The Travel Agent
by Jay B. Eckert
The two men were sitting at a table in a quiet corner of an airport bar. Nohman smiled at the man who looked to be in his mid thirties but had the worried lines of an older man on his forehead.
When the man first sat down at the bar, he thought he had recognized Nohman, so he approached him and asked if they had ever met before. Nohman had said that they had seen each other several times but were never properly introduced, and then inexplicably asked if he had wanted to hear a truly fascinating story about a fellow named Phil.
What a strange segue, thought the man, who had a very strange feeling -- a sense of déjà vu. He was not entirely clear where he had met Nohman before, but he felt as if he definitely had. He also could have sworn that he had once had a discussion with Nohman about someone named Phil. He just could not remember when.
After they got over the pleasantries, Nohman had bought a round of drinks. They moved from the bar to this table and settled into a comfortable conversation about sports, current events, and the weather. Nohman seemed to know a great many things although his knowledge seemed to be a bit shallow on each topic. It was as if he only ever read the newspaper headlines, but not the articles themselves.
Nohman went on to tell him about meeting Phil some time ago under similar circumstances and how Phil had regaled him with a most fantastic story. Phil seemed to have some funny ideas about how the world worked, and one of them, which Nohman had just repeated, startled the man.
"What do you mean rebooted?" the man asked.
Nohman was a man of indeterminate age. He had grayish shortly cropped hair on his very round head. The gray was what made you think he was an older man, but that was the only indication. He did not have a wrinkle on his face, and his eyes sparkled like a child’s.
He said, "A planet is rebooted much like a computer is rebooted. In a way, it starts over." Then Nohman hurried, "There's a bit of a DNA link to it as well --" and trailed off appearing lost in thought.
"DNA, you say," said the man.
"Let me see if I can recount this properly," Nohman said. He paused thoughtfully and, after nodding to himself, continued, "The Milky Way galaxy was an experiment created by a race of engineers from the Andromeda galaxy. The solar systems, and, indeed, each planet within were specially designed and constructed by these very engineers."
The man's mouth hung open. "Really," he said. Normally, the man, who preferred to assume that reality was what he wanted it to be, would have got up, thanked Nohman for the drink, and left. His day had, however, that left him somewhat open to suggestion. It also did not hurt that he had consumed several drinks in the last hour.
"Why?" the man asked.
"Why?" repeated Nohman. He seemed to ponder the question for a moment.
"I mean why would they create a galaxy, solar systems and, um, I guess, custom built planets? What's the point?"
"Well, it was a business venture, of sorts. People believed that there was a market for commissioned planets. A rich Andromedan might commission the construction of a planet in the name of his son or daughter."
"I see. And was it a particularly successful enterprise?"
"Not really, no. It turned out their market research was faulty."
"Yes, well," said Nohman, "they didn't actually do any. With the exception of one party, nobody was interested. The engineers designed and built the planets on pure speculation, and what with no one to buy them, the venture quickly folded. Anyway, that is not really the point. The point is that each planet was different, but they each shared one common trait. They each have, what you might call, a reset switch."
"A, er, reset switch,” the man blinked. “What for? How -- How does it -- How would it, er, work? What would happen?” He looked somewhat uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation.
Nohman was obviously a lunatic of some kind, or so the man thought. He also thought of asking himself why he was still sitting there engaged in this conversation. He could not even remember how he had gotten into this conversation, but for some unfathomable reason, he did not dare leave it. It seemed like it might be, somehow, relevant. Best not to worry, he thought, and finished the drink in front of him.
"Well they are truly excellent questions and the answers are wonderfully interesting, but, really, the most interesting part is about how Phil came to these conclusions," said Nohman.
"Oh," said the man doubtfully. At this point, however, he was eager to hear more about what happened to Phil than his conclusions. The conclusions, though obviously laughable, were making him very uncomfortable.
Nohman ordered another round of drinks. After a moment's uncomfortable silence, the drinks arrived. Nohman began to tell the story of Phil. While the man had another drink and listened to Nohman's almost hypnotic voice, he felt himself becoming spellbound, asking no more questions for quite some time.
It was an interesting story about a normally uninteresting person. Phil was a software tester for Custek, a company that built very expensive software for managing customer relationships.
