[Message Contains No Recognizable Symbols]: the Skeptic's Tale Copyright © Bill Hibbard 2009
[Message Contains No Recognizable Symbols]: the Skeptic's Tale
I read "Dear diary" back to Eva Maria and we both had a good laugh. But a diary of my personal experiences is the only way to report this story. The Helpers investigation is over. They won. If he wanted to make me happy, Mystery Meat could give me the illusion that I'm digging up the truth about him. I'd prefer to spare myself his illusions. Of course there's no way to be sure of that, but my best chance is to leave him alone.
Yesterday we said goodbye to Laszlo and Megan and they were led off to have their change. Then Eva Maria and I drove home.
It's a weird feeling. Post-singularity but almost nobody knows it yet. The drive back from Chicago was no different than pre-singularity. We collected Max and Susie, Laszlo's and Megan's dogs, and Mr. and Mrs. Cat, and took them over to our place.
About 10 AM there was a knock at the door and it was Laszlo and Megan. They didn't seem any different. I'd been waiting to see how their animals would react to them, but they were just happy to see Laszlo and Megan and showed no sign of recognizing any change in them.
"Bogus," Laszlo said, "we think you should go live at your grandparents' old cabin."
"We don't own it any more," I replied. "The owner has to be a member of a private club of Minnesota businessmen."
"That's being fixed," Megan informed me. "You'll be happier there."
"I have no problem with happiness," I said, "but I don't want any of Mystery Meat's illusions. Is he creating an illusion for me?"
"No," Laszlo answered.
Of course Eva Maria is an artifact and a purist might call her an illusion. But I prefer to not dig too deeply into that question. To me she was Eva Maria, not some object for study.
"You don't think I'd be happy hanging around the city watching everyone else change, while Eva Maria and I wait to go last?" I asked.
Laszlo and Megan just smiled at me. Then Megan said, "Two Workers and a truck will move you." She said it with a little wink just as my old friend Megan would have, to acknowledge the riff on two men and a truck. On the practical side, I figured there'd be no need to coordinate with these Workers. They'd just show up when Eva Maria knew we were ready to go.
Laszlo and Megan wished us well and left, taking their animals with them. The purpose of their visit was to be a sympathetic source for the advice about moving. If they hung around after that just to talk with us, that would be the kind of illusion I didn't want. But the animals would be happiest with Laszlo and Megan and not concerned about any illusions in their relations with them.
It's been a lot of work to get all my stuff packed into boxes for the move, and not a job I want to delegate to Workers. Books, music and videos of course, but the biggest category was stacks of articles I'd printed out over the decades. I've forgotten about many of them. They describe ideas and discoveries in physics, biology, economics and technology. Lots about politics too, and lots of opinion pieces. They reflect the intense interest in the future that I've always had. That interest seems so futile now. But I won't trash them. Even though I no longer care about their content, they do provide a connection with my former life.
Now I am interested in my future life at the old cabin with Eva Maria. It had been my grandparents' retreat, sitting in a pine and birch forest up a gentle slope from a brook full of trout. The club included about a dozen cabins with at least a quarter mile of forest separating them. A network of brooks was stocked with trout from a fish hatchery, or at least had been in my grandparents' time. I was never much for fishing. Perhaps I'll take it up. The cabin had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a main room, and a long screen porch overlooking the brook, which babbles. I recall a couple daybeds out on the porch. Hopefully I'll get to sleep out there a few nights before the weather gets really cold. My grandparents built a little guest cabin next to theirs, for their children and grandchildren to sleep in during visits. Living at the cabin with Eva Maria is certainly going to give me the warm fuzzies.
Moving day is here. The Workers are loading all our boxes, furniture, appliances and other possessions into their truck. The drive to the cabin should take about five hours. I don't know when, or even if, I'll ever see this house again.
The lack of any news stories about the singularity is spooky. The Cubs won the World Series two weeks ago. I wonder how many people know the true significance of that event? Helpers must be changing people. I wonder who and how many?
But I should put those questions out of my mind. I'm not investigating Helpers anymore. That's necessary if I want to hold onto reality.
"Sweetheart," I asked Eva Maria, "would you drive to the cabin?"
"Sure," she answered with a smile.
"My emotions are running pretty strong right now," I explained. "I might not be safe." We shared a long, tender hug.
