- Introduction and Coffee
- Why does Starbucks Coffee… um… maybe you should just read it.
- Why can we walk past beautiful artwork without noticing it?
- Calliope Jones and the Writer’s Cusp
- Why is the sky over Los Angeles that particular color of yellowish grey?
- What’s the real deal with gasoline prices?
- The Songs of Books
- Why do some people stay on the train past the end of the line?
- The Arrogant Writer and the Beached Mermaid
- Why do we get spam email that’s complete gibberish or random sentences from books strung together?
- Why does alcohol produce hangovers, and why doesn’t it produce hangovers consistently?
- Dog Reincarnation
- The Princess and the Wyverns
- Manannán mac Lir and the Isle of Ninjas.
- Why is there a disconnect between Art and Industry?
- Why are there Suburbs?
- Why do people check the time on mobile phones instead of watches?
- Prosperina: A Mythology of the Modern World Holiday Special
- Mythology of the Modern World: Aren’t I Just Ripping Off John Hodgman?
- Where do babies come from? I mean, really come from?
- The Souls of Toys
- The Fruit Fly and the Nymph of Time
- Why are the ideas of things scarier than the reality?
- Time Zones and the Witching Hour.
- Ball Lightning, Missing Socks, Drawer Crud and the Protectors of the Hearth
- Why do things break right as their warranties expire?
Today we’ve got a couple of sources for our myth — one old and one new. One from last month, with old friend PlaidPhantom, who asks:
Here’s one, since I’m on vacation right now: what’s the deal with time zones?
The other is from back in 2007, when Super Prattle Droid asked:
How do time zones relate to the witching hour? If someone performs a dark rite in, say, a county which doesn’t do daylight savings time, but the state as a whole does recognize daylight savings time, and the area of the town he/she’s in is claimed by two states, one in the Central time zone and one in Mountain, when is “midnight” according to the Forces of Darkness?
Well, I won’t get into what makes up a force of darkness or not — that’s a very different story — but these two questions together remind me of a story that once I heard… it’s a sad one — for us, in particular, and by ‘us’ I mean human beings. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
One warning — this isn’t the shortest of these stories. But then, that seems appropriate, don’t you think?
People speak of the Witching Hour. It is an old concept — part of deep rooted fears and prejudices around ‘witches.’ By witches, of course, we mean anything from practioners of old arts to the old women who understood the uses of roots and herbs to any woman who dared to want to read or smoke or speak when not spoken to. Needless to say, this had nothing to do with ‘witches,’ either in the proper sense or in the pejorative diabolist sense. Needless to say, there has never been a ‘witching hour.’
There was a henostic’s hour, mind. Four of them, actually — one for the two daily solstices at noon and midnight, when the world was as full and devoid of light as it got, respectively, and one for the two daily equinoxes at dawn and twilight, when light and darkness were in balance. That’s really what they’re thinking of. You probably haven’t heard of the henostic’s hour, but then history isn’t what it used to be.
*** *** *** ***
Sam Kether was a prodigy.
Doctor Samar Kether — ‘Doctor’ to her students, strangers, or people she just didn’t like, ‘Samar’ to her parents, and ‘Sam’ to everyone else she knew — was a biohenosologist and biohenostic engineer working out of the University of Akkad at Port Edinnu, somewhere near what you or I would call Mubarak Al-Kabeer off the Persian Gulf. In a lot of ways, Sam was considered the mother of modern biohenosis and henostic engineering. She had been the first to really pair the modern study of genetics with the ancient study of theurgy and alchemy. She had won the Nobel Prize for Gnosis — unheard-of at her age — when she successfully showed applied means by which cyclical biohenostical invocation could retard the aging process by as much as 0.7%. Where as little as a hundred years before henosticism — the study of oneness with the Source of existence — had been little more than pseudoscience and quackery, within the last few generations tremendous strides had been made in the understanding, categorization and — with the rise of henostic engineering — utilization of henostic principles in everyday life, particularly the life sciences. Doctors used henostic remedies to heal injuries, restore everything from lost limbs or eyes to revitalized skin, and cure otherwise intractable diseases. Huge pharmaceutical companies developed and synthesized new henostic medications and made tremendous profits in the bargain. Outside of the medical and life sciences, henostic technologies and biohenostic engineering had revolutionized agriculture, feeding greater and greater numbers using less and less land.
It was hard to overestimate how important Sam Kether had been to the whole process. Very few people would do nearly so much in an entire lifetime as she had done in twenty short years of her professional life — which itself had begun early, since Sam had completed her first Ph.D. at fifteen years of age. It would be understandable to expect she would largely retire — take it easy. Enjoy her notoriety. Sell a few patents to Big Pharma or the like, and putter in the lab or just retire to the rolling green plains outside of Port Edinnu.
But Sam wasn’t most people. As far as Sam was concerned, she’d barely even begun her life’s work. She had a dream. It wasn’t an uncommon dream, though for almost anyone else it would be an impossible one.
Sam knew it wasn’t impossible. All it would take was time, effort, research and will.
The problem is, all of those rested on money.
“You understand you’re completely mad, right?” Doctor Adão said, walking out onto the terrace where Sam was drinking a cup of tea, looking out over the steppe. It, like most of the area, was lush and rich, and all the moreso thanks to biohenosis.
“I realize I’ve been called that before. For example, someone said I was mad for saying fourth order invocation could be applied electrochemically into the nervous system to reverse degeneration. Know many palsy victims who’d agree with that man? Now what was his name again…?”
“Fine. Fine. You’ve got a track record of being right.” Adão stepped next to her. He was a bit shorter than she was, lighter in skin tone but still swarthy compared to more Northwestern people. “We’re not talking about working on nervous systems or revitalizing cells or increasing crop yields or even reversing senility this time, Sam. You’re suggesting…” he shook his head, almost helplessly. “You’re discussing apotheosis.”
“Am I? You’re suggesting we could bring humanity into unity with the prime source through systemic invocation. What do you call that?”
“You can’t dictate evolution.”
