Monday, September 21, 2009

On the Second Floor, Chapter IX

Day Seven

At the back of my apartment was a small network of pipes and wires, hastily yet competently assembled by the ones who brought me to this place. They were interstellar scientists, "naturalists," you might almost call them, experts in whatever they called the abduction of sleeping Earthlings. They knew enough about enough to know how things work, to perceive what it took to keep a human's home running well, to keep its occupant "comfortable." And the proof was not to be ignored, for I had suffered no electrical outages; my water flowed just as it was supposed to, and it was heated to just the right temperature, by whatever crazy alien gas they employed.

And judging by the lack of horrifying issues with my toilet, I presumed that one of those pipes also carried my sewage away. I wasn't especially interested in finding out which one.

Standing there, hearing the low whir of what sounded like a generator, I had to marvel at the efficiency of the work, and the commitment of the workers, who clearly didn't do it out of kindness. And I felt reasonably sure that if they were going to install the washing machine today, as Dayus promised, then they would install it there.

The sun couldn't burn me, but I wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, because I hadn't in a while and because I could, and at high noon such hats are perfectly reasonable things to wear. The pipes made a muffled rushing sound, and I whistled in approval. Keep on rushin', I thought, resuming my circuit of the building.

On the other side, the tower was still there, just as always, a mere fifteen or twenty yards from the front porch. It was familiar now, but it still seemed to resist becoming mundane, as the trees and even the funky fake sky had long since done. The tower - the elevator - the tower was the key. It could never be mundane. It was the end, the opposite, the absolute antithesis of mundane, the pearly ride to outer space, and the center of my latest plan.

I stopped walking outside my bedroom window and saw a spider web, and in a moment I recognized its significance. Here I'd been moaning about being alone, being cut off from all of God's creatures, when all along I'd been accompanied by at least one tiny, hideously eight-legged representative of the animal kingdom. And come to think of it, who knew how many other creepy-crawlers had hitched the same sort of ride! Just imagine what was living in my walls!

Imagine indeed, I thought, shuddering at the notion. If I ever saw one, I might have to call Dayus for a quick extermination job.

For as long as I'd lived in that apartment, the bedroom window had been stuck shut, impossible to open from the inside; and since it was on the second floor, it was impossible to access from the outside. I had never thought about it very much, because it was only ever a problem on hot, sticky, summer afternoons. But now there was no problem. Silently apologizing to my landlord, I grabbed the mesh screen and tore it off with a jerk, then leaned it gently against the wall.

I found the owner of the cobweb huddled in the corner of the windowsill, a small, grey, nondescript spider of the utterly harmless variety. I wondered if he had enough food, and fearing a massive infestation, I quietly hoped that he didn't. But he looked healthy, as arachnids go, so I assumed he was doing alright.

"Little guy," I said, "I'm naming you 'Toto.' I do not care to explain why." With that I returned to the task at hand, tugging on the sliding glass pane. I pulled as hard as I could but it wouldn't budge, until I braced myself against the perpendicular wall, and it slid aside. "This'll make things easier," I said.

I spent the next hour and a half just on the other side of the window, reading comic books and eating tortilla chips in my computer chair, biding my time. It didn't matter when Dayus showed up next, but as soon as he did, I intended to force the issue of my captivity, and seize a little respect. I only needed the tower to come down.

And then, down it came. I could never be sure just how tall it was, but I knew the process took a few minutes, so I didn't bother looking up right away. As a matter off act, I had just enough time to finish an old Spider-man issue as the rim of the platform, and its occupants, came into view. I put the comic down and assessed the situation.

There were three of them; Dayus and two others, probably the ones from the beginning. With them was a small, cubic machine, about the size of an old television set. One of the assistants pushed the box on some sort of futuristic dolly. The three continued conversing for a short time after the platform touched ground, but I couldn't hear them. Just as well, I thought, it doesn't really matter what they have to say now.

The two assistants took the machine toward the back, while Dayus himself proceeded to the front door. This wasn't optimal; I had hoped he would install the machine personally. However, it didn't make a difference. I cleared the desk beneath the window of clutter, climbed on top, and waited.

