Short Story Series 4: Just a Matter of Time – Part 3

[…continued from Part 2]

William would rather be early than late and that’s how he planned everything. He didn’t, however, wish to be too early for his meeting with Dina at her parents’ house. He knew the neighborhood – old estates with nicely manicured lawns. So, he planned just to be early enough to walk around the block once enjoy the various flower gardens he would invariably encounter. And at a minute past 6:30pm, he rang the bell to the Georgian style manor which belonged to the Marcotta family. Dina answered and welcomed William inside.

“Good evening, Dina. Thank you for the invitation.”

“Thank you for being willing to look at the clock. Come. I’ll introduce you to the antique and while you have a closer look, I’ll go prepare some tea. It’s right over there.”

“That will be fine. But, please forgive me. I’ll have to get a lot closer before giving a reaction to it. I am extremely nearsighted and all I see from here is the outline of a dark reddish brown blur.”

“Oh, I’m sorry please come take a close look.”

After closing the door, Dina took his arm and led him across the spacious foyer. Just inside the entrance and directly to the left was a sitting room which they walked past only to return there later for tea. The side of the room opposing the entrance was the spot where the tall case clock stood. To its left side was a passage way deeper into the home. Behind the clock and to the right was a stairwell descending to the right in an arc and terminating at floor level with the entrance to a library.

“Magnificent,” said William.

“Would you like a black tea or an herbal tea,” Dina asked?

“Black is fine, thank you.”

“Great. I’ll bring a pot for both of us. Sugar or crème?”

“Neither one. Thank you.”

Off she went. For the first thirty seconds or so he forgot why he was there. He was close enough to the clock to enjoy its detail, but he had yet to put on his glasses because he was lost in the scent of Dina’s perfume. He couldn’t help wondering if he should have the opportunity to get to know her. Questions flooded his mind. Was she single? What does she do for a living? What is that scent? By the time his spectacles were in place, he could hear her footsteps returning down the hallway.

Then focusing on the clock, he looked at the face behind the glass noticing no sign or name of a manufacturer. He thought perhaps there were markings elsewhere in the clock, clues yet to be discovered.

As Dina approached carrying a tray with the tea pot, cups and some sweets, William asked, “May I open the side access panel?”

“Of course! I don’t think you can do it any harm and I trust you, of all people, will treat it with the delicacy it deserves.”

“This is intriguing. It’s unusual for the movement to be enclosed like this. It’s encased in a metal box so robustly – perhaps, hermetically,” William noted even more emphatically.

“The pendulum and weights are unique, too,” Dina remarked. “I always wondered why there were no chains – only those short cylindrical rods. Perhaps that’s why it never worked.”

“I don’t suppose you have a key for the pendulum cabinet.”

“No. I believe it has been missing my whole life. Can you pick the lock?”

“In my shop, most certainly and without any damage.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “Dina, I really would love to examine this clock in detail. It’s difficult, of course, to give an estimate for repair with so much unknown about it. However, I would like to make an offer to you and I beg you to accept.”

“Go ahead!”

“If repair is possible, I will do so gratis and you need only pay for parts. I will cover the cost of transporting it to and from my shop. I have a friend who is a courier of parcels, large and small. How about it?”

“William, you’ve got a deal. I’d shake your hand, but I’m still holding this tray.” She smiled widely. “Let’s go into the front study and have some tea and…talk a bit.”

“After you.”

Once in the study, sitting down and sipping tea, they were both eager to shed the trappings of business.

“How long have you had your shop,” Dina asked?

“About 10 years now. I’ve worked on clocks, though, since I was a teenager.”

“Then you went on to apprentice with a master clock maker, I suppose?”

“Actually, no. I was a physicist for a long time, mostly theoretical. I was craving to work with my hands and to spend my hours doing something in which my productivity could be examined in a tactile manner. So I changed careers. ‘To artfully express the mechanics of time…’ would be my motto, if I had to choose one right now.”

Dina’s eyes widened and mouth opened a bit in surprise as she said, “What a coincidence! My father is a physicist! He teaches at the university. My mother is also mathematician there. I suppose I have them both to thank for my scientific endeavors.”

“Really? What do you do,” inquired William?

“I’m a botanist. I’ve taking a liking to research in the area of dendrology, the study of trees; specifically, I study growth rates and the formation of patterns in branches and foliage among variant species as they may correlate with sunlight, weather patterns and stochastic factors. Fractals and nature – I can’t get enough of it!”

“Wow! I’m blown away. That is fascinating. That’s something I’d love to read and hear about. To be honest, my vision is very near-sighted and branches in trees are hardly more than a blur for me. I have to imagine them, something I often do on my walks. So, I spend more energy on their scents. I do love gardens, this I can tell you. They are my favorite place to eat.”

“Then we shall have a picnic sometime,” she suggested.

“I would like that very much. Perhaps this weekend if the weather permits.”

“OK. Call me. So, about the clock. When will you pick it up?”

“I’d like to get it as soon as possible. I can arrange something for tomorrow morning. My good friend, Jeffrey, is an antique dealer and he moves clocks for me from time to time. Can I call you later this evening with a set time?”


“I’m looking forward to this more than anything at the moment because I’ve never seen such a clock. It’s a mystery I hope to solve and repair for you as soon as possible.”

“I shall appreciate whatever you can do. More tea,” Dina asked?