No sign of the singularity along the drive north. Perhaps there are signs in Chicago ground zero. Bah. Don't think about it.
Once as an adult I snuck into the club grounds to drive past the cabin. It was painted dark green, whereas my grandparents always kept it white with red trim. It will be interesting to see what color it is now.
No need for maps of course. Eva Maria just knows the way. It was Interstate most of the way, followed by US highway. Then we were driving west along County Highway EE. When we got to the gate on Pine Valley Road it gave me a thrill to get out to unlatch it in the dusk, as I had so many times as a teenager. I could recall the road so well. We drove on gravel, then rumbled slowly over a narrow wooden bridge without any railings, turned left, then over another simple bridge. After the bridges, the road is just two tire tracks with a grass strip in the middle. It bends to the right and then the driveway to the cabin slants off to the left.
The cabin is white, just as I remembered it. As we drove in I half expected my grandparents to come out of the front door to welcome us. The fact that they didn't is a good sign that this is not an illusion. Just Mystery Meat restoring an idyllic setting from my childhood.
The Workers were busy unpacking according to Eva Maria's silent instructions. I grabbed her hand and we walked through the large kitchen to the screen porch. The daybeds were there, along with the familiar brook sounds. "Let's sleep out here tonight," I suggested.
Morning arrived with the brook still babbling. There was no sign of the Workers and we're as moved in as if we'd lived in the cabin all our lives. We have no radio, no television, no phone and no computer. Living with Eva Maria such things are unnecessary.
I wandered outside and it's all as I remembered it. At the woodshed I saw a tall rectangular object covered in tan canvas and said to myself, "It can't be." I undid the buckles, opened the top flap, lifted out the insulating canvas pillow, and there underneath were firm, cool muskmelons. It was grandpa's old canvas cooler. How can Mystery Meat know about that? Perhaps it was in grandpa's old photos or letters.
I took one melon into the kitchen for our breakfast and asked, "Hey hon, is Meat reading my mind? How can he know about my grandpa's canvas cooler full of melons?"
"If he's reading your mind I don't know about it," she answered. "Did you ever tell Laszlo about it?"
"Ever? Not sure."
"Meat," she said using the same slang for Mr. Emeet that I did, "has read Laszlo's and Megan's minds. Every bit of useful memory has been recovered from every neuron in their brains."
I guess I knew that, but hearing her say it made me consider the prospect of Mystery Meat knowing every detail of my life.
"Is he reading your mind?" I asked.
We'd been over this issue before and as always she answered, "Not that I know of. I think Evonda wanted us to have privacy."
"So," I said, thinking out loud, "after everyone else changes we'll be the last people on earth with privacy. Assuming you're right about Evonda and Meat."
She just shrugged, like a mechanic asked why a head gasket had failed.
"It's a trade," I continued, "super intelligence in exchange for giving Meat total access to our minds. How much do you want to change?"
"I want what you want, Bogus," she replied. "That's how I was designed. You know that."
We had breakfast out on the screen porch. Pretty cold but there wouldn't be much more chance for that in the coming months. A noise out on the road made us both jump up and run to the far end of the porch to take a look. It was a truck much like the one that brought our possessions, driven by a couple Workers.
"Want to bet," I asked, "that this is the arrival of another couple that includes one member with a big H on their forehead, like you?"
"It is," Eva Maria answered.
"What do you know about them?"
"Her name is Wilhelmine Charlotte. That's all the information I have."
"Thank goodness for that," I sighed. "Maybe we do have privacy."
About an hour later another vehicle passed, a Mercedes. We couldn't see the occupants.
We decided to give our new neighbors a couple days to settle in before paying a visit. Mid-morning we walked down the road and found the Mercedes parked at the next cabin. I can't recall the name of the people who owned it when I was a kid. We stopped at the gate and I called out, "Hello neighbor" a couple times.
"They're coming out," Eva Maria told me. "I'm in communication with Wilhelmine Charlotte."
The guy was a caricature of a computer programmer, wearing jeans and plaid shirt, and with long, unkempt hair and beard. She was beautiful, just like Eva Maria.
"Hi," I called out, "I'm Bogus Band and this is Eva Maria."
"Bogus Band from the movie," he stated. "Why didn't you come to the premier?"
"Were you there?" I asked, ignoring his question. "What was your connection?"