I heard him knock from the other room, but I didn't answer, knowing he was perfectly capable of letting himself in. I waited, hoping the other two would not be too quick in putting the new contraption together. Peering outside, I saw that the spider web was blocking the upper space of the open window; I reached out with my hand, and broke it. "Sorry, Toto," I whispered, "I'd rather not get this in my face."

Dayus rang the doorbell. The doorbell, for God's sake; when did he learn manners? I rolled my eyes, and then at last I heard him open the door. Tense, I waited to hear it close again, and then I sprang - out the window, down to the grass, and then running, as fast as I could manage, to the platform.

If I could just stand on it, I thought, I could make him take me up. I could force the issue; if they tried to make me move, I could defend myself with my pocket knife. But I had to reach the platform, to do it before they could stop me, or there would be no advantage. I had to run, I had to dive, so I leapt, and I dove - and bashed my shoulder against the force field, which of course had been there all along.

I failed. For a minute I lay on the grass clutching the point of impact, but it seemed that not even the security measures were designed to be harmful. As far as I could tell, the damage barely counted as a bruise. Dayus was soon there, looking down at me as though expecting an explanation. I was angry and frustrated, and for a moment my thoughts turned toward the knife, to make my stand there, but I knew that would be a mistake. The situation could be salvaged with the right attitude.

I stood up, rubbing the sore spot gently, and put on my best wry smirk: "Well, it was worth a shot."

He smiled back. "You really must stop underestimating me, Jonah."

"I won't in the future." I implied the threat, but I half-hoped he wouldn't understand it; further attempts would be easier if he expected less. Of course, further attempts would require further plans, and those had yet to be made.

We went back inside. "My assistants are installing the machine you requested now."

"Oh, that's good. I thought that's what that box was."

"You need only place your clothing inside. The computer will then provide further voice instructions."

"Peachy," I said, as I opened the cupboard where the tea was kept. "Want a drink?"

That afternoon I taught Dr. Dayus the game of chess. I kept an old board on my bookshelf, one that I'd received from my father years earlier. It hadn't gotten much use recently, but I kept it around for just such an emergency as they say. I desperately wanted him to forget the escape attempt, and concentrate on something else, something pertaining to Earth's culture; that's why he was there, right?

Dayus picked up the game quickly, though he made the typical beginner's mistakes. He needlessly sacrificed his pawns, exposing his more powerful pieces and putting them in untenable positions. It was funny, because with his dignified robe and enormous, gnarled head, I could easily imagine him as a legendary grandmaster. For that reason alone, I derived a great deal of satisfaction from beating him, unfair as it was.

I taught him the history of chess, about its origins in India and Persia; how its modern rules and terminology took form in the west, and how it came to symbolize a certain kind of intellectual sophistication. I called it "the Game of Kings," though I was fairly sure that title belonged to polo. But I didn't know polo and we didn't have horses, so chess would have to suffice.

Halfway through our tenth game, I mentioned what I'd seen in the window. "There's a spider on the outside of this building. I guess you guys picked up more than you expected too when you...grabbed me." He said nothing, and I realized that he might not understand the term. "A spider is a tiny animal that makes silk webs, and preys on other tiny creatures."

"I see," he said, guarding his King with a Knight. "Is that a problem for you?"

"No, no. Actually, it was nice to see something from home out there. I named it 'Toto.'"


"Oh, no reason."

"I see." The game was not going well for him. That was to be expected, but I imagined that he, as a scientist, lacked the "military" mindset needed to play aggressively and effectively. Even if I was wrong, at least I could enjoy my advantage for a while longer.

"There are probably other small creatures from Earth in the vicinity," he continued. "Some may even have found their way into the forest."

"Well that would be interesting," I replied. "Maybe you'll have some unintended colonies out there."

"Our usual procedure is to sterilize the chamber with radiation when our experiments are concluded."

"Oh," I said. "Well, that may not be enough. Earth bugs can be pretty tough."

"How 'tough?'"

"They say a cockroach can survive an atomic blast."

"I regard this information with some skepticism."

