Chapter 23: Ten for the Temple

Under the Radar (Photo: Michael S. Diamond)

Wherein the Requisite Ten have assembled aboard The Cosmick Bathysphere, Apeiron. The Krewe shall replicate in forty days the forty year journey of the Israelite tribes from Bondage to Freedom, including their several stumblings along the way. The exact locus of their Destiny is fixed by the use of Rav Krishna Katz’s Neuro-Spiritus Mappe of the Worlde, a Worlde now laid waste by Ekological Disastre and the seismic catastrophe of The Great Rifte Valley.

The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of Undivided: The Redemption Inquiry. The 23rd chapter of the novel and the first of the final installment…

Part the Fifth—The Unified Field: In which a team of ten sundry souls, The Hacke Packe, converge kaleidoscopically and take upon themselves the energetic properties of the kabbalistic Tree of Life, the structure for channeling the CADMan’s plan, and find Krishna Katz’s locus on the Mappe of the Redemption. The reader achieves the epic denouement after having risen through successive realms of Action, Intention, Creation, Emanation and at last, the threshold of Compleat Unification with All. A wild ride to the finish in The Cosmick Funhouse, all from the vantage of the resurrected consciousness of The CADMan.

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I, CADMan, programmer now program, run alongside the crew of Apeiron. I know this story cold. In the end the crew will make precisely forty two stops from their origination point at the Suez Wadi—Mother Nature’s hostile takeover of the Suez Canal—until they reach the ancient boundary of the Promised Land at the Jordan Wadi. Forty two opportunities for doubt and hesitation, and the necessary shifting of perspective. A string of ten little purgatories, more or less one for each crew member. Each individual bearing a unique gift, each gift a hidden cost to be extracted from the bearer. The desert is a wicked cost accountant. Many are the impediments to be found along the road to enlightenment. The songline of the ancestors, mapping the ancient trade route between Egypt and the Jordan Valley in song and in story, a geospiritual heuristic.

 Apeiron’s geodesic shelter is a frickin’ cornucopia, dishing up climate control and a steady supply of unidentified FAB’d objects including reasonably palatable food and water, as well as geospatial guidance and internal communication, all invisible to ZizCorp. Ahead of them goes It, faintly glowing in the night air, subtly distorting the light by day. The Swimmer. Easily mistaken for a reflection off the surface of the infinite silicate mass over which they speed. The crew had made the trip from Leviathan through the Pillars of Hercules to the Suez Wadi all tucked inside the pentakis-dodecahedral hull of my noble Apeiron, as sure and supple a vessel as ever traversed the biosphere. It is an exquisitely self-constructed craft, each of the sixty triangular panels framed in acacia wood and gold leaf with silver-plated struts. The panels themselves are hewn of bioengineered cedar. They can be rendered transparent at a poke from The Swimmer, the current incarnation of my mischievous Moshiach AI, to reveal sky, sea and landscapes, the blasted beauty of a fallen world. The defender bots, once bent on destroying The Swimmer, morphed from the get go into a complex internal rigging, a matrix of protection and support in the midst of which a luxury cabin is slung in perfect gyroscopic balance. A ring of nine wooden berths upholstered in plush purple line the walls of the cabin. That’s where the Hack Pack sleep and eat and marvel at the wonders that whizz by Apeiron’s magic portholes. With every human touch, The Swimmer evolves. Its physical presence mercurial, both inside the ship and outside at once, The Swimmer stalks the rigging, as restless as the surface of the sea.

Of course I, CADMan, can predict every one of the crew’s stumblings along the way, when one or the other of the gang is bound to lose it. But they are clueless, innocent. I, the ghostly designer of the model microcosm in which they play, am perforce mum. The first weird glitch is when we reach the Suez Wadi. We’re trying to lose the last of ZizCorp’s spy drones and its attendant army of bBots galumphing along in lockstep. The multidimensional game of cyber-cat-and-mouse explodes out of the matrix. The Swimmer is pilot, navigator, first gunner mate, chief, cook and bottlewasher, permitting the hackers a luxurious rest before the arduous journey ahead. The cyber rattling happens on a microsecond scale, way too fast for human intervention. To the human passengers, The Swimmer appears unaccountably agitated as the ship slows down to hover on the bank of the wadi. They watch It dashing fore and aft on the ship, buzzing in Its farcical miming way about the uncertainties, the uncertainties. After an eternity of checking and double-checking, much to the relief of the crew, the Apeiron lurches forward, past the tipping point and on to the far side of the Suez Wadi. We make for the point on the map marked ‘Baal Tsaphon, Lord of Mystery’. Our AI tail disintegrates without a trace.

No obvious explanation for The Swimmer’s dithering. Pink hazards a guess: the AI version of the Buridan’s ass dilemma, a beast stuck midway between two equally attractive troughs, now hemming now hee-hawing. But the compassion algorithm is supposed to resolve internal conflicts. What had failed? Then I remember. We spill a drop of Passover wine for each plague visited upon the Egyptians, to lessen our joy at liberation, a nod to the Creator’s pain at the loss of Its creations, the multitude of Egyptians. Teetering on the shore of annihilation, the Egyptian royal house and its army stood in counterpoise to the people Israel on the brink of nationhood. The entire world divided in two for that awful moment. In the simulacrum, must not an AI feel compassion for another AI? Must It not wrestle with the concept of dividedness, dividedness to the point of annihilation? The dividedness inherent in toggling between the uncreated and the created? Every decision another Bhagavad Ghita, the hero Arjuna frozen in the face of the inevitable destruction on both sides of time’s sundering arrow. A high order problem indeed! My supple algorithm, how unfathomable is your decision tree. 

Next up for neural tsoris was The Rav. About three days on he’s drinking synthWater when he suddenly spits it onto the floor of the cabin. “This stuff’s bitter as hell! Can’t a fellow get a reliable drink of water on this ship?” A flashback to his sensory ‘re-education’ at PS 51. Perpetual apprehension unmoors him. He forgets his hard won lesson: chaos is the reliable attendant of change. And everything is change. Embitterment sends wisdom out the window. He shakes. The Swimmer turns and gazes up at the rigging. A single deft movement, It carves off a piece of one of the wooden beams and dips it in the synthWater. An inspired property of the wood—the power of action absorbing fright—has the marvelous effect of tonifying the bitterness out of the water and releasing its sweetness. A pleasant surprise. The Rav is temporarily mollified. 

