Planet of Men: Third Tale in the Matryoshka Series

pota madMad men image

…For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men
― Herman Melville
Moby Dick


Cecilia has been transported to New York Presbyterian hospital, after receiving last rites from a priest at the scene. She is admitted to the ER, and within minutes, taken to surgery because of bleeding in the brain. The surgeon drills a hole in her skull, to relieve the pressure on her brain. They then look at the x-rays that were simultaneously taken on the operating table. They repair a broken right femur and left ankle. Cecilia is placed on life support and put into intensive care.

The next four months are agonizing for her. She has to regain control of key portions of her brain that were damaged in the explosion. She has to learn to walk, and regain use of language. Her support comes from Feng Tian, his daughter and Emily. They are with her every day, encouraging her, feeding her in the beginning when she could do nothing for herself, and chastising her shen she looks like she’s about to give up. In December, she returns home to Miami, to her mother who has given the dog away to be sure there’s no issues between him and Cecilia. She is happy to be home.

Her relationship with Feng has become close – one could say they are romantically attached. Feng feels good about helping her, since he did nothing for his own wife who died in the earthquake years before. But he must return to his work in China, and takes his daughter with him. Cecilia and Emily stay in touch via Skype, but it’s not the same. They were a family when Cecilia was in the hospital. Now they are separated and miss one another terribly.

Cecilia returns to work and tries to pick up where she left off. But she finds issues with attention span and memory. She can only stay at the office for brief periods, before she becomes so agitated she has to walk around the campus. She is also experiencing anger issues, losing patience over the simplest of things. Her injuries now are inside, more than outside. She is afraid to go to public places, for fear of another explosion.


The authorities track Ishmael and determine that he is not an Israeli – he is an Egyptian and was wanted by the Egyptian government for terrorist activities. But that is, in fact, a ruse – Ishmael is a time traveler from Pequod on the planet Essex. He is one of only a few left from _____(date), because Essex’ inhabitants were annihilated by colonists from earth. In an effort to create an atmosphere on Essex, they injected chlorofluorocarbins into the atmosphere to produce oxygen and make it warm enough for an atmosphere to continue. The chlorofluorocarbons were toxic to the previous inhabitants. It is not clear whether the earth colonists knew of the existence of Ishmael’s fellow Essexians. But even if they did, it was likely they didn’t care. Earth’s resources were depleted by _____(date), and Essex was the closest planet that had similar characteristics to earth. Ishmael determined that the original concept for creating the atmosphere came from Cecilia’s team working on Mars. So Ishmael time traveled back to 2024 to kill everyone on the team that had anything to do with the work. This was an act of vengeance. Ishmael knew it wouldn’t change history – that someone else would develop the technology and his civilization would still be wiped out.

He killed Nikolai with antifreeze injected into the pierogis Tatiana prepared for him. Tatiana was arrested, presuming the wife killed her husband to run off with a younger man. She was tried, but with no clear evidence of her guilt, she was given a suspended sentence for the three years she spent in prison. Grandma Susan was found, upstairs in the room with the green loveseats, dead from botox. It appeared she’d been experimenting with injecting her face to smooth out wrinkles, and the type of botox was incorrect. Finally, Javier was poisoned, but did not die from cassava improperly prepared and eaten by him in large quantities in cassava cake. It is a fact that improperly prepared cassava creates arsenic, and that’s the toxin that Javier ingested. He was ill, but did not die.

When Cecilia regained sufficient use of her faculties, Emily told her about what happened to Nikolai and Grandma Susan. She also told her about Javier, indicating that he was just now beginning to be himself again. Cecilia thinks it’s too much of a coincidence that all three were either killed or harmed by toxins. She fears it is Ishmael’s work, and that he did not die in the explosion that nearly killed her. But she has no idea where he is, and if he will return to try to kill her again.


A new character is introduced – Paul Fitzgerald, a mathematics professor at the University of Miami. Paul is something of a genius, having established himself as a rising star in the world of mathematics, and becoming a full professor by the age of 25. But Paul has been struggling lately. He has begun to hear voices, and have hallucinations that frighten yet intrigue him. His latest project is an attempt to solve the Riemann function, and he’s neglected his health in the process. Paul is not married any longer, his wife having left him several years before, taking their daughter Emily with her. He lives in a tiny house on Merrick Way, and lately hasn’t been eating or sleeping properly. He has notebooks full of his notes on the Riemann hypothesis, and feels he’s getting close to solving it. The Riemann hypothesis has been described as the ‘great white whale’ of the world of mathematics. Others have tried before him, but all have failed. Paul is confident he is going to be the one to solve it.

