The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 32


Part IV

Chapter 32


Lloyd Callahan wasn’t quite frantic, yet, but it had been five months since he’d last seen his son, and that had been just after the premiere of Imogen’s concerto.

Harry had changed. Sara’s murder had done something he’d never expected would happen to his boy: Harry appeared to have simply given up. Like a party balloon that had slowly deflated, by the time Harry and the team made it back to Israel – after the brief stop in Davos – his son looked like a different human being.

He’d stopped eating and his eyes seemed to have sunken deep within their sockets, and around his eyes Lloyd had noted splotchy dark circles. When offered food Harry pushed it away, though from time to time he drank coffee…black coffee.

Then he’d done something Lloyd never expected: Harry had gone out to his mother’s crypt. He’d been followed, of course, but even his followers had little to report. Harry had reportedly sat in some modest shade and had talked – quietly – for an hour or so…to at least two people who remained invisible. When Colonel Goodman relayed that information, Lloyd felt sick to his stomach. 

Was Harry coming undone? Would the affliction that had plagued Imogen all her life now come for their son? Would Harry fall under the dark spell of that voice?

That Goodman girl wouldn’t let him to see his son, and he’d immediately resented her for that unwarranted bit of sanctimoniousness. And though he’d sat next to his boy at the premiere, Harry had sat there quietly, almost stoically, through the entire performance, the only emotion on display coming as the final crescendo approached. Lloyd had seen his son’s hands grip the armrests, could feel the tension rise in his boy’s quivering arms and legs, but then there had come un unexpected release, like the explosion Harry had been expecting didn’t come. And at first Harry had seemed confused, then relieved when the expected calamity didn’t materialize…

But then…nothing.

Harry had returned to the compound and disappeared into his room – what had once been his mother’s and Avi’s room – and the next morning he was gone.

And now, after one round trip to Hong Kong just completed, Lloyd was home for a scheduled rest-leave and not due to captain another sailing until early December. With almost a month on his hands, he had wanted to tackle some long overdue home maintenance – but had halfway been expecting his boy to come around to lend him a hand.

He was sitting on the covered front porch sipping his favorite Good Earth tea, watching homes come alive as his neighbors got home from work. Dogs were leashed and taken for walks, backyard grills lit-off and grilling burgers filled the air with their own uniquely familiar aroma, and, yes, he could hear a loud argument over mismanaged money already underway just across the street.

Life on the street was as boringly predictable now as it had been almost forty years ago, but even so he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about Harry’s girlfriend, June. He looked to the right, looked where their old house had been before some yuppies came in and built a multi-unit condo. In another world, another life, maybe she would be sitting out here with him, both of them waiting for Harry to get in from work. Or better still, Lloyd Callahan thought, Imogen would be in the kitchen…making dinner for the four of them.

Nothing had turned out the way he’d expected, he thought. Or wanted.

And now…all this bullshit with vigilantes and Columbian drug-lords, the police department in tatters and his son’s career up in the air.

It felt like the entire world was coming undone.

The Iranians taking the embassy almost four hundred days ago, all those people still hostages, Ronald Reagan looking like he might actually run that that peanut farmer out of the White House. The commies in Cuba lending a hand in Nicaragua, exporting their revolution to Central America, while the U.S. still seemed to be lost inside some kind of narcissistic coma after the Fall of Saigon.

Yeah…what had happened?

It wasn’t all that long ago, he thought as he sipped his tea, that Kennedy had challenged the nation to land men on the moon. And these crazy Americans had pulled it off, too. They’d fought a war in Southeast Asia and done it all at the same time, hadn’t they?

Then Oswald and the Grassy Knoll became a part of the lexicon, just before John, Paul, George and Ringo came along and She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah was all the rage.

Was that all a happenstance, he wondered? Could we have had the Beatles without Kennedy falling by the wayside? Would they have made sense to us without all that despair? Could everything that happened after – the free-speech thing over in Berkeley, all those wild groups up at the Fillmore giving birth to the next ‘real’ counter-culture – have happened without Kennedy’s murder? And all the murders that followed?

He looked down into his tea, swirled the cup and looked at the scattering leaves, wondering what might come next…

“Hey Dad.”

He looked up, saw what looked like just another long-haired freak standing on the steps to his house, but no…there was something in the eyes…


“Yeah Dad, it’s me.”

He stood, almost stumbled to the floor but his son caught him; they stood staring at one another for a moment…then Lloyd Callahan grabbed his son and pulled him close, wrapped his arms around this cool echo of himself and held on tight.


They walked down to the waterfront, down to their favorite clam-shack for a basket and a schooner of beer, and Harry talked to his father about where he’d been, and a few of the things he’d done. About the girl in New Orleans and a friend of his from ‘Nam out in West Texas. About his bus ride from there up through New Mexico, where things had gotten dicey…

“Dicey? What do you mean by dicey…?”

“Oh, the bus stopped in the town out in the middle of nowhere, Farmington…something like that. Time enough to go into this little diner for a burger. Some redneck started to beat up on his girl and she was like nine months pregnant. She went down hard and, well, so I intervened…”

“Which means what? You beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of the guy?”

“Something like that, yeah.”


“He was the mayor’s kid.”

“Hoo-boy. Have your badge with you?”

“No. I called Didi from their little jail.”

“Jail? No shit?”

“No charges filed. Turns out the kid’s father went and beat him up even worse.”

“What did Didi do?”

“Shit, I don’t know. About a half hour later they let me out and the mayor put me up in a hotel.”

“What happened to the girl?”

“Baby boy, healthy.”

“Uh-huh. What are you not telling me?”

“She wanted out. Out of that town, out of that relationship…”

“So you made that happen too, right?”


“What? Did you buy her a house?”

“Something like that?”

Lloyd shook his head. “Harry, man, I don’t know what’s eating you, but I’m not sure buying-up other people’s troubles and making them disappear is going to make all yours go away…”

“Yeah? Maybe not, but let me tell you something, Dad. If you’ve ever looked into someone’s eyes and seen despair, and I mean real despair, and you had the capability to snap your fingers and make it all go away, are you telling me you wouldn’t? Because the look in peoples eyes when you do that is something you wouldn’t believe…”

“I don’t know, son. Is it really your place?”

“Who’s place is it, Dad? I mean, really, and I hate to get all holy-roller on you, but didn’t someone say we should strive to be our brother’s keeper? Ya know, like once upon a time? To treat others as you’d treat yourself?”

“I know, but…”

“There aren’t any buts about it, Dad. No man is an island, right? We either look after one another or we don’t. Only thing I can tell, really, is that helping people when they’re down makes a difference. It changes things. Like a domino falling, maybe. You never know what the end results might be, but that doesn’t matter. If you see someone down on their luck and simply ignore them, think of it as a missed chance, or a missed opportunity to change the flow of all our falling dominoes.”

“Okay. So that’s what you’ve been up to?”

“I wasn’t up to anything, Dad, at least not anything I can make sense of yet, but all of a sudden I felt like I was drowning in history. My history. June, An Linh, then Stacy and Sara, all of it. I kept falling – back – into that stuff and as I was listening to mother’s composition I heard something different. Like a voice within the music telling me that it was time to, well, fall…forward? Does that make any sense?”

“Fall forward? I don’t know. Not really…”

“I know. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it was there, in the music. As clear as any voice I’ve ever heard. Stop looking to the past. Move on to the future. And moving on, to me, meant finding a way to change the course of some of those falling dominoes.”

“Son? Don’t all dominoes, sooner or later, end up falling?” 

“Maybe so, Dad. But there’s something else going on here too, something I really don’t understand. And I’ve kept thinking about it, too… Take that girl in New Orleans. What drew her to me? Why did she follow me? Why didn’t I push her away, let her domino fall. Now, suppose she actually does become a physician, and suppose she ends up saving a bunch of lives? I mean, think about it, Dad. Is it all simple coincidence, or is their something else at work here…?”

“I don’t know, Harry. You’d have to go to seminary to find answers to questions like that…”

“Seminary? Oh no, Dad…you’re not going to put all this on God, are you?”

“What else?”

“Seems unfair. Everything we don’t understand gets dumped on Him. Kind of lazy.”


“Yeah, Dad. Like we really don’t take the time to look at things like this. The things that are hard to explain. We don’t even take the time to acknowledge them, let alone the why of it all.”

Lloyd looked at his son then shook his head. “You seem…different. What are you going to do now?”

“Get back to work.”

“At the department? Really?”

“Yeah, sure…why not? Got eight more years, ya know, ‘til I can draw retirement…”

They both laughed at the absurdity of that idea.

“What about you, Dad? What are you up to?”

“I’ve got four weeks off. Gonna get new shingles on the roof and paint on the gables.”

“Want some help?”

“I don’t know. You up to it?”

“Hey, Dad. I just put up three miles of barbed-wire fence in Alpine Texas. You got no idea what that means…”

“Fence is fence, Harry. What was so…”

“Rattlesnakes. I’ve never seen so many fucking snakes in my life…”

“I hate snakes,” Lloyd whispered.

“Who doesn’t?”

“Did you kill any?”

Harry looked away, and Lloyd could feel the change that came over his son in that seismic moment. 

“Only one more snake to kill, Dad.”

Lloyd nodded even as a chill ran down his spine. “So, you’re gonna go through with it?”

“She killed my wife, Dad. She made it personal.”

“Did you ever stop to think…”

“It doesn’t matter what she thought, Dad. She did what she did. Her choice. Now I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

Lloyd looked at his son and could only shake his head. “You know, Stacy was a little girl too, once upon a time. Maybe she just made a mistake, Harry. Maybe there was nobody around to keep her domino from falling.”

“Yeah. Ain’t life a bitch.”


“I’m glad the pitch is what it is!” Harry called down to his father. “Not sure I could handle it if this was any steeper.”

“We’re makin’ good progress, son. At this rate, we may finish by sundown.”

“What do you make it? Two more squares?”

“‘Bout that. Maybe a tad more.”



“Why red?”


“Why red shingles. Don’t you think that’s carrying the whole red thing a little too far?”

“They’re not red, Harry. The color is called Redwood Breeze.”

“Looks fuckin’ red to me, Dad.”

“I just couldn’t see doing gray again. She needs something new.”


“This old house. She’s carried us through some times, ya know?”

“Reckon so.”

“Besides, after I’m gone you can change the color to whatever you want.”

“Dad? Would you stop with the ‘after I’m gone’ bullshit? It’s creepy.”


“Yeah, creepy.”

“I haven’t heard that one since you and Junie watched those horror movies…”

“Horror movies?”

“Oh, you know, like that Beast from 20,000 Fathoms thing. Crap like that.”

“That wasn’t crap, Dad. That was Art.”

“You say so.”

“Gonna need some more nails up here soon.”

“I’ll go get some. Why don’t you knock off for a minute? Go get us a couple of Cokes?”

“Will do.” Harry put his roofing hammer down and walked over to the ladder, then made his way down to the yard. Everything about this old place still felt like home, like a pair of old shoes…comfortable old shoes. He took a deep breath and turned to face the sun, held his arms out to soak up all the sun’s warmth, then he looked away, shook his head and went inside to the kitchen. 

It was the same refrigerator that had been in the same spot from when he was a spud, the same faucet at the sink, too…everything was the same, like his dad was afraid to change anything, afraid he might lose all his associations that had formed between Imogen and the things in this space.

He pulled a couple of glasses down and filled them with ice cubes, and he heard his dad sitting on the front porch as he poured the drinks. 

“Want anything to eat?” he called out.

“No, I’m good.”

He carried the drinks out, sat down beside his father as he passed over a glass.

“Feels good to do this together again, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah. It almost feels like we’re connected to the earth through this place. When I think of home, this is it. I really used to like it when we put up the tree, had all those Christmas decorations and lights up.”

Lloyd nodded. “Took me a while to get used to all that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I grew up in Scotland, son. Christmastime in the 1930s wasn’t exactly like California in the 50s. If I got a new sweater for Christmas that represented a real financial burden for my parents. Things got different after the war, after the depression ended.”

Harry shook his head. “Hard to imagine.”

“People have gotten used to this life. Not sure they could go back to the way it was.”

“Maybe we won’t have to.”

“Things change, son. And if it’s predictable, it ain’t change. Remember that, okay?”



“It’s okay. We’re gonna be alright.”

Lloyd took a deep breath, held it a second then let the air slip away. “Yeah, I hear you.”

“What did you think of Mom’s concerto?”

“Over my head. A couple of parts seemed unfinished, the ending most of all.”

“Yeah, I felt that too.”

“It felt like, to me, that the last few minutes of the thing were written by somebody else.”

“Yeah. Like somebody was trying to hide something,” Harry added.

Lloyd nodded. “Yeah. I was just going to say that.”

They both sat there for a moment, then Lloyd spoke again. “You think she was trying to tell us something?”

The thought hit Harry, and he leaned forward, took a sip of Coke from his glass. “Not sure, Dad. I thought it was more like that conductor had, maybe, changed something.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Again, I’m not sure, Dad, but something felt wrong.”

“Anyway you could check?”

“Well, I’d have to compare her original composition against what’s published, but the only person who was there was that Karajan fella, so he’s the only one who truly knows what she meant to say.”

“Who has the original?”

“I’m not sure. Technically, it belongs to me.”

“Who can you call to find out?”


“Does that girl know everything?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“She’s cute, don’t you think?”

“I don’t want to think about her like that. I can’t. She’s holding things together for me right now.”

“Well, if you can ever get your head out of your butt take a good look at her. She’s cute as hell, son.”

“Why don’t you go after her, Dad?”