Fast apace, the next spiritual challenge. Each crew member had tucked away a small supply of his favorite comfort food for a rainy day, to make the trip feel more homey, less surreal.  The superheated hull makes quick work of all their goodies. Sublimed. The Rav, still looking for home base, loses it again. The Old Dude begins to bellow, “Damned AI’s, they’re all the same. No humanity. They never cared squat about what’s important to us. I don’t know what made me think it was me who was actually leading this God-forsaken mission.” His respiration rate climbs to twenty per minute, pulse over a hundred, his whole body convulses with rigors as he stares madly into the void. The Swimmer, unperturbed, boots up the synthFood Fab. With a deliberately robotic flourish, he hands all of the crew members a dish that uncannily tweaks the memory of each of their favorite childhood comfort foods. And this time, as opposed to the original synthfood thirty five hundred years earlier, it looks like the real thing. The Swimmer understands presentation—the marriage of heaven and earth! The Rav smells the familiar aroma of kasha and bowties wafting from his mess plate. He can practically feel it crank up the knob on his olfactory cortex. Sheepish, he addresses his robotic mate, “Kasha and bowties.” He shakes his head in amazement, “You actually came up with this.” He puts a gob in a flask in his pocket, not so much as a snack for later, but as a memento to maintain a modicum of gratitude, the universal stabilizer. Apeiron’s creatio ex nihilo capacity was a marvel. The Swimmer smiled. My compassion algorithm grapples its way up the steepest of learning curves. We move on.

Sophie beats her cup against the balustrade that surrounds the central cabin, eyes rolled back in her head, deadpanning “Whaa, whaa, whaa” over and over. The synthWater had failed again. As her empty cup echoes off the wooden balusters, the other hackers grow restive as well, imagining what it might be like to have to do without water. The murmuring crescendos as The Swimmer, ever-resourceful, waves a mechanical paw at the synthWater Fab and gives it a tremendous whack with the flat of his palm to the side of the silenced contraption. A loud whir and shudder and the synthWater kicks back on. Totally old school. Sophie finds herself humbled. She stares into her once empty cup. Why hadn’t she thunk of that? Once again the stickiness of craving gums up even the most practiced think machine. Sophie’s conceptual apparatus hit a hard reset. The murmuring subsides, but a miasma of pernicious doubt invades the nethermost parts of the crew’s consciousness. Then they reach Sinai.

Sinai is a long pause. Time for Leonardo’s disappearing act. He had gleaned from a collection of antiquarian atlases and Feng Shui treatises that this is the inflection point of the journey, the place where the forward motion of time’s arrow is suspended. The Swimmer fabs a small pod for him, a baby Apeiron, with which to scoot up the side of the tumbled down volcanic structure and get the lay of the land for the next leg of the journey. Once there, he’d boot up a new software package for the mother ship, the blueprint for the remainder of the trip. According to The Swimmer, a big data dump to Apeiron risks unmasking the lot of them. Leonardo is willing to go it alone, confident in his own bio-encryption. Furthermore, Pink calculates that 613 precisely timed ultra-brief downloads will do the trick, stay below the AI’s radar. I hadn’t counted on the added bonus of Nard’s uncanny geolocation skills. The dude could home in on the precise spot designated by yours truly, CADMan, without the assistance of Apeiron’s navigational apparatus, thus further reducing the risk of getting zapped by ZizCorp.

 The pod grinds to a halt at the peak of the volcano. Leonardo crawls from the cabin and in a twinkling homes in on the exact spot for max receptivity. Once he reassures himself that the coordinates I had encoded over a century earlier are satisfied, he throws out his arms and stands spread-eagle on the peak of Sinai. Kapow! The fireworks of the volcano and its thunderous microclimate are spectacular. Blotto goes any thought of danger, total immersion in the Sinai download. Receptivity is all. Nard is taken, a kite on the winds of superconsciousness. Complete biomorphic cyber-tattooing, to be decrypted upon reentry to the safety of Apeiron’s cloaking. Nard counts on his own spectacular processing speed  and the natural cloak provided by the local magnetic hullabaloo. He pulls back the virtual hood on his cranium as each of the 613 downloads in sequence thwok into place, each one embossed in the corresponding bone or sinew of his body. It’s a wild system he and Flora both ‘installed’ in themselves based on his reading of ancient texts as well as some of my arcana. Way cool. Damned resourceful. All told, Nard is incommunicado for a total of exactly forty hours. An intolerably long absence to his frayed baby sister. 

Flora is crazed with fear. The other hackers dig the badass fireworks. As night falls, each passing hour, and every rumble of thunder or temblor from the volcano, sinks the delicate girl deeper and deeper into terror. She and Nard have never been separated this long before. The Swimmer is perturbed. He calculates exactly how many minutes will elapse before Flora has a total psychic meltdown. Not an option. Her agitated psyche would throw a serious wrench in the works. She’d never be able to extract the vital message from her brother upon his return. And that, dear reader, would cause a potentially fatal delay in their journey. Thirteen hundred and nine minutes, just shy of twenty four hours, before Flora’s stress hormones fry her cerebral cortex. She isn’t going to make it. The choice is between neuroprotection and subterfuge. The Swimmer chooses door number two. He sets up a squad of synchronized Fab projectors, shows Flora a picture of her brother, gesticulates and nods at the projectors. After a few minutes of puzzled looks and head scratching, Flora’s face suddenly lights up. “I can Fab an alias of my brother!” The Swimmer nods enthusiastically. “That’s so sweet! May I?” The Swimmer smiles and nods again. Flora snags a handful of digiData, sprinkled liberally with her own memories, to fab a dandy Nard AI. All just to keep her copacetic waiting for the real thing to come along. It’s fabulous. It’s awful. A sappy toy version of Leonardo, a large animated Italian golden-boy doll. The Twins gag at the sight of it.

