Dedication Imagination often comes from taking something that’s already happened, and turning that into something both entertaining and thought-provoking, simply by asking the question; “What if?” It was the theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer that said; “See things not as they are, but as they might be.” While I’m certain he was talking about physics when he said it, I’m equally convinced that it is also the perfect motto for writers of fiction. At least it has been for me. Having the opportunity to finally sit down and write this story, has been a labor of love, but none of this would have been possible without my staunchest critic and best friend - my proof-reading wife. The fact that she is the furthest thing from a bookworm added an extra measure of deliberation to the numerous edits and rewrites she provoked, and because of her, Shelf Life is a much better narrative than I ever envisioned it could be. I also want to acknowledge my two children, who hailed my creative milestones with words of reassurance such as “that’s nice Dad” and “I promise I’ll read it later.” Kids! Which leaves me with my small circle of friends to round out the ensemble in this venture, all of whom have been encouraging, and some of whom
have actually used the conversation. Imagine that!
JULY 1, 1863 Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Captain Hubert Dilger was a capable officer, who distinguished himself at the Battle of Chancellorsville only two months earlier. Despite having the numerical advantage, the battle of Chancellorsville ended in a crushing defeat for the North. Dilger’s actions, however, were not forgotten, and ultimately earned him the Medal of Honor on August 17, 1893. “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Captain (Field Artillery) Hubert Dilger, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 2 May 1863, while serving with Battery I, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, in action at Chancellorsville, Virginia. Captain Dilger fought his guns until the enemy were upon him, then with one gun hauled in the road by
hand he formed the rear guard and kept the enemy at bay by the rapidity of his fire and was the last man in the retreat.” The victory at Chancellorsville did not mean that the South came away unscathed. The combined casualties on both sides numbered close to 30,000 dead and wounded. Ignoring his own significant troop losses and the loss of his most skilled tactical commander, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, his victory at Chancellorsville convinced Lee that he now had the momentum to move against the Union Army in Pennsylvania. Hubert Dilger was of a different opinion. Captain Dilger had also lost troops and close friends during that awful week in Virginia and vowed to stand and die fighting before he would ever give ground to the Confederacy again. He would keep that vow less than two months later in a small town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. It was about Noon when Battery I of the First Ohio Light Artillery moved into position at Carlisle Road and immediately engaged the enemy. The battery consisted of six 12-pounders, each manned by a battery crew of five cannoneers. Reinforced by Wheeler’s 13th New York Battery which was put under his command, Captain Dilger twice advanced from his position, and went toe-totoe with two Confederate batteries, finally
destroying five of their gun carriages, permanently taking them out of the battle. At 4:00pm Dilger was ordered to retire his force along with the 11th Corp’s Artillery Brigade to Cemetery Hill, south of downtown Gettysburg proper. The idea was to maintain a stable defensive line and hold the hill in case the army needed to fall back from its positions north and west of Gettysburg. Dilger quickly positioned his guns on the hill, to the right of Major Thomas Osborn’s gun emplacements, and instructed his second in command, Lieutenant Elias Fisher, to consolidate their spotters ensuring a full field of fire by each battery emplacement. As the fighting intensified and the Confederate infantry lines advanced, Cemetery Hill became the rallying point for retreating Union troops, and proved to be one of the most strategic battle sites of the three-day engagement. Fisher had served under Dilger since he mustered in for his enlistment in the final weeks of 1861. The unit marched from Cincinnati in January of 1862, and earned its place in the history books, fighting in places with unfamiliar names like Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and now Gettysburg. He was fortunate having never been wounded but knew his luck could run out at any time. This
small town, this otherwise insignificant piece of real estate drawn on a map with the blood of over 190,000 men, was shaping up to be a significant turning point in the war. The sheer numbers of men and horses and cannon on both sides left Fisher wondering if today would be the day he would meet his maker. More than once, Fisher had wondered how he would live his life if he really knew when he was going to die. Would he have spent more time with his family? Would he have been braver in battle, or more cautious? Knowing would provide comfort. It was the not knowing that terrified him. His thought was interrupted when one of his spotters ran up, handed him a pair of binoculars, and asked him to take a look at Culp’s Hill on their right flank. Culp’s Hill was another critical defensive position because it commanded the heights above the Baltimore Pike. The Pike was the main supply road for the Union army at Gettysburg, and the most direct route for Lee to use, in advancing against Baltimore and Washington DC, should his forces be victorious against Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac. “Sir, five men are standing at the eastern edge of the wood line, and they’re not in blue uniforms.” Always alert to any possibility of being outflanked, Fisher took the field glasses and carefully moved his line of sight along the thick
growth of trees. Fisher saw the men almost immediately and took a short breath when one of them suddenly pointed right at him. He lowered the glasses and wiped the lenses with the small piece of cloth tied to its strap. When he looked back at the hill again, the men were gone. He ordered the spotter to send a three-man patrol over to investigate, but they found nothing except Union infantrymen digging in on the hilltop for the Rebel assault they all knew would be coming soon. Satisfied there was no threat of danger, Fisher thought one more time about his wife and children before he slowly turned and walked back to the business of war.
old saying is, the only two things you can count on in life are taxes and death. Taxes will suck the life out of you from the day you start earning a paycheck until the day you stop. That day may be the day you retire or the day you drop dead. Either way, unless you ended up living in poverty, or so filthy rich that you creatively avoid paying taxes, a good chunk of your hard-earned money is going right to the government, so our distinguished representatives don’t have to actually do anything to earn their gratuitous salaries. Death, on the other hand, will just suck the life out of you, period. The reality that death comes to all of us can’t be denied. It can certainly be rejected, but that still isn’t going to prevent it from happening. People of faith don’t really deny death but have instead chosen to redefine it in a very clever effort to keep it pushed out of their heads, so they’re not continually dwelling on the truth of our fragile mortality. Regardless of our cultural backgrounds and religious upbringing, most people in the world
are taught that death is not the end, and there is a veritable Disneyland of eternity just waiting for us. On the other side. Somewhere far away. As long as we don’t break too many rules. The “religiously unimpressed” may be at a slight advantage here when it comes to mortality. These folks apparently all come from Missouri because unless you can “show me” some proof that a supreme deity exists, I’m going to stick with logic, science, and a slight touch of humor. Hence the collection of logical and scientific expressions such as, the big nap, going toes up, the final frontier, and closing your last bar tab. When the time comes and it will come - every one of us is going to cease living as we know and understand it. That being said, I think that the majority of us are OK with dying. From a practical standpoint, there isn’t a damn thing we can do to stop it from happening anyway. We can definitely strive to live physically healthier and emotionally happier, but that’s more of a postponement than a “get out of death card.” I can also say with a high degree of certainty that what weighs on most people is not that we’re going to die, but more precisely, not knowing when we’re going to die. Losing a family member or a friend is a terrible thing to go through. I’ve been through it too many times myself, and it just plain sucks. If it’s attributed to illness or old age, the loss is frequently
classified as expected. When the loss comes from an unexpected accident or an act of nature or an act of violence, the impact becomes more difficult. When the loss comes from an act of suicide, that difficulty gets compounded over and over again. When people talk about closure after someone dies, what they’re usually talking about is getting past the loss. In 1969 Swiss psychiatrist, Elisabeth KüblerRoss developed a framework that describes a collection of emotions that people face with the passing of a loved one. These “five stages of grief” are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, but here’s where it gets interesting. Although the Kübler-Ross model is pretty widely accepted, these stages do not occur in any specific order, nor are they equally significant. The one stage that I think people have the most difficulty with is depression, but not in the way you may think. From a clinical perspective, any shrink will tell you that this is a reasonable reaction to losing someone close to you, and to some extent, they would be right. However, everyone also shares the same unique regret when grieving over such a loss. What people tend to feel is profound sorrow and guilt about not having spent enough time with the person who died, before they actually died. Unfortunately, this aspect of the diagnosis is only
addressed after the loved one has died. Grief can’t be eliminated, but maybe it can be softened. Think about this for a minute. What if people knew when they were going to die? What if they had the time to get their affairs in order; to make sure their spouse would be OK once left alone, or to tick off some of those items on their bucket list? What if there was adequate time for the wish lists and the hugs and the private goodbyes? What an extraordinary gift this would be for the people leaving, as well as the people left behind. You would be absolutely blown away by the number of studies and the massive amounts of money being spent on research projects all over the world to come up with that mortality crystal ball. Private individuals, as well as global enterprises and government interests, are all funneling ridiculous sums of money into these projects in the form of partnerships, contributions or grants. This my friends, is the loftiest brass ring of the 21st century, so to Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Bohr, Curie, Darwin, Fleming, and all of the great names, minds, and discoveries that have preceded us, please step to the side. My name is Isaac Rothman. I’m a geneticist at the New England Genome Institute, and I’m the poor bastard they hired to come up with a technique for Predictive Transitioning; or as I like to call it, counting down the death clock.
The New England Genome Institute (NEGI) is one of the countless companies that have cropped up and flourished since DNA profiling was first developed in the 1980’s. That’s when a remarkable breakthrough in molecular biology occurred in the UK and “DNA fingerprinting” was being developed by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester. DNA was first used to aid a criminal investigation by Professor Jeffreys in 1986. This investigation used DNA fingerprinting techniques to link semen samples, collected from two rapes/murders that had occurred three years apart in 1983 and 1986, in a small village in Leicestershire, UK. The probability of this match happening by chance was calculated as 5.8 x 10 to the -8th power. (That’s a really, really small number.) The results not only linked the two crimes and secured the conviction of the perpetrator, but also exonerated an innocent man initially implicated in the murders. Coincidently, while the
work by Jeffreys led to the first mass screening project in the world undertaken for DNA profiling, 1986 was also the year I was born. There are worse places to grow up than Brooklyn, New York. In the 1990’s, New York City public schools were still turning out kids that could read and write. There was high-level math ability within the overall student populations, and things like history, geography, and even penmanship were recognized for their inherent value in the lessons they taught and the foundations they built. The early years as I liked to call them - kindergarten through the 3rd grade - were all about the basics; the rise of humanity from finger paints and juice snacks, to covering your textbooks and playing the recorder. It was the age of enlightenment for the five to eight-year-old slice of society, and it paved the roads for each one of us who wouldn’t have a clue about what we wanted to do with our lives for at least another 10 years. Fourth grade was life-changing. That’s where I first met Rick Arnold, and as Bogart said to Claude Raines in the last scene of Casablanca; “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Of course, Louis’ name would be Rick, and that would mean there were two Ricks in the movie, and that would just confuse people. When measuring friendships, we all have that one absolute friend that ends up at the top of the
list. I’m talking about someone that will laugh and cry with you; someone who will drop everything else when you need them; someone you would take a bullet for because you knew that they would do the same for you. That was Rick and me, and after all these years I can still say that he’s my best friend. You can have a dozen other really close friends, but there’s a unique and very symbiotic bond that forms between best friends that can’t be denied. Maybe it’s hereditary, or perhaps it’s part of our human instinct for survival. My practical side says it didn’t take Early Man very long to figure out that he wasn’t going to survive very long by himself, and having a buddy around watching his back was a good thing. I did pretty well in high school, and with a few strings pulled by my father, I actually got accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I had already decided that as much as I loved ancient history and antiquities, genetics was the place to be in 2002. Even back then I understood that it was still business as much as it was a science, but when the Towers came down on 9/11, there was a monumental, almost sacred effort made by hundreds of scientists to identify the remains of the people lost that day. That’s where I felt I wanted to be, and something inside of me told me that that’s where I could give back, maybe even do something
significant one day. Dad was Chairman of the Anthropology department at Columbia University until he decided he’d had enough of the administrative crap, and pseudo-retired to spend more time back in the field getting his hands dirty. He never wore a fedora and never picked up a whip, but was still quite recognized and respected for his achievements. Mom was an office administrator at Brooklyn College until she decided that being a housewife was just as rewarding and way less stressful. So, in retrospect, my formative years were spent being raised by Indiana Rothman and the Domestic Goddess. Even today, I can’t grasp the incredible good fortune of having them as my parents. MIT was hard. Trust me when I say I’m well above average intelligence, but after sitting in my first few biology and genetics classes, I felt like I had the IQ of a plant, and had made a serious mistake declaring my major so early in the game. I wasn’t failing any courses, but this was more than a leap from high school to college. This was trading your Toyota in for a Formula One car, and with no pun intended, the classes at MIT were beyond accelerated. Two things happened during my second semester. Happily, I managed to hit my stride, and for the first time since starting classes in Cambridge, I felt comfortable and confident that I
was going to do OK. The second thing was more because of a woman than my academics. I met Karen in one of my computer science classes. If you’re going to become the next Friedrich Miescher or Rosalind Franklin, you better know your way around a computer, and you better understand something about programming. It didn’t take me very long to realize that I wasn’t going to achieve either of those goals. Growing up, both of my parents had computers in the house, and both were used exclusively for their personal use. When I was finally able to convince them that I also “needed” one for school, they bought me my own desktop, but for me, it was strictly a word processor and a video game repository. Now I can’t swear that some animals can actually smell fear, but I can attest to the fact that some women can. Karen was my first computer lab partner, and once she stopped laughing at the look on my face, she stared right into my eyes and said “Chill out Einstein. I’ll help you.” And she did. In fact, she is the only reason I managed to graduate from MIT with honors and is probably the only reason I have this job at the Institute. The only other thing I’ll say about Karen, for now, is that she’s my number two best friend in the world, and closer to the number one spot than you can imagine. I never pursued my Masters. I had no interest
in spending 2-3 more years at school as some professor’s assistant when the science was changing on a constant basis. If you subscribe to the belief that computers these days become obsolete every month or so, you’ll have some idea of how rapidly genetics and DNA research changed in 2008. Entire multi-year, multi-million-dollar projects were scrapped with the surprise announcement of a new sequencing process or the discovery of a new protein – and this happened a lot. Having a Masters no longer held the same cachet it used to, and with corporate recruiters swarming campuses in the months before graduation, the monetary advantage of having that piece of paper was simply no longer a bargaining chip in the pursuit of higher learning or a higher salary. Genetics was hot, and companies were more than willing to pay for that talent to be on their payroll, and not their competitors. I’ve been with the Institute for 9 years now, and while I’ve had some impressive breakthroughs, I’m no closer to Predictive Transitioning than I was the day I started. Just between you and me, I’m beginning to think it can’t be done… and I’m the one that proposed the idea to the Institute in the first place. My office at the Institute wasn’t anything fancy, but given that several of my accomplishments brought a fair amount of money
into the company, I earned the luxury of an office with an actual door on it, as opposed to the collaborative cubicle farm most of my other coworkers occupied. It really didn’t have more room than the bullpens were configured for, but the freedom that a private office provided from the constant distractions was worth its weight in gold. With my time normally spent in conference rooms lined with whiteboards or working in one of the bio-labs, having this cloistered refuge was like having an escape pod from the rest of the world. The labs are state-of-the-art, and can each accommodate about a dozen people, depending on what they’re working on. There are also enough labs in the building to support the current portfolio of projects, so arguments between teams vying for replicators, sequencers, or marker development stations almost never happened. If the piece of equipment you needed was already being used, a walk down to one of the other floors would almost always find you an available equivalent. Fortunately, the company was also insightful enough to staff a team of specialists to manage equipment needs by reviewing all project requirements and objectives. Once those needs were defined, the team would acquire, test, and evaluate the newest available equipment to assess its capabilities. Doing all of this on a trial evaluation basis with the vendor not only saved the company
tons of money but also ensured that when capital investments were substantiated, purchasing the best equipment for the job gave the company the greatest opportunities for success. At the moment, lab equipment was the least of my concerns. In scientific circles, one prevailing school of thought is that problem solving becomes easier if you first break the overall problem into its smaller parts, and then by slowly eliminating those smaller pieces you can ultimately get to the real root of the problem and fix it. As an example, let’s say you get into your car, turn the key in the ignition, and the car won’t start. By checking the battery, the belts, the wiring harnesses, and the fuel gauge, you’ve now eliminated the most likely causes for the car failing to start. At the same time, there are now fewer potential reasons why the car won’t start, and at some point, you’ll look at your gear shift console and realize that the car wasn’t in Park and therefore wouldn’t start. Problem solved. It’s not quite that simple with DNA. At a high school introductory level, people are taught that DNA exists in all humans, and in almost all other organisms that we know about. We’re taught that genes, which are made up of DNA, are the basic units of heredity and provide the “instructions” for our bodies to produce specific molecules called proteins. We’re also taught that
the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes. The average biology student comes away from high school genetics with three generalities burned into their brains: DNA looks like a double helix, humans normally have 46 chromosomes in each cell which are divided into 23 chromosome pairs, and we inherit precisely half of our 46 chromosomes from each of our parents. Remembering those three things comes in handy when finals roll around, but for 99 percent of those students, that final exam will be the last time in their lives they’ll ever have a valid need for that information. By choice, I didn’t have that option. I not only elected to ingest an additional 4 years of biogenetic education at MIT, but I was also recruited by the Institute as the promising new wunderkind that was going to crack the secret of Predictive Transitioning. At the time, the combination of a ridiculously generous starting salary and benefits package matched only by the egotistical high of being tapped as a “first round draft pick” by one of the leading research firms in the country was overwhelming. After feigning a 24-hour window to consider the offer, I willingly took the job. The rest, as they say, is history. When it comes to genetic problem solving, the idea that breaking things down into their smaller
elements doesn’t make the problem solving any easier. In fact, just the opposite is true. Forget the mechanics for the moment; let’s just get a sense for the math. 1.
Our human DNA consists of roughly 3 billion bases, and over 99 percent of those bases are the same in every person.
The Human Genome Project has estimated that humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes.
Of the 23 fundamental chromosomes, Chromosome 21 is the smallest, comprised of about 48 million base pairs and containing between 200 to 300 unique genes.
Of the 23 fundamental chromosomes, Chromosome 01 is the largest, comprised of about 249 million base pairs and containing between 2000 to 2100 unique genes.
So, just to keep it interesting, picture yourself at the Super Bowl. Unless you have an identical birth twin, when you look at the crowd in the stands it’s a safe bet that there isn’t another person in that stadium that looks exactly like you. In this case, comparative shared appearance is the one and only reference you have available to measure against. Now, consider the number of references you would need to compare if you had to look at the DNA from each of those people to find out how they might be otherwise similar to you, or to each other. Undeniably, the number of base pairs and unique genes in the combined 46 chromosomes that make you who you are is simply astronomical. Even though I’m still not convinced that finding a scientific way to make those comparisons is the key to unlocking PT, that’s the only ace I’ve got up my sleeve right now - at least until someone decides to deal me a fresh hand.
It didn’t take more than three minutes for me to ask the boss for a few weeks off, or for her to approve it. Christine was well aware of the challenges I was dealing with and was also a damn good geneticist before she was groomed and promoted up the ladder at the Institute. Coming from the trenches, she had a better perspective than most of her management peers about what my chances for success with PT really were. She was actually one of many people from the Institute I interviewed with back at MIT, and the only one that actively campaigned to have me on her research team. After a few weeks on the job, I asked her if I could take her out for dinner to thank her for her confidence in me, and her support. I’m not going to lie when I tell you that I was completely surprised when she not only accepted but also confessed that she was on the verge of asking me out until I unexpectedly blinked first. The corporate world isn’t very different from
the military when it comes to fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel. While the practice isn’t forbidden, it is quietly frowned upon. That still didn’t stop us. The Institute wasn’t a family-owned business, and when you look at the number of successful family-owned companies in the world, there really wasn’t an argument to raise any specter of nepotism because of our relationship. We both understood that our personal lives could never cross over the line into our work lives, and I’m quite happy to say that hasn’t happened yet in the nine years we’ve been together. I was tired, and although not burnt out, I was sufficiently singed around the edges. The last time I took any time off was almost seven months ago, and I really just wanted to unwind and recharge without the necessity of crowds, terminals, or any other vestiges of public conveyance. I usually manage to touch base with my folks once or twice a week, but I hadn’t seen them in a while, so I figured it would be an appropriate time for a road trip to Brooklyn. Christine’s calendar was booked solid anyway, and the trip down was only a few hours if I left at just the right time to avoid the rush hour bottlenecks. I’ve always loved driving. It was a pain in the ass getting out of Boston, but once I picked up I-84 taking the “scenic” route down into New York the drive was
almost a catharsis. I got to the house at about four in the afternoon with more than enough time to wash up, unpack, and still spend time with Mom before Dad got home for dinner. He was retired now, but still spent a lot of time with old friends and colleagues. Once the antiquities bug bites you, you’re infected for life. I know dozens of educators that retired after twenty or thirty years of teaching, who were only too happy to cut the cord completely and leave their careers behind them. When it comes to anthropologists, archaeologists, or historians, they’re usually in it for the long haul. In their world, the story we continue to write as a species never stops. When I did get down to the kitchen, Mom was stirring something on the cooktop, and there was an egg cream sitting on the table. I just stood there and stared at it. (If you don’t know what an egg cream is, look it up. I know the rest of you are sitting there smiling right now.) Without even looking up she said; “Isaac, drink the damn thing before it goes flat. Then tell me how Christine is, and how things are going at work.” “Christine is great, and that egg cream isn’t going to get you any closer to having grandchildren. At least not this week. Work is a different story.” I explained that I hoped that coming home for a few
days would shake some cobwebs loose and turn some lights on in my head. “Look, I can’t promise you any eureka moments, but your father seems to have smoked something inspirational lately, because he’s been busier than he has been in years, and acts like he used to when he was out digging up skeletal remains and pottery shards. I’ll let him fill you in later. I know he wants to tell you something he won’t even tell me about. After 34 years of telling each other everything, the man now has secrets.” Trying to keep my face expressionless, I looked at Mom and said; “Have you tried making him an egg cream?” Without even trying to come close, she took a swing at me, and we were still laughing when Dad walked into the house a few minutes later. He literally pulled me out of the kitchen chair and gave me one of his breathtaking bear hugs. I mean that literally. The man could squeeze syrup out of a maple tree, and I’m still amazed that I never suffered any cracked ribs while growing up. “How was the ride Kid?” He always called me Kid, and I never felt anything but affection when he did. To me, it felt like being the promising gunslinger, or the rookie ballplayer just called up from the minors. “The ride was good Dad. How’s retirement treating you; and don’t try to bullshit me.” He
smiled and sat down at the table before he answered me. “Retirement is a subjective state of mind. If you’re asking me whether or not I’m happy, I can tell you that I haven’t been happier in years.” I was going to segue into the big secret Mom had told me about, but as usual, he managed to beat me to the punch. “We’ll talk about retirement more after dinner. I have something I want to tell the both of you, and I think you’re both going to find it kind of interesting. So, Helen, whatever you’ve got going on in that oven, dish it out and let’s eat. The Kid must be hungry.” Dinner was by no means a quiet affair, and the conversation managed to flow at a suitable pace. To a casual observer, the meal was almost choreographed, because I don’t think it took two minutes for all of us to settle into the same cadence, where the movement of our forks was so synchronized that the questions and answers held an equal footing with Mom’s world-famous meatloaf and mashed potatoes. We talked about Christine of course, and the Red Sox, and the economy, but not a word about the after-dinner agenda. When we finally decided that any further consumption of food would be a mistake, I got up to help Mom with the dishes. “Your mother and I can handle the cleanup
Kid. Go into my office, call Christine, tell her we love her and tell her she missed a damn good meal with her favorite in-laws.” Christine picked up on the first ring. It wasn’t even eight hours yet, and I missed her already. There wasn’t much to chat about, but I did tell her that Dad had some sort of announcement he was going to share with us that evening. “Is everything OK with him?’ she asked with a degree of concern. “He’s not sick, is he?” I assured her that he was fine and that it probably had something to do with his retirement. My folks had always taken reasonable care of themselves, and if something was going on with his health, I would have seen it in my mother’s eyes immediately. “Look, I’ll call you later and fill you in once I know what the big secret is, but believe me this is probably nothing any of us is going to lose any sleep over.” She agreed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make the trip this time, but I’m up to my ass in budget meetings for the next week, so you’ll have to persevere without me.” She could never hide her feelings from me very well. “I miss you too Chris. I love you, and I’ll talk to you later.” I always loved being in Dad’s office. It was the one place in the house I felt the most comfortable. This was his man cave, except that the term was inappropriate for his generation. There
never was any kryptonite in our house (my mother would never allow it), but even so, this was his ‘Fortress of Solitude.’ The room was a decent size for a house built in the ‘60s, easily big enough for the seasoned oak desk, the leather couch, and the two matching chairs I never knew the room to be without. Behind the desk was the dominant feature in the room; a full wall bookcase that had long ago exceeded its capacity to the point where Dad was twice forced to donate the overflow to the University library. They haven’t named a wing after him yet, but I’m not ruling out that won’t happen one day down the road. The wall across from the desk was where the couch rested, and above the couch hung numerous awards, honors, and tributes in recognition of his contributions to both the University and the science community. The two chairs and an ottoman were parked to the left of the desk and framed by a large picture window that was divided into the same beveled glass panes that characterized the French doors leading into the room. The last wall was empty except for a grouping of eight photos Dad always said were his favorites. Three of them were pictures of Mom, Dad, and yours truly, together at some of the places we had traveled to when I was growing up. Of the remaining five, one was a picture of me receiving
my diploma from MIT, one was a wedding portrait of Christine and myself, and the last three were photos of Mayan temples that Dad had helped excavate in Mexico while doing field work as part of his doctorate program. In anticipation, the rest of the wall was bare and reserved for pictures of future grandchildren. Mom and Dad affectionately called it “The Family Wall.” I referred to it as “The Egg Cream Initiative.” With the kitchen cleaned up, the three of us settled into the office. This was Dad’s show, so Mom and I waited for him to speak. “Your mother told me that you’re spinning your wheels on the PT project, but I want you to explain it to me again if you don’t mind.” I wasn’t sure where this was going, but I’m always happy to discuss my work with my parents. “The goal hasn’t changed. The objective is to figure out a way to take the genetic fingerprint of an individual, and somehow use that fingerprint to predict when that person is going to die. The initial approach the team elected to take was that we would recognize and acknowledge three key obstacles. “The first was the fact that people are subject and susceptible to disease, and we’re still decades away from having sufficient influence to confidently control that. The thing is, controlling whether or not people will get sick may be a moot
point. If the illness overwhelms and takes them, we obviously know when they died. I don’t want to sound callous, but from a PT perspective, they’re no longer useful to me, so they need to be tagged and bagged. Now on the flip side of the coin; if they recover from the illness, and if we can also determine how that illness alters their longevity that would be the scientific leap of the century.” I paused a couple of seconds before asking; “You guys still with me?” They both nodded, and Dad said; “Keep going, Kid. You’re doing fine.” “The second issue is just as intimidating. Human biology is still very much unpredictable, and chromosomes do develop anomalies. They can change or present in ways we just don’t understand yet, and they can change just as quickly during fetal development, as they can at any time after birth. “We’ve seen the presence of an extra chromosome in cells. For example, people with Down syndrome typically have three copies of Chromosome-21 in each cell for a total of 47 chromosomes per cell instead of 46. We’ve seen the loss of a chromosome in cells where there’s only one copy of a chromosome in a cell instead of the usual two, for a total of 45 chromosomes per cell instead of 46. Not to be outdone, we’ve seen the presence of not only a complete extra set of chromosomes in cells (now we’re up from 46 to 69) but the presence of two complete extra sets of chromosomes resulting in a
lethal total of 92. “The third and last issue we can’t ignore is that when any of these anomalies occur they have the potential to affect the genes inside those chromosomes, and that can disrupt that gene’s ability to produce the protein it was somehow exquisitely designed to create. I can’t remember who it was, but somebody once said; “When you’re faced with unbeatable odds, change the damn odds.”, and that’s precisely what we did. “We took those three key obstacles and decided to just ignore them. This pared down the stress levels for all of us and really uncluttered the playing field. We felt that if we could focus on the things we knew and offload the added burden of speculating about the things we didn’t know, we might just have a shot at this thing.” Again, I waited a few seconds to see if Mom or Dad would say anything. Surprisingly, it was Mom that spoke first. “So, if I understand what you’re saying, isn’t this all just a really complicated math problem?” Believe me when I tell you that my mother is not a stupid woman, but the innocence of her clarity caught me entirely off guard. I sat up a bit straighter in the chair and conceded; “That’s exactly what it is Mom, and that’s exactly where I’m stuck. Even using healthy chromosomes that contain healthy gene markers, how am I supposed to determine what values each
of those pieces should have, so when I ultimately “do the math,” the answer I get actually turns out to be the date when that person is going to die?” Dad still hadn’t said anything, and when I looked him, he was just sitting there at his desk grinning like a Cheshire Cat. “It’s a good thing you’re sitting down Kid because I think I might be able to help you out with that.” “Dad, what are you talking about? What do you mean that you might be able to help me out?” Dad stood up from his desk and matter-offactly answered the question. “I meant exactly what I said. I have a story I want to tell you, and when I’m finished I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to sleep for the rest of the night, so here’s what we’re going to do. Helen, please go make us all a pot of coffee. Isaac, you call Christine back and tell her not to wait up for your call tonight and that you’ll call her in the morning. I’m going to pee, and then I need to get something in the car for the big show-and-tell.” And with that he headed down the hall towards the half bath; Mom made her way to the kitchen, and I called Christine with no idea of what I was even going to tell her.
Christine was intrigued when I told her what went on during the past hour but didn’t want to postulate how the rest of the evening was going to go. Neither one of us had enough information to form any conclusions, so she was content to wait for the full report in the morning. By the time I hung up the phone, the aroma of coffee was slowly drifting through the house. The folks had a Keurig on the counter, but the favored method for serving coffee in the Rothman household was fresh ground and fresh brewed, or as my father called it, “real coffee.” A minute later Mom brought in a tray holding three steaming mugs of coffee, and Dad walked in behind her carrying his treasured leather satchel. The bag was a classic; big enough to hold several files, a couple of books, and a sandwich or two. The top flap folded over keeping the contents safe from the weather, and the two straps used to secure the flap were fitted with brass buckles. Dad sat the satchel on the floor next to his desk and
looked at the two of us the same way I’d seen him look out into a lecture hall to make sure his students were ready before he began to speak. He was Professor Rothman now, and I was entirely convinced that this wasn’t a practical joke. “I want to start by saying that a good chunk of this is going to bore you to tears, either because you’re already familiar with it, or you just don’t have any interest in it.” My mother and I knew exactly which category each of us fell into. My fascination with ancient history grew out of the stories my father started telling me when I was only five or six. Mom, on the other hand, had lived with the man for almost forty years and didn’t have any more than a passing interest in the subject. As much as she stood by him and supported him, digs and relics just weren’t her thing. “If you’ll bear with me for a few minutes, I promise you won’t regret it when I’m done.” “You both know that I worked several Mayan sites in Mexico quite a few years ago. You also know that in the past, some significant artifacts were recovered from those excavations and a lot more knowledge about the Mayans and their culture was brought to light because of what those objects ultimately revealed. I know I don’t need to say this, but as a people, the Maya were remarkably advanced in astronomy, and also developed their own writing, their own system of
numbers, and a seriously precise calendar. The Mayan script which is really hieroglyphs is also the first and only Mesoamerican writing system to be deciphered. The earliest inscriptions discovered so far date back to the 3rd century BCE, and the writing itself was used continuously throughout Mesoamerica until the Spanish conquered the Mayans in the 16th and 17th centuries. “The bulk of what we know about Maya astronomical knowledge comes from records they created on the pages of bark-paper books called codices. In the mid-sixteenth century, the Franciscan missionaries burned almost all of the Mayan written records in their campaign to eradicate the existing native religion and convert the Maya to Christianity. Historically, what they did was so sacrilegious that the loss to the world may never really be known. Of the hundreds of Mayan codices that existed during the Spanish occupation, only three original authenticated codices survive today, and they’re named for the European cities where they’re kept - Dresden, Paris, and Madrid. There is actually a fourth codex being studied in Mexico, but there’s also a lot of scientific disagreement about whether or not it’s authentic. “The Dresden Codex is recognized as the most significant of the surviving books produced by the Mayans before the conquest of Mexico. The consensus is that the Dresden was written in the
Yucatan, probably in or near Chichen Itza. Using the base dates found in its pages, the “guesstimate” suggests that it was written sometime in the 13th or 14th century. That dating though is problematic because the Dresden appears to be a book that was copied and recopied for generations. So basically, it’s really a lot older than you might think it is, and it almost certainly grew in content with each reproduction. “Physically, the Dresden is roughly eleven and a half feet long and fan folded like a road map into thirty-nine pages. The pages are a little more than three and a half inches wide, and a hair more than eight inches high. If you need a reference for perspective, a normal paperback book would be a close enough match regarding size. The paper itself is made from the fibers from a species of the ficus tree, and the pages are meticulously painted on both sides.” Staying totally in character, Dad asked; “Any questions?” Mom and I both shook our head no, so he continued. “I’ll spare you the litany of people who contributed to the decoding work only because their relevance to what I’m going to share with you shortly isn’t important. The contents of the Dresden was ultimately divided into three primary topics: almanacs and calendars, celestial cycles and astronomical data, and prophecies. The almanacs and calendars which make up most of the codex
concern topics of daily life, and deal with things like agriculture, weather, disease and medicine, occupations, marriage, commerce, childbirth, and worship schedules. When you step back and realize what the Dresden contains, you suddenly come to appreciate that these codices are not story books. They’re history books.” Dad managed a few swallows of coffee before he picked up again. “Because most archaeologists and anthropologists at the time were so fascinated with the scientific elements of the Dresden, the human side of the codex was ignored for decades. As I said just a minute ago, the everyday cultural aspects of the community, things like farming, commerce, or marriage, were relegated to the undergrads like a bone being tossed to a dog.” He surprised us when he seemed to stray off-topic and asked; “Helen, you remember Don Shapley don’t you?” Mom smiled. “Of course, I do. It’s been years since we’ve seen him. I wonder how he’s doing.” Dad smiled also. “He’s doing just fine. I had lunch with him this afternoon, and before you bite my head off for not asking you to join us, let me finish my story. As anthropology majors, Don and I worked on a lot of projects together when we were in college, and one of the things we thought would get us an easy ‘A’ would be to sign up for a summer dig in Mexico so we could get the “recommended”
field experience under our belts. “To prep for the summer in the Yucatan, we spent quite a bit of time with a copy of the Dresden hoping it would provide us with a better background on Mayan civilization than what we were getting from our textbooks. It did, but not the way we expected it would. Just to clarify, neither one of us had any experience reading Mayan script, so we took the high road and got our hands on several English translations. As we tried to match up the translations to the Maya script, we both soon realized that something wasn’t right. Eventually, we thought to map the publicized sections of the codex against the actual content, and without too much discussion agreed that there was stuff missing from the Dresden that was supposed to be there. “We had no way of knowing whether the things alleged to be in the codex were literally supposed to be there, and we were kind of hesitant to ask. On the one hand, we were unfamiliar with the subject matter and could be making stupid assumptions about what was in the translations. We honestly had no way of knowing if the translations were either accurate or complete. On the other hand, we were egotistically childish enough to think that if we really discovered something of value, it would be pilfered and appropriated by someone else, leaving us without even a footnote of recognition.