“No way. That goddamn psychiatrist squeezed the bejesus out of my nuts. I’m done with all that for a while.”

“What? No more Caverject?”

“Well now, I didn’t exactly say that…”

“Man, I don’t know how you do it…”

“Do what?”

“Give yourself a shot, in the willie…”

“You think about something else. Notably, about how good it’s gonna feel to pop your nut…”

“The doc? How was she?”

“Kinky as shit.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah. They do things differently in Switzerland.”

“Really? Not just tab A into slot B?”

“No way. She was a fuckin’ trip, son. Leather, whips, chains…”

“Whoa, Dad! Too much information!”

Both of them laughed, nervously, like fathers and sons often do.

“Anyway, I couldn’t handle her kind of medicine.”

“Jeez. I had no idea.”

“You know who’s weird? That Frank Bullitt character.”

“Frank? Really? How do you mean?”

“The whole time back at the compound, that woman never let up on him. Screaming at him all the time, and he just takes it.”

“He loves her, Dad.”

“Yeah? I’d sure like to know why, because I couldn’t live with anyone who went after me the way that woman went after him.”

“I must’ve missed something…”

“She was hitting on him, Harry, biting, you name it…”

“Maybe it’s menopause?”

“Yeah? Maybe. Anyway, I doubt those two will last much longer.”

“Too bad. I’ve always liked Cathy – kind of classy, ya know. Too bad.”

“Well, maybe they’ll get it together,” Lloyd added.

“You get those roofing nails?”

“Yeah, I put ‘em down by the ladder.”

“Oh well,” Harry moaned, “we better get back at it. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

“You gettin’ tired?”

“No. You?”

“I got a little bit left in me.”

“Well, let me buy the clams tonight, old man.”

“You ain’t exactly a spring chicken, ya know?”

Harry finished up the shingles, even running the ridge-line, then he went down and helped his dad get paintbrushes into thinner. After a quick shower, they met out front and were about to walk down to the waterfront when an old green Ford Mustang pulled up out front. Frank Bullitt jumped out of the car and ambled over.

“Lloyd,” Bullitt began, “good to see you again.”

“You too.”

“Harry? Long time no see. You get it all figured out?”

“Think so. What brings you out here?”

“Just thought I’d drop by. Y’all headed out?”

“Just down to the clam-shack. Wanna join us?”

“Sounds great. Wanna drive down?”

“Nah,” Lloyd said. “I need to work the kinks out. Legs’ll cramp up if I don’t.”

Bullitt nodded as they began the short walk down to the waterfront. “So, Harry. Where-ya been?”

“All over. New Orleans, Texas, New Mexico. Just looking around.”

“Oh? So…What are you going to do now?”

“What’s going on at the department?”

“Same ole same ole, but it doesn’t feel the same with Sam gone.”

“Nothin’ feels the same, Frank.”

“I know,” Bullitt sighed. “Anyway, Dell made lieutenant, so I just lost him.”

“When’s the next captains’ test?”

“December,” Bullitt replied, matter-of-factly.

“You going for it?”

“Yeah. Sam thinks I should.”

“I do too. It’s time. The division needs someone like you.”

“We could use you too, Harry.”

Callahan looked down, then nodded. “I kind of figured I’d put in my time, put in my twenty, anyway.”

Frank looked at Lloyd. “What are you going to do, sir?”

“I was eligible for retirement last year, Frank. I’m just not sure I’m ready to retire to my back yard yet.”

“Uh, Dad…we don’t have a back yard.”

“Goddammit, Harry, you know what I mean.”

Frank shook his head. “So, you going to keep at it a few more years?”

“Ya know, I’ve been wanting to go back to Scotland, visit relatives while I can still get around easily…”

“You’ve never mentioned that before, Dad…”

“And I’ve never told you I have hemorrhoids, either. So what?”

“I’d like to go with you, that’s all. That’s a part of me I know nothing about.”

“Are your folks still alive, Lloyd?” Frank asked.

“Goodness, no. They both passed during the war. I’ve got a sister in Glascow, though. I’d love to see her again.”

“I have an aunt? And I know nothing about her?”

“Aye, that you do, laddie,” Lloyd said…only now speaking in a thick brogue. “You’ll no doubt be awantin’ to meet her too, I reckon.”

“So, when are we goin’, Dad?”

“Well, she wants to come visit here. That may happen first.”


“Anyway, I’m shipping out in a month. I’ll be gone through the new year, but we can talk about it when I get back.”

They arrived at the clam-shack and grabbed a table out on the wood deck overlooking the water; the tide was out and the briny shore was strong-smelling after a few hours in the sun. The last of the afternoon sun was slanting through houses and trees across the street, and a waitress clicked on patio heaters as the deck fell into shadow.

“Almost too cold for a beer,” Lloyd said.

“Never thought I’d hear you say that, Dad,” Harry said as their waitress walked up to the table.

“What’ll it be tonight, fellas?”

“I’m starting with an Irish coffee, Stella. The boys will be taking a pitcher of Anchor Steam, if I’m not mistaken. Then let’s have some fried clams. Any scallops tonight?”

“Yup, and fresh, too.”

“I’ll have a plate of broiled scallops then, Stella.”

“Me too,” Bullitt said.

“Better make it three,” Harry added.

“Slaw and fries?”

“Yup,” Lloyd said, just as Stella dropped her pencil. He bent to pick it up just before she did, and the sniper’s round slammed into her left shoulder before the sound hit the patio, spraying Frank and Harry with blood and bits of flying bone fragments. Everyone on the patio dove for cover…

…Everyone but Bullitt…

…who sprinted from the deck, his 45 drawn…

“You carrying, son?” Lloyd asked as he cradled Stella in his arms.

“Nope. I’ll get an ambulance headed this way…”

“You do that, boy,” Lloyd whispered, then he turned his attention to the wounded girl. “You hang on now, you hear? Help’s on the way, so you just hang on…”

He looked into her eyes, saw the stark terror lurking in her eyes, then came the fast, ragged breaths, the bloody foam from her mouth and nose…

“It’s alright now, lassie,” he whispered as he took the girl’s hands  in his own. “That warmth you’re feelin’? That’s God’s open arms cradlin’ you, cradlin’ you in his love. There’s nothin’ to be afraid of now, lassie. You’re going home now…”

She squeezed his hands once, tried to speak one more time – then she was gone.

Lloyd Callahan held her until the paramedics arrived, and when Harry found his father he was still sitting on the patio deck, his face awash in tears, his bloody hands shaking uncontrollably…

Frank had a patrolman drive them up to the house, and the two of them wrestled Lloyd into a hot shower before they got him into bed. Harry poured his old man a Scotch and made him drink a few sips, then he went out to the front porch.

Frank was waiting for him.

“Witnesses say it was a black Sedan de Ville, only plate information is the last three: 274.”

“It’s Threlkis,” Harry snarled.

“This isn’t over yet, Harry. Not by a long shot.”

“You got my paperwork ready?”


“Okay, I’ll be in first thing in the morning.”

“Could I make a suggestion?”


“Get your dad outta here. Ireland might be far enough away, but I doubt it.”

Harry nodded, and after Bullitt left he went inside and called Didi…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[and a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (a little virus, not to mention a certain situation in Washington, D.C. springing first to mind…) so waiting to mention sources might not be the best way to proceed. To begin, the primary source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson. The Samantha Walker character derives from the Patricia Clarkson portrayal of the television reporter found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw.  I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as a few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: no one mentioned in this tale should be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred, though I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…]

the silent wake, part 4

Time for tea? Or maybe a shot of tequila?

[Three Dog Night \\ Out in the Country]

Part 4

But they just stood there staring at one another, wondering who would be the first to break the silence. 

Charles had never really accepted his father, not since their unforced reunion two years before. And then, after his father financially bailed out Forbes and kept him from losing his house, he’d felt a lingering unease between himself and the old architect – his father, and those unsettled feelings had remained an account that he’d never bothered to reconcile. His mother had rarely talked about Sumner, his father, and when she had her comments had been constricted, almost remote generalizations, too abstract for the boy to glean any useful information about the man he’d never met. She’d never put him down, yet neither had she built him up; Tracy had been content to let Sumner’s memory wither away into nothingness – and that vacuum turned out to be fertile ground for the seeds of another fatherless teenager’s distrust.

Or, at least she had been content until she grew sick, for she must’ve known her brother wouldn’t succeed as a parent, and that sooner or later Forbes would have to come to Sumner for help. In the end, she never relented, she never talked to her children about their father, yet at least she’d given her brother Forbes the tools he’d need to make contact with Sumner.

Yet because Tracy had never paved the way for a reunion of any kind, this was, perhaps, her final abdication of responsibility to her children. She in effect left everything about their father to chance, in effect hoping that Sumner would accept them as his children, yet she never let on her hope that Sumner might take them in.

And it was here, in her final abdication, that lack of trust defined their future. To Charles, it was as if she had she been saying that Sumner was categorically untrustworthy. Or, he wondered now as he stared at the man on the boat, had she been tacitly admitting that she’d been wrong about Sumner all along, that she’d never even given him a chance to prove himself as a father, and that as her death approached she regretted her choice? 

Yet even now Charles remained locked inside his mother’s abdication, suffocating under the weight of so many unknowns, yet among them swirling about the moment was that this was an unexpected chance at reconciliation. And Sumner recognized it as such when he saw his boy standing down there on the dock with his arms full of duffel bags, so he jumped down to the dock to help shoulder the load.

“Well, this is an unexpected pleasure,” Sumner said to his son as he plucked a duffel strap from the boy’s shoulder. “I had no idea you were coming out for a visit.”

“A friend of yours,” Charles said, “that writer, he called and insisted that I come.”

“Really? Did he tell you why?”

“No. He said you’d tell me when I got here.”

Sumner nodded, but he said nothing else about the matter. “Well, let’s get your things stowed…but Elizabeth? Won’t you introduce me to your friend?”

“Sure, Pops. Dad, this is Deni Elliot, she’s a third year. Deni, this is, well, Dad!”

He held out his hand. “Deni? Do call me Charles, if you please. But goodness me, won’t someone tell me what a third year is?”

Deni Elliot stepped forward and took Sumner’s hand. “Nice to meet you, and I have to say I’ve been a fan of your work for years. And I just finished my third year of medical school at Davis. I met your daughter in a biochem seminar a few months ago and when I learned she was a sailor, well, we’ve been sailing whenever we could ever since.”

“Really? Excellent. I was thinking of taking a quick trip down to Monterey the day after tomorrow, so I hope that will work out for you.”

After their duffels were hauled down below and the sleeping arrangements sorted out, the four walked the Fisherman’s Wharf district for what felt like hours, but before heading back to the boat for the evening they stopped off and bought crab and scallops and mountains of fresh shrimp. Once back aboard, Liz and Deni took the forward cabin, leaving Charles to manage in the aft cabin with his father. Sumner was in the galley and had just started rearranging the fridge when his iPhone chirped; when he saw it was Patrick he took the call.


“It’s happening!” Patrick screamed. “Right now!”

And then the line went dead. Gripped by a sudden overwhelming panic, he slammed the galley fridge shut and went to the breaker board and began throwing switches, then he went to the aft cabin.

“Charles, come with me please,” Sumner said before he scrambled up the companionway. When they were both in the cockpit he turned to the boy and tried to remain calm: “There’s been a large earthquake up north and a large tsunami is headed our way. As soon as I tell you, cast off that line, the one forward on the right side.”

“So, it’s happening?” his son asked.

“Ah, so Patrick told you?”

And when his son nodded they both just smiled. Grey always thought of everything, didn’t he?

But when he started the diesel both Liz and Deni came darting up the companionway.

“What’s up, Dad?”

“I’m afraid it’s time to leave. Deni? Would you stand by the aft dock lines? Hold her stern in until I tell you, please.” Once the engine was idling smoothly he toggled the bow thruster’s joystick and confirmed operation then he flipped on the spreader lights. “Charles? Cast off your lines and make sure all lines up there are safely aboard. Liz? Cast off the spring lines now, would you?” He toggled the thruster again and used prop-walk to push away from the dock, then he looked at Deni. “Okay, lines in now please, Deni,” he said gently.

“Dad,” Liz repeated, “what’s going on?”

“There’s just been a large earthquake off Vancouver Island…”

Then he was cut off by an intense, deep rumbling that seemed to be coming from every direction all at once, and he threw the wheel hard to port and continued to use the thruster to push the bow around, but over the next few seconds the air filled with acrid dust, then the overpowering odor of ruptured gas lines fell over the wharf area. Once clear of the encircling breakwater, Sumner turned for the Golden Gate and ran the throttle up to 2300RPM, then he powered up the radar and sonar – just as a colossal screeching metal-on-metal sound began grinding away the silence; everyone turned and watched as skyscrapers trembled and then leaned drunkenly, and then a slender tower slammed into another and this was, Sumner knew, going to start a chain reaction – like dominoes falling one into the next and the next. Fires blossomed and then everyone looked up and saw that airliners were turning away from Oakland and San Francisco International, heading away from the heaving earth and the spreading fires. They left the marina breakwater to port and turned towards Alcatraz as explosions filled the air with more and more smoke.

“Dad! Look!” Liz screamed, pointing at the Golden Gate Bridge, and he turned to look at their escape route in time to see the north tower rise up out of the sea, just as the south tower fell away in a cloudy, grinding crash. And then everyone watched in horror as the central span simply gave way and fell in a coiling, serpentine heap, instantly disappearing beneath a confused jumble of spreading waves.

“How far away is that?” Charles asked.

Sumner adjusted the range circles on the radar and ran a bearing line: “Just under four miles. Call it forty-five minutes to get there.”

“Get there?” Charles cried. “What’ll we do when we get there?”

“Use the sonar, pick our way through the rubble…”

“And what about survivors?” Charles cried. “What’ll we do about anyone in the water?”

Sumner just shook his head. “We’ll do what we can, son.”

And then the tsunami sirens started wailing.

Ignoring the roar of skyscrapers collapsing behind them, Sumner pulled up the tide tables on the chartplotter and noted it was slack water, a period of no tidal pull, but that the tides would soon turn and begin rushing out the constriction beyond the collapsed bridge. That, in turn, would collide with the inrushing tsunami, potentially adding to the height of the wave…

And without thinking he pushed the throttle forward a little more, increasing their speed through the water to a little over eight knots, then he looked at the tachometer and pulled the power back a little – to be on the careful side. But everyone turned again when the sounds of multiple explosions came rolling across the water, and Deni pointed at a growing wall of flames to the northeast, near Vallejo. “Fuel storage depots,” she said. “Chevron, I think.”

Then Sumner rubbed his eyes when it appeared that Sausalito had just jumped about twenty feet in the air, but then the city as quickly fell straight down – only to be replaced by the sea. Then they could see police helicopters flying over the ruins all around the little town, and for some reason, Sumner remembered he’d yet to turn on his VHF radio.

“Tsunami warning!” the computerized voice broadcasting on Weather 1 said pleasantly. “Take shelter on higher ground immediately. Tsunami warning, tsunami imminent, first wave now passing NOAA warning buoy 4-6-0-1-3 and approaching from the northwest at 3-3 knots, estimated wave height now 2-5 feet…”

Sumner looked at his depth gauge, noted that it had been holding steady at 59 feet, but now he wondered just how much all that bridge debris might foul their passage over the collapsed bridge. “Charles? In the compartment, there, under the aft deck, you’ll find a spotlight. Could I have that, please?” Once he had the light plugged in and turned on, he handed it to Charles again. His son gave a sweep ahead of the boat and already they could see dozens of bodies bobbing about on the surface. “Deni? Would you get ready to deploy the man-overboard gear? Charles? You might stand by on the swim platform in case we need to pull someone aboard?”

“What can I do, Dad?” Liz asked.

“Take the spotlight, check our way ahead. If you see anyone in distress shine the light on them and call them out, let me know.”

Soon they were passing the Presidio and the old base was swarming with helicopters loading up VIPs and carrying them somewhere up north, and now more than a few fishing boats were leaving the marinas along the north shoreline…

“Tsunami imminent,” Weather 1 repeated. “Tsunami now passing the Point Reyes Light, speed now 3-5 knots and wave height now 2-7 feet above tidal mean. Tsunami warning. Take shelter on higher ground immediately!”

“It’s coming in from the northwest,” Deni said, “and the depth holds at 60 feet until you hit the north side of the entrance channel; it drops to 29 really fast there. That wave is gonna hit the undersea ridge and my guess is it will probably get a lot taller, but it also sounds like it’s gonna hit around Point Lobos and Mile Rocks Light.”

“So the wave could lose energy?” Sumner asked.

And Elliott nodded. “Yeah. Maybe. What bothers me is what if part of the wave comes in the Golden Gate? It might start swirling around, you know, like make real big eddies as it squeezes in through the entrance.”

Sumner zoomed out and looked at the chart on his display. “I see what you mean,” he sighed. “Any suggestions? Any idea which side of the channel could get more dangerous?”

“No. None.”

He nodded, then a sonar alarm popped and he saw a large object a hundred yards ahead that appeared to be a car – only it was about ten feet beneath the surface – yet the sonar had enough resolution for him to identify the type of car it was. “Looks like a Toyota just ahead,” he said, “and I think it’s a Rav4, maybe ten feet down.”

“Can you see any movement with that thing?”

“I can see fish swimming, but nothing is moving in the car. Okay, wait one. I think I’ve got a swimmer in the water,” Sumner said as he pointed off to the right a little.

Liz swung the spotlight and Charles got ready – just in case – and then they saw a girl swimming their way, with a dog swimming by her side…

So Sumner slipped the transmission into neutral and let the speed bleed off – just as he saw a vast line appear dead ahead on the radar screen. “Tsunami is on radar now, looks like six miles out – so we have a few minutes to get the girl onboard and then get stuff secured.”

The girl in the water stopped and screamed, then she waved her hands at Sumner.

“We’re coming for you,” Charles called out. “Keep swimming our way if you can.”

But Sumner could tell the girl was exhausted so he slipped back into gear and powered towards her once again, then he cut power and swung the stern around, putting Charles in a good position to reach out for her…

…and his son leaned out as best he could and just caught her hand, then he pulled the girl aboard; Deni hopped down to the swim platform and grabbed the dog, a very frightened retriever of some sort, and when he saw both were safely onboard Sumner pointed the bow towards the area where the huge red bridge had collapsed – concentrating on the jumbled mass of wreckage he saw on sonar just beneath the water’s surface. “This is going to be close,” he muttered to himself, concentrating one moment on the wreckage in the sonar image and the next looking at the wave on radar as it approached Point Lobos.

Then, as everyone looked on, the huge, breaking wave slammed into the cliffs and bluffs above Baker Beach and Lincoln Park, much of the water rushing inwards towards Golden Gate Park, but a large wall of the crashing water came bouncing back towards the entrance to the bay, and so directly at The Silent Wake. Sumner watched the new wall take shape and rush their way, and at that point, he turned directly into the wave. “Everybody hang on…” he called out, his hands gripping the wheel.

But as he looked at the images onscreen he slammed the power to full ahead, accelerating the sailboat to hull speed…

“What are you doing?” Deni cried.

“It’s all a matter of timing now,” Sumner said. “As the wave crosses the remnants of the bridge it ought to increase the apparent depth as we cross over the wreckage, and that might be enough for us to clear all the debris,” he said, pointing at the jumbled debris field ahead and just beneath the water’s surface. “It is, however, going to be close.”

But while the tsunami was building again, it was now nowhere near as tall as it had been, and Sumner smiled as his boat climbed the wave, then gently began surfing down the backside – and so all the while the remains of the Golden Gate Bridge remained a few meters beneath the boat’s keel.

He turned and watched the tsunami roar into the bay, and he stared, aghast, as his eyes took in the mountains beyond Oakland and Berkeley. Everywhere he looked he saw forested hillsides completely ablaze, the east side of the bay now awash in a bright orange glow. The tsunami would, he knew, put out the fires ravaging Oakland and Vallejo, but he doubted anyone would survive a wave twenty feet tall moving at twenty miles per hour. When he could stand the sight no more he turned to the wheel and steered out to the hundred-foot line marked on the chart, and there he turned south towards Half Moon Bay.

There was wind enough to sail so he rolled out the genoa and then hoisted the main, and when he went back to the helm he cut the engine and silence enveloped their little cocoon. “Liz? Think you could get some hot cocoa going for our guest?”

Still, what he remembered most about that night was looking at everyone gathered around him in the cockpit, and everything had been bathed in that same nether-worldly glow. The white deck, everyone’s pale, frightened face…everything was orange, and he knew then that he was staring into the open gates of Hell, but that now a great new darkness beckoned.


The little girl’s name was Haley, and the dog, an idiotic Irish Setter with the intelligence of boiled cabbage, did not belong to her. And so of course the very first thing the hound did was come up to Sumner and sit on his lap. Then it started licking Sumner’s chin and rubbing all over his chest, apparently staking out the old man as his new best friend. Sumner, for his part, started rubbing the pup behind the ears – cementing the deal.

Haley was, on the other hand, hovering somewhere between the states of denial, shock, and despair. She had just watched her parents and little brother drown and all she really understood was that the life she had known, the only things she understood, were now all gone. Her grandparents lived in Mill Valley and they were the only other family she had; no one answered the phone when Liz tried calling the number in Mill Valley, and an hour later all the power in the region went down, and with it went cell service not a half hour later. There was no power in Half Moon Bay when they passed in the night, and when they sailed past Monterey later the next afternoon not even the Coast Guard answered on Channel 16.

But as Liz made lunch that afternoon the SatPhone on the chart table chirped and Sumner answered the call from Patrick.

“AIS appears to be down everywhere,” Patrick stated without preamble. “Did you make it out of the city without issue?”

“We’re southbound, just passing Monterey. It was terrible, Patrick, just awful. Where are you?”

“We passed Tatoosh Rock a few hours ago. Was it that bad?”

“Bad?” Sumner sighed. “Yes, you could say that. We picked up a ten-year-old girl in the water, and also a dog. C’est la vie.”

“Do you have StarLink set up and running?”

“Damn. Yes, but I haven’t been on all night. Simply forgot it was there.”

“Understood. Uh, look, it appears that cities all along the coast have taken a massive hit, the damage is exceptionally bad anywhere near the San Andreas fault, and Los Angeles was as badly damaged as the Bay Area.”

“So, what you’re saying is we should think about heading directly to the Marquesas?”

“Yes. Get that watermaker up and running and set sail for Nuku-Hiva. You should be able to replenish stores there, especially with fruits and vegetables. How far away is that on your plotter?”

“Not quite 3300 miles.”

“Okay. So, call it 20 days. Have you enough food onboard?”

“It might be tight as far as fresh food, but we’ll do okay.”

“Okay. Get that watermaker operational, and check your email more often, will you?”

“Yes, will do.”

“Take care, Charles. In case we don’t see each other again, I want you to know how much I’ve appreciated your friendship.”

“Ditto, Patrick.”

And then, just like that the line went dead again. And Sumner didn’t like the sudden note of finality in Patrick’s voice, either, but he went up to the helm and changed course – again – setting up the HydroVane and powering down the autopilot. “Okay, 202 degrees and straight on ’til morning, right Tracy?”

The little fox had kept an eye on the red-headed hound and now she jumped up on Sumner’s shoulder, then curled around his neck and promptly fell asleep. His eyes swept the far horizon – that loneliest of places where only blue meets blue – but he listened to the gurgling bow wave and to the heart beating so close to his own, and even after such a hideous night, he knew he was where he was supposed to be.

And a few minutes later Liz came up the companionway steps carrying a greek salad thick with Kalamata olives and feta and walnuts and he smiled – until he saw her staring at the animal curled up next to his own beating heart.

Her head was canted to the left a little and she squinted at the incongruity of the sight of a fox asleep around her father’s neck, so with one eyebrow arched inquisitively she faced her father: “Dad? Is that a fox?”

But he smiled as he shook his head, then he turned his face to the sky and smiled at all the unknowns waiting for them just ahead. “No, no, this is Tracy. Why don’t you come and say hello.”

© 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | fiction, every last word of it…

[The Youngbloods \\ Sunlight]

Hyperion/Agamemnon, Ch. 6

Hyperion AGA im1.1

Another short riff this time out. Maybe time for an espresso?

[Pink Floyd \\ Hey You]

Chapter 6

Ripley enlarged the image on his screen, and after all the various image processors did their thing the horseshoe-shaped starship snapped into focus. He looked it over as best he could from this distance, but when viewed from head-on the image left too many questions unanswered.

“Gordon? Do we have any comparable imagery we can check this against? Could this be the same ship we encountered at Beta Auriga 4?”

“There is a high order of probability that this is the case, Admiral, and if this is not Standing Bull speaking it is a very sophisticated reproduction.”

“Are you speculating?”

“No, Admiral. Note the residue from blast damage on this protrusion, here, on the forward right sponson. Parts of the hull appear to have been repaired, but this area is otherwise unchanged.”

Ripley nodded. “COMMs, patch me through to that ship.”

“Aye, sir. Go ahead.”

His video feed flickered, then the screen came to life: “Thomas, how are you doing?”

“Admiral? Is that you?”

“It is.”

“Pardon me, but you look very different.”

“Different? How so?”

“You look much older, sir. I mean, abnormally so.”

“Well, we’ve not seen you in almost three years, Thomas…”

“What? Sir, we left you not even three weeks ago…”

Ripley nodded. “Relativity, Thomas. You’ve been traveling faster than light. Now, what’s going on down on that planet.”

“It’s that organism, Admiral. The one from Covenant. After you left the Aurigae system, we returned to the remnants of Beta Auriga 4, and we found Company ships all over the remains of the colony ship. As soon as we appeared the Company ships left the system, and as you suspected, Admiral, they have a back door out of the system. A small White Dwarf, another recent ignition, sir.”

“Did you follow them?”

“Yes, Admiral. They jumped directly to Mintaka, right into the middle of a large Russian fleet. As best we could tell, sir, the Russians had captured two colony ships, and as soon as the Company ship docked they released that organism inside the two captured colony ships. I think, Admiral, that one ship was Japanese and the other was from Australia. As soon as what they were doing became clear we left the Mintaka system and jumped to one of their military garrisons for reinforcements, but almost as soon as we arrived a distress call was received from Castor, from the university here. The Company hit them with that organism, Admiral, and apparently there is no defense against it.”

But Ripley was hardly listening now, and hadn’t been since he’d heard the word Mintaka. All he really knew now was that his wife was sailing into a trap, and that the Company was setting all of them up. But why? Did they have the means to control this organism? But…what if they miscalculated?

“Alright, Thomas, we’re heading for the second planet and we’ll slingshot there and head for the university planet.”

“Admiral? All we’re picking up on our scans is Stavridis and one other ship.”

“I’m on the other ship, Thomas. Agamemnon. She’s new, but she’s very fast.”

“We’re not picking up any recognizable weaponry, Admiral?”

“Tell me, Thomas. Who’s asking?”