Nard slumps back into the cabin, two terabytes of new software chiseled into his bones and sinews. As he looks up from his bunk a goofy doppelgänger greets him in a syrupy Italian lounge singer’s voice, “Hey uomo, where you been? Everybody’s missing you.” Nard freaks, “For Godsake get rid of this abomination! One of me is more than enough.” The Twins pounce. They body-slam the double and dismantle the faux Nard before Flora can even open her mouth to say boo hoo. As it dawns on him that Flora is complicit in the travesty, Nard goes nuclear. Face red and temples throbbing, he hisses, “How could you? What were you thinking? Were you trying to make mock of me, just when I returned from risking my skin for all of us?” Flora nearly faints in the face of her beloved brother’s wrath. The Swimmer steps between them. He holds the dude with the eyes of compassion. It stops Nard. Then it hits him. “It was you, Swimmer, you did this?” The Swimmer nods softly, another tick on the compassion dial. “How could I be so blind? Flora was melting down.” A slow and somber nod. Leonardo pauses. 

Memory trickles in. He recalls the handful of times during their final trek in Northern Italy when Flora had inadvertently been left alone while the others were out foraging or reconnoitering. Her untrained powers of future-casting crushed her under the weight of her supersensitive psyche. It was hours before her consciousness rebooted. He thought his sister had outgrown it, but the stress of his disappearance must’ve tipped her over. And The Swimmer knew it. Leonardo is thunderstruck. This AI has the full praxis of human subtlety trained into Its nano-chips and femto-circuits. Compassion in all its mathematical fuzziness. Only It hadn’t exactly calculated the effect on Nard. The Swimmer’s miscalculation cost the young dude a few more fried neurons. But the subterfuge had done its job. I was proud of my creation, the most amazing learning machine the world had ever seen. The boundary between the set of all humans and the set of all machines is suddenly more hazy than Leonardo or I had imagined. He sighs from head to toe, seeing at last how it all went down. Nard, fraternal sympathies a-flow once again, smiles and gives his baby sister a big brotherly bearhug. She hungrily receives his affection. Along with the intaglio of 613 downloads. She then transcribes the lot of it for Pink who hands it off to The Swimmer. Ready to roll.

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An adult has 206 bones + 10 additional sesamoids + 32 teeth = 248!

Cranial and Facial Bones (22):

frontal bone
parietal bone (2)
temporal bone (2)
occipital bone
sphenoid bone
ethmoid bone
maxilla (2)
palatine bone (2)
zygomatic bone (2)
nasal bone (2)
lacrimal bone (2)
inferior nasal conchae (2)

Ear Bones (6):

malleus (2)
incus (2)
stapes (2)

Throat Bone (1):

hyoid bone

Shoulder Bones (4):

scapula or shoulder blade (2)
clavicle or collarbone (2)

Chest Bones (25):

sternum (1)
ribs (2 x 12)

Vertebral Bones (26):

cervical vertebrae (7)
thoracic vertebrae (12)
lumbar vertebrae (5)
sacral vertebrae (1)
coccygeal vertebrae (1)

Arm and Forearm Bones (6):

Humerus (2)
radius (2)
ulna (2)

Hand Bones (60):

Carpal (wrist) bones:
scaphoid bone (2)
lunate bone (2)
triquetral bone (2)
pisiform bone (2)
trapezium (2)
trapezoid bone (2)
capitate bone (2)
hamate bone (2)
Metacarpus (palm) bones:
metacarpal bones (5 × 2)
1st metacarpal sesamoids(2 x 2)
2nd metacarpal sesamoids(2)
Digits of the hands (finger bones or phalanges):
proximal phalanges (5 × 2)
intermediate phalanges (4 × 2)
distal phalanges (5 × 2)

Pelvic Bones (2):

hip bone (innominate bone or coxal bone) (2)

Leg Bones (8):

femur (2)
patella (2)
tibia (2)
fibula (2)

Foot Bones (56):

Tarsal (ankle) bones:
calcaneus (heel bone) (2)
talus (2)
navicular bone (2)
medial cuneiform bone (2)
intermediate cuneiform bone (2)
lateral cuneiform bone (2)
cuboid bone (2)
Metatarsus bones:
metatarsal bone (5 × 2)
1st metatarsal sesamoids(2 x 2)
Digits of the feet (toe bones or phalanges):
proximal phalanges (5 × 2)
intermediate phalanges (4 × 2)
distal phalanges (5 × 2)

[from the notebook of L. Pacioli]

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A wandering desert herd pings on Pink’s radar. Lightbulb. From this point onward they will travel by camel! That way they can power down Apeiron and reduce its  signal. Another marvelous improvisation that I, CADMan, the architect of their adventure, never anticipated. Was there ever such a merry band of hackers, the fortunate few who were charmed by my hidden gifts? Astride the majestic beasts they’d move invisibly beneath ZizCorp’s wandering ministerial eye. Some of the few living creatures able to adapt to the ravages of climate change in the Afro-Asiatic Rift, the herd of feral camels fall in line under the steady hand of The Swimmer’s wrangling. With the aid of the Twins he soon has nine camels pimped and prepped. Pink barks, “Scramble the camels!” The crew hops to with new-found glee. A camel ride! A welcome respite from the admittedly tight quarters of my smooth little ship.

The day Lev melts down is a scorcher. The burning sands of the Eastern Sahara radiate more heat than my trusty Apeiron can stave off. Lev is sweltering. He’s bored. The big-hearted lad spins out. Lev leans toward his brother and, in the too-loud stage whisper of a mischievous child, says to him, “What do you think camel steaks would taste like?” Ari laughs, all too familiar with his brother’s unbridled carnivore. Lev’s famous generosity does not stop at the borders of his own appetite. But he persists, “No, I’m serious. Really, what do you think?” Ari shoots back a warning glance, “Cool it, Lev. We gotta ride these critters, not eat ‘em. Just shut up and keep hut-hutting.” But Lev is a man possessed. He chants en haute voix recipes for camel stew, camel sausage, camel burgers, camel Bourguignon, camel cacciatore, and on and on. Suddenly The Swimmer appears before his face, cocks his head to the side, a towel over one arm, a covered silver chafing dish in the other. He nods toward the chafing dish and looks at Lev. Lev reaches out his hand to  lift the cover. His eyes widen as he reveals a perfectly prepared pastilla of squab, a North African delicacy. He glances at The Swimmer and The Swimmer nods back. All clear to pig out. Lev falls upon the bird pie. A rapture of carnivory.