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 4: Just a Matter of Time – Part 2

[…continued from Part 1]

William’s walk to his shop was usually casual. While working he was often hyper-focused, so he preferred to remain relaxed and open to discovery along his route, taking in sights as blurred as they were together with sounds and smells, just observing the moment in his outdoor environment. But on this particular day he was focused on the vision before him. His heart rate increased as he started walking again to match the woman’s gait. She was on a mission, not sauntering. He didn’t want to get to close for she might think he was stalking her. And it didn’t help that she left a trail of alluring perfume in the air.

As they approached the entrance to the town, the woman made a left turn onto Maple Street where William’s shop was located. He wondered if he would lose her and considered picking up his pace, but that seemed to him an unjustified action. So, he remained in the moment savoring the fragrance that lingered in the air. When it was his time to make a left turn, he slowed down considerably at the serendipitous moment that lay before him. The woman had stopped in front of his shop. At first she was looking through the window, shielding both sides of her eyes for a sharper view. Then she looked at her watch to discover the shop wouldn’t open for a few hours yet. Just then William, not quite yet at his shop’s premises, seized the moment and shouted ahead as he continued toward her,

“Good morning, Miss! Can I be of any assistance? You see, that’s my shop and I usually do not open the doors until 10AM.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I should like to come back later then.”

“Don’t be sorry. In fact, while I consider every moment of time to be priceless, I am never too rigid with schedules. Many a quality experience would be lost in its strict adherence,” Williams philosophized.

The woman quoted, “’The hours of folly are measured by the clock; but of wisdom…’”

And they both finished together, “…no clock can measure.”

“William Blake,” William said astonished! “I’m William Devereaux,” as he extended his hand to her.

“Dina Marcotta! A pleasure to meet you,” she countered as she shook his hand and smiled.

“Please come in and tell me how I can help you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely! Please!”

He unlocked the door, pushed it open and motioned for her to enter.

Dina walked into a wall of olfactory bliss; well, at least she thought so. For all the finished clocks in the room, there were an equal number of unfinished works in progress made from a variety of wood: pine, cedar, maple, oak, and many others. In addition, her exceptional sense detected various oils and finishes, as well as metals in the air from the clockworks.

Dina was a formally trained as a botanist with a special interest in dendrology, the scientific study of trees. She had a real appreciation for woods, not just in the growth and proliferation of the vegetable kingdom, but in their use as raw materials in art and functional instruments of humanity. She was clearly in a state of amazement.

“Oh, how lovely it is to be in your shop. I never knew there was such a place on this street.”

“It is my pride and joy. Are you looking to purchase a clock,” William asked?

“Actually, I am interested in having my parents’ grandfather clock restored to working condition as a gift to them. They still live in the house in which I grew up and not once in my recollection did I ever see that clock working. Now, that I can afford to do something nice for them, I wish to repair it.”

“That’s sweet,” William said. “What make of tall case clock is it?”

“Tall case?”

“Tall case is just a simpler trade term for a grandfather clock,” William answered.

“That’s the problem. I’m not sure and my parents don’t remember. They say it was passed down the generations from my great grandfather. But, I do have some pictures.”

“May I see?”

“Of course.”

Dina took out photos from a folder in her large black messenger bag and handed them to William.

Looking at the first picture of the tall case against a stairwell with a wooden banister he commented, “Beautiful piece.” The next picture startled him with mysterious delight.

“Very unusual face…WOWWW,” he exclaimed in a light whisper. “This is not just a clock face with sun and moon disks – it’s an astrolabe with the planets…Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune…there’s no Pluto…of course! Regardless of its planetary classification, the clock predates the discovery of Pluto in 1930, if it truly originated as far back as your great grandfather. Look! It  also has the positions of the constellations that comprise the zodiac. This is a phenomenal work of art.”

“It’s also very heavy. It is solid mahogany, not a veneered wood,” said Dina. “I was hoping that, if you were willing to restore it, you would be able to come and collect it or have someone who could transport it to your shop.”

“Certainly I can arrange something. I definitely would love to see this in person.”

“If you wish, you could look at it tonight at my parent’s house. They are visiting family out of state for the whole month which is why I am eager to have it restored at this time. I’ll give you the address and meet you there at 7pm. I live nearby. Better yet, William, why don’t you come by at 6pm for tea?” She took out a pen and scribbled something on a piece of paper and extended it to him.

“How about 6:30pm, he asked as he took the paper? “I usually close at 6pm and I’m expecting a customer to come by at closing time today.”

“Perfect,” Dina said.

“It sounds lovely, thank you, Dina.”

With a happy and positive outlook, Dina turned toward the door and looked back at William. Then she looked around the shop walls at all the clocks and let out a sigh of contentment, “I love your shop!”

To be continued…

Short Story Series 4: Just a Matter of Time – Part 1

William Devereux was a piece of work, like the eccentric and rare breed of clocks that he hand-crafted in his small town shop. He also repaired time pieces for the townsfolk. He worked year-round, from dusk to dawn, walking to and from work specifically during the twilight hours which changed throughout year. It was the light during that time which charged him the most emotionally and that was precisely necessary to keep him most passionate about his work. If for any reason he had to travel later in the morning or leave early, his entire day would be a fairly moody one.  Behind the counter in William’s shop, was a desk where he most often worked on smaller clocks and watches. And to the left was an old Victrola on which he only played the music of Satie. He loved all kinds of music, of course, but Satie was his only choice when creating or effecting repairs.  To those open to complexity in a character, he was charming and charismatic. To others without the empathy to try and understand him, well, he could be an unpleasant piece of work.

