During the War, I moved back up to what was formerly known as Upstate New York— to my parent’s house in a small academic community. It was Thanksgiving, and for the first time in a decade I was home for the holidays. My parents didn’t question my homecoming, they were simply relieved I was away from New York. I lived in the attic where I contented myself with tending a greenhouse. That particular Thanksgiving was snowy white and wintry. The War seemed remote, but it never really was, we were surrounded.
In the midst of our Thanksgiving Dinner the bell rang. We froze. My younger brother got up. He had become the elected “welcome” official in these times, as he was a newly ordained Jesuit priest. No one would dare lay a finger on him. He came back to the dining room,
“It’s for you, a friend of yours from New York,”
I went to the living room and there was Petard. I hadn’t seen him in a year.
“What are you doing here?”
“May I sit? I’ve been trudging in the snow for two hours, no cabs or buses coming out here anymore”.
My father peered in,
“Is everything alright?”
“It’s fine Dad, just an old acquaintance,”
“Then don’t be rude, invite our guest to the table—”
“Thank you Professor, I am Lucien Petard,” he shook hands with my father. I glared at him.
“Don’t be rude, take his coat. Please feel at home Mr. Petard,”
“Please call me Lucien,”
Please tell me this isn’t happening. I’ll be damned if I let him bring the War in our midst.
“So what brings you to these parts, Petard?”
Petard shifted uncomfortably, despite my father’s warmth, I was determined to be icy,
“The War is going very badly for us. I was sent here by the Resistance, we’re hoping your daughter can help us.”
My mother slammed a platter on the table,
“What War! It’s ridiculous, there is no War, just rumors of it!”
Upset she banged her way into the kitchen, my teenage brothers otherwise known as “the monsters” thought it was funny,
“Mommy doesn’t believe in the War. It’s against her delusions—”
It wasn’t funny at all: bad enough that my parents were already in exile from their homeland. The War was another complication my mother couldn’t deal with. And she was right: the War was a delicate matter, it manifested first as a psychological state, one caused by a virus— or a rumor.
“Get over yourself Sis—”
“I don’t think you realize the extremity of our situation—”
My father stepped in,
“Enough bickering.” He addressed Petard, “What sort of help are you asking for?”
My vocation had always been a source of bafflement to my parents: it eluded most academic and professional canons they recognized. At some point, long ago, they had resigned themselves to my strangeness.
My mother came back to the table, she was concerned:
“Are you asking her to return to New York?”
“No one needs to go anywhere, we just need her expertise—” he turned to me “I brought you a message from Paul.”
My mother frowned,
“I thought you said Paul was dead”
The monsters giggled, I was ready to gag them:
“Maybe she was speaking metaphorically,”
“He’s in prison” I explained
“What she means to say” Petard interjected nervously, “is that he is detained by the Security Forces”
“He’s good as dead then” offered my brother the Jesuit.
“So what does he want?” I asked,
“The message is in that package”
He went to the living room and picked up the gift-wrapped parcel he’d brought with him. He opened it up, in it was a splendid two foot long, green-gold Iguana. The excellent creature immediately scrambled out of the box and up my shoulders and whispered something in my ear. My mother hates reptiles,
“For the love of everything holy, get it away from the table! I don’t want that thing in my house!”
“I’m sorry ma’am. It’s our only means at the present,”
“A new breed of carrier pigeons” affirmed the Jesuit.
“It’s alright Mom, I’ll take him up to the greenhouse”
I took him upstairs.
When I came back down, they were having coffee in the living room. The missing brother had arrived, everyone’s favorite. He did something they all admired, cancer research. He was technically a geneticist. They were talking about the War— even though that was usually an off-limits topic in this house. The monsters had the good sense to stave off the conversation, they entertained themselves at the piano. My brother the Jesuit was speaking:
“—interesting because not only are the origins of the War phantasmic, but also everything plays out on this level. My advisor a few years ago was a very well know art theorist. He picked up this trend at the moment of its inception; unfortunately he was going through a nervous breakdown at the time. Everyone thought he was crazy—”
“Wasn’t he? I think he was paranoid, he thought the moths in his apartment were a surveillance crew”
“Mom, come on” I said “If he was Nigerian you’d have accepted it as valid from him—”
“But he wasn’t, he’s American, Western. No finesse. When it happens here, they trash it. Such a crude approach to the irrational—”
“But can’t you see, for someone schooled in these traditions to come these conclusions— something subtle is taking place in the heart of the culture. It’s back to Ovid, transformation, it’s altering the crux of Western civilization—”
“Well his theory,” my brother continued, “was that at the time there was a strong military presence in Hollywood film and on TV— not just in the news but in sit-coms and serials—”
“Well it still sounds like Parisian theory from the eighties,” my father had little patience for this line of inquiry “Who was that French joker who idiotically said the Persian Gulf War was not going to be fought, because it already occurred on TV—”
“This is not quite the same. His take was that these images were matrices: they generated not only the general atmosphere of a state of emergency, but also the need for it. It created a desire—”
Petard, of course, was inclined to add his own two cents—
“We have to accept the War for what it is— it’s not just a state of mind, the Resistance will never go forward if —”
He became barely audible, the monsters were busy vandalizing the concept of music. For reasons best known to themselves, they were squealing loudly and chomping hard on the keys.
