandrasekhar many years to resolve this problem?” asked the priest with an amazed look, more typical of a student at school than that of an old hand at theoretical physics research.
“Could you develop more complex problems for Morris?” said Kramer.
“No doubt about it, but I think it’ll take a long while to find problems harder than this one. Most likely I’ll have to find some unsolved problems. But we have to be able to verify the solution”.
“That would be great” said Kramer with a nod.
. . .
The priest returned a couple of weeks later with a number of new problems. Kramer worked them out by feeding them into Morris and then Father Barletta and his college team carefully looked into the results. While some of the results were simply too difficult to verify, Morris seemed able to solve anything at an amazing speed, no matter how complex it was. This process continued with Kramer occupied himself in finding Morris’ capability limits as Father Barletta increased the complexity of the problems the machine was to solve. Barletta would now spend almost every afternoon at Kramer’s office.
Kramer and Father Barletta could have continued testing Morris with all kind of complexities without giving a thought to Dr. Laval and MortCorp’s technicians if it were not for an incident that occurred one Friday afternoon…
Kramer was preparing a result report when he decided to ask the machine to report the solutions for the last twenty or thirty problems solved. The report took only seconds to be produced. It had already been printed out when Barletta walked into the office. Kramer greeted him waving his hand, while keeping his eyes on the fresh printout.
“What is this Father Bart?”
“Let me see…”
Kramer pointed to the third line without speaking a word.
“I don’t know. This is not my line of work”.
“Let’s take a look at it…” said Kramer sitting at the terminal.
Kramer carefully copied the name of the unknown job XMF.ROOT.META.CYR9
The screen returned the listing in a blink..
“We will have to print it out” said Kramer.
In a matter of seconds, a long strip of paper was coming out of the printer. Kramer laid the paper on his conference table so that both could go over the listing.
They looked at it for a long while. Father Barletta made notes with a pencil on one side of the listing in order to follow the flow of commands.
“It looks like a control program, something like a very complex communications protocol.
“Does it belong to Laval?” inquired Barletta
“No. It belongs to a user I’m not familiar with. Someone whose signature is ‘Jestocost’”.
“A moniker without a doubt ” assumed the priest in a loud voice.
“A moniker meaning ‘cruelty’ in Russian.” Kramer explained pensively.
“Can you speak Russian?”
“Yep. A skill I acquired during the cold war…”
Kramer got back to the terminal and keyed in a few commands.
“Nobody’s using the system now; they’re all gone… let’s see what comrade Jestocost has left us”, he said puzzled.
The screen flashed on and the program launched in a few seconds. A portion on the screen represented something like the lines on an electrocardiogram. Below the chart a few words popped up …
“I AM YOUR MASTER JESTOCOST. ARE YOU LAVAL?”
Kramer typed back….
“No. I’m Dr. John Kramer”.
‘IS LAVAL WITH YOU?”
“No. Who are you?”.
“I AM THE LORD JESTOCOST”.
Kramer gestured to Father Barletta to switch to the other terminal on his desk.
“We have to find out where this is coming from. Do a general search and send it right to the printer”.
Barletta did as he was asked and the printer began to whir
“Nice to meet you, Lord Jestocost. Is that your real name?”, asked Kramer.
“YOU CANNOT UTTER MY REAL NAME JOHN KRAMER”.
“Come on. I speak Russian; I can read Latin and my Spanish is not too bad. Come on, man…”
“DO NOT CALL ME MAN. NEVER CALL ME MAN”.
“Are you a woman then?”
“DON’T YOU KNOW I AM IMMORTAL?”
“Well. I’ve never had the pleasure of speaking with the realms beyond”.
Kramer responded jokingly, assuming Jestocost was an intruder who had been able to sneak into the system.
He was interrupted by Father Barletta shaking a printed page before his eyes. The search had traced Jestocost back to one of the processors at the lab. Processor Number 9.
“I’m sorry to interrupt the conversation but I must go… Talk to you later…”
Kramer left the channel open so as to check the condition of the communications nodes at the lab. Both men almost ran out of the office towards the sanctum.
“We have no external communications. It’s impossible for someone to log on to the system from the outside”. Kramer was thinking in a loud voice as he ran to the lab.
On arriving, he opened the first processor’s gate. The cryonic units were lying in their sockets. The neurons of long-dead cats continued to sparkle within its frozen crystal capsules. Kramer opened the cell for unit 9 and went through the connectors… one, two, three… he counted up to fifteen. There was one too many. He double-checked them. The two counts indicated there was one more wire than the required fourteen. He thought as much. Someone had sabotaged the system by connecting it up with a phone modulator… but that was not the case… He followed the wire as far as a space behind the cell; there he stumbled on the strangest thing he had never seen in his life. It was a small blue glass container. Light traveled back and forth inside the vial which was not connected to the external world by any visible means.
