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The Story
Part 3

2nd Picnic. Morality, Positivism, and Expiation.


They emerged onto a steep hill and walked out from among the trees into the sunlight and across the grass to the tarmac path.


"I know know this place. I'm pretty certain…"

Errol quickened his pace and crossed the path onto the plinth of a statue of General Wolf

"I thought so…"

A few paces more and he could see out from the hill to the sweep of river below and the grey maze of streets and building stretching into the distance.

"It's Greenwich, isn't it? There's the old Observatory, and it must be morning because the signal ball hasn't dropped yet."

"You're right, of course. Didn't you guess this is where I would choose?"

"Obvious with hindsight, of course. By the way, where's lunch?"

"Further down the hill," Allta replied. "You go on ahead, we'll see you there. Now Pilgrim, now you're fully restored to health, we can walk as we talk. As ever, there's quite a lot for you to get your head round."

"Oddly enough, some of it is coming together in my mind just through getting used to it. You know the doubts I have, but still, all my life I've had this sense, this sort of feeling that ordinary things had more significance than appeared, more than history by itself seemed to be according them."

"Like?"

"Oh, you know, everything really. Almost all that happened seemed to drift into the past, into the fog of nothingness and loose all relevance to everything else and it just seemed to me 'wrong' as though I were somehow missing the point. I couldn't believe it all just vanished."

"What sort of thing?"

"Everything. Literally everything. I've always wondered about people who died. What happened to all that they were. You know what I mean? When I think of all that they did, all the effects they had, you know, the love, the laughter, the struggles and accomplishments. After they've died it just faded away into history. For a while it was in people's memory but soon even that let go. A written record could keep something of it alive for a little, but it was a very faint image wasn't it. That Roman letter from the fort on Hadrian's wall, "I have sent you two pairs of socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants. Greet Epicus Tetracus and your mess-mates with whom I pray you are getting on well." Who wrote that? To whom? I want to meet them, have dinner with them. Even the best and most accurate writing, it only gave a clue to what used to be. No, I was more concerned about what they were and the fact that that had now gone. And everything else, perhaps in a bay on the coast of India long ago, the making of the ships, and the discovery of what was the best material for a rope, and what a rope would do when it was new and how it would behave when it was a few month old and how it would behave when it was a year, and five years old. And the timber to make the ship, -which was best? And how that timber would stand up after a few months, and after a few years and what the end of the ship would be. All lost."

"All those moments lost in time like tears."

"Robert Frost?"

"No, it's a line from Blade Runner, The Director's Cut, I think."

"Anyway, you now seem to be telling me that that feeling was actually right, that all that happened was, is, significant, that nothing is lost?"

"That's right. Not a sparrow fell from the sky but it will be recalculated here."

"And now to today's business. Errol told me that it isn't all good news. I suppose you're here to break the bad news to me?"

"Difficult news rather than bad. The trouble with my talking to a caterpillar like you is that you can only take things in in linear fashion, just a word at a time, building up sentences, paragraphs. If only humans had evolved like dolphins."

"So, you have to start at the beginning. What is it you want to tell me?"

"You're comfortable here. There's plenty to do and you have your health and time and really very few worries. But you're comfortable in the way a dog is on the master's farm, or a child is in a nursery. Since there is now no limit to your lifespan, you can see that boredom is eventually inevitable. But in any case, you'll have only dipped your toe into the pool of life and experience that awaits you."

"The child will grow up? or the dog will get a brain transplant?"

"Not far off, not far at all. But the child will grow up in a way utterly unimaginable to you. And the dog will be transplanted into a brain rather than the other way round."

"I knew I shouldn't have said anything. You've lost me completely again. You carry on. I'll ask questions as I need."

"That's alright, there's bound to be confusion, and I think I can promise you there's more coming. What I have to talk to you about, perhaps unfortunately, fairly closely mirrors concepts that you already have, but the reflection is somewhat misleading. I'm going to talk to you about positivism and you will immediately confuse it with my talking about morality. I will talk of positive and negative mental energies, and you will think immediately of good and bad actions. Initially that won't matter and I hope that the deeper meaning you have to absorb will percolate through, perhaps with not too much trouble. Alright then. You understand that we use deterministic principles and a very sophisticated set of mathematical algorithms to calculate and regenerate the past up to the present."

"I wouldn't say that I understand that, but I do understand that that is what you maintain, and as I said before, I've given up quarrelling with you about it."

"Stage one is that recalculation, which brings you out of death and back into existence. Stage three is lifting you up out of your isolated human existence into the multi-existence of participation in the AllTime."

"And in between is stage two, and that's what we're talking about?"

"That's it. And stage two does involve, has to involve some unpleasantness."

"Don't think me rude, but just let me guess. Is stage two anything to do with "paying for our sins"? And, is stage three going to be an introduction to God, the Almighty, whoever?"

"You're certainly not going to be introduced to God. God is a metaphysical concept, an all-powerful, everlasting person who created you and the world and has watched over you until now. There may be such a person, but I have never met him and I'm in no position to introduce you to him, or her come to that."

"But the AllTime is everlasting, isn't it? And isn't it all-powerful? Can't it do virtually anything we want it to?"

"It lasts longer than the meaty form of human certainly, and can do things that will astonish you, but the 'all' and 'ever' are beyond it. Also, whatever it does do is within the bounds of the physical laws which govern the universe, and over which we have no control. It cannot perform miracles, though it can give the appearance of doing so, just as magicians could during your lifetime. But let's come back to your situation and your future. Did you ever come across the phenomenon of ball lightening? All living things when calculated are a bit like ball lightening. You can see them as partially self-contained spheres of energy, but perhaps you can understand that some of that energy is positive and some is negative."

" 'Understand' would be putting it strongly, but I'm sort of half following you. But I thought that positive and negative energies annihilated one another?"

"It's not a perfect analogy by any means, but as we'll be with it for a little while, let's sketch in some background. We've known of ball lightening from the time of the Ancient Greeks onwards. In all that time no generally accepted theory ever emerged. A luminous sphere, somewhere around the size of a coconut, would appear spontaneously, and apparently not associated with anything else, a thunderstorm for example. It would drift around for perhaps half a minute. In colour it could be anywhere between orange and blue, and last for several minutes or only a second or two. It could materialise anywhere, or might be seen coming down from the clouds. It was often preceded or followed by a thunderstorm, but by no means necessarily."

"I heard that they were thought to be balls of hot plasma held together magnetically."

"Any hot globe of plasma could not travel horizontally along the ground. Unless another force were holding it down, it would be bound to rise into the air like a hot air balloon. But anyway, remember its just an analogy for the programme that represents the reconstructed you. So now we have you, a ball of hot plasma and energy, as represented in your computed reconstruction, composed largely of a kind of energy that we are hungry for, and which we wish to incorporate into the AllTime, but having with it varying amounts, small in your case, of a negative energy of which none may be permitted to be taken forward by the AllTime."

"And the negative energy is the bad things I've done?"

"Not a bad match, and it will serve for quite a lot of how you come to terms with it, but ultimately no. The differences will be beyond you while you are in your present state."

They reached a red check tablecloth spread on the grass and laid out with food and wine from a large wickerwork hamper. There was no sign of Errol so they began picking at the food as they continued talking.

"But some of what I did wrong, perhaps most of it, wasn't really all my fault, and sometimes not my fault at all."

"That is true, and true of everyone. And much of what you are guessing now to be negative, you'll find is not."

"You are sounding more and more like my Sunday school teacher. Do you happen to know, by the way, why there is suffering and evil in the world?"

"Elementary, my dear Pilgrim. The human race has arisen out of chaos. There was a boiling hot cloud of gas that condensed into the planet Earth, and from that you and your kind arose. The only force that could do that was evolution, and evolution is a cruel mistress. The mechanism of evolution for plants and animals is survival of the fittest, and that mechanism can only function through competition and struggle. Its first principle has to be to grab all that you can and to triumph over others. The selfish gene is the jewelled bearing of that engine. The same forces that produced humans also produced smallpox particles, and the leprosy bacterium. Greed and selfishness were it's natural pistons. Even the evolution of the brain, by means of which you try to understand all of this, was only achieved at the cost of universal painful childbirth, and the death of countless millions of mothers. That is the world you have left. This world organises its own evolution and has no need of greed or death or lies or myths or war or illness or…"

"Don't sell so hard, especially as there is no other product on offer. But how do you account for the fact that many humans were not selfish and, on the contrary, made great sacrifices, sometimes their whole lives, to help others, sometimes even to help other animals?"