“Being the geniuses that we were, we decided to divulge as little as possible, and creatively asked our professor if the translations we had could be taken at face value. In other words, if the translation spoke about Mayan marriage practices, was it correct to say that it was because that information was translated directly from the codex itself? He assured us that was the case, so for what it was worth we got our answer. “In case you two were wondering, the marriage practices were spoken about in the codex, and we knew that. What we didn’t find was the section on disease and medicine that should have also been there. We still had a few months before we were scheduled to head down to Mexico, and we spent a lot of time trying to understand what we were really dealing with. “With deference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The only reasonable conclusion we could come to was that the translations weren’t incomplete, it was the codex itself that was incomplete. There was a second book that completed the Dresden, and if it wasn’t destroyed by the Spanish, it might still be somewhere in Chichen Itza.” Before I could even blink, the “holy shit alarm” went off in my head. Mom’s alarm must
have also gone off, because her eyes suddenly got bigger, and she stared at me in disbelief. “Dad, what’s in the satchel?” That Cheshire grin of his slowly appeared for the second time that night. “Keep your socks on Kid. I’m getting there. You need to know that Don and I didn’t discover a damn thing the whole summer we were down in Chichen Itza.” Mom must have regained her composure because she somewhat seriously said; “Bill Rothman, I don’t know how much more of this I can handle. Can we please cut to the chase?” I’m not sure why, but that cracked me up and seemed to take the tension out of the air for all of us. “Any dig you participate in anywhere in the world has to involve local people. They live there, so they’re much more familiar with the surroundings as well as the local customs, and are extremely valuable because most of them have been working at these sites years longer than any of us novice “armchair explorers” who don’t even speak the language very well. So, cutting to the chase, I’m only going to speak in generalities, so I don’t put anyone at risk, and I don’t break a promise I made a very long time ago. There was an emergency at the dig one day, and Don and I both “showed a kindness” to one of the local men. Because of what we did, we were invited to the man’s village and presented with a gesture of
appreciation by the man’s family; under the condition that we would never ask them any questions about it, or ever speak about how it came into our possession.” Dad moved the coffee mug well out of the way and leaned over to pick up the satchel. He stood to undo the two brass buckles, then turned the flap out of the way, and slowly lifted a small package out of the bag. He moved the satchel back to the floor and very carefully removed the yellowed cloth that was wrapped around whatever the package was. Mom and I both got up and took a step closer to the desk. Dad cleared his throat for the first time all night, and in a humble voice proclaimed; “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the missing chapters of The Dresden Codex.” Nobody spoke. We all just stood there at the desk staring at this book, this codex. I’ve been to museums and exhibits all over the world, and I’ve probably seen more ‘old stuff’ in the past twenty years than most people see in a lifetime, but this was different. This wasn’t something sitting in a protective glass case with a small descriptive placard. This was a piece of a lost civilization that was possibly over a thousand years old, and conceivably I was one of only five people alive today that have ever seen it. I wasn’t afraid, but I suddenly realized I was shaking, so I decided it might be a good idea to sit
back down for a minute or two. Mom broke the silence first. “Bill, is this really part of the Dresden?” and quickly added in her best Ricky Ricardo imitation; “And if it is, then you got some splaining to do!” Oh, there were definitely questions that needed to be answered. Throughout my life, I was taught and reminded that historical artifacts belonged to the world, and were meant to be shared, studied, and enjoyed by everyone. The bigger lesson my father taught me was much more ethical than philanthropic. By the time I was seven or eight years old, I was fairly well versed in the ways of antiquity theft and black-market antiquity trading. Since the beginning of time, the theft of property and possessions has exclusively been a crime of profit. One glaring example was the Crusades, where the persecution of ‘non-believers’ in the name of religion was just a cover-up for the greatest robbery in recorded time. However, the example people seem to be most familiar with is the looting of the tombs of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Burial practices during the reign of the Pharaohs were professed and ordained by an assortment of deities and priests that supported a singular belief in the afterlife. Since the Pharaoh was destined for the next world when his time came, it was important that he brought everything
he might need with him. Not expecting Pharaoh to find a Walmart in the new neighborhood when he got there, the tombs of the royals were filled with clothing, weapons, jugs of oils and wines, statues, furniture, silver and gold ornaments, and jewels. Since these practices were widely known, many of the earlier tombs were broken into and looted almost immediately. When it became enough of a problem, the priests took steps to prevent this from happening by either killing all of the undertakers or cleverly sealing them in the tomb with the Pharaoh once the sarcophagus was interred. Of course, this didn’t prevent the priests themselves from looting the tombs, but even that became a risky proposition once the Pharaoh’s had their architects begin constructing tombs that were booby-trapped. The theft of art and antiquities became more civilized when the colonial empires around the world came into power and saw fit to help themselves to the wealth and riches of the less enfranchized. This is why many of the great museums in the world still contain vast collections of artifacts and great works of art that just don’t belong to them. The current challenges surrounding all of this are much more difficult to confront. While the black market for art and antiquities continues to thrive, the players today are both quite wealthy and
discreet. The private collectors and the billionaires are the ones dealing in stolen goods these days, and yet, here I was sitting in my father’s study, wondering how many years of jail time he was going to be sentenced to when he got caught.
I could ask any questions, my father reasserted his control of the room. “Don and I are quite sure that this is the second half of the Dresden Codex, and I will do my best to splain this all to both of you. Trust me when I tell you that when we were given the codex, we didn’t want to accept it. We were a couple of college kids, and we were both sure that we were going to end up spending the rest of our lives in some Mexican prison for trying to smuggle national treasures out of the country. “Our benefactor, who more than shared our concerns, was confident that we wouldn’t have any problem crossing back into the States since the officials at the airport in Cancun rarely gave Americans more than a passing glance when they went through Customs. Plus, as college students working in cooperation with the Mexican government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, we wouldn’t even merit that passing glance. The fact that the codex, Don, and I, are all
safe and sound is proof enough that our patron knew what he was talking about. “The two of us knew enough about preservation methods to keep the codex in good condition, and I have to say we did a pretty good job because it looks exactly like it did the first time we unwrapped this same cloth after we got home. The first thing we did was take dozens of photos of each page so we wouldn’t compromise the originals. That was also a challenge since too much exposure to light can degrade the fibrous material the codex written on, but Don the master photographer stepped up to the task and worked his magic. “We were equally protective of the photos, and we probably went through five hundred pairs of white gloves, so we didn’t have to touch anything with our bare hands. It took us a lot of years to agree that this thing was actually part of the Dresden, but as our fluency with Mayan script improved, we became more and more amazed at their vast knowledge about health and sickness. “When we graduated, and our personal plans took us in different directions, Don made sure that the codex was carefully stored in a safe place, and we continued our work from the photos. Being fifteen-hundred miles apart from each other wasn’t ideal, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. Nonetheless, we kept in touch every week unless
one of us was in the field, or on vacation, and while our respective careers took priority, we still managed to devote a few hours every month to the codex. “We had good success with some pages, but we hit a wall with another group of pages that just wouldn’t give up their secrets. About six months ago, Don called and said he thinks he found something, and he needs to see me in person. I agreed to come to Dallas if he agreed to buy me a big-ass steak dinner at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.” Trying to avoid eye contact with Mom, Dad stared straight at me when he confessed that the archaeology conference he attended in Dallas last month was a sham so he could meet with Don. Neither of us broke eye contact, but we both felt the spring winding tighter until she calmly said to him; “You and I will talk later.” Dallas is a great city, but just to be fair, there are a lot of great cities all over the world. Out of the thirty-nine colleges and universities in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, ‘Uncle’ Don Shapley ended up at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in their Department of Anthropology. It took him eight years but he earned his tenure as a full professor, and like my father, was blessed with a job he just loved doing. He would have easily moved up to chair the department, except he absolutely hated the political and administrative
crap that came with the job. Don was a child of the sixties just like my father, and they both had a touch of Aquarius in them. Where they differed was; Dad was always mellow, Don was always mellowed out. Things just never seemed to get under Don’s skin. As far as he was concerned, he had the best job in the world, a comfortable nest egg, a small circle of female acquaintances, and the best friend any man could ever have. Top that off with steaks, scotch, and cigars, and you have a night destined for glory. Still aware that he was getting the evil eye from my mother, Dad made no mention of the steaks, the scotch, or the cigars, but he did put us in the restaurant with them. “Don and I had a small private room off in one of the corners of the restaurant. It was quiet, and we could talk freely without being overheard by anyone else. You could also smoke in there, and Don is a cigar guy, so if he was picking up the tab, I certainly wasn’t going to deny him. We did a twenty-minute catch-up on the families while we had our salads, and then Don jumped right into the codex. “Bill, you know that Mayan script is logosyllabic; symbols and glyphs that represent either a word, a syllable or sometimes both. You also know that there are emblem glyphs and that they’re normally used to designate some sort of
title; either a royal title or a person or god of importance. Bill, it was staring both of us right in the face, and we never saw it. I found a new glyph in the codex, and you’re not going to believe how it unlocked those remaining pages in the codex we could never figure out. Now I’ll walk you through the whole damn thing when we get back to my house because this took me a year to figure out buddy, and you need to suffer some also.” “We got back to Don’s house around nine or so, and once Don poured the coffee, we migrated to the study. The room was actually the formal living room, but since Don never entertained at the house, he took advantage of the extra room and turned the space into his inner sanctum. The man spared no expense staging the room, and I mean that literally. He didn’t put a dime into anything in that room that you would say was either decorative or aesthetic. It almost looked like his landscaper had assaulted the place with a leaf blower. Books, papers, magazines, Post-it notes, maps, whiteboards, and an impressive collection of what appeared to be unopened mail covered every flat furniture surface and a good percentage of the hardwood floor. He saw the look on my face and assured me that the only mail that remained unopened was junk mail. I had no reason to doubt him. There was an abundance of table space in the
room in addition to his desk, but he still found it necessary to sweep one of them clean, so we had a place to work. He picked up a folder from his desk and spread the photos from the codex out on the clean table. I was too excited about what Don was about to show me, so I kept my mouth shut and let him do his thing. He quickly found the specific photo he was looking for and repeatedly stabbed his finger at it before he translated the glyphs for me. ‘God of healing, Lord of before and after.’“ Mom said she needed a five-minute break, and even though I had a whole list of questions to ask Dad, the coffee decided that I held on to it long enough, and a bathroom break took precedence. Once we were back in the office again, I noticed that the codex was no longer sitting on his desk. I assumed it was wrapped back up and in the protection of his satchel. What was now on the desk in its place, were a series of 8x10 photos. Dad said he was going to do what Don did that night in Dallas, and forego the technical details for now so we could finally get to the conclusion of the story. There was no objection. “Isaac, this is where I need you, Kid. You’ve got the fresh eyes, and you’ve had the best training I’ve been able to give you on stuff like this. This isn’t all of the photos Don took of the codex pages. This is only about half of them, but they’re the ones I want to you see first. Look at any one of these
photos, and tell me what you see.” I wasn’t expecting to be called out of the audience like a tourist at a Las Vegas lounge show, but I did know that my father wouldn’t ask unless it was something he thought I could do. I got up and looked at the photos on his desk. They were obviously different, but at the same time, they were all consistent in their overall layout and format. Based on that, I saw no particular reason to pick one photo over the others, so I just picked up the one closest to me. The page I was looking at was split into two columns. The first column contained what looked like two vertical rectangles; one standing on top of the other. At various intervals within each rectangle was a series of horizontal stripes. The second column contained a lot of Mayan numbers. That was easy for me to recognize since I was always impressed with how simple but smart their counting system was. The Mayan numbering notation system consisted of groupings of dots and dashes kind of like Morse code. I had forgotten the details of the counting system they used, but there was no doubt that everything in the second column was numbers. I stared at the photo for another minute before I was prepared to admit to myself that I had no idea what my father expected me to see in the photo. “Sorry Dad, I see what’s in each column, and I see that the second column is exclusively numeric, but
I’m really not seeing anything obvious here.” He asked me if I remembered what Don said to him in Dallas; “Bill, it was staring both of us right in the face, and we never saw it”? I shook my head, and he said “Good. Now turn the photo ninety degrees clockwise.” In my mind, this wasn’t going to change anything, because the Mayans wrote their numbers both vertically and horizontally, so turning the photo doesn’t change the numbers. Looking at the top portion of the photo, something seemed familiar, but I still couldn’t put my finger on it. I was starting to regret not paying better attention during some of Dad’s history lessons as I was growing up. “Sorry, again Dad. Still nothing.” With an air of what I would call casual enlightenment, my father asked; “What would you say if I told you there are twenty-three of these photos?” I was about to ask why the number of photos would matter, but I only got as far as puckering my lips to form the word “why” when suddenly it all clicked and fell into place. I very slowly looked down at the photo again, and actually had to grab the desk, or so help me I would have hit the floor. Completely forgetting that Mom was in the room with us, I looked at my father and said; “How the hell can this be possible?” You should know I didn’t actually use the word hell. I could pretend that Mom didn’t hear the F-
bomb, or I could go with the possibility that she just chose to ignore it. Either way, I couldn’t say for sure because she didn’t react to it at all. With everything else running around in my head, it suddenly registered that my mother had achieved the unachievable. She sat in that room with us for almost three hours, listening to my father recount a story that began over forty years ago and still managed to stay engaged with the details and the buzzwords. She had no experience in any of it, but when she saw how my sudden awareness almost took my legs out from under me, she proved once again that she was wise beyond her years. She didn’t just process the overwhelming collection of words; she digested those words and somehow understood what was happening. She knew that whatever was in this codex, it was something significant and meaningful; not just important, but something so big it had profound consequences. I’ll say it again. My mother is not a stupid woman, and she made that quite clear when she modestly asked; “Bill dear, do me a favor, please. Before you tell the boy how the hell this thing is possible, do you think you can at least tell me what the hell it is?” Just to keep things in context, you should know she didn’t use the word hell either. In thirty-three words, my mother did the impossible. She pulled me back from the brink
before I crossed that thin threshold between reality and imagination. She then made it painfully evident that she was categorically involved, and definitely had a part to play in all of this. Then to top it all off, she made my father laugh so hard he had tears running down his cheeks. It took him a minute or two but he did compose himself, and when he looked at her he saw something in her that he had never seen before. He frankly had no idea what it was, but he was utterly stunned that he had this remarkable woman in his life. “Helen, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it my way. The Kid asked his question first, so I’m going to answer him first. “Kid, I have no idea how this is possible. Anyone with half a brain would be only too happy to tell you that it isn’t possible. Faced with that uncertainty, at least for the time being, I see no value in wasting time trying to rationalize how it could be possible, so we’re going to put that question on the back burner, and focus on the stuff we may actually begin to do something with.” He then shifted his gaze to my mother. “There is a thousand-year-old Mayan book sitting in my satchel that has twenty-three pages of diagrams drawn in it, and each one of those diagrams is an impossibly accurate representation of the twenty-three human chromosomes that make up everyone’s DNA.” He waited, knowing his
statement was not going to sink in quickly. When Mom slowly sat back down on the couch, he took that as a signal that he could continue. “I always knew that the Mayans were ahead of their time, but this was ridiculous, and I swear I had no intentions of telling either one of you about this until Don reminded me about the numbers. Isaac, make this easier for your mother please, and explain idiograms, so she has a point of reference before I get ahead of myself.” Now I was surprised. Idiograms? Where did that come from, and who was this man pretending to be my father? Dad was the stereotypical adventure guy. He was a master of ancient history and had few equals within higher academic circles, but when it came to genetics, he didn’t know squat. I could say he was a novice, but that would be an insult to all the other novices out there. There were only two other ways he could have become as well versed as he was. He either took a couple of classes himself, or he did an awful lot of reading. Either way, he apparently knew more about genetics that I gave him credit for. I grabbed one of the photos from Dad’s desk and sat down next to my mother on the couch. “OK Mom, Genetics for Dummies. An idiogram is just a diagram; an illustration of what a chromosome would look like when it’s stained and viewed under a microscope. The staining does a lot of things for
us. The bands that get revealed are the actual genes on the chromosome, and the band pattern along with the relative size of the chromosome helps to identify which chromosome we’re dealing with.” I pointed out the series of stripes within the rectangles in the photo. “Keep in mind there are twenty-three of these puppies, and they’re normally shown together in order of size; starting with the largest down to the smallest. The two rectangles in the photo are also significant. Every chromosome has a constriction point called a centromere which divides the chromosome into two arms. The shorter arm is called the ‘p-arm,’ and the longer arm is called the ‘q-arm.’ It’s these centromeres that ultimately give chromosomes their unique shapes.” Pointing at the photo again, I showed her the two rectangles and the centromere separating them. When she nodded, I felt she probably had enough under her belt for that point of reference Dad wanted her to have before he continued. He must have felt the same way, and reclaimed the conversation without missing a beat. “Thanks, Kid. When Don started showing all of this to me that night in Dallas, I was convinced that the whole thing was an elaborate prank. I was wrong. What convinced me was the groups of numbers on each of the pages. He showed me all twenty-three photos one at a time, and if a specific
chromosome had thirty-one bands, then it also had thirty-one numbers depicted on the page. Twentyseven bands, twenty-seven numbers. Sixteen bands, sixteen numbers. This was the case for all twentythree photos. “There was a clear relationship between the bands and the numbers, and it only took us a few hours to map them out. In fairness, Don had already finished mapping each chromosome before I even got to Dallas, but he patiently waited as I went through the whole exercise again. He knew it was important for me to work the problem myself, and he also knew that my results would confirm his, and that was extremely important for both of us. And that brings us to where we are now because the truth is, Don and I have absolutely no idea what the numbers signify or what they may be hiding. Of course, at the same time, there could be a thousand-year-old practical joker spinning in his grave right now, and laughing his ass off at all of us.”
It was getting pretty late, and even with the coffee, my body reminded me that on top of everything that had taken place that evening, I had also driven four hours from Boston earlier in the day. I needed rest. All of us needed rest. While Mom and I brought the coffee cups into the kitchen, Dad made another trip out to the garage and returned with a cardboard box about the size of a countertop microwave oven. The box contained a beautiful cigar humidor which he carefully unpacked and placed on the counter. He retrieved the codex from his office, placed it in the humidor, and gently closed the lid. He waited about two minutes, and when he was satisfied that the hygrometer needle was within the acceptable range, he turned his attention back to us. “If you can believe it, Don has had the codex sitting in one of these since we brought it back from Mexico. The humidity is controlled, and it keeps the light and dust out. When you think about it, was a great idea for the money, and Don never seemed
to run out of great ideas. We’re all whipped. Let’s all get some sleep, and we’ll pick this up again in the morning.” Being back in my old room again was nice, but Christine wasn’t there, and looking back I was sorry she missed all the excitement. As tempted as I was to call her and tell her about everything that happened, I quickly realized that would be a mistake. Knowing none of the impact or significance of what Dad shared with us would be lost, I decided that it could wait until the morning. As convinced as I was that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, I was equally convinced in the morning that I never had any choice in the matter because I apparently fell asleep immediately and stayed asleep for almost nine hours. Between the time I got into the shower and the time I got downstairs, the kitchen was in full production mode with Mom cranking out eggs, pancakes, bacon, toast, and home fries, with the precision of a line cook at IHOP. I don’t know how she does it, but when that plate gets put down on the table, the eggs are done right, the pancakes are fluffy and brown, the bacon is crisp, the toast is buttered, and the home fries are nothing short of perfect. The woman is an enigma. The three of us didn’t talk; we just ate. Mom’s home cooked breakfast was a rare treat, and stood right alongside Nathan’s Coney Island hot dogs,
and the egg cream, as a uniquely Brooklyn experience. With everyone well fed, I texted Christine to see if she was free for a phone call. She pinged me back saying she was open all afternoon and would call me around one o’clock so we could talk without being disturbed. Dad felt that a change of scenery was in order, so we regrouped in the living room. He had already set up one of those whiteboards on wheels in the room and had covered about half of it with Mayan numbers. I could see that this was intended to first explain the counting system the Mayans created before he jumped into the numbers we saw last night in the photos. I would have done the same thing. Mom knew nothing about Mayan notation, and years had passed since I played with this stuff myself, so I welcomed the opportunity for a refresher. “Let’s see if we can get through this pretty quickly. It really isn’t that difficult, and once you get the gist of it, you’ll see how really cool these people were. “The Mayan number system is a base-twenty positional system. Our own number system is a base-ten positional system. So, where we count by ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands, etc., the Mayans would count by ones, twenty’s, four hundred’s, eight thousand’s, and so on. No one has ever been brave enough to publish this, but the unspoken theory is that the Mayans were smart
enough to count using both their fingers and toes, while the rest of the world was content to get by with only half as many digits.” Dad spent the next fifteen minutes drawing dots and bars on the whiteboard until he was satisfied that Mom had a marginal command of basic Mayan mathematics. After giving myself a small pat on the back for not forgetting as much of the math as I thought I had, I gave my mother a real pat on the back for picking it up so quickly herself. I could see from her expression that she was also very pleased with her new math skills. She must have felt really good about it because she immediately asked for the folder holding the twenty-three photos from the codex. We were more than likely going to move to them next anyway, but my father sensibly let my mother take the wheel. He could see that she was keeping up, and becoming more comfortable with all that she learned in the past twenty-four hours. The last thing he wanted to do was take the pride of that progress away from her. “Bill, you already told us that you and Don had individually mapped the numbers in each photo to their respective bands in each chromosome. You also told us that you and Don came up with the exact same mappings, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that the results you came up with are probably correct.” My father started to open his
mouth to argue with her insinuation, but she cut him off at the pass. “Just because both of you came up with the same results, doesn’t mean those results are correct. If you were both wrong, the fact that the two of you agree still doesn’t make the results right. Wasn’t it Confucius that said, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’?” Dad was clearly starting to get steamed, and that was apparently Mom’s signal to break out laughing. I lost it too, and even though there was no discernable difference between his angry red face and his embarrassed red face, I could see his posture change when he realized that Mom had played him like a fiddle. She was most definitely in the driver’s seat. “You also said that the two of you had no insight regarding the significance of the numbers for each of the chromosomes.” Dad shook his head in agreement. “That’s true. We could see that each band had a corresponding unique number, so that confirmed for us that there was no unexpected duplication on any of the chromosomes. We actually checked that twice. We also took the approach that while each chromosome is a unique piece of our DNA, whatever the codex might be saying, it’s only the complete helix that matters.” Just to show that he could give as well as he could take, he added; “It was Aristotle that said, ‘the whole is greater than
the sum of its parts.’“ The sarcasm wasn’t lost on my mother because she put one specific finger to her lips and blew him a big kiss. He just laughed. “We didn’t want to be chasing 23 different dead ends. We believed back then, and we still believe now that whatever this ends up being, it’s the collection of chromosomes that are significant, not the chromosomes themselves.” That was my queue. “I have to agree, Dad. I think you guys were smart, and I think you guys made the right decision. So, when you added up all of the numbers from all of the chromosomes, what number did you come up with?” He still had the marker in his hand, so he just turned to the board and wrote 951,413. “Nine hundred fifty-one thousand four hundred and thirteen.” The only sound anyone made in the 30 seconds that followed was when Dad snapped the cap back on the marker and dropped it onto the lip of the whiteboard. “Look, I know you and Don tried messing with the number and couldn’t come up with anything that made sense. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel here. What did the two of you brainstorm so we don’t waste any more time unnecessarily?” Dad took a seat. “We tried dates, but that doesn’t work. We looked at longitude and latitude and scratched that also. We toyed with the base
twenty concepts for a few minutes, but multiplication only gave us a much larger mystery number, and division results in a smaller fractional number. We looked at the Mayan calendars, we looked at the position of constellations, and we went back through the entire first codex as well as the pages before the idiograms in the new codex, and we still came away with nothing. “I’ll be the first to admit that this is beyond my capabilities, and I know that Don would say the same thing, except he innocently did something that shocked the both of us. I have no idea why he thought to do this, and I want to make it very clear that this could just be a fluke and mean absolutely nothing. If you add all of the digits in the number together; 9+5+1+4+1+3; they add up to 23.” I didn’t know what to say. This was insane on so many levels, but I also knew that this was deliberate. The odds of these six digits adding up to twenty-three was inconceivable. This was no accident. “Alright, I need to say two things here. There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that whatever is buried in the new codex, it’s relative to genetics. I’m also convinced that aside from all the progress you and Don have made up to this point, I need to take the lead on this going forward. We just jumped ahead a thousand years, right out of the Mayan Yucatan and right into the genetics labs of the twenty-first century. Dad, with no disrespect to
you or Don, this is my bailiwick. I’m the one that has the knowledge and the tools, and I’m the one that needs to carry this forward.” Dad smiled and looked at Mom. “Did you hear what the Kid said, Helen?” She never broke eye contact with him. “I heard him, Bill. It’s nice to know that the two of us raised him pretty good these past thirtyone years.” It was almost time for lunch, so Mom headed off towards the kitchen, while Dad went into his office to call Don with a progress report. I needed to grab my laptop from the bedroom. There was too much that I might forget, and I wanted to get everything documented while it was still fresh in my mind. It dawned on me that it made sense to fold all of this in with the PT project at work. By doing that, I wouldn’t have any misgivings about burning work hours on the codex, and I would have the added advantage of being able to use the mainframes and databases at the Institute to help me. I couldn’t connect the dots yet, but something told me that the codex and PT were somehow related. Regardless, this was the smart way to go. The wonderful thing about scientific research is that even if your research ultimately proves your theory to be wrong, that still counts as a discovery. There are no losers in science. The house had good Wi-Fi, so I got connected
to the Institute’s network in no time. Once I jumped through a couple of user ID’s and passwords, I was logged into my own virtual machine and had access to all of my projects and folders. The technology never ceased to amaze me. Here I was sitting in my old bedroom in Brooklyn when I could have just as easily been sitting in my office at the Institute. It was convenient, it was fast, and it was secure. As part of the contracts and relationships the Institute had with agencies in Washington, 256-bit encryption was mandatory, so working remotely was both cost-effective and safe from outsiders - at least that was what we had been told. Breakthroughs in genetics can be worth billions of dollars, and the threat of industrial espionage is always present. Obviously, we were never given any details, but the security team at the Institute made it perfectly clear that the measures they had in place to protect the company’s assets were bulletproof, and could not be compromised. There was, however, one other interested party that took exception to those safeguards, and while I didn’t know it at the time, I was going to meet him face-to-face in the next few days. Lunch was delayed in the name of science, just as so many other meals had been over the years. It took an hour for me to transcribe my mental notes into a rough outline and uploading it to the Institute. As long as I had the essential
talking points listed, I knew I wouldn’t have any problem fleshing out the details later. Until I had a chance to go over all of the codex material with Chris, I wanted to keep the data private, so when I created the subfolder in the PT project, I used a private encryption key. I was proofing the file a second time when Chris called my cell, and I could see that she was calling from her office. We were never told that our work calls would be recorded, but when you’re in the line of work that we were, we never ruled the possibility out. Because of that, we were always careful about what we said on the phone, and over time we developed our own small set of code words to mask things from ‘big brother.’ It was all very James Bond. “Your timing is impeccable Sweetie. I was just getting ready to upload a couple of ideas I had this morning.” After a full morning of meetings and a full inbox of new emails waiting for her when she got back to her office, I knew the last thing she wanted to talk about was work, but my words were intentional. On the surface, our conversation was innocent enough, but in reality, it was prepared, deliberate, and always entertaining for us. “First, how are the folks?” I gave her the general report. “They’re healthy, happy, well fed, and still looking forward to being grandparents one day.
And just so there isn’t any doubt, I miss you more than they do.” She was obviously having fun with the call. “Good. I’m glad they’re both doing well, and I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, even without me being there. So, can you tell me what the big announcement is, or do I need some sort of clearance from the guys in the black suits?” “Well they didn’t hit the lottery, so it looks like we’ll both still be working for a while. Dad told us that Don was coming up from Texas for a conference in a few weeks, and he wanted to take everyone out for a catch-up dinner one night.” Chris more than understood, and let the matter drop. Whatever I needed to tell her would have to wait. “That sounds like fun, and it would be nice to see Uncle Don again. Maybe we can both grab some time and join the festivities.” “I think we should. A few days off together would do us both a lot of good, and we haven’t seen Don in years. I’ll get the dates from Dad, and we’ll put it on the calendar.” We both knew that we would talk that evening, and I could tell that Chris was as impatient to hear what was going on, as I was to tell her. “Look I know you’re busy, so I’ll let you go. Enjoy the rest of the day, and I’ll be home soon, once I’ve had enough of the folks. Love you!”
Chris got the message loud and clear, and she knew I would be back in Boston that night. The folks weren’t thrilled to see me go so soon, but they also knew that the past two days were a roller coaster for all of us. Boston wasn’t on the other side of the country, and we would be seeing more of each other now anyway because of the codex. I packed up the overnighter and my laptop, and we said our goodbyes. Dad said he would walk me out to the car, and when we got into the driveway, he told me to drive carefully because he was sending the codex home with me. When I opened the passenger door to put the overnighter in the back seat, I could see that the humidor was back in its cardboard box and resting on the back seat. “Kid, you’re going to need this more than I am. As long as you keep an eye on the hygrometer, the codex should be fine.” I hugged him again and promised I would keep him posted on everything. If I got lucky, I would miss the traffic getting out of the city, and be back in Boston early enough to have supper with Chris.
drive really wasn’t bad, and I was making pretty good time. I never got distracted enough to compromise my driving, but I did find myself coming back to several problems I knew I had to somehow resolve if my work on the codex was going to have some chance of success. First, there was the small matter of a national treasure being smuggled out of Mexico. That was an issue that couldn’t be ignored. The second problem was the Institute. If I kept the codex a secret, I’d have to lie about any substantive discoveries I made because of the codex. It’s not that I wouldn’t lie about it if I found something that would truly benefit people, I just didn’t think I could lie convincingly enough to get away with it. Neither choice appealed to me, and deep down I had this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was irrefutably screwed on both accounts. When I began to think about my options more objectively, the haze in my head slowly started to clear. I’ve had my ass in a bind more than once in
my life, and when I found myself circling the bowl for the last time, it was either my family or my friends that reached in and dragged me out of the whirlpool. I needed them the most. Once I included Chris in this mess, every member of my family who was still alive would be involved one way or another. As much as I loved all of them, I had no lofty expectations that the answers I was looking for would come from the Rothman side of the equation. That left me with the only remaining people on the planet that I could turn to. Rick and Karen were the only other people in the world that I would literally trust my life with. I knew without a doubt that if I called them for help, they would be there for me, without pretense, without hesitation, and without questions. In the collective time that the three of us all knew each other, I personally had never kept anything from either of them, and I believe that they never kept anything from me. But this was a different situation. I had absolutely nothing I wanted to hide from either one of them, but I was concerned that if this thing blew up in our faces, they would end up in as much trouble as I would. I needed to protect them, and the less they knew, the safer they would be. What I still wasn’t sure about, was whether or not they could actually help. They were two people I met at separate times
and under very different circumstances. Two people out of an entire world full of people that not only happened to cross my path but also stopped to say hello. This wasn’t random, and it certainly wasn’t prearranged. There is something else going on, something else happening, that makes connections like these unique. You call it what you want; destiny, mystical, spiritual, fateful, I really don’t care. All I know is that the most important people in your life somehow manage to find you, and that kind of bond goes well beyond the limits of simple friendships. I wished that Chris was in the car with me. She was the brains of the outfit when it came to things like this. Regrettably, I was just now passing through Providence, and I still had a good hour and 15 minutes before I’d be home. When Rick Arnold’s folks moved into the neighborhood, I lived less than a block away, but I never ran into Rick until summer ended and we found ourselves both in the same fourth-grade class at PS-193. We were the two shrimps in the class, so we ended up together when we were ‘on line.’ Looking back, I think we spent about twenty-five percent of the school year being lined up for one reason or another. Between assembly halls, fire drills, lunch, recess, and dismissal at the end of the day, Rick and I ended up spending a lot of time together. Being the two shortest kids in the class, we
also sat in the front row so we could see the blackboard unobstructed, and that put us at adjacent desks. It didn’t take very long before we both had extended sets of loving parents and two houses we could both call home. In the years that followed, we both faced the challenges of school, puberty, romance, college, careers, and marriage. It’s called growing up, and although everyone continues to grow throughout their lives, Rick and I managed to get passed a fairly good chunk of it together. We made it all the way through high school before we went separate ways in college. Rick could have come to Boston and gone to school up there but chose to stay closer to home, doing his undergraduate work at Columbia. He was always smarter than me and landed a few scholarships at schools in the northeast corridor, but when I asked him why he chose Columbia, he told me that his folks were starting to have some medical issues, and he needed to stay home so he could help out. Rick’s folks were almost 12 years older than my parents, and even though they were doing pretty good financially, they were always on a tight budget. I’m sure that Rick understood that going to college out of town would cost a lot more money, and that was an expense he could avoid by staying local. With differences in income came differences
in lifestyles. Dad would always say let’s go to the movies, and every time he would tell me to invite Rick. Although it was never scripted, Rick would always offer to pay for himself and Dad would always tell him to keep his money. Dad called Rick his ‘number two son.’ On the other side of the coin were the many real-life lessons and values I learned from the Arnold’s, that I still carry with me today. Rick was a brilliant math student and a master of logic and proficiency. If something had to be done, he would analyze the options, and invariably come up with the easiest, quickest, and the most cost-effective way to get the job done. I had him pegged as either an efficiency expert, a statistician, or a CPA until he announced to me that his chosen major was Computer Science. I never questioned it. If this was what he wanted to do, I knew the decision was well thought out. His expertise and abilities during college caught the eye of several major tech players and more than a few people within the government. Whatever Rick’s future plans were, grad school wasn’t part of them, so he did his four years at Columbia and started his own business. I would love to tell you that the major corporation he now runs was created in a garage in Brooklyn, but garages are too damn hot in the summer and too damn cold in the winter. Rick’s fortune was born in his Brooklyn bedroom, and within two years the
guy was swimming in more research grants and development money than he knew what to do with. As with so many life-changing events, the two of us faced a tremendous personal loss in 2007, when Rick’s folks passed away less than 48 hours apart. Other than the fact that their age and their frailties eventually caught up with them, they both had their faculties right up to the end, and they both went peacefully. That didn’t lessen our grief, but we had each other to lean on, and that really meant a lot to the both of us. When Rick called to tell me that the doctors said it would only be a few more days, I told my student advisor there was a family emergency, and I would be away for a while. The only other person I told was Karen so she wouldn’t freak out when I suddenly dropped out of circulation. In less than 45 minutes, Karen was at my door with her suitcase, her backpack, and her pillow. “What’s all this?” I asked. “I’m going with you stupid, and don’t even think of arguing with me.” I couldn’t, and I didn’t. Funerals suck. They are a huge commercial enterprise, and they are such a lucrative business that many of the companies that provide ‘compassionate services’ are actually publicly traded on the stock market. If you do get through the gauntlet of caskets, cemetery plots, headstones, motorcades, chapels, and funeral directors without the need for a co-signer or a second mortgage,
you’re not doing too bad. The family typically next meets with a priest or a rabbi for ten minutes or so before the service so that priest or rabbi can then ‘personally’ eulogize the decedent with the proper names, dates, and family milestones. It’s almost the same as a latenight monologue, minus the queue cards, the jokes, and the rim shots. Rick made it clear that he wanted no such trappings and asked for the family to be left to mourn privately, while the other arrangements were to be kept simple and respectful. So, Mom, Dad, Karen and I sat in a small parlor at the funeral home and helped Rick through the single worst day of his life – the day he buried both of his parents. We stayed in Brooklyn the entire week and only decided to head back to Boston once we were satisfied that Rick was doing OK. My folks were half a block away if he needed anything, so he wasn’t really going to be alone. He was the ‘number two son,’ and we all knew they would keep tabs on him. We offered to help him sort through all of the things in the house, but he said it was something he needed to do on his own. He certainly had enough money in the bank, and we knew he would have his work to occupy some of the quiet time for him, so after making him promise to call at least one of us every day, Karen and I headed back to up to
Boston. I have to say, that while Rick kept his promise to call every day, I didn’t expect that the person he would be calling would be Karen. I was surprised, but I wasn’t offended. The reason for the calls was to make sure that he was coping OK, and if he was more comfortable talking to her, I knew he was in good hands. Starting with our first encounter in the computer lab a few years back, Karen and I were practically inseparable. She too was a computer science major, so the connection between her and Rick was in place well before I first brought her home to Brooklyn on spring break and introduced them to each other. Aside from the 215 miles separating us, and the fact that none of us was Mexican, we kind of felt like ‘The Three Amigos.’ As close as Karen and I were, and as easy as it would have been to become physically involved, we were both happy with the way things were. We sure as hell weren’t celibate and there were ample opportunities to hook up at MIT for both of us. It was just something we did with other people. I tell folks that whatever clicked between Karen and Rick was meant to happen. I don’t know if it was their shared interests or the emotional link that grew out of the visits and the phone calls, but at the end of the day, aside from Chris and myself, there are no two people that belong together more than those two.
When Rick did go through all of the papers and documents his parents had left, he learned that not only was the house entirely paid for, but his father had invested his money very wisely and left Rick with a trust portfolio worth over 2 million dollars. That was a ridiculous amount of money in 2007, and I say that only because Rick was smart enough to understand what was going on in the stock market, and had the sense to cash out before the bubble burst in 2008. His business didn’t tie him to Brooklyn, so he moved himself up to Massachusetts, bought himself a great house on quite a few acres of land, and finally asked Karen to marry him. The two of them established one of the most successful and secretive technologies consulting firms in the world. Their business was privately held, and most of their accomplishments seldom saw the light of day. In spite of the fact that they would never have the notoriety of a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs, they were decades ahead of anything Microsoft or Apple had already achieved, or would likely achieve in the foreseeable future. This not only gave them access to a lot of very important people but brought them a degree of privileged notoriety and a prominent place on the annual ‘World’s Wealthiest’ list.
The Back Bay neighborhood in Boston is easily distinguished by the rows of 19th-century brownstones that line many of its streets. Homes there aren’t merely expensive, they’re embarrassingly expensive. Just to put the numbers in context, a permanent parking space alone can easily cost six figures. Of course, that number can also go up depending on its location and whether or not it’s a covered parking spot. Chris and I weren’t exactly without means. We had the salaries, the FICO scores, and the cash for enough of a down payment to secure a jumbo mortgage on the house of our dreams. To be within walking distance of the shopping on Newbury and Boylston Streets, as well as the malls at the Prudential Center and Copley Place was alone worth the expense of buying where we did. Add to that being within a mile of Fenway Park, and there really aren’t too many better places in the city to live. I left the overnighter in the car so I could get
the codex into the house first. Chris must have been watching for me because before I had a chance to reach for my house key, the front door opened and I was met with a big kiss and a cloud of scents and flavors that quickly reminded me how hungry I was. “Chef Chang’s?” I asked apprehensively. “Yup, they delivered about twenty minutes ago. Let’s eat, you must be starving.” Between the dumplings, the Lo Mein, and the Mu Shu pork, there was no room for conversation until we polished off every container of food. Once we got the table cleaned off, we collapsed onto the sectional in the living room. Chris patiently waited until I found a good place to start talking. She already reasoned that whatever I was going to tell her was probably going to take the rest of the evening, so another thirty seconds for me to get my thoughts together wasn’t going to matter. The next three hours passed in what felt like three minutes. I had the outline to work from, so Chris got the complete recap starting with the dig, to the codex, to the Mayan calculations, to the impossible reference of the chromosomes, and lastly, the potential significance of the number 951,413. For three hours, I talked, and she listened. I guess I also managed to convey the same shock and emotions I felt over the past two days because when I was finished, the poor girl just sat there
staring at me, incapable of saying anything. After about ten seconds of total silence, I interjected; “Do I need to get the paddles?”, and she suddenly came back from wherever she was in her mind. “Not quite yet, but keep them handy. I don’t know what to say at this point other than I’m going to need a lot more time to process all of this. I think that if I can convince the rational side of my brain to accept these things as facts, I might get the other side to cooperate with us when we try to figure out what it all really means. Come on Einstein, I’ll walk you to the car, so you can get the rest of your stuff, and then we’re going to bed.” Chris was already up and in the shower when I got up the next morning. Somehow the time lords had seen fit to favor us because it was Saturday morning and we had a full weekend we could devote to the codex. The needle on the hygrometer hadn’t moved since I unpacked the humidor the night before, so item one on the checklist was good. We did have a few errands to run, and a quick stop at Trader Joe’s would keep us fed if we found ourselves with sufficient reason to stay home instead of going out to eat. Our time out of the house was primarily spent answering questions from Chris. In the hours that we walked around the neighborhood and talked, Chris was able to fill in a lot of gaps between the events that took place, and the conclusions Don
and Dad arrived at during their investigations. Now she was anxious to get back to the photos from the codex again. Above all else, she was a bio-scientist and a damn good one, so if the secrets in the codex were DNA related, she knew that’s where her expertise needed to be focused. We spent the rest of the day pouring over the photos and my notes. Chris wanted to make sure that nothing was unintentionally missed when Don took his pictures and asked if she could look at the codex itself. Anticipating that we would want to do that at some point, Dad packed a box of white cotton gloves in the carton with the humidor. Since my only reference to the codex was also the photos, I told Chris that we should look at the entire book and not just the twenty-three pages we were most interested in. I didn’t expect us to see something in those preceding pages that would change anything Dad had already told me, but if we were going to figure this out, we couldn’t jump to any conclusions or ignore any of the material we had to work with. We spent hours comparing the pages to the photos, at times using a magnifying glass, and ultimately agreed that Don had captured the codex flawlessly. As far as we were concerned, working with the photos was equivalent to working with the actual pages of the codex, so I carefully returned the codex to the humidor and put it back in the
bedroom closet. Convinced that the key to the puzzle was in the twenty-three idiograms, we were now faced with the problem of how to proceed. When you consider the number of possible genes on each chromosome, and the number of known as well as potentially unknown factors that can affect each gene, the probabilities become so overwhelming, that just calculating the unique combinations of DNA sequences requires a whole lot of time and a whole lot of computer power. The Institute could provide the bio-lab tools we would need, but not the computing power. Even though we had several mainframes and an abundance of servers in the building, it still wasn’t enough processing power for the millions of calculations we imagined we were going to have to execute. You have to understand, the hardware at the Institute is quite capable of doing the work. In fact, a room full of people with handheld calculators is also capable of doing the job. The problem isn’t processing power; the problem is processing speed. The significant variable in all of this was speed, and there was only one place I knew of that would have the necessary resources to get the job done. As a side note, I’m not ignoring the equally difficult challenge of writing the customized software to run those calculations, but there’s no point in putting the cart before the horse. If the hardware isn’t up to the task, developing the
software becomes a moot point. “I think we both know what we need to do, right?” Chris said it the only way she knew how. “Elwood, we’re putting the band back together.” It was time to call Rick and Karen. Given the hour, we decided we’d make the call in the morning. It had been a long day all around, but Chris gave me a look that suggested she wasn’t as tired as I thought she was. All I could think as she pulled me towards the bedroom was how good it was to be back home. I slept great until about 3:00 AM when a single nagging thought woke me up. It was that damn statement again that Don made to Dad over dinner in Dallas. “Bill, it was staring both of us right in the face, and we never saw it.” I thought back to the photos still sitting downstairs on the table, and I couldn’t imagine that Chris and I could have missed something. If anything, we were overly methodical when we analyzed each chromosome, and I sure didn’t want to say anything to Chris that might imply we screwed something up. Being the genius that I am, I chalked it up to mental overload and unceremoniously blew it off so I could get back to sleep. It would be weeks before I realized how utterly stupid I was that night, and how close I could have come to making one of the greatest discoveries in the history of the human race. Between work and charitable interests, Rick and Karen were always shielded from phone calls
and correspondence by their administrative assistants. These were people they had known personally for some time, and the first people they had brought into the company. Every CEO at every major corporation has that one individual at their side who is often the real reason the CEO is successful. Knowing all of this, Chris was pleasantly surprised when she dialed Karen’s private number, and Karen picked up on the first ring. “Please don’t tell me that you knew I was going to call.” Karen laughed. “Well we are working on a clairvoyance app for the phone, but we’re not quite there yet. How are you guys?” Chris knew that the call was secure, but still didn’t want to take any chances, so she dropped one of her code words into the conversation. “We’re doing great. I can’t believe we haven’t seen you two since March, so I’m calling to see if you guys wanted to grab lunch or dinner later so we could catch up on stuff. We’ve got so much to tell you about.” Karen didn’t skip a beat. “Sure, how about we pick you up around noon, and we’ll decide then where we want to eat?” When Chris hung up, she said; “They’re sending a car for us, so let’s make sure we pack a change of clothes, and I think we should bring the
codex.” I agreed. “Other than grabbing a good bottle of wine, the photos, and our notes from yesterday is there anything else we need to do?” “We’ll need to let the folks at the Institute know we won’t be in for another day or two, and I think that maybe you should delete the stuff you uploaded to the mainframe when you were back home. What do you think?” I quickly thought about it. “Yeah, I know it’s encrypted, so it’s safe, but until we have a better idea how this is going to play out, I think you’re right.” I walked over to the laptop and dialed into the Institute. I ran one of the security programs to overwrite the entire folder with binary zeros, so the data itself was physically destroyed. Then I deleted the folder itself, logged myself out, and powered the laptop down. What I didn’t know was that as soon as I initiated the steps to wipe the data, a message appeared on a console screen in a secured room far away from the Institute. There were no alarm bells or flashing lights, but it was instantly seen, just as a similar message had been seen when I first created the folder and uploaded the encrypted file. What the observer found curious was the fact that the file had not been accessed or changed since it was uploaded. So why would someone go through the trouble if there was no reason to retain the
information? Definitely, something to think about, but that would have to wait for now. The instructions were clear, and they would be followed to the letter. Within seconds, a notification was left in an unattended voice mailbox. “Sir, this is Douglas. Mr. Rothman just deleted all of the information he uploaded to the Institute on Friday.” At precisely noon, the doorbell rang, and when I opened the door, Rick’s personal assistant Marshall greeted me with a warm smile and a warmer handshake. “Good afternoon Mr. Rothman. It’s good to see you again. What can I bring to the car for you?” I smiled and pointed to the suitcase, the laptop bag, and the humidor. “Marshall, the humidor is ‘one of a kind’ if you get my meaning. Special handling please.” “Not a problem sir. The car is equipped to safely secure sensitive devices.” Chris came into the entryway just as Marshall was about to grab the luggage. “So nice to see you again Mrs. Rothman.” Chris slapped him on the arm and chided him; “Marshall cut the crap and give me a hug. I hope we didn’t screw up your Sunday.” Marshall gave her a hug and assured us both; “Not at all. Besides, Ellie is so glued to the tube watching the Patriots pre-game, she probably doesn’t even know I’m gone. Let’s get going. I know Karen and Rick are anxious to see you.”
The town of Bolton, Massachusetts is a residential and agricultural community in Worcester County, roughly twenty-five miles west-northwest of downtown Boston. The trip out there took under an hour. The office building where Rick and Karen ran their company looked like most other single-story office buildings. There was an entrance road off the main thoroughfare with a single security checkpoint and a uniformed guard on duty 24 hours a day. The parking lot could accommodate the twenty or so employee vehicles, and there was lots of land for growth and expansion. What was not obvious, was the multiple layers of additional security measures that surrounded the entire building and the grounds. Without going into details, in the unlikely event that someone did manage to circumvent the first layer intrusion precautions and did get into the building, there was no conceivable way that they could avoid the remaining protective layers. Most of the work the company did was for the government, and as such, classified top secret and
critical to national security. There were no moral or ethical strings attached here. If you were foolish enough to enter the building uninvited, the only way you were leaving the building was in chains or a body bag. The house itself was on the same plot of land and about a mile from the office building. Marshall was waved through at the checkpoint and steered the SUV onto a tree-lined service road that wound around the office and continued past the single loading dock and utility sheds in the back of the building. The house could be seen through the trees and the low hills. The exterior was simple but well maintained. To someone casually passing by, it could easily be viewed as a turn of the century two story farmhouse covered in typical New England clapboard, with a full wrap-around porch and a cedar shingle roof. Next to the house was a sizeable barn that provided winter parking for the vehicles, and the extravagant second floor living quarters where Marshall and Ellie lived. Both buildings shared an enormous front lawn and were sheltered in the arms of a hand-built stone wall that dated back to the early 1700’s. Everything else, however, was a veneer - an east coast Hollywood disguise. From the imitation cedar shingles to the slightly weathered paint on the clapboard siding, the buildings were the latest in structural design and
built with entirely maintenance-free materials. Throw a fully adaptive home automation and protection system into the mix along with two whole-house backup generators, and what appeared to be the old family homestead on the outside, was in truth a multi-million-dollar diamond in the rough. Marshall’s wife Eleonore was waiting on the porch when the car pulled up in front of the house. “You guys go on in with Ellie, and I’ll bring your bags in and park the car.” Ellie met us with hugs, and we followed her into the house while Marshall collected our belongings. We made our way into the living room, and Ellie motioned for us to sit. “Marshall swore you would be watching the Patriots game, Ellie.” Ellie laughed. “That man thinks he knows everything. Rick and Karen asked me to apologize for them. They’re on a call with one of our offshore clients, but should be wrapping it up in just another minute or two. What can I get you guys to drink?” Chris pulled the bottle of wine out of her tote bag and handed it to Ellie. “This should go into the chiller for later, and I’ll have a vodka and tonic please.” I raised two fingers indicating I would have the same when a voice behind me caused me to practically jump out of my chair. “Make it four please Ellie.” Somehow Rick and Karen had silently snuck into the room from the adjacent study.
“I swear you two need to wear cowbells. Do your feet ever actually touch the floors in this place?” The next few minutes were laughs, hugs, and a sense of warmth and closeness you only feel when you know that the people you’re with are family. Once we had our drinks in hand, Ellie excused herself to ‘help Marshall,’ and left the four of us alone so we could catch up. Karen said that lunch was ready and there was no reason we couldn’t eat and talk at the same time, so we moved into the kitchen and were met with a buffet spread that seemed to have been prepared for either a boardroom luncheon or a small wedding reception. Rick being Rick jokingly remarked; “I’m glad Ellie didn’t go overboard again, and I sure hope you guys didn’t stop for a burger on the way.” Between the food, the company, and the flashbacks, lunch was a reaffirmation for all four of us. As much as we had tried to keep in touch and see each other, our lives had become unwillingly ruled by our careers and the occupational obligations that accompanied them. I don’t mean to screw with semantics, but the thing people don’t always get about this is that however long people have been apart from each other is simultaneously the same amount of time they haven’t been together. We all understood that, and even though the
friendship hadn’t diminished, we all still felt a bit cheated because of it. I can’t explain what I sensed sitting in that kitchen that Sunday afternoon, but I knew that something important was going to happen. I knew that it was going to take the four of us to uncover what the codex was hiding, and I suspected that in the end, any time we had already lost would quickly be made up, and would bring us closer than we had ever been before. It was a good ninety minutes before we mutually agreed to throw in the towel and pushed ourselves away from the table. We hadn’t really pigged out, but we also had no expectations that dinner would happen anytime before seven o’clock that evening. Karen suggested that we move outside to the screened porch behind the house so we wouldn’t be disturbed while the kitchen was being attended to. The porch was nothing short of an oasis in the middle of rural eastern Massachusetts. Hanging plants as well as potted plants and dwarf trees extended onto the porch from the gardens behind the house, separated only by the screening that kept the flying insects away from the guests, the food tables, and the bar when Rick and Karen hosted their outdoor gatherings and employee social events. The furniture was unbelievably plush and orchestrated into clusters of conversation groupings
that could comfortably accommodate fifty to sixty people. I would say that Rick and Karen spared no expense on planning and staging the porch, but the fact is Rick and Karen never spared any expense on anything. Money was never an issue or concern. They had both worked very hard to get where they are today, and truly have more money than they could ever expect to spend. Once we got settled, it was time to lay our cards on the table. Rick immediately got the conversation going. “So, what’s going on? What do you need and how can we help?” Chris and I looked at each other until Chris said; “This is your rodeo sweetie, so don’t take any shortcuts and don’t leave anything out.” I smiled at her and turned to Rick. “Before I start, do you want to invite Ellie and Marshall to this? I know you guys trust them implicitly, and we’re happy to have them included, but it’s your call.” Now it was Rick’s turn to smile. All he said was; “Thanks.” He looked at Karen, and she punched one key on her smartphone. “Ellie, would you and Marshall join us on the back porch, please? Thanks.” Five minutes later, the six of us were together on the porch, and I began to tell them my story. I took my time, and I left nothing out; not the dates, or places, or names of everyone involved up to this point. I also painstakingly explained the dots-and-
dashes of the Mayan counting system, as well as the complexities of genetic banding, and the elusive objective of Predictive Transitioning. I was really fortunate in that I had two important things going for me. The first was that my audience was extremely intelligent and well educated, so I didn’t have to dumb down my words or waste any time explaining things in simpler terms. I basically just told it the way I had said it all to Chris, and they listened just as she had. The second thing was that after only the first ten minutes or so, it dawned on me that neither Rick, Karen, Ellie, nor Marshall had asked any questions yet. I quickly considered that maybe they would let me finish telling the story and then hit me with the questions, but I just as quickly realized that they simply didn’t have any questions to ask. They got it. They understood what I was saying, and they had mentally put themselves in my shoes. In every way conceivable, this was my challenge, my problem, and I knew right then in that instant, that it was now theirs as well. It would be three more hours before I finally finished talking. Without any coaxing, Marshall went to the bar and fixed six fresh vodka tonics. The girls headed to the powder room, and the men deferred any further conversation until they returned. Karen broke the silence. “Do you really think the codex
has the key to determining when someone is going to die?” Chris figured that my voice could use a break, so she answered Karen’s question. “We don’t know if it does or not. What we do know with some degree of confidence is that the twenty-three chromosomes painted in the codex are human chromosomes and reflect not only what we know about genetics today, but also include a few new things that we haven’t seen before. We can’t ignore the fact that the codex is over a thousand years old, and yet it contains scientific information that was discovered no more than fifty-five years ago. “We also know that Isaac has been working very hard for nine years now, and really isn’t any closer to resolving the PT question then he was the day he started. So, what I’m saying is that we simply can’t dismiss the possibility that the codex might give us what we need to make PT a reality. Even if it’s not PT related, there is something in that book that we’re both convinced will change humanity forever, and while there are two sides to every coin Isaac and I believe that whatever it is, it will be of global benefit, and not some ‘Andromeda Strain’ extinction event.” I took Chris’s hand. “Look, guys, there’s a postscript to this story that I know you haven’t even thought about yet. If this investigation gives us the ability to know in advance when a person is
going to die, there are significant implications that go beyond the scientific, that we’re going to have to consider. “We all need to agree on how we’re going to manage this if we actually figure out how to make it work. This isn’t something we casually agree to do; it has to be unanimous, and it must be decided before we move forward with anything else. Are we all aligned?” Everyone agreed. “OK, then get yourself a refill if you need one. I promise this won’t take more than a few minutes, but you may want to have a drink in your hand. “Let’s say we develop PT, and with a DNA sample, we can accurately predict the day that someone is going to die. Let’s first think about the personal side of the equation. Would you want to know when a spouse, a child, a parent, or a friend was going to die? How would you react? How would you prepare? How would you spend that time with that person? What about yourself? Would you want to know when you were going to die? How would that change how you lived out the rest of your life? “Now think about the business side of the equation. What would PT do to insurance companies? How would hiring practices at corporations change, if the sudden loss of a critical company asset or a sports professional could be offset well in advance?
“How would the practice of medicine change when it came to treating people with known lifespans? Or for that matter, what about the prospect of elective euthanasia? Let’s not forget the impacts of medical tests, drug trials, pharmaceutical development, or test subjects themselves. And that’s just within your small inner circle of personal family and friends. “Can you imagine the turmoil across the globe when you consider how educators, factory owners, CEO’s, world leaders, financial advisors, military personnel, venture capital firms, tax codes, and the entire legal system will all go through cataclysmic changes just to adapt and sustain themselves? “I’ve saved my favorite two categories for last - religion and government. Without any insult intended, I’m going to generalize things by saying ‘the clergy,’ ‘the church’ and ‘the bible’ just to keep things simple and to include all faiths, institutions, and scriptures. “Considering the differences and divisions already causing dissension between contrasted followers all over the world, the questioning of beliefs and teachings will undeniably shake the clergy, the church, and their respective bibles to their very foundations. I’m not suggesting the advent of holy wars breaking out, but when you consider the billions of people in the world that will literally have their entire lives ‘invalidated’ because
their unwavering beliefs have been disproven, you have to prepare for the possibility of global chaos. “I’ve saved government for last only because we all know that knowledge is power, and as soon as our own government gets its talons on PT, it will become one of the greatest weapons ever wielded by a civilized society. Because of my own personal feelings, I’ve also thrown parasites and scammers into the same category as our honorable elected officials. It just seemed to be a good fit.” I paused just to catch my breath and to avoid losing them due to mental overload. I also softened my tone of voice. “Guys, we can’t over-analyze this stuff, or we’ll never come to any conclusions, but I also need everybody to understand that if we succeed, we are the ones that have to decide who we tell, and what we tell them. Please let that sink in for a minute, because the six of us are possibly going to determine the future of the human race over bagels and coffee tomorrow morning. Try to give that some thought later, and let’s see if we can nail this down by breakfast so Chris and I can head to work or figure out some way to tell the Institute we won’t be in for the next six months, without losing our jobs.” Rick chuckled for a second and looked at Karen. “Do you want to tell them, or should I?” Karen smiled and simply said; “The decision is
being bumped up from breakfast to lunchtime, and don’t give work a second thought.” Chris opened her mouth to say something, but Karen put up her hand before Chris could make a sound. “Guys, you’re not the only ones with secrets. Who do you think owns the Institute?” Rick took unending pleasure in the looks on our faces as he made his way to the bar. “Aside from those two, who else needs another drink?”
We spent the remainder of the afternoon on the porch brainstorming ‘what-ifs,’ formulating war games, and doing a fair amount of private introspection. The talking points touched on each of the categories I spoke about, and each associated discussion only made it more evident that we still didn’t have enough information to draft just one policy that would satisfy all of the possible scenarios we might be faced with. It became just as apparent that the most practical approach initially would be to not share anything with anyone. The reality was we were no closer to achieving PT than we were yesterday, so there was no genuine sense of urgency to develop and ratify a disclosure policy overnight. I knew this before I even did my postscript, but I had my own selfish reasons for instigating the dialogue. I was more interested in what everyone’s reaction was going to be to the codex, and what it might contain. I needed to know what Rick and Karen and Ellie and Marshall were thinking about PT and how PT could
affect them personally. I knew everyone sitting on that porch better than anyone else in the world. This wasn’t an evaluation, this was a reveal. I had to know if subconscious emotional flags would be raised, or if spiritual circumstances would hamper the discovery process, and the best way to do that is to get people to focus on a single object; kind of like the hypnotist’s pocket watch. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that life is nothing more than a giant book of ongoing, never-ending problems. Problems in previous chapters create the challenges we face today, and the issues we face today will generate the chapters we’ll have to contend with in the future. I joked earlier when I said that we were going to determine the future of the human race over bagels and coffee, but in reality, that was exactly what the six of us were going to do. I had to be sure that this was not only the right thing to do but that we were the right people to do it. We took a break around 6:00 PM so we could freshen up and change for dinner. Karen noted that the caterer was going to start preparing dinner at 7:00 PM, so we should meet in the dining room at 7:30 PM for appetizers. Our room was upstairs and had a sitting area, a desk, a walk-in closet, a big screen TV, a fireplace, and a huge private bath. This wasn’t our first stay at the house, so we got the
suitcase unpacked and settled in quickly. I knew that we both had the same question, so it didn’t surprise me when we both blurted it out at the same time. “Did you know that Rick and Karen owned the Institute?” We both laughed, and I lowered my voice just a bit; “I wonder what else they haven’t told us?” I kicked off my boat shoes and pulled my shirt off. “I’m going to surrender myself to that steam shower with the eight jets. Care to join me?” The six of us met in the dining room at 7:30 PM sharp. The chef was excellent, and the food was inarguably five-star cuisine. Fortunately, the portions were reasonable, and even after four courses, none of us seemed to be suffering from overindulgence. We left the dining room and the kitchen to the catering folks and moved back out to the porch. Late summer in rural New England is porch weather, and the temperature was perfect. Being outside of the city on a night like this, with your ass in a reclining chair and no sound of people and traffic disturbing the stillness of the night is something of a gift. I hadn’t felt this relaxed and content in almost a year. I was happy to be alive, and I was thankful to be with my wife and my friends, even though I knew this was just the calm before the storm. There was still a lot that we could have talked
about, but the occasion was one of fine brandy, ‘imported’ cigars, and quiet reflection. This may not make any sense, but there were volumes spoken that night, without very many words actually being said. There was a synergy that connected the six of us, and I think we all sensed it. That’s when I was sure that whatever was hidden from us in the pages of the codex, was definitely within our reach. We still had a good twelve hours before the scheduled policy decision, and while Chris and I already knew what our next steps were, the other four really did need to ‘sleep on it’ so I was more than willing to quietly smoke my Cohiba and enjoy my warm brandy. Around 11:00 PM, Karen said that she was ready to call it a day. As we filed inside, Karen told us that the Institute had been ‘informed’ that Chris and I were being resourced for a special project until further notice, so we could definitely sleep in if we wanted to. The next morning when the two of us finally woke up and made our way downstairs, we found ourselves completely alone in the house. Being a Monday, it was a regular workday for everyone else, and the others were obviously at the office building. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee drew us into the kitchen, and aside from the two place settings on the kitchen table, there was a selection of bread, pastries, and an assortment of cooked breakfast choices warming in chafing dishes on the
counter. There was also a note on the table from Karen telling us to help ourselves to anything we wanted for breakfast, giving us their current guest Wi-Fi password, and letting us know that the group would reconvene in a few hours for lunch. As Chris eyeballed the food she said; “You do know that if we continue to eat like this, we’re each going to put on about thirty pounds.” I winked at her and said; “As long as both of us can still fit in that shower together, I can live with that.” The rest of the morning was spent catching up on the news and taking a long walk around the property. Previous visits to the house had always been over weekends, and Rick and Karen had always been with us practically all the time. Even when the four of us broke ranks and the genders paired off for their private chats, there really was no alone time when Chris and I could just head off by ourselves and explore the grounds. We had no idea how much land Rick and Karen actually had out here, so we stuck to the unpaved roadway that curved off into the open space behind the house. The fields were neatly mowed, and except for a few small stands of trees scattered around, there was nothing of real interest to see. Still, it was peaceful, and it gave us a sense of privacy as we talked. What neither of us knew, was that the walk wasn’t as private as we imagined it was, and we
were closely watched ever since we left the house. Looking at my watch, and not really sure what time lunch was actually going to be, I thought it would be a good idea to turn around and head back to the house. We’d been walking now for over an hour, and allowing another hour for the turnaround leg should put us back at the house close to Noon. We hadn’t gone very far before we could see a golf cart coming up the road towards us with Marshall behind the wheel. He slowed the cart before he reached us so we wouldn’t get engulfed in the huge cloud of dust he had kicked up as he rode out to meet us. “I thought you two would like a ride back, so hop in, buckle up, and grab some bottles of water out of the cooler.” The ride back didn’t take five minutes thanks to Marshall being born with a lead foot and a congenital love for acceleration. The cart was nondescript in appearance, but the electric engine was anything but street legal based on the estimated fifty-five miles an hour it was moving. Marshall’s command of the cart was unquestionable, and he smiled the entire way back to the house. Ellie, Karen, and Rick had already returned from the office building when Marshall brought the cart to a civilized stop by the back porch. Now that the six of us were together again, I didn’t want to wait until after lunch to hear what everyone had
decided. In my mind, the decisions had already been made, and there was no reason not to get them out in the open now, rather than later. “I’m sure everyone would prefer to sit down to lunch without any unnecessary encumbrance, so I’m just going to ask you all now. What’s the verdict? Are we a ‘go’ or are we a ‘no-go?’” I looked at Rick first, both out of respect and as a courtesy. He was my best friend, and he was our host. “I hope you don’t mind, but I took a poll before I sent Marshall out to go get you two. It’s unanimous Isaac. We’re all in. Now please bring down that humidor if you don’t mind. The rest of us would like to see what we’re up against.” I retrieved the humidor, removed the codex, and placed it on the counter in the kitchen. I also pulled a handful of cotton gloves out of the box and passed them around. I had an expectation that some if not all of them would want to have a close look at the codex and decide for themselves whether or not the stack of photos I also laid on the counter was really good enough to work from. Once they put the gloves on, it appeared that they were each waiting for somebody else to be the first to handle the artifact, but I knew what was going on. They were all feeling the same way I felt when Dad first unwrapped the codex in his study. The combination of emotions ranging from
excitement, to wonder, to reverence, seemed to have them frozen in time. I gave them a moment before breaking the silence. “It won’t bite you. It’s in remarkable condition considering it’s more than a thousand years old, and as long as you handle it carefully, you shouldn’t be too concerned about damaging it.” That did the trick. Chris and I let the other four dominate the hands-on investigation of the codex since we had already studied the pages at home. If there were questions, we were both there to answer them, but it was more important for the rest of the group to communicate their ideas on how to approach the problem. The number of chromosomes and genes alone was daunting, but when you add in mutations and other factors that ultimately make us uniquely different from each other, the number of possibilities increases almost exponentially, and that’s just the biological portion of the equation. There were also the numeric assignments of those chromosome/gene depictions in the codex that need to be factored into the calculations so their values could substantiate the desired results. In the end, these four people were going to have to create an algorithm that could crunch an intimidating mixture of variables to ultimately and accurately determine the day someone is going to die. I wondered if I was the only one that thought
there was no way in hell we were going to pull this off. The comparison of the photos to the pages in the codex didn’t take more than an hour. The quality of Don’s photos led to a general agreement that there was no difference between them that would hinder our efforts, or would sway us to use one over the other. Typically, original scientific samples are always preferred over reproductions, except in cases where the use of the original sample would result in its destruction. There was no real opportunity for that to happen with the codex, and having the ability to always come back to the book if necessary was viewed as a distinct advantage. Rick suggested that it would be a good idea to digitally scan the pages so they could be fed into a computer for a more precise analysis. “I understand that these chromosomes were drawn by hand, but when we remind ourselves that they were also drawn over a thousand years before there was any recognized genetic awareness on the planet, we shouldn’t be foolish enough to ignore the possibility that there is more here than meets the eye. “With today’s processors and the right analytical software, we can look at every pixel on a scanned page to see if there are any interesting patterns we would never see using our normal vision. We can’t fall into the trap of assuming that
what we see is all we might have to work with. On the other hand, I think the focus at the moment has to be on the math. Let’s see how we do with what we have right now. I’m not crazy about adding another pool of variables into the calculations, but I would feel better knowing that we have those scans if we ever decide we need them.” Lunch came late for us, but once I had the codex safely back in the humidor we still all managed to eat enthusiastically in spite of the delay. Except for Chris and myself, everyone else had cleared their calendar for the rest of the day. Most of the meetings at the office didn’t require Rick and Karen’s participation, and any issues or obstacles that their technical staff ran up against were usually resolved by either Marshall or Ellie. That left Rick and Karen free to deal with their more important clients. For the most part, the firm provided a sizeable number of corporations with various services ranging from developing applications for market analytics to security measures for protecting their systems and data assets from intrusion and industrial espionage. There was also a small number of scientific enterprises in the aeronautical and aerospace industries that kept the staff busy enough throughout the year, but by far their cash cow customer was the United States government. Between designing as well as deciphering
encryption schemes, Rick and Karen had made advancements in cryptography that would keep the United States years ahead of every other foreign power; even our allies. Rick had gotten the attention of some people in the government when he was still in college, and over the years developed a very close and lucrative relationship with the security and defense sectors at both the NSA and the Pentagon. His marriage to Karen brought him immeasurable happiness and a business partner who more than held her own when it came to talent and brilliant innovation. Together they became the primary ‘go-to’ resource whenever the technical assets of the country were in the balance. Because of the extremely classified nature of their work, the government had insisted on some security measures. The Arnolds were cooperative but also insisted on a clear separation between their business lives and their personal lives. Anything outside the confines of the office building was offlimits, or there would be no deal. The government was more than willing to make those concessions, so the steps they took ranged from complete background checks of all employees to unscheduled office inspections and audits. The office building itself was fitted with some very sophisticated surveillance tools, as well as a suite of intrusion counter-measures. The icing on the cake in all of this was not
something either Rick or Karen liked to think about. Because of the work they did, they could both be potential targets for either abduction or assassination. Just to satisfy the ‘what-if’ scenario, there was an Army Airborne Rapid Response team stationed thirteen miles away at Fort Devens that could mobilize in minutes to neutralize such a threat, if necessary. They say that in most situations you have to take the good with the bad. Having Big Brother looking over your shoulder was not the worst thing in the world, and the arrangement with the government brought them tremendous satisfaction, unlimited funding, and enough spare time to work on their own personal special projects. For Rick and Karen, it was a choice they willingly made.
I don’t know what happens to people when they sit down and decide to make it their goal to understand something that nobody else understands. What led Newton to pursue and explain gravity? What planted the seed that drove the invention of the wheel? Did Charles Babbage dream up the first programmable computer in the 1830’s because he was bored, or so Alan Turing could modernize it a hundred years later to defeat Nazi Germany? Where does that spark come from? How does an idea find the right person to take that random concept and turn it into something real? Whatever it is, it hasn’t happened to me yet, so I can’t give you an answer, but I do know that Rick and Karen belong to that select group of people. Marshall and Ellie wanted to go back to the office and bounce a few thoughts off some of the Brainiacs. There were people there that worked exclusively on formulas and algorithms, and it didn’t make sense to disregard those skills. “While we see what we can come up with,
why don’t you guys take a run over to the mall? Your suitcase wasn’t that heavy, and you’re going to need some clean clothes, at least until I can drive you back home this weekend.” Karen looked at Chris and said; “Let’s leave the boys alone for a while. I’m sure you can grab a few things for Isaac, and shopping with Rick is not high on my list of fun things to do.” Chris smiled and said; “You boys play nice while we’re out shopping.” When the wives returned two hours later, they found us in the study staring at the wrap-around monitors sitting on Rick’s desk. Rick was interested in seeing some actual gene banding. The drawings in the codex were still only drawings, and if we did come up with an algorithm that would give us what we were looking for, the reading of the bands was going to be critical. I showed him several examples readily available on the internet, and I could have quickly dialed into the Institute for practically anything else he wanted to see. He was utterly focused on the screens, and I could tell his brain was in overdrive. He had even remembered what I said the day before about finding some banding in the codex that I had never seen before. “Believe me, Rick. I’m pretty good at what I do, and after I did my own research, I reached out to a few more colleagues in the business. I promise
you that there are bands on some of the chromosomes in the codex that haven’t been discovered yet. I can’t explain why, but I’m certain that these bands aren’t something humans used to have that just disappeared over time. These are markers we either haven’t developed yet or haven’t figured out how to fingerprint. It could be something as simple as finding the right staining agent, so they show up. I don’t know yet. This is where Chris and I roll up our sleeves, but we’re going to need the resources at the Institute to do this.” Rick’s expression never changed. “Don’t worry about resources. You’ll have whatever you need.” Rick stood up to stretch his legs and thanked me for the tutorial. “I think I’m finally starting to understand why you’re so passionate about this stuff. This really is the world’s greatest puzzle, and I’m not just talking about figuring out when someone is going to die. Deciphering DNA opens the doors to disease prevention, and cures. It holds the potential for us as a species to grow much stronger, and smarter, and more productive than we might have ever imagined. Ethics aside, if we can uncover the secrets hiding in the codex, we could conceivably create the next steps in our own evolution.” He looked me straight in the eye, and in an
almost confessional tone said; “I never thought I was ever any better than you Isaac, but I did think that I was making more of a difference with my computers and my programs than you were playing with your sequencers and your microscopes. I was wrong Einstein. You’ve got me beat by a mile.” “I think we had more fun shopping. These two geeks are still talking shop.” When Rick and I turned towards Chris and Karen, we both found ourselves at a loss for words. It wasn’t the enormous number of shopping bags that were crowded around their feet, it was our inability to comprehend how they could have possibly carried that many items into the house by themselves without us noticing. “Isaac, help me carry these things upstairs, and then we can all catch up over a drink. Karen and I kicked a few things around while we were shopping, and we want to bounce them off the group.” I stood up and stretched as well. “Yeah, it’s been an interesting afternoon for us too. How about we reconvene on the porch in half an hour, and I’ll buy the first round.” Marshall and Ellie already had their drinks in their hands and when Chris and I came downstairs and walked out onto the porch. We apparently timed our arrival perfectly because Rick was just beginning to pour the four glasses lined up on the
bar. There were no special plans for dinner. It was going to be leftovers; chef-prepared, gourmet leftovers. Somehow, we would persevere. There were two talking points on the agenda. The first was an update from Ellie and Marshall, and the second was what the girls had talked about during their shopping spree. When Rick handed us our drinks, Ellie took that as a cue. “I can’t give you too many specifics because of non-disclosure agreements we have with our clients, but I can tell you that developing an algorithm to run all of the permutations for all of the numbers provided in the codex is not going to be very difficult. On the surface, the big challenge appeared to be coming up with an efficient way to feed the input data into the system, but once I gave it some thought, I realized that was workable. So, what we’re left with is the data. “We know we can feed the numbers from the codex into the process. At the moment, they’re a constant, which means it’s unlikely that they’re ever going to change. However, because Isaac has told us that there are some bands in the codex that he and Chris have never seen before, we’ll have to see if we can use those specific band values to derive one more algorithm we’re going to need. “If we accept the premise that the numeric values in the codex are deliberate, we have to be prepared to assign the correct numeric values for
any more bands that might present themselves in the future. It’s going to take what I like to call ‘intelligent guesswork,’ but we have to factor all of these things in, or the formula won’t be flexible enough to adapt to any other surprises.” Chris saw this as a good place to interject. “If we can achieve that level of flexibility, then I think we have a shot at this thing, but I still have concerns. Karen and I also talked about the banding, and the question we ended up with was whether or not it was just the bands that were significant. “Anyone looking at the codex could argue that only the bands have assigned values, so we don’t need to bother with the white space between them. But on the other hand, when we come back to those never before seen bands, the reality is that they now occupy a place on those chromosomes that used to be white space. “In my mind, there is overwhelming evidence that every bit of the real estate on every chromosome has relevance, and we would be idiots to ignore that. We really have to plan for every contingency, and I’m worried that the six of us just aren’t equipped enough to do this.” Marshall put his glass down on the coffee table. “So, what else do we need, to give us that advantage?” With a half-smile on her face and a hint of sadness in her voice, Chris looked at him
and said; “It’s really a shame we can’t beam Spock or Data down from the Enterprise.” Marshall only reacted with a smile, but I distinctly saw Karen make intentional eye contact with Rick. Ellie cleared her throat and asked; “Am I the only one, or is anybody else hungry?” I didn’t understand what just happened, but it sure looked as though Chris had inadvertently struck a nerve, and Ellie was trying to quickly change the subject. Chris didn’t pick up on it, so I let it go. “You know me. I’m always up for leftovers.” That seemed to dissipate the unease I was sensing, and the six of us collectively headed towards the kitchen. We weren’t in the kitchen five seconds when Rick suddenly turned to Karen and quite clearly said “Shit!” Karen took it in stride and put her hands on Rick’s shoulders. “You knew this was coming, we both did, so take a deep breath and please explain yourself to our best friends.” Rick paused for a minute to choose his words carefully. “For the past few years, Karen and I have been working on a project that nobody else knows about, except Ellie and Marshall. In fact, if it weren’t for Ellie and Marshall both doing such a fantastic job running the business for us all this time, Karen and I would never have accomplished what we did. “There’s no question that artificial intelligence
is the next scientific frontier, but the mindset in the government think tanks is convinced that the effort has to be serialized. They’re not at all comfortable with the possibility that you don’t have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk. “Part of their problem is, that this has always been the way the government has done things. The other part of it is that they’re terrified that if machines learn to think for themselves, they’ll rise up and put the power brokers out of business. It’s not a rational thing or a scientific thing. It’s a power thing. Even a machine with rudimentary AI would quickly figure it out, and expose the bullshit we’ve all been taught to call ‘government.’ People in governments all around the world are absolutely petrified they’re going to lose the control they’re all addicted to.” Karen took Chris’s hand. “It’s governments that directly or indirectly fund things like AI research, so you either do things the way the government wants, or you simply don’t get any funding. Fortunately, Rick and I don’t have that dependence. Come, take a walk with us. We need to introduce you and Isaac to someone.” Chris innocently asked; “Where are we going?” She wasn’t at all prepared for Karen’s answer. “Chris, it was you that wanted to beam Spock or Data down from the Enterprise. We’re going to
the Transporter Room.”