William had always dreamed of living in an apartment above the shop where he would make a living. But, at a young age he had inherited a beautiful cottage on the river and didn’t want to part with the coziness and the pure sense of home which it provided. At the same time, he needed his shop downtown to take advantage of whatever business the tourist activity would bring. As it was, he didn’t mind the walk when he discovered how vitalizing is was to traverse the cobblestone sidewalk for the half-mile it stretched between his cottage and the park on the edge of town – his ‘quarter hour of bliss‘ he would call it.

One fine autumn morning William was walking the river path by the park when he was instantly struck by a vision of beauty about 50 feet away from him. This vision stopped him in his tracks. A woman who had been sitting on a bench arose, brushed off her skirt while turning her face toward William and smiling. But, she was intending to walk the other direction and thus she went, walking at roughly his pace 50 feet ahead.

The vision that William had seen however was not the woman’s gorgeous red hair as she flipped it to one side with her arm. Nor was it her attractive figure and legs whose contours were revealed by the Valentino haute couture dress she was wearing. William only saw her silhouette and the aura she exuded, a dazzling radiant light of colorful spectra. You see, William suffered from the most severe myopia and the focus of distant objects could not be corrected by wearing lenses. The glasses he did where when working in the shop were to help him see close objects within a few feet from his eyes. He didn’t require a walking cane, however. And for the most part, he was fine with not seeing details when it came to the subject of people.

William wasn’t antisocial. He understood that humans were a social species and he thought it virtuous for the individual to be social. He truly wanted to participate with others – to socialize; however, whenever he did he was sorely disappointed by the shallowness and thoughtless vanity displayed before him. More often than not, such attempts were a waste of time. And time, after all, was not just a matter of business for William; it was a philosophical passion, one he wished so desperately to share. Whether with a conversational friend or a lover, for William a quality relationship would require a harmony of minds and shared respect of time.

To be continued…

A Poem: The Moment

I prefer my dreams – even my fiercest nightmares – to conscious human life. Everything I can imagine and sense consciously can be found in the amorphous and fluid context of my dreamscapes. High anxiety, anger and seething rage may make their appearances; but I am never depressed there! Rather, I am ever excited to go deep into the moment – regardless of what is happening – and embrace it, know it intimately. If I could only do that when consciously awake, I would never again be depressed. Alas…

sublime bliss
engendered by this
time-lapse experience
of a lotus flower unfurling its petals

close my eyes
open my eyes

There is a comforting pacification to be found in the moment.

sudden terror
strikes the heart
when your little one
is lost in a crowd

pursue with single-minded purpose,
wander around searching, asking, calling,
no thoughts of loss
only mystery

There is a comforting pacification to be found in the moment.

earthquakes rumble
buildings crumble
death and destruction

exhilarated and amazed
no worries present
seeking safety through the cityscape

There is a comforting pacification to be found in the moment.

her name I never knew
her touch I’d never forget
holding hands for a fleeting moment
my heart forever changed

let the enchantment linger
then let it go – dissipate
clinging will cause suffering
take a deep breath

There is a comforting pacification to be found in the moment.

© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 3: SciFi Thriller – Part 2

[…continued from Part 1]

Suzanne was  excited by the possibility of a new discovery, but more than nervous she was suspicious.. She had an extra hour to think about it because traffic was just horrid. She stopped along the route at a rest stop to call her friend, Marcus, and explain everything. He shared both her excitement and concern, but felt an absolute obligation to help her identify these objects and learn of their origin and purpose. As he needed a break from his own work, he wanted to take some vacation time and decided to meet her on Orcas Island in the evening.

The drive from Seattle to the ferry terminal in Anacortes lasted over two hours; nevertheless she embraced the moment and enjoyed the ferry ride back home.

Suzanne’s clock chimed 10pm just before Marcus walked in. They embraced for a moment before she rushed to show him the images on her laptop. Marcus did have a college buddy, David, who worked in some capacity for the Department of Defense (DoD) and Marcus wasted no time getting him on the phone. David asked him to email images to him on his personal email address so as, if not to ensure privacy, to minimize exposure of their discovery.

Immediately after David received the emails, he phoned Marcus back.

“Hey, Marcus. David.”

“Hi, David. Did you…”

“Where on earth did you get these,” David asked.

“A friend of mine who is trying to identify them made their discovery, but she hasn’t specified from where.”

“It’s Suzanne, isn’t it? Hello, Suz!” David figured she’d be with Marcus on speakerphone.

“Hello, David,” Suzanne shouted.

“Do you know what they are,” Marcus asked?

“Yes, actually. In fact, it was a top secret project that, by coincidence, I was working on. They are artificial viruses or virions.”

“What is their purpose?”

“Well, I can only tell you what I was told,,,which isn’t much. They were intended essentially to be vehicles for not merely delivering biological agents, but for reproducing and manufacturing the agents themselves with the help of the host’s DNA and supplemental reagents added to the target system, such as the water supply or any other means of intake for the host. My task was to work with geneticists in making the nanoscale replication process possible given the availability of certain raw materials.”

“Shit, David. That is just crazy and a serious danger to society in the wrong hands. I mean it has fantastic medical potential, I suppose. But, clearly it is intended as a militarized bioweapon.”

“I didn’t have the whole picture when I was involved at the research and development phase. In hindsight, it was a horribly dangerous idea. How these came to be accessible to the public so soon, I wouldn’t know.”

“Is there a way you can trace the project and figure out what these samples in particular do, how they are distributed? Suz says there’s DNA inside a protected chamber.”

“It will take some time, a few days at least. I do not have the clearance to access the complete project to determine their exact program and where they were made. I have a few hacker friends that can most assuredly help though.”

“That’s crazy. You have to go outside the DoD to get further inside the DoD!”