"So long as we agree on the source of the original problem, we can come to the ways in which it was mitigated a bit later on. But you must agree that virtually all animal societies had hierarchies which were maintained by dominance, fighting and other aggressions. Did you ever see buffalo being attacked by lions and wonder why the whole herd didn't unite to fight them off? They would easily have won, but could evolution have allowed that? No predators would have survived unless they had, in their turn, evolved other strategies."

"But ants used to unite to fight off their enemies, very effectively too a lot of the time. Though of course, parasitic wasps still lived off them by managing not to be recognised when they invaded the nest. And I suppose anteaters were too large and powerful."

"That is the limitation of organic evolution. It can only keep species in balance."

"Positive and negative, so far as I'm concerned, mean good and bad. You say there's a difference, but I haven't detected it yet. Let's put that on one side for the moment. How is this negativity corrected?"

"There's no mystery really. The key to the reconciliation is understanding, and the key to understanding is experience. Most human ills came from lack of knowledge. Few of the ills that you suffered, whether brought about by your enemies, or by natural circumstances, would have taken place had there been full knowledge. Think how discrimination against the outsider, racism for example, underlay virtually all of your wars. It was a product of evolution and it can be found amongst almost all species. A chimpanzee tribe that comes across a member of a neighbouring tribe is extremely likely to kill it. When a new male lion takes over a pride of females it routinely murders infants that it finds among them. Even dolphins will attack strangers to their pack."

"Yes, but almost all species also depend on exchange of tribal members, usually males, to maintain their genetic stock. Males are commonly driven out of their birth tribe and made to seek their fortune with strangers. They may do so warily and, as you say, commonly be attacked and even killed, but there is still the drive to mix"

"That is true. For the purposes of evolution a few unhappy deaths was a reasonable price to pay for a healthy genetic exchange. In the case of humans, of course, that natural inclination to mistrust the outsider could be taken in charge culturally and magnified many fold. But it was always noticeable, wasn't it, that, for example, when politicians manipulated those feelings, whether to distract attention from problems at home or to further their glorious enterprises of domination abroad, they would use the propaganda machines available to hype up that inclination. In those cases, lies about the enemy were common and anyone attempting to picture the enemy as ordinary and "rather like us" was smothered as quickly as possible. They knew that ignorance of the situation, and especially ignorance of the enemy, was essential to a good fight. Full knowledge of the enemy, particularly in intermingling and living together and sharing of activities, made fights very much more difficult. As you explore what has been negative in your life you will find that this underlying theme is pivotal. The more you understand, the less negative you are able to be."

"What if during this exploration I myself commit more negativity?"

"In theory that is possible. But it will turn out to be a class of possible actions that has no members. And the reason for that will become obvious after you have had your dip at the end of this picnic."

"What dip?"

"I said I would introduce you to the AllTime and that can be done in any number of ways. You could enter the pages of a book, or you could step through a cinema screen and find yourself there, you could even eat a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Different people choose different ways and I think that you're going to opt for the gentle approach of wading into a warm pool and immersing yourself. Don't worry about it just now, but when that happens it will answer your question."

"So in the meantime, just what is going to happen by way of the "exploration"?"

"Tell me of some action that you think is probably negative to both your mind and mine."

"I suppose there's a lot to choose from. Alright. There was an incident when I was a student, I was driving my car back from London and another car began to overtake me. For some reason it irritated me and …look, Allta, you already know all this. You've calculated the whole entity that I now am, and so you must know all the memories and thoughts that I have. You know the incident that I am talking about."

"Yes, and I know how you feel about it and what you are going to say. But the phase of existence that you have now is best served if you carry on just as you would have."

"Very well. As you know I resented the overtaking manoeuvre, and instead of co-operating and slowing down, I speeded up a bit. I didn't mean there to be an accident, but that's what happened. And, as you know, the man who was driving broke his neck and was paraplegic from them on, and his girlfriend, who I learned later had been very beautiful, was badly disfigured. Look, it was an accident. I never meant in any way for that to happen. I always felt guilty, as I suppose anyone would, but there's nothing I need to explore about it. It was a stupid act of an immature man, and I've always regretted it and wished that I had done otherwise."