The screen split and the Tall White he’d first met on Halsey’s hangar deck appeared. “I ask. Need more ships.”

Ripley smiled. “Nice to see you again. We’ll have more arriving in-system soon.”

“You have weapon. Strange. Behind shield, can not understand.”

“Yes, we do. It is very new, and very powerful.”

“My people need help fast. Your ship moves too slow.”

“I’m sorry.”

“If I share engine, you share weapon?”

Ripley saw Commander Brennan on an adjacent screen and he saw the look of alarm in her eyes, but he also recognized the grail-like attraction that faster-than-light travel posed; their eyes met and she nodded, and he had to admit he concurred.

“Alright. I agree.”

And in the next instant both Agamemnon and Stavridis were surrounded by four of the huge, horseshoe shaped starships, then another appeared and this last one had to be at least ten times the size of the other ships gathered around Ripley’s tiny fleet.

And then bright light spilled out from a hangar door when a vast opening appeared on the near side of the massive ship, and then a small shuttle appeared to depart. Displays blinked red when the shuttle appeared to be coming straight at Agamemnon, and Ripley gave to order to cut acceleration – and then he prepared to go and face the unknown once again.

(c) adrian leverkühn | abw | fiction, fiction, all of it fiction…

[Cat Stevens \\ If I Laugh]

the silent wake, part 3

The Silent Wake image 1

What a peculiar set of circumstances we are living in these days; it almost feels like we are all holding our collective breaths, waiting to see how all this madness is going to turn out. Trump, climate change, youth radicalization in America and Germany and Russia, failing schools everywhere you turn, El Niño and wind shear and then there’s MTG vs AOC and, oh yes, let’s not forget about Hunter Biden’s laptop, not that anyone on Fox will let you. Now all kinds of stuff is leaking out about the CIA and time travel experiments and let’s not forget about TicTac shaped UAPs buzzing the fleets off Norfolk and San Diego and pretty soon this whole thing begins to feel like a washing machine stuck on an obscenely long spin cycle. Had enough of it yet? Tired of all the putrid fear your politicians are selling you?

Well then, I guess that means it’s time to get caught up with Charles and Patrick on the high seas, so put on some tea and settle in for some time away from your regularly scheduled spin cycle, sit yourself down and have a read.

[Ulrich Schnauss \\ A Forgotten Birthday]

Part 3

On the next dark of the moon, Sumner took his Zodiac off the davits and fired up the Yamaha outboard and took off towards Ballard Locks. The journey took, perhaps, ten minutes, and he pulled up onto the tiny beach under the railway trestle bridge and waited in moonless shadows.

And a few minutes later Patrick Grey came jogging down the trail through the little park, and he picked his way carefully down the rocky pathway to the beach with practiced ease. And then, as if he’d done so a hundred times before, Patrick pushed the dingy back from the beach and hopped in, leaving Sumner to navigate to the north side of the entrance channel, doing his level best to get into the spirit of the moment and act like a spy on a secret mission into…where? Russia? Well, no, not exactly Russia – for it seemed Seattle would have to do that night.

Sumner steered the dingy along the shoreline and a few minutes later deposited Patrick on the dock beside Haiku, then he motored off and tied up the inflatable behind his Hallberg Rassy. Not at all sure what he’d just taken part in, he felt a little queasy now that the affair was over and done with, so he poured about three fingers of a decent single malt and went up into the cockpit, not looking towards Haiku even once – because he felt somehow dirty. Used and dirty.

But tiring of Patrick’s nonsense, the next morning he cast off his lines and motored over to the Elliot Bay marina, and he tied-off there for the time being, and once the paperwork for his new slip was out of the way he took a taxi to his car and then made his way back to the house above Port Townsend. As always, the little fox was waiting for him, ready to curl up on his lap and enjoy another afternoon lazing under the sun, but even she was soon caught up in the spirit of his new, unsettling dis-ease.

But why, he remembered wondering sometime that day – and maybe it was the first time he had, too – did this little fox suddenly remind him of Tracy? And why did she feel like she belonged to him?


“I think the fault is going to cut loose soon,” Kurt, the spy’s friend continued, “and I think it will this summer. Maybe as soon as June, possibly July.”

“What’s got you scared, Kurt? The harmonic tremors?”

“Yes, precisely. The frequency and duration of events from two miles down to ten is increasing almost daily, and Pat, it’s following an exponential curve. At this rate, something just has to give. There’s just too much force building up down there in the earth.”

“Okay, okay, I believe you, Kurt. What are you going to do? Personally, I mean?”

“The school term ends here on May 10th. I’m flying to Hawaii, going to lay in supplies once I get there. You?”

“Oh, I have a boat.”

“Capable of long distances?”

“Yes. I may head your way, but I was counting on more time.”

“Yes. I was too.”

“C’est la vie, Kurt. The story of our lives. Text me your contact information after you get settled in.”

The Patrick noted that Sumner had pulled out sometime in the early morning hours and he sighed at this latest complication. Perhaps his extraction had been overblown, but, well, that was just the way the spy did such things, but then he noticed that Neal was up and about in the cockpit of his new boat and he smiled. It was time to get some fresh salmon, wasn’t it?

Funny how things had worked out, and it had all been so much easier than anticipated.

Neal’s father had been one of Patrick Grey’s best friends, and when he fell ill Patrick had promised to look after his boy and see to it that he didn’t run off the rails. From there it had just been a simple matter of planting birdseeds along the path of least resistance and now, here he was. Next…there was the matter of his daughter…


 “Charles? What have you been up to?” the spy asked his absent friend over the phone.

“Absolutely nothing. You?”

“Yes, well, it seems that matter I talked to you about has taken on new urgency? I’d say you need to go shopping now as the window on the event seems to be opening around the first of June.”

“Are you serious?”

“I am. And it seems that several like minded coneheads at the USGS do as well. Did you get the solar panels installed?”

“Delivered. Iverson is doing the stainless and canvas for the enclosure. I’ll have 660 watts up there once everything is installed. And the ground plane for the SSB has been installed now, too.”

“So, you got the ICOM 802?”

“Yup. And I’m putting up a StarLink antenna.”

“You’d better pay your installers some more and get things moving.”

“Your guy is that sure about all this?”

“He seems to be, yes. And I’ve checked his data. Something is brewing, even FEMA seems to be gearing up.”

“Does he think the effects should be confined to the Seattle area?”

“More than likely, but there are no guarantees.”

“You do recall that Elizabeth is down in Davis. That’s just a stone’s throw from the Bay Area, geologically speaking.”

“Tell her to come home as soon as school lets out for the summer.”

“She’s signed up to take classes down there this summer.”

“Charles, tell her to come home. Now. If she doesn’t you’ll just have to go and fetch her, won’t you? And that won’t be easy, will it?”

“Patrick, we’re talking three weeks! You can’t possibly be serious! There’s no way I do all that in three weeks!”

“Charles, listen to me. None of this is written in stone, but my friend advises me that waters around the subduction zone are boiling in three different locations. That means magma is close to the seafloor. Tremors are increasing along an exponential curve, as in both frequency and amplitude. Kurt thinks the threshold event will likely occur on or around June first. That’s all I can tell you, Charles. Believe me or don’t, the matter is for you to choose.”

“And you’re heading to Papeete?”

“Eventually, yes. I’ll go to Hawaii first.”

“If I have to go into San Francisco Bay…”

“Charles, if for some reason the San Andreas fault were to let go there might not be a safe way in to or out of the Bay, let alone any secure lines of communication to your daughter. And if a working sailboat entered the Bay there’s simply no telling how many people might try to take her away from you. You’d need Navy SEALs to protect you on that boat, so I beg you to consider what you and your daughter’s options truly are well before this happens.”

“My son. He’s back east. What do I do about Charles?”

“Do you have his number?” Sumner gave it to him. “Now, get busy. Get things taken care of in the next few days, and do that bank transfer.”


“All you can carry.”

And so Sumner got to work, but first he stretched out under the late morning sun and enjoyed the sounds of the forest around his hillside home; the wind through the pines, chipmunks scattering pebbles as they ran from blue jays staring down from wayward branches, and then his little fox came out and joined him while he napped and dreamt and considered his options.

And in the end he chose rank dishonesty, but this was a course of action, he felt sure, that Patrick Grey would heartily approve of.


“I think it will take me a week, perhaps eight or nine days, to make it to the Golden Gate,” C. Llewelyn Sumner told his daughter Elizabeth. “I’ve reserved a spot at Pier 39 stating on the 28th, and I thought we could sail around the bay for a week or so, maybe head down to Monterrey or Carmel. Classes don’t resume until June tenth, right?”

“I think so, Dad, and you’re right, it sounds like fun. Would you mind if maybe some friends joined us?”

“No, no, of course not. The more the merrier!” This was something he hadn’t counted on. “Just be sure to pack for more than a few days, and don’t forget to bring along any medications. I’ll be leaving the day after tomorrow so if you have any questions let me know soon.”

And after he rang off he wondered about the nature of human duplicity. Was it really evil when you had someone’s best interests in mind?

He packed for warm weather because, after all, they would be heading for the tropics. Then he remembered something he’d read once about volcanic eruptions and unusually long winters and he decided to pack some cool weather gear. 

He loaded everything into an old beater he’d used to haul hay for the horses, a fifty year old Chevy pickup that seemed to have more rust than paint on it these days, and after Tracy the fox jumped in beside him he made the hours long drive into Seattle. He loaded bottles of water and mountains of canned goods down below, then made one last dash up to the Pike Place Market for fresh veggies and fish, and after all that was stowed he spent his last evening on Elliot Bay programming his chartplotter and recalibrating the forward-looking sonar before dropping off to sleep with his head on the chart table. Early the next morning he topped-off his water tanks and then motored over to fill both diesel tanks, and with that last chore out of the way he cast off his lines and said goodbye to the city he’d called home for decades.

Het set radar alarms and sonar guard zones and as the waters were dead calm he set the autopilot and then he sat back and fed Tracy some salmon and milk before he made a small salad, and as he motored away from his past he turned and looked back at the city. “Will I ever see you again?” he said to the gray silhouettes of skyscrapers poking up out of the mist, and for a while he wondered what the city would look like if Patrick’s calamity did indeed come to pass. He knew that most of the downtown area’s buildings pre-dated earthquake-proof advances in design and construction, and depending on the time of day an earthquake and tsunami hit, the loss of life would be massive.

And yet there was hardly any coordinated federal or state response to the warnings coming from the USGS. Was it really simply a matter of Chicken Little having cried ‘The sky is falling!’ one time too many? Or had scientific literacy fallen so low that few bothered to heed these warnings anymore?

Or did it really even matter? 

Wasn’t this just another example of the Darwinian struggle working itself out in real time? As it always had, only the fittest would survive to reproduce, and if scientific literacy loomed as a measure of the fitness to survive then there wasn’t a whole lot left to be said, was there? The pendulum swung back into deep mysticism time and time again, while the light of reason shone from the other extreme. This time the calamity would strike when reason was on the ebb, so the damage would be greater. Still, it was brutally difficult to look at the rows of suburban cottages that lined the Sound and realize there was a good possibility all these people might soon perish…

And then his phone chirped.

It was Patrick Grey calling.

He answered. “Good morning, Patrick! How are you?”

“I have you on AIS, Charles. You sly guy. Off to San Francisco, I assume?”

“Correct, as always, Patrick. I assume Papeete is still in the works?”

“Yes indeed. Assets are transferring and falling into place as we speak, but I doubt I’ll be arriving on Haiku, so don’t be too surprised if I’m not there when you arrive. Regardless, you are to proceed to the Papeete Marina just off the Place Jacques Chirac. You’ll find a slip there under your name and passport, and it has been pre-paid from July through the rest of the year. Haiku will be there around the same time.”

“And where will you be, Patrick?”

“Taking care of a few loose ends. If all goes according to plan, I should be along shortly.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“It will.”

“You’re that sure of yourself?”

“I am.”

“Must be nice.”

“It is.”

“You are a real prick, you know?”

“True, but it’s always nice to hear it from a true believer. Where will you be stopping for fuel?”

“Newport and Eureka.”

“Don’t forget about Bodega Bay, and once you get near the Bay Area keep your fuel topped off at all times. Do you have any jerry cans onboard?”

“Six for fuel, six for water.”

“Isn’t your water-maker working?”

“Things break, Patrick.”

“They do indeed. Good for you.” And with that the line went dead, leaving C. Llewelyn Sumner alone with his thoughts once again. After passing Whidbey Island the wind filled in and he made sail, reaching along at seven knots just a few hours later, until Port Angeles was off their port beam. He called the fuel dock at Neah Bay and let them know he was coming in, and they advised if he didn’t make it before they closed to just tie-off at the pumps.

Traffic was heavy in the main shipping lanes so he kept close to the coastline, and he made it in to Neah Bay just in time to see the lights go out at the fueling station, so he tied off for the night and settled in to sleep off the tensions of the day, only to wake up at four in the morning when a fishing boat came in to offload their catch. He purchased two huge salmon and had them cut up, then he slid them into the refrigerator and topped off his fuel and water tanks again before he left for Cape Flattery. 

Where he turned south, skirting the coast to stay well away from the northbound shipping lanes – only to find that now he had to keep a sharp eye out for felled timber floating on or just beneath the rough surface. The sonar he’d installed did a fair job or warning him of the logs out to about 300 feet in front of the boat, so enough time to take evasive action, but that morning was a nerve-wracking walk through a rolling minefield. Soon enough he gave up and turned to go further away from the coast – if nothing else to get away from all the floating logs.