“What’s this, for heaven’s sake?” said Kramer out loud.
“I haven’t got the foggiest idea.” said Father Barletta. “Surely that thing is what enables that prankster to log on to the system… but…Who helped him set it up?”
A metal sound caused them to turn their eyes to the door… Laval and one of the MortCorp men had just stepped in. Laval was holding an automatic pistol with both hands.
“I’m afraid you already know all about it… too bad. Get away from the panel.”, roared Laval visibly nervous. His hands were shaking. Kramer and Barletta moved away from the panel with arms instinctively apart from their bodies. Laval spoke.
“I’m sorry I have to do this, Kramer. But I have instructions I can’t disobey”.
“Who are you working for? Who do you take orders from?” asked Kramer, looking for a second at Father Barletta from the corner of his eye. Father Barletta looked briefly towards the right indicating he would take care of the man in a white lab coat standing behind Laval.
“None of that matters now. We’re going for a ride”.
Laval moved aside to let them by. They led them down the deserted corridor and out to the parking lot at the back of the building. Walking with his hands up, Kramer never stopped thinking of a way out. At the same time, his powerful mind was working overtime to figure out a way to save Father Barletta too. He finally asked Laval:
“If you’re going to kill me at least you could tell me who Lord Jestocost is”.
“Lord Jestocost is a macrobe. A being that had lived in the Earth’s proximity for the last billion years”.
“And the blue vial?”
“That’s one of my best jobs. The blue vial you saw is actually an oscillator which reacts to some small changes in the gas it contains. These changes are caused by Jestocost’s mind. The changes are so swift that it would have been impossible to perceive them with a conventional system, but Morris is fast enough to process and translate all the relevant information”.
“How did you communicate with Jestocost to determine the protocol for the first time?”
“That’s a good question, Kramer. Lord Jestocost has spent a long time locked up in a place near the Earth. A dark miserable hole from where even light can’t get out. But by making an all-out effort, Lord Jestocost can materialize images. Holograms he uses to communicate with those who serve him on Earth. You may have the honor to meet him before you die”.
“I’m not interested in dying, let alone meeting your friend from the great beyond. Why do you do this?”
“Because I can do it, Kramer”.
“Ask a stupid question…”, said a bewildered Kramer and he added: “What are you trying to achieve?”
“Endless power and knowledge”.
“It’ll never work, Laval”.
“The risk is justified”.
Father Barletta decided to butt into the conversation.
“I guess I have some idea of who this Jestocost is”.
“Oh no. You haven’t got the remotest idea of his power and knowledge. Since I first spoke with him I have learned many things. Things mankind would have to wait for generations to learn… beautiful things.”
“You’re blind, Laval. Put that gun down and surrender. Your friend is a demon who’s trying to use you to get out of his prison. No one gets out alive from a pact with those beings. You must stop it for your the sake of your soul!”
“Oh shut up! What have religious people achieved so far? Nothing! Backwardness, ignorance… You’re the least qualified person to speak! When we have refined Morris we’ll be able to do wonderful things: control the economy; eliminate poverty; form a world government; finish all wars… we’ll be like gods…” Laval was both over-excited and furious. Father Barletta responded…
“I think Hitler’s doctrine was very much like that. If I’m correct, he also communicated with those beings… however, he didn’t fare too well… think about what you’re doing”.
“Think about what you’re doing…” Laval mocked him. “Thinking is what I’ve been doing for so many years. Or do you think the technology I’ve created came out of the blue?
“No technology can save the soul of a murderer, Laval”. The priest spoke sweetly, as though he were talking to a sick child.
Several minutes had elapsed since the group had walked into the woods. It was clear Laval intended to have them disappear after killing them. Kramer strove to keep abreast of Barletta. The man from MortCorp was following them but carried no weapons. Given the first chance, Kramer decided to make his escape to the right. Suddenly he noticed the wood was thicker in that direction. Pretending to join the conversation, he said: “Father, remember it’s very hard to persuade Faust; the power and glory are very strong temptations. The Lord shall come and when the time is right he shall separate the sheep from the goats by placing the latter to the left and the former to the right. I’m definitely a sheep and will be on the right; as for you, my dear friend… in tempo ab sinextera fugit.”