Custek was a huge success because managing customer relationships was all the rage at the time. Articles emphasizing the importance of software that helped you manage customer relationships were popping up in all sorts of management and technology journals. Management from companies around the world read the articles that, incidentally, all shared the same conclusion. If you did not buy software that helped you manage customer relationships, you were an idiot; your stockholders would appear with torches and pitchforks at your corporate headquarters demanding your immediate resignation and death by stoning, after which, your stock options and the corporate headquarters itself would burst into flames.
Phil, who did not have stock options, was not overly concerned about the importance of managing customer relationships. He was mostly concerned that people leave him alone. He was very happy that people left him alone. He lived a solitary life with his dog, a smallish mutt named Beulah.
His day was consistent, albeit spectacularly dull. He would wake around seven o'clock and throw on yesterday's clothes. He would leash up Beulah, grab the morning paper at the foot of his front door, and take her out for a walk through the neighborhood around his shabby little garden apartment. With the newspaper in hand and ready for examination, he always had an excuse not to talk to anyone who he might run into. Upon their return, he would take a quick shower, dress in extremely unexciting clothes and have a bowl of cocoa crispies with the television on. Finally, he would say goodbye to Beulah, leaving the television on because she seemed to enjoy daytime television, and head off to work. He worked for eight hours, testing software he did not care to understand, with a break to grab some lunch at his desk. When the workday was over, he headed home, walked Beulah again, fed himself and the dog dinner, and then watched more television until his brain began to approach the consistency of pudding, after which he would go to sleep.
The only variation occurred on weekends or holidays. Such a day would replace work with the occasional bit of required shopping, a trip to the park with Beulah, or, perhaps a movie by himself. He was an only child, and unfortunately, his parents had died several years back in a terrible automobile accident. His parents had been only children as well, so he had no aunts, uncles, or cousins.
One might have thought that Phil was a tragic figure, but if you asked him about it, he would have looked at you in a very puzzled sort of way. This was his life, and he did not mind it at all. Of course, he was lonely on occasion, but he was used to it. Beulah, his lone companion, was amusing and a surprisingly good listener. He did not really have any friends because he was not particularly good at making friends. If the need arose, he could have a reasonable conversation with another person. In fact, he did on occasion, talk to other people at Custek, and the conversations went well enough. Nobody disliked him although nobody really liked him either. Actually, nobody had strong feelings either way. The basic problem was that because he tried to stay out of everybody's way, he was not generally on people's minds. His boss gave him assignments, which he executed well enough, but that was the extent of their relationship.
Phil was used to it. His life had a certain structure and flow. There were really no surprises. He liked things to be a certain way, and he liked things to be the way he was used to them being. Fundamentally, his growth as a person was in a state of inertia, and he did not see any need to move it along.
Was he happy? Phil did not really contemplate happiness. He was satisfied, and he was satisfied to be satisfied.
He did have a nearly constant sense of déjà vu, however, and it intruded on his normal life. Every day, he had the uncanny sense that he was doing something that he had done before, and many times besides. An odd thing about it was that it seemed like the circumstances of what he had done before had always been somewhat different. He had been different, somehow. He often wondered if this was what reincarnation felt like, but since the notion of reincarnation did not exactly fit in with Phil's perception of reality, he ignored it and chalked it up to his, as he liked to call it, rhythmic lifestyle.
So it was with surprising alacrity that someone who had never questioned his lot in life, found himself climbing an active volcano in New Zealand looking for answers to all his questions, with said life turned completely upside down.
Nohman paused a moment to take a long drink.
"Sounds like an interesting fellow," said the man, uncomfortably. "New Zealand. I always wanted to visit New Zealand. A volcano --" he trailed off.
"He certainly is an interesting fellow," replied Nohman, looking directly at the man.
The man looked startled then quickly recovered. "You were going to explain how Phil said it worked."
"Oh yes," said Nohman. “Like I said before, every planet is different. One may sustain some form of life, while another will be a desolate rock floating in space. The purpose of the reset switch was to allow the planet that sustains life and everything on it to go back in time to when life began on that planet. Life and how it develops, evolution I guess you might say, is random. So, each time something activates the reset switch, life begins anew, but with different results. This was supposed to be great entertainment for the typical Andromedan, whose lifespan is several billion years. Given their lifespan and the reset switch, a planet has great replay value.” He paused, and looked down at his hands. “At least that was Phil’s opinion on the matter.”