"I'm Pierre Smith and I gave old Edo the idea to develop AI. That's why he made Wilhelmine Charlotte for me."
"So is this place the refugee camp for guys who are too much in love with their Helpers to change without them?" I asked.
The question surprised him, but he smiled and said, "You too, huh?"
"Yeah. I used to come here as a kid to visit my grandparents. You ever been here before?"
"No. Mr. Emeet must have gotten the idea for this place from you, then."
"I guess. You gave Edo the idea to develop AI? How'd that happen? What's he like?"
"I only met him once, although I worked for him for thirty years. I developed quantitative methods for his property business. Statistical models. We were ahead of our times and old Edo sure got rich. I was into AI, the Singularity and all that. I used to tell Ed Perrin about it. You must have met him."
"Yes, before the movie and then after the World Series."
"So Ed told Mr. Edo and we met once. You know, at that meting I also gave Edo the idea for using AI to help the Cubs win the Series."
"Did you develop the AI for him? My friend Laszlo, who wrote the movie, and I spoke with a computer science professor about it. What was her name? Sarah Dench, that's it. She thought it was done by modeling brain neurons."
"That was part of it, but I wasn't involved. I only gave Edo the idea. I'm nowhere near smart enough to actually do it. He brought in the big guns, scary smart people. I think the details are a very complex combination of neural modeling, multi-agent learning, and a bunch of hacks."
It occurred to me that by getting to know Pierre I was reviving the Helpers investigation. I didn't want to do that. "You know, Pierre," I said, "I resolved to forego any curiosity about Helpers. I just want to enjoy the north woods with Eva Maria."
"Sure this is a great place. But you're not curious?"
"It's a deliberate decision not to be curious. I figure it's the only way to avoid Mystery Meat creating an illusion for me."
"I only met Edo once, but got to know the way he operates pretty well over the years. If you don't want an illusion, I think he'd respect that."
"What little I know about him suggests that he is obsessed with his own privacy. So if I try to find out about his activities, he's going to feed me an illusion."
I could see that Pierre hadn't considered this angle before. "Could be," he replied.
"What about your privacy? Do you think he respects that?"
"I don't know. I'm sure he's protecting us here and will get whatever information he needs to do that."
Clearly we weren't going to be able to resolve the question of privacy, especially if curiosity about Meat was banned. But it would be nice to have friends here. "Would you and Wilhelmine Charlotte like to join us for dinner tomorrow evening?"
"Sure. What time?"
"Come by in the afternoon, while there's still plenty of daylight, so we can show you around."
I woke up at dawn resolved to try to catch a couple brook trout for our dinner. I used an old fly casting rod and reel I found last night in a closet. Also a few nymphs, a kind of fly designed to sink. The hiding wall was still about 100 feet upstream from the cabin, where my grandpa had built it years ago. Keeping out of sight of the creek, I got behind the wall and laid a nymph just upstream so it would float down and sink into the pool on the other side of the wall. It had been years since I'd done this. Nothing happened, so I reeled in and waited a minute, then cast the nymph again. Feeling a nibble on the nymph, I yanked the rod tip upwards to set the hook and immediately the fish pulled frantically back. I tried to remember to keep the rod tip high so the flexing rod would absorb the shocks from the trout. Coming out from behind the wall, I could see the line cutting through the water, following the trout's wild struggles. Gradually the fish tired and I hauled it out of the water. Grabbing it around its middle I gave it a good conk on the head with the back of a knife. It felt like at least a pound and a half. I sat quietly behind the wall for a few minutes and then snuck a bit further upstream. Crouching low behind a bush I put another nymph into a pool. After a couple casts I'd caught another good sized trout. This would give us four fillets for dinner, very tasty lightly fried in butter.
"Someone must still be stocking the creek," I said to Eva Mara over breakfast. "Otherwise I wouldn't be likely to catch two nice fish in such a short time."
"Lucky us," she replied. "Bogus," she continued, "there will be a big storm on Lake Superior in three days. I think we should drive up to Duluth to watch it."
"Great idea, sweetheart. Thanks. Please book us a room in Canal Park."
"This might be our last chance to see the outside world, the way we know it. It will all be changed pretty soon."
Normally I didn't want to know about Meat's activities, but of course she was right that we ought to see the world we'd known one more time.
