Aphelion Issue 287, Volume 27
September 2023
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The Mirrored Planet

by Dan A. Cardoza

Professor Ferguson had tossed the last of his cryptic emails into the university's venerated turn of the century trashcan. The printed letter had been torn and crumpled, swallowed in the can's expansive black hole.

The letter had been ferreted out by one of Harvard's newest custodians. She'd been tasked to clean up the office insanity. Her objectives, scrub away time, make it appear that Ferg had never existed. Toss every damned thing into the basement's furnace.

Ferg had been escorted out of the office building earlier in the day. The only thing he took was his beliefs. Ferg had committed to returning to his radical roots back in California.

The well-known Dr. Ferguson had been denied full tenure at Harvard. It was a dream job that would have completed an upward arc of his distinguished career. He'd been denied full tenure as a lead molecular physicist. Being declined tenure at a university is the same as someone not being promoted to general in the military. Your career is essentially over.

Grieving, he'd driven the long trek back to his beloved Northern California. Over the next several months, he'd secured employment at UC Berkeley, his Alma Mater. UC Berkeley is where Ferg had received his BS degree in the '60s. He'd end his dynamic career there, he'd hoped. He'd get his wish.

UC Berkeley has the perfect DNA counter-culture he so relished. Here, he'd return as a conquering hero. As most of us know, the region has a high tolerance for just about anyone's peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies. Ferg, as his adoring students call him, wasn't getting any younger at 72.

He'd been humiliated and blackballed at Harvard, following stints at MIT and Princeton. However, he remained passionate about sharing his outrageous theories. He’d hoped the students would spread his ideas, as if they were wildfires, across the thirsty dry fields of American prairies.

Ferg hadn't invested financially over the years, and so this new low-paying gig would serve him well to ensure a healthy retirement, with full benefits.

Ferg had purchased a small bungalow near Oakland, on Shattuck Avenue, near the original Pete's Coffee he'd frequented and loved. He’d sipped his Cappuccino and declared, “I am home again.”

The reclusive private professor had lined his tiny house windows with old yellow newspaper, just like the old days. He'd grabbed himself a drab green army coat down at Cal Surplus, so he’d quickly blend. As planned, he'd kept most of the hoard he brought from Boston, mostly books, journals, and more obsession trinkets than any Bowerbird. He designed himself canyons of hallways to suit all his comings and goings. He'd felt comfortable in his maze of soft and hardcover books, stacked nearly to the ceilings. The only thing Ferg missed was an earthen basement, where he'd kept his cheap wine. His car trunk would have to do. All he’d needed was access to his well stocked modern white kitchen, and a functional bedroom and toilet.

Ferg had set up his desk, right next to his twin-sized bed. He had a habit of working long hours, and rolling out of his chair, right into the fresh linen arms of sleep.

A few years of savings turned into four. Ferg's classes were difficult to add.

Ferg was assigned to the physics department. Curious because his colleagues and students alike had thought his lectures were more akin to philosophy, Astronomy, or maybe even creative nonfiction. The students, mostly female, had lined up at each quarter's registration.

Ferg had attended the school in the late '60s. He had long hair then, now sparse, Albert Einstein-ish.

Upon his return to Cal, Ferg had focused on the inherent strengths of feminism. His country would need it the infusion of passion, if it was to survive whole.

His lectures sounded more like preaching, and boy did he rouse up his congregation. He'd compared the concept of feminism to the civil rights movement and valued how it empowered everyone, not simply females.

Many of his lectures had dealt with the concept of toxic masculinity and how its inky tendrils had gripped the hearts of so many young men in society. Ferg wasn't so much against men. He was concerned about the cultural survival of the women on the mirrored planet. How someday, off into some distant, unknown future, it would affect the Earth.

Each term Ferg introduced his sphere to the students: Kepler-452b.

He'd used the term sphere, so his students wouldn't confuse it with 452b's sister planet, Earth. According to him, Earth and Kepler-452b were mirror images, sisters almost, at least in terms of their ability to sustain life.

"Kepler-452b is a killer orb, however," Ferg enjoyed shouting. That had gotten their attention.

"Kepler-452b exists in the constellation Cygnus." he'd said. The students loved the name Cygnus. It reminded Ferg of his so-loved 60's Aquarius.