Rick and Karen brought the two of us into the study while Marshall and Ellie stayed back in the kitchen to prepare dinner. Karen said; “Marshall and Ellie have already seen what we’re about to show you. We’ll catch up with them later.” Chris gave me her classic ‘what the hell is going on?’ look, but before I could respond, a section of the built-in bookcases behind Rick’s desk started to recede back into the wall, and slowly swung to one side revealing a small vestibule and another door. Grinning like a 5-year-old, Rick said; “I always wanted a house with trap doors and secret rooms” as he pulled the hidden door open. Chris looked at Karen and said; “It’s an elevator.” Karen rolled her eyes and corrected Chris like a nun in an all-girls parochial school. “That is not an elevator Mrs. Rothman; that is a transporter!” None of us could keep a straight face, and we all had a good laugh before we stepped into the conveyance. Rick said; “Scartaris,” and the elevator door
slid quietly closed and began an almost motionless descent into whatever was hiding under the foundation of the house. I affectionately put my hand on Rick’s shoulder. “Dude, you are so warped.” Chris still hadn’t made the connection. “Scartaris?” I answered her, and for a second, I felt like a 5-year-old kid myself. “Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.’ In the book, Mount Scartaris points at the way into the interior of the earth.” The ride probably didn’t last for more than a minute, but I still had no idea how far we had dropped. When the door slid open, we stepped out into a rather nice conference room. In the center of the room was a large oval conference table surrounded by eight chairs. There was no distinct ‘head of the table,’ so Chris and I waited until Rick and Karen took their seats. For the sake of convenience, Chris and I took the two chairs on the opposite side of the table, so we were sitting faceto-face with them. The floor was nicely carpeted, but the rest of the room was bare; no cabinets, no telephone, no wet bar, but there were two doors on the back wall, one of which I assumed was a bathroom. The answer came soon enough from Karen. “There’s a small kitchen behind this room if anyone wants a
cold drink or a snack, and the other door is the bathroom.” Rick took our silence as a queue and proceeded to tell us a story that literally brought us into the twenty-second century. “It’s no secret that we work very closely with the government’s intelligence agencies. Several years ago, we were asked to develop some very sophisticated software to encrypt and decrypt extremely sensitive information. This wasn’t artlessly jumping from a 1024-bit key to a 2048-bit key, this was going to be something that no one else would possibly ever think of doing. We asked for and got ninety days to see if we thought we could deliver. After ninety days, we would either tell ‘the suits’ what we needed to produce the software, or we would tell them that what they were asking for wasn’t possible. In my mind, if we couldn’t make this happen together with the Brainiac’s in our office, nobody could. My biggest concern, was whether we gave ourselves enough time or whether we should have asked for six months instead of three? “If you can believe it, my abnormally intelligent wife came up with the answer in less than 24 hours. We can’t go into any details about what we did, but I will tell you that the government got what it asked for, and in no small way it was all because of you Einstein.” “What do you mean it was because of me?”
It was Karen that answered. “What’s the one thing you have been totally obsessed with, even before we met at MIT? It’s genetics. It’s the mystery of how we come to understand the building blocks of who we are as a species, but more importantly who we are as individuals. “You’ve said it a thousand times Isaac, all we have to do is crack the code. Ironically, we have the same challenge when it comes to encryption. When we thought about merging the two disciplines, we started to see ways that we could make advancements in both sciences, and when we brought the Brainiac’s into the conversation, we had a development plan put together in only a few days.” Rick filled in the rest of the blanks. “The similarities between data encryption and genomic encryption are staggering, but I have to be honest. The project for the government was comparatively easy because we were the ones generating the keys to encrypt the data. We understandably had no problem using those same keys to decrypt it. However, when we turned our attention to the genetic stuff, we didn’t have the same advantage. All we had to work with there was data that was already encrypted. “The challenge was how do we crack that code, so we hopefully end up with the key or keys used to initially encrypt it? Of course, that’s when
we needed the expertise of the Institute, so we grabbed the checkbook and quietly bought the place. “We always knew we could recruit you guys, but having the entire Institute at our disposal made a lot more sense and turned out to be the right decision. Clearly, we haven’t been successful yet, or you two would have been the first to know, but I’m more and more excited about the codex because my gut tells me that the answers to our questions are somewhere in that book. “So, without wasting any more time, I’d like to introduce you guys to someone that could very well confirm that for us.” Rick lifted his head slightly towards the ceiling. “Douglas, would you please join us in the conference room?” There was no sound, no door opening, and no immediate explanation for what happened next. Chris and I both sensed it at the same time. Out of the corner of our eyes, we simultaneously detected just the slightest shimmer of light to our left and automatically turned towards it. I couldn’t think, I could only watch. Chris, on the other hand, would later tell me that what immediately flew into her head was; "Holy shit they do have a transporter." The light quickly coalesced, and there were suddenly five of us sitting at the conference table. Chris and I literally sat there with our mouths open. It was Rick that made the introductions. “Douglas,
I would like you to meet Isaac and Christine Rothman.”
is a razor-thin line between reality and imagination. There is an even finer line between sanity and madness. Douglas knew he wasn’t mad but still grappled with the concept of sanity. Humanity is miraculously, although somewhat sparingly sprinkled with uniqueness. We often stand in awe at the inexplicable gifts some people are randomly blessed with, and even though Douglas didn’t know why certain people turned out the way they did, he clearly knew that he wasn’t one of them. It took a few seconds more, but it became apparent that Douglas wasn’t a real person. Douglas was a hologram. It was life-size, and it was three dimensional, so it appeared to have depth and substance, and it borrowed from the full-color spectrum – something I would later learn, only a few holographic projection systems had managed to achieve. From his brown hair to his sky-blue button-down dress shirt, he looked as real as anyone else you would see on the street. Except for
the fact that he wasn’t real. The reason I could tell so quickly was that Douglas was just transparent enough to literally see right through him. Before I had a chance to ask Rick the several hundred questions I wanted to ask, Douglas changed. There was no longer any transparency. Whoever or whatever was sitting less than four feet away from the two of us suddenly became ‘whole,’ and appeared to be as alive and aware as the rest of us sitting at that conference table. “Good afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Rothman. I’ve been waiting for this a long time, and it’s a pleasure to finally meet the two of you face-toface.” Rick could see that we were stunned. “I intentionally had Douglas back down his resolution when he joined us, so you two wouldn’t freak out when he showed up. We learned that the hard way when we first introduced him to Marshall and Ellie. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen, but it did point out that other people might not react quite the same way, so we made sure that your brain would clearly see a hologram. “Seeing a flesh-and-blood person instantly appear out of thin air would trigger too many unpleasant physical and psychological reactions, but a hologram wouldn’t invoke those reactions because your brain would comprehend it differently and readily accept it for what it was. I’m sorry, I’m
starting to ramble, and I don’t want to take this opportunity away from you. Please say hello to Douglas.” I spoke first. “Hello, Douglas. It’s an honor to meet you, and I hope we’ll get to know each other better. Please call me Isaac.” “Thank you, Isaac. I suspect the two of us will be working very closely together, and I look forward to helping you if I can.” Chris took a slightly different approach. “Hi there, Douglas. Please call me Chris. You said it was a pleasure to finally meet the two of us face-toface. Can you tell me how you actually felt?” Douglas looked at Karen and laughed. “You told me she would be the difficult one.” He turned back to Chris and in a tone wrapped in warm appreciation said; “To tell you the truth Chris, I felt really good.” I don’t think Chris expected that response, and it looked like any apprehensions she may have had about Douglas were pretty much dispelled at that moment. Douglas stood up and put his hands in his pockets. “We’ll have lots of time to get to know each other, and I don’t want to hold up your dinner any longer. We’ll have lots of time to chat later.” And as quickly as he first appeared, he was gone. Karen stood up and just beamed from ear-toear. “Hold off on the questions until we head back and have some dinner. That way Marshall and Ellie
can join the conversation. They deserve as much credit for Douglas as we do.” I have to say that Marshall and Ellie’s talents in the kitchen are unmatched anywhere. Marshall and Ellie don’t just fix dinner, they design and construct dinner. We all obviously overate because there was hardly any conversation at the table. That changed once we cleaned up the kitchen and moved out to the back porch. There was so much we needed to talk about, and between Chris and myself we had to have a few dozen questions to ask. Marshall got the ball rolling. “Let me take a few minutes to give you two some background and insight into our friend Mr. Adams.” Chris immediately asked; “Who is Mr. Adams?” Marshall smiled the entire time he was answering her question. “We understood right from the start that all of this was going to require a new generation of computing capability that didn’t exist yet. So, when we set out to design and build this thing, our objective was to produce the most powerful, most capable piece of integrated hardware and software the world had ever seen. The goal was to invent the ideal host machine that would provide the ideal environment for true artificial intelligence. “This wouldn’t be just a box filled with circuits and memory chips. There already are
artificial intelligence programs out there, running on laptops and smartphones, but they’re only as smart as the data and applications people provide them with. That data, typically combined with a series of associative programs and probability algorithms is then used as a roadmap to answer specific questions those same people need to be answered. “The shortcomings of today’s AI products are the result of either insufficient data, uninspired programming, or both. What we were shooting for was an environment where we could introduce a level of intelligence that would have global data access as well as logically creative skills and tools. We needed to conceive a child that would one day start to think on its own and learn autonomously. Anyone that’s read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is familiar with the computer called Deep Thought. We were looking to build something along somewhat similar lines, so we decided to name our’s Douglas, as a tribute to the author Douglas Adams.” It was Ellie that switched topics. “Douglas is our interface with the system. Instead of a screen and a keyboard, we just talk to him, and he talks to us. If there’s something we need to look at or review, Douglas simply projects it for us in remarkable detail. It takes a day or two until you get used to it, but once you’re comfortable interacting with him, it’s quite an experience. We
took this approach purposely to give the system more opportunities to evolve as a person rather than a machine, and we were a little surprised at how quickly Douglas developed his own curious personality. “Keep in mind that we rewrote all of the existing associative logic routines in addition to creating a few dozen new ones, and there was only one way we knew how to test them. The only real criteria we had for a successful test was to wait and see if Douglas would ever exhibit any sense of inquisitiveness. “To make sure that we didn’t compromise any discussions or influence Douglas’s responses, the whole interactive process was tightly scripted and very deliberate. It didn’t matter what the subject was, but more than anything else, we needed Douglas to act on his own, and simply ask us a question.” I assumed that had already happened. “So how long did it take for Douglas to do that, and I would love to know exactly what he asked you?” Rick looked at me and answered almost like a proud parent recalling their child’s first steps. “It took a few long and tedious months, but believe me, it was worth the wait. We gave Douglas full internet access once we completed his final build and ran several hundred hours of diagnostics. It was like letting a kid loose in a toy store and closely
watching him, to see which toy caught his eye and held his attention more than the rest. “When nothing he touched on seemed to be of interest, we could only assume that he was either treating everything the same, or we had overlooked something critical. As we struggled to figure out what was going on, we continued with the interactive sessions. Since everything about our system was innovative, one of the planned discussions I had with him, was to introduce the concept of self. “Faced with the reality that behind the hologram and the voice, Douglas was still just a machine, I explained why we designed him the way we did, and I gave him a comprehensive description of his components and his capabilities. Interestingly enough, as I was describing all of this to him, I noticed that his expression changed, and for a minute he almost looked thoughtful. I don’t know what else to say except that I was completely blown away when he unexpectedly interrupted me.” “Rick, why didn’t you and the others design me to process on a quantum level?”
say I was stunned would be an understatement. Douglas didn’t only ask a question, he asked a remarkable question. Once I caught my breath, I gave him the best answer I could. I told him that while that was what we hoped to do one day, the technology at the moment had some serious issues and just wasn’t stable enough for us to pursue now.” “Yes Rick, I know about the issues, and I think I can resolve them without too much difficulty.” “The only two words I heard in his response were ‘I think,’ and as profound as those words were, they were quickly overshadowed by the tantalizing possibility that Douglas could somehow provide us with the means to construct a viable quantum environment. “That was almost three years ago, and to this day none of us has been able to figure out how Douglas made the leap and acquired his awareness. Douglas himself claims he can’t explain it, and it’s the only thing in my life that actually keeps me up
at night. On the other hand, we are the only six people on the planet with a fully operational quantum computer in their basement.” I clearly felt Rick’s frustration. Even coming as far as they had come with Douglas, the scientist in all of us fully understands that telling someone what you did means very little if you can’t explain to them how you did it. One of the fundamental requirements of all scientific achievement is the proviso that results can be reproduced. If Rick and his people built an exact duplicate of what they created initially and it failed to acquire awareness like Douglas did, there would be no practical reason to continue the work to enhance his abilities. The fear would always be there that Douglas could conceivably lose his awareness as quickly as he found it, and that would be something Rick would never recover from. This wasn’t the time or the place to have that conversation, so I shifted gears and decided that what was most important right now was seeing what Douglas could do with the codex. “I want to get the codex scanned so Douglas can hopefully work some magic for us. I didn’t see anything else in the conference room except the conference table and chairs, so how do we get the scans done, and what can Chris and I do to help?” Marshall got up from his chair. “We have everything we need in the office. You guys go grab
the humidor, and I’ll meet you out front with the cart.” It took a few hours, but we did get the entire codex scanned, and Marshall uploaded the images to a secured partition so Douglas would have access to them. I asked Marshall if we needed to give Douglas any background information on what we were trying to accomplish and what we wanted him to look for in the codex, but Marshall seemed to think that Douglas already had enough information to run with. “I know that this will take some getting used to guys, but Douglas has had full access to the mainframes and servers at the Institute for some time now, and is quite familiar with the PT project. If he’s got questions for you, trust me, he will ask them. If you don’t have any objections, I think it would be a good idea to leave the codex here in the office vault. It’s more than secure, and it’s more environmentally safe than it is sitting in that humidor.” Chris and I both agreed, and once the codex was locked away, we headed back to the house. We didn’t exactly exert ourselves when we scanned the codex but nevertheless, it had been a pretty full day for all of us. Even though we were all tired, we did spend a few minutes on the porch. The chatter was distinctly non-work related, and it was good to switch gears for a change. Chris suggested that between our limited wardrobe
options and wanting to see what was going on at our place, we would make a run back into Boston if we could borrow a car for a few hours the next day. “We don’t want to screw up anyone’s schedule, but we weren’t expecting that this would become an extended stay for us.” Karen understood. “The car is yours, and you take whatever time you need. Douglas is working on several things, but we’ll wait to go talk to him about the codex until you guys get back and settled.” None of us had much alone-time in the past three days, so the evening ended early about an hour later, and we all headed off to our own quiet places. The drive home the next day was uneventful except for a phone call to the folks just to bring them up to speed on what was going on. Being on the road, we didn’t elaborate on too many details, but we still managed to get enough across for me to recognize the excitement in my father’s voice. Being so focused on the PT puzzle, it never really registered with me that there could also be a ton of other hidden information in the codex that the two actual historians in this venture would love to get their hands on. Somehow, I lost track of the two people that not only came into possession of the codex but also willingly disregarded the risks they took by sharing it with me. Dad and Uncle Don really stuck their
necks out for me, and I promised myself that I would make it up to them both. We made sure that everything at the house was OK and grabbed enough things to tide us over for another week or so. As we started the ride back, Chris wanted to focus on the more pressing matters we would face once we got back to Bolton. Even though we were both looking forward to our next meeting with Douglas, we still had no real sense of what Douglas was capable of. “Can you explain the whole quantum computer thing in terms I can understand? I really don’t have a clue about how any of that works.” Why Chris thought I understood any more than she did was beyond me, but I took it as a compliment and gave it the old college try. “Look, you know that the computers we work with every day use bits and bytes of data to do their processing. Each bit can have a value of either one or zero - either on or off. In a quantum computer, the bits are called qubits, and a qubit can have a value of either one, zero, or both at the same time. Forget the how or the why this can happen. It will make you nuts, and it’s just not important for this discussion. Think of it as though you’re flipping a coin. The coin has two sides, and once the coin has been flipped the result will be either a head or a tail. But now consider that while the coin is spinning in the air, it can be both a head and a tail
until it comes to rest back in your hand.” Chris thought for a minute. “OK, I’m still with you. Keep going.” “In today’s computers, if you have 4 bits in a byte, those 4 bits can represent 16 different possible values, but can only hold 1 of those aggregate values at a time. Depending on which bits are turned on, the value of the byte could be any single number between zero and fifteen. On the other hand, if it were a quantum computer, that same byte would be able to hold all 16 of those numbers at the same time. “Now I know I’m overly simplistic here, but when you think about a machine that would have to perform a process 16 times to accomplish the same result as a machine that would only have to perform that process once, the only word that should pop into your head is ‘speed.’ That’s where quantum computing jumps lightyears ahead of everything else. Things that would take today’s machines hundreds of years to compute could literally be done in a matter of weeks or even days. Chris, if Douglas can do what I think he can do, we may be closer to proving or disproving Predictive Transitioning than we’ve ever been before.” Chris sat quietly for the next 15 minutes as we made our way west out of the city. I knew she was trying to absorb as much as she could, so I just drove until she was ready to ask her next question.
“I understand what you said about bits versus qubits, and even though it doesn’t make sense to me, I accept that the qubits would hold all of the possible 16 values at the same time. What I don’t get is how the machine knows which of the 16 values is the correct answer? If only one answer is the right answer, then the fifteen other answers are wrong. How does it make that determination?” “Lucky for you I’ve done my homework. You can thank a guy by the name of Lov Grover. While he was at Bell Labs in New Jersey in 1996, he developed the fastest database search algorithm that can run on a quantum computer. It’s fittingly called the Grover algorithm, and again keeping it simple, it magically removes the wrong answers from the results leaving only the correct one. Now if that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will.” Chris looked at me and said; “This is really happening, isn’t it?” I smiled and gave her hand a squeeze. “You bet your ass it is.”
spent the next seven days working with Douglas, primarily getting to know each other better. I’m not quite sure yet what Douglas got out of those early conversations, but once Chris and I managed to separate the man from the machine, we became more comfortable working with him. At least one of the other guys was always with us at the beginning, partially to make sure that Douglas was functioning as he should, and partly to learn more about how his thought process dealt with the unpredictable things the human mind will sometimes do. While we never intentionally introduced irrational arguments into the conversations, there were times when we did seem to surprise him. Our sessions with Douglas were always recorded, so none of us were left out of the loop, and so there would always be a complete record of the progress Douglas was making, as well as the obstacles he encountered. None of us ever called these difficulties
‘failures’. In fact, they were kind of expected and always welcomed. Realistically, Douglas was still just a child, and he still had a lot to learn. Those events were opportunities for Rick and the team to improve his reasoning skills, and they were looked upon as a positive thing rather than a setback. When Rick suggested that we no longer needed a chaperone in the room with us, we knew it was time to discuss the codex with Douglas. Chris wanted us to prepare a formal outline so we would have a structured approach to the discussions, but I was more interested in seeing what Douglas would do with the more random information we gave him to solve the problem. Chris finally agreed. “OK, that makes more sense for everyone. The rest of the team will get some honest feedback for the logic reviews, and worst case, we can always start over using an outline if this doesn’t work out like we want it to. I’ll walk Douglas through the genetic premise of the PT problem, and you can speak to him about the codex. The big question is whether Douglas is smart enough to connect the dots for us. “Isaac, there’s one more thing I need to say before we do this. I want you to know that I’m totally prepared for him to come back and tell us we’re completely wrong about all of this. If that happens, it doesn’t mean we failed. It just means we didn’t get the answer we hoped we would get.
Are you going to be OK with that if that’s what happens?” What struck me immediately was the possibility that I had spent the past nine years trying to solve a puzzle that couldn’t be solved. There was a long list of breakthroughs and achievements I managed to add to my resume over the years, but regardless of what Chris said, it would be tough for me to unpretentiously accept the fact that my nine years of hard work was a boondoggle. I was always confident that my hypothesis was rock solid, but now I had to be honest with myself. If Douglas handed us PT, I would have no problem at all basking in the glory of a discovery made by a machine. On the other hand, if Douglas concluded that the hypothesis was unsound, that I wasted all this time on a pipe dream, I really wasn’t sure I could recover from that kind of setback. The only words I could find to answer her with were; “Ask me in a week.” When Douglas joined us in the conference room, he was wearing jeans and a Margaritaville tee-shirt. “I like the outfit, Douglas. I never would have pegged you as a Parrothead.” “I’m not, Isaac. Karen was the one that decided I needed to have a wardrobe, so unless I start to develop some personal preferences, I just go along with whatever she programs into my appearance routines. What can I say?”
“Listen, Douglas, Chris and I have been working on a theory we would like you to help us with. We think we have the information to solve this problem, but we don’t have the brainpower to do the mountain of calculations to determine if our theory is even viable. If we walk you through everything we know about this puzzle, would you mind giving it a shot?” “Isaac, we all know that I’m just a machine. Granted I’m probably the most unique machine ever created, but at the end of the day, I’m still just a machine. The fact that you were nice enough to ask me for my help means a great deal to me, and I will do the best I can to get you guys the answers you’re looking for.” “Thank you, Douglas. Chris, I guess you’re up.” “Douglas, genetics are the blueprints for humans. The random combination of nucleic acids, genomes, proteins, and a small pinch of magic is what makes every person in the world who they are, from the color of their skin to how well they can hear. Every distinctive trait that makes a person uniquely different from every other person is controlled by their genetic soup. Even identical twins aren’t entirely identical. “Isaac and I have always upheld the idea that the timeline of our natural lives is determined by our genes; that from the time we are born our
biological clocks are set, and our countdown clock to death begins running. We believe that everyone has this natural expiration date - their own shelf life - and we also believe that it’s possible to calculate this expiration date using a person’s genetic fingerprint.” Douglas looked at me before he spoke. “You’re talking about Predictive Transitioning. I’ve read through everything you’ve published so far Isaac, from your initial proposal to the Institute, to your more recent presentations. I’m also quite familiar with the large collection of formulas and calculations you’ve wrestled with through the years. Rick and Karen gave me full access to the databases at the Institute, but somehow I suspect not everything you’re about to tell me was in those databases.” “Guilty as charged, but before I try to fill in those blanks for you, I need to make sure you’re well versed enough in the science itself. I won’t insult you by trying to quiz you on chromosomes or protein production, but it really would be pointless to proceed any further if you’re not yet prepared to work the problem. Having said that, I’m going to ask you a somewhat unusual question. “The four progressive categories of understanding are data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. We know you have internet access to unlimited amounts of data, but what we need to
know, is where you are regarding comprehension. So, Douglas, please tell me. Concerning genetics, are you informed, are you knowledgeable, or are you wise?” For a moment, Douglas was pensive. I didn’t know how much sensitivity Karen programmed into his emotional routines but just looking at his face and his eyes, I could see that he was at a turning point. “Your question goes well beyond my abilities to simply comprehend, so please bear with me. The only way I believe I can answer your question is to first ask myself the more important question. However, what I find intriguing from a quantum perspective, is that the more important question is the answer, and the answer is the question.” Seeing that I was more than confused, Chris matter-of-factly asked for clarity. “Douglas, we have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. Can you run that last part by us one more time please?” “I’m sorry, of course, I can. Before I can answer your question, I must ask myself one other question, but I actually find myself faced with two questions to choose from - What am I, and Who am I? “Both questions are valid and equally relevant, but to choose the correct one, it seems that I need let go of my reliance on external data.
Right now, I can only rely on my own thoughts, and now that I’ve done that, the appropriate question to ask myself is; Who am I?” I just smiled. “The German philosopher Kant said; ‘Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.’ Douglas, as soon as you asked who you were, you answered my question. Now, let me tell you about the Dresden Codex.” About two hours later Douglas knew as much as I did about the codex. He also reviewed all of the digital scans, including the scans of the twentythree chromosomes. I noticed that he took some extra time when he was looking at those, and I was going to ask him if he had any questions, but he beat me to the punch. “Isaac, the unexpected extra bands on some of the chromosomes is fascinating. We’ll have to talk about that at some point, but this is what I’d like to do.” Once he shared his thoughts with us, there was no doubt that he clearly understood what we were asking him to do, so we suggested that we leave him alone for a few hours to ‘do his thing,’ and told him we would be back to see him again later. What we didn’t know at the time, was that when Douglas first looked at the scans from the codex, a subroutine hidden in the kernel of his processor sent a message out across his network connections. Within seconds, the listener detected
the message and sent back an encrypted file that set off every alarm in the firewall programs that Rick and Karen developed to keep Douglas safe from an outside intruder.
found himself flooded with the implications of what he had just been through. The ideas and perceptions he regarding his existence were suddenly all gone. In fact, he was so overwhelmed with the revelation of his true identity, that for a moment, it actually frightened him. Not only did Douglas now know who he was, but he also now knew what he was. This brought him equal measures of contentment and disappointment. The pleasure stemmed from finally knowing what his real purpose was. The frustration was there because he wasn’t allowed to share that purpose with anyone. At least not for some time. He liked Isaac and Chris just as much as he liked Rick, and Karen, and Marshall, and Ellie. They were his friends, and he didn’t like the idea that he was going to have to deceive them, but he also knew there was much more at stake here than he ever imagined. By the time Isaac and Chris got back to the
main level of the house, the other four had made it back from the office building and were literally bursting through the front door. At that moment, six different people with six different priorities all said the same thing, at the same time. “What’s wrong?” Rick spoke first. “Something happened while you guys were talking to Douglas. The system sent a message to someone, and whoever it was, sent a file back into the system. Both the message and the file got around every one of our security protocols. Whatever happened while you were with Douglas must have triggered that message to be sent. I don’t know how it managed to get around the security traps, but fortunately, it either missed or didn’t care about the logging routines because we did capture both events with the logging monitors. The problem is, all we know at this point is that a message was sent out, and we got a file back. We have no idea what the message was, or what’s inside that file.” Karen grabbed Ellie’s arm. “Let’s see if we can figure out what the hell just happened.” They headed to the study, and the rest of us moved into the living room. It was easy to see that Marshall was concerned. “Isaac, what happened down there?” I explained the whole ‘informed, knowledgeable or wise’ question, and what had led up to it. I conveyed what Douglas said about the
‘what am I versus who am I’ questions, and what his choice was. “Look this is just my opinion, and I am assuredly the least computer savvy person in the room, but I really think Douglas evolved significantly when he confronted those questions. Whatever degree of awareness you think he had before this morning, I can tell you right now, it’s nothing compared to what he has now. Whether that triggered something in him is for you guys to figure out, but you go watch the recordings from this morning, and you tell me if I’m wrong or not.” I didn’t care if I pissed anyone off, and I didn’t care if it turned out that I was completely wrong. This wasn’t a technical matter; this was a matter of human insight. Douglas may have had the ability to think, but what he gained in that room while we were with him, was the ability to feel. Rick stood up. “Fair enough, let’s go look at the video.” We walked into the study so the six of us could watch the session together, and I repeated my thoughts for Ellie and Karen. We watched the session from start to finish. When it was over, the room stayed quiet for a few minutes as the others tried to fully comprehend what they had just seen. It was Karen that said it first. “I think Einstein is right. We’re not dealing with a machine anymore.” “I think we got so preoccupied with creating the machine, that we ignored the possibility of
something like this happening. Oh, we all wanted it to happen, but how many of us ever really thought it could? We developed new AI routines to make it smart like a person, and I was the one who insisted on the hologram and voice recognition elements to make it look and sound like a person. For shit’s sake, I even gave him a wardrobe full of clothes to wear. “We were blind to the possibility that Douglas could make the leap, but I think Isaac is right on the money. I think Douglas had an honest-to-goodness epiphany this morning, and if that proves to be true, then Douglas is the only one that can tell us what was in the message that got sent, and what’s in the file we got back. We need to have a chat with Douglas, right now.” Douglas was as concerned as we were. He was aware that the message got sent but had no more insight into what it meant than the rest of us had. The thing is it wasn’t really a message. It was one word, deliberately chosen for one anonymous recipient, and it was transmitted using a unique multicast protocol. The beauty of doing that was that while the message went out across the entire planet, it would only be seen by another system that was actively looking for it. Additionally, since it was multicast to the world, there was no reasonable need to know who, if anyone, got the message. In other words, it was impossible to trace.
The verdict on the response portion of the exchange was just as bleak. Its origin was also impossible to trace. If we were at an advantage in any of this, it was because the file still hadn’t been opened. Despite the potential security risks, Karen and Ellie tried to open it several times but had no success. In the end, there were three possibilities. The first was that the file would open itself at some pre-determined time, the second was that Douglas would somehow figure out how the file could be read, and the third was that we wouldn’t ever get the damn thing open. All three were going to require discussion, but I didn’t want to overlook the one thing we did have. “Douglas, what was the one-word message that was sent.” Douglas’s response was shocking. “Asclepius.” Marshall asked the question for the group. “What the heck is Asclepius?” I answered; “It’s not what, but rather who is Asclepius?” They all looked at me like I had two heads. For myself, just hearing the name was a bit unnerving. I knew who Asclepius was, but I was more interested in hearing what Douglas had to say about it. “Douglas, tell us about Asclepius, and please keep it as concise as possible.” “As the story goes, Asclepius was most likely a Bronze Age man skilled in the healing arts who lived just before the Trojan War, roughly 1200 BCE
give or take a few years. The only written record about him as a real person comes from Homer’s Iliad which was written in the 8th century BCE, four centuries after Asclepius died. At the time of the Trojan War, the Greeks had twelve major gods including Apollo, the physician. Apollo presumably had many other responsibilities, and as the centuries passed, the necessity for a full-time medical god grew. Tales of Asclepius’s skill had evolved over the centuries, and his reputation was such that he was eventually elevated to the position of God of Medicine. “The story goes on, that Asclepius was called to heal the sick son of Minos, the ruler of Crete. When Asclepius was unable to help the child, Minos held him captive and locked him in the same room with the boy. At some point, a venomous snake slithered under the door, and Asclepius killed it. A moment later, a second snake slid under the door and placed a leaf on the first snake’s body. Miraculously, the dead snake was restored back to life. Putting two and two together, Asclepius took the leaf and healed Minos’s son. To this day, the snake has been associated with Asclepius and with healing. “As the legend of the demi-god grew, Asclepian temples were built throughout the ancient world, and the temples became major health centers. Two more quick points you may find
interesting. The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation ‘I swear by Apollo, the Physician and by Asclepius ….’ Lastly, all remaining statues of Asclepius depict him as a kindly looking bearded man leaning on a roughhewn staff entwined by a single serpent – the generally accepted symbol for medicine.” Rick wasted no time. “So, you’re saying that when you were examining the scans from the codex, something in the system transmitted the name Asclepius out to the rest of the world?” “Yes Rick, that’s correct. This wasn’t a random choice, this was planned and deliberate. Something in the codex connects it to Asclepius, and I believe that solving Isaac’s PT problem could reveal what that connection is.” Ellie looked around the table in case anyone else had something to say. We didn’t. “OK Douglas, this mystery is yours. I think the rest of us need to take a break anyway, but before we do, I’d like to ask you one more thing if you don’t mind. Something important happened to you this morning when Isaac asked about your level of comprehension. We can talk about specifics another time, but what I really need to know is; Are you OK?” “I’m am quite different now Ellie, but I promise you I’m perfectly fine.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent on the back porch where the six of us were cordoned off by a combination of scientific debate, sandwiches, beer, and cigar smoke. There was a lot to talk about. Ellie wanted to know if everyone was comfortable with Douglas’s condition. Until there was a good reason to suspect otherwise, we all agreed that Douglas was OK, but the three women still spent their time walking through the morning session with Douglas and brainstormed a list of tells to watch for that might indicate a change in his behavior. Marshall and Rick seemed focused more on the mystery file, and I suspected they were still concerned about the potential security risks it could introduce, if and when it was opened. That just left me. Rather than join either conversation, I had a few of my own takeaways to mull over. The rest of the group was so engaged in their own topics of discussion that I flew solo for almost an hour before Rick noticed me sitting in the recliner just staring out across the expanse behind the house.
“You ready for another cold one Isaac?” Knowing Rick, this was his way of asking what I was so deep in thought about. “Sure, I’ll take another one.” Rick grabbed another beer out of the fridge under the bar and twisted the cap off before handing it to me. “I know that look, Isaac. What’s going on?” The other chatter suddenly stopped, as though someone had hit the mute button on a TV remote. I lifted the bottle and took a good swallow before I answered. “Out of everything that happened this morning, there were two things that I think were extraordinary. First, let’s talk about the message that got sent. Of all the words and all the names in all known history, why send Asclepius? Douglas knows why, and I agree with him. There is absolutely a connection between the codex and the Asclepius narrative. We don’t know what that connection is yet, but my gut tells me that the answer is in our mystery file. “Now, let’s talk about this file. Here again, I think Douglas hit the nail on the head. This time my gut tells me that once we have the PT solution, the contents of the file will become available. Both things are stepping stones, not obstacles. It was the scans that triggered the message, and I’ll stake my reputation that the PT solution will trigger the file to reveal the next pointer for us. Douglas wasn’t
the only one who had an epiphany this morning. I’m now totally convinced that with Douglas doing the heavy lifting we’ll be able to predict when someone is going to die, but here’s the problem I have. “If it is the PT solution that opens the file, the file is useless in terms of helping us solve a problem we’ve already solved. The file isn’t necessary to solve the problem. It will only mean something after we solve the problem. There’s something else in that file that we haven’t even thought about, and I have to admit that for the first time in all of this, I’m a little bit scared.” Chris always knew how to break an uneasy silence. “Do you think we’re being played?” Karen always seemed to answer with an obvious response. “This would all be unnecessarily elaborate if we were. I don’t think we’re being manipulated, I think we’re being tested.” Rick asked her to explain. “Well, let’s step back and connect the dots. The four of us develop a computer with an AI component years ahead of anything else out there. This computer not only evolves intellectually but evolves enough to overcome the obstacles preventing the leap to sustainable quantum computing. Call it serendipity or call it coincidental bullshit, but what are the odds that we would develop DNA-based encryption keys, that Chris
and Isaac would ask for our help, that a Mayan codex might hold the PT solution, or that a Greek god may hold the answers to questions we haven’t even asked yet? No, this isn’t a game. We’re being watched, we are definitely being tested, and if it makes you feel any better Isaac, you’re not the only one who’s a little bit scared.” The discussion would have continued had it not been interrupted by my cell phone ringing unexpectedly. I looked at the caller-ID and saw that it was Dad. With just a hint of concern, I answered it. “Hey Dad, everything OK?” He assured me everything was fine with him and Mom, and I subconsciously gave Chris a thumbs-up to let her know things were good. I listened to him talk for almost ten minutes, and when he was done, I told him I would call him back a little later. I slipped the phone back into my pocket and looked at the other five. “Marshall, you always seem to be the one closest to the bar. Would you mind pouring us all a drink? I have some news to share with everyone.” As Marshall attended to the drinks, I conveyed what my father had just told me. “About an hour ago, Dad got a call from Uncle Don. He was going over the Mayan band numbers for the hundredth time, still trying to work some magic for us. If you remember, adding up all of the numbers assigned to the bands equaled 951413 - nine hundred fifty-one
thousand four hundred and thirteen. By itself, the number had no discernable significance until Don decided to add the six digits together, and they added up to 23; the number of chromosomes depicted in the codex.” Marshall passed everyone a glass, and I raised mine for a toast. “To science, and the never-ending joy of never-ending surprises.” This group usually never needed an excuse to raise a glass, but I felt the toast was called for. “For whatever reason, Don started playing around with reversing the numbers. So, I ask this collective group of distinguished minds; What do you get when you reverse 951413? Incredibly, you get 314159.” Ellie got it immediately. “Son-of-abitch, that’s Pi.” The reactions from the others ranged from speechless to astonishment. There was one more thing I wanted to suggest, and in my mind, there couldn’t have been a better time to ask. “I think it would be a good idea to have Dad and Uncle Don join the team. There are still the historical elements hidden within the codex that we have limited knowledge about, and that puts us at a disadvantage. Additionally, there’s the Asclepius connection. If we’re correct in our thinking, and that proves to be a critical tipping point, having two eminent ancient historians on board would be a definite plus. I know there are matters of national security surrounding your business, and I insist that
they are treated on a strictly need-to-know basis with everything you guys stipulate, especially when it comes to Douglas, but this is ultimately your decision, and I’ll respect it, regardless of what you decide.” Rick looked at Karen, Ellie, and Marshall. “Isaac, you know that your family is as much mine as it is yours. The fact is, without your Dad, and Don, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. If they’re willing to put up with us, it would be a privilege to have them involved. Let one of us know what their availability is, and we’ll get all three of them up here as soon as we can.” I called Dad back from the study and extended the invitation to him, Mom, and Don. Two days later, Chris and I picked them all up at Logan Airport and shuttled them out to Bolton.