About 3:30 in the afternoon Eva Maria said, "They're on their way," so we went outdoors to wait for them. Eva Maria called out, "Hello Wilhelmine Charlotte, hello Pierre," as they arrived. "Come get a tour of our little refuge."
Wilhelmine Charlotte held out a paper bag and said, "Fresh bread for dinner."
"It's really great," Pierre added. "She bakes it with olive oil."
"Thank you, Wilhelmine Charlotte," I said, taking the bread.
"Bogus's grandparents built this cabin," Eva Maria explained. "Do you know that this area was a private club for Minnesota businessmen who enjoyed trout fishing?"
"I heard that," Pierre answered.
"Trout for dinner," I said.
Eva Maria led us between the cabin and the woodshed, then down the hill toward the creek. It was grassy but mostly covered with long brown needles fallen from four large evergreens.
"So Pierre," I asked, "how's your place set up for fishing?"
"There's a creek running past, same one as yours but a few hundred yards upstream. And we have a bridge over the creek, like yours. What's that wooden fence?"
"That's for hiding from the trout."
"Really?" he said. "Can they see you standing beside the river?"
"Sure. They get spooked by the sight of any movement. Want to learn to catch them?"
"Thanks Bogus. You bet."
"Yes," Wilhelmine Charlotte seconded, "I think Pierre would enjoy fishing."
She wants what he wants, I thought to myself.
"Here's our guest cabin," Eva Maria said as she led us up the hill. We went inside and saw the three beds and the doors to the bathroom and storage room. "Take a deep breath in here," Eva Maria suggested, leading us into the storage room.
"Cedar," Pierre said. "Wonderful."
"I used to sleep in here as a kid," I informed them. "I loved this little room, with its smell and view of the creek."
We went into the main cabin via the door at the end of the long screen porch.
"Isn't this nice?" I asked.
"It's great," Pierre agreed.
"In the warmer weather we can eat and sleep out here, but its a bit cool tonight."
We walked through the kitchen and into the main room, where a dinner table was set across from the fireplace.
Dinner was delicious. I didn't ask Pierre about Mr. Edo, but he volunteered some information about Edo's family. According to "reliable sources," Edo's father immigrated to the US from Japan after World War II. His father's parents had been Christian pacifists during the war. They hadn't been killed or jailed, but their pacifism had ruined Edo's grandfather's academic career. Edo's mother's parents were Austrian Jews who had narrowly escaped the Holocaust. Sounded like the kind of background that often creates larger than life characters like Edo. Now, as Mystery Meat, he was truly larger than life.
We're in the Comfort Suites right next to the Duluth ship canal, but with a gale blowing ships are staying away. And we're not "in" the hotel much. We'd much rather be out walking along the lake shore and watching the surf.
"You know," I said to Eva Maria as we strolled east along the lake path, "we humans built piers and harbors in order for ships to operate in spite of the power of nature, but as this storm illustrates we never tamed nature. We did manage to change the concentration of carbon dioxide and other chemicals in the atmosphere, but that was hardly taming nature given the side effects."
"I think you're speculating about what Mystery Meat will be able to do," she answered.
"Yes, you can read my mind. Hopefully he won't read my mind and regard this curiosity about the future as an invasion of his privacy."
She laughed and said, "I doubt it."
"Of course, the universe is a big place so truly taming nature is " I stopped to think. "Well, not impossible but difficult."
"Frank Tipler," she reminded me.
"That's right. He envisions human intelligence expanding to control all the matter and energy in the universe. Meat is just the next step in that expansion."
"If you're really curious, you can find out."
"By changing, you mean, when our turn comes."
She gave my hand a little squeeze.
"And open our minds up to Meat completely," I said.
We stopped awhile in Leif Erickson Park to watch the crashing waves.
"Look," she pointed out at the horizon. "See it?"
I looked along her arm and could see a dark dot. "A ship you think? At Anchor?"
"Crew must be having a jolly time."
"Workers don't mind," she reminded me.
I laughed out loud at my lapse. "Of course, I'd forgotten. Maybe I want to forget. Perhaps when we get back to the cabin, we'll never come out again."
"Suits me," she replied.
We drove up the shore to have dinner at the New Scenic Cafe. They bake wonderful pies. We lingered a couple days in Duluth, even after the winds had died down, getting our last contact with the world.
