THE CITY OF THE SUN
and other sci-fi shorties
The City of the Sun
On the World's Last Day
Homage to Julian Jaynes
The Adventures of Jonathan Floril
THE CITY OF THE SUN
On the twenty first of May, 1639, Tommaso Campanella was snatched
from his Paris deathbed by an angel, transported at high speed to a
faraway planet, and deposited on a golden throne in the center of the
City of the Sun.
Everything was exactly as the Calabrian philosopher had imagined it,
while he languished all those years in the dungeons of Naples,
composing his utopian vision. Now, miraculously, he found himself in
Descending from his throne, with great satisfaction he toured the
orderly avenues of his imagining. He was greeted by the lively children
as they played about the seven-ringed walls adorned with edifying
pictures. He conversed with the happy workers in the fields and tasted
with pleasure the cuisine of their clever wives. He surveyed the whole
well-regulated, energetic society set free from the blight of
possessions, devoted to the sciences and the arts.
Had he died and gone to heaven? From a world where he was
persecuted and tortured by the Spanish Inquisition, he had escaped to
a place where he received that veneration which his messianic
disposition had always led him to expect.
Or was this some intermediate state between life and death, of whose
existence the theologians were unaware, a post-mortem testing ground
he'd been placed in to prove his worthiness and to demonstrate the
wisdom of his theories?
He consulted the Council of Elders, but they knew little of the world
beyond the gates of the City of the Sun, and were ill-equipped to
speculate on its nature.
Whatever the reality might be, it felt to Tommaso Campanella like a
dream come true, though in his dreams he was haunted by memories
of earth, and eventually he began to wonder if, while he slept he truly
was awake, while that sunny paradise that spread itself each morning
before his eyes was but a fond and stubborn mirage.
Then one day he heard of the Hermit, a wild man who lived beyond the
Hieroglyphic Gates, alone with his blasphemous ravings. And since
the monarch could neither abide the thought of a flaw in his vision nor
ignore the promptings of his insatiable curiosity, he resolved to
interrogate the matter.
He found the Hermit in a clearing under the shade of a cherry tree,
talking to the birds. He was bedraggled, yet his face looked strangely
familiar. On the grass all about him were scattered the books he wrote
for no one. Tommaso Campanella picked up a slim volume and read
the title: In Praise of Anarchy.
Settling down beside the hermit, he spoke.
"Do you know who I am?"
"You are the Antichrist."
"Are you mad? I'm Tommaso Campanella, creator of this kingdom,
within whose splendid walls you disdain to live.!"
"You are Tommaso Campanella, the Antichrist. The Sun is Antichrist.
The logic of your laws and the formulations of your science are the vile
offspring of your wretched intellect, enemy of the human heart. Not for
orderliness does the human heart yearn, nor is it satisfied with your
regulations. It yearns for the Infinite, for Chaos, for Darkness and
Death, which are the true names of God. The Sun is the Evil One and
you, Tommaso Campanella, are his emissary."
With that, the Hermit rose and, without a backward glance, strode off
into the woods beyond the clearing, and vanished from sight.
For a long time Tommaso Campanella remained beneath the cherry
tree, pondering the words of the Hermit. Surely he had encountered
opposition before - why in this case did he feel cut to the quick? Was it
possible this blessedness into which he had fallen was a figment of his
imagination, and could it be the Hermit was his true self, come from the
depths of dream to rouse him from deathly slumber? Were his subjects
He had thought so, as he bantered with the workers and their families.
Or was their obedience coerced, and had he taken from them the
dignity of free thought that he himself had cherished in the years of
captivity, that freedom that had safeguarded his sanity?
The wind began to blow, scattering petals about the grass; the sun
commenced to sink in the heavens. Finally he roused himself in the
gathering dusk, but found that he had lost his way, and could not locate
the path leading back to the city. With an anxious heart he began to
walk, and by the time darkness descended he was completely lost in
the wilderness. Strange cries punctuated the quiet as he stumbled
among briers and brambles.
The night was endless here, beyond the confines of his kingdom, as
endless as the days were bright within its walls. After an eternity
Tommaso Campanella thought he descried a glimmer of light on the
horizon. With his remaining strength he scrambled forward. But it was
not a harbinger of dawn in his glorious city that he came to, for that
kingdom lay far from where his steps had taken him. It was the glow of
an angel named Shemjaza - the
same one who had rescued the philosopher from the jaws of death
back on earth - that illumined the surrounding terrain.
Tommaso Campanella threw himself on the knees of that bright being
and cried aloud, "Take me, oh take me back! Behold: my vanity is
laid low. I have looked into the eyes of the mad Hermit. I have
wandered beyond the city gates and seen the face of the Great
Darkness: beside it the light of my logic is small. Take me back to my
home on earth and I will rescind all that I've written. Or if it be too late
for that, let me die there, humble and penitent, and may primordial
forces swallow me, dissolving my grief in blessed oblivion. Oh, take me
But the angel said, "The time to reconsider is over. If you had lived a
thousand years and endured a hundred prisons, you'd have remained
enamored of your precious theories, forever confident and
contentious. You thought you'd bring about heaven on earth; instead
you find yourself in a dungeon of your own deception, your
punishment, forever to know your error. So it is that man constructs his
As he listened to the angel, Tommaso Campanella bowed his head in
acquiescence. But at those last words, something of the old defiance,
and with it, that old utopian ambition, throbbed within him.