The man got up, and with Nohman watching him, went to the bar, spoke with the bartender briefly, and nodded his head vigorously. After a few moments, he returned with two more vodka tonics. He sat and drank both down immediately. Blinking slowly, he said, "what, er, happens with the lifeless planets?"
Nohman answered, "Those that can’t sustain life, well they stay that way, and the reset switch is pretty much useless. Damn waste."
"Why is that?"
"Ah," said Nohman. “You see, something specific triggers the appearance of the reset switch.”
“What specific thing?”
“The engineers programmed each planet to have its switch respond to a particular marker, or genetic pattern if you like. On earth, for example, when a person with the matching DNA encounters the predetermined location of the reset switch, it appears."
"Hang on a second," said the man. "What, er, oh, ooh --" he trailed off, holding his head as if to keep it on straight. “Sorry," he said, "what happens if somebody or something with the matching DNA is never born? I mean, what are the chances of a match?"
Nohman chuckled slightly. "When each planet was constructed, it was programmed such that a person with a matching genetic pattern would, eventually, come into existence."
The man began to eye Nohman suspiciously. "Are you making all this up?" he asked.
Not entirely surprised, Nohman answered "No, but why do you ask?"
"It doesn’t make any sense. If they fixed the planet to make sure the right person or thing or whatever was born then why doesn’t every planet have life on it!” the man asked.
Slowly, the man was beginning to feel better about things. Maybe this was all just a ridiculous story and he could get up and leave now. Deep down, though, a doubtful little voice was telling him that, no, maybe this was not a ridiculous story, and he should know why. He told the voice to shut up and mind its own business. Nevertheless, he did not feel better. While he was arguing with himself, some part of him thought he heard Nohman saying something about insects. He shook his head, thinking that he should not have had those last two drinks so quickly. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" he said.
"Bug," Nohman said.
"What? Where?" the man asked.
"In the program. There was a bug in the program. Every planet should have had life on it, but nobody figured out why many did not. Phil thought it was because the quality control people didn't test everything properly.” He chuckled.
"Oh," sighed the man. He considered this for a moment and concluded that this was entirely preposterous. A bug in the program, he thought. It makes no sense. So why was the little voice in his head laughing at him, saying, “I told you so” in a very singsong way? He looked sadly back at Nohman.
"So, er, what happened next? Why did he go to climb a volcano in New Zealand?"
Nohman began to explain.
Phil was having a dream. It was not a particularly good dream, and as most dreams go, he did not know he was having it, which made it much worse. In addition, this was the third straight night he was having this same dream.
He was lost. He had no idea where he was or how he had got there. He was looking around, but all he could see was a dark mist. No matter which direction he ran, there was this mist all around him, and he kept hearing this faint murmur, which he could not really make out. This was all bothersome because, above all else, he wanted to go home. The trouble was that he did not know where home was.
After spending time staggering around in the mist and listening to the faint murmurs grow a little louder, he realized why he did not know where home was, and it was even more troubling than all the mist. He did not know who he was. This struck him as a major problem that needed solving first, and he would have found it easier to solve if those murmurs stopped. They were getting into his head. What was it they were saying? It had a cadenced sound to it.
He tried to put the murmurs, which were getting continuously louder, out of his head. He was becoming increasingly apprehensive. He really needed to get home; but he could not go home until he knew where home was, which meant that he had to know who he was first. Yes, who was he? He simply did not know, and as apprehensiveness turned to alarm, and alarm turned to panic, the murmurs became clearer. "Roo-a-bear-oo, roo-a-bear-oo, roo-a-bear-oo," they repeated. Over and over again, "roo-a-bear-oo, roo-a-bear-oo, roo-a-bear-oo."
What was "roo-a-bear-oo"? Phil had no idea, but he was becoming terrified. He really needed to know who he was, where home was, and how to get there.
Another voice from deep within the mist spoke. "If you want to know, then you must go to it."
Phil's panic did not diminish, and he tried to move toward this voice. He said, "I don't understand!"
The voice, sounding farther away, repeated, barely audible, "If you want to know, then you must go to it."