"Kepler-452b has a mass five times that of Earth, double the Earth's gravitational pull. It is a terrestrial, super world, fraught with active volcanoes due to its higher mass and density. It's Hawaii and Greenland on steroids." Ferg loved filling all mushy headed students with Black Russian Caviar. His eyes were pinwheels in a stiff Pacific gale.

"The clouds on the large orb are thick and musky. They cover most of the surface of the sphere. This has more to do with how the male guardians operate and Cumuli salting than with physics."

Ferg's unique descriptions had caused his students to pause each class quarter, look at each other as if someone had farted. How he loved his mental electroshocks.

Ferg stood on his chair, behind his old desk. Better to project his voice into the large lecture hall he’d come to learn. "The planet takes 385 Earth days to orbit its sun star. It has a 50% larger radius than our polluted marble."

The professor droned on each session, "The jeweled sphere lies within the conservative habitable zone of its parent star. It has an equilibrium temperature of 265 K (−8 °C; 17 °F), a little warmer than Earth. The extra heat seems to kindle male violence on the killer circle," he'd claimed as fact.

"Killer orb, killer circle?" Whispers gave birth to the decibels of anarchy in the large hall. "Killer orb, what the F…" they'd mostly said, in hushed tones, each quarter. Ferg knew how to get their juices flowing.

He’d been hopeful. One day his tortured thesis would take hold, especially here in Berkeley. It had been difficult for him to find an audience for his contorted theories back east.

None of that mattered now. Ferg was at UC Berkeley, the epicenter of radicalism, lecturing at the very institution known for setting brush fires in the dark corridors of our nation's truth.

Ferg had challenged science most of his life. And now, he'd continue to use his podium to unleash his doomsday scenario. Though he was aware that there are certain untruths so deep and permanent, they resist the light.

"Class, class, if you complete the quarter, you'll get A's. So please, pull the wedgies out of your intellectual asses and focus. That's all I ask. We have lots to discuss here and so little time." Ferg jumped off his chair and stuck the landing like a boss. The students all clapped.

They'd come to respect the elderly geezer. There was something about his revolutionary tone that had quickened their bonding.

"Thank guys, for quieting. The Kepler telescope was part of NASA's Discovery Program. For its time, it was a Trader Joe's bargain price.The mission was launched on a rocket in the swamp at Cape Canaveral on March 9th, 2009. It was constructed and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. Ball Aerospace flew the SOB. After the majestic sister globe was discovered, it was named after its founder, the lowly Kepler telescope.

Everyone chuckled on cue. Ferg had hit his stride, he’d thought to himself. Who needs that God-damned tenure at Harvard? Harvard can stick it up their black hole.


Hailey was a loving, good-natured mother. She thought she'd proven her worth by commencing a career in public relations. But, a career wasn't in the stars for her.

She'd mostly raised her two boys alone. Her competitive, managerial husband had worked his ass off being an absent father, gone most nights and weekends.

"Honey, it's better this way,” he’d convinced her so many years ago “I'll be able to advance my career." Deep down in her gut, Hailey questioned his exquisite bullshit.

"While at home Hailey, you can focus on your children needs.” Your children, she’d thought. Hailey imagined his nuts in a vice.

It wasn't easy raising her children, especially when once the two boys had spawned into teenagers. All the testosterone fireworks had been exhausting. Anything not broken was being patient.

Ronnie, the oldest, was born in 1998 and Jimmy, 1999. They'd left home in their late teens.

Ronnie Special Forces, Jimmy used car sales. Both had learned and valued independence.

Ronnie had recently been killed in a firefight in the beautiful mountains near Kandahar. Hailey and the two boys had shared love; an emotion absent in her over-ripened, juiceless marriage. Her husband Tim had been an excellent provider and an even better player. And now, Hailey had been left alone to clean up all the fucking mess grief leaves you.

Losing her older son had pointed her toward a short hospital stay again. She'd gotten herself back on anti-depressants and had stabilized. It was either that, or she'd jump off the roof. And even that wasn't a solution. She'd only break her legs. They lived in a single-story, gated western in the burbs.

Hailey's past was pedestrian, including her childhood. She'd grown up in Chicago and, because of Tim, had ended up outside of Pittsburg. She'd married young. Tim had been a strong-willed partner. She'd gotten pregnant early. Tim hadn't wanted any "God-damned" babies. He made her feel as if she'd swallowed an anchor. It wasn't meant to be that way.

Tim, the little bitch, had recently gotten himself unemployed. He'd worked mostly in firewall sales. He could use a firewall for all the gasoline he'd poured all over him over the years.

The holidays and family fun these days are held in a gloom cupboard, that's how Jimmy, Tim's remaining son refers to his prison visits and the visitation room. Tim is serving 39 to life at the State Correctional Institute in LaBelle, PA. It's a long way from his old home in Pittsburg.

On a positive note, Tim found work. He makes license plates for the state of Pennsylvania.

After climbing all the emotional hills and mountains of reconciliation and forgiveness, Tim's son Jimmy has never gotten any closer to an answer as to why? And floating above all this, Jimmy feels the weight of all the dark Cumuli of genetics, his own challenging moody weather.

Neither of Hailey's sons had been allowed to say goodbyes to their mother for different reasons. A detective had dumped-trucked a load onto Jimmy's back about his mother's murder, at Jimmy's insistence. The onsite detective tried to be considerate when he informed Jimmy that his mother had made quite a mess in his parent's master bedroom. Hailey, for her part, had resisted. She had multiple defense wounds.

There had been castoff in each nook and cranny, in the broken room of horrors.

Slivers and bits and pieces of Hailey had been photographed as crime scene evidence. Missing pieces of her scalp had been embedded in the laminated wooden headboard. A dam of blood had cracked and flooded the banks of a river under the bed, onto the carpet.

There was blood spatter on Hailey's sexy short skirts she'd recently purchased at Nordstrom's and the low-cut blouses. Her Victoria's Secret negligee had been ripped to the floor. It had acted as a silk filter, sieving plasma from the clumps of coagulation next to the wash of red in her bed. The curtains, the ceiling, walls, the vintage mirror, her gifted iPhone had been photographed.

Hailey's murder was never solved, at least satisfactorily. Of course, her husband Tim of nearly twenty-some years had killed her, but, the motivation, the motivation?

There were more clues than blood spatter. However, politics being what they are, the district attorney's office had refused to meet with the press. There were things discovered that stood out, with little explanation. The FBI had gotten involved. Every single person affected had become part of a celestial, orchestrated conspiracy of silence.

Hailey had recently spent a lifetime in that bedroom, she and her iPhone. They'd become close. Something had been inserted into her iPhone 6, next to one of 22 silicon chips.

Her iPhone had been a gift. It was magical. It allowed Hailey to dream again, to repair, to heal, and grow. Over the last few months, before her demise, Hailey had recaptured much of her lost youth in terms of feelings. She felt kinetic, had developed a need for speed. Hailey was exiting her chrysalis. She wanted to be someone, not something.

Hailey's life had changed once she'd gone through her old photos, buried deep in an old shoebox. She'd kept most of her beloved photographs there, her childhood pony rides, the prom, graduation, a dead pet or two, her wedding photos, and of course, her high school drama class photos.

Her acting photos had triggered her. She dwelled on her love of acting, a passion she'd abandoned so many years ago.

Things changed after she'd fallen in love again. Only this time, she’d fallen in love with her face and her blossoming mind. She kept her new look in her Smartphone, down deep where her pictures and videos had been stored. She'd begin to practice her sharpen her acting skills.

Hailey remembered the face of her first-year college acting instructor, the way he’d explained the difference between theatre, and the movie industry, an industry known for all its promising lighting and magical cameras.

"Hailey, it's like this. The stage requires two things of you as an actor, movement and voice." Hailey had tracked the magic wand of words as it swept across his eyes and off his lips.

She hoped he’d continue.

"So listen, Hail," he'd said, "the greatest performers of all times, Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, fine actors, I give you that. But, they also fell in love with the camera. There is a reason they still shine more than any of their contemporaries on Broadway. They had superior technical skills."

Hailey had said, "I am not sure I'm following you?"

"Ok, what I am getting at here is how those beautiful women had such a connection with their inner selves. It certainly showed on camera. Their honesty allowed fans to share in their truisms. Cameras don’t fib Hailey."

"So, Professor, what is the difference between acting in front of a camera, and live theatre?"

"Great question Hailey, the movie industry requires three sets of skills, unlike, let's say, Broadway. 1. Physicality. 2. Honest emotions. 3. The concept of being a mirror. Fans are very forgiving if you are flawed. Love is flawed."