In spite of all this effort, Paul must still teach his math classes at the university. He has a class this semester in advanced calculus, and has six undergraduate students: 4 boys and 2 girls. The two girls are Katy and Harper. Katy is sweet and funny; a nice girl who will make an “A” without trying, but that’s about it. Harper is blonde, sexy, flirtatious but also a genius. Paul finds himself becoming smitten with Harper. He’s begun to obsess about the potential for spending time with her, and having a romantic attachment. He’s beginning to lose his grip on reality, and this latest obsession is one that very well could get him fired.

Paul is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The hallucinations and voices are getting worse. He goes to see his doctor, who recommends he see a psychiatrist affiliated with the UM Medical center. When he describes his symptoms to the doctor, and shares his family history filled with tales of alcoholism, drug abuse and murder and suicide, the psych tells Paul he is likely in the beginning stages of schizophrenia. A whole section on what it is, where the name came from, symptoms and treatments. Paul accepts treatment for a while, but it affects his work on the Riemann hypothesis, so he stops. He ends up in a full blown psychotic episode while driving his car. He runs into a tree, and is transported to the hospital with a head injury, a broken femur, and a broken ankle. He must endure months of treatment.

When he gets out, he finds that despite having tenure, he’s been fired from the university – the issue with Harper is what did him in. Just before driving his car, he went to the house she shares with Katy and two others – both guys – and tries to convince her that he’s in love with her and they must be together. While he’s recovering the university investigates what is called sexual harassment of the student, and Paul is let go. He returns to his little house on Merrick Way, after months of recuperative therapy done alone with no help. Paul is a bitter, angry and very sick man.

He retreats into something of a dream world. He has more than enough resources to sustain him, having inherited money from his parents’ estate when they died in a murder/suicide, and has saved nearly his entire salary for the past six years. He decides to take a break from the Riemann hypothesis. His psych recommends he read fiction to relax and give his brain a rest. He promises to take his medication, and to behave himself.

Paul picks up the latest fiction, but finds the plots boring and mundane. He tries Visions by Michio Kaku, but found it too basic. He found books about the history and cuisine of Cuba interesting, , but again finds his mind wandering, unable to concentrate on them. Finally, in the library one afternoon, he asks the librarian for help. He says he wants something that will challenge his mind, broad-based and literate, but also with some adventure in the story. The librarian suggests Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.

Paul takes the book home and begins to read. At first, he struggles with the words, having to look up the references to the Bible and Shakespeare. Since mathematics has dominated his life, he’d had little time for the humanities. But as he got further into the story, he found himself becoming obsessed by it. He forgets to take his medication, stops eating and sleeping. He begins to read the story out loud, and to see the characters moving about his little house. He can hear the tapping of Ahab’s ivory leg on the porcelain tile in his living room. He begins to believe that the answer to the Riemann hypothesis is in the story, Moby Dick. He begins to take it apart, and to analyze it. That’s when he meets Ishmael.

The next section will be about conversations between Paul and Ishmael. It starts inocuously enough, about life on the ship and what it’s like to be away at sea for four years. Ishmael and he form a relationship. Eventually, Ishmael tells him that he’s really a time traveler from Essex. He explains to paul that an advance party of explorers from earth in the year (date earlier than the final colonists) came to Essex. Their rocket became disabled, and all the explorers died. The Essexians searched the ship, and found a copy of Moby Dick. For six generations after that, everyone on Essex was named for a character on Moby Dick. Since Essexians reproduce by cloning, they’re all male. Include a whole section of the foibles of a planet full of men. That will be the comic relief in the story.
Ishmael asks Paul about his work, and Paul explains the Riemann function. Ishmael explains how to solve the problem, and it seems so simple that he writes it in his notebook.

Ishmael tells Paul about the 24 hour reading of Moby Dick at New Bedford in January. Paul, Cecilia and Ishmael journey to New Bedford to listen to the readings. Paul goes there, seeking the final answer to the Riemann hypothesis. He picks up on the section language from Queequeg’s coffin chapter, Chapter 110, talking about Queequeg’s tatoos being the answer, translating the characters into the Greek symbols in the Riemann hypothesis. At that point, he demands to know what time it is – it’s 8 am. He believes that’s the final figure to answering the hypothesis, and he writes it up. It is his Eureka moment, but gets him, Cecilia and Ishmael thrown out of the reading.

The next day, he takes it to the math department to show them his work. What is in the notebook are drawings of whaling ships, pieces of the dialogue from the book, and images of the tatoos that Queequeg carries. The head of the department contacts Paul’s psychiatrist. The police come, and Paul is Baker-acted to Mercy Hospital.

