Joey looked out his front window, contemplating Coit Tower. He thought of Artie who had changed his life forever on the crookest street in the world. It felt like a dream when he thought back. Was that day real when he met Artie on this curvy brick street? No matter how unreal those times seemed now, he knew they had happened. His very expensive house on the exclusive brick section of Lombard Street was proof for sure. When Artie gifted him this incredible view of the bay, Joey’s life was forever changed. In the thirty-plus years he had been there, a day did not pass he did not think of and thank Artie for the view. He had met Artie in North Beach. Artie was from out of town. Joey found his British accent charming. Artie had a room at the Fairmont atop Nob Hill while Joey was renting a flat in the basement of an ancient building. Joey’s mind wandered to joyful times spent gallivanting up and down Nob Hill. Artie was a successful writer who traveled the world. Joey and Artie fell deeply in love during those halcyon days. Artie was just in San Francisco for a summer conference. Joey was surprised to hear him say he lived in Sri Lanka. However, any time he was on the West Coast he would come to San Francisco to visit Joey. The last time had been back in 1993. “Joey come visit me on Lombard Street,” said Artie on the telephone “Lombard Street. You are not staying on Nob Hill anymore?” Joey asked. “No, I am over on Lombard Street, 1040 Lombard Street. Come on over Joey I have a surprise for you.” Artie’s voice was pregnant with mystery. Joey was on the most crooked street in the world within the hour. The front window looked out on the bay. He could see the Oakland Bay Bridge and Treasure Island in the distance. San Francisco was an especially magical place back in those days. A place where a poor kid from Turlock might be gifted a dream home on a magical street in a magical city. “What!?” Joey was incredulous that such a gift could be given or would be given. He loved Artie and Artie loved him. Yes, they had a special bond, but a house seemed like too much. “I don’t have any money for a down payment Artie? I cannot afford the mortgage payment even if I did.” “It doesn’t matter Joey. I am giving it to you. It is already paid for. I just have to put the deed in your name,” Artie explained calmly. “I don’t understand. Why?” Joey asked Joey’s revelry was broken when he noticed some rather large SUVs parked in the street. He did not recognize them. Ever since the street had been closed to vehicles other than locals, strange autos on the brick road were conspicuous. Eight men in dark suits exited the vehicles as Joey watched. “NSA!” The men shouted at Joey They surrounded Joey. He was hustled through his front door. Within seconds they were in his living room. “We are here to deliver this,” said one of the suits. He thrust an envelope into Joey’s hand. No one had shown Joey any ID, but he had seen weapons. Joey was unsure what to do. He sat for a moment and then opened the envelope. In it, he found a note in a strange language. A language he never thought he would actually need, Harrapan. Artie had taught Joey Harrapan all those years ago. He had never heard anyone speak about the language. It was a mystery to Joey why Artie had been so adamant that Joey learn the language as part of getting the deed to the house. “This IS the mortgage Joey and mortgages aren’t easy to pay,” Artie explained. Now Joey was looking at a note partially written in Harrapan. The English language portion of the note was about the Clarke-Asimov Treaty. Joey was not unfamiliar with the Clarke-Asimov Treaty. Joey was a big science fiction buff. He had read Asimov’s Foundation series multiple times. He particularly loved Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End story. He recalled the stories about how Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov developed an amicable rivalry. It was legendary within science–fiction fandom. The rivalry eventually led to the Clarke–Asimov Treaty. The Clarke–Asimov Treaty stated that each author would refer to the other as the world’s greatest writer in his specialty — and refer to himself as merely second–best. Under these terms, Asimov would crown Clarke as the best science–fiction author ever, while Clarke would anoint Asimov as the greatest science writer. Of course, each could publicly crown himself a close second to the other. The two reputedly created the pact during a shared cab ride. The only time either acknowledged this treaty was in Clarke’s dedication to his book, Report on Planet Three. In that book, Clarke wrote: “In accordance with the terms of the Clarke–Asimov treaty, the second-best science writer dedicates this book to the second-best science-fiction writer.” Joey always wondered if his “friend” Artie was THE Arthur C. Clarke. He sure looked like all of the photos…kind of. Artie was a big fan of those early writers of science fiction. Artie used to always talk about how coincidental it was that Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein had worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard during World War II. He