Reality Inspector, chapter 6

Copyright © 1982 John Caris

The Rainbow Inn was crowded with chess fans. John looked around for a seat and saw Od, who waved him over to a table that he shared with Hank. Hank was another first name only person. And like Helen, he had no history. He just was--a member of the neighborhood. Hank and his box, which contained all his earthly possessions and now rested next to his feet. Hank sometimes spent the night at John's or at Od's or at another house in the neighborhood. But many nights Hank stayed--where? No one knew. John often thought that Hank was as interested in using the bathroom facilities as he was in a warm bed. Hank's weathered face beamed a child-like smile as John sat down at the table.

Excitement and tension were in the air as the TV M.C. gave the preliminary announcements. Mary had won the toss and would play white. Here was a break if she could take advantage of it. The champion, Sam Runner, was noted, however, for his ability to win with black. In fact, two years ago when he had defeated Jorge Santiago to retain the title, he had won more games playing black than as white. But Mary was a strong player at either side. This was the match of the century. Not since Fischer defeated Spassky had there been as much interest and excitement.

Mary opened with N-KB3 (Nf3). Come on into my parlor, the spider said to the fly.

John looked at the chess board which Hank had set up. All the chess buffs were following the game on their own board. This way they could analyze the game as it progressed.

Carry a box of kleenex when confronting the truth--a strange thought circulates through John's mind. And then Mary's last move, P-R5 (a5), has some strangeness attached to it.

Sam (next move)

chess board 


John looks about at the crowd of chess fans--but he does not see anyone. In fact, he is not even in the Rainbow Inn. Instead, he is standing on a giant size horoscope. Is this an Alice trip? Have you ever found yourself standing on a pool table and been about the height of a pool ball? This is how John feels. There are other figures on the horoscope. Each one represents a planet. The closest one, to his left, is Neptune, standing there with his trident, immobile but smiling. John turns to his right and sees Jupiter. Colored lights are emanating from him in vast circles. There is a warm, attractive quality about those expanding circles of light. He moves toward the figure of Jupiter.

He notices that he is now in a field of wheat, gently moving in a breeze, ready to be harvested. The circles of light seem to be coming from a grassy hill with a few boulders protruding at one end. John pauses and scans the hill. It becomes the image of a woman stretched out on the ground. The boulders become her face and the grassy hillside her body.

John looks around. On his other side is a woods. The circle of light has vanished or become part of the yellowish glow. The sun seems to be hidden. Probably, the clouds overhead are creating this lighting effect, he thinks.

Then he sees a human figure close to the edge of the woods. Walking over, he notices that the person is painting, no doubt a landscape scene.

"Hi, there."

The painter turns around, brush in one hand, palette in the other. "Oh, hi." He is not too enthusiastic, but a little disconcerted about the interruption.

"I'm John Ocean. And I seem to be lost. Can you tell me what place this is?"

"I've heard of you. You're a reality inspector, aren't you?"

"Yes." John feels flustered and confused, not so much by the response of the painter but by the overall strangeness of the situation.

"I'm Achilles."

"The Achilles?"

"How many are there?"

"The Greek who fought in the Trojan war?"

"The same."

"And you've taken up painting in your retirement, I see."

"No, I'm not retired yet--not by any stretch of the imagination. I have very important work to do. This painting is part of it."

John steps up to the easel and scrutinizes the painting. It is in a realistic style. He doesn't think the brushstrokes are too good, but then not everyone must be a Rembrandt. Looking closer, he sees that it is a painting of a painting; the artist is painting himself in this meadow painting. It is a little like some of the studio paintings of Velazquez, Vermeer, and others. In the center of the canvas stands the artist painting. To the left is a tortoise and to the right is a line on the ground. The woods are in the background.

Looking away from the painting and to his left, John sees a large tortoise slowly crawling toward them. To his right John sees a long line cut in the earth. What is happening here? The painting seems to be a mirror of the actual setting.

"You have arrived at a most significant moment. I have solved Zeno's paradox. I am now making an artistic event which will allow me to beat the tortoise."

John thinks about Zeno's paradox. If the tortoise starts out one hundred yards ahead of Achilles and if he covers half the distance between himself and the tortoise each minute, will he ever catch the creature?

