I blacked out again. When I could see, I was standing beside Àkbä before a strange-looking contraption. As I looked more closely at it, I could see that it was a kind of door, rather like a ship’s hatch with a circular handle for opening and shutting watertight compartments. Except of course this door also had a console of nine buttons colored blue and green and black. When it began to emit a low humming sound, Àkbä turned the wheel once counter-clockwise and the door swung open. I know neither how we got to our destination nor precisely what our means of locomotion had been—it was like being shot along a dark tunnel at tremendous velocity. But there was no real sensation of moving; only a recollection of a sequence of tiny explosions seen peripherally. Very pleasant little puffs. I barely had to turn my head. When I asked him where we were going, Àkbä said: “To the High Tribunal of the Joracian Council.”
Then we were there. Side by side, Àkbä and I walked along. It was no stroll; he kept a brisk pace. The further we went, the more things opened out. When we had passed down several halls and crossed an equal number of chambers, I began to get an idea of just how monumental was the structure that housed this Council. The lighting was uneven; rooms you were moving toward seemed dark until you reached them. The walls were littered with ornamentation, colorful graphic images of every shape and size. Though I caught only fleeting glimpses of them, I was struck by the fact that none of these images was recognizable to me.
Àkbä instructed me as we made our way toward the inner sanctum. A trial of three Joracians was being conducted, he explained—I could see that he was worried about it; his counsel was terse. These three Joracians were charged with treason. They were deadly foes of Earthmen. The reason for my attendance at this spectacle was soon made clear to me. “I want you to observe their behavior very carefully,” my friend said.
The High Tribunal of Joracians was in session. Everyone wore the “imperial uniform of judgment,” as my host referred to it—everyone, that is, except me. I was a little uncomfortable in the new blue suit that had, in a twinkling, replaced my tunic, for I knew that I “stood out” in this regal gathering.
My uniform was impressive, to say the least: it consisted of a flowing robe of bright blue cellophane with naugahyde epaulets from which streamed plastic strips of different lengths and colors. Embedded in the cellophane were long chains of what appeared to be tab-top rings. On closer inspection, it was obvious this was not what they were at all; nevertheless, the coincidental resemblance was mystifying.
Inside the chamber, the din was incredible. The whole thing reminded me of nothing so much, at first, as an Amway Convention, everybody talking all at once. I heard the phrase “Ortho-Aesthetic Body” dropped several times, and wondered what they were all talking about.
When the prisoners materialized, Àkbä said discreetly: “I want you to watch them carefully.”
It was not easy to tell a Joracian’s age, I soon discovered—they all looked about thirty-five or forty; but, somehow or other, I had an intuition that these three were no kids. So it could be no youthful indiscretion that had brought them to the dock. No, these were hardened criminals—dangerous rebels! They stood so calm, gazing stolidly at their surroundings; it was enough to break my heart. They didn’t even seem to be aware of what they had done.
Àkbä asked me to say a few words on behalf of the Earthlings, so I rose and addressed my words to the conspirators: “The People of Earth may seem a worthless and perverse lot, but I assure you, what they most want is to live a life of fulfillment and personal growth.” I remembered a couple of lines from William Blake, so I added: “If you have formed a circle to go into, / Go into it yourself and see how you would do.” My companion regarded me with astonishment as I sat down.
A hush had fallen over the entire chamber—what an audience!—but only momentarily as the prisoners were now summarily removed. As it happened, the three of them brushed past the table where I was sitting. One of the rebels paused in front of me just long enough to say: “You amaze me.” Joracian guards took them away. I attributed his having been affected to the Blake lines. If he was that responsive to Blake, then perhaps there was hope for his rehabilitation, after all.
“What will become of them?” I asked Àkbä.
He looked at me a long moment. “Oh, they’ll be reconstructed and returned to useful productivity.”
Àkbä took me on a tour of the basilica. It was a maze of halls, alcoves and atria, winding and interconnected; I was glad I had him to guide me, or I would have been lost for good. He told me the names and purposes of the various rotundas, porticos, vaults and vestibules, but to me they were just big empty rooms. There were no windows and little light, but—curiously, I thought—the walls in every chamber were covered with the same peculiar designs that I had earlier noticed, nonrepresentational images of every conceivable shape, texture and size. At first I thought it was some sort of non-objective art, but in a few of them I could recognize some halfway familiar detail: a human eye, a fingerprint, a numeral or letter of the alphabet. Though I could not exactly decipher their meaning, I felt certain that these were the visible emblems of a truly advanced race, infinitely wise and kind.
