Now we were sitting in Sally's office and I was listening to her and the Professor talk about mysticism and outer space (You didn't skip the cut & paste articles, did you? They'll fill in the blanks for you. There's another one coming; it's pretty long but I've divided it up into chunks). Her escape from certain injury or death was forgotten as soon as the Professor introduced us as spiritual seekers on pilgrimage.
So they nattered on like old friends about souls and Space Brothers as I flipped through pamphlets ('Seeker! Is Your Soul LOST In SPACE?') , sipped an apple juice (wishing it was another of those Mountain Dew drinks I'd gotten from the machine at the hotel) and wondered why the Professor hadn't pointed out that the ladder leg had clearly been cut. He's playing a game, I thought. There's some connection between the aliens, the temple, Peace and Sally. Maybe the aliens were coming to Shasta, joining the temple, and slowly disposing of the humans? If the attempt on her life had failed, would a duplicate Sally soon be running things here? What better place for alien invaders to hide, here where they wouldn't be taken seriously? It made perfect sense.
'Excuse me Professor, Mrs. Spenser?' I said. ' I'd like to stretch my legs, okay?'
The Doctor dismissed me. 'Go ahead, Ace. I'll see you tonight.'
'And I'll see you tomorrow at dinner,' said Sally, 'if you'd accept my invitation. No one should spend Thanksgiving without turkey and stuffing.'
'Not only do we accept, gratefully,' said the Doctor, ' I'll do you one better. I'd very much enjoy helping you prepare. I'm quite the wizard in the kitchen, as Ace can attest.'
It was news to me. 'Yeah, that sounds great. You. Cooking. Can't wait for that.'
Sally beamed. 'It's settled then! Splendid! Peace is off work at five, dear, if you need company.'
'Is it okay if I look around the temple 'til then? It's awfully interesting.'
'It's a study hall, dear, but yes you may. I'm afraid it's nearly empty at the moment, though, with the holidays. Just be careful not to intrude on anyone's meditation, and remember that girls have to stay on the first floor. Only boys are allowed upstairs.'
I saw the Professor's ears twitch. 'Oh, really?' he said, 'How interesting... why is that?'
Dead serious, she said, 'Because only men can be enlightened. We don't serve the Illuminated Space Sisters, after all, do we? Only men may share in the cosmic communion.'
'But you're the high priestess!' I said, 'How can you be high priestess if you aren't enlightened? That's stupid!'
'It is not stupid, young lady! I am the keeper of the archives, guardian of the lore and minister to the life-worn! My inability to physically share in the cosmic mysteries does not lessen my role in the purpose of the Brotherhood!'
'So you have to keep house just because you don't have a...'
The Professor stopped me. 'Well, Ace, I'm sure it's not 'stupid'... There's probably a very reasonable explanation... Bio-vibrations keyed to a specific genetic template, I'm guessing...' He turned in his chair and gave me that squint that said "go sniff around", 'Maybe someone who's been upstairs can explain?'
Sally looked sincerely distressed. 'I know it sounds sexist, dear. I thought the same thing. Peace thought the same thing. But she accepts it now, and when she's high priestess she'll enforce it just as I do.'
Then she shared a wink, 'Besides, who says some women aren't enlightened already? You called me Mrs. Spenser, but I've never been married. I'm Miss Spenser, and happy to be.'
Memories are piling up; I can't find my rhythm. Every rock I dislodge bounces and scurries to mix with its brothers down slope. I envy them, it's so easy to just roll. It would be a relief to give up and follow them down below. But I won't. I'm hearing my name more often, no longer merged with the wind but carried upon it.
An hour ago, the object in my backpack played an eerie fanfare and began humming. I wonder if it knows where we're going.
I won't bother describing the Order's temple much further. Just picture a posh temple out front, offices, libraries and dorms hidden behind in a plain three-story building, and you've got it. Only the temple's fancy. Once you're past the gilt and marble out front it's all fake wood panelling, venetian blinds and shag carpet, like a middle-class American's basement rec room. I even saw a ping-pong table.
Most rec rooms lack a forbidden third floor, so of course that's where Ace headed. I easily found the stairs and gained the second floor but that's where my trespassing ended. I walked the central hall twice, checking each door, but every one was locked. They were helpfully labelled – meditation room Vitus Alpha Andromeda, residence hall Saturn, Janitor, etc. – but none said, 'this way to the secret inner sanctum'. There also seemed to be no one else up here. It was dead quiet except for the tinkly Muzak. The third floor, by its inaccessibility, seemed to lay dangerously heavy overhead. I felt like it was watching me.
Slightly bothered, I went back down where it didn't seem as haunted. The Professor and Sally were laughing like old mates from behind her closed door. I was mildly creeped out by the realisation that, despite everything, the Professor was still a bloke and enjoying a chat with a pretty woman, so my thoughts and I resolutely moved on.
I lingered outside the next office. Someone answered the phone and I heard a rapid murmuring, like a used car salesman underwater, but I couldn't make out anything. The sign on the door read 'Jack Kraft – Exalted Consort'. Nice work if you can get it.
The next office simply said, 'Luuna'. According to the pamphlets in Sally's office, this was the Ascended Space Pontiff, the Immeasurable Luuna. She who knew, by cosmic revelation, the innermost workings of galactic society and the human soul. Her real name, I later learned, was Gladys Kraft and Jack Kraft was her husband. More on them in a sec.
I had a mad impulse and was about to knock when I heard a vacuum cleaner start. Make friends with the staff, I thought. Good idea. So I left Luuna to the universe and went to find the janitor.
"The automobile accident that nearly claimed Gladys Kraft's life is officially still unexplained. The fledgling California Highway Patrol reported Mrs. Kraft losing control of her vehicle on a straight stretch of Highway 5. She has not elaborated on the circumstances that led to the accident. She was discovered five hours later, twenty yards from the crash site. Though apparently uninjured she was in a deep coma that persisted for three months. When she awoke she was no longer Gladys Kraft, housewife, but the Immeasurable Luuna, envoy of the Benevolent Space Brothers.
Mysteries remain. What led Gladys to quietly leave her sleeping husband at such an early hour? How did she come to be found twenty yards from the accident when there was no evidence of her being thrown from the car? Given her mild injuries, why did she become comatose? Most of all, why does she now claim to represent an interstellar society in all human affairs?"