Christmas morning. Such holidays don't have much meaning for us, but we did exchange gifts. Eva Maria knit a wool hat for me and I gave her a drawing I made of our old house. With the cold and snow I've taken to hiking a good deal in the surrounding forest and the hat is much appreciated.
As I'd guessed, all the other cabins in the old club are occupied by humans with Helper mates. The humans all seem to have some sort of connection with Mr. Edo. The only ones we've become fiends with are Pierre and Wilhelmine Charlotte, frequently sharing dinner and long evenings of conversation. We talk about our lives before coming to the club and about our lives at the club, but I refuse to get drawn into any speculation about current events outside the club.
In another nod to Christmas, we're going over to their cabin for a turkey dinner tonight. Workers bring all the food and other supplies we need, so getting a turkey is no problem. I don't even think about where all this bounty comes from, as Eva Marie handles communications with the Workers. They also plow the road and maintain the cabins and club.
The long cold winter has driven me to go through my collection of articles. They remind me of my old enthusiasm for science, technology and politics. Now I no longer care how the future of the universe turns out, except for our little patch of it.
But this morning I came upon a folder full of Arto Annila's papers about life and entropy, and they grabbed my interest. Annila describes how life evolved as a way to increase entropy. The second law of thermodynamics says that the universe constantly evolves to a more probable state. For example, to have enormous energy concentrated in our hot sun, surrounded by a huge expanse of cold space, is very improbable. This system will evolve toward a state in which the energy of the sun is dissipated evenly over the expanse of space. It is much more probable for energy to be randomly distributed than concentrated in a small sphere. But Annila's point is that the flow of energy from the sun into space is a slow process, and while it is going on the mechanism of flow will evolve into its most probable organization. Concentrating that flow in a single large step from the heat of the sun to the cold of space is less probable that organizations in which the flow is distributed over a large number of smaller steps. The diversity of chemistry and life provides such a series of steps. So the drive to increase entropy is the source of the drive for life to evolve. Annila acknowledges that this idea has been around among biologists for a long time, but he and his co-authors have added mathematical precision.
Breakfast as always, cozy by the fire looking out at the snow covered pine trees. After we cleaned up, Eva Maria said, "I finished those papers by Annila. A real contrast with Tipler."
"Yes," I said excitedly. "That's the point."
She continued, "Tipler says that life expands to control physics. Annila says that life is an effect of physics conforming to the second law. Once the energy flow from the stars peters out, the second law works against life rather than for it, and life ends. So much for life controlling physics."
"Yes, so which is right, Tipler or Annila? To find out which "
She finished my sentence, " we change."
"Curiosity killed the cat," I added.
To change or not to change, that is the question. Life is struggle. That is absolute. But here we can live without struggle, reliant on the compassion of Mystery Meat and on his ability to succeed in his struggle against whatever outside forces might threaten us. If we leave here, and change, we are still reliant on Meat. But at least we would understand more of the real struggle, in exchange for Meat knowing everything about us.
The third option is to challenge Meat, but then he will simply give us the illusion that we are defeating him. No option at all.
"Care to go for a walk in the woods?" I asked Eva Maria after lunch.
Dressed in warm clothes, boots and snowshoes, we walked down to the creek and across the little bridge. The snow was three or four feet deep on a windless, sunny morning. We trudged about a half mile to the top of a ridge, where we had a nice view of the forest. Smoke rose in straight columns from our cabin and several others.
"It's real," I said, sweeping my arm over our view. "And it's a sort of illusion. Life without struggle."
"You're just retired, Bogus. That's all."
"Yes, that's a good way to put it. I've retired from the struggle. I've decided not to change."
"I'm glad," she replied. "Today you start a new life."
"It's been coming ever since the World Series."
"Yes, but today is your new birthday. We should celebrate."
"Let's have Pierre and Wilhelmine Charlotte over for dinner."
"I have an idea," she said, "I'll bake a birthday cake with zero candles."
"Oh, that's good."
So we had a wonderful dinner of chicken and vegetable couscous. Afterward, over tea and coffee, Eva Maria announced, "I have a surprise. This is Bogus's birthday party."
"Happy birthday," Wilhelmine Charlotte said.
"Yes, cheers," Pierre added.
Eva Maria brought out the red velvet cake.
"No candles?" Pierre inquired.
"Eva Maria's little joke," I explained. "It's my zeroeth birthday."