hinted at some top-secret work Asimov had been exposed to during World War II. Sometimes if he drank a little too much he would say Asimov told Arthur C. Clarke something “special” about the Philadelphia Experiment. In the morning though, he would deny or claim to remember nothing. Joey often asked him about UFOs. Artie would laugh. “Aliens”, he would say with a chuckle, “We don’t need no stinking aliens!” “Well?” asked one of the suits who was not pointing a gun at him startling him from his reflections on the Clarke-Asimov Treaty. Joey looked up. There were three other large men holding large assault weapons aimed in his direction. He felt scared. He struggled to remember anything Arthur had taught him in Harrapan. “I cann…can’t remember,” he pleaded. The suit in front of Joey raised his hand. Joey cowered fearing he was about to be struck. The suit signaled for his compatriots to lower their weapons. “Don’t be afraid. We’re here from your government,” he explained softly. “Don’t worry. My name is Jack. We are with the NSA. You are not in trouble. We just need your help,” he continued. Joey looked like a deer in headlights. He stared at the symbols on the piece of paper. His mind went back to his days with Artie. He remembered Artie talking about the language of a long-lost ancient civilization. The Harrapan script was a mix of letters, but also of glyphs which meant a whole word or concept. He remembered Artie trying to teach him, but the fact that some symbols were whole words while others were simply letters was difficult to tease out of the text. “Look, my name is John Stick. We are with the NSA. We need you to read this text in the native tongue. Intelligence reports you may be the only person on the planet who can read this piece of paper and speak the phrase in the native tongue,” explained the suit as he flashed an official-looking identification card. “What? Why me? I cannot read this,” Joey said weakly. “ I cannot speak Harrapan.” “Harrapan! Yes, that is exactly what you need to do,” shouted the suit named John excitedly. Joey’s mind raced. The symbols did look familiar somehow. He thought about Artie. He smiled. The two had many beautiful moments on the beaches around San Francisco. Joey heard himself whisper, “Jo-E korgin qa Ahrrt-E. Artie loves Joey.” “That’s it!” shouted a woman with a small device in her hand. Suddenly, windows started breaking in the front of the house. It was not just the windows. Everything was breaking. The room was being peppered with bullets. “Vykhod!” The man who called himself John Stick ordered and directed. Everyone moved to the back of the house except Joey. All of the suits and the woman fled out the back as soon as there was a moment of silence. Joey just laid behind his couch shaking as he watched them run to his garage. “FBI! FBI! Hands up. Hands up. Show yourself now or be shot!” There were many loud voices and orders being shouted. “He’s here. He’s here! Joey stood up from behind the couch cautiously. He touched his chest and other parts of his body incredulous there was no blood or injury. He started to cry. “You are not hurt! What did you tell them?” “Tell who? They were the NSA,” Joey defended the fact he had translated the note. He didn’t know who was who anymore. “Look. I am Paul Jerome from the FBI,” said a tall red-haired man with a beard. “Those people were not from the NSA. They were Russians. They blew up the Georgia Guide stones last year.” “Really?” Joey was now interested because he had wondered why these had been blown up. He had planned on visiting them last year while making his annual trip to visit his father in South Carolina. However, traffic in Atlanta had been bad so he skipped the trip. A month later, they were partially blown up and then mysteriously demolished with heavy equipment by local authorities within hours. “Yes, the Russians were looking for the time capsule underneath the guide stones.” “Did they find it?” Joey asked inquisitively “Yes, and that note they gave you was what was in it! We need you to tell us what you read there. Your voice and your voice alone can decode the video squirreled away somewhere on the Ethereum blockchain. The location of the fabled Black Pyramid of the Urals is revealed in the video. This is the real reason for the War in Ukraine. Allegedly, the Ukrainians somehow discovered the location of this ancient structure and discovered its secrets. The Black Pyramid contains a cache of ancient technology. This technology is capable of generating enormous power. These are essentially weapons of mass destruction…in the eyes of many.” Alarm bells went off in his head. He knew he must cooperate or end up in Guantanamo. The next words confirmed this for him. “This is a matter of NATIONAL SECURITY Joseph,” the FBI agent said matter-of-factly. “You are the ‘oracle’. Your voiceprint of this message will complete the smart contract and release the video.” “Yessir,” Joey responded obediently. “It was Harrapan sir. This is what I said.” Joey paused and then said “Jo-E korgin qa Ahrrt-E. Artie loves Joey.” He spoke directly into the device thrust into his face. Also published here.