The Chronicle of Belthaeous
by John W. Steele
Chapter 1: The Early Years
In the year 1975, I sat in a crowded lecture hall at Columbia University. Before me at the lectern stood the prestigious Dr. Adrian Nacroanus, Senior Professor and Chairman of the Department of Genetic Engineering. I had no real interest in the fundamentals of Molecular Biology. I took the course as an elective so I could say that I was once his student. I knew it would look great on my resume when I finally got out of that stuffy closet of intellectual idolatry.
My calling, if there is such a thing, is mathematics. I’d breezed through every math course offered at the University. Along the way I’d even managed to cast a shadow of doubt over a long-established theory regarding the structure of matter on the atomic level. I didn’t realize the stir this would cause among the academics.
Since my controversial equations detailing the slave-like captivity of electrons that power all transient matter in the universe, some of the professors began treating me as an equal and, in some cases, a superior. The explanation I attempted to disprove was based on a flawed premise, and refuting it seemed like child’s play.
Because of my breakthrough, the heads of the Department of Mathematical Sciences decided I might be of some value. I was granted a full scholarship for the intriguing designs of my uncanny imagination. I sensed this grant had deeper significance, but I had no reason to question their generosity, and I marveled over my good fortune.
Since the inception of my radical equation about the bondage of valence shell electrons, it seemed everybody knew my name. I’d find recruitment invitations from military contractors on the windshield of my car. My phone rang incessantly, and my mailbox overflowed with job offers, but I wanted no part of the war machine. I felt war was necessary if attacked or if required to defend, but I didn’t like the idea of killing others to profit the elite and their bureaucratic robots that create such atrocities. I could not understand how anyone in good conscience could slaughter the innocent and then go on with their life as if they’d done nothing wrong.
Though I’d found little to capture my interest at Columbia, there was something about Dr. Nacroanus that stimulated my imagination. He was the driving force in the field of human genetic engineering, and I drank in his concepts about the origin and perfection of man as a thirsty dog laps water. Little did I realize then the role this man would play in the rest of my life.
Dr. Nacroanus seemed interested in what I planned to do after I earned my doctorate. He mentioned he’d been offered a position as the head of the department of Genetic Research at Genibolic Pharmaceutical, and he’d need a strong mathematician. I was awed by the charisma of Dr. Nacroanus, and I knew nothing would bring me greater satisfaction than to serve as his colleague.
He’s a man of small stature, and I’d heard rumors that he was over ninety years old. I didn’t believe this because he had a great number of silent enemies, mostly disgruntled faculty and students that had been a victim of his wit.
Though his hair was silver, he gave the impression of a man much younger. His movements were quick and graceful and his eyes, keen and alert. His skin was very fair, almost translucent. Those that despised him referred to him as an albino or hybrid. I wasn’t certain what they meant by “hybrid,” but their claim that he was an albino had to be incorrect. His eyes burned like deep, black pools with a gaze so intense they could bore a hole in you. A true albino’s eyes are always red or pink.
Adrian Nacroanus was an enigma wrapped in a mystery, and any attempts to research his past were impossible. Rumors about him abounded on campus, but they only added to the persona of his supernatural image. Anyone able to glimpse the level of Adrian’s mind soon forgot about his feminine physical characteristics; to know him was to be awed by him. Everything about Dr. Nacroanus was bigger than life, and he was highly respected, even venerated by those that mattered.
One day towards the end of the second semester he stepped down from the dais and paced on the beige and blue tiles of the lecture hall. Over his frail frame he wore a heavy wool cardigan beneath an oversized hounds-tooth jacket. Though he looked like the wind could blow him away, his confidence could only be described as godlike.
He faced the class, and gazed at us for a moment like a shepherd surveying a herd of sheep. When he spoke; his voice flowed in its characteristic musical tenor; a strained octave above normal.
“I want to go off-topic for a moment today, ladies and gentlemen, and reveal a perspective I hope you will remember when you leave this portal of mass-produced education.”
He walked over to the chalkboard and drew two intersecting lines, one horizontal, and one vertical, in the shape of a crucifix.
“Most of you want to be doctors or scientists, and many of you possess extraordinary aptitude. Your minds have been perfectly molded by years of programming that began the day you were born. Nevertheless you’re here now, a feat accomplished by one in a hundred thousand. Since many of you will never be forced to look beyond the limits of your perceptions, I’ve decided to give you a gift, something to ponder on if your lives ever lose the stability of their foundation. I have a question for you: Where is the center of the universe?”
A hushed silence settled in the hall, and you could have heard a pin drop.
“Oh, come now, that’s not such a difficult question is it? After all, many of you were honor students with outstanding SAT scores; surely the question has seeped into the internal dialogue you call your mind. You, there, Miss Bowers, you’re a promising microbiologist. I’ll wager you have an idea about the structure of the universe you would like to share with us.”
Bowers was a babe but very hot-headed. She had the unprecedented distinction of being the only woman who’d ever slapped me across the face twice. She fidgeted in her chair and then raised her head to meet Adrian’s gaze. A note of defiance rang in her voice when she spoke.
“The infinite universe is a theory. But if it has no boundary, its center is everywhere and nowhere,” she replied.
Nacroanus nodded. “Excellent answer, Miss Bowers, logical and precise. You have neither affirmed nor denied anything, and your picture of reality is akin to its skin.”
He pointed at the diagram. “The vertical line represents time, and the horizontal line represents space. Where these lines intercede is the center of your universe.”
The class remained silent.
Like a vulture looking for prey in a desert, Adrian’s eyes surveyed the room. They landed on James Pickett, and he swooped in to peck at the carcass.
“Would you agree with this hypothesis, Mr. Pickett?”
I knew Pickett; his uncle was a senator from Arkansas. Columbia scooped him up despite his lackluster grades. He was a likable sort, and we’d shared many a brew at the rathskeller. He wanted to be a physician, but he didn’t possess the intellect for it. He graduated with honors and is now a medical director at the NIH.
Pickett responded in his disarming lazy Okie drawl, “I never give it much thought, Dr. Nacroanus. To me, all it looks like is two lines on a chalkboard.”
Everyone giggled, including me. Maybe he’s smarter than I thought.
Dr. Nacroanus remained unperturbed. “Another splendid response, Mr. Pickett. Perception such as yours will open many doors. Unwittingly you have revealed the bones of reality.”
Nacroanus flipped the chalk in the air; a yellow blur soared over his head, then, like a nail drawn to a magnet, the little stub landed squarely in the palm of his hand. He placed the chalk on edge, and drew two wider lines over the narrow lines on the board. The original lines were now hidden from view.
“Here is the center of my universe,” he said. “If you’ll notice, my lines completely obliterate any evidence of yours. Does anyone dare to venture what this means?”
The sunlight poured through the window reflecting like shimmering ice crystals in his snow-white hair. The power of his gaze held us spellbound. The world stopped spinning, and I had the distinct impression Nacroanus was something other than human.
“How about you, Mr. Neumann, can you pull something out of that bag of magic you call the divine science of numbers? Do you understand what I’m trying to show to you?”
I had sensed this was coming, and butterflies fluttered in my stomach. I cleared my throat and coughed out, “There’s not enough data to determine what you’re trying to prove, Dr. Nacroanus. Anything I have to offer at this juncture would be based purely on conjecture.”
He smiled, as if he’d read my mind. “You’ve circumnavigated the point, Mr. Neumann. By telling me what I already know, you’ve said nothing and have placed the burden of proof back in my court, so to speak. I remain in control. Well done.”
He clasped his hands behind his back and stared into space. I glanced over at Pickett; his mouth hung agape, a fine wrinkle lay taut in his forehead.
“We’re not dealing with intellectual acrobatics here,” Nacroanus said. “Nor is this a mind game that can be resolved by general consensus or the notion of what is theosophically popular. There is a potent message in these lines, Mr. Neumann, and I am a little bewildered that you can’t see it.”
I didn’t like where this was heading, and I braced myself for an insult.
“As long as you’re dependent on my ideas and my explanation of reality, the universe does not belong to you, it belongs to me. You are merely a character in my world. Only when you are able to think and act of your own volition without clinging to the words and pictures of reality placed over the windows of your perception by those who will use you, and even kill you for their benefit, you will always be a stranger in your universe, and a commodity in mine.”
I felt I should try to defend myself; for reasons I did not then understand I knew that’s what he wanted. “I’m not sure I agree with you, Dr. Nacroanus. Everything I accept as my reality has been proven by scholars and centuries of acceptance. Reality is the general consensus of reasonable and intelligent people. The focus of civilized doctrine is to create a standard of conformity that defines the borders of sanity. The center of the universe is where my perceptions converge and order is formed from chaos. The center of the universe is the established paradigm that creates reality.”
He fixed me with a cold eye. “The truth cannot be defined, Mr. Neumann, only perceived, and the quality of perception is what separates kings and slaves. You are an image of your imagination. Wide acceptance of a premise does not make it true, it only makes it law.
“When I define your world, I control it. It’s the oldest secret of mankind. It’s the reason pyramids were built, the essence of all wars, and the crime behind all great fortunes. Those who have seen the riches that lay beyond the mystery of faith control those who rely on the will of others to create their universe. You’re trapped in an illusion, Mr. Neumann, until you understand that: reality is nothing more than a business, the business of conditioning.”
My thumb convulsed on the plunger of my pen, and it made a ratchet sound. I could not fully comprehend what he was revealing. It seemed he’d thrown a canopy over the sun. I searched for a hole in his reason; finding none, I paraphrased what he’d said. “So what you’re saying is, as long as I remain trapped in the cocoon of consensual reality, I’ll always be a slave?”
His forehead knitted, and he stared at me, his eyes black as onyx. “The center of the universe is the surrender of your will, Mr. Neumann. Once the mind is ensnared by the dogma of conditioning, the center of the universe is where I tell you it is. Your world is virtual, a mind-created state imposed upon you and entirely dependent on what I decide it will be.
“The conquerors, the elite, and the truly intellectually superior understand and embrace the doctrine of Milton’s Lucifer: it is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.”
Without understanding why, I nodded my head.
Dr. Nacroanus locked me in his gaze. “Congratulations, Mr. Neumann, you have just tasted the marrow of reality.”
Copyright © 2014 by John W. Steele