“Yeah, compartmentalization is a bitch, but it is what keeps the complex machine whirring in its diabolical plans. Ignorance has been bliss thus far, but it’s time I find my conscience. Can you get me a sample?”

“I’ll overnight it.”

Suzanne was listening to the entire conversation, of course.  She looked alarmed. “Let’s get some sleep,” she said, “and I’ll buy you breakfast in the morning.” She went to the hall closet to grab a pillow and blanket and handed it to Marcus. “Here. The couch is super comfortable! You should be warm enough.” She smiled. Marcus smiled. There was amusement in both of their eyes.

“It’s good to see you again, Suz.”

She looked back at him from the hallway. “Thanks for coming, Marcus. Good night.”

Upon rising, Suzanne and Marcus took a quick ride into the village for a quiet breakfast at the Copper Kettle, the only place in town that served traditional breakfast food all day long. Walking in, she looked at the waiter and asked for a table for two. His name was Douglas.  Suzanne had known him for years. He had worked at the diner as long as she had lived on the island and she had been going there about three times a week.

“Coffee,” asked Douglas?

“What, no “Good Morning’, Douglas? …just a curt ‘coffee’?”

Suzanne was attempting to be playful, but Douglas just stood there looking at her. She was perplexed at his somber mood. Finally, she said, “Yes, please.” With that affirmation, Douglas poured coffee into both cups on the table and then walked away.

“Geeze, I wonder what’s up with Douglas today? He’s usually quite a humorous fellow, more social at least.”

“Off day, I suppose,” Marcus guessed.

“His day is just starting.”

They took the menus from the center of the table, gave them a perusal, and formulated what they desired to eat before talking about the artificial virions – ‘virion’ is the term David used on the phone in describing the potentially infective particles that were created by the DoD program.

It seemed like a long time passed and Douglas never came over to take their order. After pouring some coffee refills at one table and taking payment at another, he just stood next to the register staring rather blankly. Both Suzanne and Marcus thought that was odd.

Suzanne raised her hand and waved, “Douglas,” she called. And he came over.

“May we order breakfast,” she asked?

“What would you like?”

“For me, oatmeal, fruit salad, and orange juice,” Suzanne stated, still surprised about the mood Douglas was in.

“I’ll have two eggs, over easy, has browns, and a side of bacon. Oh, and I’ll have orange juice as well,” Marcus said.

“Thank you, Douglas,” Suzanne added.

Douglas nodded and went into the kitchen to place an order. At this point, Suzanne stood up to look into the kitchen which was normally a frenzy of bubbling conversation. Today, however, everyone was quiet speaking only when necessary. In fact, the whole restaurant was rather somber. Looking around, people were eating, but barely talking. It was becoming a little eerie. Of course, Marcus and Suzanne were already a little on edge and mystified by the virion particles. So, they both agreed to leave after they finished their meals.

“I’d like another glass of water. Are you going to drink yours,” David asked?

“Not at all. I never drink water in the village. It’s processed – desalinated and chlorinated – just doesn’t taste good. You can have it,” she pushed the glass forward. “I only drink well water or imported spring water.”

“If you are finished, I’d like to take you up to Mt. Constitution. The view from there is gorgeous. We must go earlier than later because there are no clouds at the moment. Once they roll in, they spoil the view.  You will see distant islands, mountain ranges, Mt. Baker and more. Although…to be honest the trip up is worthwhile for the fresh air alone. Better yet, let’s make it a short hike and a picnic. I’ll stop by the market on the way out of town and we’ll pick up a few things to take with us.”

He swallowed the last of the water in the glass and then said, “Let’s go!”

They headed over to the market and Suzanne picked up some cheese, nuts, smoked salmon and bottled water. As usual she saw a few friends and familiar faces, although her friends seemed quite distant, not approaching her as usual for a hug and a quick check in. She spotted Katie, a mid-twenties-something young lady who worked at the store stocking shelves.

“Good morning, Suzanne,” said Katie. “Where are you off to on this fine day?”

“Good morning, Katie. I’m taking my friend, Marcus, to Mt. Constitution for a little hike and picnic later.”

“Sounds awesome! I have to work all day or I’d otherwise do the same. But, no one else seems interested in doing anything with me this week. There’s such a somber attitude about town.”

“Tell me about it! The people at the Copper Kettle – Douglas, who’s usually funny, although not as vibrant as you – they were just blah. The cooks were just cooking because it’s what they do. Even the customers were eating because they had to eat…lots of blank stares. It was just too weird.”

“Charlie was like that at the gas station last night. I hope there isn’t another bug going around. I can’t afford to get sick again.”

“I hear you. We better pay and get up to the mountain before clouds decide to rain on our parade.”

“Have a good one!”

“You, too.”

As they began their twenty minute drive up to the mountain summit, Marcus received a call from David’s cell phone.

“David! What news?”

“Marcus, listen. Let me talk fast. The virions are truly sinister. I don’t know specifically who, where, or why…that much which I could probably surmise…but, I have found out their purpose. Someone is planning to distribute the virions by aerosol, more specifically over cities using chemtrails. The ‘DNA package’ is a program to continually manufacture what this document calls ‘the pacification agent’ developed by a private biotech company for the client which is called here, ‘a UN subgroup’. We need a geneticist to determine what the program does specifically – the damn compartmentalization methodology is working against us here – but what is absolutely clear in these documents is that the target is the general population of Earth, beginning with Seattle and New York simultaneously in the first phase, followed by other major US cities, and then eventually the whole world. Phase one is scheduled to start on October 1st – that’s one week, Marcus. I’m emailing scans of these documents to you as I speak.”