“Sure you can.” She turned to look at her colleague, sipping her tea. “We dictate evolution all the time. When we decide to make a sweeter citron, and breed it true, we’re dictating evolution. We’re stepping in and we’re selecting based on our criteria, instead of the natural criteria the citron tree filled to survive from one generation to the next. When we heal a compound fracture, we’re dictating evolution by avoiding infection and generally making it possible for the patient to enter the gene pool after all. Our intelligence innately lets us dictate evolution, Miguel.”
“And I can see every one of those cases, but that’s not what you’re talking about, Sam. You’re talking about… I don’t know. Remote transmission of invocation. Interconnection of the nervous systems of billions of people. Simultaneous awakenings among everyone on the planet at once — you’re talking about literally unifying us with the Source.” He shook his head again — it was a nervous habit of his. “Even the ancient theurgists knew better than to try and summon God — much less merge with him.”
“Oh please. ‘The ancient theurgists?’ We’re scientists, Miguel — not alchemists trying to turn lead into immortality.”
“If this works, you won’t need lead or anything else — we’ll all be immortal.”
“And what could possibly be wrong with that?”
“So’s the terrace we’re standing on, but we stand on it just the same.”
“Damn it, Sam. Have you ever considered there’s a reason we’re mortal? A reason we’re limited. You’re discussing a fundamental change in what it means to be human!”
“That’s right, I am!” she snapped back. “That’s exactly what I’m discussing. I’m discussing posthumanism, Miguel. Transhumanism. A means by which all those who want to take the next step out into reality could do so, regardless of their economic status.” She laughed, almost derisively. “Tell me — why should we die? Huh? Why should we get sick? Why should our minds or our bodies be subject to such strict limits? Why should we be separated from one another? Why should we be limited in our perceptions? We know Prime Source is affected by our thoughts — why should there be a clear demarcation between where those thoughts end and the Source begins?”
“Do I even need to answer that question?” Miguel asked. “Forget old B movies — you’re literally tampering in God’s domain!”
“God? Really? Seriously? Are we children all of a sudden?” Sam stabbed her finger towards Miguel. “This is how the universe works, Miguel. We know more and more every year. In fact, doing this will give us astronomical amounts of information on the nature of reality! All of this, and you’re talking about theology that was outdated two hundred or more years ago!”
Miguel looked away, sighing. “What about the people who don’t want to be dragged into apotheosis?”
“Those who don’t want to be a part of the experiment won’t have to be, of course. Only those directly involved with the invocation will notice any effect at all.”
“So, what happens when you all ascend? What happens to everyone else?”
“Bloody Gnu, Miguel. It’s not like we’ll be throwing a light switch. It’s science. There will be experimentation, collection and collation of data, reporting of results — if things work as expected, people will have plenty of time to jump on board the train before it leaves the station. And anyone who wants to stay behind will stay behind — though honestly, I don’t know why someone would want to.”
“I’m certain you don’t, Sam.” Miguel didn’t say anything for a few minutes. He just stared out at the beautiful vista. It was tending towards twilight, when the light of day would fade into night, all over the world, and the sky was turning almost rosy red as a result. “So how’s the funding coming along?”
Sam rolled her eyes. “For everything I just said about religion, getting the money we need may actually take a miracle. Grant money dries up like no one’s business when–”
“When there’s not actually any business for anyone. Or is there going to be some kind of profit margin in this evolutionary step?”
“There will be plenty of potential business applications–”
“Seriously, Sam? You’re going there?”
Sam paused, then laughed gently. “No. No I’m not. But if I can keep enough ‘what if’ scenarios going to convince a henotech firm to underwrite us….”
“…then what the blazes, right?” Miguel smiled himself. “Well, that I will wish you luck on, my friend. Any potential suckers?”
“We’ve got a meeting with Jophiel Biohenostics tomorrow morning.”
“Jophiel?” Miguel snickered. “Big fish indeed. Think you can land them?”
“I’ll bait every hook I’ve got.”
“I’ll bet you will.”
“–simultaneous invocation right at moment of sundown at strategic points all across the globe would create a synchronous transmission of invocational patterns through simultaneous or near-simultaneous conditions across planetary lines,” Sam was saying, slide after slide on her computer slideshow passing by. “We can then demonstrate the waveform patterns in the etheric post-Prime spectra. We can predict with reasonable certainty that the information carried by these waveform patterns with grow with propagation — in effect ‘learning’ from the space and psyches they move over as they go.”
“So what, then?” Kitwana Thuita asked. “This will be telepathic? Will it intrude on the thoughts of those it passes over?” She was a non-executive director of Jophiel Biohenostics, and almost certainly was the only person they had to convince. She had been taking most of her cues from an aide or two, but it was clear she’d gotten to her position by being smart and understanding implications. And she wasn’t the kind of woman who was easily bamboozled by a lot of technical jargon. In other words, she was exactly who Sam hadn’t wanted at the meeting.
Sam laughed — a practiced laugh. “Not at all, Miss Thuita. However, we’ve found that a significant amount of information about the space that such waveforms pass over and through affects the waveform. Consider radio waves. The same signal that carries a music program can reveal topographic details to the right kind of observer.”
“Mm. Still, you’re suggesting there can be common experiences for those involved?”
“The invocations will be done from multiple simultaneous points. We’ve done investigative invocation, of course, but with the apparati we’ll construct as part of the process, this will be a new version — we’re thinking the waveforms will–”
“An integral part of these apparati will be the minds of the invokers, yes?” her aide cut in.
Sam paused. “Well, mindset of initial invocation is always a part of the process, though in the case of autonomic invocation once the initial–”
“But these aren’t autonomous practices,” the aide said. “This is a single event.”
“There will be neurophysical response, yes.”
“And the encoded information in the waveform will affect that response?”
Sam pursed her lips. She had been planning to work her way up to this idea. She hadn’t expected anyone to intuit it. “Well, yes.”
“That’s a monumental breakthrough in henostics, isn’t it? I mean, forget telepathy — this is clairvoyance. Maybe even a first step to omniscience.”
