life had been destroyed.
was a ruthless bastard and my ladder to the top was painted with
the blood of dreams ripped from my opponents, but I didn't deserve
this. That had been business. I had certainly curtailed the careers
of a few, but I never ruined their complete lives
least to my knowledge I hadn't. Better said, I suppose, I never
intended to ruin a life, just a dream.
demise had been planned and played out not only to remove me from
a job, an industry or a livelihood, but from society or perhaps
air breathing life itself.
nose had been rubbed in my crash as well. Candice was already
married to my nemesis. I wonder if he has an inkling he is next.
back, I see how easy I was blindsided. I could see an attack coming
from Jeb, I could see one coming from Candice, but I had not the
imagination that would allow me to see them scarring my little
daughter with this mess and turning the cannon that was society
at both of us.
simply accused me of molesting my little girl. Of course she denied
it and the medical report and investigation proved she was and
always had been safe. It didn't matter. "Successful Hotshot
accused" had hit the paper, the TV news. The world found
me guilty; the court didn't have to. My career, my home, my family,
my friends, all were gone.
tried moving to New Mexico, but I was so well known I had no safe
haven, and all my money was now gone. I had no resources to travel
I sat on a park bench back in Seattle, buried in six months worth
of beard and hair growth, an old Mariners cap and a shabby overcoat.
Beside me sat an old rice sack with all my possessions and on
the other side sat Black Mac, a genius savant with a drinking
Mac, looks like snow. Think we can find a place to get out of
Popeye." His smile showed a set of pearly whites that seemed
strangely out of place in this place and time. His black beard
contrasted and framed them in a way that set his smile apart from
the life he was living.
nickname for me came from the can of spinach with the pull tab
lid I shared with him when we first met. It was the last of a
small bag of food given me by the friendship center.
led me through the grimy industrial neighborhood and down a flight
of steps to a hidden basement entry of an old Produce packing
plant. Old steel posters of vegetables still hung along the walls.
Over the stairs was a shiny picture of a bunch of spinach.
door was not only locked, but chained.
Mac pulled an empty 45-gallon drum used for trash over to the
door and tipped it over. Without a word he pointed at a window
above the door. It was closed so I thought he was about to smash
more nimble than I would expect, Mac scampered up onto the drum
and pulled out a short, well worn pocket knife. With a very slight
bite into the window-to-frame crack, a quick twist repeated a
few times quickly gained finger grip and he pulled the window
open to a 90-degree angle with little effort and no noise. He
grabbed the drain support to the side of the window and one leg
after the other, he moved to a sitting position on the window
disappeared into the building.
clambered up onto the barrel a bit less elegantly than he had,
and quickly followed his example. As I entered, he pointed at
the window above me and the handle on the inside of the window
did, and then stepped onto the old steel desk that was planted
against the door.
followed as Mac led me up three flights of stairs to an old processing
oven, beside which was stacked armloads of old pallet lumber.
Opening the oven door, he displayed a very well used fireplace.
From a steel cupboard he produced matches and a stack of newspapers.
I noticed the top paper in his stash because of my picture in
a business suit. He added it to his process.
out a sheaf of paper, he crumpled a few and laid the bed for his
fire. In moments we were warm and cozy on a couple of wooden crates.
hardly ever said more than one or two words at a time so what
happened next shocked me some. He pulled out a chess board and
hand carved figures I couldn't identify. They were carved in formations
I could understand for use, but they had no relationship to Kings,
Queens, Naves or bishops I had ever seen.
a most polished diction, he asked, "Popeye, do you play?
Would you like a match or two to pass the time?"
stunned silence, I nodded and he set up the field.
shade would you like?"
noted one set was natural and one was rubbed in dark oil.
take Dark. Thanks."
games went by with neither of us rushing. This man was obviously
a master, so I won none of them, but I did learn from each game
and the resulting challenge was slightly more even.
you gots game. Lemme ast you sumpin' man."
noticed that his polished diction had returned to "street".
I could show you a place wheh you could bid yo' laf agin', would
you bid it diff'n'?"
thought about this for a moment.
bet your ass I would. Far too late, I learned that the reason
I should have been successful was for my family. The life my little
girl has to live now is my only real regret. All of the rest of
us got what we deserve or at least will in the end."
moved a pawn and looked me in the eye.
the bes' thin' y'can do fo' y'gul now?"
I have had lots of time to think on that, and I suspect the best
I can do for her is to stay as far from her as I can. Any connection
with me from now on would just deepen the pain she has to live
ready t'move to 'notheh country?"
would in a heartbeat, if I had the means."
stood and pulled a candle from the steel cupboard. He lit it with
a sliver and motioned for me to follow. Night had fallen so the
light of the fire in the oven and the candle were the only means
the next room, Mac opened the steel door on a breaker panel and
pointed at a small button by itself near the bottom. There was
no marking and the button was a simple white half-inch diameter
you ready, push dat."
headed back to the fire so I followed.
sitting down, he said, "Yo tun."
amount of pleading could get me any more information and Mac went
back to mostly single-word comments. The games wore thin as my
mind raced at the challenge put to me and the enigma sitting across
the board from me. With my next captured king, I excused myself
from the game and tried to get comfortable on the floor while
Mac put the game away. After struggling for hours with racing
questions in my mind, I slept.