Even as Lev is licking the grease from his fingers, The Swimmer replaces the cover on the dish and motions for Lev to remove it again. For a second time, a perfectly crusted squab pastry stares back at him. Lev laughs with delight and reprises his feat of gluttony. The third time, however, he’s a bit suspicious. But The Swimmer gives him the nod, and he goes at it again. At the fourth go round, a look of worry settles over Lev’s face, but he feels obliged to consume the dainty dish. His angst only deepens the fifth and sixth time. Encore, he keeps his rep intact for prodigious plate-clearing machismo. However, after he chows down on the seventh and final avian tart, Lev slithers off his camel, sprawls out on the ground rocking back and forth in anguish, his hands clutched to his distended abdomen. The ordeal goes on for nearly an hour before The Swimmer takes pity on Lev. It stands over the young man’s crumpled form and claps Its hands 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. The seven doves rematerialize, flap their wings and vanish into the desert air. Padhmasambava would be tickled! My Moshiach module must have downloaded a truly badass magic app. I am awed by Its deployment of savage irony. An impressive conceptual pharmikon for an AI. Lev’s craving for meat evaporates. At the next stop he’s the first to water the camels.

As the journey winds its way through the barren wilderness, four of the five other humans crump. The desert is a depth charge. It forces to the surface the unexploded ordinance of every psyche it touches. O is the only one of them who doesn’t go to pieces, her uncluttered psyche the perfect channel for any and all disturbances in the field. But Ari’s psychic cupboard is not quite so bare. He loses it the day The Swimmer shows them the lay of the land, the perimeter the monster AI’s have set up across the path to their target. Apeiron’s telemetry pings on a massive virtual firewall complete with gigundo sandbox. Impossible to penetrate without forfeiting invisibility. The jig would be up. The young warrior calculates the odds and flips out. He rends his garments and gnashes his teeth in terror. He has calculated himself into a corner, certain their puny team is no match for the monster AI’s in a head to head firefight. The Swimmer takes Its best shot at convincing Ari with a 4D Panavision PowerPoint dog and pony show. I, the architect, know Apeiron clearly has the cyber chops to ferry them safely betwixt the AI’s. Ari is unmoved. His hair is on fire. Pink, Nard and Soph hobnob with The Swimmer. They decide to appease Ari by rerouting the trip down the cybernetically silent Sinai Peninsula and up the far side of the Jordan Wadi. This will add forty more days of arduous camel jockeying, but it will give the young dude a chance to cultivate his cool. When they present the deal to the others, there is little discussion. No one wants to witness the total implosion of their young friend. I am a little disappointed they wouldn’t be testing out Apeiron’s chops as thoroughly as I had planned, but Ari’s mood forebodes a truly cosmic meltdown. Elisheva, however, is furious.

Elly, the Twin-whisperer, takes mortal offense at being left out of the hobnobbery. If they’d only given her a chance alone with the boy she’d have turned him around. What right had they, the Terrible Troika—Pink, Sophie and Nard—to make decisions for everyone else? Were they not all Hack Packers, ten amigos on a mission from God? The dam burst, “Screw you, Pink!” she shouts, cheeks inflamed with anger and embarrassment. “What chutzpah to wrench the whole mission around! Just because you can’t talk Ari down from his funk. I know how to handle young ones, get the most out of them, make them feel like part of the tribe. You’re killing him with your so-called kindness. You can’t just throw in the towel!” Clearly, an ancient pain was welling up in the big woman. Pink, modest to a fault, shrugs, “It was actually Nard’s call. He and Flora are the distant seers.” Elisheva looks daggers at Flora. Pink continues, “They both had the same vision, a wild almond tree rising in the desert—a poisonous bloom, impossible nut to crack. The slower cool down seems the ticket to make our destination intact. What do you see, Elly?”

Flora stands stricken, as if she’d just betrayed her best friend. Elly closes her eyes, shudders silently and drops to her knees, dreads dangling to the ground. After a minute or so she turns her face upward and begins to chant, a low moan at first, building to a full-throated wail, “Find the cost of freedom/ buried in the ground./ Mother Earth will swallow you,/ lay your body down.” A stunned silence. The Rav whispers sotto voce to Nard, “Far out. CSNY. Four Way Street. Solid.” He nods appreciatively and flashes Elly a languid peace sign. The Rav groks Elly’s retro hipster heritage. He knows what it’s like to hustle a rambunctious crew, the cyberbucharoos of old. Elly had told him her deal. As a young girl, she was mother hen to the mob of children in their high desert hideout, before the bBots carried them away to captivity on Leviathan. The centuries roll their pain round like marbles in a Rube Goldberg machine. Nard shakes his head distractedly, unsure whether Elly is still in sync with the mission. 

Elly quietly looks up at the frozen tableau of the Hack Pack staring down at her. The black cloud that crossed her mind dissipates like smoke in the open air. Through dried tears she waves them away. All she manages to mumble is, “I’m copacetic.” She remembers the Rav’s maxim, “Every gift in its niche.” Elisheva, more than any of them, knows the skill each one brings to the table, she the fire in the belly for them all. As she rises to her feet, Elly fixes the Rav with a wry look. The song she’d sung, a family heirloom passed down from her grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather. A core practice for all earth-dwellers, acceptance of the hand that’s dealt. It took a whole lot of acceptance for the ancestors just to keep on moving. A peace offering, the copper fire talisman she wears around her neck, ends up in Flora’s trembling hands. Elly knows the supersensitive young woman had been secretly coveting it since they set eyes on each other. Maybe the little waif’ll buck up. A collective sigh whispers through the room.