Sam flushed. “There’s no real chance of omniscience,” she started to say–
“Wait a moment,” Thuita said. “This is clairvoyance, though? Forget what the equipment learns from the way — you intend the neurology of the invokers to carry this information into their brains directly? How will they even interpret what they see?”
“–obviously, there is going to be much we need to learn as we go through the–”
“Clairsentience is probably a better term,” her aide said. “And think about it — that kind of wave, getting more and more complex the further it goes, assuming it’s strong enough to still be detected over that distance. Think about what that could mean for the neurology of the subject. A good number of invoked biohenostic techniques are ‘programmed’ simulating specific brainwave patterns involved in the initial invocation — this would be the ultimate programmed henostic biofeedback.”
Sam breathed out. “If you look at Appendix C,” she said, “we can show a number of potential industrial–”
“Are you kidding me?” Thuita asked, eyebrow arched. “We start talking about feeding information from the universe directly into some invoker’s cerebral cortex, and now you want to go through cost-benefit ratios? I think we’ve already heard enough.”
Sam breathed out. “There’s still a lot of ground to cover–”
“I agree, Miss Thuita,” her aide said. “We’ve heard more than enough. We should fund these experiments, hook line and sinker.”
Sam felt the breath leave her body. Complete funding…?
“Seriously?” Thuita said to her aide. “I was about to dismiss this entire thing. Why would we possibly–”
“Ma’am — think about it. From the purely practical, we could be discussing a whole new means of researching biohenostics. We could jump years ahead of our competition. Not to mention this could open up entirely new avenues of research and development. Remember what pre-henostic theurgy was like? We could be talking about modern henostics the same way in just twenty years if this works. Or even ten.”
“And from the non-practical?”
The aide leaned towards his boss. “Ma’am… we could be literally discussing the next step in human evolution. How could we not fund this? If not for our business, then for our race? Think about what this could mean for your grandchildren? Maybe by the time they’re your age they wouldn’t need to fear death — maybe they could ride these waves right out of their flesh — or maybe their flesh could be reshaped into something that… I don’t know. We don’t know. But don’t we need to find out?”
Thuita looked her aide up and down, then slowly nodded. “All right. You’re in charge of this one. We’re going to need to have certain controls in place — especially to make sure we’re not proceeding too fast or endangering anyone with these experiments.”
Sam started breathing again. “Of course, Miss Thuita!” she said, excitement beginning to course through her. “I’ll– we’ll be glad to go through all the particulars and we’ll make absolutely sure that no one is put in harm’s–”
“I’ve already said yes, Doctor Kether. I’ll leave you two to it.” She got up. “Don’t dally,” she said to her aide. “You’re going to be spending enough time here, after all.”
“Of course,” the aide said, getting up alongside Thuita. “Doctor Kether — I’ll set something up at the beginning of the week. We can go over paperwork then.”
“Of course — of course, Mister–” she paused, realizing she had no idea what the man’s name even was.
“Shepherd,” the aide said, smiling a bright smile, and shaking her head. “Call me Mister Shepherd.”
Jophiel was as good as its word, in regards to funding. Mister Shepherd — if he had a first name, Sam never heard it — was indeed fully settled into Port Edinnu by the end of the following week, and his company was if anything overly lavish in providing testing equipment, components for the apparati — all of it. Even when Sam told him that the project would need to be open and public — not for idealistic reasons but for practical ones, as it would take ever larger numbers of people all over the world to freely participate — Mister Shepherd was glad to be of service. Jophiel had even begun rounds of PR, highlighting how some of the greatest henoistic work ever attempted was being prepared, with the famous Doctor Samar Kether leading the project.
And that was where Sam had begun to worry.
“Tell me I’m nuts, Miguel,” she said to Doctor Adão, “but–”
“You’re nuts,” her colleague said. He had been ‘roped into’ Project Esbat when the funding had come in so completely. He was just putting away his tools following the noontime invocation. Outside, the sky was at its brightest and bluest, with almost no clouds to interfere with its azure beauty.
“Oh you’re funny,” she said. “Seriously. Am I crazy to be worried about all the… noise that Jophiel is making about this project?”
Adão looked uncomfortable. “You said yourself we needed to get as many people interested as possible, if we were going to get a good initial invocation sample group.”
“I did in fact say that, yes. So I’m crazy, right?”
“Immeasurably,” Adão answered. “But not about this.”
“Really. They should be arguing with us. Complaining about PR. Saying they don’t want to stick their necks out when they don’t even know any of this will work.”
“And yet if anything they’re going farther than we’re comfortable with.” Sam shook her head. “I can’t imagine Thuita would be happy with all this.”
“Happy or not, she’s giving Shepherd everything he wants.”
“Which is somewhat more than I want,” Sam said, nodding. “It’s unnatural.”
“Yes it is.” He picked up a sheet of paper. “On the other hand, there’s all the new ‘suggestions’ his office has been sending down.”
“What — more?” Sam took the sheet and looked at it. “Triple redundancy on the contemplative assemblies? That’s crazy — that’s far more than we need for safety or failover.”
“Plus he wants the invocative leads to match up to standards set fifty years ago. Says it’s safer and will give us better results.”
“What? No. He’s wrong. It’s just more cumbersome and involved and the heavier leads had more resistance — it could interfere with the actual transmission and reception.”
“Yes, well, look at his last point. I mean, if you’re going to discuss resistance….”
Sam glanced down to the bottom of the page. Her eyes widened. “No. There’s no way he–”
“–is suggesting we move the invocations proper from midnight to twilight? Yes. Yes he is.”
“That’s…” She clenched the paper in her hand, wadding it up. “I’ll be back.” She started storming for the door.
“Sam — don’t go see him angry like this!”
“No! Don’t you talk me out of this! I’m going to see him right now!”
“–is very simple,” Mister Shepherd said, that ingratiating smile on his face. He was almost offensively handsome, always in his black suit with the crisp white shirt, his hair combed up properly, the blood red of his tie almost hooking one’s eye. “While we can understand the henostic reasons behind a midnight invocation, obviously by moving the process to twilight we can maximize the associated publicity. Think of the increased numbers who can participate in the process–”
“You’re missing the point,” Sam said angrily. “We didn’t pick midnight for symbolic reasons. The power of positive source interaction is at its lowest possible point at midnight, meaning that as we invoke, we’ll have the lowest possible interference from natural source radiance. By moving it to twilight, you’re effectively eliminating the conditions that would make Esbat possible!”