The geneticist spoke:
“Forgive the noise, Mr. Petard. Those two are the result of parental guilt: our father was unreasonably harsh with the first three children. In his old age he’s relaxed the paternal grip to the extent that the younger ones are impossible to present in civilized society—”
Hostilities about to commence, I intervened—
“It’s fine actually, I thought we agreed there would be no ideological discussions.”
“She’s right. I’m sorry you had to witness this Petard, but as you see this family has come to a stage where we must be polite or else risk trespass—”
“I think Petard was briefed before he showed up here.Weren’t you?”
We were more or less shouting over the din of the piano,
“Yes. Yes I have a little background information—”
“Really like what? My father, the sociologist who is incredulous of —my mother the eschatologist—who in turn is morally opposed to the Catholic Church, but yet we have a Jesuit in the house— whom I adore as my brother, but don’t trust because of his links with the Vatican. He in turn is curious about me, he thinks I’m involved in the Resistance, just doesn’t know how, exactly—”
“You are paranoid.”
“Please don’t interrupt me. Or those two over there squealing like two little pigs. Not your average teenagers, in fact, these days average teenagers turn in their parents. These ones? We don’t know. What’s their motivation, really? Always tinkering with little mechanisms—”
“What’s the problem? No one ever asks you what you’re doing in that so-called greenhouse”
“That’s enough!” My mother had had it, “What is wrong with you children?”
“Lupus est homo homini,” chuckled the geneticist.
“Come Petard, if we need to talk the time is now. We’ll use the back porch.”
“Will he be staying the night?” My mother asked,
I said “No.”
He said “Yes”
But we answered at the same time. And in spite of the War and in spite of ourselves, the family still had old school notions about hospitality.
“So what did he tell you?”
Petard repeated his question,
“What did the Iguana say?”
We sat on the swings in the backyard. It was dark and snowy for miles around, there were very few houses in sight. The nearest neighbors who were at least 500 yards away, I could see them still seated at the dinner table. Is there such a thing as a normal family? I wondered. What was Petard asking?
“Did the Iguana say anything to me?”
“Are you crazy?”
He was baffled. He had to be out of his mind, no expert in my field would practice in front outsiders or novices. Information retrieval is a very personal and private process,
“I was under the impression that you had the technical know-how to extract information from animals. I was also made to believe that reptiles are your specialty—”
“Petard, yes, I do communicate with reptiles, but it’s a more complex process— I’m not like some shamaness or Dr. Dolittle who just walks and talks with the animals—”
“OK, so what kind of time are we talking about here? I have to be back in Manhattan by nightfall tomorrow.”
“This is the thing: communicating with reptiles means that you’re accessing the reptilian part of your brain, this is the interface, right,”
“Sometimes I can slip into that easily, however at the moment, I’m very wound up— being around my family and all. What I’m saying is that I’m not the experienced reptociliator that you guys have glorified me as—”
“Can you do this or not? What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I need a buffer,”
“Ketamine usually does the trick. I can do a ‘CU-CMe’. I and the Iguana ingest an amount of Ketamine, and that immediately gives me access to the reptile group mind”
“Apparently that’s where the database is”
“Do you have Ketamine?”
“We have to wait till tomorrow. Pet clinic. It’ll take at least two hours.”
“We need it sooner.”
“Well , I don’t know— do you have suggestions”
“We need to get to the pet clinic. How about a pharmacy?”
“Do you know anything about Ketamine at all?”
“I know that we need it right now,”
“Anyway, I didn’t even hear the word ‘please’ in all this. What makes you think you can just barge in on me and my family and expect me to do you a favor? And then start ordering me around?”
“I’m not asking for your help. I’m ordering it. You’re familiar with the stakes.”
“Don’t presume too much Petard. I assure you, certain members of this household are just as dangerous as you are. Perhaps more so.”