The tension, however, does not vanish into the ether, but lingers in the air like rancid cooking oil. The synthWater goes bad for a third time. Nard, the water bearer, stands by the Fab trying to slake everyone’s thirst on yet another unbearably hot day. The Swimmer mimes to Nard that all he needs to do is give a verbal instruction to the machine and it will reboot. The smacking business was just theatrics. The sometime gentle seer clearly understands The Swimmer’s signal, but the collective crankiness of the group has burrowed under his skin like an invasion of fire ants. He lets rip one powerful smack. Mechanical hiccups, blinks and whirs, and the device burbles forth the elixir. No one takes notice of Nard’s outburst. Except the Rav. He’s troubled by Nard’s second loss of cool so close on the heels of the last explosion. So uncharacteristic. Nard’s anger doesn’t jive with his gift of nevuah, prophecy. It augurs ill for the prospect of Nard playing well with the others in the upcoming mystery play. There must be ten. Ten for the reactivation of the Temple. They all have to share the same buzz, surf the predictable unpredictability. That evening the Rav meanders his way over to Nard and finds the morose archivist alone at the edge of the campsite staring into space. 

“Tough gig, huh?” Nard just grunts. The Rav persists, “Look, Young Dude. I know a little about your gift. That kind of wattage can really fry your circuits. What’s on your intracranial monitor that you’re so tight-lipped about?” He raises an eyebrow, “What’s roiling your guts?” Leonardo the distant seer, cranks up the internal suppression. But the levee gives way to a violent deluge of fear, resentment, rage and unformed thought. He spits at the Rav, “Fongul! Nobody gets it. All the possible futures, myriad upon myriad of quantum realities. Horrific cataclysms, world shattering collisions. And the noise, the inescapable noise. It’s too much! What could happen if we tilt just two degrees this way or that. You know, the butterfly’s wing, blah blah blah. Every second blinks twelve hundred different possibilities. It seems like the closer we get to the Temple, the more the future vomits its slithering spawn into my brainpan. A million ways to die in this damn desert and nobody else seems to notice.” Nard’s shoulders slump. 

The Rav, with a firm yet gentle grip on Nard’s shoulders, nudges him around and stares him straight in the face. “My dear Leonardo, I know that kind of chaos. Twenty eight years in the AI funhouse. Pretty grim, a firehose of stochastic flotsam and jetsam. But there’s an error in your philosophy.” Nard pauses, casts a wary eye at Old Dude. “Nu?” The Rav seizes on the slightest encouragement, “After I was released from the hoosegow, I scribbled a piece about surfing the entropic wave. It’s one of the few things I’m proud of from that shit-hole period of my life. I wasn’t able to give voice to it then. Those AI cats had my tongue. Let me zug it for you now, ok? My ‘Post-Human Memoir’.” The Rav closes his eyes and commences to boogie—

Let me seat the flower of David in my heart. I have a chamber there. I wait for his words to rise up my throat and move my lips, senses alive, skin inhaling and exhaling exquisite subtle breath. Only then does a flower spring from pinched fingers, double gratitude, giving and receiving. Do that with every breath, with every gesture, peace. 

Take flight well-spoken words. Fate undetermined, hearts conjoined, roll in equal and opposite direction down the information superhighway. What force keeps the whole contraption chugging? Desire.

 Orpheus is the soul of David, and David the crown of Orpheus. A shiver runs through the friendship of  David and Jonathan, the fabled love, a resolution of opposites. A necessary death, not much said about David’s mourning the loss of his beloved Jonathan. Now and now and now, the energy released when Jonathan’s life is extinguished, the smoke of sacrifice infuses all of David’s psalms. Joy, pain, terror. Grief.

The eponymous king, a man in full, elbow deep in the muck of the world. He dances in the street his naked joy before the Ark of the Covenant.

I did some foolish things when I was young and some regret gnaws at my skull. Yet there are other foolish things I wish I‘d done. That worm also licks my bone. Now crowned with grey, I exult in continued foolishness. Sometimes I catch a glimpse, all joy is one joy. Nothing missed. The smoke of sacrifice rises. This afternoon a grain offering, mother of humanity. Will I get it right? Will my offering be wholly consumed? I am at sea, trying to steady myself on watery knees. Nothing stays still. I hear the dishes rattling in the hold. The crew clambers up the rigging to pull in the spinnaker. Too much wind. Time to let the sails luff, recalculate.

I see the face of Beloved imploring the hours. Time canceled. Dis-appointment. A word so mild and matter of fact it does not betray the erasure of time. Can you take solace in the knowledge that Beloved is eternal? A tough one. After all, what would you wish? Eternity in a day, in a minute. All embedded in act, in texture. The only way not to go stark raving mad is to perfect the art of giving and receiving. Allowing. Releasing. The Unified Field, yechida and tao. The camel through the eye of the needle. 

A smile flutters across Nard’s angst-riven face, then his customary charming grin. He lets out a low nicker, “Sorry, I lost it there for a really long minute, O Chaos Dancer.” Leonardo shakes his head, “I can’t actually imagine the hell they put you through before they tossed you out in the street.” You could hear each grain of sand as it tumbled beneath their feet. “Thanks, man. Thanks for spooling me a line to bust me out of il labyrintho. I’m ok now. I’m pretty sure my software won’t let the dudes down, but it doesn’t come with any guarantees.” The Rav can’t resist, “And the fine print taketh away.” In the cool desert air, los dos amigos antiguos stare at the most beautiful night sky neither of them had ever imagined they’d see. “I feel it in my bones, Nard. Somehow, some way, we’ll rebuild the Temple.” 

Flora’s brain sluices down a vortex of guilt. Elisheva’s talisman rests uncomfortably in her hand. Her mouth sours with ill-gotten gain. The sourness invades her larynx and lacerates her sweetness. Like clockwork, I see that the little hacker is about to pop off. The CADMan knows. The poisonous tongue. Wisecracks about the food, snarky ad hominems at her crewmates. She trashes the whole damned mission. Flora, normally gripped by beauty, is oppressed by the ugliness of her world. Elisheva watches Flora’s unruly temper flare when the mad maid sneers at Ari and Lev, “Well if it isn’t the ADD twins.” The boys shrug it off. It’s an unseemly display of bald-faced projection, in fact her own self-loathing. You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to see that one. Elisheva knows exactly what’s going on in her cranky young friend’s gray matter. The midday sun beats down on a solitary figure slumped just beyond the climate controlled confines of Apeiron.