"Well, I don't know if it's true or not. But all the same, it might be worth your time to study them, too. You know, when you're done with me."

"Yes, perhaps." The lack of interest was palpable.

"Preferably before you blast them with radiation," I added, finishing the game with a rather elegant checkmate. I don't know if he saw it coming or not, but he sure as hell couldn't stop it.

"I think I shall be leaving now," he said, rising from the table. "In the meantime, let me know if these 'spiders' become a problem."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," I said, though I now half expected to find tarantulas under the floorboards. What a planet!

As the elevator bore Dayus away, I flopped on the couch, reflecting on my failure. "I guess I'll go do laundry now."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Labor Day

Today is Labor Day. Actually, yesterday was Labor Day. But yesterday was also the normal deadline for this blog, and blogging twice on Labor Day would seem to defeat the purpose.

In any event, Labor Day is one of the more interesting holidays. On the one hand, it is celebrated in much the same manner as every other summer -oriented holiday; with barbecues and car sales. Much as Memorial Day, in defiance of the tyranny of the solstice, is defined as the beginning of the summer season, Labor Day marks the season's end; so if someone wants to explain why it's still hot as hell outside, please do. Furthermore, Labor Day lets us know that it is no longer acceptable to wear white. I assume this matters to someone.

But like Christmas, Labor Day's public celebration and traditions obscure its true meaning; and also like Christmas, that meaning is evident in the name itself. It's Labor Day, a day for celebrating the dignity and power of workers, dating back to its adoption in the nineteenth century, amidst a wave of strikes and riots by upstart labor unions against monolithic corporate powers. The true meaning of Labor Day is good old American Leftism.

Apart from Martin Luther King Jr Day, we don't have any other federal holidays that explicitly support an avowedly liberal or leftist person or agenda. Memorial Day and Veteran's Day are explicitly about the military (the conservative movement's favorite government program), Washington's Birthday is devoid of almost any political character, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are soaked in (inevitably conservative) nostalgic goo. This isn't entirely surprising, given the nation's comparatively conservative character, and especially the bizarre flavor of patriotic display (Columbus Day, I'm looking at you).

The left is ascendant in American politics today (assuming they don't screw it up again), so I think special attention should be paid to liberal holidays like Labor Day. Maybe we could knock Columbus off his ill-gotten perch and give his spot on the calendar to someone like, say, FDR. We could call it Roosevelt Day, so that Republicans could close their eyes and pretend it's about Teddy. Because at the end of the day, the politics of a holiday have absolutely no effect on its suitability for grilling beef outdoors.

Happy Socialism Day, America.

Monday, September 7, 2009

On the Second Floor, Chapter VIII

Day Six

"This is new behavior."

Dayus found me that morning, floating on my back down the babbling brook. I'd heard him coming, of course, but I was sure he knew where to find me, so I made no effort to find him, and refused to let him interrupt my lazy reverie.

"Don't read too much into it," I said, slowly spinning around in the current. It was more than just pretty scenery. With a little imagination and initiative, I could occupy myself with it for hours, as I had already managed to do that day. I climbed trees, I jogged through the field; I even built little sand castles in the soft mud by the banks. Now I was cooling off, relaxing, floating in the water, "getting back to nature" in a snow globe.

"By the way, the sun here isn't going to burn my skin, is it?"

"Unless we have over-estimated your resilience, nothing in this environment should pose a any danger to your body."

"That's good. Very good. I don't have any sun screen."

"This activity is purely recreational, then?" I closed my eyes at his question, amused by its ridiculous nature, and promptly drifted into a sand bar. I used my hand to push myself back to the middle of the stream, gently resuming my place in the flow.

"I guess so. I suppose you could also say it's hygienic, but I don't have to leave my apartment to get clean."

"No other purpose?"

"Nothing springs to mind."

"I wonder at its recreational appeal." What an odd way of putting it, I thought.

"Well, it's quite relaxing. I don't have to do very much, but I get to move through the water anyway; looking at the trees, and rocks and stuff. It feels good on my skin. And even if I stop moving, the water keeps flowing, so it feels like I'm still moving." The sound of wildlife might have improved the experience, completed the illusion, but I was feeling generous so I didn't bother to mention it. All things considered (how familiar these words had become in my mind), the world that Dayus built was good: sterile, but clean, beautiful in an idealized and classical sort of way.