He heard the murmurs again. "Roo-a-bear-oo, roo-a-bear-oo, roo-a-bear-oo."
Phil yelled into the mist, "But I don't understand! Help me! Help!"
He woke up with a start, finding Beulah standing on his chest looking down at him.
He looked at the clock, which read eight o'clock in the morning. He slowly adjusted to being awake. It was an hour after he normally woke up. The dog desperately needed to go out, and Phil was going to be late for work. Why had his alarm not gone off and what was that dream all about? He decided that he had better get the dog out before he had to clean up more than just last night's dirty dishes.
Phil rose from bed, finding it more difficult than usual, especially with a dog standing on his chest, put on his grubby clothes from the day before, and leashed up Beulah. They headed out the front door, but Phil did not grab the newspaper from the stoop by the front door, nor did he notice the dozen envelopes scattered around the newspaper.
As they walked the neighborhood, Phil contemplated his dream, this dream that he had been having for the last few nights. He had had weird dreams before, but not like this. He was always able to shrug them off, but these were very intense and were affecting him during his waking hours. He tried to remember the details. He could recall being lost, both physically and emotionally. It felt terrible, yet someone was trying to help him. That was about all he remembered. There was, however, one other detail that surfaced when his mind was on things apart from his dream. It was a word, or phrase of some kind, but he could not be sure.
It was probably because he was running late and was still agitated because of the dream, but when Phil returned from walking Beulah, he still did not notice the newspaper or the now two dozen envelopes scattered around it. He got in the apartment, showered, dressed, skipped breakfast, and left for work.
He arrived at work and proceeded to his little cubicle, where he found about 100 emails waiting for him. This was odd, because on any given day, he received perhaps ten, and that was throughout the day. Every one of these emails appeared to come from firstname.lastname@example.org and had a subject line of "Your questions answered, Phil.” He had never heard of anything called belzik.com, and he was not used to unsolicited email arriving. He hated this kind of thing, especially since they included his name in the subject line. This was why he never subscribed to anything using his email address. Furthermore, the company's email system usually prevented this sort of thing from happening.
He deleted each of these emails, called the company's email support team, and told them about it. The mouse like voice on the other end of the phone put him on hold. After what felt like an eternity, the voice came back on the line and told him that, henceforth, the email system would block all emails coming from anyone at belzik.com. He hung up feeling satisfied.
He looked back down at his PC and, to his great dismay, saw about 100 emails addressed from email@example.com with a subject line of "Your dreams explained, Phil.” This was getting a little weird. He decided to read one of them, and did so. He let out a little choking noise.
Are you having trouble sleeping? Do your dreams leave you feeling uneasy, as if you are lost, don't know how to get home or who you are? Are you looking for answers? You must go to Mt Ruapehu.
Phil wondered if this was a coincidence; he thought it must be. He had never heard of Mt Ruapehu. It was odd sounding, though a bit familiar, he thought, and he tried to drive it out of his mind. Next, he considered that it closed with "Your guide". It probably made sense in context, but was very disconcerting. He deleted all these new emails and tried to get to work, but a little voice in his head was telling him to check the incoming mail for any letters actually made of paper, so he did. He walked over to the wall where each person in his department had a slot for incoming mail. He was muttering to himself and shaking his head when he stopped, eyes wide, staring in disbelief at his mail slot. In it had to be 30 or so envelopes, and, strangely enough, his morning newspaper that he forgot to pick up this morning from his front door step. He looked around and quickly grabbed the stack of envelopes and the newspaper and hurried off to his cubicle.
He sat down, setting the newspaper aside, and put the stack of envelopes on his desk in front of him. He considered the envelopes for a moment and dimly recalled that there was a heap of envelopes scattered around his newspaper by his front door this morning, but he just seemed not to notice it at the time. Before he could wrap his mind around this, he seized one envelope from the stack and stared at it. The envelope had his name and home address on it, but no return address. He examined many of the other envelopes and found that all of them had his name and home address on them, all in the same odd typeface, but with no return address.
Finally, he opened one, and read it. It said exactly the same thing as the email he had just read. He opened another and read it. It said the same thing. He opened and read three more. They all said the same thing.
His phone rang and he answered it, but before he could say anything, he heard something that caused him to nearly slip out of his chair in shock. "Ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu," chanted several voices, which he instantly recognized as the phrase he kept hearing in his dream.
"Who is this?" he demanded into the phone.
"Ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu," the voices continued.
"What do you want?" asked Phil.
"Ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu."
"I," started Phil, but he was interrupted by another voice.
"You must go to it," said another voice, and then the line went silent.
Phil looked at the receiver. He was anxious, and on the verge of panic. His breathing was very heavy. Was he going crazy? Why were his dreams interfering with his waking hours? He realized he was sitting on the edge of his chair hunched very tightly over his desk with his hand still clutching the phone too tightly.
"Are you alright?" came a voice from the next cubicle.
"Yeh -- yes, fine," stammered Phil.
He needed to get control of himself. He carefully put the phone down and sat back in his chair, when he noticed the newspaper. It was hanging off the edge of his desk and he went to move it back onto his desk, but in his agitation, managed to knock it off his desk, scattering the various sections across the floor under his desk. He got off his chair and knelt down to pick the newspaper up when he saw the advertisement at the bottom of the leisure section. He looked at it for a moment and then jerked his head up and smacked it on the underside of his desk. He let out a curse that sounded like the cry of a lost and frustrated child.
"Are you sure you're all right?" asked the voice again from the next cubicle.
He muttered, "I'm fine."
Phil grabbed the newspaper's leisure section, being careful not to smash his head back into the underside of his desk, slid out from under his desk, and sat on his chair. He reread the advertisement. It was for a sightseeing tour of New Zealand's Central North Island.
Need a break? Feeling lost? Need to get in touch with yourself? We have your answer. Come to New Zealand's Central North Island. Spend time walking the tracks and climbing the mountains of Tongariro National Park, especially Mount Ruapeho, an active volcano.
Contact Belzik travel for a guided tour.
Phil was breathing very fast. Mount Ruapeho, he thought. That sounds familiar. There was a phone number listed at the bottom of the advertisement, and before he knew what he was doing, he dialed it.
A woman’s voice answered, “Good morning, Belzik travel. Are you interested in a tour of Mount Ru-a-pear-hu?”
It is strange how this sort of thing happens. One moment, you are going about your daily life; you develop a routine and you become very good at it. It takes almost no effort at all to do what it is that you do every day. It becomes like breathing -- involuntary. You do not even realize that you are doing it, and you certainly cannot imagine doing anything else. Change is not something you consciously consider very often; it is something you just unconsciously deal with, and that is probably a good thing, because change can sometimes shatter your hold on the world.
It is not amazing at all that it takes almost no effort to live in a state of inertia, which people find appealing due to its relative ease. It is, however, most definitely amazing that it only takes a little push to move from this state of inertia into one of turmoil. Once in this new state, the unconscious mind seems to take over.
These thoughts occupied Phil's mind on his nearly 20 hour flight from New York to Auckland, New Zealand. His thoughts sustained him on his four-hour ride from the airport on New Zealand's North Island to the Taupo region and Tongariro National Park.
Phil did not sleep on the flight. He had to change planes in Los Angeles anyway, and at that point was still beside himself with the confusion of just what in the hell he was doing. The leg from Los Angeles to Auckland was a killer, but after a while and with the help of several vodka tonics, he descended into a kind of semi-conscious state where he meditated on the absurdity of it all. It was on the bus ride from Auckland to his final destination, however, that Phil slept, and it was during this slumber that he dreamed.
He was standing alone just inside the entrance of a dark cave. Outside, it was snowing heavily and some of the snowflakes were floating into the cave where he stood. He stood, shivering, looking into the darkness of the cave. A dim light began to emanate from the depths of the cave and a voice began to speak inside his head.
"You will know. You will come," it said.
Startled, Phil looked in every direction and said, "What will I know? What is this place?"
The voice from within him replied, "It is within you."
"I don't understand," cried Phil. "I --"
The voice roared, "Come, and all your questions will be answered."
A thunderous sound followed and Phil suddenly woke to the tone of the bus' horn sounding. They had arrived at the hotel by Tongariro National Park. Phil looked out the window and saw a huge blue lake and in the distance behind it, a series of snow capped mountain peaks, with at least two more behind them. He wondered which one was Mount Ruapehu.