And as this was, like it or not, his first time “outside” and the further he got from land the deeper the water became, and soon enough the long Pacific swell began to get to him. By late-morning he was leaning over the rail feeding the fish, and it took three Dramamine tabs to knock him out long enough to sleep off the nausea. When he woke in the middle of the afternoon he still had no appetite but did just manage to slice some salmon and feed Tracy, who as always had remained coiled on his lap while he slept.

And as evening came on he went topsides and was stunned by the technicolor sunset beyond the rolling slate gray seascape – and now the Olympic range was to his east, and for some reason he found that disconcerting. He powered up the radar and set the range to 48 miles and he spotted fishing boats and freighters here and there, but as soon as darkness came on his seasickness returned. The moon wouldn’t come up over the Olympics for a few more hours so he did his best to fight the rolling queasiness, and after a few hours the cramps and nausea abated just a little. When the moon finally came up he marveled at the scudding clouds overhead and how they looked like white-rimmed blackness drifting along unseen currents in the sky, and even with a three-quarters moon out he was amazed by the number of stars he saw, and by how black and empty space looked.

He stayed up all through that first night out, mesmerized by the night sky and his place in the grand scheme of things, and he jumped when a flying fish flew up and landed in the cockpit. Tracy made a quick meal of it and seemed rather pleased with herself. Then, as the sky arced through shades of gray he jumped once again – this time when the Iridium SatPhone chirped in its cradle beside the chartplotter.

And he wasn’t exactly surprised to see Patrick’s ID pop up on the screen.

“Well, how did your night go?” the spy asked.

“What? You don’t know?”

“Now really, Charles! Do you think I’ve planted listening devices on your boat?”

“I don’t know. Have you?”

Patrick laughed and laughed at that. 

“No, well, to the point. Kurt has run another series of simulations, and he now seems rather confident that things will get interesting around the second, perhaps the third. Might I recommend that you and Elizabeth head out the Golden Gate on the first? Perhaps to visit Carmel or Monterrey?”

“If I stop feeling seasick, you mean?”

“Oh dear. Don’t tell me…”

“I think this was all a huge mistake, Patrick. There is no way in Hell I’ll survive a trip to Polynesia if this keeps up.”

“Do you have any over-the-counter GERD medications with you? Like maybe Nexium?”


“Double up on the dose for two days and see if that doesn’t knock it back.”

“Okay. I’ll give it a try.”

“It’s the stomach acid, old boy. Your inner ear sends a signal when things get rough out and your stomach goes haywire with the stuff. Shut that down and away goes your mal-de-mer, just like magic. And no orange juice, nothing with heavy acid. That sets it off.”

“Okay. How are things on your end?”

“Oh, things are coming along nicely here.”

“I can’t believe the government isn’t taking this seriously, Patrick. It makes no sense.”

“Bureaucratic inertia, Charles. It killed Rome and it will be the death of us.”

Sumner sighed. “You know, I’d recently been approached to work up preliminary plans for a new museum of science and technology, and I think in a way I was actually excited about taking on a commission like that.”

“Oh, really? Why?”

“I’m not sure, but I think in the best possible circumstances such museums ought to be places where people can go for inspiration, to see how the people that came before confronted everyday life and how they went about finding solutions to their most vexing problems.”

“And what would you have designed, Charles? Something soaring to the heavens?”

Sumner chuckled. “You know, actually, I was thinking more along the lines of something that might survive a nuclear war. A place where the people who were rebuilding civilization might go for both inspiration and ideas.”

“An underground bunker would do the trick, I suppose.”

“Not inspiring enough, Patrick. We need inspiration to excel; anything else is mere survival.”

“Did you ever stop to think that there might be times when mere survival is the best we can hope for?”

“No. Not since I realized what a horizontally opposed thumb is good for.”

“Oh, Charles. You are an artist, impractical to your core, but I’d hate to go through life without knowing you’re out there.”

“Why Patrick, is this a compliment?”

“No, Charles, it was a declaration of friendship.”

And with that the line once again went dead.

“I’ll be damned,” Sumner sighed – as he made his way to the box of Nexium he was sure he’d stored in the aft head.


Eight days later he sailed under the Golden Gate, and as soon as he was tied off at Pier 39 he fired up his iPhone and called Elizabeth.

“Well, I’ve made it,” he said to his daughter. “When can you come down?”

“Would tomorrow be too soon?”

“No, not at all! Perfect, as a matter of fact! You’ll be bringing your friend, I take it?”

So they set a time and Sumner set about scrubbing the boat with scented scrubbing compounds – anything that would rid the cockpit and cabins of any traces of lingering bile. The next thing he did was head to a local pharmacy – where he bought every single box of Nexium they had on their shelves. He got up early the next morning and ran to a grocery store to replenish the larder, but he thought he’d wait another day before stocking up on fresh seafood and produce, then he sat up in the cockpit and waited.

And just before noon Elizabeth came bouncing up to his Hallberg Rassy, The Silent Wake, and when Sumner looked down to find her vivacious smile he was stunned to see not just a friend from school but also her brother, his son. With their duffels in hand, he was standing by his sister’s side, and he appeared quite upset.

(c) 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | just a wee bit of imagination, running wild…

[The Dream Academy \\ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want This Time]

the silent wake, part 2

The Silent Wake image 1

Right, off we go. Put on some tea and have a read.

[Yes \\ Starship Trooper]

part 2

The boat arrived one sunny May day not by sea, but rather on the deck of a massive freighter. A crane lifted the long, slender sailboat and placed her gently on the sea, and later that morning her cloud-piercing mast was lowered into place. Men swarmed her decks for days making her ready, and curiously enough by then the arrow-like dark gray hull had begun gathering attention. The massive yacht looked like something from a bygone era, like a creation that might have once belonged to this world – but in the end the world had decided such machines represented people whose time had come and gone. Now, new faces stared at the yacht and wondered what living in that other time must have felt like, but then with their hands in their empty pockets the curious departed once again.

Haiku was motored over to Shilshole Marina and her lines made fast at the end of a long pier, and once again small throngs came and stared, for they knew not what to make of this tethered beast. Who owned such a preposterous thing? Why build such a vast contraption in this day and age? Where was her owner, for surely he must be riddled with improprieties? 

Haiku posed more questions than she could answer, yet soon the curious gave up and drifted away. Crews came by several times a week and made her whole, and as time passed workmen made fresh her brightwork and lubricated her vast systems, and soon enough the spy’s elegant anachronism simply faded away into the humming background of the city. And eventually, no one cared who or what was behind all of this ostentatiously irrelevant elegance. 

While C. Llewelyn Sumner quietly kept his old Nauticat at Shilshole, and that was behind the how and the why he first laid eyes on Haiku. And when he first saw the beast he walked out to the end of the pier and let his eyes roam over her lines, admiring her the way some might regard a particularly fast racehorse, or how others cast approving sidelong glances at sensuously gorgeous women.

At least until he heard a wheelchair rolling up from behind.

And without looking he knew Patrick Grey was there, watching and waiting to see his friend’s reaction to this latest revelation. Yet Sumner ignored his friend, instead continuing to walk along Haiku’s hull, sighting along the sweep of her sheer and sighing in silent awe at the utter perfection he beheld. Sumner was, after all, an architect, and his soul was drawn to such things. Perhaps, in some cases, as a moth is drawn to the flame.

“Who drew her?” Sumner finally asked the gathering silence. “Bruce King, or Herman Frers?”

“King,” Grey replied somewhat too casually. “What do you think? Did he succeed?”

C. Llewelyn Sumner turned to his friend and looked at the woman pushing the wheelchair, then down at Patrick Grey. “It isn’t often that something so obscure is resurrected, but I have to ask Patrick. Why? Why do such a thing?”

“Because I could.”

Sumner nodded before he turned and looked at the little ship once again. “Of course.”

“So, what brings you to the marina this fine morning?” Grey asked his friend.

“I’m meeting a broker here at ten. I’m selling the boat.”

“About time.”

Sumner turned and looked at Patrick again. “Oh, really?”

“If you’re going to bother with something so superfluous you really should get something more in keeping with your personality.”

C. Llewelyn Sumner smiled. “And this,” he said with an operatic sweep of the hand, “is in keeping with yours?”

So Patrick returned the smile. “Every dog has its day, Charles.”

“Ah, the famous writer. I forgot.”

“I’m neither, Charles.”

“Oh? Well then, who are you really, Patrick?”

“Me? Charles. I thought you knew. I’m nobody. I was never even here, so of course you never really knew me.”

“Of course. The spy who came in from the…what?”

“Spy. What a horrible word – and to think that’s how I’ll be remembered. If, that is, if anyone even bothers to remember me at all.”

“Well, they’ll certainly remember this fucking boat.”

“Funny, Charles. You know, I never imagined you without that boat of yours. Have you given up on sailing?”

“Oh, no, it’s nothing like that. Something rather strange happened to me last week. I was informed I have two children.”

Patrick’s eyes sparkled with newfound mirth. “Indeed. Tell me more.”

“A girl I once loved. Loved, Patrick. Me? Can you imagine that?”

“No, not really.”

“Neither could she, apparently.”

“So, she kept them from you? Even their very existence?”

C. Llewelyn Sumner nodded, though he still struggled with that all-knowing contempt. “One of them, my girl, will be staying with me next year.”

“Just a year?”

“Yes. I assume that’s all I am entitled to. They’ll both be off to college after that.”

“Twins, I take it?”

Sumner nodded. “Yes. So strange. I can almost see…no, that’s not quite right. I can feel Tracy in them, but then I recognize this other creature in them and I can’t seem to accept that it’s me. But I suppose that’s why things turned out as they did.”

“Oh? Well, yes, I suppose some truths are more difficult to accept than others. Yet there are times, don’t you think, when the most difficult thing to see is the path we chose, even as we turn our back to the sunset? But you said a year and then they are off to college? And so now, all of a sudden you’ve decided to sell the boat? But wasn’t she the last link you had to their mother?”

C. Llewelyn Sumner stared into the stark reality of Patrick’s appraisal, but then he slowly nodded before a long sigh slipped past his trembling lips. “I suppose I thought I could move on.”

“Move on? From your past? Charles, what the devil is wrong with you this morning?”

“She passed away, Patrick,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said, now trying his best not to cry. “She passed and I’ll never see her again.” But he heard someone walking out the pier and turned to see his yacht broker approaching so he quickly pulled himself back from the brink and cast away the years.

And as the broker came up he too stopped to admire Haiku, and to revel in the rumors and innuendo behind all her local mysteries.

“Charles?” the broker began. “Out looking for your next boat already? Don’t you think this one is a bit too large for you?”

Sumner looked at the broker, then at Patrick: “Ah. No. Not today,” he replied.

“You know,” the broker continued, “everyone loves a mystery, but I think after a few months we really ought to know who owns this creature. My God but she’s lovely,” the amiable broker said as he looked over Haiku. Then the nattily dressed middle-aged man turned to Patrick Grey. “So, do you know the owner?”

Patrick smiled. “I’ve heard it belongs to one of those MicroSoft millionaires.”

The broker nodded knowingly. “Yup. Heard that too. Makes sense.”

Then Patrick turned to the broker and smiled. “I can’t imagine Charles without a sailboat. Can you?”

“No, no I can’t,” the broker said, grinning at the scent of fresh blood in the water.

“The Nauticat never really fit him, I don’t think. Not really. I imagined him in something less utilitarian. Strong, elegant, capable. What do you think?”

“Actually, we have a new Hallberg Rassy coming in that would be perfect for him. A forty-three. And what did you say? Strong and capable…?”

“And let’s not forget elegant,” the spy added.

“Ah yes, elegant. Charles? Interested?”

“Of course he is,” the spy replied in his friend’s stead. “You say it’s not here yet?”

“It’s at our yard being made ready. We could look at her tomorrow if you like?”

“Of course we’d like to. Isn’t that right, Charles?”

And so it happened.

C. Llewelyn Sumner and his daughter Elizabeth, when she tired of her horses, began sailing his new boat a few weeks after that. At first as he had with Patrick, taking his new boat around Elliot Bay in the waters off the downtown area, taking in the Space Needle at sunset. And soon enough they were broad-reaching down the sound, coming back to Shilshole after a long weekend in Port Townsend, and these were the happiest of times for C. Llewelyn Sumner – even if they were but echoes of similar outings with Tracy, even if such memories were twenty years gone in a long silent wake. But just a few weeks later, he took Liz to look at colleges in California and Texas, places he had once called home, and it seemed like just a few short weeks after that he was packing her off to establish the contours of a new life at her first choice, UC Davis.

He grew depressed after that tumultuous year came to an end, so depressed he found time to do little else but sleep. He took care of Elizabeth’s horses until it became clear she wouldn’t be coming home as often as she’d hoped, and so then he gave them to friends who promised to take good care of them. He took on a few new commissions, yet those he did were trivial, almost meaningless tract homes for a developer in Portland, Oregon. The money was nice but really almost unnecessary now; he was comfortable and would remain so unless something dire befell the markets. 

Yet from time to time Patrick Grey beckoned. One time he wanted to take Haiku out for a shakedown cruise up to Desolation Sound, and Sumner wasn’t at all surprised when Grey discarded his walkers and wheelchairs and ran about the decks, in effect sailing his 126 foot yacht all by himself. Sumner tried not to ask what it was all about – because in truth he didn’t want to know. Patrick was no longer a mystery; he was more like a minefield.

Though one night in Desolation Sound, the old spy did talk of things Charles found rather unsettling.

“Do you ever wonder what would happen if the walls of our little civilization came crumbling down?”

“What on earth are you going on about now, Patrick?”