"I see," Hailey had said, barely understanding Professor Simmons at the time. But now, in the middle of a marital crisis, she fully understood.

"The best actors ignore the camera after a while, Hailey, other than knowing how to present their good side. The trick is to be organic in displaying emotion. You have to expose all your raw emotions, as flawed and crippling as they may be. You can practice in front of a mirror. Embrace your incompleteness. Then, and only then, will your inside and outside self be one? And that's what shows through the lens, Hailey."

Once again, Hailey had taken the long-gone professor's advice. She began to practice in front of her vintage wall mirror. After she'd felt natural, life’s essence had begun to seep back into her lovely smile. She'd taken photographs and lots of selfies using her iPhone. Next, she used her new iPhone Pro 11’s video capabilities.

One after the other she'd taken and saved her videos, all in the safety and comfort of her master bedroom suite. Over and over again, she'd practiced being young and natural to a flaw. Slowly but surely, her camera had had indeed fallen deeply in love with her. She felt free.

She'd lost weight, had her teeth sparkled clean by her dentist, joined a gym. Hailey got reacquainted with flirting, how to enjoy emotion, but only in front of the men who'd earned her trust. She shopped the mall as if she were a teenager, only this time with full tits and a remarkable ass. She teased. She attracted younger men.

Controlling, cheating, philandering, Tim had morphed into weasel-play. He'd sniffed the wind, as if he were a light mane lion flehming. He'd gotten paranoid and angry. He'd begun to tie himself into emotional knots with his passive-aggressive restraining leathers. His spool of control had been unraveling.

That night Hailey had asked for a divorce, Tim snapped. But his tirade had taken nearly two hours. He'd met his goal, destroying the only woman he'd ever loved. He'd sat on the bed and called 911.

Bits and pieces of Hailey remain in the newly built evidence room, over at the City of Pittsburgh's modern Police Department Headquarters.

Hailey's gory evidence is kept in a weatherproof plastic box, secured by a new Schlage KS23D2300 Brass Padlock. The evidence room is kept at a constant temperature, 68 degrees, all year, come sunshine or darkness.

The Department's Evidence Technicians watch over the cathedral-sized room. At a time of their choosing, they roam the long corridors. On occasion, the technicians allow authorized personnel to enter assigned inspection rooms.

The joke around all the detectives, and their superiors, is that the Evidence Technicians take their work too seriously. They all look as if they have been starved of sunshine and fresh air. According to the detectives, the techs have a particular scent about them. It's the scent of death, layered in yeasty perfumes. The tech's skin appeared pasty, egg-glaze over pie dough.

"And their eyes," the detectives had said, "In the low light of the chambered room, their eyes look distant and intrusive."

In the new evidence room, more comes in than goes out.

Tonya's case was much different than Hailey's, yet so very connected.

Ferguson knew this to be true. He'd studied all the coincidental cases across the country. Ferg had surmised if there were a need for a cross-trained professor in heaven, he'd fit the part. After all, most of salvation and science is a real "who done it?"

Tonya had gotten herself through one hell of a bout of postpartum depression. At her lowest point, she'd hooked a garden hose up to an exhaust pipe and ran it through a crack in the back window of her 2018 Prius. She'd used duct tape on the window and Reynolds wrap aluminum on the muffler, so the cheap hose wouldn't burn up or melt away from its mission.

She'd left her blue-collar roots in Freemont, California, for good, she'd thought. She'd driven up into Niles Canyon in the direction of Livermore. If it weren't for an observant California Highway Patrolman and dumb luck, she would have died fromcarbon dioxide and carbon monoxide poising.

An ambulance had been called out to the desolate canyon's roadway, to the graveled turn-out.

For all the grief, it was just another beautiful sunny day in California.

Tonya was rushed to Acacia Mental Health, back in Fremont. She'd been kept on a 72-hour hold for evaluation. She was given more anti-depressant medication. The most expensive her cheap health plan could afford.

The medicine caused the face of her psychiatrists to look blurry, alien as if their features were static electricity or white noise.

Tonya's husband Sylvester had worked two jobs just to pay the rent. That's how he'd kept his small family of two afloat. Tonya worked, too, a part-time gig at a local convenience store, the 7-11 on Mowry Avenue.