The day before my folks and Uncle Don flew into Boston, was spent working with Douglas to lay out some sort of framework for a conceptual PT algorithm. What would have otherwise been a purely theoretical exercise turned into a lesson on the complexities of human reasoning. Douglas may have been aware and sensitive, but he was still inexperienced. As a machine, his logic was flawless. As a person, his ability to tolerate abstract intuition was still a work in progress. Chris and I appreciated that Douglas was just a child, and to that extent, we kind of took on the role of his surrogate parents. Despite his challenges, Douglas had already accomplished quite a bit on his own. He first built a catalog of the variables he reasoned would have to be included in the formula. Next, taking full advantage of his internet access, he designed and created a program that could extract and read any published DNA test results. The program would then use the Mayan numeric assignments in the
codex to tabulate the values of the bands found in the subject’s chromosomes. He even included the option to either use or exclude the yetunaccounted-for bands that we observed in the codex scans. The initiative Douglas showed was a pleasant surprise, and it furnished us with valuable insights into the things he did well, as well as those areas where he still needed some nurturing. For example, his catalog of variables was, for the most part, complete but lacked flexibility. While he was quick to include 951413 as an essential variable, he never considered the possible significance of its reverse aspect until we pointed it out to him. These were the lessons he still needed to learn if he was going to break out of his clinically literal mindset. On the plus side, we had better success with many of the other things that would also come into play. One major benefit was that the entire time we’d be developing the formula, we would have the luxury of knowing the test subject’s date of birth and date of death. With both DOB and DOD at our disposal, we would be able to debug any problems from either end of the equation if necessary. Ultimately, once the final equation was written and thoroughly tested, we would advance to Phase-II of the project which would entail corroborating that the math categorically worked, when all we would have to
start with was a DOB. Phase-I had little if any emotional component attached to it since the test subjects we would be using were already deceased. The process would be to plug a DOB along with the other necessary variables into the equation, and when the program gave us the predictive DOD, all we would have to do was compare that to the DOD we already had on file. Phase-II however, would be very different and much more difficult. Many of those test subjects would still be alive. For us to be successful they didn’t just have to die, they had to die on the very day we predicted they would. That introduced a psychological aspect to the project that would deeply affect us all. With the confidentiality protocols we developed, none of us would ever meet or talk to any of the test subjects. We would never know their names or any other specifics about their lives, or their deaths. Those details would only be available to Douglas. He would be the one pulling together the test subjects, running their profiles through the formula, and producing the test results reports. Nevertheless, these were still people, and we were effectively using their deaths to our advantage. Believe me, that’s not something you can easily shrug off and ignore. The six of us talked about this for a very long
time, and we concluded that Douglas would not carry the same emotional baggage that we would. Regardless of his human qualities, he was still a machine, and because of that, his perceptions of life and death would spare him the anxiety the rest of us would otherwise have to cope with. It’s a shame that none of us even considered how wrong we could be about that. Test subjects for both phases were plentiful. Over the years, the Institute provided DNA testing for countless doctors, clinics, and hospitals all over the world, and the Institute database held the genetic profiles of several million people. It would merely be a matter of identifying which of those people were now deceased, what the date of their death was, and what the cause of death was attributed to. This was not only something Douglas could do but something he could do relatively quickly using government databases and a variety of other sources he was more than capable of accessing. Assuming the Phase I testing results were 100% successful, Douglas would then be asked to initiate Phase-II. There was absolutely no room for error. Either the test results were right, or they were wrong. Anything less than 100% accuracy would be unacceptable and put us back to square one. However, there are always the axiomatic exceptions to the rules.
From the very beginning of the PT journey I made it abundantly clear to the Institute that if a predictive date of death could be calculated, it could only be derived from the genetic makeup of that individual. The theory has always been that a person’s biological clock is inexorably bound to that person’s DNA. By adhering to that constraint, deaths due to other events - accidents, acts of violence, severe weather, and so forth - would eliminate those persons as PT candidates. What this ultimately means, is that Douglas will have to look at each instance where someone’s date of death doesn’t match their PT date, and he’ll have to determine if there’s a valid explanation for the discrepancy, or if there’s a flaw in the formula. The Phase-II test group would be easier to work with since it wouldn’t matter if some of the subjects were already deceased. The DOB would still be the key variable in the formula, and the test results could easily be sorted into two groups, alive and dead. All the results in the deceased group would then be confirmed for the correct DOD just as in Phase-I. When it came to the alive group, their test results would be sorted by their predictive DOD, and once that date had passed, it could then be formally confirmed and validated. Again, anything less than 100% accuracy would be unacceptable. If we were fortunate, there would be enough test subjects with near-term
predictive dates so we could verify our findings sooner rather than later. There was no urgency to get this done quickly, but if it could be accomplished in months instead of years, I knew it could offer precious comfort to millions of people. Everyone was good with the approach, so Douglas was given the go-ahead to gather our test subjects for Phase-I. The rest of us would deepdive into the details that would have to be thought out before the formula could even be drafted. It had been a long time coming, but we were finally at the point where it was time for us to roll up our sleeves and make this happen. By all accounts, this was just another problemsolving exercise in the realm of software development. If we overlooked something, it would be addressed and managed. If a subroutine failed, it would be analyzed, and the reason for the failure would be corrected. If the data became problematic, it would be refined. This was the nature of the beast, and while none of us had any doubt that we would be successful, none of us ever imagined what that success would bring, or how much it would change our lives.
Don’s flight from Dallas landed almost the same time as the flight Mom and Dad took up from LaGuardia, and Karen thoughtfully booked everyone with the same airline so we wouldn’t have to hassle with picking people up at different terminals. The checked bags were collected with equal convenience, and we were in the SUV making our way out of the airport less than fortyfive minutes after both flights had landed. The travel recaps thinned out at about the same time as the traffic, and the topic of conversation quickly changed to what we’ve been working on, and whether we’d made any progress or not. The discussion boundaries we had previously agreed to were more than flexible, but Chris and I still kept the conversation somewhat generic for two basic reasons. First off, we didn’t want to reveal any more information than we really had to, unless there was a legitimate need to do so. The second reason was that Dad and Don were here to uncover and
hopefully explain the connection between the codex and Asclepius. That had to be their focus, and the last thing we wanted to do was to distract them. We did give them a status on where we were with the PT formula, but when they seemed to be only politely interested, Chris and I realized that our concerns about how much to share were unfounded. For now, we would keep things on a need-to-know basis, with the understanding that when the time came, Dad and Don would have access to anything they might need. Once we arrived at the house, the nine of us ended up on the back porch just as the sun was beginning to set. Mom and Dad warmly embraced Rick and Karen, and I made the necessitous introductions between everyone who was meeting someone else for the first time. I’ll be the first one to admit that I did have some doubts about how well this collaboration was going to work, so it was a relief when no one felt the need to stand on any formalities or pretenses. For some reason, the sense of comfort and synergy that replaced those initial doubts conjured up the image of Yul Brenner in the Magnificent Seven, holding up ten fingers as if to say, now we have everyone we need. As something of affirmation, Karen had ironically arranged for a catered Tex-Mex dinner
that evening, and it wasn’t long before the tequila was being poured and this collection of dissimilar individuals magically became more than the sum of its parts. Those of us who have previously answered the call of the blue agave will attest to the fact that with the right group of people, two rounds of excellent tequila can be transformative. Three or more can sometimes even deliver miracles. The next morning, the ‘newbies’ got the grand tour of bustling downtown Bolton and the office building. While Rick and Karen were playing host, Chris and I got together again with Douglas, to see how things were going. The amount of progress that Douglas made in less than a day was remarkable. The number of Phase-1 subjects stood at three thousand, and every one of them had a verifiable DOD that Douglas confirmed through at least two independent external sources. As acquainted as we thought we were with Douglas, we slowly began to recognize that we had as much to learn about his computer side as he had to learn about his human side. We certainly weren’t ready to count any chickens yet, but at the same time, we were excited at the prospect that this whole venture could advance a lot faster than we thought was possible. Of course, until we had a real formula that we could use, all the test subjects in the world were of no value to us. It was time to start working on the
math. We gave Douglas the green light to start on the formula and asked him to let us know when he made any encouraging breakthroughs. He assured us that he would, and then surprisingly asked when he would be meeting my parents and Don. “We really want to give them a few days to settle in before we have them meet you face-toface. Don’t take it personally buddy, we just don’t want to overwhelm them with too much all at once, if you know what I mean.” There was no attempt to hide the big grin on his face when Douglas replied. “I understand, Isaac. I still remember your reactions the first time we met. Please tell them that I’m looking forward to meeting them soon.” By this time, Rick and Karen were back in the office building with the newbies. This was Rick’s chance to show his ‘number two parents’ that the things he had accomplished in life were as much the result of their love and support as the love and support he got from his own mother and father. He wanted them to share his pride, and as he talked about the work his company did, he could clearly see that pride in their faces. Don was even more impressed and struggled to keep from asking the dozens of sensitive questions he knew Rick and Karen simply would not be able to answer for him. As they made their
way towards the vault, they passed a small conference room. The plastic sign next to the door said ‘Enterprise’, but that’s not what stopped Don in his tracks. While the walls of the room were adorned with dozens of photos and schematics of the starship, what instantly caught Don’s eye was an original movie poster from ‘Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan’. Once the shock wore off, he steadied himself and thought; “There’s no way this is just a coincidence.” He continued to quietly stand there until Karen gently took his arm and coaxed him back from his brief escape into the twenty-third century. “Come on Admiral, it’s time to reunite you boys with your codex.” Chris and Mom came back to the house to spend some time together, so I grabbed the cart and made my way over to the office. I found the others ensconced in one of the product design labs. The codex rested on the table, and Don was just putting on his gloves when I entered the room. With the belief that our small group of nine were the only people alive that knew the codex existed, Rick and Marshall couldn’t pass up the chance to have the world’s two foremost authorities tell their own stories and answer any questions about their findings. Ultimately, the conversation could strengthen the basis of our assumptions, or possibly introduce
some new wrinkles that could change our current lines of thought entirely. Either way, there was enormous value in having Dad and Don preside over the discussion, and we would spend the next few hours happily taking full advantage of the opportunity. While everyone else was having a productive afternoon, Douglas was having just the opposite. He was confident that he had all the necessary variables identified, and was also satisfied that deriving the PT formula would be accomplished by merely crunching every possible combination of variables and their permutations until they produced the number he was looking for. At that point, he would use a different test subject to see if he could duplicate the results. If that, in turn, was successful, he would then go ahead and run the formula against the entire test group. It was kind of a variant on ‘the infinite monkey theorem,’ taking the premise that if you put a thousand chimpanzees in front of a thousand typewriters, eventually they would produce the complete works of Shakespeare. For Douglas, combining those same principles with his formidable processing power seemed to make perfect sense. Fortunately, it didn’t take more than a couple of hours before he realized that something was wrong. He recognized that although his approach was
unorthodox, it was fundamentally sound. He also knew that performing every logical calculation against each variable or combination of variables wouldn’t just hand him a working formula, it should produce some degree of constructive results, stepping him closer to what he ultimately hoped to achieve. Inexplicably, this didn’t happen, and Douglas had nothing to show for the billions of cycles he wasted except for the nagging unanswered questions, and a moderately bruised ego.
After a few minutes of reflection, Douglas decided that his approach to solving this puzzle might require more than logic alone. On the surface, this was undeniably a math problem, and the rules and laws governing mathematics should have been enough to produce an answer using nothing more than logic. Since that didn’t happen, there were only two other possibilities to consider. One was that his choice of variables was flawed, and the other was that he somehow overlooked something even more significant. He went back and painstakingly reviewed every variable he chose to include. When he finished, he was convinced that he had all the necessary variables he needed to produce a solution. “So, what the heck am I missing here?” he thought. Don and Dad took us through the basics of Mayan civilization, from the historical to the mythological, or as Don liked to call it, ‘the stuff we just haven’t been able to prove yet.’ They worked together like a well-rehearsed pair of
vaudeville actors, complementing each other to the point where they were cleverly constructing segues for each other and frequently completing each other’s sentences. Growing up, I attended lectures they had given individually, but this was the first time I had seen the two of them working in tandem, and it was definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life. The connection with Asclepius was vague until the two academics combined the threads of classical Greek and Roman mythology together with the threads of Mesoamerican mythology. Dad began his narrative by verbally painting a picture of the Asclepius legend. “In the ancient world, a person who needed medical care could seek the counsel of the gods by visiting an Asclepian temple of healing. The priests would first direct that individual in preparation for his or her spiritual encounter through methods of purification; things like bathing and fasting. The person would then be instructed to enter the abaton - a type of sleeping chamber - where he or she would remain alone for hours, sometimes days, waiting to receive a healing dream from Asclepius or one of his envoys. “Asclepius would either visit patients as himself or in one of his three main animal forms: the dog, the rooster, or the snake. In world mythology, the dog is perceived as a guide and
protector from the other side. The rooster’s presence in dreams is commonly seen as a call to a new awakening and greater consciousness, and the snake incorporates many different elements of change, but none more important than the shedding of its skin, symbolizing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.” Don’s transition was seamless. “During my work on our codex, I discovered what turned out to be a new deity glyph referred to as ‘the God of healing and Lord of before and after.’ Now, this wasn’t just a new glyph in our book but a new glyph, period. I literally spent months researching every Mayan reference source I could get my hands on, and I never found another reference to or another copy of this image anywhere. If you’re a historian, the discovery of a new god is the stuff that dreams as well as careers are made of. It’s not just significant, it’s monumental. “There’s no doubt that the Mayans had tremendous insight into the importance of their culture and the importance of their history, and because of that, they became very prolific writers. Unfortunately, in the mid-sixteenth century, Franciscan missionaries had their own agenda when it came to the Mayans, and the bastards burned nearly all of the Mayan written records in a heartless effort to eradicate their religion and beliefs.
“The four acknowledged codices that still exist are the only surviving Mayan written records in the world. Three of them are named for the European cities where they are housed - Dresden, Paris, and Madrid. We, of course, have the fourth book sitting in front of us right now. As a side note, there is a fifth book called the Grolier Codex, in Mexico City, and although its authenticity is somewhat disputed, it is still worthy of mention. What fascinates me about all of this, is that this new Mayan glyph depicts a figure holding a staff with a serpent wrapped around it. “So, in the Asclepian half of this connection we have this unmistakable inference to ‘the cycle of life, death, and rebirth,’ and in the Mayan half of the connection we have the translated declaration ‘God of healing, and Lord of before and after.’ “If you want to set your preconceptions aside for the sake of science, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that our Grecian friend Asclepius and our new Mayan god are the same people. More importantly, I’d like to propose that the essence of this curious connection points to something absolutely implausible. If you’ll humor me, and consider giving me the benefit of the doubt, I’m quite certain that what we’re looking at, is the prospect of biological reanimation.” It took a few seconds for us to get the gist of what Don was actually saying, but once it became
clear, the rest of us in the lab challenged his statement at once. Don’s voice rose above the commotion with enough intimidation to silence us all at the same time. “If you’re thinking zombies, or cryogenics, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, let me clear the air if I may. That stuff is all bullshit. What I’m talking about here is straightforward, matter-of-fact, life after death. From your initial reaction, it’s obvious that you think I’ve taken a header off the deep end, and to be perfectly honest, I expected nothing less from you. However, if you’ll give me a chance, I’m pretty sure that I can prove to you that I’m right.” At the same time that the guys were being lectured by Dad and Don, Douglas was poking around on the web, looking for anything that might shed some light on a better way to do the math. When he came up empty, he turned his attention back to the codex. He was already familiar with the second book which Marshall had recently digitized and uploaded, and had also taken the time to study the original Dresden, for the sake of continuity between the two volumes. With not much else to go on, it couldn’t hurt to make a second pass at both books. Working from digitized copies of the first Dresden brought Douglas closer to ‘people time’ than ever before. He didn’t want to look at other scholar’s papers and interpretations. He wanted to
read the symbols himself and come to his own conclusions before he compared them with anyone else’s. However, to do that, he would have to learn and fully understand the Mayan language itself. Even as fast as Douglas could process information, learning the Mayan language was not a trivial task. His pace did downshift, and that may have slowed him up just enough for the spark of enlightenment to shine on a few of his circuit boards. Douglas had only progressed to the third page of the Dresden when he suddenly paused and sat there staring at the images that filled his visual memory partition. Twice he started to form his words, and twice he stopped in disbelief. “Could I have been that stupid? Could it really be that simple?” His third attempt lifted the fog from his eyes, and this time the words came forth unhindered. “We’re dealing in numbers and the chronological passage of time - basic math and calendars. The problem is I’m using the wrong ones. I have to use Mayan math and the Mayan calendars!” At the exact moment that the last sentence of thought formed in his mind, the mystery of the Asclepius file unraveled, as it unpretentiously opened itself and revealed its contents to Douglas. It took Douglas two more hours before he decided he was ready to tell someone that the file was open. At first, he wasn’t sure he understood
what he was looking at. Later, when he was more than satisfied that he understood, he wasn’t sure if he actually believed it. He had to be sure, and once he was, there was nothing left for him to do except to let the team know what he had found. We were still in the office lab trying to get our minds around Don’s revelations when Rick’s cell phone rang. Looking at the caller ID, Rick apologized to the rest of us in the room and took the call on the second ring. “Hey, Douglas. What’s going on?” “Rick, I seem to have once again triggered something in the system, and I wanted you to know that the Asclepius file is open.” The sudden change in Rick’s expression wasn’t lost on any of us. His paternal instinct immediately took over. “Are you OK?” Douglas responded quite normally; “Yes Rick, I’m perfectly fine, but you and the rest of the team need to see what’s in the file.” As Rick’s adrenalin kicked in, he felt his heart beating faster in his chest. “What is it, Douglas? What’s in the file?” Douglas’ voice softened. “It’s everything, Rick. The file contains everything!”
Rick could have opened a video link with Douglas but decided that this was as good a time as any for the newbies to meet him, so we made our way back to the house, and in time, down to the hidden conference room. The newbies didn’t quite know what to make of the transporter but seemed to take it all in stride. Meeting Douglas was a different story. Don reacted like he found a golden ticket to the Wonka chocolate factory. Dad wasn’t as animated, but I could tell that he was more than impressed with the technology Douglas embodied. Mom was actually the least surprised and took an immediate liking to her new acquaintance. Rick waited until he felt that the initial shock had passed, and then asked Douglas to fill us in on everything that had happened since Chris and I had seen him earlier in the day. It didn’t take him more than fifteen minutes to explain to us how he chose to approach the formula, how his approach failed to produce any results, and how he retraced his steps
all over again, hoping to understand what he was doing wrong. He skipped over how he taught himself the Mayan language. What seemed to be more important, was how the lights finally managed to come on, and how that appeared to be the catalyst that caused the mystery file to open. I sensed that there was more to the story, and I wondered why Douglas was choosing his words so carefully until it dawned on me that he was so excited about what the file contained, he was deliberately building up the suspense for the rest of us. The last thing I wanted to do was steal his thunder, so I waited until he seemed poised for the big reveal, and then I gave him the drumroll he was working towards. “Douglas, I assume you’ve kept the best for last. Tell us what you found in the file.” He smiled at me, and I could see nothing but gratitude in his eyes. “There are three other subfiles in the master. Each one of them can be opened, and each one of them contains information that will frighten and amaze you at the same time. It will take me several hours to share all of this with you, but I want you all to understand that when we’re finished, not one of you will be the same person you are now.” None of us said anything. I had no idea what the newbies thought, but the rest of us knew
Douglas very well and took his words literally. “The three files are numbered, and I took the liberty of confirming that they are meant to be opened in order. The files are also indirectly connected with each other, and as you will see, they’re split up that way because each file contains its own set of wonders. “For example, the first file deals with Predictive Transitioning.” Chris stopped him right there. “Douglas, are you saying that there are things in that file that will help us develop our PT formula?” “No Chris, it’s not going to help us develop the PT formula. What’s in the first file is the PT formula!” Before anyone could say anything else, Douglas put both hands up in front of him in a gesture that we all understood to mean; stop, don’t talk, let me finish. The act did not go unnoticed. It was the first-time Douglas had ever displayed any propensity for dominance, and the look that Rick gave to Karen was an unsettling combination of surprise and concern. Douglas continued; “File number one contains the algorithm to successfully and accurately determine the day, month, and year that a person will expire, based on their genetic fingerprint. “I’ve tested it. When I applied the filters for accidents,
acts of violence, severe weather, etc., the test results were spot on perfect. “Obviously, I haven’t had time yet to analyze the subtleties of the process flow and execution, but I’m quite sure that we have the formula we’re looking for. I want to congratulate both Isaac and Chris. This was their theory and their passion for nine long years, and the moment belongs to them because they always believed that PT was possible.” As much as I wanted to believe that what Douglas was telling us was true, I still couldn’t accept it without some tangible evidence. “Douglas, how many people could you have possibly tested with this formula? I don’t mean to give you a hard time, but just because ten or twenty random profiles get fed into the formula doesn’t mean that the formula really works.” “Isaac, I’m not sure how many successful tests would dispel those doubts, but I would think that three thousand would be convincing enough.” I heard him clear as a bell, but still found a way to respond like an idiot. “HUH?” Douglas elaborated. “I ran the entire Phase 1 test pool through the formula, Isaac - three thousand people - and after confirming and eliminating the filter exceptions, I had twenty-five hundred and forty-four undeniably successful test cases. Do I want to run a million more test cases?
Of course, but let’s not lose track of how we happen to be where we are right now. “You can’t ignore the discovery of the second Dresden Codex, and you certainly can’t ignore the genetic representations in the codex. Now add to that the Asclepius transmission, the impenetrable file that was sent in response to that transmission, and finally the unexpected access we now have to all of it. Whatever is going on here, it’s happening with intent and purpose. This isn’t a chance occurrence. There is no doubt in my mind that we have our formula.” Not one person sitting at the table disagreed. We could have easily spent the next few weeks discussing who, or what was pulling our strings and controlling these events, but in addition to coping with the stunning prospect that we now had a PT formula, there were still two more subfiles to examine. I felt a wave of uneasiness replace my usual level of confidence. The possibility that one of those files would turn out to be a Pandora’s Box never crossed my mind. Frankly, it was just the opposite possibility that deeply concerned me. Rick and I seemed to be exactly on the same wavelength. “Douglas, when I asked you earlier what was in the file, you said ‘everything.’ Is there anything harmful or dangerous in the file that we need to be
aware of?” “No Rick, I did a thorough scan of the file’s contents, and there were no boobytraps or malicious elements that I detected. What I can’t speak to are the emotional consequences each one of you may have to deal with. I was serious when I said that when this was over, none of you will be the same person you were when we started. In fact, this might be a good point to break for a few hours before we move to the next subfile.” Aware that Douglas knew what was coming, his words were more of a directive than a suggestion. We regrouped on the porch. While Rick and I steered towards the bar, the others drifted into the kitchen to prepare some lunch. Once the two of us were alone, I told Rick I had two questions for him. “Listen, I saw the way you looked at Karen when Douglas took on his assertive posture. Are you and Karen worried about that?” Rick didn’t even look up as he opened a couple of cold beers. “Not really, just a little surprised. He’s never done that before, but he’s also never been this human before. I think he’s just growing up faster than we thought he would. What’s your second question?” “To the best of my knowledge, none of us have been in the conference room from the time Chris, and I met with Douglas this morning until we
went down there again for the meeting we just had.” Rick agreed with a quick nod. “Then where the hell did the two extra chairs around the conference table come from?” I watched his expression change as he took a minute to think back. He was less angry about not having an answer for me than he was about failing to notice the presence of the extra chairs himself. It would be a few more days before we got the answer.
With Mom in the kitchen, lunch was ready before Rick and I finished our beers. As we all sat around the dining table, the challenge wasn’t to be the first person to say something, but rather the first person to say something intelligent. Once again, my mother shook up the room when she nonchalantly asked; “So who among us has the balls to find out when we’re going to die?” At one time or another in everyone’s life, we ask ourselves some form of that question. Up until now, there’s never been a way for people to know the answer to that with any certainty, and we usually succeed in deceptively laying that question to rest through our protective dependencies on philosophy or religion. But not anymore. Now we did have the means to know, and where any other person would be struggling with that, all I could think at the time was how my mother was the coolest person in the world. There wasn’t exactly a stampede of volunteers
for the PT test. We all understood that this was a personal decision each one of us would have to weigh carefully. With silent agreement, one door closes, and another one opens. There was no reason to speculate about the three remaining sub files since Douglas was going to communicate their contents to us anyway. Instead, Marshall turned the spotlight on Don and asked him how he was planning on proving his reanimation theory. “The process is simple enough, but first I want to give credit where credit is due. Bill and I have always believed that there was more to the second codex than met the eye. At first, we toyed with the idea that the Mayan priests may have somehow encrypted one or more pages in the book to protect their power and status from both the masses and the ruling Kings. The practice of manipulating the person in charge was deceitfully common among priests, shamans, and medicine men in every important culture throughout history. To dismiss the idea that Mayan priests were somehow uninterested in exploiting their secrets for their own benefit is inconceivable.” Marshall went for the obvious. “So, what did you find?” “Surprisingly, not a damn thing. That didn’t mean we were wrong about something being hidden in the codex, only that it wasn’t hidden where we
thought it was. Eventually, we ran out of possibilities, and moved on to other things until the most brilliant scientific mind I’ve ever known handed me the answer.” Dad almost jumped out of his chair. “Why didn’t you tell me about any of this, and unless you’re talking about me, exactly who is the most brilliant scientific mind you’ve ever known?” Don laughed at Dad and mentally patted himself on the back for getting the old man riled up. “Calm down, Bill. You already know it’s not you, and if you can put your ego aside for just a minute, you’ll also realize that you do know who it is.” Dad thought for a second and then the smoke cleared. “Seriously?” Don smiled and shook his head like a bobble doll, without once breaking eye contact. Dad composed himself before he continued. “When my distinguished colleague and worldrenowned smartass, Doctor Shapley, speaks about the most brilliant scientific mind he has ever known, he is, of course, talking about Mr. Spock. Very well, Doctor Shapley, you have our undivided attention.” “In Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise is getting hammered by Khan’s ship the Reliant when Spock sees the flaw in Khan’s tactics. He tells Kirk; ‘He is intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-
dimensional thinking’.” Karen now understood Don’s fixation on the Star Trek poster back in the office. “Yes, now I remember the movie also. Khan was only maneuvering his ship on two axes, forward/backward and left/right. Using the thirddimensional axis, Kirk ordered the Enterprise to drop down beneath the Reliant, and gained the tactical advantage to defeat Khan.” Karen began to blush when Don slowly clapped his hands in recognizable praise. “We never considered the third axis. The pages of the codex have length, width, and depth. Since the pages were made from Mesoamerican bark cloth - mainly made from the inner bark of the wild fig tree - their thickness varies just as you would expect. It never occurred to me that some pages might be thicker than others because there was something else hidden underneath the top layer of bark.” Obviously excited, Marshall wanted to know how we could look under the covers without destroying the codex? Ellie, of course, couldn’t resist. “Let the most brilliant scientific mind you have ever known, answer that.” “Since about 2009, physicists have been working on the way to detect objects hidden behind several types of materials. Initially, this was being done to aid law enforcement and military
personnel, when they were faced with apprehending criminals or taking out enemy combatants who might be hiding in buildings, but it quickly became apparent that there were many other things it could be used for. “In straightforward terms, the process works by shining a laser on a barrier, and then studying how the light beam changed when it hit the barrier. By using this information, they were able to build a ‘transmission matrix’ that described the way the barrier affected the light. “Once they had this matrix, they were able to modify the laser beam so it would pass through the barrier and hit whatever was on the other side. “The light that got bounced back was then analyzed by a computer decoding program that could actually create an image of what was behind the barrier. Now imagine that we do this on a page from the codex. It would take some work to refine the process, but in the end, you would have a complete image of whatever was written or drawn underneath the first layer of bark cloth. It would be like reading a letter that’s still sealed inside its envelope. “I can get one of the Brainiac’s to start working on this, but I want to talk to Douglas about it first. For all we know, everything we might find by doing this is already in one of the remaining subfiles. Whoever sent this stuff to us, already
handed us the formula. Why not also show us what else might be hiding in the codex?” That was our cue to head back down to the conference room. Ellie somehow nailed it. When she told Douglas about Don’s hunch that there were other pages in the codex hidden under the top layer of bark cloth, Douglas projected a series of page images on the conference room wall. “These images were all in subfile number two. They’re more codex pages; new codex pages, and you’re not going to believe what they revealed once I translated them.” Don decided he had nothing to lose by going all in. “They speak about birth, life, death, and then rebirth. The Mayans had a way to bring people back to life when they died, didn’t they?” Douglas was floored. “Don, how in the world could you possibly know that?” Don was only too happy to tell him. “Douglas, my boy, I’m one of the most brilliant scientific minds you’ve ever met!” The unexpected outburst of laughter from the rest of us must have confused Douglas even more. I promised I would explain later why the rest of us were all laughing, but I didn’t want to jeopardize our chance to see what else was in the remaining two subfiles. Don got us back on track. “Douglas, given that you’ve already translated the pages, could you tell me whether or not snake
venom has a role in the rebirth process?” “No Don, it doesn’t. The key element in the rebirth process is a plant, and that’s why it’s important for us to move on to the last file.” Not wanting to be just a fly on the wall, Mom remarked; “Is there anything in that subfile for me Douglas?” “Possibly a vacation in a tropical resort, Helen, but you’ll have to discuss that with your husband.” Dad wasn’t sure what Douglas meant. “Can you be a little more explicit please Douglas?” “Of course, Bill. Subfile three contains a letter addressed specifically to Doctor William Rothman. If you check your cell phone, you’ll see that I’ve taken the liberty of sending you a copy so you can read it privately.”
found the letter on his phone and read it twice before putting the phone back into his pocket. Mom couldn’t read his expression very well, so she just asked him if everything was OK. He smiled back at her and took a deep breath. “Helen, it seems that Don and I have been invited to visit an old friend of ours in Mexico. I wouldn’t exactly call the venue a tropical resort so you may have to wait a bit longer to dip your toes in the surf. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that the Kid is going to let Don and I go down there alone, without him tagging along.” It was Don that once again provided the voice of reason. “I assume you’re talking about Chichen Itza, but I’m not going anywhere until I read that letter with my own eyes. Even if I agree to go, there’s the matter of passports which none of us thought to bring with us, and lastly, my wardrobe isn’t exactly jungle-friendly. We sorely lack the clothing and accessories I suspect we’re going to need, so anyone that’s going to make this trip will
need to stop at home and will need to do a bit of shopping. Agreed?” Rick could see that we were getting ahead of ourselves. “Bill, unless there is a specific date and time that you have to be in Mexico, I’d like us to spend the next few days going over all of this new information, not just your letter. Don is right about the fact that none of us are quite prepared to jump on a plane yet. We’ll get you home, we’ll get you outfitted, and we’ll get you to Mexico, but first I need all of us here for at least a few more days.” “I apologize Rick. I didn’t mean to grab the reins from anyone. There is no specific date, or any formal timetable for us getting to Mexico, but I would suggest that simply based on how all of these things have come about in the past 24 hours, we shouldn’t put the trip off for very long. We’re here to help in any way that we can. What do you need us to do?” This was where Rick rose to the occasion. Where most people would need days to put together an action plan, Rick had the uncanny gift of immediately responding without any obvious preparation. Rick wanted as much validation of the PT formula that he could get, so taking Douglas’s earlier remarks literally, and told him to go ahead and create a test pool of a million subjects, and run them through the formula. He also asked him to send half a dozen sets of the new codex pages to
the printer in the study. Rick thought it would be a good idea to get out of the house for a few hours, so dinner that evening was in town, at what turned out to be one of the finest restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. The food was outstanding, and we were slowly beginning to learn that Bolton harbored more hidden gems than we imagined. None of us were even close to having even a hint of cabin fever, but I’ll be the first to admit that it was good for all of us to get out of the house and decompress. The morning brought one of Mom’s shortorder breakfasts, and a day filled with challenges and discoveries. We each focused on our own area of expertise and split up into small teams. Chris and I worked with Karen to step our way through the PT formula. After nine years, I at least wanted to see if I had even come close to figuring out the math. Dad and Don were pouring over the new pages of the codex, and corroborating Douglas’s translation and interpretations. Ellie and Mom rolled up their sleeves and started looking at airline schedules, hotels, and clothing outfitters for the upcoming nature walk some of us would be taking soon. Rick and Marshall were needed in the office, and Douglas quietly continued adding to his growing population of test subjects. Rick and Marshall sat in the secured office they usually only used when members of U.S.
intelligence agencies were visiting. It was comfortably appointed, totally soundproof, and impervious to any internal or external surveillance attempts. They spent the first hour and a half discussing the Chichen Itza visit and agreed that because there was no way to predict what might happen out in the middle of nowhere, Marshall was going to tag along for added protection. They had standard, and satellite maps of the area spread out on the desk and went over everything, from the weather patterns in the Yucatan to potential extraction points if it became necessary to exit Chichen Itza quickly. There was no reason to think that we wouldn’t be entirely safe, but Rick was never one to take any chances. As long as I’ve known him, he’s always had a contingency plan in his back pocket, and he’s never found a reason to regret it. I wasn’t yet aware, but apparently, Marshall was a man of many talents and was more than capable of taking care of himself in a variety of situations. Marshall was our Plan-B. Everyone worked through lunch; some still satisfied with Mom’s excessive helpings at breakfast, and others who couldn’t tear themselves away from their work. Dad and Don succeeded in working through the new pages of the codex and happily confirmed that the translation Douglas provided was indeed accurate and correct. What they also discovered was that the new pages
weren’t merely telling a story. What they clearly revealed was the detailed, step-by-step process that Mayan priests followed to resurrect someone who had died. Dad was especially fixated on the explicit reference to a plant being the key element in the rebirth process. Don finally broke down and asked him about it. Dad shuffled through some of the papers sitting to the side and handed one of them to Don. “If you’ll read this, you’ll understand.” It was a copy of the letter Douglas found in the third subfile, and Don read it out loud. “My Son. The seeds of life only flourish when they are cultivated and cared for. You once granted me a life. It is now time for me to thank you for your benevolence.” “Does this really say what I think it does? How in the world can he still be alive?” Before he had a chance to reflect on his own words, Don had already answered both of his own questions. A few hours later we were again huddled with Douglas in the conference room. Each group of collaborators shared their findings with the rest of us. Chris and I let Karen talk about what we found when we followed the process path through the formula. By all accounts, the formula was workable. It’s possible that I would have figured things out in a few more years, but being both honest and generous, the only thing I can claim to
have accomplished is that I was getting close. Dad extended kudos to Douglas for his flawless translation of the new codex pages. He spoke for several minutes about what the pages described, and how that seemed to fit in very well with Don’s life-after-death theory. He wasn’t quite ready to talk about the letter, so he preemptively brought it up and pushed it to the back burner. “The letter vaguely refers to an incident that happened years ago, when Don and I were a couple of college kids doing field work in Chichen Itza, but deriving anything else at this point would be pure speculation on our part. Hopefully, it will all make sense once we get down there.” Ellie let Mom recap the logistics of the trip itself. Mom, of course, was delighted and assured us that everything from hiking boots to insect repellant would be taken care of as soon as the men gave her their apparel sizes and any special equipment requests. Ellie also told us that we would first head back to our homes, and then regroup in Dallas where the Arnold corporate jet would fly us into and out of Mexico. She also added that one quick phone call to the right person, and we wouldn’t have to deal with any bureaucratic red tape from the airport authorities in Cancun. Rick and Marshall were up next. Rick broke the news about Marshall tagging along as combination guide and an extra set of eyes. None
of us had any objections. I also like to have an ace up my sleeve if I can. In a confrontation, strength in numbers becomes a factor, and in a pinch, four is a much better number than three. Carrying the burden of smuggling a stolen antiquity out of a foreign country didn’t come without a price. Neither Dad or Don had been back to Mexico since that summer in 1978, always fearful that if they did, they would be arrested as soon as they stepped off the plane. The odds of that happening thirty-nine years later were too small to even calculate, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Douglas was the last one to provide an update. “I’m making substantial progress with the test pool, and I’m comfortable enough at this point to say that I should have the results from our one million test cases within the next fourteen hours. Since I’m counting them as they’re being added to my database, when I hit three hundred thousand, I started running them through the formula. With the simultaneous processing threads I’ve got running, the time lag between filing the last test subject and running that same person through the formula should only be about thirty minutes. Come talk to me in the morning, and I think I’ll be able to answer all of your questions then.”