Mister Shepherd chuckled. “I’m sure you’re exaggerating, especially with the increased numbers–”
“The increased numbers will all just become a part of a failed experiment. If anything, this will discredit the experiment, not ensure it! The experiment will take place at midnight, just as we planned it originally!”
Mister Shepherd’s smile didn’t slip. “Actually… the experiment will take place at twilight, Sam.”
“That’s Doctor Kether to you, and what are you talking about?”
“Look, the contracts and grant documentation make it clear that most aspects of the experiment are under the control of you and your university. However, if you check, Jophiel can override you in regards to the actual time of the experiment, as well as on safety procedures.”
“I was going to get to that — you’re insisting on outdated protocol that will again make it more difficult to–”
“You say they’re outdated, but we have experts who insist the additional security–”
“Experts? There are no experts in this, Mister Shepherd, but I assure you the very closest person to being an expert is standing in this room, and you’re not her. I’m not suggesting this is being needlessly cautious, I’m outright telling you.”
Mister Shepherd chuckled. “Well, you’re free to tell me whatever you like, Doctor Kether, but you’ll probably have a hard time explaining that in the court of public opinion. A scientist going out to say big business is taking unnecessary risks and must be stopped makes for good television. It’s an easy sell. A scientist saying big business is too concerned for the public welfare risks branding herself as dangerously unstable or unconcerned for the potential ramifications. Do you want this project to go forward at all?”
“I think the amount of money Jophiel has spent on this project should tell you that — and remember, Jophiel got involved in the first place because I believe this will work, Doctor Kether. That should tell you something.”
Sam narrowed her eyes. “It does. But I haven’t had a chance to analyze enough data yet, so I’ll hold off on concluding anything if you don’t mind.”
Mister Shepherd laughed. “I love science,” he said, standing up and clapping Sam on the shoulder. “Look — the apparati are ready to be fabricated. We’ll schedule the event–”
“–whatever, and we’ll start distributing them through normal retail channels. At cost, at cost — Jophiel isn’t looking to make a profit. But we can get a lot of people involved with this.”
“The initial experiment shouldn’t have anyone other than certified–”
“Of course, of course. We’ll make sure to lay out the necessary protocol in the instructions.’
Sam took a deep breath. “Quite. Are you being overly cautious, or overly reckless? I’ve lost my place in this argument.”
That made Mister Shepherd laugh again. “Given the nature of the invocation, I’d think the risk would be minimal, compared to the advantage of having so many participants in the event–”
Mister Shepherd paused. “Quite right,” he said. “Anyhow — I know there’s a lot left to do. Tell you what. We’ll go ahead and announce the twilight the ev– experiment will take place. We’ll get the apparati shipped, and make sure everyone knows what we’re trying to do and what will happen as a result–”
“What we hope will happen. This is still science, Mister Shepherd. We won’t know what will happen until after the experiment.”
“Well, okay. Admitted. Still, we’re pretty darn sure, so we’ll just explain it to them in ways they’ll understand.”
Sam turned her head slightly, looking at Mister Shepherd sidelong. “I don’t think we need to be patronizing, Mister Shepherd. And I don’t think we need to underestimate the public’s intelligence.”
Mister Shepherd laughed again. “Honestly, you worry too much, Doctor Kether. Now. You’ve got lots to do, I’m sure, and so do I. Remember, we all want to see this… experiment take place.”
Sam lifted her chin slightly. “Yes we do.”
“All right then.”
Sam left his office, brow furrowed. She was certain Mister Shepherd was speaking the truth. They did all want to see the experiment take place.
She just wasn’t certain they wanted it for the same reasons.
“I think we’ve got everything more or less in place,” Doctor Adão was saying. “There are several thousand apparati registered on the network, and we’ve run through the invocation procedures with people all over the world. At twilight, two days from now, we’ll have more human beings involved in a single invocation at the same exact moment than ever before.”
“And we’ll fail miserably because we won’t be able to overcome the innate interference of positive source energy in the environment,” Sam said, bitterly.
“With these numbers… I don’t know. We could actually do it, Sam,” Adão said. “Tell her, Bin.”
‘Nan,’ in this case, was Bina Nahash — the senior graduate student assigned to Sam and Adão and, by extension, the entire project. A woman from Tel Aviv, Nahash was one of Sam’s proteges, and was gearing up to be a biohenostic engineer and researcher of repute in her own right. “I think we’re sunk,” she said. “Maybe — maybe if we’d used the original specs for the apparati, we could have gotten away with this. With the additional resistance in the design, plus doing this when we’re still at half-light? No, I don’t see how we can succeed.”
Adão shook his head. “This is crazy. I don’t understand why–”
“Who cares why?” Sam asked. “Huh? We’re going to fail, Miguel.”
Adão looked away. “Well, maybe the first time. But things will be in the field. We can reschedule after the first attempt, and make the second one at midnight, and then we should be able to–”
“With the amount that Jophiel’s been hyping all this? If we fail we’re going to be a laughingstock. No one will try this a second time, Adão. No one.” Sam’s bitterness sounded almost poisonous.
Adão sighed. “Maybe you’re right.”
“So… let’s not wait,” Nahash said. “Let’s just… let’s do it. Tonight — no, tomorrow night. We’ll spread the word and get people to invoke the midnight before the scheduled event–”
“–sorry boss, but what Mister Shepherd and Jophiel want is an event, not an experiment. So we run the experiment and demonstrate proof of concept. We use that as an excuse to bump the event to the following midnight and repeat.”
“Are you nuts?” Adão asked. “Jophiel’s funded this whole thing, and the time of the experiment was set by them, by contract. We can’t just… just… ignore that! We need to do this experiment when they tell us to!”
