Sorry about the sensational title, but what I'm doing is a sort of war against time. As recounted in the last installment, I defied the Time Artists who control history. Maybe control is too strong a word for what they do. They tweak events here and there in pursuit of how they want things to turn out, though according to Arthur, my contact among the Time Artists, they don't care how things turn out so much as they care about style. They believe, as Churchill said, that "the pudding should have a theme." You might say they are not postmodern; they like a beginning, middle and end, a plot and story.
That part is not what has put me in opposition to the Time Artists. I want a story too, but with a happy ending, that being, in my story, a human race that overcomes the disadvantages of its birth to figure itself out. That sure would make me happy. The Time Artists, sad to say, do not appear to consider humans a priority. Should they? I'm not even sure what the Time Artists are, or what they look like. Arthur appears as a wise and kindly wizard, but he may just have read my childhood fascination with Tolkien's Gandalf. Arthur in fact may look like a crazed amoeba with strobe lights for eyes.
Watching the Time Artists peck away at the edges of the current preliminaries to World War III, it has become clear to your correspondent that they are doing little or nothing to increase human awareness of the war preparations, allowing us, without self-knowledge, to will the war into existence ourselves. My happy ending, however, requires awareness.
So against Arthur's wishes I read Secretary of State John Kerry's and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's minds during their meeting last week and observed the cynical thinking involved in what the network news blithely called "diplomacy," in the twenty seconds it devoted to the story- twenty seconds for the story of our being led up the chute to slaughter. The Time Artists were not even thinking about the war that day; they were busy arguing about the Rio Olympics. So I acted.
Arthur's response was swift and brutal. As soon as I posted the story he grabbed me, like in our first encounter when I flew out the bedroom window to meet him in the Devil's Punchbowl, though this time instead of arriving in a euphoric dream I found myself suspended over a vat of molten lead, held up only by Arthur's hand around my left ankle.
"You have caused us more trouble than you're worth, you little turd!" Arthur hissed, has face red and strained, all Gandalfian benevolence gone.
My soul wet its pants, but from some quarter I found courage. I've wondered what that corner was. Was it the racial memory of our species, which for so long has considered itself either a free agent or potentially free? Arthur's was the face of negation, of an inevitable cul de sac awaiting the hopeful. I think the sense that there was nothing to lose is what empowered me. That and the hope that the molten lead would kill me so fast I wouldn't remember the pain.
I looked up at Arthur and shouted, "Whatever you are, you are false! Humans are livestock to you, interesting specimens. Go ahead, drop me in! I want nothing to do with your 'history'!"
There followed a pause which could only be described as interminable, though it did terminate- with a deep sigh from Arthur- followed by another interminable pause, followed by Arthur's voice, now quieted and mournful: "Thank you, Harry, for presenting yourself to me in this honest fashion. That's what we respect. I'd like to make you a deal."
"Huh?...Ok....," I stammered through the fumes and heat, suddenly wondering where I got the idea that sinking in molten lead wasn't so bad.
Noticing my discomfiture, Arthur gently spun me into the dark void- the blazing vat gone. After a pleasant few moments of cosmic massage, I landed softly in a big stuffed chair, a snifter of brandy by my side, a fire roaring in a huge stone hearth, galaxies swirling around where there should have been a room and Arthur sitting across from me in full Gandalf persona.
"It's difficult to be a Time Artist, Harry," Arthur began, "so many things happen everywhere every moment, so many forms, antithetical yet synonymous, discordant yet harmonized, sane yet insane. We're not that powerful, you know."
"You could have fooled me," I said as I sipped the brandy and felt an immediate warmth right down to my molecules.
"We appear powerful to humans because we can change things, but we're only allowed to change certain things. We're not supposed to be after what you're after."
"What am I after?"
"You are a special interest, Harry, a faction, one in an infinity of other factions. Sometimes against high odds a faction gets through to the Time Artists. All it takes is for someone to actually talk to us. That's all it ever takes."
There was silence in the room. The brandy or whatever it was engendered a grand and only slightly false sense of euphoria. I stared at Arthur dumbly, happily.
"The Time Artists, after discussion and debate lasting months...."
"What, I've been away for months?"
"No, we slip in and out of time, remember? You'll go back to the same moment you left. Anyway, we've decided to let you try your hand at creating something, in this case a reason why your species should be saved after the wretched mess it's made of its own home and the mess it threatens to make beyond earth. Harry, listen to me. You have to do more than impress yourself. That's easy. The hard part will be to impress the Time Artists, who now see your species precisely as you see captive chimpanzees throwing shit at each other. We will let you try, on a limited, case by case basis. When you return, read some minds in the news and post your scoop. We'll evaluate the results. If we see something hopeful, a bit of mind to counter the trending mindlessness, we'll recommend revision to the higher-ups."
"You don't want to know."
"Why not, are they horrible?"
"I don't mean that. I mean, literally, you don't want to know."
"No, or you would. The truth is right in front of you."
And on that ambiguous or perfectly clear note, depending on your perspective, the room dissolved and I sat at my linoleum kitchen table in Pearblossom, the evening news on the TV. The lead story was Donald Trump's meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City.
I rummaged around quickly for a Sweet 'n Salty bar, found a stale half and chomped it down, then put everything I had into the TV set. Here's what I got. If readers react to this, I'll try to argue my case with the Time Artists. If not, well, maybe we're not supposed to be sentient.
Thoughts of Presidents Trump and Nieto:
Thoughts of Presidents Trump and Nieto:
Trump: What a putz! How easy was it to get this guy to do my bidding! It's like, I have to be respectful to a CEO, but I can dominate any head of state. It's almost spooky.
Nieto: God damn this miserable boor for setting me up like this! He's making me look like I respond to brute political force rather than to what's right. I hate looking like that.
Trump: Jesus, this is the leader of a narco-state? He's like a reflection, an actor in a movie. If I were the head of a narco-state, I would look like one!
I got a bit restless at these thoughts because I'm mainly interested in the war. The Sweet 'n Salty bar kicked in and I dug aggressively into the two men's minds, where I found not a thought about Syria or the world war by proxy fought there. They didn't particularly care about it.
Later in the evening Trump told an audience in Arizona, who had been led to expect a "softening" of his mass deportation idea, that he advocates priority deportations for undocumented felons, with everyone else coming later, thus dodging the logistics angle. Fishing in Trump's mind I found random inner thoughts (e.g., Like taking candy from a baby!) but, again, no thoughts about the war.
For purposes of balance, I checked Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton and found her similarly without care regarding the war. In her case, she did not care because the only person calling her out for her support of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq (at the conclusion of which, it turns out, U.S. policy did create ISIS) is Trump, but he delivered the ISIS charge so crudely, without corroborative information, that no one paid any attention.
Note to Time Artists: This post is not particularly revelatory of war machinations, but it does represent to people that the major candidates for U.S. president are as irrelevant to the coming war as the Cialis ads on the evening news. People long for leadership. They will not like knowing that there is no leadership. This knowledge will cause them to question their fatalism, an important first step.