She'd been gifted her iPhone at mental health. Tonya had purchased the Sim card on her husband’s Verizon plan. The SG chip had remained in the guts of her new phone, sniffing and sorting all her pics and videos. A Mass Spectrometer had been placed inside her apple product. It had been removed and re-fitted at each of her psychiatrist appointments. No phones had been allowed during any of her medication consultations.

Data had been entered and extracted on an ongoing basis, from somewhere above Tonya's pay grade.

Hailey's case was not all that different. Both women had gotten their phones back after each session, of course from different psychiatrists, and different locations. They had also been given an in-office refill of their anti-depressant prescription.

Tonya had received counseling as well. She'd been encouraged by the county’s social worker to embrace change and growth. Tonya was also encouraged to interact with her iPhone and rehearse her "happiness video therapy." She'd been instructed how to become a great actress. "Fake all that shit until you make it, honey," the likable MSW had said.

And so, Tanya began recording, saving, deleting, paying her new life forward. It was all out there, ahead of her, in a brand-new tomorrow, outside the manipulation of Smart phones.

Sly had bludgeoned Tonya. Her face had turned into a red pulp-fiction movie, including the cut-out scenes. Her loving Sylvester had lost his mind to the evil stewards of anger, rage, as well as bad PCP. It had been determined during his acts of violence to play a wicked game of tic-tac-toe on his dead wife's back, using a rusty, dull kitchen knife.

A very curious, tiny apparatus had been installed into Tonya's cell phone long in advance of the unspeakable crime. Tonya and her sadistic husband had been chosen as guinea pigs. They'd been under near-constant behavioral observation, as had Hailey and her twisted Tim.

The zest of Tonya's bloodied ribbons of DNA had been uploaded and downloaded in milliseconds, somewhere up there. During the murder, the latest model of Mass Spectrometer had been tested, the ME-XX.2. Though only a small part in the dark orb's overall experiment, the crime scene samples could prove invaluable.

A Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical laboratory gadget used to separate the chemicals listed on the cluttered Periodic Table of Elements. An (MS) is a necessary evil for many scientific studies. An electronic charge accomplishes the task perfectly, separating even the most elusive atoms.

Should the latest scientific study yield encouraging results? Results supporting the theory that airborne blood and plasma molecules have the capacity to trigger violent attacks, proof certain success related to Kepler-452b's scientific communities, that would practically assure further laboratory research, including studies on a new aerosol nasal spray and its misty effect on one's olfactory nerves. If effective, this new medication could potentially be utilized to reduce the high levels of masculine toxicity on Kepler-452b, thus preventing similar, horrific attacks.

However, what Ferg had stumbled upon was a grandiose experiment and treatment protocol that had been built atop a completely fraudulent scientific foundation, steeped in unethical practices and a mess of horse crap.

Four out of seventeen distinct and well-respected citizens had already died investigating this flawed and criminal celestial experiment, and experiment that had been authorized by Kepler-452b.

After the murder, Sly had dispensed her cut-up body parts in a boatload of plastic containers he'd purchased at Target. He'd planted the boxes all over Alameda and San Francisco Counties. After, he'd parked his run-down dodge pickup in the fast lane on the Golden Gate Bridge. It had been pointed in the direction of all the riches in Marin County.

He'd pushed open the sticky handled driver's side door. He'd run across traffic lanes. Then, he forced himself over the railing. After, he jumped onto the catwalk. From there, he walked a self-imposed plank clear out into the laboring waves of a Pacific storm.

He'd convinced himself, there was no way in hell he was going to live without his Tonya, not one single day in what had become a miserable life. He'd rather meet up with her in hell.

The fatal argument had started hotly, "I'm done. I want to live alone, and go back to school." Sly had hated school. Schools made fun of him, made him feel stupid and poor.


It was in the fall of 2017 when the letters were sent, 17 in total. Ferg had received his. At first blush, he doubted their authenticity. He'd shit-canned his copy in a tall plastic trashcan in his month-to-month high-rise man cave.

He'd gotten out of bed around 1:00 AM. He ironed out the letter's folds and wrinkles over a dirty tee-shirt that he'd placed on the kitchen counter. After, he sat on his frumpy corduroy chair, the only seat in the apartment other than his bed and the broken-legged stool at the kitchen table.

He read the letter out loud but with the scrutiny of a scientist. He'd begun to think about what was up there. He'd gotten the chills from all the truth in the letter.