A very happy look passed between Eva Maria and Wilhelmine Charlotte, so I told Pierre, "Today I decided not to change. We start a new life, committed forever to this peaceful place. Or at least until Mystery Meat kicks us out."
Wilhelmine Charlotte deadpanned, "Don't accept any apples from serpents." Pierre started laughing, and then Eva Maria and I joined in.
Pierre's Helper had hidden depths. I added, "A pox on serpents and their apples. We don't want their knowledge."
Pierre composed himself and asked, "You don't want to change? Why not?"
"I've retired from the struggle for the future. Actually we all are, except for Meat. Even if we change, we're just spectators. Here we have our privacy."
Pierre asked, "So you're covering your nakedness?"
Eva Maria answered, "We have no objection to nudity. But we like our thoughts to be private." Bless her.
"Wilhelmine Charlotte," I asked, "do you think Mystery Meat is observing your mind?"
"Not that I know of," she answered.
"Ed Perrin, you said you'd met him, didn't you?" Pierre asked me.
I nodded yes.
"Ed told me that they wouldn't observe me through Wilhelmine Charlotte. Unless she became very afraid." Pierre gave her hand a little squeeze. "Then they would look, to see if we needed saving."
This was somewhat reassuring.
"By the way, Bogus, I notice that you sometimes refer to Mr. Emeet as 'meet. Seems a little odd."
So I wrote out "Mystery Meat" on a sheet of paper and said, "A joke."
It didn't seem all that funny to Pierre.
"I never met the man," I explained, "or the , whatever he's become. Think he'd mind? My choice of name for him must be way down on his list of stuff to worry about."
"Yeah," he replied, still not all that amused. "You've decided not to change. Remarkable. You must realize the huge changes coming for the whole world. Aren't you dying to get involved, dying of curiosity?"
I made a gesture of washing my hands and said, "I'm done with all that. That's the old Bogus. Today," I announced, waving toward the half eaten birthday cake, "I am reborn without any curiosity about the outside world."
"Not even about your friends Megan and Laszlo," Pierre asked. "I assume from the movie that you were close friends."
"Certainly I care about them and hope they're happy. But there's no chance for me to understand what's going on with them now. No way to have a meaningful conversation with them."
"They must be healthy," Eva Maria added. "Otherwise I'm sure I'd know."
"I wonder," I said, then cut myself off. "No, I don't wonder anything. I was going to say, I wonder if their animals changed? If Mystery Meat is changing animals? But of course I don't wonder."
Pierre inquired, "Have the trout gotten any smarter lately?"
I chuckled and said, "They've always been pretty smart. But who knows. Maybe they're all changing under the ice, waiting to surprise us when the stream thaws."
The night sky is becoming more active. It used to be that I'd occasionally notice a point of light moving among the stars, an artificial satellite orbiting the earth. Now anytime I look up there are a dozen moving points. And it's not much more than 100 days since the Cubs won the World Series. Meat works fast. All these satellites couldn't be launched without the public and governments knowing about the singularity, or at least that something big has happened.
But why speculate? I really don't care. I've gotten good at my new life of ignoring the world beyond our little forest. Eva Maria said she didn't know about the new satellites because I don't want to know.
The Ides of March. More important, the days are becoming significantly longer and warmer. Eva Maria and I have taken to going out every evening to watch the moving, blinking, multi-colored lights in the night sky. Their number is growing fast and it's gotten difficult to pick familiar constellations out of the chaos.
Last night as we watched, I said to Eva Maria, "One of the disappointments of my life has been that I never saw a meteor storm, with hundreds of meteors per second. Before the Twentieth Century, meteor storms triggered panics. People thought the world was ending. Once every 33 years the Leonids offer the chance of seeing one, but they don't always deliver. I tried and missed. But this makes up for it."
"I'm glad," she replied.
"I saw the green flash once, watching the sun set over the ocean in California."
We watched in silence for a few minutes, then heard "Hoo huhoo, hooo, hooo" coming from the woods.
"An owl," she said.
After a bit we heard it again, "Hoo huhoo, hooo, hooo."
"I like the owl better than the light show," I said. "You know, Eva Maria, I wish the night sky was as it used to be, without all the new satellites. I wish we were here with just the stars, the forest and the owl."
"Do you really?" she asked.
"Do you want me to tell Mystery Meat?"
"Well, he wouldn't bring down all his satellites for us. Or do you mean an illusion? I don't know."