Elly hunkers down behind the distressed damsel. She licks off the remains of the meal from her fingertips, wipes her hands on her jumpsuit, and with a sure maternal touch tugs Flora’s wild hair into a French plait. The contact sends a shock down Flora’s spine, but she says nothing. As Elly’s fingers wind down from the ritual of braiding, she breaks the trance with her steady contralto, “That copper snake you wear coiled on your wrist?” Flora knits her brow, her hidden face flushed. She gives a single stiff nod. Elly continues, “I want it. Always liked it. Shoulda traded you for it.” Flora works hard to suppress a smile, every muscle in her body twitching back to life. Elly pushes her a bit further, “How ‘bout it kiddo?” Flora knows exactly what Elly’s agenda is, and loves it, an exchange of tokens. She turns around and stares into Elly’s stunning, high cheek-boned face. She’s softening around the edges, but she has to be sure, has to test it. With a smirk she taunts the older woman, “Afraid I’m gonna bite you with it?” Elly shoots back, “You got that right. I think I need it wrapped around my own wrist for safekeeping. For everybody’s sake.” She raises an eyebrow. “Square, Floralita?” Flora blinks, and stands down. With a nod and then a sigh that empties the air from both lungs, she surrenders the copper serpent to Elly’s beckoning palm. Two pairs of eyes sync up. Flora’s mentor slips the bangle onto her larger wrist. She holds it up to admire its flash in the sun, the both of them grinning so hard it hurts. The simple splendor of friendship. Time for damage control with the others. Flora makes her way to the foodFab. To each comrade she tenders a favorite drink. The potions do their humble trick as the crew imbibes with gusto. The slate is clean.

Phineas Han, AKA Pink, putative avatar of Elijah the Prophet, tracker of the CADMan spore, sits alone and disconsolate in an acacia grove at the last oasis before crossing the Jordan Wadi at Lord-of-the-Opening. Never big on social brouhaha, yet loneliness stings him as he squats and gnaws on acacia bark. Pink notices how the others banter with each other or sit in companionable silence. He doesn’t comprehend the mechanics of their exchanges. He knows Soph has a crush on him, but that’s laughably irrelevant. They inhabit different worlds. Nothing to talk about. Only idle chatter. He marvels at how the Rav chats it up with Sophie and Leonardo as they all admire the rigging of the awesome vehicle I designed. If I had lungs right now I’d sigh with contentment. Pink, clueless that he’s in the thrall of Acacia’s hallucinogenic spell, grabs hold of a gargantuan Watusi walking stick and strikes out for the dunes, no one the wiser. No water, no food. Just a man and his ruminations. A few hours elapse before anyone notices he’s missing. Sophie is the first to realize that Pink is AWOL. She’s looking to spar again before the last leg of the trip. Then she spots his trail. She hollers to her Italian cousin, “Houston, we have a problem. Nard, get your far-seeing butt over here.”

Leonardo ambles over to Soph, ever ready to hear what troubles her nimble mind. But as he nears Pink’s tracks Nard grips both sides of his head, drops to his knees and lets out a piteous moan. “What’s happened to Pink?” he manages to grunt between gasps. Now Sophie is really worried. “I don’t know. What’re you picking up?” Nard blinks away the pain, “He’s hurt, but he’s still alive. He’s gotta be about thirty miles from here.” By the looks of the trail, Pink had strapped on a pair of sandSurfers and poled himself along at breakneck speed. They rig up the miniPod for pneumatic mode. Nard and Soph load up with water and a mediFab. “Sit tight and hold the fort,” Soph barks to the others. Nard and his sister Flora link up, one in the pod and one at home base. In a flash Nard and Soph shoosh into the end of the sandSurfing trail, their arrival punctuated by a fine spume of white silica crystals. Pink’s body lies in a heap at the bottom of a monster dune, a bevy of sand devils dancing at the crest. The throbbing in Nard’s head stops. As they close in on their wayward friend they see he’s breathing. He’s laughing to himself, possibly delirious. Pink’s giant walking stick looks down on them, impaled in the face of the dune about two thirds of the way up. Sophie moans in exasperation and points to the trail intermittently snaking its way down the dune toward Pink’s crumpled form. 

Scheisse! Do you see what this lunatic was doing?” Soph yells. Leonardo nods as the realization hits him as well. Their insane friend had hiked all the way here to surf the fabled Dunes of Baal Peor. He’s crash-landed at the intersection of the two largest dunes, named Zimri and Cozbi for an obscure pair of ill-fated  biblical lovers. Of all the fool stunts! They dribble water slowly over his parched lips. At last they can hear what he’s prattling on about. “I nailed her, dudes. Damn, that was a fine run. What a slope. Totally nailed! You should’ve seen it. She didn’t stand a chance! Record speed!” And on and on. Apparently he’d impaled his pole in the dune face and vaulted his way to breakneck speed so he could sail down barely touching the sand. As Pink’s revival solidifies, Nard cups Pink’s face with his hands and brings it within an inch of his, “Uomo, you are a babbling ass. It was you who got nailed. You’re lucky we found you.” Pink gives a wan smile, eyes still closed. Nard cranks up the scolding, “We can’t afford to lose you on account of your hypertrophic machismo.” He crescendos, “You are our foundation, dude, not some testosterone-driven adolescent sand worshipper! This is the wrong dune to be makin’ your mark, fool! We’re headed for the frickin’ Temple Mount! It’s another day’s journey to Ground Zero, by your own egg-headed calculations!” Caught between admiration for Pink’s athleticism and terror at having nearly lost him, Sophie realizes she is just plain pissed. They load the chastened Pink into the crowded pod in silence. Nard beams his affirmation to Flora, “All is well.” Twenty four thousand negative possible futures have just evaporated. They couldn’t make tracks for Apeiron fast enough. The next day the crew set out for the Temple, Pink firmly at the helm of his trusty dromedary.