Pulling himself up he said, "But what of the people in the city? I must
tell them of my errors. I shall set them free, I shall revolutionize society!"
"They'll never listen," said Shemjaza, unimpressed. "They'll think
you've gone mad, stick you in a tower, and find someone else to
govern - gotta go."
With that, abruptly the angel rose to leave.
"I shall go back to the mad Hermit," Tommaso Campanella said, "and
study In Praise of Anarchy. And here in a land beyond hope, redeem
myself over the eons, till God take pity on me and, moved by my
repentance, open the very gates of hell for his suffering servant. For
the mercy of God is unbounded, and the wisdom of the Hermit is
"To tell the truth," said Shemjaza, spreading his wings, "I never read his
Philosophy, theology, utopian allegories - they all leave me cold."
"Then what do you enjoy reading?" Tommaso Campanella screamed,
as the angel rose, filling the sky.
Shemjaza turned his head and, from a distance, barely audible now,
shouted back: "Sci-fi - fantasy shorties."
Of their past the Nestorians knew little. Their ancestors had told them
of the Great Undertaking, when the decision was made to enhance
their intelligence and improve their health with the aid of genetic
engineering, while weeding out those atavistic impulses toward
aggression and fear. But they had neglected to mention that there had
been dissidents, people who feared their freedom would be
compromised by such interference. For these it was the struggle
against those primitive instincts that defined their existences. And this
group - a small percentage of the population to be sure - had been
silenced with a secret violence that contradicted all the principles the
with the aid of technology, to promote. The perpetrators knew
beforehand they'd be unable to bear the weight of their crimes: they
considered themselves unholy martyrs, and took their own lives with
the belief that their actions would be the last blemish on a world whose
future they had helped make limitless and bright.
And indeed, in the aftermath, Nestorian civilization prospered. The
people lived in harmony, the arts and sciences flourished, and even
death, when it finally came, was confronted with courage and curiosity.
But for all that, a cloud seemed to hover over the lands: it darkened the
philosophies and stole the buoyancy from everyday life and the joy
from simple pleasures.
Eventually, explanations were sought. It was suggested by some that
the atmosphere surrounding the planet had been contaminated by an
invisible substance which had the effect of subtly altering the psychic
state. Others wondered whether, in eliminating those primal drives,
something positive, strong and creative had been sacrificed.
But the most popular theory, attractive perhaps for its very pessimism,
came from the theologians, who proposed that the Nestorians,
individually and as a whole, were guilty of some primordial
transgression that revealed an essential flaw in their nature. And
though each had his own opinion on the nature of that original sin, they
all agreed in finding the notion irresistible, for it answered to a feeling of
unworthiness they found deep within themselves.
Gradually the population lapsed into a collective malaise: fatalism and
ennui threatened to engulf the planet. It seemed there was no way out
of the dilemma, for the root of the affliction was buried deep within their
hearts, indefinable but deadly. The spiritual leaders concluded that
salvation must come from without, and there arose a great longing for a
messiah, one who would deliver the people from their fallen state, a
pure one from beyond, whose vicarious suffering might atone for the
unknown sins that plagued the
populace, appeasing at last the uneasy dead of a secret, sinful past.
And so it was that, when an innocent Traveler from a distant world
alighted by chance among the Nestorians, he was hailed, to his
surprise, as the Redeemer. Now a madness, unseen for generations,
gripped the people,as they argued passionately over the significance of
their visitor. Many proclaimed him lord of the land; some were
convinced he was an impostor. The guest himself protested his
innocence of any intentions beyond exploration and discovery.
The debates grew in fury, and in the end the Traveler was torn limb
from limb in the first violent deed any living person knew.
And in that bloody act the Nestorians became free. The vague unease
that clung to the edge of their unconscious was given a concrete
justification, and they felt a giddy power in the ownership of their guilt.
As time went on, the full extent of their victory became manifest: the
flaw in their nature was revealed as the genetic imperative to
goodness, and the stain that haunted their existence was the loss of
their animal pride. What the savior had set free in them was their true,
their pure nature - volatile, violent and contentious.
A new era dawned for the Nestorians, fraught with exciting conflicts.
The government, barely visible in the Days of Peace, became once
again great and powerful. And at the Church of the Innocent Traveler
the multitudes gave thanks for an unhappy astronaut become bogus
divinity, whose ghastly death brought new life to their world.
ON THE WORLD'S LAST DAY
On the world's last day Father Seamus Murphy awoke, as usual, with
the sunrise. Kneeling by his bedside he recited a brief prayer, then
rose to find his morning coffee, already prepared by the punctual
Josephine, who by now would be busily dusting the rectory parlor.
