The words were painted on the sky; a dream implanted in wafts of dark mingled light. To read them was to strain; to read them was to train your eyes from horizon to horizon until the jumbles of curves resolved themselves into words like fireworks for your brain. It took a mad man to let loose these hounds of war, but in an instant, an indomitable instance of thought, each person with access to the sky that day took them in and housed them for a while.

The mad man realized, just as I do now, that information will go where it can. Controlling information is like controlling thoughts, electricity, or weather; it can be done, but it requires dams, cages, and the combined work of many men.

I first met the mad man one evening during a lecture. The lecture wasn’t his, and the lecturer was quite steamed when the mad man took the floor from him, but it became his. Just as he would later fill the sky, his voice and mannerisms filled the floor. He had a glass of bourbon and coke in his hand, which alone was daring in this university setting, and with each mighty blast, each wall filling word, he would gesture and move. The patterns of his movements were sinuous and stuttered, graceful and yet hiccupped. The bourbon was a storm in its own turmoil, as each movement added to the complexity of the torpid swells inside.

Of all in attendance, I think that I alone was transfixed. Although, the others in the audience may as well have been deaf, or gone, because it felt like the only people in that auditorium that day were me and him, and he was talking directly to me. He had so much energy and charisma that he simply commanded the whole room.

He introduced himself that day as Captain Thaddeus McRaven. He wore a tri-corner hat that looked like he had stolen it from General Washington himself. He spoke with a poorly pieced together accent which seemed an odd amalgam of British lilt, Caribbean zest, and Scottish brogue. When he got excited it closed upon a Southern drawl that felt a bit more real. The accent was a prop, I suppose, constructed by a man with little actual knowledge of the dialects he was borrowing, and yet somehow, without being a piratical accent, seemed almost the prototype of one.

When he finished speaking I filled each silence I found with some question or chosen inspiration. With each, McRaven would nod his head, acting like it was the first time he heard such a thing and smiling. Of course, I would learn later it was very much an act and nothing I said really startled him that night, but for that night it was magic. I felt so large and almost important to even be heard, much less talked to like a peer, by the Captain.

At the end of the session, he caught me on my way out. He handed me a card replete with a resplendent skull and crossbones in what appeared to be gold fill. The card shimmered in the day’s light and my eyes were drawn to it. “You should be able to figure it out,” was all McRaven said to me before as quickly parting as he had abruptly shown up.