Dayus was silent for a while, walking slowly along the bank, keeping pace with me (it wasn't hard). I watched his bizarre profile from the corner of half-opened eyes. I wondered if the setting more resembled my world or his; if he ever walked alongside the rivers of his home, or even swam in them.

And then he spoke: "Jonah, as you are probably aware, this place has finite boundaries. In a few minutes, you're going to bump into a wall."

Sigh. "I guess it's time to get out then." Dragging my fingers in the dirt, I came to a slow stop, and then I stood, thigh-deep in the center of the current. "I need to go back and get my shirt and towel," I said, as I waded back to shore.

"They are here," he said, producing them from a fold in his robe. "I found them hanging in a tree, before I found you."

"Thanks. Yeah, that's where I left them." I took the towel and dried myself. It might have been my imagination, but I thought that the water came off very easily. "Now, which way back to the apartment?"

Dayus indicated a direction, saying "your home rests in the center, so we can reach it simply by moving away from the wall."

"Makes perfect sense," I said, pulling my shirt on over my head. "Let's go."

Remarkably, I did not feel sunburnt at all; whatever kind of radiation that light in the sky was putting out, it had no ill effect on my pale skin. If Dayus and his people knew enough to censor the electromagnetic spectrum in their efforts to make me more comfortable, then our bodies could not be too dissimilar; unless, of course, they already knew more about humans than they were letting on.

As we walked I felt quite peaceful. That dip in the river had been very good for me. The touch of the grass between my toes was even better. I smiled inside as I asked Dayus, "What are we going to talk about today?"

"It does not really matter," he said. "The main purpose of these conversations is to observe and record your natural behavior, so whatever you want to talk about will do."

"Well that's helpful," I said, frustrated again. "There's a million things we could talk about; it's hard to pick one." And then I tripped, stumbling on an exposed root, and realized that my bubble was more dangerous than I thought.

"Lately, you have shown an interest in the nature of your present habitat."

"'Interest' is putting it mildly." I sighed, and stretched my arms, and folded them behind my head, as I became aware of a small itch that needed scratching on the back of my neck. "I don't know, Dayus. I like this place well enough, whatever I've said. But somehow, it's still not satisfying."

"It can be modified with any additional comforts you require."

"I'm already 'comfortable' enough, thanks." I shook my head. "I suppose I'm just not satisfied spiritually." We came upon the meadow where my home was situated; I noted that the pillar was still submerged in the ground.

"Now that is interesting," he said, in his curiously enigmatic way.

Inside the house, I started brewing a pot of ice tea. I put on a Coltrane album and went to my room to get some dry pants. "By the way," I shouted over the music, "if there's one more 'comfort' I could use, it's a machine for washing my clothes. I'm running low on clean ones."

"We have machines like that. I could bring you one tomorrow."

"Beautiful," I said, returning to the living room in fresh, dry pants. Dayus took his seat, as usual, and we were silent as the tea brewed. I poured him a cup after it was done.

"Jonah, what did you mean by 'spiritual' satisfaction?"

"I don't even know. This place is amazing, but on Earth, everything seems...uh, well, perfect. I just feel like there's something subtly wrong here, I guess it's kind of a soul thing."

"Is that religious terminology?"

"Yeah, I suppose it is. Why, do you want to talk about religion?"

"Yes," he said, his eyes exhibiting the rarest of twinkles. It still surprised me how familiar and human those eyes appeared, set within his alien facial structure. "Comparative religion is a subject of great interest to me."

"I would have thought that your people would have...evolved beyond religion, or something like that."

"A people do not 'evolve' beyond religion. It is religion, and religious understanding, which evolves within the context of a society."

"Yeah, I guess that's true."

"How do humans presently understand their religion?"

I thought hard, and tried hard to show it too, with my chin resting on my hand. How to even begin an answer? "I have books which could explain it better."

"I believe your insight would be invaluable, regardless of their content."

