Time passes and Frederick performs his various duties according to the seasons. Not mechanically, but they are by their nature repetitive. Chestnut picking, feeding hummingbirds, spring wading in the mud, dealing with Mana’s cough, treating Alexander’s cold. There are several disputes between Sylvia and Charles, but once again he doesn’t intervene. Let them settle matters. More time passes.
He remembers Naklah and thinks it must have been a daydream. He laughs at himself, but he’s also a little afraid. He has hallucinations that remind him of the war, of being a guerrilla, of all the teenage boys who died around him, of all the children without mothers and the mothers without husbands, villages without people, Jews without life. The incident with Alexander in the water isn’t a memory, though—it’s something created by his mind. He hopes he’s not going crazy. Alexander doesn’t remember any of it, including Naklah, so it must have been a fantasy. He’s often worried about his grandson and his daughter, because of Charles, and this stress must have induced the hallucination. He thinks he should deal with Charles, do something.
One Wednesday he walks Mana at the meadow by the lake. He plans to visit the plot. Alexander’s not staying overnight tonight, so he might pick something, clean up, rake, burn leaves—there’s always something to do. But in the end he gives up the idea. He arranges with a neighbour, with whom he shares the plot, to do it the following Saturday. He goes for a walk instead.
Mana pokes around in the leaves. Frederick drops the leash, walking slowly behind the dog, picks a blade of grass. He stops by the wild pear tree, which is barely standing. There are some blue flowers under it. Between them are thistles, and Mana keeps away from them, jumping over them and running further along. Rustling sounds, and then a hare jumps from behind a bush, putting his ears back and running away. Mana chases him for a while, but she knows that it’s futile—she won’t catch the hare on account of her age, and eventually she stops. Frederick looks at the meadow and thinks “Naklah.” He hasn’t thought of it in a long time. And when he thinks it, Naklah appears.
Frederick crouches, impressed. Naklah emerges from the air, settles on the meadow, its fractal ends shining, looking like a blue sun. At the same time, it doesn’t look like the sun at all. It opens like a chestnut shell. Wide. A light glows from inside. Someone comes out.
“Hello,” he says. “I’m Rad. I come from Naklah”
We have been waiting for the next man for a long time, carefully searching for someone strong enough—we did not want the history to repeat again. We were patient. We waited and waited for over a thousand years, apart from a few episodes about which I will not speak. It turned out the same as in Sumer and Egypt—the same force that drove Alexander to his downfall infected our next chosen ones, and we were disappointed. Therefore, much time had to pass before we decided to support the Aztecs. The Tira de Peregrinacion says that the Aztecs came across the talking head of Huitzilopochtli in the jungle, and it promised them that if they would take it with them, it would help them to become the rulers of Mexico. There was no head, believe me. We were the only ones there. Naklah.
Do you think that the Aztecs who were considered savages in the place where they arrived, could have constructed Tenochtitlan without us? Developed it from a fishing village into a powerful city? Form a Triple Alliance, leading to a regional power? You explored their economies and the way they used the ores and gems and shared the goods among members of their society. You believed their economy was extremely advanced. But they did not invent these things themselves. That happened with our help, according to our hints, with our blessing, because we wanted to give them enlightenment, just as wanted to enlighten the previous societies where we intervened. And we wanted them to have a power that would allow them bring peace. Forever. Fix what we did wrong in creating you. We are your creator. We feel as responsible for you as you are responsible for your dog.
They respected us. So much so, that they imposed their belief in those who come from the sky on tribes they subordinated. Your books say that it is difficult to determine what they believed in. Huitzilopochtli, Ometeotl, the sun. Each of these idols is just us. Us, the ones who come from the sky, saying that the Aztecs were a chosen nation.
Once he got home from his meeting with Rad, he couldn’t remember which route he’d taken or how long it had taken him. Naklah had confirmed a theory that had cost him years of work, his research career, and contracts as well-paid business consultant—everyone knew he had strange ideas. What remained were the memories of his trips to Egypt and Mexico, he went to both places with Teresa, driven by a premonition. He visited only those two places—for everything else his studies were based on the literature. They accused him of choosing crazy, florid elements from the work of Erich von Daeniken, and then using them to develop a theory combining alternate history and economics.
People fight for resources, he said. They don’t fight because there isn’t enough for everyone, but because some have surpluses and others have deficits. Example? Americans throw away about forty per cent of their food. One hundred and sixty-five billion dollars annually ends up in the trash. The other end of the equation? Africa.
If people dealt wisely with the resources that the planet offers, there would be enough for all. A surplus even! Farmlands would have a chance to take a break. Mines, power plants, and factories could slow down. Overfished seas would have a chance to recover.
Since goods would be shared according to central planning, money would lose its raison d’être. The economy would return to barter trade, but not quite—it would no longer be about the exchange of something for something, but simply the distribution of common goods, to which no one had a sole right and everyone has access. So, no money. The next step would be the elimination of the state—it would share the fate of the money.