It was Tuesday, he mused, so he had plenty of time to prepare for
morning mass. How many of his regular parishioners would attend on
this, the world's last day? Doubtless there would be newcomers, those
same folks who appear at midnight mass on Christmas Eve, driven by a
vague emptiness. What would he say in his final homily? He still had
Of this he was sure: the world was ending today - it would all be over
by one pm. The invading armada of giant silver footballs that appeared
a week ago, circled the planet, and pronounced humanity's doom had
left no room for doubt. The demonstration of their prodigious power
was as impressive as their lack of explanation was baffling. Who were
they, whence had they come, and why had they decreed death for the
The weapons of the world were useless and the channels of
communication were closed. What a way to end - especially for a
Catholic priest! It lacked all the drama, all the cosmic significance of a
last judgement, a final conflict. And it left unanswered all the big
questions a believer would expect to be enlightened on. He was, as
ever, in the dark, and his faith remained just that - a choice to believe in
something simply because...He found he had difficulty finishing the
Father Murphy flipped on the morning news, and there they were, all
the familiar faces, going about their business just as he was, as if today
were anything but the last day of the world. Well, after all, it just might
turn out to be a terrible joke, or the invaders might have a last-minute
change of heart.
The reporters were dutifully interviewing bishops and mayors, generals
and police chiefs, and also passersby on the street, and Seamus
Murphy could almost forget, for a moment, the world's plight, enchanted
by the medley of voices, each with its curious convictions.
Over breakfast he decided that he'd extemporize his sermon, and say
whatever came into his head at the moment. This strategy would
enable him to read his audience first, and play off their mood. And
anyway, soon no one would be around to complain.
Since the rectory was attached to the parish church, Father Murphy
was able to proceed from the kitchen directly into vestibule where he
donned his cassock and surplus. From there he entered straight into
the back of the church; this gave him the opportunity to size up the
He was only a few minutes early, so it surprised him to find the place
empty, but for a sole occupant who sat in the front pew to the side of
the main altar, facing a statue of the Virgin.
"Holy Mother of God," Seamus Murphy intoned softly.
The priest knew immediately that the man in the pew was a stranger.
Having served as pastor of his church for so many years, he was
acquainted not only with the members of his flock but with virtually
everyone in the town. This man came from elsewhere.
The pastor paused in front of the main isle, pondering the wisdom of
following through with one last ritual in what were already bizarre
circumstances that had just become stranger.
"Ten o'clock, Father Murphy, time to begin."
The voice of the visitor startled the priest from his musings. There was
something unsettling about this stranger.
"Who are you?" he found himself asking.
"Can't you guess? I come from the silver footballs!"
"Why here? Why...to me?" Seamus Murphy stammered.
"I thought that you, Father, in particular, would be filled with questions.
And since this is the world's last day, I'd like to give you the opportunity
to voice them."
The priest looked closely at his visitor, paused, then entered the pew
and sat down facing him.
"Are you destroying angels sent by an angry God?" he asked.
The stranger threw back his head and laughed.
"God doesn't play dice, and angels don't play football," he answered.
"Aliens then,with superior technology - that's what people are saying.
Aliens come to take over the solar system."
At this the man's mirth increased. Finally able to contain his laughter,
he said, "This pitiful sandbox of a solar system? We wouldn't let our
children dirty their hands in the cosmic dust!"
Suddenly Murphy had an idea.
"You've judged us unworthy of survival and decided to rid the cosmos
of this pestilent people!" he blurted.
The man's features softened, and his voice became gentle.
"Silly human race," he said, shaking his head indulgently. "As usual
you've got it all wrong. We've come to help - to...rescue humanity, to
fulfill an unkeepable promise you made to yourselves."
"Of course: the promise of a Second Coming. For how could there be
a Second Coming without a First?"
"You're talking about the Book of Revelations, the return of Jesus in
glory, the descent to earth of a new, a heavenly Jerusalem?"
"Jerusalem, yes, Jesus, I'm afraid not. Look, I know this is hard, but try
to understand: you're orphans, people without a God. And we - think of
us as a cosmic adoption agency. We jet around the galaxy trying to
make good on those apocalyptic prophecies folks like you imagine..."
"So that, even without a God, you can have your eternal life, your
Thousand Years of Peace. And best of all, it being true that, since
there's no God there's no Satan, we've eliminated that whole bloody
Armageddon part where the sun becomes as red as blood..."
"And the moon becomes a sackcloth of hair."
"You begin to understand. Today is the last day of the mortal, suffering
world - and the beginning, the very first day of eternal life, the dawn of
earthly paradise, courtesy of kind-hearted aliens who pity your
unredeemed dreams and admire your metaphysical moxy."
Seamus Murphy's face had taken on an other-wordly appearance, and
he began mumbling to himself, "And I saw a new heaven and a new
earth, and the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven
from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband."
The visitor chimed in. "And her gates shall not be shut by day, for night
shall be no more."
"Neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain anymore," quoth Father Murphy.
"For the former things have passed away," his guest concluded.
Somewhere above, a bell tolled, rousing Seamus Murphy from his
reverie. His face became dark as he shook his head.
"It's a fake," he said bitterly. "A sweet deceit."