“Oh, I don’t know, really, just a random thought or two. Yet it seems to me that everything is so out of sorts now, our politics have grown poisonous and I’ve recently had days when I felt like it’s becoming almost dangerous to head out to the grocery store. I see wild-eyed kids strung out on meth on every street corner and not one of them seems to know anything at all about the world. And I don’t know about you but I resented being locked up for almost two years – because, mind you, that’s two years of our lives we’ll never get back – and yet now that we’ve crawled back out of our caves everyone seems to have grown stark-raving-bonkers. Everywhere you go you hear people saying how afraid they are to do this or that and every politician you hear seems to be pitching a new flavor of fear with each passing day, and yet now, after two years of lock downs it feels like things have been turned up a notch. And so, the thought occurred to me: How long can this possibly go on? How long can the fear and the anger build before this whole house of cards comes tumbling down?”

“I think,” C. Llewelyn Sumner sighed, his depression suddenly taking a darker turn, “what you’re describing is incipient paranoia. But the squeaky wheel always gets the grease.”

“I suppose, but let’s play What If for a moment. What if the markets collapsed? What if a meteor slammed into the South Atlantic? What if a new madman came to power, a madman with nuclear weapons – and he decided to use them? What would happen if all our paranoia gave way and the walls holding up all our notions of reality just suddenly collapsed. What would happen? How would you cope?”

“I have no idea,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said.

“And what – that’s it? You don’t care?”

“You can’t plan for things like that, Patrick. If it happens it happens. The survivors get on with living and all the rest become carrion. I rather think that’s the way it’s always been, don’t you?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve always tried to look ahead, to play What If at every little stop along the way, and I think I do because I don’t want to sit by passively and let life just happen to me. I want to shape the outcome – if I can, that is.”

“What are you saying, Patrick?”

“I’m saying that you might actually consider taking that new boat of yours and getting her ready for some unknown calamity. Think of her as a kind of life insurance policy, if not for you then for your children.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“Okay. Say the unspeakable happens. Then what?”

“You go where things are less…unspeakable.”

“Such as?”

“South. Pick an island. But remember: Fortune favors the bold, my friend.”

And so C. Llewelyn Sumner had given the matter some thought. There was, after all, no harm in thinking.


It was only a few months later when Patrick let it be known that his own daughter had emerged from the shadows and come back into his life. This was an unexpected development, and one that had caught the old spy unprepared – which Sumner thought somewhat ironic. Yet when it turned out that she was sicker than Hell and in chemotherapy over at UW, C. Llewelyn Sumner sensed a change had come over Patrick. And when he learned that Patrick’s daughter had moved into the Grey House and was now staying with Patrick, he realized his friend the spy was on the brink. This development had been, of course, unforeseen – but Patrick had gone on about his life as if all this wasn’t a problem.

Until it became a problem.

Patrick had been comfortable cultivating layers of secrecy throughout his life; even his father had taught him a few of the most basic skills he would need. Crafting alternate identities came as naturally to Patrick as picking up a drafting pencil came to C. Llewelyn Sumner. Being able to disappear within a crowd? Not a problem. Need to flee one country in the middle of the night, and then to appear two days later on the far side of nowhere all while being able to convincingly prove to the local authorities that you’d been there for years? Again, this was simply another skill Patrick had learned along the way. All that was needed were the resources and plans to put contingencies in place, and to secret them away where no one else could find them. But that too was simply another skill he’d picked up along the way.

But writing began to chip away at Patrick’s skills, to dull the old spy’s senses. And then his daughter Akira turned up on his doorstep, and with her arrival another seismic shift took place, a whole new series of complications arose. He couldn’t simply disappear so easily now, yet neither could he push her out the door. What Patrick needed, he reasoned, was a means to keep an eye on his daughter while also preserving some rough semblance of his need for instant mobility. What he needed, then, was a means to an immediate end.

Yet…after learning to sail with Sumner – and long before Akira arrived – Haiku had already begun to take shape in Patrick’s mind. But then again, Sumner had already learned that the old spy was always looking ahead. Always making plans – counting on the unexpected, and Akira had apparently been most unexpected. Only now Patrick had Akira’s needs foremost in mind, for the old spy could not presume to live forever and he obviously wanted to see to her needs after he was gone.

Akira would, therefore, and by virtue of her frailties, need someone to look after her. Someone Akira could count on – after the inevitable happened and Patrick passed. She would need someone with the two virtues Patrick cherished most, but had more often than not lacked himself: duty and honor.

Patrick had friends everywhere, yet not one of these friends was close to Patrick. They were often little more than academic or professional colleagues, and though they were on friendly terms with one another, that was about the extent of these friendships. Yet Patrick never discarded such friends; he never let these relationships wither away into obscurity or fade away with the passage of time. Such friendships were, after all, quite useful to spies. And curiously enough, almost all of Patrick’s friends were in academia, and most still taught at Stanford.

One of these old friends, a rather bright geologist who also happened to look somewhat like cross between a gecko and a mole, had called him recently as he’d just finished writing a rather alarming book and he wanted to know if Patrick knew a good publisher’s agent. They’d talked for a while about the subject, plate tectonics and volcanism, and about his friend’s growing concerns about the so-called Cascadia Subduction Zone, and how a sudden release of energy might cause one or more of the major volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest to literally blow their tops off – and quite soon, too. Patrick recommended his own agent and then carefully began researching matters surrounding this deep fault just off the coast, and the more he learned the more concerned he became.

And when Patrick had a clear picture in his mind about what might happen if such an event was to take place, he told C. Llewelyn Sumner what he had learned and what he needed his friend to help him do.

© 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | just a bit of fiction, plain and simple.

[King Crimson \\ Cat Food]

Hyperion/Agamemnon Ch. 5

Hyperion AGA im1.1

Sorry for posting two stories on the same day. If you read this one, there’s the beginning of a new story after  –  and then that poem. It’s springtime here, and writing always feels good when the trees and flowers are returning to the light. But then – the lawnmower comes back into my life…

[Paul Simon \\ St Judy’s Comet]

Chapter 5

Using Agamemnon’s large Schmidt camera, Ripley watched Hyperion’s Langston Field slowly expand as she entered the Sun’s outermost layer, the photosphere, and then in the next instant she was gone. Now his old ship, and his wife, were heading deep into the Sun to reach the Alderson Jump Point that exited at Mintaka, on Orion’s belt, and then into the eye of the storm. Within minutes Hyperion would be into the chromosphere, and Ripley found it hard to watch his wife step into the unknown. Judy had been doing her best to remain calm and he’d kept her busy reading everything from Nimitz and Halsey to the ancient Battle of the Salamis Straits, and he’d hoped the additional historical perspective would help steel her nerves – but he wouldn’t be there to see the results and he felt bereft. Now, watching her ship disappear within the Sun, she was, after more than two years together, beyond his reach – and he felt more than terrible without her.

He tried to shake off the bad feelings he’d had the last few days, that the Hyperion Battle Group was being set up and moving into a trap. But why? Why would Fleet, and Admiral Stanton, sacrifice so many ships and crew in a deliberate strategic blunder? He remembered reading accounts of Pearl Harbor that implied Roosevelt knew the attack was coming on the Seventh of December, 1941, but that he let it happen anyway – because Roosevelt knew such a devastating loss was the only thing that would break an evenly divided Congress and allow for the rapid industrial mobilization the United States would need to confront the Axis powers. Was something similar at work now? Was Stanton willing to sacrifice a medium-sized strike group to convince a divided Senate to support a more substantial war effort around a distant star?

Personally, he doubted such treachery was possible. Stanton wasn’t an evil man and he knew that from experience.

So…why was he still having these feelings?

“Admiral?” Commander Brennan said over the intercom.


“Balin and her team are not finished calibrating the Maser, and won’t be for a few more hours. We can continue to orbit Mercury, bit we’ll delay our jump by 30 hours.”

“Have the tankers finished the transfer?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Very well. Send my compliments to the skipper of the Valdez and thank him for the assist. Advise Norfolk that Balin and her team are still working on the weapon and that they will be transiting to Castor with us. When our refueling apparatus is stowed, sound the acceleration warning and let’s get the Field up; I want to make our Jump as soon as possible, and I want Stavridis right behind us.”

“And the Constellation?”

Ripley paused and looked at the tactical display. The Enterprise Battle Group wouldn’t finish tanking for another few hours, and he didn’t want to arrive at Castor completely defenseless, but that too had been Stanton’s decision. Stanton assumed the Tall Whites would know the exact moment Agamemnon emerged from Alpha Geminorum Ca, and that they’d be looking for signs of both capability and intentions, but if Agamemnon came in naked that might be a more provocative sign of weakness…?

“Constellation and the Enterprise Group are to Jump as soon as their refueling operations are wrapped up, and disperse them in line formation as soon as they’re clear. Have ‘em come through at short intervals.”

“Roger that. Sending.”

His screen brightened and when Balin’s aggrieved expression appeared that said it all. “Captain! “ she screeched. “Am I to understand that we are being Shanghaied?”

“That’s a fact, Ms Balin,” he said with a bright smile, and then he killed his display. “Gordon, was that mean of me?”

“I don’t know how to answer that, Admiral. If you’d like, I could take care of her calls in the future.”

Ripley smiled at the thought. “I guess that’s a possibility,” he sighed, knowing it wasn’t.

The shrill, hooting Master Alarm sounded throughout the ship, and then all shipboard lighting went to low-power-red. Brennan armed the reactors and began spinning up thrust paks – and only then did the countdown timer begin.

“Acceleration stations in 120 seconds,” the computer-generated female voice said. “Heavy acceleration in 115 seconds. Standby for heavy acceleration…”

Ripley sighed as he reclined his G-couch, then he set his screens ‘just so’ as he settled into the squishy gel – and he was pretty certain he could hear Balin’s hysterical screeching all the way from the weapons bay – and that made him very happy indeed.

And Gordon grinned too.


As Agamemnon entered the Sun’s photosphere, Ripley checked the ship’s Langston Field monitors, noting only minor temperature fluctuations and a very slight inflation. All probes and sensors had been retracted inside the Field, so in effect Brennan was flying the ship blind now, relying on the central inertial navigation system to maintain their heading to Alpha Geminorum Ca’s Alderson Point.

“Time to jump?” he asked Gordon.

“Four minutes thirty seconds, Admiral.”

“You need two minutes to power-down, don’t you?”

“Yes Admiral. I have already begun to power down unnecessary sub-routines.” It remained one of the last unsolved problems of space travel utilizing Alderson Jump Points, but computers and synthetics like Gordon simply did not come out of a Jump in stable working condition. Computers were incapable of performing even the simplest computations for several minutes after a Jump, and synthetics making Jumps before the effect was well understood came out in what could only be described as a psychotic state, and throughout the ship computers were being put into standby mode, while every synthetic onboard would power down at two minutes prior to the scheduled Jump.

Which meant that Brennan and her bridge crew would handle the ship during the Jump – without computer assistance. The Navy had only Jumped to Alpha Geminorum Ca only once before, and this had been performed by an unmanned scout ship to verify that the Alderson Point did in fact lead to Castor’s third component star, or Ca. The probe had popped out of the star and performed one orbit, scanning for any unusual signals before it returned to Sol.

But now, this meant that Agamemnon would be the first ship to explore the Ca system in detail.

Because the fourth planet in the Ca system supposedly had a university up and running – operated by the so-called Tall Whites – and Thomas Standing Bull, one of his midshipman on Hyperion’s last mission, was – again, supposedly – going to meet them at this university.

So in truth, this wasn’t a simple mission of exploration; it was also a “second contact” mission, and as such the Navy had expected that all kinds of diplomatic personnel would be included in the ship’s company – yet almost the exact opposite had happened. The State Department had tasked just one person, and she was a junior staffer at that, to accompany Ripley and his ground team when the ship arrived at Alpha Geminorum Ca+4.

“Powering down in ten seconds, Admiral,” Gordon said lightly.

 “See you on the other side,” Denton said carefully, then he switched his COMMs circuit over to monitor both the bridge and CIC, or the Combat Information Center. “CIC, bridge here,” he said over the link, “get the Field down and our probes out after we emerge and clear the threshold. I want to know who else is in-system as soon as possible.”

“Aye, sir,” Lieutenant Ainsley replied. “At 4 Gs we should reach probe threshold approximately twenty minutes after the Jump.” Which meant that any probes or antennas deployed before reaching the threshold would simply be burned away as they raised through the ship’s protective Langston Field and into Ca’s photosphere. Conversely, radiation from Alpha Geminorum Ca would theoretically mask their appearance for more several Sol standard hours, providing a window of opportunity for Agamemnon and Stavridis to snoop around the new system without detection – assuming, of course, that the Tall Whites were deploying a similar scanning technology to their own.

 Then one by one his screens went dark as the ship’s computers began logging out and shutting down, and soon all they had to go on was an ancient clock mounted directly over the main bridge screen. Now he watched the second hand circle the face, once again dreading the moment when the ship Jumped…

Then the red bridge lighting flickered for a moment.

Followed by the crushing headache and extreme nausea that followed a successful Jump, just before the terrifying moments of spatial disorientation hit.

Then…red lights changed to white. Then he heard the sound of someone trying to vomit at high Gs, then the gargling sounds of that person not being able to breathe as their airway was inundated with bile and stomach acid. Then: Brennan calling out: “Medical, to the bridge, Code 1!”