“That’s exactly right, Sam,” Àkbä said, as if reading my mind. “Our culture requires us to work in teams,” he added, by way of explanation, “to promote clarity and understanding. Many of these teams produce the icons you see around you.” He stopped and pointed out one design in particular, mentioning that it had taken all the awards at the recent games.
“Games? What are they?” I asked.
“They’re special convocations to determine the ultimate constituents of reality.”
I perked up. “When are they held?”
“In principle, they cannot be planned for or scheduled. They occur only under conditions of absolute necessity. When any of a number of things are cosmically suitable, then it happens.”
He must have noticed my puzzlement.
“Of course, in another sense, the Games go on continuously…”
“Where are they held?”
“In the Fifth Dimension, at the Source of Gravity. We call it the G-Spot. You see, Sam, consciousness exists simultaneously on many different levels. Those levels actually comprise fissures leading into other dimensions. Some part of every conscious entity is always present in the Fifth Dimension.”
“How do you figure that?” I asked, somewhat skeptically.
“Because: existence on more than one level is a sufficient condition for existence in the Fifth Dimension.”
This was more interesting than anything I’d ever read in a book and I told him so.
“Sam, your performance earlier pleased me. You’ve earned a reward. So, if you will follow me—”
“You’ll find out, soon enough.”
We took a ride in what was the strangest elevator, or distant cousin to an elevator, I’d ever seen: a pressure-locked cylinder with portals at either end. The control panel was more than I could handle; fortunately, my executive friend knew how to operate it. Instead of going up and down, it revolved like a carnival ride—although I had a vague sense of lateral motion, like flying along a pneumatic tube.
“We use this to bypass wormholes,” Àkbä offered without further embellishment.
“The house of poetry has many mansions,” I replied, intentionally cryptic.
We had apparently reached one of them when we stepped out of the elevator into an expansive world of neither depth nor contour. Not a single familiar object was present, in spite of there being sufficient light.
Wherever we were, it had plenty of atmosphere, too: a gauzy, milky light palpable as thick fog, shifting in an endless sequence of flat planes, surrounded us as we walked.
“Where are we?” I asked, only to find that my companion had disappeared and I was alone. Or not alone, exactly, for through the milky light, a figure approached…in the shape of a woman!
“Welcome to the Temple of Fitness,” she said in a husky drawl. “I am your high priestess, Zithôra.”
She was as white and pale as the ambience in which we floated; bleached ringlets covered her head. Her face was round, with a pointy little chin. Her alabaster arms were bare and the wet, gauze-like wrap she wore clung to her body like a second skin, disclosing the shapely contours of her breasts, stomach and hips like a Greek lyre. Zithôra’s eyes were large and hypnotic: two blue fires that penetrated my very soul. Yet I felt strangely at ease and safe in her presence. She licked her lips in a way I can only describe as spiritual. When I cleared my eyes to look again, I was licking those full lips, the priestess’ arms encircling my neck and back and then…the strangest of all experiences began to happen to me—to us!—as, I don’t know how else to describe it, our arms and hands and fingers and eyes had somehow become interchangeable. I could not tell where she began and I left off, the intensity of our passion growing exponentially in what was definitely a sexually-charged yet mystical transfiguration; our love-making both carnal and transcendent, trading a focused awareness of each of the body parts whose ownership—each act whose authorship—we exchanged. In some part of my mind, the whole thing was definitely disturbing and yet I was completely distracted both by the intensity of the pleasure we shared as well as by the deep conviction that the unparalleled event was sublime, even holy. “Who are you?” I heard a voice asking. It took me a while to realize that the voice was my own. “I am You,” her voice returned. “I am in You.” “And I in You.”
It seemed we were destroyed in the explosions that followed, the great erotic disintegration that returned us panting, heaving, sweat-soaked to our separate bodies. We lay in each other’s arms, Zithôra on top of me. Remember me, I thought she said. “What was—how did we—do that?” My eyes unclosed. But she was gone, vanished into the mist as suddenly as she had appeared. I sat up, not sweating, not breathless. I was wearing my blue suit; but now, I noticed, a lightning-bolt emblazoned the left arm of my jacket.
An air of unreality permeated this place. I rose and groped my way through the fog. Àkbä found me as I emerged from the fog’s edge. “Are you ready?” he inquired, point-blank.
“I guess so,” I said.