“Your theology is better than your Latin, but I quite get your drift, said the priest. However, nobody knows when that day and time will come. Only the Lord in Heaven knows that… unless you let me know when…”
“Now!” said Kramer, springing to the right into the thicket, while Father Barletta got running to the left as fast as he could.
Laval hesitated for a moment. He aimed at Kramer and fired. Meanwhile, Barletta was rolling downhill, taking advantage of the momentary confusion.
Kramer tried to run along the narrow trail going into the thicket. He felt the shot and almost at the same time, the smell of burnt wood and warm feeling on his scalp. All of a sudden, a ravine opened up before him. The treetops hardly reached the edge of the cliff. He jumped over, trying to seize hold of the branches so as to cushion the fall. His leg caught on something. Now he was falling down headlong. He tried to grab a branch while falling down and his body swerved violently. Another branch struck his chest and almost knocking the air off his lungs. Suddenly he realized he had broken a rib and his face was fully covered with blood. Finally, he rolled over a heap of rotten branches. He was lying on his back and he could see the evening sky amidst the treetops. His visual field narrowed down to a small circle. He heard someone speaking in a foreign language. Was it Japanese?…
Virginia. Early in the Fall 1764
Thomas got his musket ready and hid behind a tree but Chocktawmoat gestured to Thomas to follow him. They cautiously crawled forward among the shrubs. Chocktawmoat did not bother to use his knife. Thomas regarded him as a brave man. It was clear he knew what he was doing The man inspired a strange trust in him. Without a word he decided to follow him.
They had covered just a small stretch when they heard something heavy falling through the trees. Thomas looked up and saw a man bouncing down through the branches like a sack of clothes. He landed on a heap of rotten branches.
They ran out to the clearing and saw the man. His scalp presented a nasty cut. Blood from the wound covered the left side of his face. He was lying on his back; some shrubs had cushioned his fall. “Come! said Chocktawmoat. Thomas came to the man first; he lifted him up in his arms. Then both men went back into the woods carrying the wounded man with them
Once out of harm’s way, Chocktawmoat found a comfortable place for Kramer’s head and tearing a sleeve off his shirt, he made a makeshift bandage. He cleaned his face with a little water he poured out of a sheepskin canteen. Opening one of the man’s eyes he declared: “He will live”.
“What kind of clothes is he wearing?” asked Thomas.
“I think they’re of little use any more. They’re all torn up”.
“He’s awakening now”.
Kramer opened his eyes but he was not yet able to bring his vision into focus. There was a strong smell of leather mixed with the smell of his own blood. His head was throbbing painfully. He hazily remembered falling down the treetops. Clearly, he had fallen down into the ravine behind the Institute’s building. Gradually his vision improved. Two faces were staring down at him, a red-haired man in a brown leather jacket and an Indian with a brightly-colored tattoo on his face. His hair was tied back and fastened by two small sticks like the chopsticks you see in Chinese restaurants.
“Where am I?”
“We’re your friends. My name is Thomas Jefferson and this is Chocktawmoat, the hunter.”
“I must be delirious” said poor Kramer as he twisted his neck, sending a pang all through his chest. “I’m afraid I’ve broken some ribs”.
The Indian examined Kramer’s chest and nodded.
“What’s your name?” inquired Thomas…
“John… John Kramer”
“You’re a Prussian then…”
“No. I’m American. From Boston. I’ve been living here since 1982. I work for the Institute up there”.
“1982? My friend… We are in 1764!”
Kramer passed out again.
. . .
Father Barletta rolled down the slope and started to run downhill towards the highway. It was clear that he was not being followed but that didn’t stop him. He had to find help soon. Without stopping, he prayed briefly for angelical help. A few minutes later he was running through the valley. The highway had disappeared. There seemed to be a lot more trees too. He went ahead, thinking he had lost his bearings and that the road was behind the woods. When he walked into the forest the evening light became dimmer. The sun was just filtering in through the leaves. Dog-tired, he started to slow down. He got near a brook and instinctively began walking upstream, hoping that the water would guide him to some familiar place. He then remembered his cell phone. Sitting down on a fallen trunk by the stream, he dialed the number for the local police… but the phone only gave off a buzz. The battery was still charged but he was unable to get through. “Well, that’s great! Now this thing won’t work!” he mumbled.
Without stopping any more, he walked a long way in the hope of reaching the source of the stream or at least making it back to his car that was parked near the Institute. It was then that he saw Kramer in a clearing of the woods besides the water. Kneeling down by his side were two men wearing rather strange clothes. He ran up to the site as fast as his tired legs allowed.
“Is he alive? I heard a shot…” he asked without stopping to look at the strange appearance of the two men.
“He’s all right but he needs a doctor” said the man dressed like an Indian..
Glancing at Thomas, Father Barletta could not help asking “Haven’t we met before?”
“I’m afraid not” answered Thomas politely. He added: “Could you tell me what is today’s date?”
“Today’s Friday” said the priest.
“Day, month, year”, insisted Thomas
“Well… it’s October 9, 1998”.
Thomas gave the Indian a puzzled look but he was very busy tending to Kramer’s wounds.
“Are you also a Prussian?”
“No. I’m an Italian, from Modena. Why?”
“I’ve also had a fall today and I think I’ve lost my good sense” said Thomas.
“May I ask you why you’re wearing such clothes?” asked the priest who was increasingly confused.
“That’s the same question I was about to ask of you” said Thomas.
“Good Lord, what’s going on here?” exclaimed Father Barletta looking up to the sky.
At that very moment, two men burst into the clearing. They were Laval and the MortCorp technician.
Thomas got his musket ready. Laval was aiming at the group with his automatic pistol.
“We meet again, my dear Reverend. Who are your friends?”
Laval began to stride forward, taking no heed of the musket.
Thomas’ shot hit him in his left eye. Making a sudden upward movement with his arm, Laval fired his gun. The bullet flew past over the heads of the group and got lost in the woods. The MortCorp man threw himself down to grab the pistol that was left lying on the ground. Got hold of it, cocked it and without a word, began to step backwards, pointing at the group. Evidently, he had had enough action and wanted to quit. What followed is almost much too strange to relate. Two bears rushed out of the wood right behind him. When he heard the footsteps of the two huge animals, it was too late. A claw ripped up his face. He managed to fire his gun just once, aiming nowhere. When the bears were done with him it was difficult to make out a human being among the remains. The Indian stood in the middle of the clearing. Both animals walked up to him as tamely as a pair of sheep and licked the hands of Chocktawmoat, the hunter. Tapping their sides gently, he sent them back into the woods. Without a word, he made his way back to Kramer while Jefferson and Barletta looked upon him in total astonishment.
Charlottesville, Virginia. October, 1998
Kramer awoke at the University Hospital in Charlottesville. Through the window, he could see the Blue Ridge. It seemed to him he had lived through that moment before but the pain on his chest was too strong for him to be concerned with that kind of reflection. By his side were Barletta, Lowe and Myron. His teary-eyed wife Liz was holding one of his hands (the other hand was wrapped in bandages). When she saw him open his eyes, she bent over and kissed his cheek (his forehead also had a bandage).
“Bart… What happened?” asked Kramer looking at the Jesuit. His chest hurt with each word.
“Calm down. You’ll hear all about it later. Now you must rest. After you’ve had a good rest I’ll tell you the whole story”.
A nurse came in and asked them to allow the patient to repose. Kramer fell asleep again.
In the Realm of The Guardians
Lord Jestocost felt the presence of light. He knew from experience what that meant. He immediately knew it was none other than Oormel-Iaentael.
“Has my day finally come, Guardian?”
“You know full well it hasn’t”.
“What’s the reason for your visit then?”
“You must leave off resisting your punishment. Don’t you realize that what you’re doing is pointless?”
“I do. Why did you let me out?”
“The red-haired man and the Jesuit had a few things to learn”.
“And you have used your humble servant… To arrange this educational session? What a great honor!”.
“I haven’t arranged anything. That’s up to the Powers”.
“I know Guardian. I used to be one of them, remember? Now I am occasionally allowed to do some dirty jobs.” His voice darkened. “Can you remember my name Oormel-Iaentael?”
“I can’t. You’ve lost the honor of bearing a name of light. I can call you Jestocost. It fits you well”.
“I thought it out especially for Laval”.
“I suppose you consider that a conquest”.
“He belongs to me now. We’ll always be together. You should have seen his terror as he went to the depths. It was really delightful. But, tell me, what’s the reason for your visit, Oormel-Iaentael? Have you come here to learn more from your old mentor?”
“You’re not my mentor anymore. You’re but a shadow of your former self. You have fallen down and today I have been sent to fasten your chains”.
“Ha! You despicable lackey of the Guardians!… Never forget that I made you what you are, I..”
In trying to recall his name of light, Lord Jestocost sank down onto himself. In the deep recesses of Jestocost the shadow that once was Peter Laval experienced yet a new terror, long, dark and cold like a bottomless well. Then came the fire.
Charlottesville, Virginia. Summer of 2000.