“I don’t believe that, David. Are you serious?”

David hastened his speech as rapid typing could be heard in the background. “Marcus, I’ve never been more serious. There’s potentially worse news for you and Suzanne. There was a preliminary testing program in small remote and/or rural areas across the country which is about to come to completion. One of those remote areas…is Orcas Island!”

“Shit,” Marcus uttered.

They do multiply like a natural virus with the help of reagents added to…[static]…Whatever you do, don’t…[static]…[silence].”

“Crap, I lost him,” Marcus said.

“Cellular phones don’t work on the mountain above a certain point. Do you want me to turn around,” Suzanne asked?

“Yes, let’s try.”

They turned around and drove down the mountain until Marcus had at least one steady bar of signal strength on his cell phone. He attempted to call David back, but there was no answer. He was able to reach David’s home answering machine and left him a message.

After repeating everything David said to Suzanne, they both agreed to abandon the trek to Mt. Constitution in favor of regrouping at Suzanne’s house to contact Emily and her geneticist friend, and to make plans to expose this undertaking as swiftly and as cautiously as possible. It was no longer merely a mystery, but a public health threat and, perhaps as David was testifying to them on the phone, a conspiracy of global domination.

On the drive home Suzanne and Marcus discussed the weirdness of the people in town that day. Everyone on the island was a stranger to Marcus, but he still felt like he had walked into the twilight zone. Now that David mentioned something called “the pacification agent,” Marcus was beginning to see a correlation. And Suzanne was now beginning to wonder if the suspect artificial virions designed to affect humans could indeed be the very culprit diminishing the population of sea stars.

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 3: SciFi Thriller – Part 1

It was an overcast day in the Pacific Northwest when Suzanne Delaney went to a local coffee shop for her morning coffee – a 20oz, quad shot, mocha. Tourist season had just ended after Labor Day and Suzanne was glad to be able to return to her daily constitutional without having to stand in a queue as if she were at a state licensing bureau. Having ordered her drink and moved to the pick-up counter, she ran into an acquaintance who accosted her for a hug and conversation while she waited for her mocha. After about ten minutes of updating her inquisitive friend on her research and whether or not she had a current love interest, she couldn’t help noticing that other people who ordered after her were collecting their beverages and hers had not been called.

“Did you not call me drink? A 20oz, quad shot, mocha,” she asked the barista?

“I’m sorry. I completely forgot to make it, “said the friendly and animated Barista. “I can be such a dork sometimes. Coming right up.”

“That is the third time this week they’ve forgotten to make my drink,” Suzanne exclaimed.

“She’s new,” her friend added.

“It’s not just her. Other baristas have forgotten, too. It’s not like they have a lot to remember now that the summer is over. PTSD – post-tourist stress disorder, I suppose.”

After a chuckle and a few more minutes of rapping up gossip, she was on her way.

Suzanne was employed as a research scientist by a non-profit organization that monitors the health of marine life and the ecosystem in the San Juan Island archipelago which lies northwest of the coast of Seattle, Washington. A marine biologist specializing in invertebrates, she had immersed herself in her investigation of the cause of sea star wasting disease. There was a plague of diseased sea stars before her time on the East Coast in 1972, but as recent as the summer of 2013 another major die-off occurred on the East Coast. This time in addition, the ochre sea star species nearly disappeared on the West Coast before a recovery period followed and an increase in their population was observed.

A suspected culprit of sea star wasting disease was termed the ‘sea star associated densovirus’ (SSaDV), a member of the genus Ambidensovirus, which are in the family of parvoviruses that affect vertebrate and invertebrate hosts. The densovirus is a single-strand of DNA protected by a protein shell on the order of 20-30 nanometers. Suzanne had been studying samples of cells from wasted sea stars found on Orcas Island in the past several years to see if there was evidence of a virus present.

Not equipped like the research labs of a university, she was however fortunate to have received enough funds for a six-figure, laser confocal microscope thanks to a recent large donation to the organization from an anonymous donor. Better than an optical microscope like those used at the local high school, yet not nearly as powerful as a scanning electron microscope from a well-endowed institution, it would allow her to look for evidence of smaller particulates than she had been limited to previously.

As she strolled into her office with her 20oz mocha nearly gone, she was whistling a happy tune because it was the first day she would use the new microscope to examine the slides she had been preparing in anticipation of its delivery. She got right to work, first booting her laptop to play her favorite music station of impressionist classical piano, and then turning on all other equipment she needed. That included the small heater she kept under her table “to warm her tootsies” – as she would always say.

For the first hour there were no extraordinary observations. She had made annotations in her journal merely to document the slides she was viewing from various sea stars samples. When she started her first slide from her third sea star sample, she did notice something. There were small specs, nearly round in shape, dots, around the cell walls. They were a lot smaller than what she expected and hadn’t been looking at the earlier samples with such scrutiny. She hadn’t remembered to sharpen her mental acuity and increase expectations to match the high resolution capability of the laser confocal microscope. With that in mind, she pulled out one of the first slides she looked at and closely examined the cell walls. Now she saw things differently. It seemed that all cellular samples had these spheres attached in quantity. But, they were so small, on the order of ten to a hundred nanometers, so their exact shape could not be determined.  They were specks. Their material composition was likely unknown because she didn’t believe that anyone had seen these particulates before and probably never studied them. She had no recollection of their being mentioned in any academic papers. With all she hoped for with this new microscope, she still needed far better resolution. To help her further with this, she turned to her friend Emily who works with a scanning electron microscope at the University of Washington.