"Then I don't know," I said. "There's no consensus, only a thousand different 'understandings;' I don't think humans as a whole 'understand' religion at all." I stood up to reach the stereo, and turn it down to a volume more conducive to serious conversation. "For one thing," I continued, "there's hundreds of them; religions, I mean. They all agree on some things, most of the time, but the rest of the time, they're at each other's throats. Literally." I tried to show with my eyes how serious I was, without having to go to the trouble of spelling out "w-a-r."

He didn't seem very surprised. Maybe I should have been offended by that.

"So, there are no religious principles which can be said to characterize the whole of human belief?"

"Huh," I thought, "well, most people talk about a supreme being, called God, who created everything, and controls everything, and stands for everything good."

"Most people?"

"Well, some people think there's more than one. Or that he doesn't control everything; or that he is everything. Or even that he isn't actually good. And some people think he doesn't exist at all, and that religions are nothing but hoaxes for keeping the superstitious masses happy."


"And some people hedge their bets, and say they aren't sure if they believe in God, or they say they do, but he doesn't actually do anything, so it doesn't actually matter."

"There are many choices, then."

"Yeah, except most people haven't been allowed to 'choose,' and just believe what the people in their community believe, and take on all their traditions and practices. Most people just worship how their parents worship. And frankly, when they change them," I paused to take a sip of tea, "I mean, if they convert, their basic ideas don't really change. They just adopt a more appealing mythology."

"You are saying, then, that religious differences are merely culturally aesthetic."

"Yeah, but that's not really it either. On the one hand, yeah, all the holidays, and ceremonial clothes, and customs and rules, and sacred books, it's all just a big piece of aesthetics. But it means so much, it moves people so much, it's almost twisted. You know," I laughed, ever so slightly, "they say religion is the number one cause of death in human history. To think of all the wars that have been fought over what God said and when, all the murders, and the martyrs, and the suicides, and it feels like a huge waste of everyone's time."

Dayus was quiet for a moment, perhaps expecting me to go on. And then he said "but are you confusing religion with mythology?"

"Maybe. I don't really have a problem with either one."

I finished the rest of my tea in a large gulp, holding a portion in my mouth, savoring the taste, before I swallowed it all. I felt the chill on my palate, between my teeth; it was refreshing.

"But, I guess that's a lie," I said. "They're both infuriating questions, questions with no right answers, and all the baggage that goes with them just makes it worse."

"What do you believe?"

"What can you believe when there's a million possibilities and no way to know for sure?" My mind was excited, my pace quickened. "I could pick one at random and justify myself with faith, but I wouldn't know anything I don't know now; how can you say something is true just because you believe it?"

"Logically, it's untenable."

"You got that right," I said. "But at the same time, something tells me it's right to ask about God."

"An intuitive feeling."

"I suppose. And somewhere inside me, I feel like I know that the answer isn't 'nothing.'"

"That may be because there's no answer at all."

"Dayus, do you know something that I don't?" I looked at his eyes, which depicted some unknowable emotion, or a mix of familiar, disconcerting ones. "What do your people believe? What do you believe?"

Dayus smiled. "That there are a million possibilities."


Soon it was time for the good doctor to leave again. We walked to the pillar and I felt solemn, almost inappropriately so. Again he stepped on the platform, and I felt the repulsive force of some invisible barrier. I'd learned my lesson, and I didn't try to cross it. But before Dayus left, I had one more thing to say.

"You know, when you brought me here, before I knew what I know now, I thought it was some sort of...religious experience. Like I'd died and gone to heaven."

"That is common," he replied. "However, you're not dead, and this is not heaven."

"I can see that," I said, wryly.

"But that doesn't mean you were wrong."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On The Second Floor, Chapter VII

Day Five

It felt like another good morning for pancakes, so I gave the griddle a ceremonial washing-off and fired it up once more. I retrieved the box of batter from the cabinet and scooped out the recommended quantity, and as luck would have it there was barely enough to make a single serving of four. I put the dusty box in the overhead cabinet, there being little point in throwing it out. Dayus and his people would sooner or later discover the human litterbug tendency; the way we lazily dispose of that which can't be recycled with maximum convenience. But I didn't want him learning it from me; I was making a new effort to produce as little trash as possible. An empty box isn't trash until you throw it out. Besides, no matter how many batches of pancakes you make in your life, it's always nice to have the directions on the side of the box to refer back to.