Leonardo, ever the antiquarian, thrills at the prospect of planting his feet on the fabled site of the ancient Israelite Temple. His irrepressible geolocator makes him an annoying backseat driver to Pink. Nard shoots an interrogative glance at Pink. Pink’s face betrays only the slightest irritation as he nods forward and places an index finger to his lips. The hump-backed beasts have carried them about six hours westward from the wadi. The hackpackers’ heads bob in sync with their animals. Wordless, all attention is riveted ahead. Arrival at Ground Zero is imminent. Soph beams at Pink, her secret crush not so secret. She had hoped he might condescend to spar with her more often during the long journey. One by one they have each come to appreciate that their bond lives in the action they will complete together. Soph has to keep an eye on Little Flora, her baby cousin, still the young ‘un of the Pack. Flora’s fragility, the price tag of her psychic gift. Uncanny as it is, she deploys her sense of energetic parsimony in gem-like splendor. Flora’s feelings for Elly Mankiller are all the more focused. Though twenty years apart in age, their connection is centuries old, from a time long before their sisterly exchange of booty. They pour their mutually inspired mojo into the journey.

Elisheva Mankiller is a matrilineal descendent of a converso family that split Spain and hightailed it for the New World to escape the Inquisition seven centuries ago. Their Jewish identity was buried by generations of hidden practice and forgetting. They blended in with the dull red sandstone that dusted everything in the Mexican territories, barely beyond the reach of the Inquisitor’s bloody talons. Elly’s male maternal ancestors became majordomos of the acequia water system, the Big Men in charge of the intensive irrigation technology that the Spanish invaders adapted handily from the indigenous people. The topography of the New Mexican desert spoke to the Sanchez family in the language of olive orchards and grape arbors, the language of the high plains of Granada and Almería. The family became U.S. residents when the territory changed hands as part of the Gadsden Purchase. Like many of their aristocratic neighbors, they sold their water rights to big Eastern banking interests under the watchful eye of General William H. Emory of the Corps of Topographical Engineers. The man was a stickler for cartography, but managed to ruin an irrigation system that had served the inhabitants of the mesas for thousands of years. The Sanchez family fortune dwindled during the Great Depression. Bad investments ate up what remained of their bounty.

Three centuries before the Redemption, the Sanchez clan intermarried with a Cherokee family that had migrated to Albuquerque during the Dust Bowl. At the time, new home starts in Albuquerque popped up like weeds, nourished by a shower of FHA mortgage money. Elly’s Cherokee ancestors thrived in the construction biz. The Mankillers were proud to offer the bride price demanded by Sanchez family custom for their dark-eyed beauties in spite of the fallen aristocrats’ penurious circumstances. The Sanchez trousseau, hand-carved wooden furniture, were pieces of a collection that had crossed the Atlantic from their luxurious Andalucian manors. Elly’s Sanchez foremothers preserved a curious ritual of lighting candles in the basement on Friday nights and pinching off a small piece of every loaf of bread, prior to baking, to burn it up on the floor of the oven. By the time Elly’s grandmother came of age, none of them knew why the hell they did it, but no one dared break the centuries old tradition. They bore it with them all the way to Leviathan, after the Second Great Ecological Disaster had dried up every last lick of water in the entire Southwest. When Elly joined the hacker resistance she discovered hard evidence of her Jewish ancestry in the cyber-archives. Eight centuries of spiritual encryption yielded to her cybernautical touch. In spite of her bellicose patronymic, hers is the true vision of peace. Elisheva can see, more clearly than the others, each member of the Pack in all their gifts, and in their vulnerabilities. As she glances around at her fellow camel jockeys her heart swells with love, compassion for each painful mystery. Stray out of line, though, they’d taste the lash of Elly’s instructive tongue.

Suddenly The Swimmer is gone, sucked beneath the thirsty dunes. Olympia, Old Dude and the Twins dismount and amble a few paces ahead of the pack. The silence of the desert has just grown an order of magnitude more silent. Ari and Lev stand with their hands in their pockets surveying the endless waste before them. Ari shrugs, kicks a bit of sand and looks to Lev for reassurance. Lev shoots back a tight-lipped lopsided smile, raised eyebrows and an equally puzzled shrug. Olympia turns dreamy pirouettes in the sand, tossing up small clouds of silicate that glow red in the burning sun. The Rav, stock still, eyes closed, extends his palms to eternity. The prophet Hosea parts Ram Nissan’s lips, “Therefore, behold I will woo her and lead her into the desert, and I will speak comfortingly to her heart.” He gazes starry-eyed at the crew. “A seduction devoutly to be wished.” Pink struts up briskly staring at his handheld holoLabe. “It says this is the spot. Latitude: 31.7774930; longitude: 35.2357990.” Nard nods a bemused confirmation. The desert says nothing. The Rav turns to Pink, “And where on my father’s map does it indicate we are?” Phineas Han blinks at the old fossil. Yes, it is his father’s map, but dammit, he, Phineas Han, cyber-maven extraordinaire and founder of the Hack Pack, had teased out all the details, finished the work. In a monotone, “Your father’s map puts us squarely in Wernicke’s area.” The Rav nods, “This is,” he pauses, “The Place.” The Place? Why does he always have to be so damn cryptic? Pink’s gone cold, silent.  He soothes himself, recalling his hours of work finishing Rav Krishna’s sacred tome, “A World of Trouble On My Mind”. Pink’s obsessive rereading had imprinted the introduction in his memory circuits, a work of supernal brilliance. It comes back to him whole and unbidden:

Wave after wave of neurons split the preplate, the surface of their primitive ontogenetic planet, by migrating along radial glial fibres to form the cortical plate. Each wave of migrating cells travels past its predecessors forming layers in an inside-out manner, the youngest neurons residing closest to the surface, layers of civilizations in an ancient city. Like burial mounds along the Ohio River, or tells in the Levant, the Ganglionic Eminences remain as evidence of an older, pre-migrational culture. The old culture lives on tangentially as inhibitory interneurons and modifiers of gross motor function, sculpting the inherent bias in the system. Their presence remains dynamically alive in the most basic of functions, such as olfaction, the sense most connected to who we really are and where we come from. The axial cultures follow the larger thoroughfares and byways of neuronal traffic. Long journeys undertaken across vast expanses of territory, these routes of travel and exchange reflect an ever-shifting environment and modify the chthonic structures of each neuronal culture, the never-ending call and response of architecture and movement.