Perplexed and excited for an awaiting discovery, Suzanne first emailed Emily some preliminary digital images from her microscope. Then she spoke with Emily on the telephone and scheduled some time for her to use the electron microscope at the university the morning after next. Emily invited Suzanne to stay at her apartment in Seattle the next evening so the two would talk more about Suzanne’s research before heading straight to the lab the following morning.

Suzanne travelled to the Seattle about once each month for business, but preferred the quiet of her island with less than 5000 full-time residents and not a single traffic light. Yet, whenever she did leave the island she embraced the experience of sailing the Salish Sea, for the ferry ride from Orcas Island to the mainland is a breathtaking journey for anyone lucky enough to make it. While there are numerous islands all shapes and sizes in San Juan County, Washington, only the three largest islands have state ferry services that transport vehicles and people to the mainland, and sailing among them in the Salish Sea provides a lot of natural eye candy. Distant mountain ranges like the Olympic peninsula are snowcapped all year. Conifer forests are peppered with the orange-red bark of madrona trees that follow the contours of the islands at lower elevations. When the ferries pass closely enough, you can almost feel the soft textures of the green moss-covered cliffs and boulders.

As Suzanne stood in the open air at the bow of the ferry, the same salt-water air which flowed through her hair also ruffled her windbreaker making a flapping noise in concert with the waves the ferry was making. She felt a few drops of water on her face, but whether it was splatter from the sea or tears from the cloudy skies, she neither knew nor cared. Following four months of nearly perfect sunshine, she was ready for the winter rains. It was the Pacific Northwest after all.

A grouping of three seagulls paralleled alongside the ferry, flapping their wings and seemingly going nowhere from Suzanne’s perspective. As she turned to go inside the ferry’s seating area, someone from the other size of the bow yelled, “killer whales.” Suzanne turned and witnessed the pod of mammals lob-tailing. Although she was hoping to see a breach, it wasn’t to happen on that trip. She smiled anyway.

After arriving at Emily’s house, Suzanne filled her in about what she expected to find out at the lab in the morning.

“So, tell me, Suzanne. What is it that you think you have in these samples of yours,” Emily asked?

“Something on the nanoscale…certainly interesting to marine life…I just don’t know if I’m dealing with an organic pathogen…they are uniform in size so I can’t imagine that they are minerals. How could a grouping of molecules or crystalline structures appear in only one size consistently in samples from different organisms collected at different periods. I’d expect a bell curve of sample sizes, wouldn’t you?”

“How small do you think they are?”

“I’m guessing they are between 10 to 100 nanometers in diameter, but whatever they are – they are all identical in size.”

“We shall see. If these are samples of a virus, we certainly should be able to tell.” Emily concluded.”

The next morning Suzanne followed Emily to the lab at the university. Since she was planning to return to the island afterwards, Suzanne needed to take her own car. Upon arrival, they found that the lab staff had everything set up already and the two could get to work right away.

It was only a minute after the first sample went into the machine when Emily dialed in the resolution which, as she was expecting, would reveal some answers. Both of them were surprised at the first image that appeared on the screen.

“Was this possibly contaminated,” Emily asked?

“No. Here. Let’s try another sample.”

After several samples, they assumed that whatever it is they were looking at was going to be a big discovery. They observed icosahedrons, three-dimensional objects with 20 identical sides, each one being an equilateral triangle. Of course, these geometries occur in nature – crystals, for example, as well as viruses. But, all of the objects in each sample were solitary. None of them formed crystals to make larger objects and none of them appeared in any degenerate form.

“OK. We have something remarkable here,” said Suzanne, but what are they? Can we identify the composition from spectroscopic analysis?”


After a little time in the lab, the ladies were not merely more baffled by the material composition of the objects, but by new mysteries of equal importance.

“What…are…you,” Suzanne rhetorically asked the objects in an inquisitive, but concerned voice.

“These are definitely artificial – constructed,” said Emily.

“Constructed by whom? For what purpose? Do you thing they are viral in nature,” Suzanne asked?

“Look at this. Clearly the outer shell of the object is made of a protein not unlike a virus, but the framework of the object seems to be several layers of a graphene matrix, each no more than 1 nm thick…Oh my GOD! There is a strand of what looks like DNA coiled up in the center of the object. This is crazy. Someone made this. This is absolutely beyond my comprehension. We need a biophysicist to take a look at this. Jake, in the lab upstairs…”

“OK. Hold on, Emily,” Suzanne interrupted. “This could be a big discovery or this could be such advanced technology that perhaps we may find ourselves in a heap of trouble for finding out about it. Of course, the investigator in me will not stop here. But, I can’t involve more people who I don’t know and trust.”

“What do you suggest,” asked Emily?

“I have a good friend…an ex-boyfriend…well, we left it on good terms…we’re good friends…anyway…he works for the US Department of Fish and Wildlife and I know he has friends at the DoD. As I recall, one in particular specializes in nanotechnology, graphene, and what have you. I’ll contact my boy…I mean, my friend – his name is Marcus – and I’ll ask him to make contact with his buddy. Can you put some of these images on a thumb drive for me?”

“Sure, give me a few minutes. Listen, Suzanne, I have a friend who is a geneticist and I’d trust her with my life. Will you let me show her these results and let me have a sample? Maybe she could sequence the DNA for us.”

“Alright,” Suzanne said, “but please do not tell her where the samples came from. Tell her the source prefers to remain anonymous.”

“You’ve got it!”

“I’ll check in with you tonight.”