I poured the batter; I stood over it for a while, keeping busy by organizing some of the clutter on the counter top. I wiped off a couple of old wine stains, and gravy stains, and the stains of various other kitchen liquids that had never really been dealt with (and some which were not even my fault). I brushed up the bread crumbs that were strewn about the toaster nook. A few minutes later I flipped the pancakes, and I was delighted by their rich, golden color they'd acquired. I ought to open a restaurant, I thought.

Tired of all this kitchen work, I took a quick step over to my bedroom, to check the day's internet news. There was no internet to get the news from, of course, so this was strictly a matter of habit, and I came to my senses before the familiar error screen popped up. You would think, after a week without web access, I'd give up this little ritual, but you'd be wrong. Sighing and bored, I slumped in my chair and stared at my screen, internally calculating the entertainment value the machine still held for me.

A few days before I'd gone into space myself, I had downloaded a new picture for my laptop background; a dynamic view of an alien world, with stormy blue clouds and red earth, orbited gracefully by a futuristic spaceship, one not unlike the ship I was now aboard. Simplistically shaped, but elegantly constructed, it was a ship of peace, an envoy of the future that Science Fiction promised us was not so very far off. Well, the future had arrived, and come to get me, but had it come the way we'd hoped? To boldly go where no one had gone before - or to be led there? How depressing to think that Roddenberry had gotten it wrong.

But maybe there was hope yet. Dayus' scientific ethics were questionable, but he was a man of science, after all. Perhaps Elysia had many functions, but who would plant a forest or garden in the middle of a ship of war? I didn't think it was likely, at any rate. Perhaps the boat had come, and we were about to enter an age of space-faring, peace-keeping ships, to live among the stars, in pursuit of knowledge and understanding; and at the very least, I still had my books and papers, to write it all down. But a prison is still a prison. Somewhere above my head, it was 'all power to the engines.' Down here, it was just another day.

Another perfect day; he smoke alarm was beeping furiously. Panicking, I sprung up from my chair (nearly collapsing backwards in the process) to silence the foul machine, and then rushed back to the kitchen. My breakfast (though really more like a brunch) was ruined, scorched lack on one side even as the other maintained its appealing golden hue. I doused the griddle to cool it down and swore at Dayus for burning my food. If it weren't for him, I could have gone to the grocery store and bought more.

I generally don't believe in wasting food, so I grabbed a sharp knife and engaged in a salvage operation. Carefully, methodically, I parted the hard, black crust from the soft interior, with all the determination of a crack surgeon; I met with only moderate success. At the very least, I'd made something edible, and with the subsequent liberal application of maple syrup, you might even call it palatable. And then I cut my finger with the blade.

While I fumbled through the drawers for band-aids, I heard the rumbling of the tower as the man with the worst timing in the universe came for another visit. Faced with a devastating one-two-three of negativity I did my level best to calm down, clean up the wound (it wasn't that bad anyway), and try to have a decent breakfast, for God's sake. Dayus reached my door as I sat down for my breakfast.

As usual I was annoyed with him, but even more so at myself. I pressed the fork against my bandaged finger as I ate. He noticed the blood; "It's nothing serious," I told him.

"You know that better than I do," he said.

Yes I do, and don't you forget it.

He took his usual seat as I ate on the sofa, and a strangely comfortable silence ensued. I was eating and he was watching, but after half a week of anxiety and paranoia, I'd grown used to the idea that there might be hidden cameras watching my every move. I still had some dignity, enough to make him wait while I finished my breakfast, creepy voyeur that he was.

"You do not seem happy, Jonah. Is your habitat inadequate?" I was in the kitchen now, empty plate in hand, still mostly silent. Rather than answer immediately (the better to educate him in human passive-aggressive techniques) I poured a new tub of hot, soapy water and dumped the plate in, taking my sweet time. Next the mixing bowl; the bloody knife, the measuring cups, the sticky, syrupy fork. I'd get to the mixing bowl later. I straightened out the counter, and rejoined him in the living room.