The psychiatrist has heard about some new work on schizophrenia being done at New York Presbyterian. He knows Paul is independently wealthy, so he suggests he check himself into the psych ward at NYP. Paul resists at first, but then agrees to go there. He is checked in, and has a new psychiatrist, who tells him ‘just call me Dr. V’. Paul begins a new therapeutic regimen of drugs at NYP. He begins to improve immediately, so he’s allowed to roam around the hospital a bit. That’s when he meets Cecilia. He finds it strange and interesting that he and Cecilia endured the same injuries and work at the same university, yet they’d never crossed paths before.

They begin to have breakfast and lunch together at the hospital. Cecilia is alone now. Even Emily has stopped speaking to her. Feng and his daughter returned to China. She had to return to NYP because she was having issues that looked like schizophrenia. She killed Rubio, and threatened to kill her mother. She and Paul are being given the same medication. They form a close bond.

Paul explains to Cecilia about his work on the Riemann hypothesis, and how he thought he’d been given the answer by one of the characters in the book. Cecilia tells Paul about the game, and about time traveling to talk with Einstein and fool the hackers. She laughed when she confessed that what was on Einstein’s board was the answer to a question about baseball. But then she warned him that this hacker is really dangerous, him being the one that blew up the United Nations building, causing her injuries that led to her initial stay at NYP. When she mentions his name – Ishmael – It becomes clear that each of them are talking about the same individual. Paul explains to Cecilia that Ishmael is a time traveler, and all about why he came for revenge for the annihilation of the citizens of Essex. Cecilia tells Paul that she was afraid he’d survived the blast, and now knows that he’s going to return to finish what he started. Paul assures her that Ishmael is a gentle, sweet guy who wouldn’t hurt anyone – i.e. describes the character in the book. Paul is convinced that it was all an hallucination on Cecilia’s part, particularly when he she tells him about the adventure in Cuba, Emily, the missile crisis and all the adventures from Matryoshka. Paul tells her now that she’s on this new medication, she will be able to understand that it was all in her mind – none of it was real.

As evidence of this, Paul volunteers to take Cecilia to the UN building on ____ street to show her that the same building is still there. They take a cab to the building, which just as he said, is still there, intact with activities going on as normal. Cecilia begins to become agitated, and starts to have a psychotic episode in the lobby of the building. Paul tries to explain to the guard that she is with him and he’ll take her home, but the police are called. The two of them end up at Bellevue hospital, Baker acted and put in an indigent ward, since neither brought any identification with them. Paul tries to explain to the tired, overworked lady shrink at Bellevue how this is all a mistake – that he’s fine, that the issue is with Cecilia. The shrink looks at her notes, and says Paul was brought there alone – nobody named Cecilia was with him. Paul ascribes this to bureaucratic bungling on the part of Bellevue. Paul becomes angry, and tries to explain about Cecilia to the shrink, who just gives Paul some thorazine pills. He falls asleep and sleeps for 18 hours straight.

Finally, his psychiatrist from NYP comes to pick up Paul. Paul goes to the women’s ward, to find Cecilia and take her back to NYP. He finds her in the corner of her room, in the fetal position and catatonic. He picks her up and tells the attendant he’s taking her with him to the care of his doctor from NYP. The attendant nods, and Paul puts Cecilia in the cab with the shrink. Cecilia doesn’t say a word on the way back to NYP, so only paul and Dr. V have a conversation. They get back to NYP, and Paul gets ready to return to his room. He goes to lift Cecilia from the corner of the cab where she’s been curled up. Dr. V asks Paul what he’s doing – Paul says obviously he must carry Cecilia, as there is no way she’s going to be able to walk into the hospital. Dr. V tells Paul he’s having an hallucination – there is no one in his arms. Paul protests, but Javier, of course she exists – she does! She does!

Paul and Javier return to Javier’s office to have a conversation. They review each previous character, and identify each as real or an hallucination. When they are done, Paul makes a speech about what it’s like to be a schizoid. He returns to his room after dinner. Ishmael comes to him and says they should return to Pequod, and take Cecilia with them. She knows how to undo the damage done by the CFCs. They go to the roof of the hospital, and there’s the Essex. They take off for Pequod.

The cop the next morning at the scene where the guy jumped off the roof of New York Presbyterian hospital. He and his partner talk about this seeming to be everyone in New York’s favorite way to go. Include the famous b&w photo of the woman on the car. The victim, smashed on the car 10 stories below the roof, is clutching a notebook in his arms when he fell. The notebook goes to Emily, his daughter. She is his heir. She collects all his notebooks and see the stories Matryoshka and China Tea. She will have them posthumously published. They will be very successful, with the film rights purchased by Christopher Nolan. He makes the two stories, plus the story of Paul Fitzgerald, into a film, called The Matryoshka Series. When Chris collects his Oscar as best director that year, he dedicates it to Paul Fitzgerald, having died in search of his great white whale. But is he really dead? The ending to include a last quote from Ishmael, from the epilogue of MD: “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” Call me Ishmael.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *