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Back at Hermit's Rest, Tony went to the long table and showed me the gadgets.
The first was a black triangular object. He pushed the button and a hologram of a goose projected from the center. He laid the object on the table.
"That's an Avian drone."
"Seriously? That looked like Mother Goose." I remembered Kate and her favorite expression.
"Definitely laid golden eggs for my company." Tony pressed the button again and about a dozen geese projected in a V formation. "These drones mimic the migratory patterns of birds and predict unusual and abrupt climate and weather changes. Guess how I came up with this idea," he said. "During our yearly spring vacation, we visited the Witte Museum in San Antonio where they displayed planes, mimicking nature--the flight of birds, bird's wingspan, feathers' weight, material, and so on." He paced around the floating hologram.
"Avian mimicry. This could be militarized! Make an eagle with telescoping eyes," I said. "No one would notice. They'd look like ordinary birds migrating."
Tony shook his head. "You have much to learn my friend. Would you really want that kind of weight on these birds? They will crash."
I bit my lip. He spoke of hidden messages again, telling me my motives were laden with impurity, destructive to my spirit.
"Anyway, I would have missed it if I had not listened to the voice of a child...my daughter," he said. "It was late. We had a dinner reservation. But she begged, 'Please, Daddy. This is once in a lifetime. Next week, they will showcase another display.' That innocent and pure voice beckoned me to a million-dollar idea. Who would have thought that the voice of creative inspiration is camouflaged in the voice of the children? When have you last listened to your children's dreams and aspirations?"
"Are you kidding me? I've been working all my life so they can achieve their dreams," I said.
"And that's where you're mistaken. You think you can help by working for it. You need to listen more and work less. That's probably why your book did not tell the right story. Your brain worked hard and did not listen enough. The heart is where creative inspiration whispers. Listen for the breeze, not the clanging cymbal."
"Up next." He moved to the pentagon-shaped object. With a push of a button, the image projected at our eye level, bigger, and more complex.
"Is that a spacecraft?"
"Old idea. No. This is Corecraft 1.0. Sold this patent to a friend. Men look so high above, they miss the ones below--the low-lying fruit. This excavation craft can squeeze through the slimmest cracks in the Grand Canyon and explore its depths. With the deformability of a slime, it can easily fit into any groove. And like a jellyfish, its surface is embedded with numerous sensors that can collect tons of data. This enables archeologists to safely navigate the unknown world down there, whether dry land or water."
"That's brilliant! How did you come up with that idea?"
"Heard of those putty, squishy toys eleven-year-olds are addicted to?"
"Your child plays with slime?"
He winked at me.
"Just like my Annie," I said. "She'd spend hours squeezing those things and would say, 'Ooh. That sounds so satisfying'."
"Yours too?" He laughed and slapped my shoulder. "Seems like we have things in common. Weren't those sounds annoying?"
"Uugh. I had to put on my noise-canceling headphones to get some work done at home."
"Wrong move, Jeff. That's one way of ignoring the Spirit's inspiration. You missed out on a very important opportunity. Learn to identify the soft whisper of creative revelation, especially when persistent. With every "satisfying" sound my daughter made, and her giggles, she made this prototype jump out of my head. I closed my laptop, sat beside her on the carpet and squeezed the idea all the way. I did not sleep that night and typed into the wee hours of the morning. Out of play, came this multi-million dollar prototype. Because of that, I'm able to live my dream job."
"As a geological engineer?" I said.
"Nah! A shuttle bus driver on weekends and holidays."
I looked at him like he grew five heads.
"Why Jeff Bazoon, don't you have those kinds of dreams completely tucked in your unconscious? Something that's so stress-free and yet so fulfilling and productive at the same time?"
I looked away. "Yes, and it will continue to reside there." I pursued writing and it got me nowhere.
"This third prototype might give you an inspired idea. But first, take a photo of all three because this third one is about to vanish in five...four..."
I fumbled for my cell phone and took snapshots of the prototypes while Tony counted.
"Three...two... and...one." He took the snowflake-formed black object and tossed it in the air. It vanished into tiny sparkling lights and emitted long rays that boosted the projection around the room.
"We are now inside the part of the brain that controls dreams."
"I've seen this idea before, in a movie where this guy cajoled this lady to enter his brain." Annie's ews rang back in my memory.
"Bingo!" He clapped. "My family watched that movie at AMC and this idea came to me when he--"
"That sounds so unoriginal."
"But this one does not just project, Jeff. This settles into your system as soon as it makes contact with your epidermis and dermal appendages."
"And whose brain is that?"
"The brain of the universe, which you are a subatomic particle of. But you know what's so unusual about this? As the universal dream prototype collides with your being, your cells gain a resonance so unlike the frequency found on this realm."
The lighted dust particles settled on my skin and a spark came. "Aw!" It sparkled like pin-pricks buzzing my hair tendrils. "Aw, aw, aw." I jumped and slapped at my arm and neck.
"That activated your unconscious dream center. Now you are awake. Welcome to the unconscious realm."
I stood and panted.
"What realm?" I said. "Nothing happened."
"That which happened is too marvelous for the eyes to behold."
"And what just happened to me? Exactly?"
"Expectant faith. From now on, you shall ask and receive, seek and find, knock and a door will open. A new realm of living. A new beginning. Now go back to your family and do just that."
"Are you some spiritual guru or something?"
Tony slapped his forehead. "A glitch in the system. Just when I thought the real Jeff would emerge, skeptic Jeff comes back."
"People can easily accuse you of mumbo-jumbo in this project. You do realize that."
"Just because they cannot see it, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist."
"This spirit. It takes faith to believe in something you do not see. How do you plan to convince people?"
"I don't. Logic demands reasoning but for most, even the hardest evidence will not convince them once they've already made up their mind. Unconvincing requires a miracle that logic cannot define."
I crossed my arms over my chest.
"You don't believe me? Take for instance the food you eat in a restaurant. How do I convince you that the one who came from the restroom washed her hands and did not garnish my lettuce with E. coli?"
I shrugged. "Who knows?"
"Was it faith in the sign inside the restroom that all employees must wash? Faith that he obeyed the rules? Faith that the water is clean and the soap did its job? In effect, you're exercising faith in the unseen."
I pocketed my hands, uncertain where this was leading.
"But," he said, "you know your faith is based on a true belief when nothing bad happens to you. Yet one effect is not enough." He pointed a finger up. "It must be a pattern of effects. One person getting sick will not create evidence against the food handler. But when three or more people get sick after eating the food prepared by the same cook, then you havethe evidence of the unseen."
"Sounds familiar. Are you talking about Typhoid Mary?" I said.
"You have medical background?"
"My wife is...was a nurse, and she talks a lot about these things, even while in the dining table," I said. "A most annoying trait when you want to enjoy your spaghetti and she says it looks like an intestinal parasite.'
Tony burst out laughing. I jumped at the sound that hit one wall and echoed to the other.
"Sorry. My boom box is powerful." He tapped his chest. "I'd love to meet your wife. Sounds like an interesting woman. Anyway, that is how they caught Typhoid Mary, the food handler who carried Salmonella typhi and caused an outbreak of typhoid fever in New York."
So what was his point?
Tony sighed. "You still don't get it. This may open up your closed mind."
He went and stooped behind the desk and gave me a shoe box.
I opened the box and stared. "Running shoes?"
"What did you expect? A magic wand in a shoe box?" He took out the shoes and slipped it on. "Not just any running shoes. No shoelaces."
"And too big for you," I said. "Is that a size 13? You look like Ronald McDonald."
Tony stomped and the shoes shrunk and molded around his feet. "Reverse Maglev kinetic shoes. One size fits all. Watch this."
He pushed a button on the wall and it opened into the rim of the Grand Canyon. He jumped off.
He floated in the air.
"Wha--" I stared at his flying figure.
He laughed with his arms and legs spread wide.
"Maglev shoes boost hypersonic energy to keep your center of gravity balanced. Carbon activated."
"How is it powered? Do you have a safety net if it fails?" I didn't want him falling and killing himself with no rescue team around.
"Don't worry. This is a Holoscreen Simulator. Virtual depth perception. You seem like you are flying above the abyss but not really."
"The abyss is not real?"
"Took your breath away, did it? Extreme sports without the extreme risk."
That was the tagline of--- "Wait, you own 4D Xtremes?!"
Tony grinned and pointed at the wall. "Push the green button."
I did and a whir sounded from the floor. Propelled air blew on Tony and perfected the look of floating and flying with his shirt and pants catching the wind.
"Hold on. The name. Xtremes. Was that inspired by a movie?”
Tony did a thumbs up.
"Oh, you're so not original."
"But I am. The name may have been inspired by the movie but the idea is one of a kind. You wouldn't have guessed if I had not told you about my inspirations.”
I stroked my chin. He had a point.
"Look at this." Tony bent his knees and assumed a fetal position. He reached for the sole of the shoes with both hands and he landed on the floor in super-hero style.
I swiped my hand and shook my head. "Soo not original." I chuckled.
"Jeff, nothing is original." He rose and turned the fan off. "Everything is inspired by something. There is no original story. You write the same story using the lessons you learned. A writer ought to know that."
"Wrong topic. Wrrrt," I said, circling my finger in a rewinding motion.
"You'll eventually need to face your issue." He took off the shoes. " But I'd back off for now... for now." He shoved the shoes on my chest. "Try this on."