Belzik Travel Agency described Mount Ruapehu as an active volcano that had erupted nearly 50 times since 1861. “It has an acidic crater lake at the top that many professional photographers visited. It is a truly remarkable thing, and you absolutely have to see it. Folks come from around the world to see it.”
When he had asked how to get up to the crater, they told him that normally he could take a guided walk, but since it was winter in New Zealand, he would have to take the Waterfall Express chairlift and hike from there. It was a very good thing that the travel agency mentioned that it was winter in New Zealand. Otherwise, he would have shown up with nothing but shorts and tee shirts.
Phil checked into the hotel, went up to his room, and changed into winter hiking clothes. He left his room, got a map of the National Park from a display in the lobby, and took a car into Whakapapa. Once there, he purchased a chairlift pass and a compass and got on the chairlift to the top of Waterfall Express. On the ride up, he began reviewing the map to determine his course to the crater. The back of the map showed two routes for reaching the crater, but since the first was for use only in the early summer, he chose the second route. Finally, the chairlift came to a stop and he climbed off.
He folded up the map and put it in his pocket. The map indicated that he should head over to his right to a place called Restful Ridge. He began moving off to his right, past a series of pylons and toward, what he hoped, was Restful Ridge. From there, he was to climb a series of rises towards the Crater area. It was a long hike over much snow-covered rock. In the far distance he saw one or two others hiking to the top. Nobody on his lift seemed to be following him on this trail, however.
As he climbed, his mind traveled elsewhere. He was contemplating how he had gotten here and why. It was all very puzzling to him, but he knew that he had an urgent need to be here. Something inside him told him so. He was looking for something, perhaps it was the very meaning of his existence, but he did not really think so. That was too clichéd for him. He was definitely looking for some answers, though, and they were vitally important to him.
He continued to climb, absentmindedly making his way up the snow covered terrain. The landscape was certainly rising much as the map illustrated. Meanwhile, Phil continued to think of what he was doing. Perhaps his life to this point did not have much meaning. He did have an extremely boring life, he thought. His job was not exciting at all and he never did anything of interest to anyone. There was no one that he could call a true friend. His dog probably had a more interesting existence that he did. She certainly made friends more easily than he did. In fact, Beulah was probably sitting in the kennel sniffing the rear of another dog right at that moment. "Voilà, a new friend," he thought. If only it were that easy for him. Well he was certainly doing something out of the ordinary now.
After a nearly five-hour climb, he came to the top of the ridge where there was a more open face. To his right he saw a track zigzagging up the face toward another ridge. He began to get his map out of his pocket when a voice inside his head suddenly said, "Dome Ridge". He paused then pulled the map from his pocket. After unfolding it, he looked at the route he was to take. Confirming his inner voice, the map showed that the name of this area was Dome Ridge, and he needed to follow along Dome Ridge to Dome Shelter, near which he would find the crater.
Odd, he thought. Did I read the part about Dome Ridge? He folded the map, put it back in his pocket, and ascended the ridge. For some reason, this trail was familiar.
He climbed awhile more and then found a little snow covered house, which he assumed must be Dome Shelter. Finally, after he climbed a little more, he saw it -- the Crater Lake. It was the thing that he must see, the very site that people came from everywhere to see. Images of it supposedly graced the covers of all sorts of magazines that he never bothered to read.
He looked at it for sometime, and then looked around. There were a few people nearby taking pictures and nodding at one another impressively. He looked at them then back at the crater, and then let out an audible sigh. He was very disappointed. It was supposed to be one of the most remarkable visions in the world; and it looked like a great big hole in the ground with some steamy water in it -- to him at least. The view back down the mountain was impressive but still did not merit the cost of this journey. Maybe he was expecting too much, he thought, and then resignedly began to make the hike back down the mountain.
Halfway along Dome Ridge, Phil had a sensation of déjà vu. He stopped and looked around, carefully listening. There was something strange about this place but he could not make out what it was. Suddenly there was a flash of light to his left and the unmistakably loud chant of "Ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu" from somewhere.
Shaken, he looked to his left and yelled, "Who is that? What do you want?"
Two of the hikers he had seen by the crater were making their way along the ridge now and had apparently heard him. One was a man and the other was a woman. They stopped and looked at him and asked if he was all right. Before he could reply, he saw the flash of light to his left again, and heard the chant "Ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu".
