Picking up from Part 10, in which I made myself presentable and started planning my temporary future.
Robert and James got to Mankato at around noon, took their driver’s phone number for the return trip, checked into the hotel, cleaned up, and lay down on their beds. After a while, they took their prayer position and spoke quietly.
“James, I think it’s just one person now, do you agree?”
After perhaps 20 seconds, a long gap between a question and its answer, James said, “Yes, I agree. I’m as certain as I can be that there were two before, but now there’s only one.” He turned to Robert, “What kind of situation have we stepped into? One of them has died.”
Robert’s expression said that he was just as concerned. Then they both went back to their sensing position.
“He… and it is a ‘he’… is close, don’t you think?”
“Yes, James, I do… in this building somewhere.”
“Then I guess we see if we can locate him, yes?”
“Yes, but let’s try not to let him know. Let’s learn as much and sense as much as we can and then decide what to do next. Agreed?”
Robert nodded and in mere seconds they were out their door and into a stairwell, descending until they found the floor and then the room.
They stood outside, one leaning on the door like they did the bank vault and the other watching for passersby. After a minute they retreated to the stairwell, where they decided that I was: 1) sleeping, 2) likely to wake up within an hour, 3) not dangerous, and 4) a man from this planet, though somehow out of sync with the rest of it.
And so they went back to the lobby and waited, thinking that a pleasant and personal greeting, in a safe environment, would be the best way to handle such a meeting.
“These people have a lot of fear in them and around them,” Robert had noted, “and this man has been affected by it too. We need to avoid fear as much as possible.”
James agreed and they prepared themselves to be as open and caring as they could, while still not being overpowering. They wanted to match their new friend’s best intentions, perhaps exceeding them just a bit.
* * * * *
Michael Burroughs soon realized that the more he relaxed and cultivated pleasure in himself, the better he could smell his trail. And so he stopped twice more along his route westward, enjoying the journey.
By mid-afternoon, however, his full attention returned to his search, which rose to clarity as the thing he really wanted to do. And so he did it. Step by step, one small highway at a time, left at one intersection straight at another, he approached Mankato.
Before sunset he’d check in at the same hotel as the rest of our accidental group. But being tired, he’d put himself directly to bed.
* * * * *
It was close to 3:00 before I headed downstairs for an afternoon walk through the streets of Mankato. The area around the hotel was full of shops, so if the sun was too hot I could simply dive into one of them. As I strode through the lobby, I decided that I’d head toward the theater first, to check the show times for Cleopatra.
“Pardon me, sir. Do you think you could help us for a moment? We’re trying to make sense of something.”
The man seemed warm and pleasant, as did his friend. I felt a hint of something unusual about them and something in addition to what they were asking, but it felt like a benevolent something. I followed the man to where his friend was sitting at a low table with a road map open on it. I sat directly across the table from them.
“What we’re trying to figure out,” James asked with the proverbial raised eyebrow, signifying something more than he was saying, “is how and why a man could simply appear on the far north side of Chicago, drive cross-country with a companion, lose that companion and end up here?”
I dropped instantly and fully into self-protection mode. Automatically, I reminded myself of the exits and readied my body for action.
“Please,” Robert jumped in. “You have nothing to fear from us. We’re not here for anything except to understand.”
I tended to believe him, but I had no way of gauging his sincerity. If these guys, like my travel friend, were from some advanced group, they’d certainly be able to trick me.
I held up my left index finger in the common “wait” gesture. They understood, sat back in their seats and waited. And I took my time thinking about this. For starters, I could probably just run away from them; they didn’t seem like they’d chase me through a half-full hotel lobby and city streets. But if I did that, I’d lose any possible information I might get from them.
And what if I do talk to them? I wondered. I really couldn’t see how it could hurt me. To know how I got to this place, they had to be more advanced than I, and if they had wanted to hurt me in some way, they probably would have done it already… They wouldn’t have set up a meet in a public place.
“Okay,” I finally said, “I’ll talk to you. But first you have to tell me something.”
They looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders as if to say “seems fine.”
“Why are you here?”
