March 19, 1946
Jack and Marjorie Parsons spent one day packing and enjoying each other. They had chatted for two weeks before they even did any magick, back in January…well, aside from a general getting-to-know you roll in the hay, that is. So today was spent communing in the first serious session since she had returned from New York in early March…Jack was pretty sure she had been talking to his visitors from the previous day there. But that was immaterial – she was here. Holding him close.
Jack was extra sleepy the morning of the nineteenth. An action-packed three months would do that to ya. So he woke to her biting him on the chest, smiling. “Wake up, silly! We’re going to New Mexico…to space!”
“Huh?!” He was still unused to this playful behavior from…anyone. This was obviously married life like few men were able to live it. “Oh, yeah…space. I’m awake.”
Every portion of his anatomy sat bolt upright. Marjorie grinned, tossing him a pair of boxers. “Get your shit packed, kid…I’m gonna take the car down to get gas and groceries.”
“I just need a toothbrush and some clothes. Anything else got packed yesterday.” Jack was already pulling on some clothes. Was his mustache…thicker this morning?
“Good. Back soon, my love.” She kissed him on the lips and danced out the door on burning wings.
Jack busied himself throwing the remainder of his stuff into a military surplus duffel bag, then had a sudden flash of insight. He was learning to actually use those. Reaching into his sock drawer, he pulled out a Colt Model 1911 pistol and holster, then strapped it on. Why? He didn’t know, but he’d find out.
He took one last look around the bedroom. Helen, Betty, Marjorie, and too many girls to name had been in here…so had he. He’d grown a lot. It was time to get on with his life, doing the work he was meant to be doing. The model rocket on the dresser could stay, though…those he was leaving behind needed to be inspired.
Turning on his heel, he marched out the door and down the stairs. Throwing the bag in the back of Marjorie’s car, he remembered one thing he’d not done yet. He hadn’t said goodbye to his home lab, which he had only just begun to regard as the real magical temple in which he performed his Great Work.
Walking down the path through the garden, he heard the bluebirds greeting the Sun. It was beautiful. It was only now occurring to him, with poignant bittersweet brightness, what he was leaving behind. A life, but a life no longer real. No longer able to be lived fully. The pulps were coming true…the kid who had been fighting to keep from drowning for so long had finally caught a serious WAVE. He was breaking on through to the other side, and might never touch the Earth again at this rate.
He stood outside the door to his lab, a mere hut that put the “shack” in “ramshackle”, throat catching. He was gonna have to wipe away a tear at this rate.
“You always were a sap, Parsons.” It was Ed Forman, standing inside the lab.
“Huh? How did you get here?” Jack was shocked, and not in the good way he so often was lately.
“I walked in the back gate. You left it unlocked, and let those government stooges in the front door. That’s the story of your life, Marvel.”
Suddenly it occurred to Jack why Forman was so against working with the White Sands crew. “I had forgotten. Malina works with Von Braun, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah. Your friends are commies and Krauts, Jack. Always have been, always will be. And redheaded whores.” Forman spat on the ground.
“I assume you’re not any of the above.” Jack was matter-of-fact, cool. He could not let love for Her become anger at Ed Forman – that would get him killed, and leave Cameron a husk of Midwestern corn, scattered on burning nuclear wind. The bulge under Forman’s jacket said not to go for his own gun, but the hair on the back of his neck was electric.
“Nope. I followed the North Star to East Palace and tried to ruin FDR’s bomb…haven’t you got that was what the chemical was, last year? I’ve been trying to make our dreams real without the America Lasters ruining them, and you’re messing it up.”
“I’m doing what needs to be done to make my dreams a reality.”
“Yeah…your dreams. Your dreams can be fulfilled by selling out. That makes your dreams not worth having. They were always terrible, second-rate, pulp fantasies.” He was now standing directly on the threshold of the shack. There was a metal can in his hand.
“What the hell, Forman? You know better than to handle fulminate of mercury that way.” Jack was well aware of Forman’s intentions…he just wanted to talk him down so no one died. He was not nearly done yet.
“Your sweaty hands and weird, perverted tendencies will be the only thing on the coroner’s mind.” Forman was a snarl with a body.
Jack realized what was going on. A test, a real-life ritual, a moment from a myth. Forman, in this moment, was Choronzon, the demon of the Abyss…well, of one abyss, anyways. Or the Dweller on the Threshold. It didn’t really matter…one step led inexorably to another, and the picture only looked more detailed with each one, though the view did not really change. So he held his peace, not giving place to the Devil. He’d done that enough when he was thirteen.