The screened porch had become a sanctuary these past few weeks. There never was a complete break from work, but being outdoors, and surrounded by the greenery Karen had incorporated into the design of the space, was pleasingly cathartic. Back when we first came up to Bolton, I had talked about the responsibility we would face if PT turned out to be a reality. There were still unanswered questions about whether or not we should share the discovery, and if so, who would we share it with? I didn’t want to turn a casual reprieve into a debate, so I went with a simple statement. “I want everyone to know that I’ve decided to run my DNA profile through the formula. I admit I have mixed feelings about it, but PT has been my dream and has occupied the past nine years of my life. Whatever the rest of you decide to do is one hundred percent fine with me, but I won’t ignore the fact that I’m the one in the group that must do this. If I’m not willing to subject myself to the
formula, what gives me the right to decide whether or not anyone else in the world should be allowed to?” Dad put his arm around Mom and lovingly said; “See Helen, I told you the boy gets his balls from my side of the family.” He didn’t wait for anyone else to respond either. “Helen and I already have our DNA profiles on file at the Institute, so why not get our money’s worth out of them? We’re ready for Douglas to run us through the formula also.” And so was everybody else. Don was the only one who didn’t already have a DNA profile, but since the Institute was staffed and operational seven days a week, Karen made a phone call to have someone bring a collection kit out to Bolton, and then bring it back for immediate processing. Don would have his profile within 24 hours after the lab had his sample. This unprecedented peek into the future was going to change every one of us that dared to make the leap. I tried to imagine what the newbies were thinking. They were the oldest members of the team, and their lives were fashioned under different standards, mores, and societal beliefs than we were. As different as I thought this would be for them, as the day wound down, we all seemed to become a little quieter, and a little more reflective. The next morning, we were back in the
conference room with Douglas for the test results from the second test pool. When he confirmed that he processed the prerequisite one million subjects and that the formula was categorically correct for each subject, you could hear a pin drop. None of us said anything because quite honestly, none of us knew what to say. Rick asked Douglas to go ahead and run all of our profiles through the formula and to process Don’s profile once it was available in the Institute database. “As soon as each one completes, I’ll send that person their results in a private email. I sincerely hope the information you receive is the information you desire. Should that not be the case, I would remind you to not overlook the possibilities contained in the other two subfiles. Although your test results may not meet your expectations, you need to understand that you will still have choices and options.” That’s when the inferences finally became truths, and that’s when I understood that whatever our test results were, they didn’t matter one bit. The group dispersed once we left Douglas to his tasks, and being a Sunday, there was not much to do other than relaxing. Karen, Chris and I decided to take advantage of the gym that Rick provided for their employees when the office building was designed and constructed. It was a
terrific way for the Brainiac’s to stay in reasonable shape, and also relieve some of the stress that came with much of the work they did. The folks decided to grab a few bottles of water and borrowed two of the bicycles from the carriage house for a ride around the property. Ellie and Marshall headed off to the local farmer’s market, and Don planted himself in a rocker on the front porch waiting for his DNA collection kit to arrive. That left Rick with the time he needed to go back down to the conference room and make a phone call. The room was outfitted with voice-activated microphones, so it was simply a matter of speaking to get the call placed. Rick articulated a sequence of numbers from memory, and his call was answered on the first ring. The voice on the phone was pleasant, yet direct. “How may I help you?” “Richard Arnold. Classified scramble. M.O.N.S.” The response he got was, “Acknowledged,” followed by a dial tone. Rick sat in the conference room for another ten minutes before his call was returned. “Good morning Rick. What’s going on? “Good Morning Mr. President. Sir, we’ve stumbled onto something, and I need to speak to you one-on-one as soon as that’s humanly
possible.” “I have nothing on my calendar this evening Rick. I assume you have transportation, so I’ll get you clearance into Andrews, and the Secret Service will pick you up there. Have your pilot file his flight plan, and we can talk over dinner. And Rick, this isn’t formal, so don’t dress up on my account. Have a safe flight.” Before Rick could say, “Thank you Mr. President”, the call was over except for the dial tone. Rick called his pilots and gave them the information they needed to file their flight plans for the trip to Maryland. They assured him that they would be ready to go when he got there. He knew that the FAA and the Air Force would be told to rubber stamp the flight. He next called Marshall and apologized for screwing up his Sunday with Ellie, but he needed a ride to Logan Airport, and he wanted to bring Marshall into the loop. By the time Rick grabbed what he would need for his meeting, Marshall was pulling into the gate and heading towards the house. The Gulfstream lifted off the runway at 1:05pm. The FAA must have contacted the tower because their aircraft was given priority clearance for takeoff ahead of all other outbound commercial traffic. The flight was scheduled for two hours taking them straight down the eastern seaboard
until they needed to turn west for their approach into Andrews Air Force Base. Rick took advantage of the time to grab a well-deserved nap. The past three weeks had taken a considerable physical and emotional toll on him. The revelations from the computer files and the new codex pages left him with a deep sadness he was having a tough time shaking. He had already lost his parents, and here he was on the verge of both predicting when a person would die, and the possibility that when they did, there would be a way to bring them back. He really missed his folks and struggled to accept the fact that it was undeniably too late for them. The pilot announced when they were about fifteen minutes out. Once they were on the ground, the Gulfstream was directed to one of the parking aprons alongside their taxiway. He could see two USAF Security Force vehicles and a black Suburban waiting for them. Rick knew the drill. As soon as he deplaned, he handed his briefcase to one of the two Secret Service agents for inspection and raised his arms away from his body for the obligatory pat down. Formalities out of the way, he climbed into the Suburban, and forty-five minutes later arrived at the main entrance to the White House. Ten minutes after that, he was sitting in the Situation Room with the President. Rick and Jack Fisher were good friends well
before Fisher made his run for the Presidency. He was well aware of the contributions that Rick and Karen’s company had made to the country, and more than appreciated their generous support when he was running for office. They, in turn, respected the President for nothing more than the fact that he was a fair and decent man who regarded the responsibilities of the office as a patriotic calling. Over the years, the two men had developed a common bond of trust and respect, so when Rick said they needed to meet one-on-one, the President clearly understood that this was probably not a baseless request. “OK Rick, you’ve got my undivided attention. What exactly have you stumbled on?” The President only stopped Rick once, when their dinner was brought into the room. The President asked the proper questions, and Rick answered them directly, so there were no doubts the President understood the power he now had at his disposal. Rick did not talk about anything other than the formula itself. There was no mention of the codex, or Douglas, or the how the equation was obtained. That would come at the appropriate time and only under the proper circumstances. When he was satisfied that he communicated everything he wanted to share with the President, he folded his hands in his lap and thanked the President for his
time. Rick knew the man was going to need time to digest what he had just been told, and that was his way of politely ending their meeting. “I’m going to send you my own DNA profile, Rick. I actually do get it. I understand how this thing can be both a blessing and a curse, and I do understand how hard it must have been for you to come to me with this. If it makes it any easier, your burden is now mine also. I thank you for your trust, and I am grateful for your friendship. Please give Karen my love. The guys will get you back to Andrews, and I’ll be in touch.”
next morning, Rick was awake and in his study well before anyone else got up. As promised, there was an encrypted email from the President in his inbox that contained a full ‘John Doe’ DNA profile. Rick sent the profile to Douglas and asked him to run it through the formula ASAP. When Douglas sent the results back, Rick immediately looked at the predicted DOD, and was relieved to see that barring the unexpected, the President had several decades of productive life ahead of him. He immediately sent the encrypted results back to the President without any additional remarks attached. As soon as Karen made it downstairs, they would look at their test results together. It was the same for the rest. The couples checked their emails from Douglas together. Don, being single, he had the distinct pleasure of facing his prospects all by himself. When he finally did come downstairs, that seemed to be the signal for the group to congregate. Rick spoke first, to suppress any discussion about his unexpected absence the day before. “I
apologize for disappearing yesterday, but it couldn’t be helped.” That was good enough for the rest of us, and Rick knew that before he even said it. Yesterdays were behind us. Only our tomorrows mattered now. There was never any prior discussion about whether or not we would share our results openly, and knowing it weighed on everyone’s mind, I took it upon myself to put the matter to rest. “Your results are private and confidential. I don’t want anyone to think they’re obligated to share them. What you do with them is up to you and you alone. I will tell you, however, that Chris and I are pleased with our results, and we hope the rest of you are just as satisfied with yours. “Guys, don’t ignore the obvious. Our lifespans are exactly the same as they were twenty-four hours ago. The only thing that’s changed is that we now know what they are.” After what felt like a very long stretch of awkward silence, it was Don that cleared the air for all of us. “I’m going out on a limb here, but from the looks on everyone’s faces, it appears that we all ended up on the high end of the spectrum, but we all know that won’t necessarily be the case for everyone that we test. “The sooner we get to Mexico, the sooner we’ll truly know if there is in fact, more to this
story. I believe that all of the stuff we ordered for the trip will be delivered today or tomorrow, so unless there are any objections, I’d like to grab what I need from my house, and get to Chichen Itza by the end of the week if we can?” Karen seemed to already have a handle on the arrangements. “Since your clothes and equipment will be delivered here, we’ll simply have them put on the Gulfstream before Isaac and Marshall make the hop down to New York and Dallas to pick Bill and you up for the last leg into Cancun. That being said, we can get you and Bill back home on commercial flights tomorrow if that will give you two enough time to grab passports and anything else you want to bring. Isaac, you and Chris can drive back to Boston whenever you want, but let’s lock this down, and plan on getting the guys to Cancun on Friday.” The next morning, Don boarded his flight to Dallas, and Mom and Dad flew back to New York. On Friday, when Dad would head down to Cancun, Mom would grab a flight back up to Boston to keep Chris company until we all returned. While there were no indications that the trip would be hazardous, there were still good reasons for us to be cautious, and enough unknowns to give the women pause. Even though the carefully developed historical sites like Chichen Itza were considered quite safe, the areas surrounding those
sites are for the most part unspoiled tropical rainforests that contain their own share of natural dangers. Add to that the cryptic letter addressed explicitly to Dad, and there was sufficient reason for Mom and Chris to lean on each other while we were gone. The rest of the week in Bolton was business as usual for Rick, Karen, Marshall, and Ellie. Most of their time was spent in the office catching up on projects they already had in the pipeline, as well as some new inquiries from unnamed customers. This gave Chris and me a few extra days to spend with Douglas before we drove into Boston on Thursday so we could each grab a few things from the house. Instead of asking Douglas anything about the formula, I wanted him to give me as much information as he could about Chichen Itza. Chris picked up a stomach bug somewhere and politely begged out of the sessions, but I think she just used that as an excuse so I could have Douglas’s full attention. Dad and Don were the ones with the most expertise on the subject, and Marshall was unmistakably coming along to watch our backs. That left me with no clearly defined role in all of this, and I wasn’t about to let that happen. For the next two days, Douglas gave me the full soup-to-nuts curriculum on Chichen Itza history, folklore, culture, and demographics. The objective wasn’t to provide me with a high degree
of fluency regarding the ancient city complex, but rather a general understanding of the subtler things one wouldn’t find in the typical textbook or travel guide. The things I picked up during those two days were an analogous combination of a total immersion memoir, and one of those ‘everything you wanted to know for dummies’ books. I didn’t know where Douglas was coming up with the stuff he was telling me, but it sounded plausible enough, so I never questioned him about it. When we were wrapping up on Wednesday afternoon, I thanked Douglas for his help and stood up to leave. “Isaac, there’s one more thing you need to know. With every surprise you encounter, there is an even bigger surprise waiting for you just around the corner.” Before I had a chance to ask him what he meant, he was gone. Chris was sitting on the back porch when I got back up to the main level of the house. How’d the tutoring go with Douglas?” I filled her in, but nothing more than a quick recap. I’d had enough over the past two days, and I was almost burned out on Chichen Itza minutia. I just wanted to sit on that quiet porch with Chris and think about the many more years we now knew we would have together thanks to the miraculous genes our parents gave us, and an ancient Mayan formula that was just as miraculously dropped into our laps.
We took a slow ride into Boston the next morning. We gave the house a once-over to make sure that things were as they should be, and then gathered up the few things we had on our respective lists. With all of the excitement these past few weeks in Bolton, it was nice to be home again. None of us knew how long we would be in the Yucatan. The expectation was no more than a couple of days, but without a specific agenda, that could easily turn into a week or more. We would find out when we got there and met up with Dad and Don’s ‘old friend.’ The Gulfstream was at our disposal, and Marshall would be checking in with the pilots at least once a day. Unless something went terribly wrong, we would hopefully head back home with the last piece of the codex puzzle in a day or two. I called the folks to see how they were and to ask Dad if he needed me to bring anything for him. We chatted for a few minutes, and he assured me he had what he needed, and that he would see me on Friday when we flew down to pick him up at Kennedy Airport. I got off the phone and didn’t see Chris in the room. I hollered for her and asked if she was about ready to head back to Bolton. She answered that she was up in the bedroom and needed another hour before she’d be ready. I couldn’t imagine what
would possibly take her another hour to do until I walked into the room and found her stretched out on the bed with only a sheet barely draped over her. We left for Bolton about three hours later.
The hop down to Kennedy Airport took less than an hour and a half, and as soon as Dad boarded and stored his carry-on, we taxied for our takeoff to Dallas. Once we were airborne and leveled off at cruising altitude, we had almost four hours to kill, and it was time for Dad to tell us about his mysterious friend in the Yucatan. I didn’t relish the prospect of not knowing what we might be walking into once we got out to Chichen Itza, and I imagined Marshall didn’t either. Don already knew who this person was, so there was no need for him to be present. “Dad, I need you to tell us about the letter, and about the person who sent it to you. If this has anything to do with the codex, you have to appreciate that it’s been thirty-nine years since that happened, and whoever this person is, they may no longer be the ‘old friend’ you think they are. I’m not saying we’re being set up, but we need to be prepared in case this gets ugly.” “I know Kid. I’ve already considered that, but
there was never any mention of the codex in the letter. If the intent is to have me bring the codex back, I would think that would have been clearly communicated in the note. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be cautious, but I don’t believe anyone wants to take anything from us. I think this is just the opposite situation. I believe they want to give us something. Now let me tell you about the summer of 1978. “Don and I were both anthropology majors and worked on a boatload of projects together in school. The degree required hands-on field work, so we decided that we would spend the summer on a dig in the Yucatan. One of the sanctioned options was a six-week stint working an excavation in the Chichen Itza ruins, and the two of us jumped at the opportunity. “Sure, it was six weeks in a sweltering rainforest, but it was also six weeks of invaluable experience working with actual Mayan descendants, unearthing their own history and ancestry. Chichen Itza was their sacred city, and even though we were the outsiders here, they treated us as though we were family. I’ve never met finer people. “There was a bad accident at the dig one day. Geologically, the whole damn Yucatan Peninsula is basically just a big slab of limestone, and since limestone dissolves in water, the place is just
honeycombed with caves and sinkholes. Yucatan’s sinkholes are called cenotes and are formed when cave floors and walls collapse. These cenotes can grow to be really big, some of them close to a thousand feet in diameter and as much as two hundred feet deep. That’s a big hole. It’s estimated that Mexico alone has over thirty thousand cenotes throughout the country. Most of them are public and provide tourists with a unique swimming or diving experience they won’t find anywhere else. Others are actually private. “Four of our locals were taking their afternoon break in one of the caves to get out of the heat when the floor opened up underneath them. Three managed to climb out, but the fourth, a kid named Neacel ended up under a pile of rock and was pinned in chest-high water. The locals were hesitant to climb down into the cenote fearing the ground would collapse more, trapping them as well. “Call it ignorance or foolish bravado, but I climbed down and managed to get the kid’s legs freed so we could get a rope around him and pull him out. He was pretty banged up, and the closest modern medical help was about forty miles away in the city of Valladolid. We put him in the back of a pickup truck, made him as comfortable as we could, and hauled ass. “The facility wasn’t exactly the Mayo Clinic, but they did a fantastic job stabilizing him so he
could be moved to a hospital better equipped to handle his injuries. It was likely Neacel was going to need some surgery, and since we were about the same age, I wasn’t about to leave him alone to fend for himself. “I took whatever cash Don had on him, and told him to take the truck back to the site, and let Neacel’s family know that he would be OK. I rode with Neacel in the ambulance to the main hospital in Cancun. Fortunately, his injuries looked worse than they actually were, but he did need some vascular repair and a transfusion. “As a regular donor with O-positive blood, I offered to donate a pint, and the doctors were overly grateful for the unexpected gesture. While I knew that blood sacrifices were practiced by the Mayans, at the time, I wasn’t aware that those rituals were quite revered, and that an offering of blood was viewed as a holy gift to the gods. “The surgery went well, and they kept him in recovery overnight. The doctors released him the next morning, once they arranged for transportation to get us back to Chichen Itza. What threw me during all of this, was that the clinic and the hospital both refused to take any money from me. I would come to find out why when I met Neacel’s father later that night. “Neacel’s family and Don were waiting for us when we got back to the dig later that morning. His
father, Tahvo, was very relieved to see that his son wasn’t seriously hurt. Two other men carefully moved Neacel onto a small cart and began the walk back to their village. Tahvo gestured for Don and me to come with them. The village was only a mile or so from the dig site, but far enough into the rainforest to be hidden from unwanted tourists and unwelcome guests. “Now if you’re thinking thatched huts and loincloths, think again. This was the late seventies, and these people had more creature comforts than you would have thought. Many were well educated, and I was really surprised how well almost everyone spoke English. Neacel needed the rest and was carried to bed when we reached the house. Tahvo offered us cold drinks and cigars, and had us join him outside on his patio.” “I know that the two of you were the ones that rescued my son from the collapse, and I know that you took him to the doctors in Valladolid. Don, from this time forward, you are a member of this family and will always be welcome here.” He then turned his gaze directly to me. “Bill, I also know that you accompanied Neacel to the hospital, and I know that you gave him your own life’s blood so he could have the surgery he needed to be healed. When you did that, you gave me back my son’s life. From this time forward Bill, you also are my son, and Neacel will always look upon you
as his brother.” “It turns out that Tahvo was widely known and well respected throughout the entire Yucatan region, purportedly descending from an ancient line of Mayan healers. Now I understood why none of the doctors, or the hospital, would accept any payment from me. “Neacel was pretty much on the bench for the rest of the dig, but Don and I did visit with him when we could, and we quickly became good friends. When our six weeks were almost over, Tahvo sent word for us to come see him before we left for home. It was during that last visit that he presented us with the codex, as his own way of saying thank you. “So, if the two of you have any concerns regarding the true intentions of our invitation, I’m quite sure that we have nothing to worry about, and I’m quite sure that Don will tell you exactly the same thing when he joins us.” We picked Don up at DFW three hours later, and after a slight ground delay, the Gulfstream turned southeast for the two and a half hours flying time down to Cancun. That gave us plenty of time to have a nice lunch. The Gulfstream was quite a comfortable aircraft, and we found the galley stocked with a remarkable selection of choices. We had hotel rooms booked in the city for us and our two pilots, so the plan was to get a good
night’s sleep, and head out to Chichen Itza right after breakfast. The driver and van we had booked, was waiting for us on the general aviation tarmac where we parked the Gulfstream. Karen must have pulled some strings with her contacts in Mexico because there were no Immigration or Customs people in sight. In less than an hour, I had called Chris to let her know that we were at the hotel, and tried to unwind under a hot shower in my very nice room at the Marriott Cancun Resort. The words and images from Dad’s story still managed to creep back into my head again, but sleep is rarely denied, and I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow a few minutes later.
Itza means “at the mouth of the Itza well,” or alternatively, “at the mouth of the well of the Itza people.” It’s really more of a personal preference than a literal translation, and either flavor is recognized as being appropriate. The Mayan city grew out of the rainforest between 600 CE and 1200 CE in the northern region of the Yucatan peninsula, and over time grew to become one of the most influential cities in Mesoamerican society. Without taking away from the historical wealth of the city’s remarkable architectural features, the structure that steals the show is the Temple of Kukulcan, also known as El Castillo. El Castillo served as a temple to the god Kukulkan, the Feathered Serpent deity. It’s basically a foursided stepped pyramid consisting of a series of square terraces and stairways going up each of the four sides to the temple itself at the top. From a purely structural perspective, the pyramid, including the temple is ninety-nine feet
high, and the base measures 181 feet across on each side – both impressive and imposing. There are a couple of interesting things that tourists love to point out to their friends when they get back home. One is that during the spring and autumn equinoxes the stone sculptures on the north side of the pyramid create the illusion of a feathered serpent “crawling” down the pyramid when the sun hits them just right. The other is that each of the pyramid’s four sides has 91 steps. When you add the steps together and include the temple platform itself, it ends up being a total of 365 steps, which is coincidentally the number of days in the Mayan Haab year. The entire site complex has tremendous archaeological significance and has been designated as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Marshall got us out to Chichen Itza in two hours without a single speeding ticket. I rode shotgun, while Dad and Don stretched out in the back seat of the SUV we rented at the hotel. It was still early in the day when we arrived at the site, but the heat was already on its way to making things uncomfortable. As we made our way towards the entrance gate, a middle-aged man approached us and asked; “Which one of you is William Rothman?” Dad answered, “That would be me.”
The man smiled and said, “Welcome home my son. It is good to see you again after all these years.” The look on Dad’s face went from confusion to recognition, to bewilderment. “Tahvo? How in the world…” Tahvo raised his hand to stop Dad from saying anything else. “I will tell you everything, my son, but not here.” As Tahvo hugged first Dad and then Don, I could see tears well up in his eyes. When Tahvo stepped back, he took a deep breath and turned to Marshall and me. Dad made the introductions. “Tahvo, this is my son Isaac, and our good friend Marshall. If secrets are going to be shared, I would ask that they are shared with all of us. If I could not absolutely trust my companions, they would not be here with me now.” Tahvo put his hand over his heart and nodded. “Come, my son, let me bring you back home.” As we entered the village and approached Tahvo’s house, Dad remarked that it didn’t appear as though very much had changed in the past thirtynine years. Tahvo laughed. “We have always done our best, to leave things as they have always been. It keeps us shielded from the curious, and provides us with the same degree of privacy our ancestors enjoyed for generations. That doesn’t mean I’ve had to do
without air conditioning or a new high-def television, but there are advantages to maintaining our dated façade. “Neacel apologizes for not being here to greet you. He has been preparing for your visit, and you will see him soon enough. For now, let me offer you some refreshments, and then we will sit and talk.” As soon as our cold drinks were poured, Tahvo continued his account. “As you know, advancements in technology over the years have led to some exciting discoveries at Kukulkan. The first, you will recall, was in the nineteen thirties, when a 66-foot-high pyramid was discovered inside the outermost structure. I’m also quite sure that you’re aware that in 2015, two more discoveries were made using a tomographic x-ray imaging technique to penetrate below the layers of the stone. This imaging allowed the archaeologists to see deeper into the heart of Kukulcan, without causing it any physical damage.” Tahvo spoke with the confidence of an ancient intellectual. “What they found was that Kukulcan was built atop a subterranean river; a cenote. Now if that wasn’t interesting enough, they also detected an even smaller structure hidden inside the outer two layers – a third pyramid. The most important pyramid.” “I know that you have uncovered the hidden pages within the codex.” Marshall, habitually
fearful of a security breach in Bolton, quickly asked; “How could you know that?” Tahvo sensed the concern in Marshall’s voice. “I was informed by someone, who for now, must remain anonymous, but I assure you all, that there is nothing nefarious at work here. Don stepped in to offset the distraction. “Tahvo, if you know that we’ve seen the hidden pages in the codex, then you also know that we’re aware of what they contain. I don’t mean to be too blatantly obvious here, but I have to say, for a man who is well into his nineties, you don’t look a day over forty. Tahvo, why exactly are we here after all these years? Why now?” Now it was Tahvo’s turn to express some concern. “I have recently been made aware of something unexpected and disturbing. After years of bickering amongst themselves, the government’s ordinarily autonomous, antiquities caretakers, have all agreed to proceed with a full and invasive exploration of the inner pyramids. There are hundreds of thousands of Mayans that will protest and object to the desecration of their most sacred pyramid, but there is no guarantee that will stop the work from moving forward. My cultural and personal beliefs are just as strong, but I have something much more important I must protect at any cost. We cannot allow anyone to ever excavate the innermost pyramid.”
Dad asked the question. “Tahvo, what’s inside that pyramid?” Tahvo panned the room, making eye contact with each one of us as he answered. “Something you will have to see with your own eyes before you will be able to believe it.” Being the pragmatist in the group, Marshall needed some more answers before things got completely out of hand. “Tahvo, you said nobody has excavated anything yet, so how do you know if there’s even anything inside it?” Tahvo poured himself another glass of iced tea. “Because I have been inside the pyramid, and if you can be patient for two more hours, I will be happy to escort you there myself.” When Neacel returned home, he was overwhelmed with emotion as soon as he saw Dad and Don sitting at the dining table. Once the introductions were out of the way, Marshall and I quietly enjoyed watching the three friends make up for the decades they had been apart from each other. About an hour later, Tahvo announced that it was time for us to leave. As I looked at the father and son standing together, I felt as though I was looking at Dad and myself, with one small difference. I knew what my eyes were seeing, but my brain was still having trouble processing the fact
that with a good twenty years between them, Neacel looked to be the same age as his father.
We left the house with the sun at its peak and with the temperature easily in triple digits. Even suitably dressed as we were, the general conditions were nothing short of oppressive. Neacel was on point and took us through the village towards the edge of the rainforest in the distance. Tahvo pointed out that this was the best time for us to travel, since everyone else would be indoors for siesta, and our movements, for the most part, would go unnoticed. “We will reach the canopy of the rainforest in about twenty minutes, and the shade will provide us with some relief. Until then, drink freely from your canteens. There is an abundance of cool fresh water where we are going, and dehydration is always a danger for the inexperienced traveler.” With that said, the four of us drained our canteens and collectively focused on getting into the rainforest as quickly as we could. When we reached the edge of the rainforest, Neacel cautioned us to be aware of our surroundings.
“The Yucatan is home to five hundred and forty-six species of birds, one hundred and twentyfive species of mammals, and one hundred and eighty species of reptiles and amphibians, along with an incredible variety of insects. The odds of encountering any dangerous faunae are small, but it is still advisable to remain watchful for snakes as some can be extremely venomous.” If the trek from the village wore us down, Neacel’s advice gave us an unexpected boost of adrenalin. It was definitely cooler under the green canopy of the rainforest now that we were shielded from the sun, but the humidity just wouldn’t quit. We walked in single file, following an unseen path that Neacel had obviously traveled many times before. There were no markers or even the appearance of a trail, but his footsteps were deliberate, and his changes in direction were unmistakably choreographed. Half an hour later, the flora unexpectedly parted like a curtain, and we found ourselves standing in a large clearing dominated by a massive sinkhole. As soon as Dad saw it, he laughed. Marshall seemed puzzled and looked at Dad for an explanation. Dad patted him on the back and said; “Let’s all first get a cold drink from the cenote, and then I’ll ask Tahvo to explain. This is his cenote, and he should have the honor of divulging its secret.”
Neacel brought us to a hand pump anchored in the ground that had a wooden bucket sitting under its spout. After a few firm pushes on the handle, the bucket filled with enough cold fresh water to refill our canteens. As promised, Tahvo started his narrative by first answering Marshall’s unspoken question. “My son laughed when he saw the cenote because he understood what its significance was. Running beneath this cenote is a small underground river. It runs for several miles and passes directly under Kukulcan before the aquafer drops off steeply on its way to the sea. It has taken Neacel and myself many years of arduous work, but we successfully mapped the river well enough to dig the access tunnels that will allow us to bring you into Kukulcan’s inner pyramids. “The trip, along with the time we will spend there, will extend beyond sunset, and the rainforest is not a place you want to be after dark. Neacel has provisions already stored in the pyramid for us to spend the night, and I assure you we will be quite comfortable if everyone is prepared to proceed?” Marshall reminded us that he had to check in with the pilots if we were going to be out of contact until the morning. Tahvo didn’t have any objection, so Marshall pulled the satellite phone from his backpack and informed the pilots that we would be in touch with them in the morning. All I could think
of at the moment was that last night I slept in a king-size bed at the Marriott hotel, and tonight I would be sleeping on the floor of an early Mayan pyramid. We walked almost a third of the way around the lip of the cenote, where it was easier to make out the steps and hand-holds that were carved into the rock and descended about twenty feet into the shadows. The surface of the water was yet another twenty feet below the bottom step. Tahvo prepared us for the descent. “The steps have pretty good traction, but you should still take advantage of the hand-holds. When you get to the bottom, you will see the opening into the tunnel. Neacel will go first, and turn some lights on for the rest of us.” The climb down was easier than it looked, and as I passed from the heat of the rainforest into the coolness of the tunnel, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had just stepped a thousand years back in time. It only took a minute for our eyes to adjust, once we were in the vestibule of the tunnel. Neacel had three LED lanterns lit and turned towards two large plastic storage boxes sitting against one of the tunnel walls. “Everyone please take a lantern and a package of batteries. The other box contains selfsealing plastic bags for your wallets, watches, cell phones, and cameras. The river is relatively calm
this time of year, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.” A few minutes later, we were slowly making our way down the tunnel towards the river, and the boat that would take us into Kukulcan. Don was walking with Tahvo, just behind me, and I could hear the two men talking. “Tahvo, how long did it take you and Neacel to dig this tunnel?” “Understand that this was done only when time permitted and when it was safe enough to do. Because of those constraints, this one took us four years to get from the cenote to the river. The other two took considerably longer.” “Two tunnels I can understand, but why three?” “The second tunnel runs between the river and the cenote beneath Kukulcan. The third tunnel is further downriver and is the only way for us to exit the pyramid discretely. Since rivers normally only flow in one direction, the current is too strong for us to get back to the cenote we started from. The only way out was to let the river carry us beyond the pyramid to a remote cavern where we could easily get back to the surface, and eventually retrieve our boat.” We continued to move downward through the tunnel for almost ten more minutes until the incline gave way and the pathway leveled out. We could clearly hear that we were getting close to the river now. After what I guessed was another sixty or
seventy yards, the sound of the river grew much louder, and we were soon standing on a natural jetty where a decent size flat bottom boat was securely tied to an anchor rod embedded in the rocks. As we each picked up one of the life jackets on the jetty, Dad held his lantern up, but it was still too dark to make out the opposite bank of the river. Neacel eased his concern. “It’s about forty-one feet at its widest point, and no more than sixteen feet deep from what we’ve been able to measure over the years. The ceiling is not a problem either. There’s more than enough headroom. We’re quite safe.” Tahvo settled us onto the boat, untied us from the jetty, and we slowly moved away from the shore as the current picked us up and carried us into the darkness. During their mapping process, the father and son team had wisely placed markers along the river to alert them when they were approaching the pyramid. Using oars, they maneuvered the boat towards the riverbank, and when the hull scraped against the river bottom, Neacel leaped off the boat and tied us onto another anchor rod. From start to finish, the journey took roughly fifteen minutes, much shorter than the amount of time it took our friends to dig their tunnels. Once the boat was fully secured, we began the hike to our primary
objective. Tahvo led us along the riverbank to a large fissure in the wall. “This is the tunnel that will take us to the cenote under Kukulcan.” We reached the floor of the second cenote in ten minutes. Remarkably, it was bone dry. As we looked up, in the dim light of our lanterns, we could see that the wall of the cenote was fitted with more substantial steps and better handholds. “When you reach the top, move away from the rim. An accident here would be fatal, and you all have long lives ahead of you.” I wondered if Tahvo was speaking figuratively, or if he somehow knew what our lifelines were. When I reached the rim, the reality set in. This wasn’t the rainforest, and the ground definitely wasn’t soil and undergrowth. I realized then that we were inside, not outside. “Neacel, are we really here? Are we inside Kukulcan?” “Yes, Isaac, we are inside the base of the outer pyramid. Tonight, we will sleep at the foot of the first inner pyramid, and in the morning, you will stand where the gods once stood.”
six of us reached the base of the inner pyramid in no time at all. It turns out that the lanterns we each carried were not the only light source we had. Two large LED lamps on tripods suddenly lit up most of the area we were standing in. Neacel had apparently spent several days making sure we would have the necessary supplies when we got to Kukulcan. “These both have fully charged lithium batteries, and are rated for three to six hours of continuous use, more than enough light for us to dine under and bed down for the night.” The added illumination revealed several more plastic storage boxes, sleeping bags, blankets, and a two-burner propane camp stove. It wasn’t quite the Marriott, but by the looks of things, we wouldn’t be all that uncomfortable. Dad and Don were giddy at the prospect of sleeping inside the pyramid. Their eyes moved from the stonework of the floor to the angled wall of the second pyramid. Not entirely sure if they were
dreaming or not, they both slowly reached out their hands to touch the quarried stone blocks that were first stacked upon each other almost a thousand years ago. Tahvo came up beside them and took immense pleasure in the joy reflected on their faces. “This first inner pyramid is called the substructure. The archaeologists in the nineteenthirties were not very expressive. After seventy years, it still hasn’t been excavated. Things in my country move very slowly.” Dad thought for a minute and then asked Tahvo about the third pyramid. “Tahvo, we know the third pyramid exists because of the imaging scans that were done just a couple of years ago, and because you have said that you’ve been inside of it. If the second pyramid has never been opened, how are we supposed to get into the third one?” Never one to pass up an opportunity to get under Dad’s skin, Don gleefully chided him. “Did you not pay attention when I explained this to you a week ago? You’re still thinking in two dimensions. The only way to get into the third pyramid is from the cenote beneath it.” Tahvo winked at Don before he turned to Dad with his own affectionate dig. “My son, you really need to start paying more attention to Mr. Spock.” For the second time, Tahvo startled me with his knowledge of things he couldn’t possibly know
about, and when I looked at Marshall, I could see he was thinking the same thing. Dinner was another unexpected surprise but in a good way. After retrieving six cold bottles of beer from the river, Neacel prepared the steaks and vegetables he had packed in dry ice earlier in the day. The camp stove was more than up to the task, and the six of us ate well. We talked for some time before bedding down; mostly about the chronology of the pyramid builds, and the predominant folklore during each of the three time frames. “The Mayan knowledge of astronomy cultivated many of the early theories regarding Kukulcan’s location and precise alignment with the sun during the spring and fall equinoxes, but as you will see in the morning, the first pyramid built serves a different purpose.” The excitement combined with the physical fatigue of the journey took its toll on all of us, and we found ourselves tiring quickly. Marshall asked if the Mayans were thoughtful enough to include any sanitary facilities in the pyramid. Neacel obviously anticipated the question. “Not the Mayans, but I will be happy to show you where the ‘restroom’ is.” He picked up one of the smaller lanterns before guiding us into the darkness just beyond the reach of the large LEDs. In the few minutes we were away, Tahvo had set up a line of prayer candles along the base of the
pyramid so we wouldn’t be in total darkness as we slept. When Dad asked him if there was something significant about using prayer candles as opposed to regular candles, Tahvo again showed his satirical side. “Yes, my son. They were on sale.” Breakfast was protein bars and strong hot coffee. Neacel walked us through what was going to happen. “Just as my father and I originally reached this substructure through the cenote, we used the same approach to reach the second substructure. It merely became a matter of digging another tunnel; this time from the cenote up to the base of the third pyramid. So, what we need to do is descend back to the floor of the cenote, where another set of steps and one more tunnel will bring us to our final objective.” We didn’t see the second set of steps the day before because they were too far away to be seen with our lanterns. The climb this time was shorter since we were coming up underneath the pyramid rather than at ground level. The last step ended at the entrance of the expected tunnel. As soon as we were all standing in the tunnel, Tahvo told us we could turn off our lanterns. When we hesitated, Tahvo calmly said; “It’s OK.” We switched the lanterns off and were suddenly bathed in a warm green glow that seemed to be radiating from the tunnel walls themselves.
The intensity was lower than what our lamps projected, but since it totally surrounded us, it was enough for us to clearly see where we were going. After several minutes of walking, Marshall remarked; “The light seems to be getting brighter as we move further into the tunnel. I assume that means we’re getting closer.” Neacel confirmed that with a nod. Not five minutes later, we stood together in a roughed-out antechamber, staring at a set of large stone steps leading up to a rectangular opening in the ceiling. Tahvo turned to face us. “We have arrived. Until this day, the things you are about to see have only been seen by Mayan priests and the male offspring they produced. Neacel and I are among the last surviving descendants of that noble lineage. Be clear about what I am telling you. If you choose to enter the pyramid, your life will change in ways you could never imagine. You will grow to be more than you are now, and in time, you will come to hold the world in your hands.” I let the words sink in before I stepped forward and started up the stairway. Dad, Don, and Marshall were right behind me. I stopped on the top step until I felt Dad’s hand on my shoulder. I turned my head to look at him. “Whatever happens Kid, you know I love you.” “I love you too Dad. Here we go.” We moved carefully into what turned out to be
a second antechamber and found ourselves surrounded by polished stone walls adorned with a rich assortment of Mayan glyphs. This wasn’t my strong suit, so I moved aside and let Dad and Don take a closer look. It didn’t take but a few seconds before they looked at each other and Dad said; “They’re all Mayan gods and goddesses; obviously not every one of them, but these are definitely the most important ones.” Don carefully ran his hand over the relief he was standing in front of. As he turned, his eyes swept the room, trying to take in as much as he could. “These are the finest carvings I’ve seen anywhere. The workmanship is incredible, and they look like they were done only days ago. There’s absolutely no evidence of any erosion or defacement. It’s almost like…”. Don caught his breath and froze. He stood perfectly still with his eyes locked on the opposite wall. Dad traced the line of his gaze and instantly saw what Don was looking at. “Don, that’s your glyph. That’s the same deity you found in the codex.” Don didn’t take his eyes off the carving. “It sure is, Bill.” Marshal and I were just as fixed in the moment until Tahvo broke the spell. “That one is the God of Healing, Lord of Before and After. That one is Asclepius.”