“I was briefed. And I am prepared. I don’t see the need to threaten you anyway, after all we are on the same side, aren’t we?”
“And which side would that be?”
“Where is the nearest pet clinic?”
“We should wait till tomorrow, there is no need to jeopardize things at this point. It won’t take more than two hours, the whole process, I promise you.”
“Very well, tomorrow morning then.”
“So we’re agreed. Now if you’ll excuse me—”
“One question, aren’t you in the least curious about Paul?”
But I lied. I was dying to know. I had lied about the Iguana too. At the table when he had scampered up my arm, he whispered in my ear, he said:
“I am Bellepheron Draco. At your service.”
My habit was to nap before midnight and then on the stroke of three a.m. rise and get to work in the greenhouse. In the day I had sun filters and glow lamps, but for nighttime I had improvised phosphorous-like lunar sticks. This was for the nocturnal plants and also certain genus of seaweed, which I had upgraded to grow on land. Most of these plants had nothing to do with photosynthesis, they fed off of gravity and darkness. The greenhouse was lit by the crystalline winter stars. I sat for a minute in the darkness adjusting: it was always incredibly warm and humid, and there was the hypnotic scent of datura and nightshade. The Iguana scampered over very quickly to my ear he said:
“Careful. We are not alone.”
Petard stepped out from behind the miniature waterfall.
“How did you get in?”
“It doesn’t matter. Paul said you might try to give me the runaround. I came prepared—”
He was holding a small pistol.
“Are you going to use that?”
“Not unless I have to. You will cooperate, yes?”
“I thought we agreed that we’d do it in the morning.”
“There’s no time. Also there was no guarantee that you wouldn’t access the information beforehand”
“What good would that do me? Besides, like I told you, I have no Ketamine.”
“Like I said, I came prepared. I have the Ketamine you need: I was told to feel you out first, see how responsive you were—”
“Obviously not responsive enough for your needs—”
He had the pistol in one hand, two syringes appeared in the other. The smaller dosage was for the Iguana.
Bellepheron Draco spoke in my ear:
“Obviously you don’t need Ketamine to access your reptilian mind, but I’m going to ask you to take it. I’m going to show you something new. You need the Ketamine to get there the first time—”
Petard handcuffed me to the iron railing covered in vines, and then for no good reason, blindfolded me. There was a knock on the door,
“Who is it?”
“It’s just me, is everything alright? I heard you talking to someone,”
“It’s just me and Petard, Dad. We’re talking business.”
“Very well. Be sure to get some rest.”
“Good for you.”
“You don’t intend to harm anyone in my family, do you?”
“Don’t be naive, there’s a War going on. Just because you decide to runaway and lead this nice cushy existence: don’t think I can’t bring the War in here”
“It’s already is here. We’re just more civil than most.”
“That’s right homos lupus homini est—”
“I think you got that backwards,”
He plunged a needle into me.
The dosage of Ketamine was near lethal. I immediately reeled out of human consciousness faster than light. My whole genetic code flashed in front of me instantly. Too, too fast. I would have crashed, had not Bellepheron Draco steadied me:
Calmness, he said, be calm. I brought a guest. Someone’s very eager to see you
Hey, I know that voice
That’s right, you do.
It was Paul
Long time no see
Are you dead, did they kill you?
It’s complicated. I split consciousness—
What does that mean? Is it possible?
I’ll try to explain, but we don’t have much time—
I had the impression that my heartbeat was too slow, I heard Petard:
“Are you trying to kill me? My heart is beating really slowly, I need a couple of minutes to regulate—”
“I have something for that—”
“No. No more drugs Petard. I’m warning you if anything happens to me, I swear, you will never get out of this house alive.”
“OK, but step on it. I’m timing you.”
Back in K-land everything began to adjust, pulling into mental focus, and there was Paul/Bellepheron Draco in a maze of green-gold splendor:
—Listen, in prison I learnt distancing techniques because of the torture sessions. Afterwards they tried to brainwash me, I allowed them to succeed partially,
—I had to, the part of me in prison is a collaborator with the Security Forces. I’m a double agent. They made me contact the Resistance. That’s how I downloaded this mindset into Bellepheron Draco,
—And which mindset is this?
—The part of me that’s on your side,
—And which side would that be?
—I believe we’re both fighting for the Evolution, right?
— Good. I’m glad to see you Paul
“How’re we doing over here”
“Petard, do you know exactly what you want, do you have specific instructions?”
“Paul said you are very familiar with this region of the Reptile Collective. It appears as a symbol—”
“An Egyptian ankh?”