“You have anything to say for yourself, punk?” Forman lifted his arm, as if to throw the can at Jack’s feet. How did he expect to survive? Oh. He was using the shed for cover.
A car engine was heard outside the back gate, which Jack figured was still unlocked. “I plead the Fifth. The fifth element.”
“This isn’t science fiction, Jack.”
“Nah. It’s hard-boiled noir right now. And rule number one in that genre is…” The car door shut, and a red blur rushed past him.
A woman’s voice gave a laughing war cry. “Never mess with the hero’s dame.” Jack grinned as Cameron put her sturdy work boot right in Forman’s balls.
Grunting, Forman dropped the fulminate of mercury. Marjorie bent down like a ballerina, catching the can and tripping Forman at the knees. She stood, presenting the can to Jack and kissing him passionately. “Come on!”
“You don’t have to ask me twice. Where did you pick up those moves, Cam?”
“Oh, I’ll tell you one of these days.” Cameron had her secrets, and she was right, actually. Some of the damn things had answers. And given yesterday, he could guess.
They got in the car, leaving Forman writhing on the Parsonage’s lawn. He fit in with the residents better than they did right now…let them handle taking out the trash. “i caught the conversation you two silly boys were having,” Marjorie said as they drove.
“What did you think? Am I selling out?”
“Well, Aerojet aside, you have never sold out. And you have never sold out because you wanted to. Forman is actually more radical than you are.”
“How do you figure?” They were approaching the business district of Pasadena, rapidly growing as the post-war boom hit like thunder on a summer day.
“He’s literally a bomb-throwing anarchist. But why he is interests me more so, you see.”
“He doesn’t believe you’re as normal as I do.” Marjorie smiled warmly.
“Well you’re not really one to judge, are you?” Jack laughed.
“I was good enough for the Joint Chiefs. I met Churchill, for Pete’s sake. Yes, I was and still am gibbering mad. You’re a mad apocalyptic alien wizard with obscure tastes in everything from books to girls. But we’re still competent adults making things happen when normal church folk from Iowa can barely tie their shoes, and atheists from Pasadena aren’t much better.” Marjorie grinned, shifting up a gear and stepping a little harder on the gas. “Almost out of town.”
“So what you’re saying is, I’m actually pretty conventional? Boring?” Jack smirked.
“No. Competent, integrated, or at least becoming so. There is a difference.”
“You’re what, 22? I’m 31. How do you figure this stuff out?”
“I don’t know. It just happens to me, and I spend a while drawing pictures of it until it makes sense.” She laughed. “Our ages will be a palindrome by our first anniversary. Nifty.”
Jack sat quietly for a moment, considering this last fact. “So wait…you have a non-linear approach to math, too?”
“Yeah, and history. It’s all art to me. That’s why I don’t care if the Latin in your magical name is totally atrocious.”
“You know Latin?!”
“No. And Bletchley Park is a suburb of Chicago.” Marjorie smirked.
“God, you’re an enigma.”
“But one who has taken into account Godel’s incompleteness theorem.”
“Jesus. What are you, an encyclopedia?”
“Printed in Belle Plaine, Iowa. On cheap ass paper whose value only appreciates over time.”
Marjorie smiled, gunning the engine. Lightspeed seemed within their grasp, for a moment, as the California highways exploded with a sunset and the radio playing jazz.
“So what is Godel’s incompleteness theorem, anyways?”
“Class is always going to be in session if you keep asking questions.”
“Good.” Jack was beaming. What was Heinlein thinking, wanting an equal? This was a magical mystery woman, and barely enough to handle.
“Okay. It’s a German invention, has led to recent developments like the ENIAC mechanical computer. Damned thing will put girls like me out of a job if we’re not careful. In any case, it basically says you can’t explain anything by its own terms.”
“So you are neither Babalon nor Marjorie Cameron, and I am neither a Thelemite neither a rocket scientist nor Jack Parsons, really.”
“Right. But you have a hat to wear, and so do I.”
“Every man and every woman is a Star.” Jack quoted the Book of the Law.
“Right. But you’ll never know yourself with your brain, which I think has been your whole problem.”
The new-fangled Charlie Parker stuff was playing now. It was positively electrifying, especially the trumpet soloist he was hearing now. Jack was breathless, grinning like a kid. “It’s almost like Crowley and Von Braun are getting at the same problem with the same imagery, from different angles. Almost, anyway. But not quite.”
“But both angles are necessary. You need science and art to succeed, and we both have different appreciations of them that can be synthesized to create a third way. Left, right, but only the middle path goes UP.”