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

A Family Book or Book of Kin (or kinda sorta)

We live as we breathe, moment to moment, and our actions define us. To serve mankind, what we do now is all that matters and history is only important insofar as we have learned from it, from our mistakes in the past, and those of our ancestors. Any thoughts we have which may potentially serve mankind in the future may be instilled in our children. To that aim, we have two paths. The first is that we must lead by example and teach by our manner of living – by our manner of loving – during the formative years of their lives. The second is to leave them a documented history of their family, their culture, and the philosophies their parents have lived by in bringing them into this world. Consider this a documented legacy a reference for our descendants and anyone else if it has been made public.

Vladmir Megré, author of the Ringing Cedars book series, has made an effort to spread the idea of a ‘Book of Kin’ or “The Family Book” presented to him by his Siberian recluse, Anastasia. In the series the ‘book of kin’ in ancients days (referred to as Vedic times) implied a ‘living’ book exemplified by creating a space of love for a family where deeds can reveal as much as words. But, Anastasia (through Megré’s authorship) also inspires the idea of starting physical books now to preserve the future of our children. In my quoting a brief excerpt from Book 6, “The Book of Kin” and omitting a little from the dialog between ellipses , Anastasia says,

“The books read by Man today include many that are devised with a specific aim in mind — namely, the distortion of history and of the meaning of life. Many false dogmas are especially designed to disorient Man in space. This is not easily discernible all at once. But clarity comes directly a son reads a book of his forebears, which his father and mother have continued personally for him…

…the Book of Kin. In it a mother and father will write for their son and daughter about what is the most important thing that needs to be created for happiness in life. The children will continue to record the Book of Kin. There will be no wiser and truer books for families anywhere on the Earth. All the knowledge of their pristine origins will be poured into it.”

“But how, Anastasia, how can knowledge of one’s pristine origins turn up in a book which people are only beginning to write today? Where are they to find such knowledge? You said that the culture of our forebears, their books, were all destroyed.”

“Those that will begin to write already have this knowledge concealed within themselves. It is preserved within each one of us. When people think deeply and begin to write not just for anyone, but for their children, all the knowledge of their pristine origins will be revealed within them and come to light.”

I intend to create my own version of a ‘book of kin’ which as of now will most likely take on a three-volume format. The first volume will be a family history including the heritages of my mother’s and father’s families (their family trees), biographies of my mother and father, and their individual philosophies as presented by their ways of living during my lifetime. The second volume will be my autobiography, as extensive as I can make it with all that I can recall which I think is pertinent for future generations to consider. (I will, for example, not include the brands of toothpaste I used throughout my life.) The third volume will be about my philosophy starting with the nature of the universe from my perspective, and proceeding from that dance of physics and metaphysics, to the subjects of love, morality, religion, politics, education, and all of the complex conjugates that result from this interconnected web we have tried to dissect and classify.

The first volume of my “Book of Kin” will probably not take very long depending on how much other writing I am doing. The other volumes by their very nature will be evolving until my death. However, I do wish to establish a reasonable goal of completing the first edition within five years.

Galactic Centers: A New Perspective

On July 13th 2018, SKA Africa, the new radio telescope array in South Africa released this most detailed and exquisite image of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way to date.

Photo: SKA South Africa

The image width corresponds with a distance of approximately 1000 light-years.

See the SKA media release for how the image is made from the data.

The black hole with a mass of 4 million times our sun is roughly the bright spot located in the middle of the image and appears to be 200 light-years across. Looking at it in detail one cannot help being just awestruck by the smoke-like wisps of energy/matter which seem to be on the order of 1 or 2 light-years in diameter.  Just what these filament-like structures are is still a mystery to the scientists.  I find the spatial sense and dynamics of it all to be most humbling.

While studying these images a hypothesis occurred to me. It isn’t a new thought, but I had never before tried to formulate it insofar as publishing an article about it. So here goes.

I haven’t studied the physics of wormholes and never really doubted that they exist somewhere in the cosmos. Fundamentally, they are bridges between two points in the fabric of space-time. What if all of the galactic centers in the known universe are connected, not by other structure like wormholes which have some form and definition in themselves, but by some other intrinsic quality of space-time. Just as a klein bottle has only one surface (the inside and outside are all one surface), could it be such that the very center of every galaxy is one and the same point – one source of everything? The monad?

…food for thought and the subject of future exposition!


Short Story Series 2: Down by the River – Part 7 – Conclusion

[…continued from Part 6]

It was around 3am and only a five-minute walk to the hardware store from the part of the river where we were accosted by the Sheriff and his posse. We entered through the front and were forced to the back office behind the counter. I wasn’t surprised, but then again I wasn’t suspecting the store had a basement, which it did. We were forced down the stairs which were made of the same red sandstone as the church. Once at basement level, we walked right past a tremendously long corridor. If my sense of directions was correct, the corridor went under the road and deep into the property of the church grounds. It suddenly became clear to me why anyone was rarely seen going into and out of the church. We approached a small room in which there was a table and chairs and some barrels of small stones.  I assumed they were the magic stones. The monks manhandled the women onto the chairs and began tying them up as the Sheriff began to talk.

“Sit down,” he said to me sternly. Then he pulled a fourth chair from the table, spun it around and sat on it facing the back of the chair, as if trying to intimidate me. While at first I thought he was going to grill me with questions like he said earlier, it seemed more likely to me now that he was going to get rid of us one way or another once he got what he wanted.

That was confirmed when Barbara burst out with, “Don’t tell him anything about the book, Blake,” and Charlie fired a round from his pistol into her lower leg. I didn’t think he was going to torture and release.

“It’s only a flesh wound,” Barbara said with an excruciating grimace, followed by some moaning.