I woke, Mac was gone and the room was lit with a bright daylight.
Looking out a broken window I saw a skiff of snow. The shelter
had indeed been more than I could have hoped for. Quickly I checked
the next room, and the button was still unimposing, but for the
fact it was there.
slipped out of the building to get down to the friendship center
for the chance of a breakfast, and to search out Mac to see if
I could get any more information. Scrambled eggs, coffee and toast
were welcome, but no one had seen Mac at all today.
tried panhandling for a while, but the snow had made everyone
hurry from point to point and I found I was avoided more than
usual. Evening found me in worse shape than morning, so I headed
back for the sanctuary Mac had shown me, hoping to find him and
a warm fire.
Mac, but the fixings for the fire were as we had left them. I
was shocked to see my picture again on the top of the newspaper
pile. How many copies had he gathered? A cursory look found no
more and I was soon warm and dry in front of the handy oven fireplace.
As darkness began to fall, my curiosity began to outweigh my fear
of the unknown and I headed for the button. I stood in front of
it until I could hardly see it for darkness and reached for it
one last time. My hat was in my hands to give me as much light
as I could get.
* * *
began to seep in as the poke to my ribs was getting more and more
Popeye, wake up."
it, man. I'm awake, dammit."
began opening my eyes to the bright white heat around me but slammed
them closed again against the glare of a hot midday sun. Slowly
I worked them to slits and soon was able to focus on the chuckling
black man in a red tunic sitting over me on a small hillock.
to my home." There was no hint of street slang.
looked around now, but could not recognize where I was. The grass
seemed glorious, but I could not identify any of the flora around
me and even the grass blades were different having three edges
instead of two.
where are we? How did I get here?"
pushed the button, my friend. Look above you."
looked and noted that I was lying at the foot of what looked to
be a tree trunk or utility pole with no branches. Gray in color,
rough in texture as tree bark would be, but for a smooth patch
and one small white button.
you ever want to go back, remember this place."
looked up at the grinning Mac and noted he was holding a white
tunic and some thonged sandals in front of him. I shot a glance
down to find I was naked.
chuckled at this and my head snapped back to look at him in time
to collect the garment around my ears. Standing quickly, I slipped
it on like a tee shirt then sat again to lace on the sandals.
While doing this, I noted my Mariners cap on the ground. I reached,
picked it up and put it on. This definitely helped with the sun.
broke out in a huge belly laugh that left him choking and gasping
at the end. In indignation I planted my fists on my hips and glared
at him, but he only laughed harder and pointed at me.
at your reflection, Popeye." He was pointing at a small silver-edged
pond with cool, deep dark green water a few paces from where I
fumed. The image was indeed funny, and through a couple of self
conscious snorts, I began laughing too. A Greek Mariner was chuckling
back at me from my reflection.
thought you might need the hat for a spell, but the nasty clothes
had to stay behind."
we in Greece?"
have come a bit farther than that my friend. Welcome to the 5th
planet in the solar system 51 Pegasi. The closest humans have
been able to come to seeing this place is a radio signal from
what they call 51 Pegasi b, a large planet near our sun. We see
it as the "Eye" of the sun, a black spot often seen
when looking though a filter. We like to call this place Tera,
nothing fancy like Xanadu or something you can't wrap your tongue
I in some science fiction dream here?"
but going forward, it is your life and it is by far more real
than your last one, because you are going to deal with nature
in a much more direct way here. Technology is isolated. You will
live your life here a few centuries back in Earth terms. There
is no electronic media, no TV, no radio. If you want to gain information,
you need to communicate directly or read simple handwritten books.
is here, no doubt, but it is controlled by the few, and for those
who have lived all their lives here, these few are the local gods.
Think the Wizard of Oz here. Smoke and mirrors."
blinked a couple of times while this was settling in to my grey
you describing a tyranny here? Isn't this a dictatorship?"
chuckled at this.
you get all liberal on me, try adding benevolent to your rant.
Isn't it beginning to sound like most religions you know?
golden rule here is 'be good or else.' Of course, that means you
have to live with someone else's idea of what good is."
head was spinning now. "So this is an imposed utopia?"
stood up, still smiling, and as he did, his hands were full of
turn around and look at that button. Press it now, or come over
here and take these. You have some heavy boot camp to go through."
turned to look at the insignificant little button, then turned
to Black Mac.
name is Paul."
Popeye Paul." He handed me a long bow and quiver. "Let's
get on with your training. Remember this little pool for later.
This is your bathtub. Just upstream, that little creek is your
headed for a grove of white trunked trees with glistening silver
leaves quivering around low hanging fruit or nuts. I followed.