But there was next to nothing that could be done at this point in their egress. At 4+ Gs no one could move enough to get a suction probe inserted a patient’s airway, and no synthetics had come out of Safe Mode yet. And if Brennan cut acceleration to allow medical personnel to get to the bridge, the ship’s Field would soon be overwhelmed by intense solar radiation. Right now, the Field was dealing with all the energy absorbed during Solar ingress as well as their current egress from Alpha Geminorum Ca, and now that countdown timer was literally winding down to zero. Within a half hour – more like 27 minutes – the Field would be overwhelmed and then fail, ending the mission, and all their lives, in a blinding flash.

The gargling noises stopped long before a med-tech could make it to the bridge on one of their G-carts, and by then it was of course too late. Ripley shook his head, though he decided not to bother Brennan right now. She had her hands full and didn’t need any interruptions.

Ten minutes later Gordon opened his eyes and looked around.

“Are we still inside the Castor Group?” he asked.

“Yes,” Ripley said, “but it looks like we were in the chromosphere a lot deeper than expected. We should exit the photosphere in 17 minutes, and I think maybe we’ll be at the probe threshold in 10 minutes.”

“We will be close to Field’s limits, will we not, Admiral?”

“Yup. We’ll be cutting it pretty close.”

“There is a med tech working on one of the midshipmen, Admiral.”

“Can you see who was injured?”

“No, sir, but Lars Jansen’s biometrics are no longer registering on MedCom central.”

“Goddamnit to Hell,” Ripley growled just under his breath.

“Admiral? If his death happened less than ten minutes ago, perhaps we could attempt a download.”

Ripley didn’t know if the boy’s parents had filed any religious exceptions concerning the process, but he looked at the clock again and realized that time was suddenly of the essence again. This was, he realized, a Command decision so he looked at Gordon on his screen. “Go ahead. Do it.”

Gordon commanded thin metal probes embedded with Jansen’s G-couch into position, then he hit the ‘Execute’ button – and then every thought, every memory, and every feeling that Lars Jansen had ever experienced began downloading into a MemComm registry. The entire process was a race against time now, as once brain death occurred it was literally just a matter of minutes before all that information was either lost or scrambled into uselessness.

Ripley had always thought the entire process was pointless, until he’d seen AI regenerations running Elon Musk’s re-creation, then he’d become a true believer. How long, Musk had wondered in that presentation, before we could integrate these regenerations into synthetic humans – into simulations like Gordon? There were, of course, rumors that Musk was alive and well in the Hall of Mirrors, in Musk City on Mars, but so far all those rumors remained unsubstantiated, but if they were true had Musk achiever practical immortality?

Ripley watched the second hand racing around the clock face, wondering what the outcome would be.

“Process complete, Admiral,” Gordon said. “An updated registry is now being created, and should be operational within six hours.”


“Yes, Admiral. Midshipman Jansen created a complete registry soon after he boarded Agamemnon. This latest download will be compared to the original, and you should be able to address Lars at that time.”

Ripley swallowed hard and tried to look away, until all 4Gs of the ship’s bone-crushing acceleration reminded his G-couch to assert complete control over his movements.


The new 48 inch Schmidt camera poked up through the Langston Field and imaged Alpha Geminorum Ca+4 several times, while sensitive ELINT receivers began analyzing the radio spectrum around the planet…

And it was soon apparent there was a large military engagement underway on that planet. Ships in orbit were taking particle beam fire from weapons on the planet’s surface, and after careful analysis CIC reported that there were currently a minimum of five horseshoe shaped ships there, and that they appeared to be the same type of ship Ripley had encountered on the first Hyperion mission. And now here they were, in orbit around the fourth planet, and that at least one of these five ships had been seriously damaged by unknown forces on the planet’s surface.

Agamemnon had begun a mandatory one hour period of zero-G five minutes ago, coasting along in order to let the Stavridis catch up to them as soon as she emerged from Alpha Geminorum Ca’s photosphere.

“COMMs?” Ripley barked.

“Aye, sir?”

“Fire off a message to those ships in orbit, advise them of our presence in the system and ask if we might be of any assistance.”

“Now, sir?”

“Yes now, Goddamnit!” he snarled. “How long will it take for them to receive the transmission, COMMs?”

“Approximately forty minutes, sir.”

“Right. Advise when you are in contact with Stavridis.”

“Admiral, CIC here. We’re picking up ion trails that, well, that are probably made by inbound Company ships, sir. Definitely more than one ship, Admiral, and it looks like they are no longer in orbit.”


“They are not in orbit, Admiral. They are either on the planet’s surface or they’ve left the system, but that’s doubtful, sir.”


“There’s only one pair of dissipating ion trails, Admiral, and those horseshoe-shaped ships must have some kind of FTL drive, Admiral. They haven’t left any markers anywhere around the system, so they must’ve jumped directly into orbit…”

“And then run into a shit storm,” Ripley sighed.

“Automatic identifier marker received from Stavridis, Admiral,” COMMs advised. “They have exited the photosphere.”

“Establish two-way contact as soon as you can, COMMs.”

“Aye, sir.”

“WEPs? Is Balin there?”

“Here, Captain,” she said as her hideously contorted face came onscreen.

“How long until that weapon is operational, Ma’am.”

“We are ready to test fire the unit now, Captain.”

“We’re not going to test fire that thing,” Ripley sighed. “I don’t want to give away too much information yet, but, well, are you sure it will work when I give the order?”

She nodded. “As long as we have nominal reactor output, I see no reason why the weapon will not fire, Captain.”

“Okay. Get your people ready for heavy acceleration. It looks like we might be going in with our guns blazing.”

“Guns, Captain? Surely you…”

He cut off her audio feed before he said something truly offensive to that infernal woman, then he looked up at Gordon. “I need food. Something solid for a change, and no salads, and for God’s sake – and no TVP.”

“Yes, Admiral. Hot cocoa, as well?”

“No. Something stronger. Better make mine a coffee. Half-caff.”


A medical team was removing Lars Jansen’s body from the bridge, and Brennan was almost in tears as she watched the boy’s body disappear inside the black PVC body bag. She looked across the bridge at Denton and shook her head, then turned slowly and went back to her station – and Ripley could see she was taking this one hard. Well, the truth of the matter was you never really got used to losing anyone, but losing a Middie always seemed to hurt a little more. He was not looking forward to reading the autopsy results, nor to writing up the Action Report that all such deaths required.

“Astronomy? Let me know when you have more detailed imagery of the planet.”

“Aye, sir,” came the audio reply.

“Get me a visual on Stavridis, would you?” As this required imaging in the direction of the star, heavy Calcium channel blocking filters were put in place, then the Schmidt camera poked up through the Field again – and Stavridis’s huge, glowing Langston Field appeared onscreen. Ripley saw the extreme perimeter of their field had a red tinge, which was normal so close to a star, but also splotches of yellow and green, and that was anything but normal. Then again, Stavridis was a smaller ship so her Langston Field presented a smaller surface area to radiate excess energy, yet their smaller Field had to absorb and dissipate the same energy load that Agamemnon’s Field had inside the star, hence the more dangerous colors in her Field. It was worth watching for now, but the faster both ships moved away from the star, the better…

“Admiral, we’ve finished processing images of the planet and can see more indications of a military engagement between the ships in orbit and unknown forces on the planet’s surface.”

“Right. You’d better get the camera centered on the planet and keep it there for now. Let me know when you have a live feed set up.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Bridge? ETA Stavridis?”

“Fifteen minutes, Admiral. We have COMMs now.”

“Right. Astro? See any likely hydrogen sources anywhere yet?”

“Yessir. Two moons orbiting the fifth planet; the larger may have enough Hydrogen in the atmosphere for a ram scoop.”

“Excellent. Good work!”

Gordon slid a plate onto his chart table and Ripley smiled. A black bean burger with avocado and sliced habanero…his favorite! He looked up and smiled his approval. “Did Carson make this?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“God love her!” he said as he launched into his burger. He switched his primary screen to catch the live feed coming from the fourth planet, and with basic image enhancers he could just make out laser cannon fire coming up from the planet’s surface – but then he saw another blue-green stream of light leave the surface – and this fire was directed at his ship. “Bridge? Is that incoming fire?”

“Altering course, but it will take a half hour to reach us, sir. Should we return fire, Admiral?”

“No, no, that would be pointless at our current range – but make sure Stavridis has the plot.”

“Admiral?” Brennan said. “One of the horseshoes is powering up and leaving orbit.”

“See if you can work out their course.”

“They’re taking fire, sir. From a built up area near the planet’s equator.”

“With what, Bridge?”

“Tracks indicate both lasers and kinetic missiles,” one of the radar operators on the Bridge replied. “Confirmed multiple missile launches and now recording at least two low-yield nuclear detonations in the last hour, based on debris clouds and decay rates. The horseshoes are simply powering away from the missiles, Admiral.”

“Heat signatures?”

“Very little from the horseshoes, sir. The missiles appear to be a typical Cascade class SRB using a conventional ion drive during terminal guidance.”

“So, that’s a goddamn Company weapon,” Ripley muttered to himself. “How the hell did they get wind of our operation?”

“Admiral, the horseshoe leaving orbit is now on an intercept course, heading our way. Appears to be a fusion powered drive, sir, and not an FTL drive, but there’s only a modest heat bloom aft. And it looks like their delta-v is already significant, sir. They’ll easily outrun the Cascades.”

“You said they’re on an intercept course with us, Ensign? Mind telling me the details?”

“Sorry, sir. If current acceleration holds, they will arrive in 70 hours.”

“And what is their delta-v, Ensign?”

“Sorry, sir. Currently 3.7 Gs…but they are continuing to accelerate, Admiral. Now at 4Gs and continuing to accelerate.”

“Admiral?” Brennan interrupted, “should we maintain our current position, or move to intercept?”

Ripley had been asking himself the same question for a few minutes. They could stay here and burn up precious time, or move in their direction, knowing that would force them to make a massive mid-course correction. But how much power did their ships have, and how much fuel did they carry? In order to return to the fourth planet now, that ship would need to burn prodigious amounts of hydrogen in order to stop its forward velocity, but then it would have to burn even more to stop and then turn around and resume acceleration back to the planet…

“Commander Brennan, would the second planet allow the three of us to make a slingshot orbital correction, setting up a return trajectory to the fourth planet?”

“Working,” Brennan sighed as she started plugging-in numbers and vectors. “We could, and quite easily, Admiral. The horseshoe would need to make two mid-course burns, but they’d need to make the first within about six hours. Doing so would allow us to travel in formation with the horseshoe after our orbital burn.”

“Bridge, set your heading for the second planet; COMMs, pass on our course and heading to Stavridis, tell them to line-up in tight formation. And CIC, leave a buoy here with a sit-rep and advise the Commander of the Enterprise Battle Group to head for the fourth planet as soon as they emerge and group up. Engineering, report on our reactors and our current fuel state in fifteen minutes. Bridge, alter course now and set our speed at 1.0 G.”


“We need to see if they react to our course change, Mister. WEPs, run through firing exercises while we’re at 1G. COMMs, advise Stavridis to get in very tight, and they are to start fire control and damage control exercises immediately.”

“Astro here, Admiral. A particle beam weapon from the planet’s surface has struck a second horseshoe, sir, it appears to be damaged and is now retreating to a higher orbit.”

“Astro, are you picking up any signs of shielding on those ships, anything like our Langston Field?”

“No, sir. No EM emissions at all, and nothing in the visible spectrum.”

“Are they returning fire?”

“Nothing that we can detect, Admiral.”

Ripley shook his head. Either these were simply not warships and the Tall Whites did not possess shield technology, or they didn’t want to reveal their technology – yet. But…almost three years ago they’d followed the Hyperion Group after their attack on Covenant, when they departed Beta Auriga 4  after the new black hole formed. And they’d been back there while David was in close pursuit, so how could they have done that without shielding? Did their spacecraft’s material act as a shield, or did they have some other defense? But if so, why had one of their ships just been damaged from a missile coming up from the planet’s surface?

“Admiral? COMMs. We have contact with their lead ship. And Admiral, I think it’s Thomas Standing Bull, and he sounds very upset…”

(c)2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | fiction, every last word…

[Yes \\ Close To The Edge]

the silent wake, part 1

The Silent Wake image 1

Back we go, deep into the Secret Heart – for one last look around.

[The Beatles \\ Tomorrow Never Knows]

A short riff today, just a reacquaintance, really, but perhaps time for some jasmine tea.

The Silent Wake

Part I

C. Llewelyn Sumner sat at his drafting, table lost in thought.

The site was simple enough, just a sloping city lot, but it was on the water and came with a view that took in both Shilshole Marina and the northern reaches of the Olympic Range across the Sound. The commission would be a visible one, too, seen by boaters transiting Ballard locks and passengers coming into the city on The Empire Builder, so the design would have to be striking, even eye catching.

The work would be, in other words, represent a last feather in his cap, and be an important commission.

Yet the man asking him to design this new house presented new complications, an inner landscape he’d never had to deal with before. Patrick Grey was a writer, but he had also been, apparently, a spy of some sort. Now this strange man was, allegedly, writing novels based on his many exploits and, strangely enough, these stories had been interesting enough to sell quite well in airports and with suburban booksellers. And Grey wasn’t an American, either, and despite growing up in Cheltenham, his tastes seemed more in keeping with a Japanese way of life. The Grey House would have to reflect all these varied influences, even though they seemed mutually, and often – almost – utterly exclusive.

Whenever C. Llewelyn Sumner contemplated taking on a new commission he first tried to examine the client’s life, looking for clues beyond the obvious that might guide his hand when he shaped the littlest details of the new house as it took shape in his mind. And quite often he looked at other architects’ life and works, not looking for mere inspiration but for something deeper. Maybe a connection to something deeper, beyond words. And, like so many of his generation, Sumner turned to Frank Lloyd Wright for both gentle solace and rough guidance.