"It's the best we can do. We have considerable powers, but even we
can't manufacture God. Besides, if the people believe it, isn't that
enough? Let them continue to believe, as they always have, that God
is beyond knowing, hence invisible, even here. They'll assume his
existence on the evidence of his works."
"You're asking me to carry around a lie for eternity?"
"My people have a cosmic, moral obligation in such circumstances to
inform at least one inhabitant of an orphaned species of the truth about
his situation. You in turn bear the burden of that knowledge. Keep our
secret - forever - and let your people enter into the Land of the Living at
Seamus Murphy realized that, during the last few minutes, he'd been
fingering the crucifix that hung about his neck. He began to pull it over
his head, then hesitated, and finally, with a sigh, let it fall back upon his
Then he rose and, as the giant, circling machines began the rapid and
transformation of the earth, he strode out from the shadows into the
world's first day.
And he never shared his secret with a soul.
He entered the world under mysterious circumstances. His adoptive
parents, desperate after years of frustration, agreed to pay in cash and
to ask no questions. The couple they met at sundown on the shady
side of town offered no papers and seemed to know nothing about the
infant, a boy who looked about two months old. No matter: he was
healthy, he was loved, and he flourished.
His talents were recognized from an early age. He mastered
languages almost as quickly as he heard them, and understood
instinctively the idioms and nuances of each. Even more remarkable
were his abilities in imitation: he always sounded like the person he
was speaking to, adopting in a most natural way the accent, the turns
of phrase, even the attitudes and opinions of his companions.
At first his parents were concerned that he'd lose himself in others, and
they found it difficult, as he grew, to locate anything like a core of
personality. Coming home from school his speech would mimic the
author currently studied in his literature class: he'd be Shakespeare
one afternoon and Hemingway the next. He also developed uncanny
abilities on more than one musical instrument, improvising in the styles
of both the classical masters and the legends of jazz. But he was
always, in each of his countless metamorphoses, so charming, and so
seemingly genuine, that it rarely occurred to anyone to become
alarmed or to wonder who he really was.
He grew to manhood in a world wracked by war, and so it was natural
that he become a spy. With ease he would infiltrate enemy territory,
gain the confidence of generals, and come into possession of top-
But for him betrayal was difficult: in empathizing with his enemies he
always came to see their point of view. And ultimately this led him to
the realization that war was senseless - a waste of lives that deprived
him of friends on both sides whom he loved.
He became a double agent, skillfully balancing his allegiances,
encouraging caution, brokering truces. Eventually peace, in its soft
glory, came to his world, though no one knew of his role in that process.
In his later years the burden of his sensitive nature became taxing; he
yearned for solitude and stillness. He moved out to the desert,
surrounding himself with mute and elemental nature, and there, on
chilly mornings, he learned the secret language of birds.
Slowly, beneath the beating sun and the midnight wind, he changed.
His skin became hard and shell-like, his digits grew long, his eyes
became glowing lanterns. And alongside this physical transformation,
a spiritual awakening took place within him. In his dreams he saw
faces and places that he could almost remember. His true self, so long
submerged in slumber, was re-emerging at last, and with it, a
remembrance of his mission.
At the right moment, when he had achieved full recollection, a ship
appeared, saucer-shaped, in the sky. It landed beside his campsite, far
from inquisitive eyes. The landing hatch opened, a runway tumbled
down, and among the greeting party he recognized with joy his
He left the planet as he had entered, under a veil of mystery.
Schizophrenic metamorph, empathetic saint, impostor, spy or savior?
To his own he was a gatherer of information, a cosmic anthropologist
whose bold mission added treasures to their collection. To the kind
folk who had adopted him, and to the world that had held him, briefly,
lovingly, in its arms, he had brought the blessings of peace.
HOMMAGE TO JULIAN JAYNES
In The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral
Mind (1976), psychologist Julian Jaynes hypothesized that, in ancient
times, human beings were not self-aware in the modern sense, but
were guided in their behavior by promptings from the unconscious that
reflected the patterns of tribal life. When unexpected circumstances
arose for which habitual responses were inadequate, the theory
continues, one part of the “bicameral mind” would hallucinate the
voice or the vision of a god whose instructions the other part of the
brain would obey reflexively. When the stability of such societies was
undermined and daily experience became unpredictable, Jaynes
concludes, the gods fell silent, and eventually humanity grew into a
state of full consciousness, with all the existential anxiety that entails,
emancipated, in Spengler’s phrase, into solitude.
“Big boy, fat boy! Whole lotta muffin in da stuffin!”
“Woo, woo!” An da crowdina circle, chantin, swayin breezey-treelike.
“Wee-ha, tell it!”
“An he comuppence on Lil Ajax
Asleepin in da fields,
Alayin on his shield.”
“Asleepin an alayin!” all da men shout.
“In da fields on his shield!” da women cry.
Say da blindman, say da blindoldbard,
Say ol Thunderclap:
“Fat-ass wit a fat axe swingin
Fat-ass-axe in da sweet air swingin.
Big man tiger-sneakin,
An Ajax, Lil Ajax adeepin sleepin.”
An da crowd agaspin, shout:
“Wake up, Lil One: Doom’s at doorstep!