"No way, can't do." I held the shoes like they were two premature babies.
"For goodness' sake, this is just a cushioned floor." Tony jumped up and down the simulation area.
"But it looks so real."
"If you believe so. But come here." He grabbed my wrist and pulled me.
"Aaah!" I threw the shoes in the air and braced my hands on the ground as I tumbled down on the floor. I felt stupid squatting on a cushioned image of the abyss.
"Hold right there. Stare below and above you," he said.
I wobbled and steadied my body with my hands on a surface that didn't look like a floor. The feel of the cushion convinced my brain that I was not floating although I seemed to be sitting on air.
"That's propioception, and it keeps you grounded but once the shoes lift you off the air, the floor will vanish in your mind and your eyes will trick you into believing that you're indeed flying. Here." He handed me the shoes that had landed near him.
"Why am I doing this?" I muttered while slipping on to the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. It snuggled to a perfect fit. I stood up and swayed.
Tony grasped my arm. "So you're acrophobic. What are you afraid of? Height or depth?"
"But that's a silly question." I stared at his black probing eyes, trying to keep my gaze away from my surroundings. "There is no depth without the height and vice versa."
"So you're saying height is the same as depth? Why not use the same word for the two concepts?"
"What are you driving at?"
"Perception. If I'm from below I am not afraid of heights because I can't fall upwards. From above, the fear is real. I'm afraid of falling, not of height or depth."
"So there's no such thing as acrophobia then? You've been living a lie all along, believing your diagnosis of acrophobia, when in fact it's basiphobia, just because your doctor said so?"
"They're the experts."
"But that does not mean they can't be mistaken. So why did you believe you can't write?"
Not again. I stifled a groan. "I'm not in the mood for that."
"Whatever suits your boot." Tony let go of me and pushed a button on the wall.
I rose and floated off the ground, the wind blowing on my face. "Aaah..." I spread my arms and legs, groping for something to hold. The river below looked real. Sweat formed on my brows and my heartbeat raced into a flutter. I lowered my lids and gasped. "Noo.." I whispered as the depth below punched my gut into a wrenching nausea. The mountains rose and the abyss rushed towards me. Falling fast, my throat tightened and I curled and braced for the impact of the ground.
Thud. I landed on the cushioned floor, panting and swallowing a ball of choking air.
"Kinetic Holoscreen. The mountains sped upwards and the ground zoomed in, giving you the perception of falling down. See, it's all about perception."
I was still shaking. I buried my head between my legs and took a deep breath. Crazy man.
"Here, let me help you."
I took Tony's hands and he pulled me up. My knees shook and gave way. With a firm grip, Tony shoved me to the nearby sofa.
"Perception." I rubbed my eyes. "What becomes of truth when it can be manipulated?"
"It remains the same. The sun does not stop shining when the clouds cover it. It continues to shine, but from your vantage point, the light could not pierce through. So you see darkness. Would you conclude that the sun dimmed based on your perception?"
"That would not be true because I know how the sun behaves."
"That should be your stance when searching for the truth. Veiled or unveiled, it remains the same. View it from different vantage points."
He had a point.
Tony pushed a button and the clouds on the Holoscreen parted and revealed the sun. He adjusted the glare with a thin veil of cloud. "You ever wondered why the pagans worshiped the sun for lack of knowledge of whom to worship yet sensing that there is a greater power in this world? Like the sun, God will not cease to exist simply because you do not believe in Him."
"I did not say I don't believe in a Being more superior than me."
"Yet His superiority is of no value to you if you remain superior to Him in managing your life."
"Why are we talking about God?"
"For the sake of discussing the concept of truth."
"You're drowning me with words." I stood up. "Can we get some fresh air?"
"Always escaping," he mumbled, punched more buttons on the wall that dimmed the lights in the room, and walked towards the back door.
I followed him outside. When my shoes hit the uneven gravel road, it adjusted with cushion and arch support. “Whoa!”
Tony smiled. “Kinflex technology on the sole. Kinetic. Flexible. It adjusts to the environment and situation. Try hopping.” I did and sprung up in the air, about two feet high. “This would make basketball lay-ups easy.”
“But you would have depended on technology and not man’s skill. It would be a basketball game that measures technology and not skill and team work. It complicates the sport.”
He went to the rim and breathed in the air.
I walked and stood beside him, taking on the panoramic view of the mountains. “It doesn’t look real. It could be a green screen.”
“You think so? What if it is? What if everything here is a Holoscreen? Your world a lie?”
“Nope. Those people trekking on the edges tells me it’s real.” I pointed at the group of backpackers looking like tiny ants on the edge of the mountain below us. “Wanna bet your life on that?”
“You bet I will!”
“Let’s test your theory.” With that, he hurled me over the rail into the abyss.