Ferg had a near-perfect mind, everyone had thought. The one exception was a minor emotional breakdown he'd had back at Princeton. It was about a girl.

A psychiatrist, Dr. Royal, in Cambridge, had counseled a Dr. Jung. He'd diagnosed him with short-term depression and anxiety back then.

"If you don't have a little of each these days, depression and angst," Dr. Jung had chuckled, "then you are crazy as hell." Jung hugged his belly as if it were a large bowl of his beloved raspberry Jell-O.

Ferg argued, "Nope, that's a bunch of bull crap. My mind is as good as the day it was created."

"You Ferguson," the small-framed doctor interjected, "it's nothing to be ashamed of, son, I can assure you. You just overloaded that BMW brain of yours again, too much research and intellectual weight up there." Jung pointed at Ferg's tall, messed-up gray hair.

"What, car, weight, the ceiling?" A flummoxed Ferg blurted out. The frumpy doctor had a large stain on his tie, the shape, and size of Rhode Island.

"Jung's answer was succinct, "all that gosh-damned weight, that's what caused you a mental blow out up there."

They'd had a good laugh over that.

“Keplerzine?” asked Ferg? He'd thrown the jolly-face Yoda a 100 mile an hour fastball.

"What you say, Ferg? I don't know this tincture, explain?"

"What we discuss stays here, right, Jung?"

"Of course, I like you, but it's the law too, dude."

"They administer Keplerzine to the female subjects, without their knowing. The altered pheromones have been hypothesized to reduce aggressiveness in men."

"Aggressive men?" Jung stared at Ferg as if he had been late on his last session payment.

"Yes, prey in flight can trigger a violent predatory attack in all of nature. But, the male scientists of Kepler-452b have made sure that Keplerzine is only a placebo."

"A placebo would null the results of any experiment you, Ferg. It could be catastrophic, void any damned experiment. That would be illegal and destructive. Maybe I give you Sertraline, some Zoloft, you crazy-sounding today, like a shit house rat."

Ferg had cried that evening, Seated on his wobbly stool in front of all the white noise on his small TV. The screen ticked, ticked, against the glass not unlike angry hornets. It had been placed upon his kitchen counter. He felt sad about what he'd come to believe, after the letter, after his session with Jung, how things were spinning out of control, how a planet can roll off its axis.

But nope, Ferg was a brave man. Ferg had balls the size of pomegranates when it came to standing up to bullies. He owed Earth his undivided attention.

With each new class at UC Berkeley, Ferg started his lecture by discussing the content of the letter he'd received back in Boston, and how a total of 17 letters had been sent to various religious leaders, scholars, and Yogi's. He explained how at least 4 of the seventeen had met with a violent death: two murders, a fall from a cliff, and a horrible car accident.

"I lost full tenure over all this at Harvard. They are all watching.” Ferg pointed up. “ They are waiting to take action. This has to get out," Ferg had raised his voice again.

On one special Saturday, Ferg had delivered an important paper. The class was so large. It was held in the gym at Ca. Berkeley. He'd railed on about how he and the others had discussed the suspicious letters. He spoke how he'd kept his letter a secret, and how he'd feared for his life.

"We all need to step forward, expose all this to the world." He'd said.

After delivering his dissertation, Ferg was approached by a distinguished man. The gentleman had introduced himself as Professor Rudyard Kipling. Ferg had chuckled inside, but the kind gentleman had not. Inside this man, a sense of humor had been given the wrong chromosome. Ferg had thought the man's eyes glassy, tiny, dark orbs.

Professor Kipling went on to say that he was a full professor, in the Science Department, at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver Canada. He explained how he'd been following Ferg's career and how he'd gotten permission to invite Ferg to lecture as soon as possible on campus. He'd said, "You are welcome to stay with me at my condo."

For some reason, Ferg had thought this quite suspicious and politely declined the invitation. "I have too much work to do down here, ah, processor Kipling, perhaps one day soon?" Ferg had requested.

The gentleman had placed his COVID mask back on his clammy smile. Rather than shaking hands, they pounded elbows goodbye. "I'll be in touch, professor Ferguson," he’d said before stepping into a thicket of Alameda County fog, where he evaporated.

Fall quarter had arrived, August 2021, not a single day too soon. Ferg had missed his students, the lectures, and all the spirited classroom banter. He’d become a feminist hero at UC Berkeley.