Hehateme acomin! Hehateme!”
“Yes an den, my people,”says da bard,
“In jus da nickitisplit o time,
Da god, da big god, da sun-god arose,
Come right outta nowhere an tickle his toes!”
“Awakened he is! He’s awake! Ol Ajax!”
“Awake like a snake, an da clever god spake:
‘Lie thee unmovin till Fatso get close,
Till you notice his spit
Then you kill da fat shit.’”
“Then you kill da ol big boy,
Da muffin-man cat-boy!”
Dat’s what da crowd shout
An da blind man is out
On his feet in their midst
An he’s doin da twist
An da people are dancin
An shittin their pantsina
A demon expulsion,
“Dat was den. Now so long Apollo,
An all dem godfriendshis!”
An da crowd gone silent an still.
“Now all da gods gone everfor,
An leavin not even a rhyme.”
Still as grass da crowd becomin,
Quiet as a cloud.
“Ever since Bright Eyes come,
Since Bright Eyes cross da river.”
Den too-hushed da heat,
An so somebody yell:
“Damn, Bright Eyes, damn!”
“Damn you eyes, your bright eyes!”
shout da crowd all at once,
An stops da bard dancin,
Sits down on his pantsin
A sudden profusion o tears an confusion
While everyone weeps an dey sigh.
Yes dey sigh at da size o da big empty skies
Where da gods ha departed.
Da singin man farted an said:
“Now we dead. Now we usin our head.
So think fast - here dey comin:
Dey killin an runnin
An takin da cattle away!”
“Oh da cows!” say da crowd,
“An da horses an ploughs!
An dey runnin an killin
An sowin confusion!”
Den youngin stood up,
He no more dan a pup,
An he step to da center an spoke:
“Now for we,” said he
An all da people quietasudden.
“Now for we da brightbecome,”
said da pup wit da hair on his shoulders.
“Gods, dey done gone-farted,
Empty-skied leavin us,
Sea-song in da ear gone silent.
Now we got to brightbecome,
Now we, we, we!”
An “wee, wee, wee, wee!”
da crowd shout, an
“Wee, wee, wee, wee, wee!”
An dats how da people got
An da gods agone into da pastory.
Adam Cain, deep space explorer, spent the better part of his life alone
among the stars, searching for extraterrestrial life. During his long
and illustrious career he radioed back information on dozens of
planets, each teeming with life, from the giant pink amoebas of Orion
Six to the centaurs of Solaris Seven. But his final mission, to a world
named Eden, proved most compelling of all, and ended in mystery.
The official records list Adam Cain as having died in the line of duty,
but there is reason to suspect that the
astronaut underwent a transformation that has left him beyond human
reach. What follows is the final portion of his diary, on the evidence of
which the reader is invited to draw his own conclusions.
I've started calling them the Perennials. They have some
characteristics of plants, while in other ways they seem like people.
Everything here falls into the cracks between conventional categories:
it's maddening and wonderful, and I have constantly to remind myself
that, to the inhabitants of Eden, all this is natural, while it's we who defy
Originally I found them, huddled together, in their natural state of
immobility, with their lower bodies sunk into the soft ground as their
heads and their arms swayed in the gentle rhythm of a breeze. But, as
I learned, under the right circumstances, a Perennial can be roused.
Then, while the group becomes rigid, statuesque, a single member will
sigh and stretch, as if emerging from centuries of sleep, and eventually
attain a level of awareness. In this state, he can move and, to my initial
though again, the nature of that communication would be difficult to
categorize. Speech? Music? Something in-between?
So they live, these Perennials, in more than one state, rather like the
amphibians on earth, except that, whereas salamanders and frogs
undergo a physical metamorphosis, the inhabitants of Eden suffer a
change in psychic state - a transformation so profound that while a
Perennial is in one state he seems to know nothing of his other life.
But in speaking of the Perennials as inhabitants of Eden, in describing
how they root in the soil, perhaps I've been misleading. For just as
each member of the species is both a separate entity and part of an
indissoluble whole, so too the Perennials, taken as a whole, are both
distinguishable from other life on Eden and, simultaneously, entwined
in the great life force of the planet. For here there is no chain of being
whereby higher forms devour simpler ones. Here all are nourished by
the elemental, inexhaustible sustenance of water and sun. And so this
world is aptly named Eden, for all exist in mutually beneficial and
perfect balance. Without the need to kill, without a brute survival
instinct, life has evolved here without the drive to adapt; thus it lacks
the stunning variety of forms one finds on earth. And since fear and
pain can only be known through their opposites, this world is devoid of
joy and ecstasy as well. Everything simply exists.
For the Perennials there is no death, properly speaking, thus no
division of the sexes, and no reproduction. Reaching a certain age, a
Perennial begins to soften, and sinks into the ground, whence he is
absorbed into the living soul of the planet. But in his end is his
beginning: when the time is ripe he rises, both the same being as
before and yet as if living for the first time. The great enigmas of our
religions never trouble the Perennials: for them heaven and earth are
one, and reincarnation is not a theory but a fact. Paradoxically, it's this
very lack of mystery I find strangely disconcerting.