“We can’t let the experiment fail just because Shepherd’s an idiot!” Nahash snapped. “We have a responsibility–”
“Enough. I won’t be a part of any… subversion of the experimental protocol. I’m not the famous Samar Kether, you know. If they decide to ruin my career over this, it’ll stay ruined.”
“Miguel–” Sam started to say–
“No. I don’t want to hear it.” Adão stormed away.
Sam watched him go. “Well then,” she said.
“Yeah.” Nahash cleared her throat. “So as I was saying–”
“He’s right about one thing,” Sam said. “We can’t just declare we’re doing the experiment eighteen hours before it’s scheduled,” Sam said, cutting her off. “We won’t even be allowed to start it, and without the central apparatus….”
“Okay. Yeah. So we can’t do the full bore experiment.” Nahash smiled a bit. “But we don’t need everyone, do we? Shepherd may have been pushing for as big a splash as possible, but we can predict how many people are necessary to actually run the proper experiment, right? Even with the gear they made us use, we can run the numbers….”
“Run them,” Sam said, getting up. “I’m going to check on the network. And we’re going to need to figure out who can be trusted — real henostics, not the guys off the street Shepherd wanted added to all this.”
The number, in the end, was three hundred and six. It took a little doing and some surreptitious communication, cell like, but Sam was able to find enough researchers she felt she could trust. They communicated on a private mailing list, and coordinated last efforts, and the following night, at two minutes to midnight, eighteen full hours before the official experiment was to begin, they prepared.
“Apparatus is operational,” Nahash said. The device itself looked innocuous itself — it was effectively a metallic box, about one and a third meters in length, and just shy of eight tenths of a meter tall and deep. On top it had a reception array that was tied into the building’s network. There were headsets that were worn, though both Sam and Nahash had actually attached their electrodes with the gooey cement generally used in medicine. Computers were running, of course, and the programs — a special version of which having been distributed to the covert researching team — were running. All the stations were online.
“Fifty-six seconds,” Nahash said, grinning. She was fairly bouncing with excitement.
“Final diagnostics look clean,” Sam said, tapping on her tablet computer and glancing at the display. “Positive source particle counts are showing… tolerable from all stations. Henostical invocation event clearance is established.”
“No reports of failures… we’re getting… we’re at 97… 99… one hundred percent engagement. Everything is green.”
“Adjusting primary array by point zero six degrees… remote apparati response is normal… field is open….”
“We are showing ready for invocation… in fifteen… fourteen….”
Sam took a deep breath, and centered herself. Invocation was a specific physical event — an imposition on the universe. The old theurgists believed it involved summoning angels or communing with God — whatever that might mean — because before modern henostics and their pairing with electromagnetic theory, there had been no way to impose that event upon the universe save by the conscious application of the human mind. With modern equipment had come the ability to monitor the process, replicate it with electrical equipment, and even record it. Still, some applications at least needed to start with the human mind producing the invocation through formulaic production — only romantics or fools called them rituals or spells — to begin with… and while plenty of henostic work had involved human minds receiving information before (albeit most of those being replaced with appropriate equipment later), this would specifically require human minds and perceptions.
“…six… five… four….”
Sam glanced at the display. All was green. She was ready. She had the beginnings of the algorithm at her command….”
“…two… one… invoke!”
Sam worked the invocation. She had practiced it for days after they came up with the final form. Despite her nervousness, she was able to get it through. She felt a tingle run through her as the prime source responded to her invocation. She felt a similar tingle from Nahash. She watched the different stations reporting as well… it looked like all their invocations had gone off without issue. The researchers in question were all experts at what they did. She saw the indicators tracking the waveforms… showing them following the predicted models as they converged and affected one another, altering as they passed through and over the Earth’s surface, before moving back towards origination… if all this were working, the waveform she as Nahash had triggered would be returning to their location any–
And then there was a rush, like the thoughts in her head were exploding, and suddenly Samar Kether could feel every cell of her own body — could name them, explain them, compare them. Almost unconsciously she found those which were damaged or at anything other than their peak and edged them back to full health. Her mind almost felt like the world was distorting, like she were looking through a fish-eye lens. Her nervous system hummed, and the hum became a song, and the song became understanding as she felt her consciousness expanding, filling, knowing what had not been known — not just mundane facts but deeper understandings… the knowledge of the Earth and the sky beyond and what humanity’s place was and how it could move that place up….
And then slowly Sam became aware… aware of the room she was in. Aware of Nahash, and the apparatus. Aware of how small everything seemed to be… how painfully minor the entire world seemed to be in comparison… and yet how remarkable and glorious every ant, every grain of sand and every speck of dust was.
“I never…” Nahash said, softly. “I never really… I….”
“There aren’t words, Bina,” Sam said. “I’m not sure we could find words, at least that our mouths and tongues could say.”
“It… we were so close, Sam… I could feel there was so much more….”
“That will come. We’ll get that with more people.” Sam looked at Nahash. “That’s all. We just need more people. We need all the people.”
Nahash nodded. “It used to seem… I don’t know… impossible we’d get them. But now?”
“I know,” Sam said, softly. “Now it’s inevitable.”
“I don’t understand how you thought you could get away with this!” Mister Shepherd thundered, slapping his hand on the conference table. “We had an agreement!”
“Sir — please, sir. Calm down,” Doctor Adão was saying. “It’s all right — what’s the harm? We know it will work! Now if we just–”
“If we just what? This event was supposed to take place at six o’clock tonight, not last midnight! You’ve made our organization look like fools!”
“It can take place at six — Hell, Mister Shepherd, you can delay it to midnight now! Why not? Invite everyone! Look at what happened to the three hundred and six? We’ve just begun! Don’t you see? It works! What else could you have asked for?!”
“He knew it would work,” Sam said softly. She was sitting at the same conference table, as was Bina Nahash. “That’s why he didn’t want us doing it.”
“That — see, now that’s not helping, Sam. Look, obviously with the time and money Jophiel put into this project, they thought it would succeed and they wanted it to succeed! Well, now we know it can succeed! It has succeeded–”
“Jophiel’s board wanted it to succeed. Mister Shepherd wanted it to fail. Not only that — he wanted it to fail it the biggest possible way, all across the world. He wanted it to fail so completely no one would try it again for generations.” She cocked her head, looking at Mister Shepherd. “Isn’t that right?”