“I gotcha. Let me see if I can put it into words. You KNOW science better than I do in some ways, I…what’s the word Heinlein uses…grok it. Like the old first-century concept of Gnosis.”
“Right.” Cameron grinned. He was a quick study. “And I AM art, but I have trouble with formally expressing it in the ways your pulp buddies or even Norman Rockwell do. Art for its own sake is fine, and so is a kid with a model rocket dreaming of the stars and in love with the sound of an explosion, but it’s not gonna make our dreams a reality. Meanwhile, your accomplice in my seduction is a consummate genius as to what sells and how to mass-produce it, but he doesn’t have that swing, ya see?”
“Don’t think. KNOW. The two are totally orthogonal.”
The fire descended, flowing through Jack’s veins as the radio announcer droned on about weather and traffic. Then the bebop came back on, scintillating liquid sound pouring into his heart, a temple now to an Unknown God. He was now above the Earth, climbing the Tree of Life like the frame of a space station, now pausing at the center of this station over its nuclear reactor to enjoy the view…the Moon was so close he could touch it, and Venus was just beyond his reach, but smiled down at him lovingly.
Now he was inside the station’s command center, surrounded by futuristic-looking computers spewing ticker tape. Below him, through a big picture window (possibly even a viewscreen), he could see Earth. White Sands, New Mexico. This was where he had begun, and it was his legacy to all of history. To his daughter…was it a daughter? Clearly it was. He could tell. Feel her heartbeat in the secret well of memory in his mind.
“Elpis.” He was in the passenger seat of the Chrysler again. Marjorie was next to him, and her baby inside her.
“That’s her name.”
“Her? Is this one of your old flames, Jack?”
“No. That’s what we’re naming the baby. She is currently the last bit of the coming future still trapped in Pandora’s box, after all.”
Another Cameron belly laugh. “You are never not going to be hilarious. But all right. You know it’s not a box, though?”
“Whaaaa…? The books all say it is.”
“Translation error, centuries old. I think it’s Dante’s fault. That’s actually an amphora, basically. A grain vessel, like if Demeter was Babalon.”
Jack’s jaw dropped. “I’m even more right than I know half the time.”
“Yes you are. Inability to recognize it has been killing you for long enough. Aren’t you glad I’m here?” Marjorie smiled.
It seemed that this conversation lasted forever, but unfortunately mortal time was not so kind. Toward midnight, the happy couple stopped at a motor inn near the Arizona border. “We’re almost there.” Jack could feel it in his bones.
“I wish. Arizona is big and empty. But it’s where Jack Williamson is from, did you know?”
“Do you keep files on my acquaintances?”
“That’s irrelevant, mister.” Marjorie grinned. “But I do have a good memory.”
“You’re trying to tell me something, aren’t you?” Jack was mildly annoyed with this hard to get thing, but he figured it was fair payback for the circumstances in which they’d met.
“I am going to be telling you things you don’t know about me until the day we die in each other’s arms. Possibly I won’t stop then. There is time.” She grabbed a suitcase and the grocery bag, and got out the driver’s side door. “Check us in, will you?”
“Got it.” If he’d forgotten his checkbook…no, he hadn’t. Thank God. Or Gods. Or his Angel. Or whatever. Did the name he used really matter? There was an author writing his story, who blended his own image with the facts about his life that made a good yarn. An author who knew that history and biography were only image, for all their factual detail…that the sands of history obscured beautiful ruins filled with the bodies of real human beings, and also (not contradictorily) that “the man, the myth, the legend” described any man worthy to be called a man. This author was telling his story, and that of his Muse. It could be himself, it could be the Gods of the Seven Planets, it could be God Almighty…it could be that all nine of those were a continuum of muses, and he was but Orpheus, Cameron but a Eurydice who enjoyed her dark depths the way a seed enjoys the dirt. As long as they weren’t Narcissus and Echo like when they’d met.
No looking back. The desert was wide, and wider before he reached Alamogordo. Cameron was waiting for the motel room and her Lover.
After checking in, he joined her. They snuggled in bed, enjoying each other’s company. “Cam,” Jack said lovingly, “I want you to know something.”
“What’s that, kiddo?” Her eyes were soft and bright, almost wet…they matched her smile perfectly.
“Out of all the women I have ever loved, you are the only one I can equally call lover and friend.” He smiled. “Forman was right. I am a damned sappy fool at times.”
“Just like I like you, my friend.” Cameron kissed him, grabbing the hair at the back of his head with one hand, turning out the light with the other.