"That is right, I know that you've always regretted it. It is because of that that the negativity left for you to deal with is much diminished. Let me now show you how you will face that and how it will feel to you."

Pilgrim put down his wine and sandwich. He took her hand, and stepped with her away from the tablecloth and up the hill.

It was more than theatre in the round, it was theatre in the spherical, and he was at the centre of it, naked. He knew all of the audience intimately; the paraplegic man with the nurse who turned the pages of the newspaper in front of him. The man's parents and sister and two brothers and grandparents who stood nearby; the disfigured woman who's nose and right eye were well made, but clearly artificial, and her two children and her husband and her parents and her grandparents, and her friends. And then began the mingling of feelings; his own regret drowned utterly in the regret of the man whose limbs would not work, and whose life was wasted. His fury at his stupidity at accelerating, utterly overwhelmed in the anger of the woman who's life had so radically changed that day; the sorrow of the parents, their hopes dashed; the shame of the children in their hopes that their mother would not come to the school they attended or show herself at all outside of the house, their embarrassment and their grief at being ashamed of her. He felt he was in an emotional cauldron, the heat increasing as he progressed through the layers; the doctors who had worked on his victims; the police who had dragged their bodies clear; the friends who had struggled to help or to stay in touch and sometimes failed; worse was his need to explain and discuss what had happened, and worse still was the remaining audience of his own close friends and relatives and parents, who seemed to listen intently to his every word, their faces expressing the hope that he could somehow explain himself to the rest. Was it hours, or was it months or years since he had taken centre stage? He could not tell, but knew only that it had been long and painful and exhausting to the point of death. And at last he was back with Allta on the green slopes of Greenwich hill. He sprawled on his back in the grass.

"How do you feel?"

"You gave me back my health and now you've taken it away again. Allta, what you're suggesting is impossible, I couldn't possibly do that, I couldn't even start to try. What you've just shown me, and it was only a taste, a rehearsal, I couldn't conceivably undertake. The pain is too intense. I felt as if I was in a furnace or being boiled in acid. Whatever negative energy is in me, it must stay there. That is how I was, how I am, and that's how I'm going to stay. I know you've something wonderful to offer, whatever it is, in your "dip", but nothing now could ever make me volunteer for that. I would never willingly."

"The pain is a necessary part of the exploration and of the change. The negative energy you dissipate is bound to prick your nerves. Your reaction though is mild compared with what many will experience."

"It was so brutal. There was nowhere for me to hide. I couldn't lie, I couldn't soften anything I was saying, or shape if for myself. Everyone there knew the whole truth, including all that was in my mind as I spoke. No human can survive that."

"No human can survive it without changing, that is true. Have you seen this experiment done? You can take a living sea sponge from the bottom of the sea and suspend it in a wire sieve, just touching the seawater. The whole of that solid sponge will gradually filter through the sieve and reform on the other side of it. That is a bit like what you are attempting. I don't know about a sponge, but for a human it is necessarily painful. The sieve is going to burn as you pass through it, there is no other way. You've had a hard time, now you should have a nice time. Come with me again, this time down the hill."

They stepped from the grass onto the black tarmac of the path, where another vista magically opened before him. The shimmering white sand stretching ahead was lined with palm trees at its inner edge and a sparkling sapphire sea at its outer. The breeze was heavy with sunlight and their footsteps were the only ones to have disturbed the sand. They walked towards a near point, and rounding it found the reef cradling a lagoon of water that was shallow, warm and clear. He longed at once to swim in it and be among the corals and the coloured fish that he could see from above.

"Not here. Just a little further, the pool beyond those silver rocks."

It looked like mercury, he thought as he approached the shining silvery water, which somehow baffled his efforts to look through it. Nearer to, it proved too light and fluid to be mercury and he felt it looked more like a pool of liquid light. And he had the strange feeling that it was a matter of choice whether he walked on its surface or down into its body.

"Wade in," encouraged Allta, "and when you feel ready to, dip your head beneath the surface. You will only be there for a split second, but that will be enough."