The first day of class had become a tradition to Ferg. He paused before introducing himself, even though everyone knew of him. The hall was standing room only. Several students crowded themselves together near the exit doors in the back, some praying for no-shows or drop-outs.

Ferg being Ferg, admired the sea of soft skulled students, his mush-for-brains, bright future stars. He loved every one of them. Most he didn't know. How beautiful he'd thought, all those naive faces, full to the gills with hope and promise.

Ferg had become a cult figure in his beloved San Francisco Bay Area, a New Age Timothy Leary, Jack Kerouac, or Allen Ginsberg figure. They'd taken trips on LSD, trips on their electric Kool-Aid acid bus in the bombastic 60's. Ferg hadn't the need for any trips back then. His mind was trippy enough, thank you very much.

Once again, he'd dare to share his gift of discovery, though dark.

He gloated inside, " I don't need no stinkin' Harvard tenure. Every one of you at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard can go straight to hell."

His colleagues had thought Ferg a raving lunatic. Of course, they were jealousies, suspicious nonbelievers. But, Ferg had something more powerful than "Edward Teller's sanctimonious, God-damned atom bomb.”

Ferg had factual proof that another planet was out there, a sphere with living, breathing humans, so much like us, but much smarter, more cunning, and much more hostile. It was a lopsided planet, one with more males than females. There had been so much violence perpetrated against females. Kepler-452b had gotten as close as you can to a revolutionary explosion.

Professor Ferguson had grown, both as a universal passenger and as an enlightened being. Through research, he'd discovered how Kepler-452b, the mirrored planet had conducted experimentation and PSYOP'S, violating the physical and emotional sanctity of the Earth's female population.

Ferg had recently turned 78. He would be dead soon, like the other four. The best he could hope was to die from natural causes. And so, he'd chosen to expose the whole damned Kepler-452b experiment and the dark orb's operation he discovered.

Observing Ferg from the back of the class that fateful day was a young-ish student. A student who'd looked a lot like the man Ferg had met named Kipling.

The man’s eyes had shined obsidian, black pupils on black irises. Is that even possible?

Ferg had been a little paranoid, and so he redirected his thoughts back to his lecture. The grand hall had turned into a fish rodeo, with all the pushing and bucking, just to get closer and closer to the infamous professor.

A focused Ferg drove home his theory. It was an unimaginable thesis, a diabolical plan that had placed a mirrored world up there, outside the gravity of sanity.

"The ruling party on Kepler-452b had been conducting experiments on Earth. Their feigned objective is to reduce gender violence toward its female inhabitants.

"Kepler-452b's once beautiful earth-like evolution had turned poisonous and toxic. Over the millennia, it had dissolved into a shameful sphere, awash in the hostility and testosterone.

"The result, they've created an oppressive male society? Even the planet's comedians had labeled the once golden planet Kepler-452b, the planet Testis.

"Like planet earth, the planet Testis has a birth rate of 50/50, male to female ratio. However, beyond the age of 65, for every 100 living females, there are 75 remaining males alive. On Testis, the ratio is reversed, with 25% more living males than females." The statistics electrified the students.

The entire class hooted at Ferg, but in a good way, raising their fists in defiance. They'd come to love his impassioned thesis and factual accounting. "Stop the experiments," they'd shouted, fully invested in their beloved professor's allegations. They'd join him in exposing the mirrored planets festering culture of sexisms.

"It's too late. The students shouted, jail half of the males on the planet based on testosterone levels alone."

In a nutshell, Ferg had postulated that toward the last part of the twentieth century, the government of the planet Kepler-452b had turned Earth into a monolithic Petri dish. Kepler-452 b's appointed government had chosen Earth, a sister planet as the perfect location for mass experimentation. This experiment had begun in the latter part of the twentieth century. The objective was to avoid civil unrest on their orbed planet.

The controlling party, which includes a compromised female leadership contingent, had labeled the study "An effort to determine the effects of violence on women, to find a solution, and to end misogyny. In the long run, this would curtain any further societal erosion."

The directed Kepler-452b scientists, mostly male, had no intent to yield objective, scientific results from the get-go.

The experiment had been designed as a colossal sham, a façade in an effort to bide time for the ruling elite. Provide them with an opportunity to galvanize the Kepler-452b’s entire leadership apparatus.