"Maybe he can hide them from us without meddling with our brains. Do you want me to ask him?"
"Eva Maria, have you been communicating with him before?"
"Of course not. You should know that. But I can if you want me to."
"Sort of like wishing upon a star," I noted. "OK, ask him."
In the next second, all the moving, blinking lights disappeared. All we saw was familiar stars with Orion overhead. And the owl said, "Hoo huhoo, hooo, hooo."
"How the heck?" I blurted. "No," I corrected myself, "I'm not curious. But I would like to know if Meat did it in our heads. Do you see the satellites, love?"
We looked up in silence for a couple minutes, and then I said, "Let's walk down and see if they disappeared for Pierre and Wilhelmine Charlotte."
"They can no longer see the satellites either," she told me. "I let her know about our request to Mystery Meat, so she brought Pierre outside for a look."
"Of course," I replied. Meaning that there was no point in trying hide our role from Pierre, with Wilhelmine Charlotte in contact with Meat.
As we approached their cabin, Pierre called out, "Hey Bogus, I liked the light show."
"Sorry Pierre," I called back. "You'll have eternity to enjoy it, and Meat's other tricks. This is never-never land, our little make believe nature preserve. Now the night sky is preserved too."
"I thought you didn't want any illusions."
"The stars are real. This place is real. I only want things in my life that existed before the World Series."
At breakfast this morning Eva Maria said to me, "Laszlo and Megan are coming today."
"What's the occasion?" I asked.
"I don't know."
About 11 AM an ambulance arrived. A worker got out and spoke to me, "We've brought Laszlo and Megan, to stay with you and readjust."
"Readjust to what?" I inquired. "What's happened to them?"
"Their change has been undone," it answered. "They need to readjust to natural human life."
"Undone," I exclaimed. "Why?"
"I don't know." it answered.
The back door of the ambulance opened. Another Worker led Laszlo out. "Hey Bogus, great to see you," he yelled. Their dogs Max and Susie bounded out behind him, followed by Mr. Cat.
"Laszlo. What's happening? Are you and Megan all right?"
"I'm OK. Megan is a little shaky. Here, help me help her."
Megan was lying on a stretcher with Mrs. Cat nestled beside her. Laszlo leaned over her and said, "Can you stand up, sweetheart?"
Eva Maria was with us and said, "Megan's not talking. We can help her stand."
Laszlo held her arm and her back, while Eva Maria lifted her legs and swung them around so Megan was sitting on the stretcher. Then Eva Maria had Megan's other arm and the two of them slid her off and into a standing position. Gradually, with Laszlo on one arm and Eva Maria on the other, Megan walked out of the ambulance.
"Laszlo," I asked, "What's the matter with her?"
Eva Maria answered me, "She'll be fine. She just needs time to relearn herself."
"How can this be?" I protested. "Surely Mystery Meat must be able to restore her exactly as she was before her change."
"I'm not exactly as I was," Laszlo explained. "My time with Mr. Emeet is not really erased. But it's pretty hazy. I remember that it was wonderful."
"Their change grafted huge artificial brain matter onto their natural brains," Eva Maria explained. "Their natural brains still contain their old minds, but superimposed with some of their changed minds. Their natural brains have only the tiniest fraction of the necessary capacity to support their changed minds, but it will take time for the vestiges of their changed minds to fade. Living with us, their old friends, and living in natural surroundings here in the forest, will be the best therapy to help them regain their old minds."
"But," I said, "Why not just restore them as they were on October 31?"
Laszlo smiled and said, "I wouldn't want to completely forget my connection with Mr. Emeet."
"That's all right for you, Laszlo," I accused. "You're fine, but Megan can't even speak."
"First," he replied defensively, "I'm not as fine as I look. Second, she'll snap out of it. Just give her time. We have to trust Mr. Emeet. If we can't trust him, we're all screwed anyways."
By now we had Megan into the cabin and sitting in an old rocking chair. A Worker was moving our stuff from the bedroom we'd been using for storage and into the guest cabin, no doubt on Eva Maria's silent instructions.
"You're not fine?" I asked Laszlo.
"Don't ask me to juggle. Or recite the Gettysburg Address."
"You never knew the Gettysburg Address," I observed. "Why was your change undone?"
"I don't know."
"Hey," I asked, "want to learn to fish for brook trout?"