The key, however, would be a system of sharing of goods. This would be introduced and, for a period of time, adjusted and fine-tuned using a firm hand. Dictatorship. Dictatorship is efficient. Frederick hadn’t meant the blood and gore of a dictatorial state, but economic violence, central management of production, storage and distribution of goods. It would be painful.
“But once the period during which coercive power was needed has ended, it could be eliminated. The world would learn and become a self-regulating mechanism, inhabited by citizens sharing goods and co-operating to meet everyone’s needs. The problem until now has been that we humans never grew beyond the stage of dictatorship,” he explains to Mana as he puts the key in the lock. Turns it. It isn’t locked. Didn’t he lock the door? Sylvia?
Sylvia. She’s sitting at the table in the kitchen, covering her face with a bag of frozen peas. Frederick looks at her and everything inside him screams. He wants to overturn furniture, smash plates, then chase Charles, grab him and tear his heart from his chest, just as the Aztecs tore out the hearts of their victims. He’d throw it away, though, because it would never be suitable for the atonement of the sun—it’s black and foul.
He goes into the living room and kisses Alexander. His grandson is playing with blocks and toy cars, sitting on the carpet and muttering to himself. Mana accompanies him, pokes her face into the bucket of toys just in case Aleksander is eating something and has a little food to spare. Frederick returns to his daughter—he’s determined that it’s now time to stand up for her.
“I’ll leave Mana here,” he says. He goes out. In the bus, he drums his fingers on the window. He walks quickly to the house, rings the doorbell, and as soon as his son-in-law opens the door, hits Charles in the face with all his might. Blood gushes from Charles’s nose, spraying Frederick’s clothes, and a few warm drops fall on his face. He feels satisfaction. Blood is good.
The Aztecs were doing better and better. They gained power over a large area, extending the range of their governance, but I was worried—I and the others like me—about the fact that they needed so much blood. We could not eradicate their stubborn faith in the idea that, as the chosen ones, they must satiate the sun, that the sun must eat from cuauhxicalli—the stone bowl. If it is hungry, it will not rise, and it is never entirely satisfied. The Aztecs killed more and more prisoners to ensure its favours. Four men grabbed the victim, and the priest cut into his or her body and slipped his hand through the ribs to snatch the beating heart. He raised it above his head, sprinkling the blood on his face and on the face of Huitzilopochtli, stone and unshakable.
They did not want to stop, even when we explained them that the sun was a star. They would not understand, were not mature enough to accept the knowledge. So we agreed to the spilling of blood, patiently waiting until they could understand our lessons on this point, the same way they had understood technical issues. We did not expect that there would be more blood.
Frederick is interfering. He says that Sylvia should move out, that Alexander complains that Charles shouts, that he has told the boy that he would spank him. He’s abusing her—this isn’t the first time. They live in fear, and while it’s good that his grandson so often stays with him, she should too.
Sylvia doesn’t want to listen, or maybe Frederick doesn’t know how to talk to her, because whatever he says just makes her angry. She says that she’ll talk with Charles and it won’t happen again. She tells him to stop talking about Alexander, but Frederick doesn’t want to stop and it annoys her. His daughter gets up, says that Alexander has his own house, his father and his mother. Frederick objects, she gets irritated. She says that they’re going home—she’s had enough of the lectures.
Alexander is crying—he wants to be with his grandfather.
“Grandpa, Grandpa!” he sobs when Sylvia carries him to the elevator. Why is she so stubborn? Frederick follows her, and behind him trots Mana. He asks Sylvia to reconsider. There’s no need to argue, let Alexander stay.
Sylvia doesn’t answer, just casts him an angry look. Her eyes say it’s Frederick’s fault that the boy is crying—he shouldn’t interfere. She gets into the elevator. Alexander looks at Frederick with tearful eyes. He disappears.
Frederick doesn’t know what to do. Slams the door. Rushes down the stairs. Stops for a moment on the first floor, looks out of the window. He sees his daughter getting into the car. Maybe she’s right wanting to sort things out? He walks slowly downstairs. Mana follows him, he hadn’t noticed that she was there.
“Come on, let’s walk,” he says to the bitch. Mana wags.
They go on the plot. Along the way, Frederick picks a stick and uses it to mow down the weeds growing on the sides of the path.
In a similar way, Cortez cut his way through the jungle. With his sword, he slashed out a path to the riches he expected to find. Possessed by a vision of gold, which he and his soldiers will to wear. There weren’t many of them, but they wanted victory so much that they pushed on anyway. Delving deeper and deeper into the jungle, they came to the Aztecs’ fortress.
Montezuma should have asked us for help, but he thought we had lied to him.