“It doesn’t matter what I wanted,” Mister Shepherd said. “You’re damn right we’re not doing it at twilight today. In fact, you can safely assume this whole project’s postponed until we can get some real answers.”
“Answers? Answers to what?”
But Mister Shepherd just stormed out.
“I don’t understand that man!” Adão turned back to the pair. “I’ll admit — I was annoyed you two went and did it anyway, but I’m more excited that it worked! Can’t you tell me anything more about what you saw?”
“We would need a closer frame of reference, Miguel,” Sam said, her voice still soft. “But we’ll get one tonight.”
“Tonight? Shepherd just said–”
“Mister Shepherd isn’t even allowed in the building if we don’t clear him,” Sam said. “And we’ve already been passing the word. We’ll have easily ten times as many in the invocation tonight — we’ll see so much more. We may even kick over into that higher level of consciousness. It felt like we were close, Miguel. You’ll see.”
“I’ll see… you can’t….”
“Doctor Adão,” Nahash said. “You know it works. Are you really going to let Mister Shepherd’s snit keep you from experiencing it firsthand?”
Adão looked at the graduate student, and then back at Sam. He then looked down. “No,” he said, a touch hoarsely. “I wish with all my heart I’d been with you yesterday. I won’t miss tonight.”
Sam smiled a bit. “You won’t regret it.”
And, as of the following day, Adão didn’t.
The second run had gone with close to four thousand people, and the results were indeed an order of magnitude more intense. It wasn’t enough to kick people into a new level of consciousness — that had been a bit too much to hope for — but it was more than enough to truly expand the perceptions of those involved. Inside of the three minutes the experiment took to perform, the four thousand people learned more about themselves, their own nature, and the nature of the universe they all lived in than humanity had discovered in six thousand years of recorded history. What’s more, every human being on the planet who’d been awake had felt an echo of what had happened, and been affected as a result. Every sleeping human was awakened by dreams far more remarkable, terrible and wonderful than any they had ever felt. As for the four thousand themselves? Those who were too heavy had lost weight. Those too thin had gained it. All had gained muscle tone. Those will illnesses or addictions simply left them behind. It was that profound a moment. It was that complete a moment.
Needless to say, Mister Shepherd was pissed.
“What did you think you were doing?!” he demanded. He’d brought along a few others from Jophiel — strength in numbers, I guess.
“The experiment you funded,” Sam said lightly, setting her smartphone on the table. “The second run significantly improved on the results of the first. Tonight’s run should be far more illuminating, of course.”
“Tonight’s run? Tonight’s run?”
“Sam was right,” Adão said, wonderingly. “You really wanted to set us up to fail. Why would you do that?”
“What good do you think you’ve done? Huh? The entire planet felt echoes of what you did! That kind of negative publicity is exactly what we didn’t–”
“There’s no negative publicity,” Nahash said. “People are excited. They want to be a part of this, Mister Shepherd.”
“Well, they’re not going to. This experiment is over.”
Sam half-smiled. “Why would you possibly think you could declare that, Mister Shepherd? The university–”
“The university didn’t pay for that box or the array plugged into it — and without that array at the very least the rest of the experiment’s not worth a damn! You two — go upstairs and–”
“They’re not going to be doing anything of the kind, Mister Shepherd,” came a tinny sounding voice from Sam’s smartphone.
“What? Who the Hell are you to…” his voice trailed off, as his eyes focused on the display. ‘Kitwana Thuita,’ it read. “Oh.”
“Oh indeed, Mister Shepherd.” Thutia’s voice was strong, even through the speakerphone function. “You’ve done a good job down there, but I think you should fly back here this afternoon. There’s a ticket waiting for you at the airport, in fact.”
“Ma’am — I don’t know what these two have told you, but–”
“They didn’t need to tell me anything, Mister Shepherd. I was one of the invokers in last night’s test run.”
Mister Shepherd paused. “I see,” he said.
“More to the point, I’ve seen. I’ve seen how much we don’t know, and how much we could. I’ve seen just how naked we are before the universe, and how we could go about clothing ourselves in the knowledge this universe contains. I’ve seen it all, Mister Shepherd… and I intend to see more. Tonight. With the rest of the world. We’re going to announce it to the heavens.”
“We’ll easily have tens of thousands of invokers,” Adão said. “Enough so that anyone who stays up and invokes without the apparatus will still be a part of the whole. We don’t even really need the apparatus any more. I can’t believe how blind we were before. How little we knew before.”
Mister Shepherd looked at the three of them, then slowly nodded. He smiled — that same, warm ingratiating smile. “All right then,” he said. “Well, I’m sorry this was unpleasant for everyone. I’ll speak to you this evening, Miss Thuita.” He stood, nodding slightly. “Good luck with tonight’s test run, Doctor Kether.” So saying, he straightened his coat, scooped up his crystal tipped mahogany walking stick, and strode for the door, his people following.
Sam watched the delegation leave. “Thank you, Miss Thuita,” she said.
“No problem,” Thuita said, voice distorting with phone interference. “Better get ready. I think we go over the top tonight.”
Sam smiled. “I hope so.”
The atmosphere was jubilant — almost like a party. There were quite a few students and faculty from all over the university crowded into the room, with lots of laughter and preparation all at once. Sam was cheerful and excited herself, as were her students, of course, but she was mostly keeping an eye on the equipment as they prepped.
“…tens of thousands of apparati have reported in,” she was saying to Miguel. “We’re easily going to have an order of magnitude more invokers than we did last night, and we had tens of thousands, then.”
“I got the invocation instructions out on the net,” Nahash added, grinning. “With the sheer levels of energy moving through, people will be able to invoke without any equipment at all — just a straight practiced algorithm. And I’ve been watching online video — people have been practicing that algorithm all day!”
“Do we even still need the box?” one of the other students asked, nodding towards the apparatus.