“Oh, that’s not hard,” Robert said. “We’re on call for disruptions in what we call spin-off worlds.”
“And by spin-off world, you mean the large autonomous systems that pop in and out of existence like virtual particles do inside of atoms?”
That shocked them, noticeably.
“I presume the other person told you this?” James asked.
“She did indeed. I had some background knowledge about short-lived subatomic particles. And she used that toe-hold to explain the rest.”
As I said this, I realized that these men really were being sincere. Their involuntary shock at what I knew illustrated the sincerity of what they had said previously. It looked very much that they were not playing mind games on me.
“But she didn’t tell me a great deal more than that,” I went on. “And she died… let herself die on purpose… last night in Minneapolis.”
“Ah…” they both said.
“That makes sense now,” Robert went on. “The ambient conditions here were too difficult for her?”
“Very much so. And they’re not for you?”
“They’re bad for us too,” James said, “but we were prepared for them.”
“I see.” Again I could feel overload sliding in upon me. “But I think I need to rest again now.” They looked confused. “Put yourselves in my position gentlemen. I’m living my normal life, and then, one random night, I’m thrown into all of this. It’s a major load on my system keeping up with it… absorbing it.”
They nodded their heads.
“So how about this: I’m going to go back upstairs and lie down for a while. When I get up, I’ll call your room. You have a room at this hotel, yes?”
“Yes,” James said, “room 601.”
“601, good. I’ll call you once I get up, and the three of us will have a nice long dinner together and make some sense of all this. Deal?”
Both men stood and extended their hands.
“It’s a deal,” they both agreed.
I shook their hands and walked toward the elevator. By the time I reached my room I was almost staggering. The hits just keep on coming wafted through my mind. I had been recovering, but now I was tossed backward again, and further than before.
“It all sounds good in stories,” I said to myself as I relaxed into the bed, “but in real life, it sucks the energy right out of you.”
It seemed that I could feel – physically feel – a cluster of concepts and images as they sorted themselves in the back of my head.
* * * * *
This time, I rolled over and asked myself if it could really be a dream. My travel companion was clearly a real, flesh and blood person, with vulnerabilities and strengths like the rest of us. These two men as well. They seemed like actual persons, with concerns and doubts, who could be surprised. But unless I was just going crazy, these were beings from other planets… and that sounds nuts.
It comforted me that these people seemed just as human as anyone else, and I could find no reason to doubt that they were from a remote branch of the family. On top of that, they were waiting for my phone call, the same as any of my friends might, ready to go out for dinner. In no essential way did they feel foreign.
I got up to wash my face but decided to take a shower instead. It would give me some extra time, and it just felt like a better thing to do. But first I sat on the edge of the bed, called the desk, and asked them to connect me to room 601.
“Ah, we’re so happy to hear from you,” one of the two men said. “We had no better choice than to throw ourselves at you in the lobby, and we half feared that we had chased you off.”
The sincerity in his voice was compelling, and it made me laugh. Still, I came back with, “And what would you have done if I did run away?”
“Honestly,” he said, “we weren’t sure. We’ve never done this before. I suppose we would have left, then come back and checked on you after some time.”
It’s hard to turn away from honest and peaceful men. “How about if we meet in the lobby in 40 minutes?” I asked.
“That will be brilliant,” he answered. “We’ll get a restaurant recommendation from the hotel desk person.”
“Super. See you then.”
“Cálmate, cálmate,” I muttered to myself as warm water rushed over my head. “Calm yourself, calm yourself.”
And I did feel calmer as I reminded myself that they were people with feelings and concerns just like me.
* * * * *
Walking into the lobby, I realized that my two new friends were dressed in precisely the same clothes as before, and the clothes looked like they needed to be changed.
I walked to where they were sitting, leaned in, and asked, “Gentlemen, are those the only clothes you have?”
“Yes,” they both said, with James adding, “We should change more often, yes?”
“Yes,” I half-laughed. “You’re okay for tonight, but tomorrow I’ll take you to a men’s clothing store. Do you have currency?”
“Plenty of currency,” he assured me.
And with that they stood and we walked out, discussing the restaurant as we went.
* * * * *