What would happen, I find myself wondering, if a person from my world
were to settle among the gentle Perennials, and live upon peaceful
Eden? In forty years of exploration, despite the aching loneliness, I've
never felt tempted - until now - to disregard that prime directive that
forbids us from interfering or in any way involving ourselves in the lives
of those beings we study. Why do things feel different now? And
would that difference be appreciated by the folks back home at mission
Home? It's become an abstraction. I signed up, years ago, for a one
way mission, and agreed to die in space. So why not here, on Eden,
among the Perennials? Perhaps, if I were to land softly, among the tall
grasses, taking care to crush nothing, perhaps I could sink into the soil,
be swallowed up, and lose myself in the oblivion of this moist and
The phrase sympathy for the devil, from an old song, keeps running
through my head. Did the Bible get it all wrong? Was Satan an
explorer, like me, who fell in love with an alien world? What was his
crime? To rouse the nascent earth from slumber, to awaken its people
to the knowledge of good and evil, to give them the dignity of free
choice? Behold us now: we have not fared so badly, traversing the
Is this my destiny? - to become a second Serpent, to start again the
tale of paradise lost? And a thousand generations hence, when I am
dust, will some bright ship depart from this planet, in search of yet
another Eden to undo?
Here ends the travel diary of Adam Cain. Since the explorer sent no
information regarding his coordinates in space, the location of Eden
remains a secret, and the accuracy of his report unverifiable.
In the depths of summer, the old conservatory slept beneath the elm
trees' shade. Offices were closed, most of the students had gone
home, and in the empty practice rooms memories of Mazurkas
whispered out of silence like melancholy ghosts.
Jonathan Floril found a quiet classroom with a grand piano and a view
of the cathedral down the street. He went there often, to escape the
inevitable distractions of home, to practice, to compose and to study -
an industrious routine of many years that had become his life's
ostinato, and that concluded each evening back at home where
Caroline and he enjoyed recounting the modest adventures the day
Approaching the piano, the professor realized he'd neglected to bring
along the pieces he wished to practice. So he slipped into the office he
shared with his colleagues, to find among his files something else to
play. He chanced upon a tattered copy of Schumann's Album for the
Young, and to it, with a certain reluctance, back to the classroom.
This was not the Schumann he loved: it had neither the hushed
mystery of the Davidsbundlertanze nor the chimerical poetry of
Carnaval. Even Scenes from Childhood with its romantic nostalgia
would have been preferable. The Album for the Young was designed
for children with as yet undeveloped technique, and so he found it
embarrassing, at his age, to be playing such trifles, even in solitude.
Despite these reservations, as if guided by some unconscious
prompting, he began to play, and before long a strange happiness stole
over him. He began to remember those little pieces in the way a
musician remembers - with his fingers, with his eyes and with his ears,
though nearly thirty years have passed since he'd studied them. They
were among the first works he had analyzed as an undergraduate, the
vehicles through which he first began to understand how music is
made, so that, rediscovering them now, he saw in each little piece a
kind of archetypal significance, as if they were the prototypes from
which all other music arose.
He finished playing Folk Song and turned the page with delight to
begin The Happy Farmer when, suddenly, a sheet of manuscript paper
slipped out from between the pages and fluttered to the floor.
Jonathan Floril bent down from the piano bench and picked it up. It
was an old theory assignment he had never returned. The student's
calligraphy was clear, even elegant, and the harmonies were mostly
correct, but the signature was executed with a flair that rendered it
illegible, so he was unable to determine if the name would ring a bell.
The paper came from a very long time ago, and the amusing thought
occurred to him that, were he able to decipher the student's
handwriting, he could track her down after all these years, appear at
the door of God-knows-what-she's-become's apartment in Manhattan,
or ranch in South Dakota, or office in Bejing, and say, "Here's your
homework assignment with my corrections - sorry it's late!"
Then he turned the little piece of paper over and, to his surprise, found
the following note, composed by the same student, with the script now
tamed to perfect legibility.
Please forgive me for being so bold as to share my innermost
feelings: I simply can't help myself and need to unburden my heart at
any price. Also please excuse any errors you may find in my
counterpoint: the instability of my emotions makes it hard to
concentrate, and I'm having difficulty sleeping at night.
I'm in love with you: there, I've said it. When you speak I hear
beautiful music, and lightning is in your glance. Surely, in your
presence I blush like a foolish child - I want to die, I want to move
away with you to France! Of your situation of course I know nothing,
while as for me, my hopes and dreams have all dissolved into this
single, consuming wish to be with you.
Is it possible that, over time, you might come to return my affection
and find in me some quality to cherish? Oh, speak but a word in a
quiet moment, or silently nod your head. Then what? I've no idea
what might follow. Only that life is unbearable without you and that if
you would take me in your arms I would be happy.
If you wish I will depart, and never again will you see my face. Only
be true to your feelings and honest with me.
Floril put the letter down on the piano and sat there for a while, sorting
out his emotions. The situation itself is not so strange: young
professors such as he was then often attract the admiration of
inexperienced youth, and as the years rolled along he'd probably
accumulated a whole fan club of whose membership he was but dimly
aware - except in circumstances like the present one.