“Not really,” Sam said. “We’ve gone way past that. But it’s convenient and all our measuring equipment works through it–”
“Will it even matter?” another student asked. “I mean, I heard that after all this, we’re going to turn into energy and colonize deep space!”
“Don’t believe everything you hear,” Sam says. “And yes, it matters. This is science. No matter how exciting, we’re going to experiment, observe, record, collate and report. No matter what else happens, we’re going to do this by the book! Now, we need to get people calmed–”
A high pitched buzzer echoed through the building.
“A fire alarm?” Adão asked. “Tonight?”
“No way,” Nahash said. “There’s no way anyone’s–”
“Yes, there is,” Sam said, curtly rising and shouting. “Everyone — the fire alarm’s gone off! I need– EXCUSE ME! I need everyone to go down to the parking lot! Bring your invocation materials! No one is going to miss out on the experiment — you’ll just need to focus and invoke down there instead! Bina! Go down with them! Get everyone organized down there and lead them through the algorithm!”
“But this has to be a prank!” Nahash said.
“Probably — but we’re not going to let any one catch fire! Go! Go! Doctor Adão and I will run the apparatus up here! We’ll see you after the experiment!”
There was resistance, but people went — as much because arguing would mean missing it entirely as anything else. Needless to say, within three minutes, only Doctor Adão and Sam herself were still in the room, working on the equipment.
“You really think this was a prank?” Adão muttered.
“No,” Sam said, typing. “We’re getting over 97.4% signals coming in. Resistance is almost clear across the board. The far west has some weather tonight, but it shouldn’t be too bad.”
“Do you think Shepherd tried to interrupt things by pulling the alarm? Or do you think he set the building on fire?”
“Shepherd’s already out of the country. We got that confirmed. Two minutes to invocation.”
“You’re being obstinate,” Adão said. “Someone he works with must have–”
“Pulled the alarm? Yes he did.”
The two whirled to face the new voice. It belonged to a man in the same kind of black suit Shepherd had worn, only his tie was yellow instead of red. He was rather solid looking, with a bald head and a salt and pepper beard, and as he pushed the door shut, there was the sound of metal, as though it had just locked itself.
“Who the devil are you?” Adão asked as the man strode forward.
In answer, the man threw a fist out, slamming it into Adão’s stomach and doubling him over. He brought his knee up hard, catching the scientist’s brow and snapping him back. Adão fell back, clipping his head on the edge of a table. “Mister Crook,” he said, sharply, and turned to Sam.
If he had been expecting Sam to cower, he was due for disappointment. “You’ve got no reason to be here,” she snapped, glancing at her fallen comrade, briefly but otherwise moving to counter the assailant. “The system is automatic. Even destroying this central apparatus wouldn’t make a difference any more!”
“We’re well aware of that,” Mister Crook said, shifting to one side to counter Sam’s own moves.
“Then get out of here and let me get back to work.”
“That’s not going to happen. This experiment is over.”
“You’re not even listening to yourself. This experiment can’t be stopped. All you can do is interfere with some of our data collation.”
“Oh, I can do much more than that, Doctor Kether. Much more.”
“What then? You’re going to kill us? For what? Spite?”
“I’m not given to spite,” he said, slipping a small pen knife out of his coat pocket. He unfolded it, once, twice, a third time… before Sam’s eyes she saw him unfold it into a long, thin sword, with no sign of seams or nuts along the blade.
“Cute trick. Get out. And in case you haven’t noticed, we’re live streaming tonight. This is international news. Everyone on the planet’s just seen you attack a middle aged scientist.
“Anyone watching is preparing to invoke. Which is what I’m counting on.”
“What? You’re counting on them not noticing?”
“I’m counting on them invoking. Ten seconds, Doctor Kether. Better get centered.”
Sam glanced at the time. Blast it, he was right — she’d have to invoke if she wanted to be part of this run. If that meant he killed her in the process — well, he’d be doing that anyway, right? Five… four… three… two… one–
Sam began to invoke, only to see Mister Crook’s sword suddenly gleam with light, and get swung straight into the apparatus–
The sound was like listening to a cannonball hit a building made of steel and glass. The shock was like feeling the world crumble away. Samar Kether felt herself pitch forward and to the side all at once, and then felt oblivion reach up to grab her–
Samar Khader sat bolt upright. Sunlight had begun peeking through the windows of the lab. She was disoriented — her clothing much heavier and restrictive than she expected. The room had the smell of old dust and the look of a lab made perhaps twenty years before. “What–”
“Are you feeling all right, Doctor?”
Samar pushed herself up. She was wearing a long, flowing tunic — a chador, she realized, of a style that had gone out of style long before she had been born. “What… how long was I….”
She froze, realizing she was in the room alone with Mister Crook. Further, there was no sign of any invocation equipment whatsoever. Honestly, the room itself looked so different she couldn’t imagine she was even in the same building.
“You were out for about three and a half hours,” Mister Crook said, coolly. “I checked to make certain you weren’t bleeding. I realize that was imprudent of me, but still.”
Samar stared. “It can’t have been three hours — it’s light outside! It…” she froze, looking out the window. She walked slowly, pressing her face to the glass, and staring.
Outside, the building overlooked a steppe as before, only this was mostly desert with some cultivation and dust in the air. The sky was the rosy color of dawn, but the color was focused entirely towards the East. She realized that all the illumination was coming from a fire in the sky– the sun, she realized. The sun itself was illuminating the sky, not the light of the prime source!
“…what did you do?” she breathed out, in horror.
“I used the energy being released by the invocation, to make a little change. A retroactive change, which means history changed as well. You’ll probably start remembering some of that new history, though you’ll never forget the old.” Mister Crook began to walk slowly across the room, to where he had a briefcase sitting, his shoes ‘clah-clopping’ as he walked.
“What did you do?” she hissed again.
“The long and the short of it is this — instead of the heavens illuminating and dimming all across the world equally, the light now comes from the star Earth orbits. This means that among other things that sunlight only hits half the planet, more or less, at a time. When it’s day over here, it’s night elsewhere.”