"Yeah, and no." Why beat around the bush. "There are so many things a man needs to be happy, you couldn't hope to replace them all." Pausing, I reached for the remote and flipped on the radio, and hyper-sonic space static blared out a high volume. "Case in point," I said. The reference might have been too obscure for him; though I got the distinct impression that Dayus enjoyed my little rants, for scientific or personal reasons or whatever, he made no reply.

"I'm cut off, man. I'm being dragged through space in a bubble. You're here, but half the time you're not. And meanwhile, I'm running out of food!" I pointed toward the kitchen, while my eyes pointed accusingly at him. "I've got a bottle of milk that's going to go bad in a week. and I'm running low on everything else. How am I supposed to live without a few decent meals every day?"

"From my observation of your metabolism, I believe you could survive longer without food than you are implying."

"Oh yeah, wise guy? You brought me here, and you're responsible for keeping me healthy. I know what I need to stay healthy. I can't feed myself locked up in this ball!"

"Are you complaining that you're going hungry?"

"You ass," I cursed, "it's more than food. I'm alone. A human can't just lose his friends and his family and his home and be alright all at once."

"You will be restored to your world," he said, in his deliberate fashion, "in due time. We ask only for your patience."

"Oh, you'll get it, and more besides." I didn't quite know what I meant by that threat, but oh did I mean it.

"As for food, our bodies are not so different from ours. Our nutritionists have been certifying a number of items for your consumption. You will not starve."

"Well, that makes me feel better." I rolled my eyes. "I'm going outside."

What I really wanted, then and there, was perfect solitude, to be rid of him forever if I had to be rid of everything else. But I didn't like the idea of him sitting in my living room alone, so I did not protest when he followed me out.

It was another perfect day; sunny skies, warm, gentle breeze, and an elevator platform in the place of a glittering tower to heaven in my front yard. I gazed up to the tiny black hole in the sky, or what I called the sky, and wondered how to reach it.

"Dayus," I said, knowing that he stood behind me, "bring the stars out." I turned to plead the case with my eyes.

He looked puzzled. "According to your clocks, there should be daylight now."

"So what? That doesn't make a difference. It's only 'day' here at all because you say it is. The sun, the moon, the stars, they're all false, meaningless lights on a screen or whatever that thing is, so what difference does it make? Give me fifteen minutes of starlight."

Dayus obliged, but I couldn't say exactly how he did it. I saw little more than a nod of his head, but sure enough the sun faded from view. As it waned, the twinkling stars emerged, almost naturally, from the twilight. There was no moon, and without the natural atmospheric effects of Earth, they burned in the coldness of space. I was awed, and at first I forgot what I meant to say, but I composed myself shortly.

"Do you see!?" I shouted, gesticulating for all it was worth. "This is what I need! You've made me this place, and it's too small! If I have to leave the world, leave my friends behind, then let me explore those stars!"

Dayus looked very serious. At first he only said nothing; then, to my surprise, he turned to face the platform, and walked toward it, and stepped aboard.

I tried to follow him, but an invisible barrier seemed to spring up, like a force field, to block my steps. Dayus looked me in the eyes as I wordlessly repeated my request: "You said it yourself, Jonah. Those stars are false."

The elevator ascended slowly, toward that little black hole you could barely tell was there, but for the lack of stars. I stood there, though the barrier was gone, I watched and waited for him to be gone too. Soon, the brief interlude of night was restored to day. The sun resumed its place in the sky, a few days west from where it had faded out. No detail had been forgotten: everything was once again in its proper place. It was another perfect day.

That night I could not get to sleep. When I cannot sleep, I toss and turn, sometimes twisting my body over and over again, looking for that sweet position, waiting for exhaustion to win out. But that night, after doing so for an hour, I'd had enough. I went to the kitchen, opened the cupboard, and pulled out some emergency soporific drugs. I don't usually do this, I thought, but desperate times and all. I took two tablets, washed them down with water, and did my best to dream.