"You're sure it won't hurt in any way?"

"Not at all. On the contrary."

He waded in and watched the strange liquid rise along his shins and past his knees, whilst his toes sensed the sand beneath. When immersed to middle of his chest he gave a last wave to Allta and dipped his head below the surface.

Afterwards, back at the picnic site, he lay on his back as before, but this time it was different.

"So how was it then?"

She waited for a reply, but clearly didn't expect one just then. She scooped some tasty morsels from the bowl and wandered across the grass and looked out over the valley of the Thames, and the River itself glinting in the evening sunlight. It was some time before she returned to Pilgrim.

"Well?"

"Of course, you know how it was. But there is no language that could dress it. Errol tried to explain that to me, but I couldn't understand. I do now. It's not a human experience. There is nothing that it is "like". I was in the AllTime, wasn't I? I was more than in it, I was it."

"That's right. To be there at all is to exist throughout it, to be it. Strongest memory now?"

"Memory itself. How was that? I could remember everthing, from infancy and before, and until now. No, not could remember, but did! I was aware of everything all the time, without having to recall! And I was everything, yet I was also myself. But not myself, just knowing of myself, along with everything and everyone else."

"You enjoyed it then?"

"That would have to be one of the phrases, yes."

"So…?"

"So, you've taken away my choice."

"Not at all."

"You have, of course. I have to undergo your energy equilibrium, your realignment, your negative energy elimination. You know as well as I do, it's inconceivable that anyone who had touched the AllTime could then opt not to join it."

"The choice is there, nevertheless. It's true we expect none to decline the offer, that is only because they all choose to accept."

"If you haven't eliminated free will, you have certainly cheated it, rendered it superfluous. No human, no creature, is ever going to decline being part of that, no matter what the cost."

"I must say, that's how I hoped you'd see it."

"Oh God. Now I'll have to go through all of that. I'll have to face every single thing I've ever done wrong."

"It could be worse. Your debt of negativity is greater than you think, but still not very large. Think of poor Dr Mengle. You remember he was doctor at Auchswitz Concentration Camp, and notorious for conducting many experiments of horrific cruelty on the inmates, especially women and children. He has far more explaining to do than you, and is likely to find it a traumatic experience."

"You mean he will have to explain it to all his victims and all their relations?"

"As with you. All their relations and all his own relations, and indeed the whole world looking on."

"But suppose he claims he was acting under orders, or that if he hadn't have done the experiments, the authorities would have directed somebody else to do them, or that the human race gained in the end from the important knowledge gained from those experiments?"

"Remember that he is absolutely confined to the truth."

"But suppose he has indeed persuaded himself that what he did was not wrong, or not particularly wrong and with some benefits to be derived?"

"As with all human beings, you are thinking in a linear fashion. Good equals positive and bad equals negative, with zero in the middle. Human intellect is severely limited. The positivity that we need is multidimensional. Intention is certainly an essential part of the equation, but it is far from the only factor."

"But if you go beyond intention, and include harm done whether meant or not… That could mean that somebody, perhaps with severe learning difficulties, who gets cross one night and sets light to his blankets and burns down the home killing, let us say, thirty, of his friends…. Does he burn for aeons in expiating his mistake?"

"He and his friends will, one way or another, come to a full understanding and acceptance of what has happened, and in that process he will "adjust." Being of limited intellect, his culpability and hence his discomfort will be similarly limited. Some humans will feel even less discomfort in making their adjustments than some other animals in making theirs."

"What on Earth do you mean?"

"Not only humans are involved in this process. The wolf will come to terms with the caribou, and the lion with the zebra. In your terms, the spider will make amends to the fly, and the amoeba to the paramecium."

"The lion will lie down with the lamb. You certainly have an eye for detail. Does it include inanimate objects? Will the waterfall apologise to the rocks beneath?"

"As we said before, intention is an essential part of the equation. If the waterfall deliberately and maliciously…"

"And do rhododendrons deliberately poison the ground beneath them to keep out other plants? And is the mistletoe a murderer?"