But this letter was written ages ago, and that young woman by now had
lived out a large portion of another life than the one she professed to
desire in his company, and if she had any recollection of the incident it
probably caused her amusement or embarrassment.
As for him, being oblivious back then to the girl's feelings, he'd gone on
existing in the manner which created what he now considered the story
of his life, meeting and marrying Caroline, and cherishing the family
that grew from that union. And since he could call these years fruitfully
spent, and that family happy, he was unable, faced with this surprising
letter, to feel the regret one experiences in recognizing a missed
And yet there it was: a secret passage, suddenly revealed, seeming to
offer access to an unknown past, to beckon him into an alternate
existence he might have lived. The professor closed his eyes and, like
a magic spell, that half-remembered music, that faded paper in the
empty room, conspired gently to unhinge him, to set his vagabond
soul spinning through its countless possible pasts. He was lifted up
and turned about in a tumult of faces, nameless but suffused with
significance. He hear the train's night whistle
in the distance from a room he'd never seen, he smelled the morning
rain from an unknown summer, he saw a stack of photos framed on a
mantelpiece - a thousand lifetimes materialized unarguably before him,
like a glimpse of the abysmal mind of God.
Jonathan Floril turned from the looming madness of that vision, and
with an effort reopened his eyes. Immediately he was reassured as he
recognized his surroundings. For a long while he sat, very still, trying
to understand what he had experienced. Finally he decided to attempt
Each moment is the center of a wheel
From which infinite spokes proliferate,
So that we walk beside ourselves
In parallel existences -
Some blessed, some burdened with travail,
But all of them palpably real,
And doomed - each story ends with a demise
From which we waken under different skies,
Enchanted, anguished, curious by turns,
Immortal like the gods but blind like worms.
But even as he tried, through the strategy of verse, to capture the
essence of that experience, the vividness begins to fade, and before
long he came to wonder if what he took for a blazing revelation was
nothing more than a strange dream.
As if to answer this doubt Jonathan Floril looked up from the keys of
the harpsichord to the the Ricercar of Fresobaldi he was just
practicing, thence to the window, through which he saw down the block
the familiar Buddhist temple. All was as it had been before. A strange
and funny dream indeed! He must remember to tell Vanessa all about
THE ADVENTURES OF JONATHAN FLORIL
Jonathan Floril had no time to think - about where he'd been an instant
before, or how he'd found himself, suddenly and to his complete
surprise, atop an armored elephant, Mongol arrows sailing about his
head as he wielded his battle axe and shouted orders to his men. Only
one thing mattered in this moment: to break through the bloody melee
and rescue the beautiful Caroline from the Dark Fortress beyond the
One of his lieutenants approached him, rearing on his stallion.
"Boss, we're outnumbered. We've got to retreat!"
"Retreat if you must," Floril responded. "I'm fighting on. These guys,"
he added, with a gesture toward the Mongol warriors, "are nothing
With a war-whoop he drove forward. His elephant plowed fearlessly
for the hills, enemy arrows gathering in her hide. Jonathan Floril turned
upon the scene he was leaving and, laying aside his axe, fired a volley
of musket balls that spread panic among his foes.
At his command a frightened sentinel lowered a drawbridge and
Jonathan Floril crossed over the moat that separated him from the Dark
Fortress. Dismounting, he found the great door barred, so he kicked it
down with a fierce cry.
"Goddam, my foot!" he mumbled, as he charged up a curved, marble
staircase at the top of which he knew he'd find Caroline, drugged and
He located the room, burst in the door, and found her lying there, just
as he'd expected. Beside her, twirling a glowing wand in one hand
while holding a little parasol in the other, stood an oriental necromancer,
dressed in a long, silver robe.
"Outta the way, sweetheart, that's my dame!" exclaimed a breathless
The evil magician chuckled.
"What have we hear? Humphrey Bogart?"
"What have we here, Mary Poppins?" came the icy reply.
"You have done well to get this far, Jonathan Floril," the wizard said.
"But you shall never regain the lovely Caroline. The Great Khan wants
her for his harem."
"Not on your life,"said Floril, striding swiftly toward the magician, as he
reached for his sword.
But with lightning quickness the necromancer waved his wand while
sheltering himself from its effects with his umbrella, saying, "Adios,
And with that, Jonathan Floril was hurled through space and time,
tumbling dizzily. He landed on his feet in Leipzig, 1750.
Before he had time to gather his wits, someone rushed up and grabbed
him by the arm.
"Old Bach is dying! Hurry, before it's too late!"
It was Kirnberger, one of the master's disciples. Jonathan Floril
followed him in haste, and soon they were at the door of the
Kapellmeister's house. Within, the large Bach family was gathered;
they sat in eerie silence and grim expectation.
"What's this?" Jonathan Floril exclaimed. "Why so dreary? Methinks
papa would like some music! You there - Carl Phillip Emmanuel, you -
Wilhelm Friedemann - grab your gamba, get to the clavichord. Music!