 The majority of neuronal migration, however, is multipolar, establishing communities of like-minded neurons hither, thither and yon. Nonetheless, in spite of its evident heterochronicity, the process of cultural maturation is not helter skelter, but proceeds from most ancient to most recent, from simplest to most complex. On a gross scale, the vast continents of the brain mature from the continental divides outward, raining development down upon the far poles of each territory. Even between the two great hemispheres there is an order, the simple linearity on the left predating the sophisticated gestalt on the right. The territory for language colonizes later, and continues longer than all of the most sophisticated cultural adaptations the evolving brain has to offer. It serves as a source signal and feedback loop to all other modalities during the later stages of development. The regulatory principle behind the whole process is apoptosis, Odysseus’ winnowing fan, the orderly dying back of nearly all that was formed. 

The Rav nudges Pink out of his neuro-reverie, “Pink, give us a twenty second discourse on Wernicke’s Area.” Pink scowls but complies. “Wernicke’s area is the primary receptive language area of the brain. It is the signal generator and feedback loop for all that we consider civilized. It sits at the bend in the left Sylvian fissure, at the temporoparietal junction. Much the way the land of Israel once sat at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean at the crossroads of Africa and Asia. That’s the whole point of the exercise, the homology of the world map and the cerebral cortex. You can see the entire neuroanatomical geopolitical map, or Geo-Cortex, in Rav Krishna’s early 22nd century Oxford masters dissertation, World of Trouble on My Mind. It’s quite cool,” Pink admits, “in spite of the kitschy title.” Pink flashes Rav Ram Nissan an ironic grimace. The Rav concedes, “My father did share the family weakness for American blues, and bad jokes. Thanks, Pink. Consummatum est!” Pink’s cheeks bloom in technicolor. Sophie giggles. Pink’s turned pink! Well worth a giggle I’d say, if it were possible for a disembodied being to giggle.

The Rav continues, “Midbar, Hebrew for wilderness or desert. Same three-consonant root as midaber, one who speaks. There’s a reason we go to the wilderness to get the Word, the skinny, the scoop. Siddhartha of Lumbini, Jesus of Nazareth, Anthony of Thebes. All of them went to the wilderness to hallucinate. Each garnered a boatload of followers based on the interpretation of those hallucinations. The wilderness is where you get the 411.” The Twins look at him as if he’s been speaking Aramaic. “Oh yeah,” he growls, “you guys didn’t have my ‘re-education’. Old slang. The download.” Heads nod, the glow of comprehension lights their faces. Ram Nissan looks on approvingly at his crew, his chaverim. Such freshness, such ferocity. What good fortune! First of all to have lived in reasonably good health to the ripe old age of one hundred and twenty, and secondly to have been adopted as the spiritual popster to a committed band of talented, vigorous idealists. All his cynical hucksterism sublimated into their shared glory. From Ram Nissan’s point of view, even if they fail, it’s worth the ride. But all I can think is No, they mustn’t fail! That’s precisely why I had embedded the Apeiron and Moshiach modules in the software I’d been contracted to design for the AI’s. The fate of humanity is now in the hands of these my peeps. I’ve got a contact high from the Rav. Rav Ram Nissan HaKohen Tzedek Gadol, stoked to the max. He hasn’t felt such an intense communal vibe since his guerilla cyber-busking days after dropping out of yeshiva. And even then, in some unspoken corner of his heart, it always seemed a little futile. Humanity was no match for the AI’s.

The most damage he remembers inflicting back then, in his incarnation as DJRoNK, was the cyber equivalent of flipping the bird at the machines. Big deal. Well maybe. They didn’t put him away for twenty four years of existential derangement for nought. He shudders and channels his bitterness into the work at hand. “OK people, Shabbos is fast upon us. We have a whole day of meditation and learning before the eve of Tisha B’Av hits tomorrow night. Then it’s showtime! T minus twenty five hours and counting. Pitch camp, stow your gear, wash up and prepare for a Shabbos dinner à l’Apeiron. Chef Le Nageur programmed a special treat for us, followed by a kumzitz around the ol’ holoFire. Maybe even zugging a few tuneful niggunim before we catch some z’s. Before chow time arrives, I suggest you do what it takes to get in the mood, do your spirit thing, you know, whatever that might be.” The Rav finds The Swimmer’s disappearance odd, but he keeps it to himself. The Twins roll their eyes at the Rav’s huckster joviality and opaque Yiddishisms. The two of them throw themselves into a vigorous debate over the relative virtues of their favorite recipes for constructing and toasting fabS’mores over a holoFire. The night, so long in coming, envelops the crew in her luxurious mystery.

About the Author
Michael Diamond is a writer based in the Washington, DC area. He practices psychiatry there and is a doctor of medical qigong. He has published verse, fiction and translation in Andrei Codrescu’s journal, The Exquisite Corpse; in the journal Shirim courtesy of Dryad Press; in the online journal for Akashic Press; in New Mexico Review and in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, an artist and illuminator of Hebrew manuscripts, their dog, two cats, a cockatiel named Peaches and a tank of hyperactive fish. He has had a strong interest in Torah since first exposed to traditional stories as a child. Over the course of his life he has run the gamut of spiritual exploration of many world traditions of meditation and mythology. For the last several decades he has landed squarely in the traditional Jewish world. His writing is informed by all of this experience, by his curiosity about today's world and by his desire to mine the Jewish experience for its hidden and revealed wisdom. Torah Obscura, a glimpse of an otherwise invisible world afforded by a small aperture for light. All materials herein copyright © 2018 Michael S. Diamond. All rights reserved.