He said, "Did you hear that? Did you see that?"
The man asked, "hear and see what?"
"That chant and that, er," Phil stammered, "flash of light?” He was now very aware of how bizarre he must appear. His face flushed with color. "Never mind."
"Are you ok?" the woman hiker asked him suspiciously.
"I'm fine, really.”
"The air is kind of thin up here. Do you need some help getting back down?"
"No, I, er, I'm waiting for a friend of mine. He's on his way down," he said. He looked up the mountain and saw a solitary figure making its way down. He waved at the figure a little too enthusiastically. The figure paused but did not wave back. "See? There he is now. I'll be fine, really. Thanks."
She looked at him doubtfully. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, fine. Thanks," he said and smiled a little too wide.
As soon as he smiled, it happened again. He saw the flash of light and heard the chant "Ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu". He looked at the hikers. They apparently did not see or hear these phenomena. He tried to smile, although it looked as though someone was driving an ice pick through his big toe while he was doing it.
The hikers gave him an appraising sort of look, told him to be careful, and proceeded down the mountain.
He waited until they were out of immediate sight and looked to his left again. The flash and chant came again and he began to move off toward his left to find where the flash had come from. The terrain sloped downward here and then his foot caught on a previously unseen rock. He stumbled, then fell, and rolled awkwardly about 20 feet down an embankment until he came to rest in front of something very jagged and very hard.
He lay in the snow trying to determine if he was injured or not, when the flash of light appeared again, brighter than before and directly behind him. The chant "Ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu, ru-a-pear-hu" echoed. He sat up, looked around, and saw that the jagged and hard fixture was, in fact, a set of crude stone stairs leading into a cave. He felt certain that it was from within this cave that the chant was originating. His dream from the bus came swiftly to him. He slowly stood up, brushed the snow off himself, and looked at the entrance of the cave with astonishment.
He scrambled up the stairs to the entrance of the cave and peered in. It was not as dark as one would have expected of a cave, probably due to the bright sunshine streaming in and the reflection of the snow just outside the entrance. Despite the lack of total darkness, Phil could see very little of the inside due to the glare from the sun, so he slowly and quietly walked in, looking in every direction for the source of the chant. The chant had ceased, however, leaving Phil with an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.
The cave was almost featureless; he had expected to see stalagmites or stalactites, although he could not base this expectation on any personal experience. Any movie he had ever seen that featured a cave had the requisite stalagmites and stalactites, so he assumed that was what he would see here. He nervously crept several feet farther into the cave and called out, "Is anybody there?” The answering silence was deafening.
After a few tentative steps inside, he could see an inner wall at the back of the cave. He stopped moving and took a long look around. The cave consisted of a single octagonal shaped room with a high smooth ceiling. Inside the cave, there was nobody and nothing, yet he could have sworn that the rhythmic chant was coming from this place.
As his eyes became used to the dim light, he found that he could make out strange looking etchings on the walls of the cave. He walked to the far wall at the back of the cave and looked closely at the etchings on this oddly smooth wall. They appeared to be a very complex series of interconnecting lines and rounded shapes. He ran his fingers across the lines and shapes expecting to feel the depth of the carving. Instead, he found that the lines and shapes protruded from the wall ever so slightly. These were not etchings at all, but what they were he could not tell. Hoping for clarity, he took a few steps back to take the whole picture in. He still had no idea what he was looking at, though. Then he noticed a different sort of pattern on the bottom right of the wall and moved in closer to get a better look.
As he approached the wall, a perplexed look marked his face. On the lower right of the wall was a series of four things that looked very much like four words. Someone had carved these words using clear block letters, but the some of the letters were not familiar to Phil. He could only make out the third word. It read, to his consternation, "BELZIK".
What was the name of the travel agency that got him here doing on this wall? He stepped slowly backward looking from wall to wall until he was in the center of the room. To his bewilderment, he saw similar adornments of lines and shapes on each wall. Each wall has a signature, as if by an artist, "BELZIK".
He had come here hoping for answers, but, now frustrated, he only had more questions. What was this place? What were the drawings on the walls? Why was the name of his travel agent on each wall beside the drawings? What did the other words mean?