Music for a while shall all our tears beguile! - That's from Purcell, an
English contemporary of yours."
The famous sons of Bach stirred obediently, and soon a soft and
somber sound filled the living room. As if in solemn procession,
Jonathan Floril followed Kirnberger down the narrow hallway until they
came to room where the composer lay dying.
A doctor stood by the bedside, and Anna Magdalena sat nearby.
Seeing Jonathan Floril enter, the physician looked up and raised his
hands, palms upward, signifying the hopelessness of the situation.
Anna Magdalena held her husband's hand and looked away.
Kirnberger shuffled his feet uncomfortably at the door, but Jonathan
Floril walked quickly to the bedside and knelt down, putting his ear to
the musician's head.
"Running out of time," old Bach croaked. "And The Art of the Fugue is
not quite finished."
Floril glanced at the composer's desk by the window. An uncompleted
manuscript lay there, with the ink still drying in the afternoon sun.
"Never worry," whispered Jonathan Floril.
Then he rose and went to the desk where he sat for a few minutes,
studying the manuscript. Pulling Kirnberger along with him he returned
to the bedside.
"Seems like all that's left to do is combine your subjects in one last,
grand statement in D minor. It'll work if the bass line is in
augmentation. Then what? Maybe a picardy third at the end?
Religious faith and all that?"
Then he turned to Kirnberger and said, "Get busy."
Johann Sebastian Bach looked up through his nearly blind eyes with
an expression of wonder and gratitude on his face. Through his
laborious breathing he managed to ask, "Who are you?"
"A friend," Jonathan Floril replied. "And a man of some modest talent."
Then he rose, saluted those present, and strode through the bedroom
door, out of the house of the Bach family and into the streets of
Leipzig. He was heading for the Church of St. Thomas when,
suddenly, he heard a rumbling as of thunder. The noise increased,
became deafening. Looking up, Jonathan Floril saw a spaceship that
filled the sky. The ground began to shake.
The craft swooped down and, as it passed over Jonathan Floril, a
hatch opened, a hook appeared, and he was scooped up off the earth
and hurled inside the alien vessel.
"Bang, you're dead!" said a tale, pale being with antennae on his large
oval head, as he squeezed the trigger of what looked like a laser gun.
Still lying on the floor after his dizzying abduction, Jonathan Floril felt
no effect from the weapon, so he rose, a look of puzzlement on his
"Just kidding," said the spaceman, breaking into a wide grin.
"Where am I?" Floril asked as, rapidly, expertly, he took in his
surroundings. He was outnumbered, at least twenty to one.
"'Where am I,' he asks" said the alien with the fake laser gun. "We do
all this research in order to choose the most intelligent, resourceful
human available, and the best he can say is, 'Where am I?'. On a
spaceship, genius! As in abducted by aliens."
Were they going to probe his mind for information in preparation or an
all-out invasion? Or did they intend to use his as a lab rat, then
abandon him, brainless and crippled? Jonathan Floril didn't want to risk
being ridiculed for asking another stupid question. He tried to think
both quickly and clearly.
"Look, fellas," he began, in a casual voice, "I'm sure we can come to
No tricks!" said a second alien, pointing a weapon at his head. "This
laser is set to kill!"
"Look - a super nova!" screamed Jonathan Floril, pointing to a viewing
All the aliens turned as one, as their captive dove for the ship's controls.
"I've jambed the panel," he announced, smiling devilishly. "In thirty
seconds the ship blows. Good riddance!"
Then, while his captors stood, mouths agape, antennae twitching, he
slipped out the hatch, not forgetting to seal it shut from the outside, and
plunged earthward. As he hit the chilly waters of the Atlantic, the
spaceship exploded above his head, and he went black.
Jonathan Floril awoke on a deserted beach. His lungs were filled with
salt water and his clothing was in tatters. Staggering to his feet he
began to walk. A solitary figure emerged in the distance, coming
closer. Eventually he could see the outlines of a woman - a woman in
a white beach dress that fluttered in the wind. As she came closer,
Jonathan Floril found something familiar in her walk. Then he saw the
long, dark hair, and suddenly he knew.
Caroline, oh Caroline!" he cried, falling to his knees as he reached
her. Somehow she was young again, in the bloom of health, and
beautiful: in his mind great happiness vied with confusion and doubt.
"Jonathan, I knew you'd find me," she said, with a voice of pure honey.
"Sh, never mind!"
"I need to sleep," said Jonathan Floril. "I need...to rest."
"I know, I know."
Next thing he knew they were home, and the sun was setting out the
"I love you," said Jonathan Floril, taking his wife into his arms and
"Now!" said the doctor, and immediately, the attentive assistant pulled
the off switch.
"Nicely done," said the doctor. "He was just about out of gas and we
got him on a real high note."
"And gosh, you managed to squeeze in so many episodes - the family
will be pleased for sure!"
"Remember," the doctor said pointedly, "to bill them for the deluxe
"Right, doc. And I'll take care of those ashes too. They want him right
beside the wife, somewhere in Montana."
Then they turned off the machines, switched off the lights, and exited
Harper's Happy Home for the Terminally Old.