"Yes, I've finally figured out the solution. I've tried many approaches, but they all failed. Ha, I even tried riding on the tortoise's back. I figured that when it was about to reach the finish line I would just reach out my hand a few inches in front of the tortoise's nose. But that did not work either. The blasted animal stretched its neck farther than I thought possible. Anyway, now I have discovered an infallible system for winning."

"What is it?" John is intrigued. Zeno's paradox is on par with squaring the circle. Both are mind problems that lead to intriguing ideas but never a solution.

"First, let me set the record straight. During the whole history of this event I have never lost the race. True, I have never won it either. But the tortoise has never yet beaten me across the finish line."

"I thought you lost because you never reached the tortoise, only halving the distance down to infinity."

"Ah, ha! That's the slanderous propaganda which has ruined my good name. All the world applauded me for defeating Hector outside the walls of Troy. But along comes a Mr. Nobody who gains immortality by smearing my good name. Who would remember Zeno if it wasn't me? What if he had used Jane and the tortoise instead? Who would remember? So, I must erase the evil deed thrust upon me and my tribe."

John is familiar with Achilles' background and knows that he is given to extended emotional outbursts. "What is the truth?"

"About me and the tortoise? The opinion shapers said that I tried to catch the tortoise. Now, why would I, a Greek warrior born of a goddess, want a tortoise? You see how they belittle me. Horses are my thing. Back home my excellent herd of horses is well-known."

"So you never raced with a tortoise?"

"See how the truth is distorted! A race is something else. I am also renowned for my running, bouncing legs. Did I not thank the gods, after killing Hector, for the spring in my knees?"

"The racing part is true, then?"

"Yes, certainly. Racing is my weakness--not my heel as some would have it."

"You did race the tortoise?"

"Of course. The prize was a golden trophy. The gods devised the race, and of course I couldn't refuse. Look at what happened to poor Paris when he was asked to judge a beauty contest. When the gods ask, you can't refuse. I knew I was in a pickle, that there was some trap. But now I will cleanse the dirt from my good name. Achilles will shine again."

"Well, why hasn't the tortoise won yet, after all those years?"

Achilles draws himself up, looking scornfully at the slowly crawling creature. "I have not lost and the tortoise has not won because it has not crossed the finish line."

"After all those years? Looks like it is getting pretty close right now."

"Ha! It will never cross the finish line! Never in a red moon!"

The strangeness of the place has obviously affected John. He is caught by Achilles' story and feels sympathetic toward him even with all his arrogance. The tortoise is only about one hundred feet from the finish line and should cross it in an hour or so. "Why won't the tortoise ever cross the finish line?"

"Elementary, elementary. Because the finish line is just that--a line. It has only one dimension, its length; it has no width. The tortoise, which is moving towards its non-dimensional side, will never cross it."

"I don't think I follow."

"Simple. A line has only one dimension. But to win the race one of us must cross the line. (One of us must actually move from point A through an infinite number of subpoints to point B.) To reach the other side of the line means crossing a something without a spatial dimension. Now there's a paradox, if you want one. How can one ever reach the other side?"

"I think I see. The tortoise can reach the line but never cross over it to the other side. For it would have to move through a nonspace."

"Right. So once I proved that the tortoise would never win the race, I took heart. I now have an infinity of time to work out a solution. And I have. I found the solution. The tarnish will be wiped clean from my good name."

"What is the solution?"

"I have worked out a system for crossing non-dimensional space. The basic idea is subjectivity. We humans all have a subject, a consciousness that experiences the world of objects. It is this subjectivity that shapes the basic equation. Let me give you an example. Let me show you directly how this subjectivity works."

Achilles takes the painting off the easel and sets it carefully on the ground. On the easel is another canvas. It is a painting of a baseball diamond, and the ten planets are the players and umpire. Jupiter is pitcher and Neptune the catcher. Mars guards first; the Sun is at second; Mercury plays shortstop while Venus covers third. Saturn plays right field; the Moon is in center field, and Uranus covers left field. Pluto is the umpire.

Achilles points at the painting. "This is the foundation for my system. You can also think of it as a game. I want you to try it so that you will experience subjectivity."

"Why not."

"You are the batter, and the planets form the opposing team. When a ball is pitched, you must decide where you will hit it. It's the decision that counts, for the ball will go where you choose. The members of the opposing team will behave according to their personality. Oh, and you get three outs."

John steps up to the plate, swinging the bat. He looks out over the diamond. Where shall he place the first pitch? The Moon, playing center field, can move quickly to either side. Both Saturn and Uranus move more slowly. Uranus, however, is often erratic, unpredictable. If he can line one to left field perhaps Uranus cannot throw it to first base quickly enough.