"You will have the opportunity to explore all of that and experience levels of life of which you were quite unaware. However, intentionality would not be a factor among plant life. And still less among the population of waterfalls"

"Getting back to humans, is the World War II bomber pilot going to meet all the citizens of Dresden and discuss what happened?"

"All the citizens of Dresden will come to an understanding of how it was that they were involved in a war which included the bombing of their city, and the bomber pilot, and all of those who sent him, and all of those who supported those efforts in the war will reach their own understandings and reconciliations. Believe me, it is a very comprehensive programme. All the poison pen letter writers and all those anonymous callers will meet those they interacted with. Every master will meet his servants. Every racist will experience being of his victim's race. All who had wealth and could have helped others, but didn't, will explain that. Those born with better intellectual equipment or a better social position and who exploited that to their own benefit. All those who've watched gladiators, the badger baiters, the bullfighters, the hare coursers, will gain a new, and sometimes uncomfortable or painful, perspective. Every wave of consciousness will emerge from this process as positive, and that process involves what you would call suffering."

"Something else is worrying me. You mentioned earlier that my burden of negativity was more than I probably realised. What did you mean?"

"There are some harms that you were not aware of. Did you know that you bullied your brother and that this affected the quality of his life throughout its course? And your use of your imagination, you can test its value by imagining others listening in to it."

"What do you mean?"

"You were obsessed by crime for a good portion of your life, do you recall? You used to imagine vengeance scenarios where you wreaked havoc among wrong-doers."

"Of course I remember. If I heard of a child stolen and murdered, I would imagine myself catching the criminal and rending him limb from limb, so what?"

"That is one of the dimensions which the AllTime has to take into account, but which you judge differently. You were often assailed by muggers and struck back with tremendous force, often striking eyes out and crushing heads and other body parts."

"But that was just imagining, that was just venting my frustration with how the world was."

"You seldom imagined intervening peacefully. For example, you didn't imagine intervening before the child was harmed and getting help for the criminal before his act was carried out. You enjoyed the vengeance element of your mind picture."

"You are saying that vengeance is wrong. 'Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord'. I feel more and more that I'm being enmeshed in the pages of any of the big Bibles, -the Christian one for example. Come to think of it, isn't there something there about 'if a man dishonours a woman in his mind then he is as guilty…"

"The Bible does say that. Despite that, you are not in the Bible, you are merely deciding whether or not to join an entirely mechanical computer and if so, how to prepare yourself for that joining, given the terms that the membership secretary imposes on you. There is nothing mystic about it."

"How do I reconcile, who do I apologise to for things that were only in my mind?"

"Take just one set of imaginings. Your enjoyment of women. In your imagination, the way that you…"

"Oh, for Christ's sake. I'm not paying for any of that! All men fancy in that way, and like to think through what they would like to do if there were no rules at all. That's ordinary and probably healthy."

"You were thinking, and I don't need to remind you how often, of relationships to women of which you would be deeply ashamed if anyone else knew of them. Helpless women, ravishment, defilement, need I go on…?"

"I totally, utterly reject that. That was purely for my own amusement and affected no one. It did no harm at all in the world. It was certainly not what I would dream of actually putting into effect, and you know damn well my feelings about people who did."

"Forget the morality for the moment. So far as you understand the terms, would you describe those thoughts as broadly being positive or negative in this context?"

"Within rules that you have set up, and to which I haven't agreed or subscribed, they're obviously negative. For myself, well they're not positive, sure, but they're not particularly negative either. They're kind of neutral."

"Neutral, erring a little on the negative side?"

They were interrupted as Errol joined them and poured himself a glass of wine.

"So you've had your dip, Pilgrim old chap. Food for thought, I suppose? Any surprises?"

"It was, as you know, all surprise. By the way, a message for you, -the whales say hello."

"Ah yes. I worked on whale conservation for a bit. You know, against the Japanese and Norwegian whaling. But the main experience? I'm sure you're committed to going there? And I expect, like me, you're wondering how on Earth you'll get the strength to make your way there through the thorn bushes in between and, perhaps, deeply regretting that you built up so large a 'negativity' in your own life?"

"Errol, I'm literally trembling at the thought of it. I feel sick with fear at the prospect of crossing that dark valley. Yet I know that I'm going to, I know that I must. I never thought I could willingly lose myself, -my own separate identity. Now my single great ambition is to do just that. I ache for inclusion and I will force my way through the frightful obstacle course to that goal."