“Yes. Very good. If you begin to scan that database, you will find my name. Pull up Petard and download.”
“Am I downloading directly to you, or into my own consciousness?”
He seemed confused by this question. He had no experience with these things
“Well, into yours of course”
“Then how do you know if I’m withholding information from you”
“No games okay,”
He was nervous, I could hear it in his voice,
— don’t aggravate him,
—I couldn’t help it. I’ve never liked him anyway,
—Good. Then you’ll have no qualms at what we’re about to do. Look over here.
We were on the threshold of the Reptilian Mind Collective. Here was the universal link between all reptiles, birds, marine life and human beings (and there are also other entities that had emerged from this basic matrix, but that’s a more complicated issue). From this Collective, any earthbound consciousness could be accessed. It had taken me years of practice to be lucid and centered in this realm, it is a vast universe. There was always the sweet dangerous incentive to lay down and die. Scaly diamond reptilian pattern grids whirred past us in endless cascades. The trick was to slow down the whirring until they became basic DNA patterns, and then these you had to convert in your conscious mind to something similar to a bar code. This is what you scanned. The varieties were legion, it took a disciplined homing instinct to locate the patterning that was relevant to you. The other skill required was a vast symbolic interface, which was necessary for interpretation. You could download information here, or upload it— depending on your needs.
— Something I want to show you
We had pulled up a file labeled Petard.
I did. It was Petard’s genetic code
—It’s Petard’s code
—Right. Can you locate his karmalogue?
—This why I wanted you to be on K. This is new for us. Do a flash scan on his ancestries
— Do it again
— Do it again twice this time, and twice as fast.
I did. There was a burning afterimage. I pulled it into sharp focus. This was the karmalogue.
— I see it.
—Beautiful. Now you need to interface that image. Convert it to a symbol.
It became an ankh-like dragonfly.
— Good. Now convert it into a word, a name,
The name rose effortlessly. Vowels first, bouncing in place, then consonants to frame it. I laughed, every creature has a mystical name, a divine assignation. This was the secret name, the true name of Petard.
— You know what this is for?
— It’s brilliant.
In antiquity to know someone’s true name was to have power over them. No one ever gave up that secret, to dispense with that information was to die. With time the secret name became a secret, even to the owners of the names themselves. Centuries later, as a rule of thumb, it was forgotten.
— What now?
“What’s going on?”
“One moment Petard. I have it. I am scanning”
— On the count of three, I want you to use Petard’s name on him,
— But Paul, he has me handcuffed and blindfolded
—Irrelevant. Trust me on this one.
“What do you have?”
I smiled. Then I uttered his true name. It was unexpected: I heard him slump, suddenly I saw myself hovering over the grid of his consciousness. It was like a beehive, swarming, I felt nauseous. I started to swoon. Something, something was strange about this
— Paul, he has some kind of defense mechanism
— we all do. How does it appear exactly?
— Can we take a break? I’m not feeling well
— No! Not at this point. I think you may have hit ancestral guardians, or even an avatar
— Whatever this is… I don’t like it,
— How does it appear?
I couldn’t really say, the impressions were too heavy and suffocating
— How does it appear? you must give a shape to it,
— It’s a giant black and indigo
— indigo what?
— Jesus, it’s a giant bumblebee!
—You know what, I’m going to slide into your mind with you
It was a very smooth glide, I felt a little giddy with joy. It had been such a long time
— I know this isn’t the time or the place, but I’ve missed you Paul…
— I missed you too.
— You know I don’t think this is a personal Guardian, it seems more like a collective thing
— Taboo. Transgression, that’s what I’m picking up. Watch out!
Next thing I knew we were fleeing. I immediately understood, we had violated some archetypal edict by invoking Petard’s name and then using it on him. We found ourselves in a vortex, violent spastic streams of code fizzing past us and a great black K-hole straight ahead, Blak Indigo the Bumblebee, hot on our trail,
— we have to stop, we’ll be swallowed stop.
— we can’t stop
— quiet, I have an inkling
Something was beckoning to me, as we slowed down the inkling got stronger
—can you perceive that?
A symbol appeared— a coat of arms perhaps? It seemed extremely familiar, but I had never seen it before
— It’s a door, open it
quickly we entered, the Blak Indigo charging past us in a stream of indigo rage, into the recesses of the vortex,
— that was close
— I know. What is this place? It feels familiar
We were floating in some kind of bubble, outside us niagaral cascades of code streamed like a million cataracts,
— It feels familiar to you because it’s from your family, I recognize parts of the code, there are too many strong similarities to yours—
— It’s my mom
— It is! What’s your mom doing in here?