Jupiter warms up. John dusts off the plate. The ball is on its way. John hits it squarely--a line drive to left field. Mercury, leaping high into the air as if he had wings, catches the ball and, while still in the air, throws it directly to Mars at first base. One out!

John has forgotten about the members of the infield and their abilities. This time I will hit a line drive over Saturn's head. By the time he runs back to fetch it, I'll be on first. He smiles with certainty.

Neptune squats, giving a sign to the pitcher. The ball is on its way. Crack. A sharp drive goes over Saturn's head. But when it is directly over Saturn, the ball stops in mid-air as if frozen in place. Saturn reaches up grabbing the ball and throwing it to Mars in one move. Two outs!

The players are superb, John thinks. They could win the world series. What chance do I have? If I can only find an open space. Maybe a bunt will work. The pitcher is big and slow. I'll try a slow roller down first base line. "Play ball," yells Pluto the umpire.

A slow, low pitch is thrown by Jupiter. John taps it lightly. The ball bounces along the first base line. Jupiter expands quickly until he covers the first base line. He grabs the ball and shovels it over to Mars. Three outs!

Achilles taps John on the shoulder. "Let's go to the showers." John looks up and realizes that he is standing by the easel with its painting of a baseball diamond.

"Better luck next time, John. Now let me show you what lies behind this game of subjectivity." Achilles takes the painting off the easel, placing it on the ground. On the easel is a mirror. John looks into the mirror and sees a chess game in progress. He cannot see the players, but only the chess pieces on the board.

chess board 

John looks carefully at the position of the pieces. He hears Achilles say, "Time shall be no more." Turning around, he finds that Achilles has disappeared. John is now standing in a clover field. A few feet away is Mary Rainbow dressed in the clothes of a little girl, somewhat like his image of Little Bo Peep or perhaps Mary and her lamb. But there is no lamb, only Mary standing with a forlorn look on her face. John feels like asking her what has happened to her lamb, but realizes that she is in no mood for jokes.

"Mary. What are you doing here?"

"I have to get to the finish line. Over there."

"Are you racing a tortoise?" And John, looking around, half expects to see the tortoise.

"No, I'm not racing anything, except maybe time. Can you help me. I'm stuck."

He goes over to her.

"I can't lift my feet from the ground."

John reaches down, taking hold of her right ankle with both hands and pulls up. Her foot is stuck tight to the ground. Breathing deeply, he tugs on the foot. It comes loose. He places it forward. Then straining, he pulls the left foot loose, placing it beside the right foot. But both feet freeze to the ground again.

"We'll get nowhere this way," he says.

"Oh, everyone is depending on me," she cries. "What shall 1 do?"

"Let me carry you piggy back." John lifts her right foot off the ground, bends down, places it over his shoulder. Then he lifts her left foot and, balancing her on his shoulders, stands up. At first she feels light. This will be a breeze, he thinks. But as they move through the clover field, Mary becomes heavier and heavier. He is bending under the weight.

"Can you make it to the daisies over there? I can walk through the daisies." She is worried that they both will be stuck in the clover.

With a sigh of relief John reaches the daisies and puts her down. They walk through the daisy patch until they come to a small creek. "Oh, no," she cries, "I can't cross the creek."

"Why not?"

"I just can't."

"I'll carry you again."

"No you won't."

"Don't you want to reach the finish line?"

"Of course I do. But I just can't, can't cross this creek."

"Oh, don't be so childish. Nothing will happen." He grabs her and tries to drag her, but she refuses to budge.

"Stop it, John! I'll hit you!" Mary swings her fists wildly.

He ducks underneath, grabbing her from behind, and starts to drag her toward the creek. She screams and flails her arms and legs. This is too much, he thinks, and so he lets go of her. Catching his breath, he glances around and for the first time notices other figures nearby, figures all dressed as chess pieces.

"Time shall be no more." Achilles' chanting echoes throughout the countryside, overlapping itself so that it sounds like a musical round.

"That was a mistake."

John turned, realizing that Od was speaking.

"You're right. That will cost her the game," Hank said.

John looked at the chess board and saw Mary's fifty-second move, P-B4 (f4). A sadness hung over the crowd in the Rainbow Inn. They could all see that the champion would now win the first game.

chess board 

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