The eighty-nine year-old Eliot Rosewater hit it off well with the forty-year-old version of himself. Of course, it was awkward at first, talking with a person who knew so much about you and wondering if the universe would explode if you came into close contact with that person.
But, in time, the two men formed a bond like a grandfather and a long-lost grandson might. They enjoyed the same books. They shared the same interests. Both of them wished that everyone was as nice and smart and socially-conscious and clever as they were.
The two silly narcissists patted each other on the back and shared jokes. Sometimes they could do both sides of a comedy routine. Sometimes one of them would forget his line. They would laugh.
They had never been so happy. Still, there was a moat between them, one thing that divided them. That thing was the problem festering just two miles south of Miragoane. It was a problem that could become an opportunity, if you know what I mean. Safe on Tralfamadore, free from the constant harassment and torture, Eliot Rosewater’s memory came back, his memory of the thing that had caused his imprisonment.
There was no reason for him to bother about it, anymore. It was history. At least, that is how the older-looking Rosewater saw it.
Needless to say, the version of Eliot Rosewater that had been imprisoned for re-channeling the Money River wanted to return to Earth and finish the work he had begun. He obsessed on it. He became difficult to spend time with.
Finally, tempers rose and the two men came to words.
“Don’t you see, you’ll be playing into their hands,” said the bankrupt Eliot Rosewater. “They are simpletons. They believe that you will return to the scene of the crime.”
The other one, lets call him Eliot number two, the one who bore a striking resemblance to Ernest Hemingway before he went to seed, ran his hands through his hair and paced the floor.
“Look at it,” said the senescent version (let’s call him Eliot number one from now on). “Even if they re-route the water to Norquist’s love nest, you’ll go down in history like the Boston Tea Party. You did a brave thing, and you stood up under questioning. You are a hero.”
Eliot number two rubbed his jaw between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand.
“Listen, Skip,” he said, “I hadn’t told you. The mission’s not over. There is more to it than just the river.”
Eliot number one snorts. His face turns red. He blows his nose and spits into a handkerchief that he had kept inside the left-rear pocket of his slacks. He wadded up the dirty cloth and sat it next to him on his chair. His breathing grows deep and he looks at the floor. “So, you’re keeping secrets from me, eh? You have ‘need to know’ information and I’m not honest enough for you to share it with me. I’m you, kid. You can’t keep secrets from yourself.”
Eliot number two stuttered and his face turned pale. “I’m, I’m sorry, Skip. I just, I haven’t been authorized to talk to you about it.” Eliot number one, the angry old bird, pushed a joystick on the arm of his self-propelled recliner and turned his back to his younger self.
In a happily synchronistic moment, Cthulbanana and Kilgore Trout materialized and floated like saintly ghosts, down to the squabbling Eliots.
“You have authorization,” said Cthulbanana.
“Captain Yassarian is ready to take off,” said Trout.
“It’s about time,” said Eliot number two.
“What’s going on?” said Eliot number one.
“I have to make this brief,” said Cthulbanana. He faced Eliot number one and downloaded the plan into Eliot’s brain.
Eliot number one was overwhelmed. “You haven’t got a chance,” he said.
Cthulbanana wanted to put his hand on Eliot number one’s shoulder; but since he was only two-feet high, he patted the side of the chair’s armrest, instead. Eliot looked down and stared into that one, giant eyeball. “Ah, crap,” he said. “There’s nothing that can be done?” he asked.
“No,” replied Cthulbanana.
Eliot rumbled off to digest this information. He wished he hadn’t asked. But, he had to ask. Anyone would have. Yet, the Tralfamadorian belief-system precluded anyone’s attempt to intervene in an action that had always occurred and one that would always be occurring, through all Eternity.
To Cthulbanana, and to any other member of his electrical/mechanical race, it wouldn’t be just futile, it would be ridiculous. Eliot could not change the course of history, not even the history that was still to be written.
Despite that frustration, life on Tralfamadore seemed fine to Eliot number one. Not only was he free of all the pain he lived with on Earth, not only that; but, he was always comfortable, the temperature seemed to rise and fall according to his unspoken wishes, and all his needs had been met. Tomorrow, Cthulbanana promised him, Eliot’s ex-wife Sylvia would arrive.
That seemed like a good thing.
Still, he couldn’t get the thought out of his head that when Eliot number two was killed Eliot number one might cease to exist.
That wasn’t any good at all.
But Sylvia was coming, the only woman he had ever loved, that once-sexy and patient woman he hadn’t heard from or seen in nearly fifty years.
He couldn’t figure out if that was a good thing or if it was a bad thing.
It was whatever is was and it was going to happen within twenty-four hours.
Eliot number two seemed determined to get killed in that same time-frame.
What to do? What to do? What to do?
Zog danced over and stood somberly next to the old man. The smell of methane was heavy in the air.