I guess she was doing what she liked to do best, protect and maintain her family.
— Beats me. My family’s just like this,
— Is she conscious of being here, do you know?
— I don’t know, she never answers questions about this stuff , she’s secretive. Doesn’t like anything “sci-fi”
—she’s into some kind of spirituality?
— that she is. She has dreams. This bubble is dispensing, we should turn back.
We found our way back to Petard’s Consciousness Grid. We converted it from the swarming hive to a bright room: modeled after the interior of a Rubik cube. We began to work, uninterrupted. Paul pulled up two screens, the room became a chromascale of fluorescent tiles—
— I’ve made this simple enough, this is my code, the other one is Petard’s. I’ve converted each DNA strand into a grid of brightly colored squares. Primary colors— so there’s no confusion. What you have to do is make this wall look exactly like that wall,
— Am I doing this alone?
— I have descend to his reptile grid, and I have to be unconscious
— Is this really going to work?
— We’ll see
He left. I was alone with no idea how much time it would take in real time. It became an arduous task, each time I correctly keyed one strand, the index would present twenty-three more exactly like it—and then one that had an individual touch. If I missed, the index collapsed the prior structures. I would have to start from scratch. This happened several times. Then there were edit processes at certain stages before I could rise to another level of strands. And then a mix down. Endless, I felt like Psyche, trapped in an impossible task, ready to abandon hopes of ever seeing her loved one again.
Suddenly it was over.
I became aware that someone else was in the greenhouse,
“Is there a reason why you’re blindfolded and handcuffed? Did I walk in on something kinky?”
It was my brother the Jesuit,
“What are you doing in here?”
“I should ask you the same question. Did you know Petard is lying on the floor?”
“It’s not Petard, it’s Paul,”
“Never mind, take this blindfold off”
Blindfold came off. Darkness adjusting to darkness.
“Check his pockets for keys—”
Handcuffs come off. Much better
“Is he alright?”
“I don’t know, we’ll see. Why are you in my greenhouse?”
“Correction please, it’s not your greenhouse, the last time I checked the attic belonged to everyone. Anyway Dad was a bit concerned, he heard you and Petard, so he sent the monsters to scope it out. They said Petard had a gun. So I came up,”
Truth be told, there was no privacy in this household.
“How long have you been here?”
Of course he wasn’t going to tell me what he saw or what he knew. He was a Jesuit.
“What’s going on with Petard?”
The body on the floor was in seizure. I knelt down beside it, I wasn’t sure what to do. I discerned the features between spasms, at this point they were neither Paul’s nor Petard’s. Would this really work? In the past, we had debated the possibilities of this in theory, to my knowledge, no one had ever tried it. Bellepheron Draco appeared on my shoulder:
“Don’t worry about it, the body is just adjusting to the new DNA matrix. Get some sleep and it’ll be Paul in the morning,”
“Does he need help?” my brother asked
“He’ll be fine. So are you hanging around or what?”
“I love your sense of gratitude. What’s going on with you and the Iguana anyway?”
“You know, it’s really funny, I was under the impression that you entered the Priesthood to get away from family life. But ever since you’ve been back, you’ve had your nose in everybody’s business—”
“It’s merely concern for the state of your soul,”
There was a knock on the door. It was my father,
“Are you kids still up?”
“We’re going to bed any minute now”
“Good. Everything alright?”
“Yes” the Jesuit replied.
Paul and I slept all day. We came down for dinner. The geneticist looked up a bit strangely at Paul and then went back to his reading. The Jesuit was impassive, and the monsters were preoccupied with a jar of buzzing bumblebees. They were black and indigo. My father looked into the dining room:
“I trust all is well—”
“We’re fine Professor, thank you.”
“I’m glad to hear it. It’s amazing how you young people operate on no sleep”. He went back into his study.
“Is he staying for dinner?” My mother asked
“Actually, Paul is planning to be here with me for a while—”
It was fine with my mom, anything that would keep me from leaving for New York was absolutely fine with her. She only had one problem:
“And the reptile, is he staying too?”
“I think Bellepheron Draco will make a welcome addition to this household” said the geneticist.
Paul and I looked at each other in amazement.
“What,” said the Jesuit “You guys think you’re the only ones who can talk to reptiles?”
Those days during the War were trying times: but I think we were happier than most people. Even though this happiness rested on a precarious balance of discretion and civility, my family was relatively happy. Happier than we had ever been.
©1996,2013 onome ekeh