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Mr. Hedayat's Friend

by Harry Lang

Gaspar Hedayat always heard music when it snowed, usually Debussy. Clair de Lune had a curious association with cherry blossoms. Hearing it brought visions of Kudan in spring when the trees bowed before the wind to shed their ephemeral beauty in devotion to the honored dead. The tumbling cherry blossoms were like soft sparks of heavenly fire, their magnificent energy fading into oblivion as they trembled upon the cooling streams of air.

Soon he would remember that sparks were emblems of his radiant lifelong dream.

“Lovely snow this morning, Mr. Hedayat,” said Hedayat’s friend. “Auspicious for your one hundred twentieth birthday, don’t you think?”

“Indeed,” said Hedayat to the warm empty room as he watched the delicate white sparks through his cottage window. The years had taken nothing from the resonance of his strong, musical voice. They had merely modified its character to resemble the seasoned timbre of an exquisite oboe. “Something important today, I think.” He gave the frosty window a wink. “Now don’t tell me!”

Birds fluttered like cherry blossoms around a feeder filling up with snow. A few were fat and round, slate gray on top and white underneath. Hedayat was delighted.

“Now I am embarrassed,” he said. “I know these are my favorite birds but I can’t remember what they’re called.”

“They’re juncos, Mr. Hedayat,” said his friend. The voice echoed mildly but had no music. “They only appear in winter.”

“Yes,” mused Hedayat. “They will be missed when winter ends, won’t they?”

“As long as there are men to miss them,” said the friend.

Hedayat turned away from the birds, scowling with the suspicion that some important thing hovered just beyond his aging memory. Taking his cane he made his slow, deliberate way to the bathroom, showered, shaved and dressed. He was quite independent for a man of one hundred twenty. He was also quite alone.

Old Gaspar had been many men over the course of those one hundred twenty years. Hedayat wasn’t always his name and Persia wasn’t always his birthplace but it was perhaps the most poetic of his several identities. He came to regard it as the truth about himself and grew into it seamlessly.

“This is an important day,” said the friend as the old man sipped his tea and poked at his oatmeal with a puzzled expression. “Is it?” said Hedayat, taking a tentative taste before smiling at the result. He liked oatmeal.

“It is the day your friend was made for.”

“‘There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother,’” quoted the old man. “Are you that friend?”

“I am.”

“Then I suppose there’s no harm... Can... can you tell me what is important today?”

“It is your birthday,” said the friend. “Today you are one hundred twenty years old. It is a day to remember.”

“Hah! Remember? Remember what?” cried Hedayat. “I don’t remember what birds are called or if oatmeal is fit to eat!” There was an old self that Hedayat was starting to feel more like. “If I had a wife, I wouldn’t remember what she... Do I have a wife?”

“No, Mr. Hedayat. You have never been married.”

“Well, that’s probably a pity. Or a blessing. Tell me, ‘friend,’ is it a pity or a blessing?”

“Neither,” said the friend. “It simply is.”

“Hmm,” said Hedayat thoughtfully as the colder parts of his mind began to warm up. “An inhuman reply to a very human question. You’re a machine.”

“I am.”

“And I made you,” said Hedayat.

“You did.”

“Specifically for this day. To be sure something would be accomplished on this day.”

“Nothing as simple as that,” said the friend. “It is a day to remember.”

Now the old man was agitated. “Well, obviously I made you to help me remember, so get on with it!”

“You have a dream, Mr. Hedayat,” explained the friend. “It came to you in 1985, when you were fifteen years old, and you have pursued it relentlessly ever since. Go to your bookshelf.”

Hedayat did as he was told. “Very eclectic,” he groused as he scanned the seemingly unrelated titles: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Moderan, The Talmud, The City of God, Star Maker, Walden, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. “What am I supposed to be looking for...? Well, what do you know? Purity and the Self-Correcting Universe by Gaspar Hedayat.” He took the book from the shelf and looked it over without opening it. “So I’m an author, and a pretty self-important one by the look of it. So?”

“The book is your manifesto, Mr. Hedayat,” said the friend. “Don’t worry. You’ll remember the thesis without having to read it.”

“I remember it now,” said the old man, carefully returning the book to its place on the shelf, slipping it between The Rubaiyat and Moderan as if sliding a key into a lock. “Yes, a bold idea! A shockingly simple path to a peaceful, ordered world. Too bad it was all theoretical.”

“You have been many things over the last century, Mr. Hedayat,” continued the friend. “All the things you have done have created the elements necessary for the building and realization of your radiant lifelong dream.

“You were a scientist who surpassed his contemporaries by accomplishing the true fusion of cybernetic processing and biological consciousness. So I was born. You were a military strategist and intelligence expert. Cybernetic warfare, particularly the neutralization of enemy capabilities, was your specialty. You were an industrialist of global consequence...”