“You did not come from heaven, but he did—look at the animals he is leading, look at the blood he sheds. Look at the signs, everything indicates that he is a god, not Naklah!” he said. “Here comes the god, we honour him!” he said. “Bring the prisoners, let them die for the new god”
He murdered hundreds of people to appease Cortez, the embodiment of the Winged Serpent as Montezuma thought. And in this way he gave Cortez a way to exterminate the Aztecs, the barbarians. Montezuma did not understand, did not know where he had made a mistake, why his new god was so enraged with him. He decided that Cortez was angry because of us.
He turned against us. We had a choice: either to withdraw or to destroy them. We chose the former and flew away. Over the years, we’ve waited for someone who would be able to bear the burden of the salvation of mankind, and all the while you have lived here as Aztecs did, killing and fighting over territory, while we looked for a good place. We stayed in several before we found one that was perfect. There we settled. We improved our technology. Enhanced our knowledge so much that it makes no sense to drill down further—we won’t learn anything new. On such foundations we built Naklah—Naklah, the union of our minds.
We waited and we had almost lost the hope. Why didn’t we send someone here who was tailor-made for our purpose? One of us, perhaps? But that would make no sense. We wanted you to change, not to subordinate you to our will by force. We believe that you can be good. This faith had almost died when you showed up.
A community, fully egalitarian, where everyone gets what they need. You say this as a scientist—you say what we say. No money, no state. The transition period, and then peace. Humanity needs a strong man who will carry out the necessary changes and ensure that no one returns to the old-fashioned way of doing things. To fighting over goods, to the madness about money, to dividing the world with borders.
I want to use your knowledge. Help us. Help us. Become our chosen one. You’re not too old—we can give you an eternal life. We’ll give you everything you need to fix this place. You have a plan. We agree with it, humans no longer need war. They need an economic advantage, not a military one, to bring peace. We’ll give it to you. We will create a project that will develop into the world’s largest conglomerate and impose its way of thinking on others. Slowly, it will start to rule over the world—and when it does, it will make it a perfect place. Frederick, please help us.
Sylvia comes back to Frederick a month after their big argument. During those weeks they spoke almost not at all. She was still furious about what he’d said about Charles, so she dropped off Alexander and picked him up again, little more. And then suddenly, at eleven o’clock in the evening, she came to him. With the boy, with a bag full of stuff.
She had decided that there was no point to continue with Charles. She had moved out. The house belonged to Charles, which he took to mean that he could therefore make her do anything he wanted. He had been calm and pleasant for about ten days, then he’d returned to his old habits. She hesitated for a moment, once again wanting to save the relationship, the family. But eventually she decided that something had to be done before it was too late, before someone got seriously hurt.
“Can we stay with you for a while?” she asked, and he agreed. He agreed without hesitation. He took Alexander in his arms and carried him to the bedroom. His grandson was sleeping, and he put him cautiously on the bed, like a fragile treasure. He wanted to cry.
“I’m going out for a moment with the dog,” he said. He didn’t want her to see him crying. A father needs to be strong.
He went in the direction of the allotments and meadows—where he had met Rad, where Rad had told him his story. He knew that he would find Rad there, and Rad waited, and as usual stroked Mana. The dog circled, following her tail, then fell asleep at Rad’s feet. As always.
“Are you all right?” asked Rad when he saw Frederick was crying. “She came back?”
“Yes,” said Frederick. “Very good. All good”
“So you can go with me,” said Rad.
He’d suggested it before, but Frederick hadn’t wanted to talk about it. Here he had his his duties—important matters. He couldn’t just walk away, become the chosen one.
“But why do you want to save us? Let them kill each other!” he said to Rad.
“Do not turn your eyes away from the suffering.”
“I don’t care about that.”
“Come with me,” Rad repeated. “Create a new world. A good world for Alexander—think about that. Don’t you want to give him a new world?”
My name is Naklah. I am Naklah, and the others like me have the same name—everyone is Naklah, and our home is Naklah. I drift in the space and observe the Earth.
I used to be—Frederick. Sometimes I remember my old name, and I long for something I’ve lost. Aleksander. Mana. I do not know who they are, but it hurts when I think about it. I forget.
Once I used to live on the Earth, but the plan failed. Economic pressure was not enough, I had to use violence. It was necessary to calibrate the system of distribution for goods and resources, but people kept fighting over them—they burned warehouses, attacked factories. I defended myself. And finally, for a moment, I had the power. I had control and could impose the things I wanted. Then I lost it, lost everything—as soon as I felt indestructible, it became impossible to resist the madness. The flavor of authority overwhelmed me. And violence that I could use whenever I wanted to. And blood.
I flew off to Naklah, they took me with them when the Earth went dark. The darkness destroyed my family, my home. There will be no light for a long, long time. I ran away, and for a long time I had to beg Naklah to take me with them—they said I was as stupid as my predecessors. Self-assured, I argued that I would fix everything.
I’m waiting for a right moment, but it hasn’t come. No hurry—I am eternal. I do not want to live forever. It’s a curse. But it is too late. My name is Naklah.