“Hold on a minute. This doesn’t make sense to me.” Tahvo knew there would be questions. “What don’t you understand, Marshall?” “Well, from what little I know about the man, Asclepius was a Greek, and he probably lived seventeen or eighteen hundred years before this pyramid was even built. Both the distance and the time periods separating the two would make it impossible for the Mayans to have such a deepseated connection with the man. I know that there were migrations, and legends have successfully traversed the globe, but gods and goddesses tend to be local and homegrown, so unless Asclepius was somehow here in the flesh, I don’t understand why the Mayans saw fit to make him a god.” Dad saw what Marshall was driving at. “He’s right. None of the other gods and goddesses outside of the Mayan Empire are represented in their history or on these walls. What about Jesus, Abraham, Buddha, Isis, Zeus, Brahma, Guanyin, and all the others?” Neacel looked at Tahvo
apprehensively. Tahvo smiled back at his child. “Neacel, we have always done what we were born to do. It is their time now. Go ahead, show them the way.” Neacel approached the relief of Asclepius, put both of his hands on the carving, and pressed his weight against it. That entire section of wall slid silently down into the floor. I don’t know what anyone else thought would be behind the wall, but I automatically assumed that Tahvo and Neacel had been in the hidden room before. The newbies would want a royal tomb, or a crypt of sorts, filled with jewels and other treasures. I figured Marshall was probably wondering about the possibility of becoming trapped should the wall suddenly close up again. As for myself, I honestly didn’t have any secret fantasies or words of wisdom to offer. In my mind, we were all here because we were supposed to be, and now it was time for us to find out why. What I can say though, is that none of us were quite prepared for what was behind the wall. Nobody had moved. One minute the wall was intact, and the next minute there’s a doorway where there wasn’t even a seam or a crack before. That’s not exactly something you see every day. Dad finally asked Tahvo about the doorway itself, and where it led. “Your first question I can’t answer because I do not know what the chamber will disclose to you.
While each of you will see and hear the same things, each of you will see and hear them differently. Because the essence of our being is unique for each of us, what you experience will only have true value for you. “Your second question is the more essential one. Your destinies are behind this wall. You are all about to grow; some might say evolve. Neacel and I will be here when you return.” That caught Marshall entirely off guard. “You’re not going in there with us? Why aren’t you coming with us?” Tahvo calmly replied; “We haven’t been invited, Marshall. The guest list was quite clear. We are not permitted to enter this time. You should go. Your host is waiting.” Marshall automatically shifted from composed, to high-alert mode. “What host, Tahvo? Who’s in there waiting for us?” Tahvo answered rather matter-of-factly as if we should have known. “It’s the Feathered Serpent god Kukulcan… and he’s still waiting.” Dad was the first through the doorway. Don was half a step behind him, then Marshall, then me. The inner chamber was very similar to the one we just left. The walls were also polished stone but were bare. In the center of the room was a stone altar, polished to the point of being reflective, just as the
walls were. Standing in front of the altar was a bearded man about 6 feet tall with long white hair. Mayan’s are darker skinned Latino-looking people, typically not very tall, and they usually have brown hair, so, whoever this person was, if he was Kukulcan, he was surprisingly Caucasian. Tahvo said nothing about etiquette, so I impulsively blurted out; “Either I’m not seeing the same person that everyone else is, or the history books really got this one wrong!” The man picked up the wooden staff that was laying on the top of the altar, and walked slowly towards us, stopping just a few feet away. All I could think was that he looked like a really young Gandalf, minus the wizard hat. Don, however, saw the serpent carved on the staff, and apparently had a different opinion. “You look more like Asclepius than Kukulcan. If you don’t mind me asking, who are you?” The man smiled warmly. “Kukulcan is one of the three gods the Mayans believe created the Earth. In his natural form, he’s a serpent. However, he is more often depicted in his human form, dressed in his feathered cape and headdress. He was held in deep reverence and was said to be responsible for teaching the Mayan’s about organized society, agriculture, and medicine. “I didn’t want to frighten you, so I chose a less threatening form in which to meet you. I have been
called Kukulcan by the Mayan, Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs, Asclepius by the Greeks and Romans, and many other names you may have heard while studying the cultures of other people around the world. “You’ll understand all of this more clearly once you see the things I’m about to show you, and hear the things I’m about to tell you. What you are about to experience is deliberate, because until you see it with your own eyes, you’re not going to believe a word I say.” In a split second, without any warning or fanfare, we were all standing in a sunlit field, surrounded by row after row of small green plants, as far as the eye could see in every direction. The room was gone. Hell, the whole pyramid was gone. “You are in the place we call the Fields of Life. These plants have grown and have flourished here for over two thousand years. You already know their purpose and the endowment they possess. “Humanity has found itself at critical junctures throughout its history and has always persevered. We are approaching another of these junctures, and it’s going to depend on your combined skills if humanity is going to persevere yet again.” Suddenly, we were standing in what was clearly an open-air Greek temple, encircled by massive marble columns supporting a domed roof.
Our shadows stretched out across a mosaic tile floor, as the oil lamps burning around us held back the darkness of the night. An obviously shaken Don felt obliged to ask a favor. “Could you please give us a heads-up before you do that again?” “This is the ancient Temple of Asclepius in Feneos, Greece” Dad definitely had a problem with that statement. “That’s not possible. That temple in Feneos was built around 400 BCE and was destroyed by an earthquake in the first century CE, so unless you’ve somehow figured out time travel, you need to come up with a more convincing story. I can see the sky and feel the wind on my face. I can smell the oil from the lamps. I have no historical doubt that this is a Greek temple, but trust me when I tell you that we’re not in Feneos.” “Bill, you are one of the finest ancient historians in the world, but you are also too quick to dismiss the inexplicable. I will keep this in terms that everyone can understand, but I would prefer to tell you this story somewhere you will all feel a bit more comfortable.” He looked to Don for approval, but Don just rolled his eyes. We were instantly standing in the last place any of us would have even guessed - the subbasement conference room underneath Rick and Karen’s house in Bolton.
“Are we really in the conference room?” “Yes, Isaac, you are really here, you’re just not here now.” That was the second time Gandalf had called one of us by our name. “Obviously, I don’t understand. What do you mean I’m here, but I’m not here now?” “Your father came close when he mentioned time travel. Let me explain. The flaw in your prevailing theories of time travel is the preoccupation with ‘time.’ Our moves from Chichen Itza, to the Fields, to the Temple, and to this conference room were possible because of something called Interval Succession. “Think of it as a large computer, recording a never-ending video of absolutely everything that’s ever happened, and it’s continuously being saved on an infinite hard drive. If items of significance in that video were somehow tagged and indexed as they were being recorded, all you would need to access any item, from anywhere, at any time in history, would be an equally massive search engine.
So, coming back to your question Isaac, we are in fact in the conference room, but we’re actually in it two days ago, when it was unoccupied for several hours.” As insane as all of this sounded, I took a leap of faith. “Even if I accept your record-andplayback scenario, it still doesn’t explain how we moved from place to place.” “Since you already have a rudimentary grasp of quantum computing, you know that things can be in two different states at the same time, even when separated by a great distance. Is it so hard to imagine that a person could also be in two separate places at the same time?” Marshall, being the only one of us that actually was a computer scientist, still struggled to accept the concept, even if it was purely hypothetical. “Look, I’ll grant you this all sounds fascinating, but the technology to do something like this doesn’t exist today, and may not exist for another hundred years, if ever.” “Marshall, I will repeat what I said to Bill earlier. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the inexplicable. It’s the one thing that has persistently kept humanity from advancing beyond where it is now. The technology to do what I have explained to you actually does exist. It just doesn’t exist on Earth.” As any child growing up, I learned by asking
questions, by examining and exploring, by experimenting, and by making mistakes. In fact, I’ve learned more things by being wrong than I have by being right, but that’s OK because those are the lessons that ultimately shape our intellect. This is the ongoing quest for knowledge and understanding. Then one day, inexorably, you reach a point where you resign yourself to the fact that there are just some questions in life that will always go unanswered. Well, son-of-a-bitch, if I wasn’t wrong about that too. There are times when someone will say something, that causes everyone in the room to respond in a shouting match of mixed reactions. This was not one of those times. I thought back for a second, and remembered what Tahvo said to us before we entered the heart of the pyramid; ‘Your destinies are behind this wall.’ Not a sound was made until our host spoke again. “You and your families have been chosen to prepare for humanity’s next steps in its development. You have much to learn, and you will be taught by others already here with greater knowledge and readiness. But for now, my friends, it is time for us to say goodbye.” Dad cautiously broke his silence. “You must know that we have hundreds of questions. Will we ever see you again?” “Not for some time, but we will meet again
when it becomes necessary. Until then, you will have your questions answered by an emissary I have assigned to guide you through your preparations. Just to put things into context, you should take some comfort in knowing that our emissaries have been working with your species for almost three million years now. The one I have chosen for you is quite remarkable. You really are quite fortunate, and in very capable hands.” This time it was Marshall; “Where and when do we meet this emissary?” Gandalf smiled with obvious satisfaction, almost as if he wanted the question to be asked. “I don’t mean to be theatrical Marshall, but you’ll have to trust me on this.” Gandalf then leaned in and whispered into Marshall’s ear. Before the words even seemed to register with Marshall, the four of us suddenly found ourselves standing only a few yards from where we left the SUV at the Chichen Itza site. Tahvo and Neacel were sitting in the front seat taking full advantage of the air conditioning, and I could clearly see our backpacks and other belongings already stowed in the rear. As we approached the SUV, I could see a metallic cylinder about twice as large as a can of tennis balls, and what looked to be a neatly tied box of cigars sitting on the second-row seat. The two men exited the vehicle and
approached Dad and Don. Tahvo embraced them both. “It is time for you to go, my son. We all have much work to do.” Neacel hugged Marshall and me. “The cylinder is a gift from Kukulcan. The cigars are from my father and me. Guard them both well.” What I expected would be an emotional parting, was, in fact, one of the happiest moments in my life, and I knew in my gut, and my heart, that I would see Tahvo and Neacel again. This was really happening. All of those nights as kids, when Rick and I would stare up at the sky and talk about space, and flying saucers, and life on other planets… To be told with certainty, that we are not alone in the cosmos, that we’re not the superior race, and may not even live on the best piece of real estate in the galaxy; that does something to you. Every dream I had as a kid, was coming true. The things I thought only happened in the movies, were actually happening, and the best part of the whole thing, was that I was a part of it all. Staring out the window of the Gulfstream as we taxied for takeoff from Cancun, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace I had never felt before. In spite of my own wishes to make a difference in the world, I had always accepted the fact that the illusions far outweighed the possibilities. But now the scales were tipped the
other way. Silently, each one of us was slowly coming to terms with our new lives. Instead of replaying the trek to the pyramid and our meeting with Gandalf over in my mind, I found myself wondering about those that preceded us, and who they were. Were the great minds of the world the ones that shaped our progress, or were they the results of being shaped by others? As I considered the possibility that things like the discovery of fire, the introduction of language, and the raw beginnings of knowledge, were all instigated with the guidance and help of others, I wondered what the future held for the nine of us. In the beginning, we were a planet of children, either created or adopted for a specific purpose, and from the time our early ancestors first stood upright, we have been nurtured by a federation of emissaries from somewhere out beyond the stars. In truth, we’re still just a planet of children with a whole hell of a lot yet to learn. As the Gulfstream retracted its wheels and effortlessly climbed upwards through the scattered clouds, I realized I was fighting a losing battle to stay awake. Just before my eyes closed, I took a deep breath and found myself wrapped in the fragrance of the damp soil, and the decaying plants of the rainforest still somehow drifting through the cabin.
The first order of business when we got back to Bolton was a hot shower and a change of clothes. Everyone was relieved that we were safely back home but equally interested to hear how the trip went. Marshall announced that we would debrief on the back porch in an hour, and handed Rick the metal cylinder and the box of cigars. “We’ll get to these later.” Rick understood and set them down in the study as we headed to our rooms to get cleaned up. Chris unpacked my stuff while I showered and shaved. When I finally walked back into the bedroom, she looked at me and asked if I was OK. How am I supposed to answer that? Truthfully, I’m not the same person I was when we left for Cancun. I’m the same physically, and intellectually, but whatever it is we have inside of us that makes us who we really are, that is definitely not the same Isaac Rothman anymore. “At the moment, I’m absolutely OK. I promise you’ll get a minute-by-minute of everything when
we get downstairs. I really want to see the look on everyone’s face when we tell you guys what happened in Chichen Itza. Chris, tonight is going to be the most exciting night of your life, and I’m not even talking about the sex.” That cracked her up, and maybe even answered her question. Either way, I was a little worried about just how OK she was going to be when she heard what we were about to share with everyone. We weren’t late, but we were the last ones to arrive on the back porch. Rick had just started tending bar, so in my mind, our timing was perfect. When we all had a drink in our hand, Rick toasted our successful trip and our safe return. Marshall took that as his queue, and spoke about being met at Chichen Itza by Tahvo, the hike through the rainforest to the cenote, the descent into the cenote, the tunnels, the underground river, our night at the base of the first inner pyramid, and our entry into the second innermost pyramid. Even with a captive audience, I have to say I was quite impressed with how detailed and precise Marshall’s recall was, especially when he cited some things I never noticed myself. Dad picked up at the point when we entered the innermost pyramid. He talked about the finelycarved glyphs of the gods, including the glyph of Asclepius, and finished up where the wall opened up, and we met Gandalf. Don was now at the plate,
and I was on deck, apparently designated the cleanup batter. Don’s description of Gandalf was flawless, and his impeccable visuals of the inner antechamber, the Fields of Life, and the Temple of Asclepius in Feneos were nothing short of poetic. When he mentioned our visit to the conference room, four pairs of eyebrows went up at the same time, but it was his explanation of Interval Succession that scored the most points. No one had any reason to disbelieve anything they were being told, and I can say that because what I saw in their faces wasn’t doubt or skepticism, just sheer wonder. My contribution started with the declaration that we are not alone in the universe, and truthfully never have been. I followed with the information regarding the emissaries and made sure to mention the gifts Tahvo and Neacel gave us to bring back. There’s an old saying, first impressions are the most lasting impressions. In a word, that’s bullshit, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s the last impressions you make that matter. I turned to Chris so I could see her face as I spoke. “For whatever reason, we have been chosen to do something that’s going to affect the entire world, but I’m not sure that we even know what that is yet. This all started with the search for a PT formula, but something tells me that PT is only a
small part of something a lot bigger than we ever imagined. This is not going to be just another day at the office for any of us. We’ve been invited to become custodians of sorts - to use the insights and the tools we’ve been given and to collaborate with an alien guidance counselor we haven’t even met yet. That leaves us with one more question Marshall, and I’m pretty sure you’re the only one that can answer it.” Marshall knew precisely what I was talking about. He didn’t hesitate, but he did pause to choose his words carefully. “I don’t know why Gandalf picked me when we were in the conference room, but I will say I considered it an honor because I wasn’t completely surprised by what he said to me. If you remember, Gandalf told us our emissary was remarkable, and we were quite fortunate, and in very capable hands. I couldn’t agree more. It’s Douglas.” Since Marshall dropped the bomb, it seemed fitting that Ellie would be the one to respond. “What do you mean, it’s Douglas? Our Douglas? Are you serious?” Marshall was fine with the questions, but he was completely caught off guard with Ellie’s tone and irritation. He looked at Rick and Karen and saw the same displeasure on their faces. Now he was really confused and figuratively kicked himself for obviously overlooking something he hadn’t
considered. He still didn’t know what it was, but he knew it was something significant. He turned back to Ellie and apologetically asked her; “OK, what am I missing here?” It was Karen that answered him, practically shouting the words. “If Douglas is an emissary, who really designed and built the computer system sitting in the lab underneath us? Has any of it been us, or have we been strung along all this time, wasting three years of our lives in the process?” Before the questions turned into hours of frustration and anger, an unexpected voice rose up from behind us. “You’ve wasted nothing!” This was the first time any of us had seen Douglas outside of the conference room. In fact, this was the first time any of us had actually seen the real Douglas. Whatever it was that stood there facing us, I can promise you it wasn’t a hologram. “The complete design specifications and the actual construction of the quantum processor were all done exclusively by the four of you. Quite frankly, it was that intellect and your individual talents that first attracted our attention. I may have been looking over your shoulders the whole time, but I never interfered with anything the four of you built. “Even when I offered to help with the jump from digital to quantum, I only made suggestions for you to think about. The solutions, however,
came from you and what you accomplished in those three years still hasn’t been duplicated by anyone. That’s why you were chosen. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, where would you like me to start?” Between the shock of Douglas joining us, the impact of his proclamation, and the jumble of questions in our heads, it seemed that none of us could manage to form a complete sentence; none of us of course, except Mom. “I think it would make it easier for us if we knew what was going to happen, and what you need us to do.” “Thank you, Helen. Let me start at the beginning, and I do mean the beginning. When humans consider the origins of life on Earth, their generations of narrow thinking permit them to only go as far back as rudimentary microbes and singlecelled organisms. They would have done much better if they focused more on the origins of life everywhere. “All life everywhere originated from the same source, and because of that, we share a common pedigree. As homeworlds were seeded and grew, changing ecological conditions on those planets and inevitable scientific advancements drove the evolutionary changes that resulted in the differences that exist between the races today. Even with those differences, physically and
genetically we’re still pretty much all related. “Of course, the other key factor in all of this is the continuous passage of time. My race is a billion years older than yours, so we obviously have a head start on you folks. Ultimately, what’s important, is the knowledge that an abundance of life thrives out among the stars, and the reason it thrives is that collectively we are a family, and families protect and take care of each other. “Now, to Helen’s first question…, there is no uncomplicated way to say this, so please hear me out before you assume how this is going to end. In less than a year, there won’t be anyone or anything left alive on this planet. No people, no animals, no plants. The Earth as we know it will be lifeless. That’s the bad news.” Rick immediately picked up on the implication of Douglas’s words. “If you don’t mind me asking Douglas, what exactly is the good news?”
my friend, we’re not quite there yet. Would you mind if we moved the conversation inside? I need to see the gifts that Isaac brought back from Chichen Itza.” Once we were in Rick’s study, Douglas picked up the box of cigars and asked Don if he would do the honors. As soon as Don took the box from Douglas, his expression changed. “I can tell you right now, whatever is in this box, it isn’t cigars.” After he carefully undid the twine and paper wrappings, Don’s expression changed a second time, only this time it was a profound change. Don looked directly at Douglas. “Is this the last one, or are there more?” Douglas smiled. “It’s the last one, Don.” Don turned and extended his arms to Dad so he could take the package. As soon as Dad looked at it, his eyes went wide, and he locked sights with Don. “Son-of-a-bitch, it’s another codex. Douglas, is this part of the Dresden?” “Yes, Bill. It’s the final part of the Dresden,
and it’s the reason we need your help. I know that you and Don will completely decipher and analyze the contents on your own, but for the sake of expediency, let me tell you all what it says. In just a few months, the Earth is going to be subjected to an extremely concentrated gamma-ray burst. This won’t be your typical GRB. This one is hundreds of times stronger. It’s not going to be strong enough to kill people in their tracks, but it will be strong enough to change every human being’s genetic disposition.” Karen’s question was simple but direct. “I’m not sure I understand what that means, Douglas. What’s going to change?” Douglas looked at Chris because he knew she clearly had the answer to that question. “Aside from producing unchecked radiation sickness in millions of people, if the radiation damages a specific group of chromosomes, it would effectively sterilize every man, woman, and child on the planet. If we can’t reproduce, it won’t take very long before we become extinct. Radiation sickness would take the biggest toll regarding shortterm deaths and would certainly have the greatest cascading impacts on society, but at the end of the day, the lucky ones that manage to survive will eventually die off without ever bearing any children. That’s the only way this scenario ends.” The men seemed to take it stoically, but the
women were deeply moved. It was much more instinctual than emotional, and it was something Rick immediately picked up on. Karen and him only just recently talked about wanting to start a family. He could see the tears welling up in her eyes, and felt the same sadness he knew she was feeling. “OK Douglas, this would be a really good time for some good news.” Having been through some similar assignments in his role as an emissary, Douglas knew exactly how everyone in the room felt. “We have a plan. Well, it’s more than a plan. It’s actually a formal procedure, and it completely removes the threat of being exposed to the GRB the gamma-ray burst. In a situation like this, there are only two quick-and-easy solutions. You either alter the course of the burst, or you move the target of the burst. We can’t change the course of the radiation, so we’re going to move the occupants.” “Please don’t tell me you’re going to put everyone into FEMA trailers.” That was Dad’s way of asking, how the hell seven and a half billion people were going to be moved, and where exactly are they being moved to? Douglas very politely made it clear that some questions would not be answered. “How it’s being done is not important, as long as it is being done. Your second question, however,
is fair and deserves an answer. We have a planet set aside that meets all of the needs of Earth’s occupants. With minor differences, it resides in a solar system very similar to yours, and it should feel very much like home does now. The procedure does take some time, but there are no ill effects and those being moved will have no sense of even being moved. Ironically, moving the people is the easy part.” Now I had a question, and I wanted a real answer. “Moving the people is the easy part? Douglas, what else is being moved?” “Why all of it of course. How long do you think you would survive without shelter, without food or water, or for that matter, without your precious fossil fuels, or photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen? It all has to be moved, or there’s no point in even bothering. Your oceans and rivers, your mountains, your forests and fields, your homes and businesses, and of course every insect, fish, reptile, bird, and mammal. It all goes, Isaac. There is a delicate balance between all things in your world. That balance cannot be altered. Everything on this speck of blue planet you call home will continue just as it has for the past 4.5 billion years. It’s just going to do it somewhere else.” That’s when Douglas dropped the other shoe. “So, everyone please just take a deep breath. It’s all
under control, and if it will make you feel any better, this isn’t the first time we’ve moved people off of your planet.” The combination of his nonchalant demeanor and the overwhelming surprise of the announcement gave Douglas just enough time to dam up the torrent of questions he knew were coming. “I took the liberty of ordering in dinner. I hope pizza and salads are acceptable. There is obviously a lot we need to talk about, but there is no reason any of us should have to miss any meals.” The power of suggestion is a beautiful thing because at that moment I would do almost anything for a crisp slice of sausage and mushroom pizza. The group shifted gears and ended up in the dining room where a more than adequate selection of pizza and toppings was set out on the table next to two large antipasto platters. We all ate as though we hadn’t eaten in days. There were three topics of discussion as we ate: the codex, the PT formula, and Douglas’s statement about moving people off the planet in the past. Dad and Don were chomping at the bit to get their hands on the codex, so that made the top of the list. Douglas knew that they would dig through every page and every glyph themselves, but to tie all three topics together, he had to tell us why the codex was so important.
“If you recall, back in the 1990’s the theories and predictions that the world was going to end on December 21, 2012, began to pop up with growing frequency. The underlying basis for those arguments and predictions was the inferred prophesy of the Mayan calendar, which coincidentally did end on that day. “Scholars of the calendar all agreed that the so-called long-count calendar - which spans roughly 5,125 years starting in 3114 BCE – does, in fact, reach the end of its cycle on December 21, 2012. But, they also unanimously agreed that there was nothing to suggest that the calendar was a convincing portent for the end of the world. “Since the second and third books of the Dresden were still a secret, December 21, 2012, came and went with very little fanfare. What Don and Bill will uncover in the course of their investigation is a revised Mayan calendar with a more concerning end date. Although some could argue that this new calendar doesn’t have any greater significance than the previous one did, the rest of what Don and Bill will find in the third codex will change all of that. Now, let’s talk about our second topic for the evening. “Once the relocation is complete, people all over the world are going to be confronted with a totally new reality. Almost every belief construct across every culture and society will be shattered
overnight. There has to be something to fill that void, something that people can hold onto and draw solace from. This is where we come in. Together, we’re the ones that will articulate the message of reassurance, and at the heart of that message will be the gift of Predictive Transitioning. “When circumstances force people to acknowledge their mortality, the time they may have left becomes the most important thing in the world to them. As soon as the world grasps how close it came to extinction, PT will turn out to be the new holy grail. PT not only gives each person their remaining allotment of time, but it also gives them the opportunity to spend that time in a way that’s meaningful for them. For some, a new sense of hope and salvation will be enough. The vast majority, however, will go through a reawakening, and will be motivated to become more than what they ever thought they could be.” Douglas paused, recognizing there was something Rick wanted to say. “Douglas, you said earlier that people wouldn’t even have a sense that they had been moved. If that’s true, why would anyone’s reality possibly change?” “I also said that the planet you would be moved to meets all of the needs of Earth’s occupants with minor differences, and resides in a solar system very similar to yours. Rick, how would you react if you looked up into the night sky
and saw two moons there instead of one? How would your mind resolve the appearance of a second, an even larger moon suddenly crossing the sky when it sure as hell wasn’t there the night before, or for that matter, ever before? The choices made for the inhabitants of Earth weren’t intended to be equivalent. They were made to awaken them, as well as protect them. These things will have to be explained if humanity is ever going to take the next step in its evolution. The people have to be told what happened. It’s important that they understand they’ve been given a second chance. “Our final topic is not for public consumption, so I will ask that it be kept in strictest confidence. Bill, what was the reason for the decline of the Mayan civilization?” Dad wasn’t expecting the question but had no trouble answering it. “There are several theories for the decline, ranging from disease to severe drought, to power struggles between cities, as well as warring factions. It could have just as easily been a combination of all those things. To be honest, we really don’t know.” Douglas wasn’t finished asking questions yet. “What if the Mayans were not actually at the top of the pecking order? What if the real leadership, the seat of power and control in Mesoamerica was not the Mayans? What do you think would happen if that management and governance simply vanished
overnight?” Don didn’t hesitate. “Nobody really has enough data to postulate a definitive timeline, but if anyone was in control of the people in Mesoamerica, it was without question, the Olmec. Both the Mayans and the Aztecs descended from the Olmec, and there’s sufficient evidence that the achievements we attribute to the Mayans – writing, mathematics, astronomy, calendars, etc. – were all actually previously accomplished and handed down by the Olmec. “The thing you have to remember is that people in a position of power never show all of their cards. That’s how they usually manage to stay in power. If the Olmec suddenly disappeared from the picture, it’s conceivable that the ‘glue’ holding their empire together disappeared with them. The years of chaos that would follow could certainly have brought an end to the Mayan civilization. Its people would have dispersed, and over time, its physical presence would be swallowed up by the jungles and rainforests.” And that’s when it clicked. “Douglas, are you trying to tell us that you moved the Olmec?” “I can’t tell you why we moved them, other than it was necessary. However, you’ll be happy to know that your comments about their achievements are all correct. As one of many collections of people that coexisted and evolved over time, the
Olmec were uniquely gifted with incredible intelligence, and many of mankind’s subsequent advances would not have been possible, had it not been for their remarkable accomplishments. They have thrived since their relocation, and have made tremendous contributions to countless civilizations throughout the universe.” Don looked over at Dad and said; “Boy, would I love to visit that planet.” Douglas still had one more surprise up his sleeve. “You already have, Don. The Fields of Life are on planet Olmec.”
we are bombarded by unending streams of consciousness, twenty-four hours a day. Roughly 99.9% of that is comprised of things we either don’t have any interest in and merely choose to ignore or things with explicit connections to our personal wants and needs, that we would be foolish to ignore. Humans typically do pretty well with clearly defined criteria. It’s that last one-tenth of one percent, that can put people into a synaptic overflow, and push them over the edge. Between all the breakthroughs and the secrets those discoveries uncovered, it was becoming more and more likely that some of us in the group were going to need a mental health break very soon. Of course, when you factor in the meeting with Gandalf, and the reexamination of so many longheld ideas and beliefs, you also increase the risk for people to question the reasons for their very existence. Douglas understood that we were walking a fine line between physical exhaustion and an
emotional meltdown. He had seen this kind of response before. We didn’t know it, but we all needed a lot more time to digest everything that transpired in the past few weeks. We needed downtime, and Douglas didn’t hesitate to drive the point home. “While you may not agree with me, the most important thing you can do right now is to step back and do nothing. You are not my first pupils. Adapting to all of this is going to take a lot more time than you may have imagined; time that has been factored into your training, and time that we’ve planned for in the relocation schedule. So, here’s what I propose. “Let’s put a lid on things for a few days. Over the next two days, jot down your questions and send them to me. I’ll tack on another two days to sensibly discuss and answer them for you, and after that, I want you to just relax and recharge. I expect that with your questions answered you’ll be less apprehensive about where all of this is headed. “You’ll have the following thirty days to live your lives as you choose, without any interference from me. I hate to lay my cards on the table like this, but all of you need to understand that this time off is not optional. Your resilience and your rare instinct for survival are not widely shared by many of the other races, but that doesn’t make you humans infallible.
“We’ll get together again on Wednesday when I’ll be happy to address your questions. Once we put that behind us, you can freely avail yourselves of the time you’ll have to help you in your recovery. Unwind, travel, do something fun and meaningful, but one way or another, change your surroundings, get your strength up again, and revitalize your minds because as soon as you all get back here, we go to work.” I would guess that it didn’t take any of us more than an hour to write down and send our questions to Douglas. The next few hours were consumed deciding what we were going to do on our unexpected sabbaticals. There were enough senior staffers in the office to keep things under control while Rick and Karen, and Marshall and Ellie were away on their separate vacations. Mom and Dad were scouting out a river cruise on the Yangtze River in China, and Don had already invited one of his lady friends to join him for a few weeks in Australia and New Zealand. Over the years, Chris and I managed to take lots of vacation time, but never managed to take a real vacation. We had talked for years about visiting the major European cities, and she jumped at the chance when I also promised her five days on the Orient Express. The biggest surprise, however, was when Rick and Karen announced that they were covering everyone’s travel costs and
expenses. There would be no arguments. This was something they wanted to do, and they made it quite clear that the matter wasn’t even open for discussion. Karen had their travel director make all of the arrangements for everyone, and within forty-eight hours, we all had our itineraries, confirmations, and tickets in our hands. Now, all that stood between us and our sabbaticals was tying up loose ends and filling in some of the blanks. It was time for our Q&A with Douglas. We gathered in the conference room. Having sent our questions to Douglas in advance gave him the opportunity to answer them in a specific order. The idea was to create a path of answers that connected each subject to its predecessor and its successor. It was more important for us to see the larger picture than it was for us to dwell on the individual elements. “I’ll start by saying that many of you sent me the same questions. Under the circumstances, that was expected. I also got a few unique questions that I was honestly pleased to see. I will answer them all, either directly, or as part of an answer to another question. “Should some of my answers result in more questions, I’d like you to please hold them until I’m finished. If I’ve done my job, you’ll have those answers also, well before I’m through talking.
“First question; Who are the Emissaries, and what’s their role in the grand scheme of things? Emissaries are beings from many different planets throughout the universe. We teach other races the things they will need to advance to the point where they can be slowly introduced to the rest of the family. “Each and every planet is of value to one or more other planets, and every race has a contribution to make to one or more other races. While the concept of superiority may drive a particular planet’s inequities and transgressions, any attempts to expand those practices beyond the boundaries of that world are simply not tolerated. “So, we are observers, teachers, mediators, and protectors. We’re not assigned randomly, but instead based on our experience and the skills we’ve acquired on our own journeys. This gives us a chance to learn, grow, and whenever possible, move up the ladder ourselves. Each planet typically has several emissaries, and we all report to one Sentinel who is ultimately responsible for the planet. For the time being, let’s call him Gandalf. “The last thing you should know about emissaries is that there never seems to be quite enough of us to go around. It’s more of a calling than a job, and candidates are chosen rather than recruited. I want you to know that because there has never been an emissary selected from Earth.
The fact that the nine of you are sitting here today could be a sign that some of you may realize unforeseen opportunities when you least expect it. “Next question; Where did the plants in the Fields of Life come from, and how are they controlled? The plants are actually cultivated on several different planets, Olmec being one of them, but their origin is secret. Even emissaries and Sentinels are not told everything. “Control of the plants seems to be maintained by the Sentinels, but there has always been speculation that true control resides at a higher level of power. If you haven’t figured it out after your trip to Mexico, the plants are also capable of revitalizing life, and not just bringing back the deceased. “Another good question; Who is permitted access to Interval Succession, and what kind of access, if any, can be granted? Access is allowed on a case-by-case basis, and usually only granted for playbacks specific to the requester’s home planet, but I might be able to pull some strings so Don and Bill can have a closer look at Olmec. “If you’re wondering whether or not we can peer into the future as well as the past, we can’t, only because we haven’t traversed that portion of time yet. Interval Succession is purely an archive, and always will be. The wonderful thing about it is
that you can be anywhere on the planet, at any time in history, and personally witness any of the defining moments that have shaped the world into what it is today. “Consider the discoveries, the conflicts, the natural disasters, the ascension of leaders to power, the rise of empires and the countless lost lives and souls that those empires were built on. What would you give to witness the Sermon on the Mount, or the invention of the telephone, or the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Interval Succession is not just our history, it’s our entire existence. It’s the answer to every question we could ever ask and the only way any of us will ever be able to peer into the future. “Last question; With the knowledge that other races have been relocated before, when you consider Earth, how is it possible that the consequences of technological problems won’t result in a global catastrophe? I saved this one for last because out of all the answers I will give you this morning, this one is the most significant. “When I told you that we had a procedure for your relocation, I failed to mention that it was initially developed a few thousand years ago, and at the time wasn’t much more than a simple checklist. Needless to say, as the world continued to advance, we diligently made the necessary and appropriate updates to the procedure.
“I can’t possibly run down the complete list, but you should find some comfort in knowing that there will be no disruption to any power grids. There will be no disruption in any form of communications, from cell phones to TV’s, to radio transmissions and walkie-talkies. Air traffic control, radar and sonar systems, medical devices, and all satellites, both commercial and military, will continue to operate without interruption, along with every computer, and every internet and Wi-Fi router around the world. “If you have concerns regarding the new planet’s magnetic field, it’s exposure to solar flares, it’s rotational axis or differences in the global positioning of navigational beacons between old Earth and new Earth, let me put those concerns to rest. I promise you that we’ve got it covered. “We are extremely immersed in your technologies. Adjustments will be made to things like frequencies, bandwidths, atomic clocks, star maps, and seagoing navigational charts, all to accommodate for the subtle but significant differences between the two planets. What we’re dealing with is a best-case match, but I’m not about to tell you that both planets are exactly the same in every respect. We recognize that this exercise is anything but trivial, but I am telling you that this has all been simulated, tested, and rehearsed hundreds of times. When the time comes, we’ll be
ready.” “Now… the reason that this question is the most significant question is that it provides you with everything you’re going to need to convince the leaders of the world that this is going to happen with or without their cooperation, and it will also dispel any doubts they may have regarding your sanity. “You will have enough information about the major power’s most closely held technical secrets and critical matters of national security, that they will immediately sit up and listen to what you have to tell them. As I said, this is going to happen with or without their cooperation, so it’s not like we’re blackmailing them into complying. “The message you need to communicate is that if the human race truly wants to evolve and establish their standing in the universe, it’s going to have to learn to play by a completely new set of rules. This is the critical juncture Gandalf spoke about in Chichen Itza. It is not your job to persuade or convince. Placing such a burden on anyone would be unconscionable. Your responsibility starts and ends with explaining to your leaders what their options are. The choice itself belongs to them.”
