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page three

'I already told you. Not paying attention, Watson?'

'Tell me again,' he said, 'What were her exact words? And don't call me Watson!'

'Sorry, Professor. She said "Galactic Brotherhood" and "Space Brothers". Then you came back and she clammed up. So that's why we're here! Aliens in California! But why are there aliens in California?'

'Now, Ace, how should I know?” He stopped, seeing something. Grinning, he pointed his umbrella. 'What's that they say in the movies?'

Around the corner moved a vision of eccentric opulence, a bizarre fusion of classic Detroit engineering and the artistic design of a frenzied six-year-old. It was a huge, black Cadillac. Every surface, even the tinted windows, was covered by a mad scattering of stars and planets, every single one with a tiny name painted below.  A double line of little flags of alien worlds gently rustled along the bonnet, top and the huge fins on the boot. Most striking of all, though, on the top it was crowned by a clear, lit-up model of a flying saucer. I heard the 'Blue Danube' in my head as it sedately steamed past, then realised it wasn't in my head, but coming from the Space Cadillac.

Wow. Just wow. I grinned back at the Professor. 'Follow that car?'

knew this wasn't just another bazaar crawl! He chuckled and offered me his arm, 'Shall we?'

“The Physical Plane is but a poor shadow of True Reality. With its matter, its fleshly creature desires, its dimensions and boundaries, the Physical Plane is a prison for those who are Illuminated. But it is a prison with a Purpose, for here are our souls forged and tempered in the fires of pre-existence. Our enlightened behaviour here shapes and molds that which we shall become when we are born into True Life, and that enlightenment can only come with strict adherence to the outlines and procedures given us by the Immeasurable Luuna and the Benevolent Space Brothers.”

from, 'Introduction to Soul Preparation and Bodily Purity' (Illuminated Science Studies, Vol. 1. Published in 1959 by IDBSB Science Press, Mount Shasta City, CA)

There's a problem with stories based on real life, isn't there? In a made-up story the writer can put everything in order. The people, the stuff that happens, it all serves the story. You find out what you need to know when you need to know. Real life doesn't work like that.

For example, they haven't properly come into the story yet but they're the key to the whole thing, in a way, so I should confirm that the mountain looming above actually was full of Lemurians, keenly observing as events unfolded below. 

There's a weird moment of disconnect when you step over the TARDIS threshold. From the outside, you open a wooden door and see darkness. One step, and you're walking through a big mechanical vault door into the console room. From the other side, you step past the big door into darkness and see the wooden door just ahead. But that one step? You feel it, every time, like you've spanned a kilometre wide canyon. But it's more than the sensation of moving; it's the feeling that you've just crossed the line between reality and fantasy. The Professor says it's a security measure and swears he'll disconnect it some day. I think he just likes the sensation.

I bring this up because it's exactly how I felt when we stepped into the temple of the Illuminated Disciples of the Benevolent Space Brothers. Outside, a bleakly lit mountain town smelling of petrol fumes and fir trees. Inside, a whole other world, untouched by the one outside. Or reality, for that matter.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust, then I saw it. Then it took a moment for my mind to adjust. It was tacky. It was beautiful. It was hard to take in. Golden stars were on every surface. Set in the pink marble floor, on the red columns lining the walls and on the blue curtains behind them. A mobile of the solar system, complete with a little flying saucer, hung from a purple dome, lit by little bulbs that reflected on the shiny black marble circle beneath. 

Soft, tinkly music drifted from hidden speakers.

It smelled of incense and disinfectant, and there were cardboard turkeys and puritans taped to every available surface.

A tall step ladder was set up beneath the dome. A lady in an ornate robe was at the top, screwing a bulb into the sky, humming along to the Muzak, engrossed in her task.

The Doctor looked around and frowned. 'Humans!' he said, 'always looking up to see where they should stand!'

The lady heard him and looked down.

'Oh!' she said, 'I didn't see you there. Have you been helped?'

We approached as she reached to screw in another star. 'I'll be right with you,' she said, her voice echoing slightly in the open space.

She looked familiar, this lady, and it took only a closer look at her face to place her. This had to be Peace's elder sister, or maybe her mother. She looked too young for that, though. Distracted by these thoughts, I barely registered that the Professor was suddenly moving ahead quickly. I heard the crack! of snapping wood and saw the ladder spin and lean. The lady squeaked and grasped the only thing within reach – the little model flying saucer. The ladder crashed to the floor, the Professor adroitly dodging it as he positioned himself beneath her. 

She gently spun there, twenty feet up, turning her head to address us as we rotated into view.

'Don't worry! We'll save you!' I said, all heroic, looking for something to help.

The Professor doffed his hat. 'Hello!', he called up, 'I'm the Doctor and this is my friend Ace. I wonder if we could have a moment of your time?'

I swear, she stopped spinning right then. The Professor blushed and averted his eyes.

'Hello, Doctor. Hello, Ace. I'm Sally Spenser, High Priestess of the I.D.B.S.B. A bit too high for comfort at the moment, ha! Little help here, please?'

The Professor was telling her to just let go and let him catch her, a suggestion she was not amenable to, as he wasn't even looking at her (I realised later he could see up her robe) and was certainly not strong enough to catch her by himself.

It didn't matter. Ace was on it. I yanked a curtain from the wall, exposing cheap cinder block behind. When I got back he was casually telling her we'd met Peace.

'Grab hold this end,' I told him, 'Tight!'

'Peace is her daughter,' he told me, and as we stretched the curtain the wire holding the little saucer that was holding Sally snapped. 

I reach frozen Lake Helen, over three thousand meters in the sky, after hours of trudging up and across loose slopes and patches of ice and stone. It's a relief to see a flat surface. My legs are aching.  I take a short break, massage the cramps from my calves, and study the summit. 

Something up there sparkles. 


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