"A cream-colored pill named Keplerzine has played a central part in their grand experiment. It has been falsely sold as a means to reduce female deaths from depression, drug overdose, suicide, and the destruction of self-esteem on the mirrored globe."

The room felt empty of reason. Gasps followed the silence in the lecture hall. The professor continued.

"Keplerzine is a placebo!"

The mostly female student audience had stood and given a standing ovation. "They lied, they lied to their people," the students shouted. "Never here, on earth, never here."

During perhaps his greatest moment, Ferg received a phone call as if on cue. He ignored the vibration and noise in his pants pocket. He'd placed his cell phone on airplane mode, he'd thought: more shouting, more clapping, more waving to the crowd.

Ferg couldn't resist his iPhone. It had grown louder and more obnoxious. He tugged the phone out of his pocket.

It was Thomas Dolby.

Thomas Dolby was singing his hit song, "She's Blinding Me with Science." Ferguson had loved his work-related ringtone, but its timing was off this day. It should have been buried somewhere in airplane mode.

The noisy students couldn't hear Ferg, all the noise, and cheering.

"Excuse me," He'd said, "I have to take this crazy call!"

Ferg brushed his iPhone home. The phone detonated.

Ferg dropped to the dirty floor the way a slab of beef does when it’s bumped off a hook in a butcher shop walk-in freezer. His long body stiffened, smoked, and cinched into a perfect fetal position. After, it went limp. Everyone with feet clogged the lecture hall exit doors.

The young man with the onyx eyes who had looked familiar to the now-deceased Ferg, remained seated. He enjoyed the chaos, but he didn't have the DNA to smile. His mission had been accomplished.

There was clapping from the male ruling party leadership on the dark sister planet. Cynical men had been seated at the long obsidian council table. They observed from the governance room. Finally, the last person on Earth who could expose their dark experiment had been terminated.

Unfortunately, such Kepler-452b life forms don't exist, at least not in human form. Professor Ferguson's had theorized the mirrored planet had been abused, as well as Earth.

But, of course, none of this was true. The CIA's creative writers had conceived the mirrored planet from whole cloth. The CIA was also responsible for all the other shenanigans: the medications, CIA psychiatrists, Jung, the iPhone tampering, the front office staff at the psychiatrist's offices. No phones allowed in therapy, remember? Office-issued tinctures. Oh, and the Prius, no connection.

The research was now 100% complete. The CIA had just enough time to get rid of their black-op thumbprints. See what we get for our tax money?

Communication is factually impossible with Kepler-452b. At the speed of light, it would take at least 26 million years to reach the jewel.

And if one were to consider the act of teleporting, or thought travel, forget it. The world's scientific community has already discounted this notion.

Maybe Superluminal or Supercasual FTL (Faster than Light) travel? All this conjecture is fodder, propagated by the Hollywood elite and rich producers who only know how long it takes for your dollars to reach their bank accounts.

And all the men at the long table, well, they are real, very real, but unfortunately, they work for the CIA, my former employer. All the disgusting experimentation is on them. It wasn't my brainchild. I wish I could take credit. As we all know, the CIA doesn't recognize international laws or morality.

As far as I am concerned, I'm good. The CIA has made retirement affordable.

By the way, I am the one who sent all the letters to all the dead scholars and scientists, including your beloved Ferguson. It was our, ah, the CIA's attempt to purchase time, an expensive commodity as you well know. Time for our black-op's to do what they do best, scrub. Time so forensics could get rid of all the evidence. It's all working. We've had a lot of practice.

Please excuse me? I need to book a flight on Southwest for Vancouver, British Columbia. I've made a new acquaintance, a most interesting professor. He's asked me to vacation up there, stay awhile.


© 2023 Dan A. Cardoza

Bio: Dan's most recent darkness has been featured in BlazeVOX, Black Petals, Blood Moon Rising, Bull, Cleaver, Close to the Bone, Dark City Books, Dark Dossier, Dream Noir, The Horror Zine, Mystery Tribune, Suspense Magazine, Schlock, The Yard Crime Blog, Variant, The 5-2.
Anthologies: Coffin Bell Two, Running Wild Press, Anthology of Stories, Vita Brevis Poetry, Pain & Renewal, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, Audio Horror Anthology (13 stories).
Dan has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best Micro-fiction.

E-mail: Dan A. Cardoza

Website: Dan A. Cardoza's Website

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