“Shut up,” said Charlie!

The Sheriff started a monologue.

“Mr. Harding, I’ve been looking for that book since those kids found it and meddled with something that wasn’t meant for them. My great-grandfather wrote that book. Yes, his name was Brackman, but he was my mother’s granfather. He worked for the rector of the church back then in the late 1800s. The church was built for the soul purpose of recreating an ancient cave that could harness and redirect energy based on the design of the building and the makeup of the stone. Someone who knew what they were doing could drive a man mad or kill another, all mysteriously, while giving its chief operator a god-like feeling. Now, Mr. Harding, that is just something to good for any man with wits about him to pass up.”

“And I suppose you need the book because you don’t know how this supernatural machine works,” I said.

“I know how it works, Mr. Harding. Well, except for one thing – how to achieve resonance with the stones. These monks have descended from an order that built the original cave thousands of year ago, as did the rector who killed himself in 1880. The problem is that the original instructions for using the stones were passed down orally, and the rector inherited his title before he received the transmission from his then dead superior. These monks are educated theologians who speak numerous languages and they will be able to translate the book, I think, just fine. For all these years, all they could do was keep the hope alive that they would rediscover their buried secrets. At the same time, they also served to guard the church so no curious crackpot would get the idea of chipping pieces of the stones that comprised the building. There’s a lot of potential power in that sandstone. So, Mr. Harding, do you know where the book is?”

“It’s in my desk drawer at home.” Of course it wasn’t. But, it was the most believable lie I could tell.  And with Corey at his friend’s house that night, there was no real risk.

“Well, I guess we are going to have to go check that out,” said the Sheriff.

By then, the ladies were all tied up and the monks had gone back presumably to the church. Feeling he made his point, Charlie had tucked his pistol in the front of his pants.

“Get as comfortable as you can ladies,” said the Sheriff as he looked at Sarah and Barbara.” Your future depends on my getting that book. We won’t be long.”

While he was saying that, I had pulled out the book and to keep the Sheriff occupied for a few seconds, I said, “No need to go to my house; here it is!” And I tossed it in his direction higher than his head so that he and Charlie would look upward, throwing each off the integrity of his balance. Once the book left my fingers, I hit Charlie in the face as hard as I could with a right hook. I grabbed his gun and in a scuffle it went off into his stomach. The Sheriff had also drawn his gun by then but was not quick enough to dodge the bullets I was discharging in his direction.

After untying the ladies, Sarah helped Barbara upstairs. We called the State Police and FBI as I had planned. The monks, hearing the shots, must have fled, for they were never found in the church or elsewhere. The book and the Paketka Tribune article from 1880 corroborated Billy’s original story, although there was no one around to indict. Charlie and the Sheriff had died from their wounds.

As for the book, it had to be destroyed as it was more dangerous than ever. With the base stone under all of that collapsed rubble, using the magic stones guaranteed tragic results. Of course, someone with resources could recover and possible resurface the base stone. But, no. The FBI stated in their report that the book would be destroyed rendering the church and quarry fragments harmless. So, the story of the magic stones will only survive as small town gossip…or will it?


© 2018 Michael Armenia

Blueberries & Rosemary and an unrelated spontaneous poem

Blueberries & Rosemary

Quite by accident, I discovered that I like the combination of blueberry and rosemary. When I popped a blueberry in my mouth this morning, my hand must have grazed some rosemary from Ian Lister’s memorial service. It was lying on the table next to me before I realized it was there. When I bit into the blueberry, the first sensation was a delicate rosemary note which lightly danced on my tongue as I masticated.  (I said, ‘masticate’! Geeze…grow up!  Anyway…) The two just blended smashingly. I think Remy would be proud. (Remy, from Ratatouille? The rat who was thinking that saffron would totally make his smoked Tomme de chèvre? Nevermind. Anyway…)

One day when I have a kitchen again, I’m going to try making some savory gluten-free griddle cakes with blueberries and rosemary – no added sweeteners. What seems most delicious would be to serve them up with a little cashew ‘cheese’ spread. If they turn out well, as I expect they will, I shall call them Ian’s bread in honor of him.

In Latin class, we often bring in potluck snacks. Sometimes, just cookies or chocolate. Occasionally there is a mix of things and Ian was no stranger to experimenting. I think he was the first person – if not the first, he did it anyway –  to dip a banana chip in Mexican salsa. Listen you mustn’t be too shy. After all, Remy’s mental mentor…(that sounds funny – ‘mental mentor – mental because he was a figment of Remy’s imagination – anyway) …his mentor Gusteaux once said (and I stand by it): “You must try things that may not work. And you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true. Anyone can cook. But only the fearless can be great.” Only the fearless can be great! That’s because truly fearless people are made of pure love, baby! And food must be always be prepared with gratitude and love. (Alan Watts has a nice little speech about the preparation of food and I wholeheartedly agree with him.)

Speaking of food…here’s a poem:

Saffron colored pre-dusk light
Scattered along a metal and glass skyline
Betrayed the hustle & bustle of a city
Making an abrupt pronouncement
At the edge of gorgeous plain.
A wall of confusion swirls
Between the fresh desert air
And the chemical odors
Of a modern city.
I teeter on the edge,
Born and raised on the artificial,
The cold and pointless,
The lies, and empty stereotypes,
A world more filled with vice than virtue.

Oyster of the sea,
Teach me how you pearl a grain of sand.
Where do you find the strength and perseverance?

Lotus of the pond,
Teach me how to find hope and life in the mud.
Where do you find the faith that one day
You will feed on light?

© 2018 Michael Armenia