He shook his head and took another step back, but his right foot caught something. He looked down and saw that he had stepped on a large reddish rock. It was about six inches across, and sticking about six inches out of the ground. He looked straight ahead again, but then his gaze fell back on the rock. His mind was working very hard now. He realized that what he had stepped on was not a rock at all. Its shape was too precise to be a rock. It looked like a red cylinder jutting out of the ground. Now what would a red metal cylinder be doing sticking out of the ground in a cave in a volcano in New Zealand? he thought. Before he could fully ponder this question, however, the red metal cylinder soundlessly descended into the ground. He looked at it, eyes wide, and blinked very slowly. Suddenly there was a clicking noise and the red metal cylinder rose back out of the ground to its former height, but this time with an audible “thunk”.
To say that his circumstances confounded Phil is an understatement. He became even more confounded and amazed when a loud humming noise made him look up from the ground. All the drawings on the wall had begun to glow. In fact, the walls themselves began to emanate a dark green glow and the drawings themselves seemed to glow silver and gold.
An eerie light began to pulse up at him from beneath his feet and he froze. His body began to tremble uncontrollably. His mind was now being flooded with information, and as he became awash with previously unthinkable knowledge, an almost resigned fear began to creep in. As his body quaked and quivered, he was consciously gaining a deep understanding of the origin of this cave, this mountain, and this planet. He also understood his role and his fate. He found answers to every question he had had about his destiny, but it was more than any person could have possibly wanted to grasp. This knowledge was entirely perverse, and fueled his fear, but it also made perfect sense, which forced his resignation.
As his mind was approaching the breaking point, the pulsing, humming and glowing suddenly stopped as quickly as they had started and a crackling sound came from above his head. His body stopped shaking and he fell to his knees, but then looked up to follow the noise. He saw what appeared to be the grill of an outdoor loudspeaker. Next to the grill was a domed red light one expected to see atop a police car. It was flashing.
A female voice said, "Thank you. Countdown has begun and system restart will complete within seven of your hours. Enjoy the rest of your final day.” A pause, then, "Thank you for your cooperation.”
Flush with the knowledge of what this all meant, and what he had done, Phil stood, staggered back toward the entrance of the cave, scrambled down the steps and ran back down the mountain.
Nohman stopped and said, “Well, that’s all there is.”
The man looked stupefied at Nohman. “But, what happened? Did he find the answers that he was looking for? What was so horrible that he found out?” the man asked.
"What he found out,” Nohman replied, “was that once the right person hits the reset switch, the countdown begins."
"Countdown? Countdown to what?"
"Countdown to reboot, of course.”
"Which means... that when the countdown has completed, the planet reboots. You do know what a reboot means, don't you?"
The man stared.
"I'll give you an example. When you reboot a computer -- or any device really -- two things fundamentally happen. First, the computer shuts down. This causes all running processes to simply stop and everything in memory to disappear. Second, the computer starts up again, new processes begin and new things wind up in memory."
"Now, imagine that a planet is a computer. The evolution of the planet and all things on it is one of many processes running, and all living things and their progress are stored in memory. When a reboot happens, this evolution stops, and all life and its progress go away. The planet effectively shuts down, after which it all begins again. Evolution. Life. Progress. It all happens again, not the same exact way of course, but close enough. It happens over and over."
The man stared at Nohman and considered what he had just heard. He did not know why he should believe a story as outlandish as this, but for some reason his senses seemed to be impossibly sharp now; he was very much on edge like an animal cornered by a predator, and he began to feel a deep sadness that he could not understand. "Why are you telling me all this?" he said.
Nohman smiled at the man with a look of near pity. “We had a few hours to kill and I thought you might find it interesting.”
“What do you mean we had a few hours to kill?”
Nohman only gave a rueful smile, shook his head slightly, rose from his chair and walked away.
Stunned by Nohman’s sudden departure the man said, “Wait, where are you going?” Then he noticed that Nohman had left his bag by his chair, so he picked it up and called after him, “You left your bag here...” and trailed off looking intently at the bag. The green bag had silver and gold lettering that read “BELZIK TRAVEL”. The man slowly looked from the bag to the departing figure of a man who he had only just met and known as Nohman. Then Nohman was gone, and as he looked around this quiet airport bar, seconds later, so was he.