I know you’re not waiting for me to tell you whether Earth survived. It’s still here. But as Robbie keeps reminding us, “Time works differently in outer space,” which is his way of saying that we’re not out of the woods yet.
I’m not optimistic myself, not about the future of the planet. Even under the threat of global annihilation, people continue to wage war, usually for no better reason than to secure the oil that will probably burn the planet to a cinder long before the extraterrestrial destroyers arrive. There are other reasons, of course, including the elevation of one peace-loving god above another. Christ, the revenge wars begin to seem like the most rational ones around. And meanwhile, in bunkered secret laboratories around the world, blinkered scientists and engineers are no doubt working hard on an extra-planetary deployment system for our deadliest weapons, the global freeze a memory insubstantial as vapor.
Contemplating all the ways in which we’re trying to destroy our own planet kind of makes you root for extraterrestrial annihilation. It would probably cause less general misery in the short run, and in the long run—well, Robbie’s image of space dust drifting off to find the boundaries of the Big Bang appeals to my imagination.
They were right, our space pals, to be worried about what would happen next. Larry would certainly have been shot dead again within the week. In fact, the morning after he left, a man armed with an assault rifle was arrested in the hotel lobby. He belonged to a neo-fascist organization that had raised $3,452. 27 to reward an assassin and hide him after the mission was accomplished.
“Twenty-seven fucking cents!” Robbie shook his head in wonderment when he heard the story. “What’s that about? Some kid gave his milk money?”
And they were right, too, about the innocent bystanders. We Earthlings are not the kind of people to exempt innocents from our bloodlettings. Fifteen days after the spacemen departed, a deranged Korean immigrant, who happened to be an English major, gunned down thirty-two random victims on the campus at Virginia Tech. I was glad in a way that I wouldn’t have to explain it to Elvis.
I’m not trying to depress you. I wouldn’t do that. Like Robbie, I was changed by my alien encounter, and left with an inexplicable, irrational hopefulness about things—well, extraplanetary. The whole enchilada, as Robbie calls it. The whole grimtigrog.
I took a leave from grad school, but I doubt that I’ll ever go back. For one thing, I can no longer think about my field of expertise as anything except “semenotics,” and that has its down side.
Robbie found me a place to live—a house shared by two musicians, a law student, and an intern at GW Hospital. They all like Jillian, and she likes them. Getlo likes all of the resident creatures, including the dog, three cats, ferret and parrot. Eco likes his new fire escape and, to my surprise, Getlo, who worships him.
Jillian and I have a comfortable relationship. We spend a lot of time together. We eat out, go for walks, or just stay home and cook and watch old Elvis Presley movies.
I live off the advance I’ve been paid for this book—a staggering amount, if you ask me, that quadruples my annual income. And I didn’t really want to write this book, not really, but Robbie talked me into it.
“People are curious, man,” he’d said. “Nothing wrong with that. They should be curious. And you’re the one to tell them all about Larry and Elvis and their mission, and how fucking real they were, you know?”
“What about you?” I’d said. “You’ve known them longer than I have.”
He shook his head. “I’m no writer, dude. You are. You got to make things clear, man, and beautiful at the same time—the way it was with them. You’re the one.” After a minute, he said, “Besides, what these publishing guys are offering you ain’t chump change, bro. Take it, and use it as a down payment on your new life. What the hell?”
“Well, will you help?”
He looked surprised, even touched. Then he slapped me on the back. “Sure, I’ll help.”
“Then I’ll pay you as a consultant,” I said.
“A consultant,” he’d echoed. “Far out. Never been one of those before.”
As I said, it’s not the book I wanted to write; I don’t feel adequate to the task. But lately I’ve been thinking more about the books I do want to write, now that this one’s almost finished. I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime staring at my shoelaces, and overlooked the rest of the universe.
It could happen to anybody, Robbie says. In fact, it happens to almost everybody.
Now, I sit at my desk late at night, looking out the window past the trees and the clouds, past the moon even, and I begin to get a glimmer of what Adam and Eve felt when they were forced from the narrow confines of Eden after all of those conversations with God, when the world was all before them—and the next world, and the next world, and the next.