“What… would that possibly do to help you? Even if you did so… even if you could do so unquestionably powerful a thing… what good would it do you? I can’t believe the fundamental rules of physics and henosis could be so overturned. I can’t–”
“Oh, they could,” Mister Crook said. “But it doesn’t take that big a change. Really, the only change we need is this. Before, the solstices and the equinoxes of the day were regular and predictable. Brightest at noon, darkest at midnight, evenly balanced at dawn and twilight. Now… sunrise and sunset vary from day to day, depending on where the Earth is on its yearly pilgrimage. So, the four invocation hours just… aren’t.” He took some papers out, and closed his briefcase. “Without those central, reproducible daily events, theurgy, gnosticism and the like never left the level of mysticism.” He walked towards her. “Henosis never got out of the starting gate, Doctor.”
Samar stared at him. “Why?!” she demanded.
“There are powers in this universe you don’t know anything about, Doctor. It’s all well and good to want to become like God, and to bring mankind with you in the bargain, but you have to expect some resistance from the current occupants, don’t you?”
Samar’s lip curled in a frown. “There is no such thing, Mister Crook. If there are beings out there who mastered henosis before we did, that gives them — or you — no right to impede our progress!”
“You’ll want to be careful about asserting the non-existence of God, Doctor,” Mister Crook said, starting to walk back towards her. “You probably don’t remember yet, but even if Kuwait’s pretty progressive as these things go, it’s been getting less and less so each year. People have been stoned to death for considerably less.”
“I cannot believe Port Edinnu would ever–”
Mister Crook laughed. “There is no Port Edinnu, Doctor. It never existed — or if it did, you can’t get there from here! Just like there was never the henostic techniques that made the desert bloom, or extended life or did all the rest! Don’t you get it — it wasn’t enough to stop your experimental run. We had to wipe the whole thing from the slate, and the world that gave rise to it in the process!”
“I still remember the experiment! I can recreate it!”
“Are you kidding? No matter how good your knowledge is, there have been some changes — you’d need to experiment to figure out where they lie. And even if you did… Doctor, your entire scientific discipline’s been retroactively defunded! There’s no foundation out there for you to build on! And what’s more, there’s no unifying moment for your ritual to take place!”
“Not so,” she snapped. “You made a decent case for why the equinoxes aren’t useful, but the solstices still exist! Noon is still midday and midnight is still day’s end, yes? That continues to be a focus we can build on! All I need are a few hundred–”
Mister Crook shook his head. “I’m sorry, Doctor. But you haven’t quite grasped the situation.” He looked in her eyes. “Because of the relative nature of day and night, a system arose tracking time all over the globe. What’s midnight in one place is six in the morning elsewhere, or noon somewhere else. There is no single midnight! The ‘midnight’ you’re thinking of is local to Greenwich, London. At that exact moment, it was three in the morning, here.” He leaned closer. “There is no single midnight. And even if you arbitrarily decide to use Greenwich’s or one like it, the henostic conditions won’t be the same in any other time zone. It won’t. Work.”
Samar clenched both her hands. “You say that. But I think it could work. With enough study and effort.”
“It would take more than your lifetime, Doctor.”
“I have heard that before.”
“Yes, but the people who said it to you don’t even remember you.” He looked out the window. “Kuwait University has always been progressive in this region, but there are limits. You are a brilliant biochemist, of course, but that brilliance hasn’t been given a lot of opportunity to shine. You certainly never won a Nobel Prize. Still, maybe you can make a new start of it.” He offered Samar a paper envelope. “This is your plane ticket. In four hours, your flight to Melbourne, Australia will be leaving. You’ve gotten a good position there — one free from a lot of the cultural baggage you’ve spent your career fighting against.”
“How kind of you,” she snapped.
Mister Crook shrugged. “I’d recommend taking it. It’s your best possible deal.”
“Oh, I have every intention of taking it.” She plucked the envelope from his hand. “Where is Doctor Adão?”
“Safe. In Lisbon, I believe. He’s probably worried sick about you.”
“About me? Do we know each other… here?”
“Not officially, no. But you two were at ground zero for the change, so you both remember where you came from. Of course, in his personal history, he never had a reason to leave Spain to come here, so he’s not here.”
“And Bina Nahash?”
“Has never heard of you and wouldn’t listen if you tried to contact her. Israelis and Arabs have their differences.”
“Under it all, we are all human.”
“An enlightened attitude not all your kind share.”
“My kind? Humans? Arabs?”
Mister Crook shrugged. “Take your pick.” He turned, and began walking away. “Normally, when we’re forced to do something as… distasteful… as interceding, I like to tell people that they would have succeeded. Give them that much pride. But I don’t suppose I need to, do I?”
“You weren’t forced to interfere. You chose to. And yes, we would have succeeded. And we will. If you truly want to stop us, you’d best get to killing me now, because there’s no way I’m going to fail, Mister Crook.”
Mister Crook snorted. “We shall see. Good luck, Doctor.”
“I don’t need luck, Mister Crook. It is simply inevitable.”
“Heh. We’ve already warned you, Doctor–”
“You didn’t warn us. You told us. And next time, we will be ready for you.”
I could go on, and tell you about what Doctor Samar Khader, who was never Samar ‘Sam’ Kether, did and saw after that, but then so much of it has yet to be written, and it’s beyond the scope of our story. As for what all of you were doing in the generally happier, more unified world that existed before Mister Crook’s actions… well, it’s not really for me to say. I will say this — mental illness, hunger, most disease, war, poverty… none of these things had been eradicated but they were all very minor at most. Civilization was just that, civilized.
And of course, there are echoes of that world. In literature, in poetry, in physics… and for that matter, in ritual. Henosis never really caught on, but there have been plenty of other attempts — more mystical-bent, perhaps, but still. And more than one ritual magician has dreamed of finding a way to form a circle that completely encompasses the globe, only to bump up against logistical issues. Most people will forget the nature of time even with such mundane things as calling their friends on the West Coast, much less remember that drawing down the moon at 11 pm in New York is a very different thing than it might be in Honolulu at that same exact moment.
Of course, science and engineering are all about finding ways of understanding the nature of these difficulties… and then fixing them. So I suppose we shall just have to see what happens next.