"Join the club, but don't worry, you'll stiffen up as you get a clearer picture of what you're heading for and what you need to do. Besides, there's an upside to the whole thing. I can't wait to see the people who profited from landmines explain to all the one legged peasant kids how it had seemed to them a good idea at the time. And all the people with shares in tobacco companies having a friendly chat with all the lung cancer people, should make an interesting discussion. A friend of mine, a work colleague of some years back, grew up in an orphanage. One night a new boy came back from a visit to the warden, sobbing and complaining of pain. My friend got out of bed, went over to him and gave him a punch in the mouth to stop his snivelling. Much later he learned that the boy had been soundly buggered by the boss. There was no redress. He often thought how wonderful it would be to meet that bossman and make him discuss his ethics at length."

"Errol, what would a religious person make of all this? I mean, when they die they expect to wake up in Gods arms, not…"

"I don't think it's a problem. When a religious person is very ill and preparing to meet their God they may instead get a shot of penicillin and have to cope with another thirty years. Meeting god is postponed. Hasn't the same happened here? Incorporation into the AllTime is not 'instead' of heaven, if there is one. It is merely an extension of life. And we should meet God with more confidence, having atoned for much of what worried him already."

"Well, perhaps. But what about knowing all of history. What if we revisit the Sermon on the Mount and find either wholesale fish suppliers or a huge hungry crowd? I mean, no miracle? I don't think we could find just five fish but also a well fed throng. Allta's determinist calculations would have 500 grams of fish molecules to trace through successive instants and, well…?"

"Who knows? If God is watching Allta He could either leave an apparent disproof of the miracle and so test our faith further or He might adjust the calculations (miraculously?) to show few fish and well fed crowd. After all, He's omnipotent."

"Perhaps you are right. I must say I feel exhausted by all these new thoughts. But wasn't it wonderful, to be there, to be part just for that instant"

"It was, of course. And those flashes of insight………."

Pilgrims enthusiasm lit up his face.

"Oh yes, how glorious. You remember? All the broken hearts…?"

"I do. And old people, they were young all the time…"

"All the good things done by good people -how they shone…"

"And the good thoughts…"

"And the Monarch butterflys..."

"Fibinachi num…!"

"And Pi..

"And dolphin sonar…"

"And flint…"

"And glass…"

"And pets, if only I'd known…"

"And Shakletons 4th man…"

"And Wisdens…"

"And rubics cube…"

"Electricity, I thought it was just…"

Pilgrim laughed as he added,

"And Mensa…!"

"Oh yes…" hooted Errol, and laughed more, pointing at Pilgrim as he tried to add his next.

"Oh yes..," gargled Pilgrim struggling with his laughter to beat his friend to the word. Pointing and roaring they choked until at last, in a strangled voice, Errol broke through his hilarity sufficiently to gargle out the words

"…Junk DNA…!"

At which both collapsed, writhing with hysteria and only regaining their composure some moments later.

At length, returning to calm they sat pensively for a while. Then Pilgrim said,

"So many wrongs to be righted…"

And Errol replied,

"And the significance of absolutely everything."

They walked to the top of the hill, by the Observatory before parting.

"Ok Pilgrim, I'll see you at the next picnic. But I can't resist just showing you this first…"

"Oh no, not another upgra…"

The words died away on his lips as Errol, bracing himself a little against the wall, pushed forward up into the air where he continued to rise apparently propelled and directed by surprisingly languid swimming strokes.

"Its good isn't it!" he called down. He crouched horizontally against the wall twenty feet up, then shot across the street, gradually slowing as he reached the other side.

"Errol, you have joined them completely. You have given up all your human dignity."

"You mean I lack gravity? That's what I've been trying to tell you," laughed Errol as he swam out of sight over the rooftops. Pilgrim frowned, but also wondered if Errol had noticed his even, gleaming white teeth, rooted so firmly in his very own healthy, pink gums.

Allta too was laughing. "We will meet again soon Pilgrim. You still wonder about our purpose and ultimate destiny? Third Picnic is about nothing else."

"I know know this place. I'm pretty certain…"