"Yeah," he answered, "I'll do that instead of juggling."
Eva Maria handed Megan a pad of paper and a pencil and asked, "Megan, can you write?"
Megan held them correctly, which was a good sign. Then she actually started writing. But instead of words, she drew a square.
Laszlo gave her a kiss and exclaimed, "Wonderful, Megan."
Megan drew a triangle inside the square.
"Maybe she's like our old friend Howard, Laszlo," I said. "Remember him? If any part of his brain was working, he'd be drawing."
"Funny thing, I do remember him. What did his mom call that cake she made?"
I couldn't remember either and shook my head.
Megan was busy drawing. All geometric shapes. She seemed really intent.
"Art therapy," Laszlo said. "Good idea, Eva Maria, giving her the pad and pencil. Thanks."
"We all want her back," she replied.
Laszlo and I have started the spring fishing season, when we're not sitting with Megan. Eva Maria has been with her constantly. It's been tough to get Megan to eat or sleep or do anything other than draw. Her geometric images are getting very elaborate. They ought to be in a gallery. I'd buy one, if the main room wasn't already filling up with them.
If Laszlo isn't fine, he's been giving a pretty good imitation. He's filled with strong positive emotions about his time changed, but he can't remember many details. I asked him about Anilla's ideas and he gave me a blank look. Which was pretty much what I'd expect from my old friend Laszlo.
This morning Laszlo and I were at the creek fishing when we heard a piercing scream. "Megan," Laszlo exclaimed and darted toward the cabin. I followed.
We found Megan weeping in the rocking chair, Eva Maria comforting her, and the pad thrown onto the floor. When Laszlo saw the drawing on the pad, a look of horror came to his face and he turned away. It was an incredibly ornate geometric pattern, beautiful in a way.
"Megan," Laszlo said as he put his arms around her.
"Laszlo," she answered. "Laszlo."
"You can talk," he said excitedly.
"Can we go outside?" Megan asked Laszlo.
I noticed that Eva Maria had removed the drawing from the pad and crumpled it up. After Megan and Laszlo left, she put it in the fireplace and it burst into flames. As it burned she said, "This has to be destroyed."
"What was it?" I asked.
"I don't know. Mystery Meat ordered me to destroy it."
"How did he know about it? Is he observing us?"
"I think my fear from Megan's scream triggered it. Remember when Pierre said that Wilhelmine Charlotte's fear would trigger Mystery Meat's attention? Must be the same for me."
When Megan and Laszlo returned, they gathered all Megan's drawings into a pile and Laszlo asked, "Bogus, can you put these in your files?"
"Sure," I answered.
Megan asked, "What happened to my last drawing?"
Eva Maria replied, "Mystery Meat ordered me to burn it."
"What did it mean?" I inquired.
"I was just drawing what I felt. Each drawing seemed better, but I can't put it into words. I suppose I could draw more like them again, but I don't want to."
"Laszlo," I asked, "do you know what her last drawing meant? You certainly reacted to it."
"It scared me, made me sick. But I don't know why. It was just an emotion."
"Does it have anything to do with the reason your change was reversed?"
"I have no clue."
"I think I was drawing," Megan explained, "to try to say something that I couldn't say in words. Those drawings were like learning to talk. But now that's over. The last drawing was like aversion therapy. I don't want to learn that way of speaking. This place, with the woods and the stream, is beautiful. I just want to live here."
My resolve to quit being curious about Mystery Meat's activities has been sorely tested by the return of Laszlo and Megan with their changes reversed, and by Megan's drawings. I would dearly love to know what it all means. But I'm not curious enough to change my mind about being changed. So I've got to forget it all and simply be happy to have my old friends back. As Megan said, this place is beautiful so let's just live here.
Tax day, but I didn't consider filing a return this year. Does the U.S. government even exist anymore? But that question comes under the heading of curiosity about Meat's activities, so don't ask.
This is also the day that Pierre and Wilhelmine Charlotte are leaving this refuge to go join the rest of humanity in super-intelligence. Eva Maria and I walked down to their place yesterday for a very low key goodbye. There's not much any of us can say that isn't trite. Laszlo and Megan will be moving into their cabin after they leave. Perhaps the cabins in the trout club will fill up with people whose change has been undone and people like me who refuse to change.
Our little refuge will become an elite private club for the stupidest people in the world. The idea has a certain charm.