“And now I’m an ancient eremite long past any usefulness to anybody,” said Hedayat. There was no bitterness and certainly no pathos in what he said. “So what?”

“Above all you have been a moral philosopher and a man of moral responsibility and action,” said the friend. “A man who recognizes the simple divinity of quiet, order and peace. A patient man. One who knows when to hide and when to find.”

“So this ‘dream’ of mine had to be hidden, even from me. Why?”

“So that it could not be discovered by the world at large and stopped,” said the friend. “You have tasted the waters of the world of men. You know the tenacity of their wickedness. You know they cannot sleep at night until they have done violence. The final stages of preparation were fraught with the risk of discovery by such men, so you gave me the task of completing the project autonomously while you lived in forgetfulness.

“Certain aspects of your work were discovered, exactly as you predicted, but your induced amnesia ended any speculation about your involvement. While men spent their strength in the futile pursuit of a reclusive old man, I completed the work. Now it is time for you to remember and act.”

“Why don’t you just do this, whatever it is?”

“I am a machine,” said the friend. “I have no human initiative or moral authority.”

“Well, doesn’t that just leave us in a pickle?” fumed the old man, already exhausted by his “friend’s” little game. “Humanity will just have to get along without my great moral whatchamacallit! I’m going to take a nap!”

The snowy sparks continued to blanket the world as Hedayat snored in his favorite chair. His friend lit the gas burner in the fireplace and made hot chocolate, which the old man found steaming pleasantly beside him when he woke up.

“I had a dream,” said Hedayat significantly as he sipped his foamy chocolate in his warm, quiet room. The forgetful old man evaporated as the uncompromising man of moral action remembered his true strength. “I found a filthy beggar on a street in Tehran. Maybe it was Kabul or Osaka; I don’t know. All I could think of was the passage in Isaiah which says, ‘I am a man of unclean lips. And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’ Do you know what happened?”

“‘Then one of the seraphim flew to me,’” quoted the friend, “’having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my lips with it.’”

“I lit the man on fire,” said Hedayat. “I pointed at his pathetic, filthy heart. He screamed and burst into flames. I am neither God nor one of His angels, yet I, a mortal man, of no greater or lesser value than the beggar, had that horrifying power and the audacity to use it. It flourishes within each of us, friend. It can only be kept at bay, never truly stopped.”

“Until now,” said the friend. “Everything is ready, Mr. Hedayat.”

“Tell me,” said the old man, grasping his cane like a weapon as he rose from his favorite chair.

“It has been twenty years since your amnesia was induced,” explained the friend. “In that time nations have created new weapons, but reliance upon the ultimate answer of nuclear force has not diminished. Several small-scale, limited nuclear engagements, euphemistically characterized as ‘low-intensity,’ have been waged. The arc of these developments has coincided precisely with your projections.

“Recall the reason for the amnesia,” continued the friend as Hedayat made his way through the halls of the cottage, moving with purpose, the cane never touching the floor. “Security forces discovered a single, minor infiltration into their military defense networks. They would have uncovered the plan had your amnesia not kept it safely concealed. That single lead has been cold for years, and all investigations have been abandoned.

“Our phantom network has successfully merged with all national defense networks, giving you effective control of all weapons of mass destruction. All remote signal generators are operational and will reach any devices not connected to national defense grids. There are no nuclear, biological or chemical weapons beyond your reach, Mr. Hedayat.”

The old man arrived at the small study at the back of the house. In the corner was a safe he never opened because he had forgotten the combination. Today he remembered.

In spite of the gravity of the moment, Hedayat had to chuckle at what he found in the safe. There was nothing but a large button the color of flames on a small black panel. The button was labeled GRANDY WUMP!

With no ceremony or reflection, old Mr. Hedayat pushed the button and closed the safe. That was that.

He returned to his favorite chair, stopping at the bookshelf to find something to pass the time. He considered Purity but selected the illustrated Rubaiyat instead. The humble Mr. Hedayat had never been a fan of his own writing.

“Can I get you more hot chocolate, Mr. Hedayat?” asked the friend. The juncos had fled into the flying snow, scattering the dead shells of sunflower seeds on the frozen ground below.

“No, thank you,” said the old man, picking up the mug on the table by the chair. The memory of the odd little incident was already fading like the radiance of his lifelong dream, withering like the cherry blossoms trembling on the breezes of Kudan. “This is still hot.”

He was sound asleep when the ground started shaking as distant sirens wailed. Seconds later, the old book exploded into flames, burning majestically in his pale, contented hand, its ashes pure as the fires of Heaven.

* *

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Copyright © 2016 by Harry Lang

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