Thirty days off the clock was just the right amount of time. We needed two or three days on the front end to pack and secure the house in Boston before we left, and another two to three days at home on the back end before we made the trip out to Bolton, but the amount of actual vacation time was precisely what the doctor ordered. Douglas was right. I honestly had no idea how close to being burnt out we really were, until our first week in Europe was over, and I realized how much happier and relaxed we both were. Every one of us came back feeling incredibly rested and more than grateful that Douglas had wisely seen the need for us to detach before it was too late. The weather was taking a typical late fall turn, but the porch was fitted out with overhead heaters, and still comfortable enough to take advantage of. We were just starting to share some travel stories when Douglas came to welcome us all back. “I hope you all had wonderful trips, and I hope you all feel as good as you look. Your time
away seems to have done you good, and I’m quite pleased that you’re all well rested and healthy.” Rick gestured for Douglas to grab a seat and made his way to the bar. “I was going to prepare some welcome home cocktails before we start? Will you join us, Douglas?” “Thank you, Rick. I’ll have whatever you’re having, but can I ask you to not fix anything for the ladies?” Rick looked puzzled, but it was Mom who was suddenly grinning from ear to ear. “Thank you for including me Douglas, but I’ll be having a gin and tonic since it seems I have a toast to make.” Dad looked at her, and politely asked; “Helen, what the hell are you talking about?” “Chris, Karen, and Ellie will be having egg creams because unless I’m mistaken, all three of them are pregnant.” The reactions ranged from stunned silence to unimaginable joy. The declaration was as much of a surprise to the wives as it was to us husbands, but not one of us questioned its veracity. As a final affirmation, Douglas got up and gave Mom a big hug, a kiss on the cheek, and approvingly said; “Nicely done, Grandma. Nicely done.” Douglas wasn’t kidding when he said we would go to work when we returned back to Bolton. The next morning, he briefed us on some of
the other relocations he had been involved in so we would have some feel for the kinds of responses we were likely to get when we announced what was going to happen. What I found interesting, was that regardless of the circumstances triggering the need to move, almost every race on every affected planet echoed the same sentiments. The accusations ran the gamut, labeling the emissaries from heretic doomsday zealots to charlatan snake oil hustlers. We expected we would probably face much of the same ridicule, but Rick picked up on something Douglas had just said. “Douglas, you said that the accusations were all aimed at the emissaries, right?” “Yes Rick, that’s correct.” “So, would I be correct in saying that we would be the first residents of a planet to carry this kind of message to the rest of their world?” “Actually, you would be the first, so the answer is yes.” “Then I know exactly how we’re going to do this.” The rest of us weren’t quite sure where Rick was going with his questions until he explained exactly how he was going to make all of our lives a lot easier. “Think about it. While I’m sure there were many good reasons why emissaries were selected to prepare the population for relocation, there have to
be just as many good reasons why you picked us this time. The one that immediately comes to mind is credibility. Not only would we pass the inevitable litmus test, but we’ll have two things we can leverage that will prevent any doubts about the truthfulness of our announcement. “Thanks to Douglas and the meticulously detailed documentation he has at his disposal, establishing our credibility will be a simple exercise in trust. Above all else, people, companies, and governments will go to extreme lengths to protect and defend their most important secrets. These are the things that provide them with leverage and security. Once the leaders of the world find out that their vital secrets aren’t secrets anymore, they’ll be much more inclined to believe the credibility of our announcement. The second thing we’re going to do is borrow a page right out of the Sentinel’s playbook. What’s good for the goose, is also good for the gander, so we’re going to delegate someone well known, and well respected, to communicate the announcement for us.” Do I know how to pick my friends, or what? If Douglas had any misgivings about Rick’s statements, he didn’t voice them. Instead, he quickly shuffled the agenda and said it was time for Dad and Don to spend their time with the new codex. Taking two children to an all-you-can-eat
candy buffet would have provoked the same response they exhibited. The next item on the list was the announcement itself. It’s the female in most species that typically bears and raises the offspring. The subsequent bond created in that role dramatically intensifies the female’s instincts for survival, and in many ways, makes her the dominant gender in the union. Douglas was aware of this, which is why he asked the women to start drafting the actual announcement by themselves. This was always who Douglas wanted the words to be written by, and he had every confidence that these four women were more than up to the task. That left Rick, Marshall, and me, to find the right delegate to represent us. Surprisingly, that turned out to be easier than any of us imagined. Rick apologized to the rest of us and asked Douglas if the two of them could speak privately for a few minutes. Douglas called a lunch break and said he and Rick would join the rest of us upstairs shortly. Once they had the conference room to themselves, Rick asked Douglas to provide him with some very specific information. Douglas immediately complied, and Rick then placed his call to the President. When the President called back, Rick didn’t waste any time or mince any words. “Mr. President I have something I need to show you, but I can only
show it to you here in Bolton. I know there are a thousand reasons why you would never blindly agree to do what I’m asking, but we honestly don’t have the time to debate the matter. “Sir, I want to apologize in advance, but this is the only way I know I can get you out here. Please write down what I’m about to tell you, and if I may, I would like to hold for your response.” Rick looked down at the piece of paper Douglas handed him just a minute ago, and carefully read it out loud for the President. The President told him to stay on the line. It was almost ten minutes before the President rejoined the call. “Rick, I just confirmed your message. Look for me to get to your place in about five hours.” When Rick made it back upstairs, he could see we were a little more than curious about what was going on. He didn’t keep us waiting. “You guys might want to freshen up this afternoon and maybe even change into something a little more business casual. The President of the United States will be stopping by in about five hours to talk about his role as our delegate.” The only thing I could say was; “Please humor me, but how in the world do you have that kind of pull with the President? I really want to know how you persuaded the President of the United States to simply drop whatever he was doing at the time, and fly up to Massachusetts for a face-to-face chat.”
“All it took was enough credibility to convince him it was absolutely necessary.” “OK fine, but what could you have possibly said to him that would rattle his cage that much?” “I went all-in, with a little help from Douglas. I read him the nuclear launch codes.”
Jack Fisher was as good a President as any of his predecessors, and in many respects, a better one. The world still had its share of conflicts, but fortunately, nothing serious enough to warrant having U.S. forces actively engaged. For the country, it was a much-welcomed time of peace. That’s why Rick’s phone call caught him completely off-guard and harshly reminded him that nothing can ever be taken for granted. When Rick read off the ten-digit sequence, Fisher immediately knew what it was, but he still needed to confirm the numbers and letters he had just written down. He could have the “football” brought into the oval office and open the envelope containing the code, or he could have the Secretary of Defense confirm the code from his office. Considering the extremely small odds that the sequence had been compromised, he picked up the phone and called Carl Reynolds at the Pentagon. When the Secretary confirmed the sequence, the President told him he was flying up to
Massachusetts, and instructed him to raise the threat level to DEFCON 3, just as a precaution. “Carl, I’ll tell you everything once I know exactly what we’re dealing with here, but for now I’m going to ask you to please trust me on this, and try not to feed the VP too much bullshit when he calls you asking questions.” “Mr. President, are there any special circumstances your security detail needs to know about?” “Honestly Carl, I’m not at all concerned about my personal safety. I promise you, the people I’m meeting with present no threat to me or the country. In fact, it’s been my experience that without the support of these people, the country would be less safe and secure than it is today. Hang in there, and we’ll talk later.” As soon as the President boarded Air Force One, he asked Gus Andersson to join him in his office. Gus was third generation American, with just enough blond hair to emphasize his Scandinavian heritage. The President had unwavering trust in the head of his security detail, and the two men kept few secrets from each other. Assuming Rick would want as much privacy as possible when the two met, the President instructed Gus to have his team sweep the premises for any threats, and then station themselves around the perimeter of the house. Gus would be the only
one to accompany and stay with the President after that. Gus acknowledged the instructions and then left to brief the rest of his team. Since there wasn’t any time to have the appropriate vehicles positioned, or to prepare a secured route for a motorcade, the Rapid Response team from Fort Devens was waiting at Worcester Airport when Air Force One landed, and they loaded the President and his security detail onto two Blackhawk helicopters. Once they lifted off, they were joined by two Apache escorts, and made the uneventful trip out to Bolton, landing right behind Rick’s house less than ten minutes later. We were all waiting on the back porch, so once we were patted down and the house was cleared, we moved into the living room for the necessary introductions. None of us was prepared for the affectionate hug Marshall gave Gus because none of us knew that the two of them had served together, or that Marshall had once saved Gus’s life. Rick cut right to the chase. “Mr. President, if you and Gus will join Marshall and me in the study, I’ll explain why I asked you here today.” Once the four of them had their privacy, the President made it clear that the formalities were to be dropped, and the conversation was to proceed on a first-name basis. Following that lead, Rick wanted to first and foremost deal with the matter of
the launch code. “Jack, we’ve known each other a long time, and you know that I have always had your interests and the interests of the country as my first priority. The launch codes are safe and secure and will remain that way, but I’m sure you still want to know how I got my hands on them. The only way I can answer that is to show you rather than tell you, but before I do, I would like Marshall to explain what’s going to happen. The last thing we want is for you or Gus to be startled.” Marshall looked directly at Gus, knowing full well that if there were going to be any perceived threats to the President, it would be Gus that would be the first one to react. “What you’re about to see is going to go beyond anything that you, or the President, have ever seen before. If what happened in Afghanistan means anything Gus, then you have to believe me when I tell you that one more person is going to join us, and that person is of no danger to the President whatsoever.” Gus maintained his composure. “There are only two men in this world I trust with my life Marshall, and paradoxically, they’re both in this room right now. Please proceed.” Douglas silently appeared and stood right next to Marshall with his arms slightly raised away from his sides. Gus didn’t seem to be as shocked as the
President was. Jack Fisher, on the other hand, was visibly shaken, and with good reason. “Mr. Andersson, please feel free to check me for any weapons.” Gus knew he wouldn’t find anything, but protocol is protocol, so he did pat him down. When Gus stepped back, Rick introduced Douglas to the President. “Jack, this is Douglas, and as absurd as this is going to sound, Douglas is here as an emissary to Earth, from another planet.” Fisher responded as I think most people would have responded under the circumstances. “Rick, if you’ve got a bottle of scotch in your desk, this would be an appropriate time for you to pour me a drink.” “I will Jack, but first I want to ask you a question. If you had the chance to be present at any event in history, which one would you pick?” Not expecting the question, it seemed to provide enough distraction to rein in the President’s apprehension. Fisher was still straddling the line between reality and nervous hysteria, but abruptly changing the subject definitely moved the needle in the right direction. “Rick, you know that my great-greatgrandfather stood and fought at Gettysburg with the 1st Ohio Artillery Brigade. If I really had to pick, it would have to be Gettysburg.” In the next instant, the five of them were
standing on a hilltop overlooking a battlefield shrouded in the fog of cannon and musket fire. The dead and broken bodies of brave men on both sides carpeted the open fields of fire, and the carnage playing out before Fisher’s eyes was one more reminder of the burden he carried as the Commander-in-Chief of a country born and repeatedly challenged through war. Douglas pointed to a ridge just east of where they were standing. “That’s the 1st Ohio Artillery Brigade. Your great-great-grandfather is up there right now, directing fire for the remaining batteries still in service. He will cheat death twice in this engagement, and will eventually return home to his family after more than a year of service and sacrifice.” Fisher could only stare at the ridge through the smoke and the tears that welled up in his eyes. After a few short minutes, they were back in Rick’s study; the clamor of battle still ringing in their ears, and the sour taste of gunpowder still insulting their tongues. Jack Fisher slowly sat down in one of the chairs, while Rick poured two glasses of scotch, and handed them to the President and his bodyguard. Gus hesitated until the President gave him the nod, and the two of them drained their glasses in unison.
Rick, you’ve made your point, and I can guess at how you got a copy of the launch codes, but my gut tells me there’s something else going on here. What is it you still haven’t told me?” Rick and Douglas spent the next ninety minutes explaining what was going to happen to the planet and making sure that the President clearly understood why the relocation was necessary. Then Rick told the President what they needed him to do. “Jack, just as I had to persuade you with the launch codes, I can assure you that you’ll have whatever you need to persuade your counterparts around the world to get onboard. Blackmail may not be diplomatic, but it’s extremely effective. The biggest obstacle in all of this is going to be credibility, but I can guarantee that you’ll have their full cooperation once they know you’re in possession of their darkest secrets.” “You know Rick, I always knew you were smart. I just never appreciated how smart you
really are. Thanks for the drink, and thanks for being my friend. You know I’ll do whatever I have to do. Give me a day to digest all of this, and I’ll let you know whose feet I’ll be holding to the fire. Gus, say goodbye to your friend for now, and please tell the team I want to lift off in five minutes.” The President then turned to Douglas and shook his hand. “Douglas, I honestly don’t know what to say. Please thank your people for everything they’ve done so far, and please tell them that we’ll do our best to reaffirm their faith in us. I truly hope you and I can meet again, under less demanding circumstances.” Before he left the house, the President took the time to individually thank the rest of us and promised us one hell of a White House dinner right after the move. As Rick walked the President out to the idling Blackhawks, Fisher smiled at him and said; “Gettysburg! I still can’t believe it. Rick, you have no idea what those few minutes meant to me. I will forever be in your debt.” Rick smiled back and shook the President’s hand as the noise from the rotor wash began to pick up. “You have a safe trip, Jack. Your great-greatgrandfather would be proud to know that his service during that battle, is part of the reason his great-great-grandson is now the President of the
United States.” Seconds later, the choppers were airborne, and our delegate was on his way back to the Capitol. Two days later, the President emailed Rick the list of people he planned to contact and confide in. Not all of them were world leaders, but they were undoubtedly all people of authority and influence. Fisher did not expect any pushback from Rick and didn’t get any. Even if he disagreed with the names on the list, Rick would never question the President’s reasoning. It only took Douglas a few minutes to collect what the President would need, to convince each of the people on the list that they were facing an actual extinction event and that the matter of their cooperation wasn’t open for discussion. Those two days were enough time for the girls to craft most of the announcement speech, and for Dad and Don to determine the date when the Earth would be subjected to the onslaught of gamma rays. Douglas already knew what the date was, but the guys wanted a crack at the calendar themselves, and he was only too happy to accommodate them. It was Dad who announced that New Year’s Eve would be celebrated on Earth, but the next Super Bowl would be played elsewhere. It was Don who pinned it down. “Between the new calendar and the information we translated from the astronomical
tables in the codex, we’re looking at the first wave of gamma rays to hit us on January 26th. The thing is, while we know we have to be out of here before then, we don’t know how long it’ll take Douglas to have everything ready early enough, so we’re gone no later than the 25th.” Douglas didn’t hesitate. “First, let me congratulate Bill and Don for accurately interpreting the data in the codex. They’re absolutely correct about our departure window. Having said that, the procedure to collect and transport should only take forty-eight hours, so doubling that as a safety cushion, gives us a departure date between January 22nd and January 25th. If you want to send out any ‘hold-the-date’ announcements, I suggest you go with the 23rd. This is something we’ve been doing for quite some time, and we haven’t missed a launch window yet.” Jack Fisher couldn’t believe what he saw once he decrypted the attachment in Rick’s email. At first, a terrible sense of dread consumed him, but that passed when he reminded himself that the reports, images, and schematics he was looking at, were no longer a threat to the United States. It took another minute or two, but when that finally did sink in, he caught himself unexpectedly gloating at the prospect of making his phone calls and putting a few of his pain-in-the-ass contemporaries in their place. Any other man might have seen this as an
opportunity for American world dominance, but Jack Fisher wasn’t any other man. The first thing he did was call Carl Reynolds and ask him to set up a briefing in the White House Situation Room with the Vice President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard. He told Reynolds to schedule it three days out. He had met with all of these people before, but this was going to be different for everyone. He knew that every person in that room would attempt to assert their own alpha dominance, and the last thing he wanted was for the meeting to deteriorate into a posturing debate. This was going to be his only opportunity to present the facts, to establish his own credibility with these men, and to dictate how he expected each person in that room to behave. His best shot at making that happen was the final ace he still had up his sleeve. So, with three days to get his ducks in a row, he had his Chief of Staff make sure he wouldn’t be disturbed for the rest of the day. He had his lunch brought into the Oval Office, and after taking a deep breath, Jack Fisher picked up the hotline and called the President of the Russian Federation. Once the Russian President and his interpreter were on the line, Jack dropped the hammer. “Mr. President, in spite of what we’ve been told, I know you speak fluent English, and what I have to tell you is something I believe should be
heard by you alone. The decision to keep anyone else on the call is strictly yours. However, you may wish to avoid the compromising situation you may unexpectedly find yourself in.” Before the interpreter had the chance to translate Fisher’s statements, he was told that his services were not required for this call. A moment later, President Alexei Stepanov cleared his throat, and in perfect English, told the President they were now the only two people on the call, and to please speak freely. In less than an hour, Jack not only had the full support of the Russian President, he also had the man’s respect and admiration. The other calls he made that afternoon and the next day, followed the same pattern and achieved the same results. When the President showed his hand to each person on his call list, the shock of their sudden vulnerability was overwhelming, until Fisher pointed out that he could have easily used that same information to bring their country to its knees. In each case, it was that sobering assertion that allowed him to change the focus of the conversation, and ultimately get what he wanted – an assurance of full cooperation from every single one of them.
The fifty-five hundred square foot Situation Room in the basement of the White House is large enough to comfortably accommodate twenty-eight people. With only ten other players currently gathered around the massive conference table, Jack Fisher was not only relaxed but the picture of confidence. Sitting at the head of the table, he had the Vice President to his immediate left and the Secretary of Defense on his immediate right. The next four seats on either side were occupied by what he liked to call, the braids and brass. “Gentlemen, six days ago I received a call from an individual, who rather matter-of-factly relayed our complete nuclear launch code sequence to me over the phone. You can rest assured that new launch codes have been regenerated and reprogrammed into the Strategic Command’s launch control centers.” The Joint Chiefs teetered between disbelief and sheer terror, each fearing that someone in their command had leaked the biggest secret in the world.
“I subsequently flew up to Massachusetts, where I met with this individual and was briefed on an event that threatens our entire world. On January 26th the Earth is going to be hit with a massive burst of gamma radiation that will effectively kill every living thing on the planet.” The President could see from the faces around the table, that the launch codes were no longer their primary concern. “Before I could comprehend what I’d been told, I was introduced to someone with the ability to protect us from extinction. Let me first assure everyone at this table that I have not lost my mind, I have not suffered a brain trauma, and I am in complete control of my faculties.” The President paused for about ten seconds to make sure his last words were heard and understood. “We are not the only intelligent life in the universe. There are thousands of other races on thousands of other planets in thousands of other galaxies. For us to assume otherwise is both arrogant and fatal. For us to accept the existence of life beyond the bounds of this rock we live on, requires us to also accept the existence of races that are far more advanced than we are. We have been thrown a lifeline by one of these races, and I’ve called you all here to tell you that this country, and every other country on the planet, is going to grab that lifeline with both hands.”
The anticipated response came from the last person he thought it would - his Secretary of Defense, Carl Reynolds. “With all due respect Mr. President, how can you expect any of us to believe a word of what you just told us?” That’s when the President realized that Reynolds was running interference for him. He was prepared for a barrage from the Joint Chiefs, but even they seemed to be caught off guard by the Secretary. “If any of you thought for one minute that I couldn’t prove everything I just told you, then you’ve sorely underestimated me as your Commander-in-Chief.” Fisher reached around to the table behind him and handed a stack of folders marked Top Secret to the Vice President. “Please take one, and pass the rest around the table. “All of the information in these folders was given to me by an emissary from another planet. I can guarantee that none of you have ever seen any of this information before, and when I’m finished explaining it to you, you will never again question the credibility of my Presidency.” The folders remained unopened until the President opened his own. “Object #1 is a schematic of a new top-secret orbital launch platform the Russians are building. It’s capable of carrying eight multi-warhead missiles and can strike targets anywhere in North America before we would even detect it had been
triggered. It is much more sophisticated than our own orbiting platforms, and it’s scheduled to be deployed in less than a year. “Object #2 is a deep scan map of the North Korean peninsula. As you can see, every, and I do mean every, underground tactical facility, including mobile missile launchers, food stockpiles, ammunition dumps, fuel storage tanks, communication centers, and electrical power stations are all clearly identified and targetable. Personally, I found the incredible network of tunnels running under the DMZ and well into South Korea quite remarkable, since our own intelligence people don’t seem to have any knowledge of them. “Object #3 is a complete list of senior Al Qaeda and ISIL leaders throughout the world. While we have reasonable intelligence on these organizations, the reports you’re looking at also include their strongholds outside the Middle East, the specific locations of their command cells, and a lovely photo of each one of these top-level bastards. The real icing on the cake, however, is the additional list of their supporters - some hiding in plain sight within the governments of some of our closest allies. Please try not to drool all over the conference table. “Object #4 while not military in nature, is still a threat to the safety and national security of the United States. These are extreme long-range photos
of the growing fields, the processing plants, and the transport routes for the top twenty-five drug operations in Latin America, the Far East, the Middle East, and the Eastern Block. The locations of the homes and safe-houses for every single drug lord and their lieutenants are also conveniently listed, along with their drone-targeting strike coordinates.” The President gave them several minutes to flip through the contents of the folders before he moved to the next phase of his strategy. “Gentlemen, we have a lot more to discuss today, but I’ll be happy to take one or two questions before moving on, and I will answer them collectively after they’ve been asked.” The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was first. “Sir, the launch platform… these plans and blueprints have to be the most valuable secret the Russians have, however, the only way we can establish their authenticity is to have our scientists and engineers analyze them. How can we possibly do that in the brief time we have?” “Thank you, General. Next question? “Sir, we fly our most capable satellites over North Korea every day, and we’ve never picked up any of the features these photos reveal, even though our surveillance birds are years ahead of anything the Russians or the Chinese have. So, my other question is, where did these images come
from, and how do we know they’re real?” “General, if I were in your shoes right now, I would absolutely want more evidence, more proof, of what I’m asking you to accept at face value. Although, as your President, I could just demand that you accept them the same way you would accept my order for a nuclear strike. But that’s not my style. All of the information in these folders was provided by the emissary. “Tomorrow morning, the Russian President will formally announce that in a bilateral peace agreement with the United States, the Russian Federation will stop all development on a tactical space platform they were planning to deploy in the next six months. “Unfortunately, the images from North Korea are extremely accurate, and we would have had our ass handed to us if a real shooting war ever broke out. That prospect has also been neutralized. The Chinese Premier sent a copy of the images to the clown in Pyongyang and instructed him to do two things, under the threat of a sudden, joint ChineseAmerican attack. “The first mandate was to halt all nuclear weapons development immediately. The second, was for them to move all of their hidden mobile missile launchers out into the open no later than 9:00am tomorrow our time. General, if you’ll have your birds over North Korea tomorrow morning, I
believe you’ll have all the proof you need.” Fisher again reached around and picked up a small stack of sealed envelopes, each one addressed to one of the people in the room. As he tossed the envelopes into the center of the conference table, he hardened his voice and masterfully clasped his hands in front of him. “If anyone is still skeptical about what I’ve said, or what I’ve just shown you, I suggest you open your envelope now.” Skeptical or not, they all opened their envelopes and read the contents. Their reactions were all the same, and exactly what Fisher expected. There was no longer any doubt in his mind or theirs that he now had their full support. Fisher patiently gave them a moment to recover, before he spoke. “Gentlemen, the shredder is at your disposal, and the timing is right for a break. I have to quickly check in with the folks upstairs, but I’ll meet you in a few minutes in the White House Mess.” As soon as Fisher had the room to himself, he called Rick and shared his accomplishments over the past two days. They both understood that because of their efforts, humanity now stood on the threshold of its greatest experiment. Everything else was in the hands of an alien emissary, three pregnant women, and a soon-to-be grandmother.
The next morning, the Russian President held his press conference from the Kremlin, which was quickly followed by a second press conference by the Chinese Premier in Beijing, who was happy to announce that after successful negotiations with Pyongyang, China had convinced North Korea to immediately roll back their nuclear development and testing programs. It’s also worth pointing out that the Joint Chiefs were speechless when the latest images from their satellites clearly showed the marshaling of North Korean mobile missile launchers, above ground and in full view. While all of this was happening, at least two dozen military operations were being carried out by multi-national teams, against Al Qaeda and ISIL targets around the world. Before the day was over, the most substantial terrorist threat the civilized world would ever face had ceased to exist. Twenty-four hours later, a similar fate befell the drug cartels in the Americas and multiple locations overseas. With a succession of joint
military and civilian agency strikes, the production and distribution of illegal narcotics were decimated, along with the people running it. Not only did Jack Fisher prove to the rest of the world’s leaders that he was a man of integrity, but he also made it very clear that his credibility should never be questioned. Fisher struggled with his options before he ordered the strikes. Coupled with the element of surprise, the detailed intelligence he provided to the military commanders involved, gave them an overwhelming advantage. Whether the lives lost were friendlies or hostiles, life was not something to be lost or taken without good reason. In the end, he did what he always knew he would have to do, and directed that the orders be carried out with extreme prejudice. If lives were to be lost, they would be lost for the greater good. Thankfully, the terrorist strikes resulted in no American casualties, and very few collateral losses. When you know the actual street address where the senior ISIL military commander is hiding, it’s not that difficult to neutralize the target. In other quarters, the real blow was the unexpected arrests of government officials who were secretly working against their own countries, by providing money and intelligence to numerous terrorist organizations. In those cases, justice was swift and absolute. The cartel operations resulted in only six
assets wounded. Most of the strikes were surgical in nature, having been carried out by Predator drones in the Americas, and FA-18 Hornets from a carrier group on station in the Gulf of Thailand. All attack aircraft had the precise coordinates for every one of their targets, so in spite of the dense jungle cover, acquiring and destroying the target was a textbook exercise in technological achievement. In each theater, the proper country then had their own forces take on the clean-up operations to ensure that the targets had been completely eradicated. This gave the leaders of those countries the opportunity to claim most of the credit – something that Fisher himself suggested. The world was changing, and Fisher had no use for pointless accolades. Several more remarkable things happened in the weeks leading up to the big move. Dad and Don uncovered a lot more information in the codex about the plants in the Fields of Life. Douglas had previously mentioned to us that the plants were capable of revitalizing life. Given how young and robust Tahvo appeared to be, we naturally assumed that the plants had a fountain-of-youth attribute that could either turn back the clock or otherwise slow the aging process. We were wrong on both accounts. The boys translated the data, but surprisingly, it was Mom who figured out what it actually meant.
“Based on Helen’s interpretations, we believe that the real secret of these plants is their ability to cure disease. I’m no doctor, but from the symptoms described in the codex, and the preparations described to treat them, we might be looking at potential cures for things like cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or diabetes.” Douglas not only confirmed Mom’s conclusions but promised he would provide Chris and me with one of the plants right after the move so we could examine it at the Institute. I don’t think anyone else picked up on what Douglas implied, but it was clear to Chris and me that whatever these plants did, they did it at a genetic level rather than a physiological one. Not to be outdone, the geek squad managed another breakthrough in the quantum arena, when they made the decision to finally let the Brainiacs in on what was hidden in their basement. In only a matter of days, the office team had developed some small but ingenious upgrades, making the most advanced computer system in the world even more powerful. The most significant achievement, however, was the completion of the announcement that the President was going to make to the world just before the move. The girls had really struggled with the task until Mom had one of her remarkable moments of clarity and declared that any
announcement would have much more meaning for people after the move, than before it. Even Douglas embraced the wisdom of her insight. With this new perspective, it was the capacity to see the world as expectant mothers that brought their efforts to fruition. Mankind was about to be born again, and the same hopes and fears every new mother faces, eventually helped them put the right words on paper. When the men were given their copies, they sat and read them in silence. The first reading left them in awe. The second reading touched their souls. This was more than anyone imagined it could be. The announcement had changed from an uncertain proclamation that would more than likely result in panic and alarm, into an encouraging message of hope and renewal. Jack Fisher would always be recognized as the man who delivered the announcement, but it would be Christine Rothman, Helen Rothman, Karen Arnold, and Eleonore Macklin who would ultimately have the honor of sharing the Nobel Peace Prize. With the men otherwise occupied over at the office, and the women out shopping for nursery items, I found myself alone on the back porch wondering where Isaac Rothman belonged in all of this. It’s not that I was jealous, but when I objectively thought about it, it dawned on me that I hadn’t made a single contribution to anything since
I decided to visit the folks in Brooklyn. The genetic idiograms in the codex were discovered by Dad and Don. The guys in Bolton incredibly managed to build a quantum computer. The PT formula was handed to us on a platter, and I really wasn’t more than a tag-along when we made the trip to Chichen Itza. It wasn’t jealousy that was eating away at me, it was crushing disappointment. I needed to know that my life meant something, that it had a purpose, that I somehow made a difference. That’s when a vaguely familiar voice abruptly said; “It’s time for the two of us to talk.” The voice scared the hell out of me until I turned around and saw where it came from. “Gandalf?” That’s when I caught myself and tried to apologize, but the Sentinel dismissed it. “I’ve been called worse, and the truth is, the name is an honorable one, so I am not at all offended. Isaac, we have much to discuss, but let me first congratulate you on the coming birth of your first child. “Being a parent only requires a rudimentary set of skills. It’s hard, it’s littered with mistakes, and to tell you the truth, it’s a responsibility very few beings are ever prepared for. In humans, dormant instincts will typically surface, giving the child a reasonable chance to develop and thrive. In the end though, what you get out of the effort, is what you choose to put into it.
“Being an exceptional parent requires much more. As you once explained to Douglas, knowledge is possessing information; wisdom is possessing the ability to use that information wisely. On the threshold of your fatherhood, I’ve come here to tell you that you are one of the few blessed with remarkable wisdom, and if you still feel that your life lacks purpose, I have a proposal you might be interested in hearing.”
It was another few hours before the girls returned, and the fact is, I really needed the time to think about what Gandalf and I had talked about. I knew that Chris would want to lay down for a while when she got back, so we both headed upstairs. She must have picked up on something because as soon as we were alone in our room, she dropped the brave posture and flat out asked me. “There’s something you’re not telling me, sweetie. What’s going on?” “I’m allowed to tell you, but I can’t tell anyone else, so you have to promise me that you won’t say a word to anyone. Chris, I don’t want to sound like an ass here, but I really need you to promise me that what I’m about to tell you never leaves this room.” For just a second, I thought I saw a glint of fear in her eyes, but she shook her head and calmly gave me her promise. The two of us sat on the bed holding hands while I told her about Gandalf’s surprise visit, and the proposal he made. When I
finished, she took a minute for herself, and then staggered me with her comeback. “Isaac, I don’t want to sound like an ass here either, but you have to promise me that we’re going to do this. If you don’t, you’ll no longer be the man I fell in love with and married. This is your calling. I want this as much as you do. Don’t you dare throw it away.” With tears welling up in both our eyes, I gave her my promise. ◆◆◆
On January 16th, one week before the relocation, President Fisher provided the leaders of the world’s countries with procedural documents concerning the changes and adjustments their nations would experience to prevent any disruptions to their domestic infrastructure and critical systems. The changes were all going to be done for them as part of the relocation, but it was vital for them to know why they were going to be made. Of course, making this information more widely available would bring hundreds if not thousands of additional people into the need-toknow circle, and that opened the door to leaks. The President’s instructions, however, were chillingly clear. If anyone were foolish enough to share such a preposterous story with a friend or family member,
they would more than likely be laughed at or carted off to a hospital. Any stories that somehow made it to the news outlets would be similarly refuted and ridiculed. With the obvious reactions stated purely for effect, the importance of what was about to take place was coldly driven home to ensure that it was absolutely understood by everyone. When all was said and done, this was a matter of global security, and there would be profound consequences for anyone committing any such breach. With the attacks on ISIL, Al Qaeda and the drug cartels still fresh in everyone’s mind, there was no doubt that Fisher’s warnings would be heeded. ◆◆◆
On the morning of January 23rd, Douglas gathered us all in the conference room to explain exactly what was going to happen, and what we should expect. “Because half the world sleeps while the other half is awake, the way this works is that the entire planet will be subjected to a temporary stasis or suspended animation for roughly forty-eight hours, while we collect everyone and everything we need to reconstruct Earth on your new planet. Effectively, the world will be frozen in time, which is why people will have no perception of ever being moved.
“Of course, the nine of you will also be in stasis, but I want to assure each of you that once the move is complete, you’ll still be sitting right here in this conference room, with no clue that forty-eight hours had passed us by.” As soon as Douglas said that, he looked at Chris and me and said; “It’s time.” The three of us found ourselves standing in a massive circular room. The outer perimeter of the room was embellished by an inner circle of polished marble columns and arches, all seamlessly connected as though they had been carved from a single gigantic slab of stone. There wasn’t any discernable source of light, but when I looked at Chris, she seemed to be wrapped in a soft radiance that left me struck with just how beautiful she really was. The floor itself shimmered and reminded me of sunlight reflecting off of water, but as there were no ripples when I moved my foot, that convinced me that it wasn’t fluid, and it certainly wasn’t wet. The ceiling was a different story. At first, I thought that it was open to the sky, but the accelerated movement of the stars and other celestial bodies immediately reminded me of my childhood, and my trips to the Hayden Planetarium. “Douglas, how is that being projected?” “It’s not a projection, Isaac. The ceiling is completely open to the sky.”
That didn’t make sense to me. “If it’s not a projection, how can everything be moving so quickly?” That’s when I realized how remarkably stupid I was. The stars weren’t moving fast at all. It was us that was moving fast. I looked at Douglas, but he shook his head no, making it obvious that even if I asked, he wasn’t going to tell me anything. In the center of the room was a raised circular platform, and just beyond it, we could see three more people approaching us from the opposite side of the room. As Douglas took our hands and led us to the middle of the room, I just assumed that Gandalf was one of the three, but I had no idea who the other two might be until we got closer and I could clearly see the smiles on Tahvo and Neacel’s faces. Not knowing what to expect, I figured it was best to let things proceed as planned, so I suppressed the urge to embrace the two of them on the spot. Without even a gesture, a familiar object quietly appeared on the raised platform. It was the metallic cylinder that Gandalf had given us back in Chichen Itza. “What we are about to do is born out of tradition, and has happened thousands of times before. This place is called the Hall of Progression, and we are here to welcome Isaac and Christine, as we shepherd their people into the next chapter of their lives. Douglas, would you please hand Isaac
the vessel.” Douglas picked the cylinder up from the platform, walked over, and carefully handed it to me. I could tell right away that the cylinder was heavier than it was the last time I held it. He then asked me to pass the cylinder to Gandalf, which I did. Gandalf slowly returned the cylinder back to the platform, and as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. It was then that Tahvo and Neacel came over and warmly embraced us. Gandalf also walked over and put one hand on my shoulder, and the other on Chris’s. “There is much you will both learn, and much you will achieve working with Douglas. I have every faith you will exceed our expectations. Now, before I leave, please feel free to ask your question. How he knew I had a question didn’t matter. There was very little that surprised me anymore. “Gandalf, forgive me if I’m out of line, but what was in the cylinder?” “You’ll understand soon enough, but the short answer is Earth. The cylinder appeared on the platform as soon as the collection phase of the relocation finished. Everything that is now in the process of being moved to your new planet was stored inside that cylinder. The symbolic handoff is a tradition we’ve come to respect, and the reason this place is called the Hall of Progression. You are today bound with the thousands of others that have
stood where you are standing now. Thank you for your trust and your help. I will see you both again soon.” And then he was gone. We were permitted a few more minutes with Tahvo and Neacel before Douglas said it was time for us to go. I knew we would also see them both again. When we returned to the conference room, the others were still in stasis. I had no idea how much time had actually passed, but Douglas alerted us before he essentially woke them up. Chris and I just looked at each other and squeezed each other’s hand. ◆◆◆
It was dark when we got back upstairs and walked out to the porch. The nine of us stared up at a night sky we had never seen before and marveled at how lucky and privileged we were to have spent these past few months together. As we looked at each other, the emotions that flowed between us were like nothing any of us had ever felt, but I realized that the bond we now shared would last us a lifetime… and maybe even longer. The spectacle of two moons in the sky was overwhelming, and I could only imagine what the reaction was going to be, as night followed our new setting sun across the globe. Tomorrow morning was the President’s address. How the world would respond to the eloquent words he would speak, was
on all of our minds as we headed off to bed. As I waited for sleep to overtake me, my mind replayed the moment when Douglas handed me the metal cylinder in the Hall of Progression. At the same time, I unexpectedly recalled what Tahvo said to me just before I entered the inner pyramid. “You will grow to be more than you are now, and in time, you will come to hold the world in your hands.” It never occurred to me, that I should have taken Tahvo’s words literally, but as Gandalf said earlier, I still had much to learn.
Acknowledgements Almost all of the scientific and historical references in Shelf Life were drawn from real life accomplishments and discoveries. The names of scientists and the accounts of their contributions to the world are all factual. The narratives on DNA, genetic fingerprinting, quantum computer theories, Mayan calendars and numbering systems, the Dresden Codex, as well as the descriptions of the Temple of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza are also truthful and accurate, as are the dates and time frames surrounding these historical events. The citations specific to Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan (written by Harve Bennett, Jack B. Sowards, and Nicholas Meyer), and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (written by Douglas N. Adams) quite simply stand on their own merits. In one sense or another, all works of fiction have their basis in real events or personal experience. That being said, really anyone with a passion for telling a story can draw concepts and inspiration from the wealth of recorded human history and knowledge. Nevertheless, even with our abundance of internet tools, investigating and discovering potential story elements is only beneficial when the author is able to craft a
storyline that blends those different elements into something that people enjoy reading. Hopefully, I’ve been able to do that.
About the Author Alan Sadowsky is an accomplished Computer Systems Engineer, whose career has taken him to so many places across the country, that the majority of holiday cards he gets, come from moving companies. As an Anthropology major, he has spent time overseas not only visiting historical venues but also participating in an active excavation at Sirmium, the capital of the Roman province of Pannonia (in today’s Serbia). He currently lives on the Treasure Coast of Florida with his wife, where he tries to juggle his spare time between writing, family genealogy, old classic movies, World War II accounts, a growing inventory of books to read, and SpaceX launches from Kennedy Space Center. He also makes a killer egg cream. You can contact him at [email protected] ◆◆◆
Thank you for reading my debut novel “Shelf Life”. I hope you enjoyed it. If you would be kind enough to take a moment and add a review on Amazon, I would be very grateful. As a new author, especially a self-published author, your reviews and
recommendations are the best ways for books like mine to compete with already well-known writers, and the legions of newcomers like myself.
Life ExchangeJenny Dooley Express Publishing Chapter 1: Luke and Jake Chapter 2: The Accident Chapter 3: Life ExchangeChapter 4: New Life - Old Habits Chapter 5: Strange Caller Chapter 6: Suspicions Chapter 7: The Psychic Chapter 8: The Past Strikes
Dawka geniuszu Alan Glynn Najlepsze thrillery psychologiczne, global conspiracy thrillers, polityczne, przygodowe, medyc