So after walking over the site with Patrick, and talking about the preconceived design ideas the spy had in mind, C. Llewelyn Sumner sketched out a preliminary set of plans. He’d at one point thought of Wright’s Walker House in Carmel, California, but soon discarded the idea when he realized this new site was simply incompatible. Next, his mind ranged over the fin de siècle exuberance of the Gamble House, Greene & Greene’s masterpiece in Pasadena, California, yet in their talks Grey seemed to evince little interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the more Grey talked about what he expected in this house the more C. Llewelyn Sumner understood that the spy rarely, if ever, looked back. What Grey really wanted was something that mirrored his life and work in the here and now, something cold and austere, something dangerous yet at peace with his surroundings.

But Grey also talked and talked about small Japanese gardens and the spirits that came to inhabit such gentle spaces. One weekend they boarded a Japan Air Lines 747 and flew to Tokyo, then they flew on to Hakodate, on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, and all the while Patrick talked and talked. At first he talked of gardens and the kami that resided there, but then he talked about his father and growing up in England, and soon enough they came upon the more complicated histories of his mother and wife. And then, finally, to the stubborn history that surrounded his daughter, Akira.

They walked the family’s ancestral home on the tiny peninsula off the western reaches of the ancient city, a sprawling feudal residence that at one time had been a low castle spread out among and between a series of interlinking gardens. They had walked beside a creek that seemed to split the house in two, into old and new, and C. Llewelyn Sumner marveled at the care taken to so carefully space the cherry trees among the spreading dwarf maples. Even the rocks within these gardens, he soon learned, had names. Everywhere he looked his eyes found seemingly irrelevant spaces that were home to various family members – long dead to this world but who nevertheless still resided somewhere within these walls. Or more precisely, in the gardens scattered along the winding pathway beside the stream that ran down to the sea.

C. Llewelyn Sumner had, once upon a time, been a stranger to chance encounters, but all that had come to a shattering end on the First of August, 1966. He had very nearly been killed that morning, when a suicidally deranged Charles Whitman began shooting people from the 28th floor observation deck at the University of Texas. That morning, and its immediate aftermath, took shape as a crystalline shard of memory, a shattered moment in time cast in cold, hard fear. If a motor backfired near Sumner he still often ducked for cover and his hands would shake for hours, sometimes for a day or two.

Then he would remember Tracy and he would find his way back.

And for a time the two had lived in pristine isolation, safely ensconced within a kind of manmade prism of the mind, a time of splintered light within the almost cocoon-like existence of urban nomads taken in by the sea. She had, as it happened, turned him on to living life on a sailboat, to living in a marina while they worked side by side drawing houses for a large architectural firm in Seattle.

Shattered by events in Austin and after growing up in near isolation, C. Llewelyn Sumner found it difficult to accept love – even when love was staring him in the face. As his career flourished in the light of his unquestioned talent, his relationship with Tracy withered in the icy echoes of Whitman’s endless rampage. In the end, Tracy had enough and moved on, and he finally moved his business into a nondescript storefront on Seaview Avenue, not at all far from Ballard locks, and his drafting table looked out over the waters around Shilshole Marina, and when his mood was dark enough he would remember what it felt like to love another human being. He knew she had been the one and that he had failed them both – but as age came for him those remembrances grew fragile and vague.

Until Patrick Grey walked in his door.

Because things keep changing, even as memories take wing. How did Yeats put it? Things fall apart? The center cannot hold?

Walking along the cliffs above the castle in Hakodate with Patrick Grey had been his undoing. Listening to Patrick talk of his marriage and of its unravelling in Palo Alto, Sumner felt echoes of his own disintegrations, of his own failures to love as a man should. And when Sumner saw the violence that lay at the heart of Patrick’s miseries, and how they related, however peripherally, to his own state of denial, he knew he had stumbled upon something most precious. He knew that Patrick Grey would become his friend.

So from time to time, as the Grey House took shape on the shores along Shilshole Bay, C. Llewelyn Sumner took Patrick Grey Sailing on Puget Sound. Cherry picking only the best days, they roamed the waters off downtown and shadowed the various ferries a few times, until finally Grey became interested enough in sailing to try a longer sail. So one July afternoon they took off for a days long adventure up to Port Townsend, and when they arrived Grey could see Vancouver Island across the Straits.

“What’s that?” Grey asked, pointing to a hazy patch along the far shore.

“Victoria is right about there,” Sumner said, as he pointed to a notch in the island.

“Victoria?” Grey said, his mood lifting. “How far away?”

“Oh, I don’t know, 35 – maybe 40 miles…something like that.”

“Could we go?”



“Got your passport?”

“Always. All five of them,” the old spy added with a sly grin, snickering at this tired, ages-old cliché.

So Sumner had moved the waypoint cursor on the chartplotter’s main NAV screen and simply punched Execute, and off they went – with all the tides and currents neatly accounted for. Of course, it took somewhat longer to cross forty miles of open water in a sailboat than it usually did an automobile on a motorway, with around seven hours being a decent enough crossing for a boat like Sumner’s beamy old Nauticat, but soon enough they were berthed at the tiny marina in front of the old Victoria Empress Hotel. Of course, paying more for an overnight berth than a single night in one of the hotels better rooms, and yet their stay lasted a week, and Grey simply paid for everything, no questions asked.

And Sumner thought it odd that what the old spy craved most was a bit of home. Afternoon tea with strawberry scones and clotted cream. A think slab of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and creamed spinach in a small dining roof off an even smaller library. And he’d even fished an old Meerschaum pipe out of a coat pocket after dinner one evening and lit up, and not one mindless chatterbot had come screeching senseless prohibitions, and it was plain for all to see that Mr Grey was nothing more or less than a British gentleman. In the truest, most ancient sense of the word.

And Grey proved to be an able student. Few people take to sailing after a trip like they’d just completed, but Patrick’s eyes seemed alive out there on the water. He was scheming and planning and he loved danger most of all, and Sumner could tell something was up when he drove Grey to the airport one morning a few weeks after their return. Patrick flew to Maine, and he was gone for a few weeks, but when he returned he seemed quite happy with himself.

Yet as Sumner watched the years fall away from Patrick’s life when they were on the water, he also realized he’d have to redesign a few details inside the Grey House, and a few of these he managed to pull off without Patrick’s knowledge or approval. Little hidden details. Secret passageways and the like.

And when finally the Grey House was complete, the two friends walked around their creation admiring what they had cobbled together, and Patrick smiled at the little hidden details Sumner had fashioned almost in plain sight, even if they were just in the shadows. Things like two hidden stairways that led to a small basement. Auxiliary power supplies and battery backup systems, things of that nature that really didn’t seem logical. But then there was the small gym that folded into one basement wall, and a treadmill that disappeared inside another.

So Sumner was a little surprised when, the next time he visited, he found Patrick walking stiffly about the house with the aid of a walker. And Patrick had recently hired an assistant of some sort, and she pushed Patrick out to a modified van when she drove him to appointments or out for groceries, because quite suddenly he was venturing out only with the aid of a wheelchair.

But in the end C. Llewelyn Sumner only smiled as he took in all these new comings and goings, because ever since that first day of August in 1966, he could smell trouble from a mile away.

© 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | just a bit of fiction, plain and simple…

[Paul MacCartney \\ This Never Happened Before]

It’s Just Talk

It's Just Talk image

It’s Just Talk

Stand in judgement, look away

from the piss-stained man and his broken bottle

to the blue tarp where in silent grief

the broken man dares only dream in vacant screams.


Listen to the hate, on vacant aires of endless display

how dare the other and how we hobble

those who do not share in our disbelief

and where nothing, not even the most innocent scheme, is ever what it seems.


It is an endless torment, and always in dismay

we turn from the pitiless stares of our gathering jackals 

counting out rich man poor man beggar man thief

all humble now and cast in bronze on worn down knees.


Once their was truth, before words of decay

found out a hollowed land oh so craving her newer shackles

where even in dreams there was no relief

and so cast to the shadowlands once again, he waits with Diogenes.


© 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | just a few ideas scattered here and there…

Hyperion / Agamemnon Ch. 4

Hyperion AGA im1.1

Well, let’s check in with Denton Ripley and see what kind of trouble he’s getting himself into. Remember, last time he’d run across a massive disruption on the far side of the sun, while preparing to Jump…?

[CSN \\ Helplessly Hoping]

Chapter 4

“Admiral,” Midshipman Lars Jansen said from his acceleration couch, “theory is of limited use in this particular circumstance. Theoretically, antimatter could produce such an anomalous sunspot, but at the possible risk of damaging the sun and impacting all life in the solar system. Similarly, a gamma ray burst could displace enough of the chromosphere to generate such a massive sunspot, but the energy required to produce such a burst is beyond our capacity, let alone our understanding…”

“So,” Ripley sighed, “if I read you correctly there’s no one capable of pulling this off.”

“Within the bounds of currently available technology, that is correct, sir. At least, technologies we know of…”

Even on the small screen, Ripley could tell that Jansen was uncomfortable with his position. “Lars, you sound like you’re hedging a bet. What are you not telling me?”

“Admiral, speaking off the record, I think you should perhaps speak to Dr Balin.”

“Balin!” Ripley cringed. “Why her?”

Jansen shrugged. “Plasma physics is not my main interest, Admiral. You should ask Dr Balin what she thinks is possible.”

Ripley looked at the boy – only just fifteen years old and already well on his way to his second doctorate – and he decided to listen to him. This time. Kids as brilliant as Jansen often came up with oddball solutions, but yes, they often did so just in time to prevent really bad outcomes. So he nodded his agreement to Jansen and told him to keep at it, then he switched over to the weapons bay.

“WEPS here, Admiral.”

“Switch me over to Balin.”

“Aye, sir.”

The screen flickered once and then he was looking at the hell-bitch. “Sorry to bother you…” he said to her.

“But you’d like my opinion concerning the formation of the sunspot?”

Ripley rolled his eyes. Heads would roll, but he just smiled and nodded. “Yes, any thoughts?”

“Yes, I have a solution to the problem, Admiral, but you won’t like it.”

“Fire away, Doctor.”

“A ship, more likely a drone ship or some other unmanned craft, would need to pick an Alderson Point deep within the sun. When the ship arrived it would need to fire a very powerful X-ray Maser into the sun’s core. The resulting helioseismic oscillations could, I repeat, could produce a sunspot of the magnitude we’ve observed. Of course, this presupposes someone else has our Maser technology, as well as the means to generate a Langston Field sufficiently strong enough to last long enough so deeply within the chromosphere to allow the weapon to come online and to fire.”

“And who might have such technology, Colonel?”

“Colonel? What do you mean by…”

“That was the rank you held in the IDF, was it not? Before Mossad recruited you, that is?”

Balin seemed to deflate just a little, but she was bright enough to realize it was pointless to maintain the ruse any longer. With that in mind, she simply addressed his question as best she could. “The Company was working on a ruby-thorium Maser some years ago, and the logical progression from this would be the development of an X-ray device. Whether or not they possess field technology sufficiently advanced enough to allow deep penetration of the solar radiative zone is beyond me.”

“But if they did? And assuming they had an X-ray Maser? Then what else would they need?”

“If I were to guess? Perhaps ten terra-watts of power would be sufficient to disrupt the core.”

“Disrupt the core…” Ripley muttered, thinking aloud. “Tell me, Doctor. Would such a disruption produce a single sunspot, or would…”

“Oh, yes, I see where you are going. I would need to run a simulation.”

“Get on it. Ask Brennan to assign a middie to help you.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

Ripley switched COMMs to the bridge, then to Brennan’s couch. “Were you monitoring my conversation with Balin?”

“I have the transcript now, sir.”

“I’m thinking of an impact deep within the sun, and continuing reverberations. Get with Yukio and set up a simulation with Balin, and let’s see what they come up with. How long ‘til we can transmit to Norfolk?”

“Forty minutes.”

“Okay. Keep me posted.”

He switched over to ship-to-ship and tried calling Hyperion, but there was still no response so he pulled his fluid dispenser to his mouth and sipped some iced cocoa. So many things to worry about, so many permutations. What he needed now was a clear tactical overview and how the Norfolk would respond. “Gordon?”

“Here, sir.”

“Try to get in touch with your brother, find out where Ellen is, then get me a link with Stanton as soon as we get in range.” 

“My brother, sir?”

“Look, I don’t know how else to think of him, okay? You cloned his memory, you are in essence a duplicate of the Gordon who accompanied me on Hyperion, correct?”


“So, I can’t call you Gordon and him Gordon, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to start referring to you by number, so you need to help me out here, okay?”

“I understand your confusion, Admiral, but you must remember that when we are within range our memory modules are linked, so speaking to one of us is the same as speaking to all of us…”

“Sorry, Gordon, but I can’t wrap my head around that one just yet…”

“Then just refer to Ellen, sir. I’ll take it from there.”

Ripley tried to shake his head but then thought better of it, so he took a deep breath instead. “Okay. Find out where my daughter is, please.”

“Yes, Admiral. I have transportation records indicating she was en route to Lovell Base with Admiral Stanton and…my brother.” He paused for a moment, then continued: “They are secure, Admiral, and I am now in contact with my brother, so links to Norfolk should be coming online soon.”

“Send a SitRep to Stanton, and include all current suppositions from Balin and Jansen.”

“Done, Admiral. Norfolk will receive the transmission in 57 minutes.”

Ripley nodded and turned to his screens. “Brennan? You got a course laid-in for the tankers?”

The strain of Agamemnon’s heavy acceleration was telling as he watched Brennan on his screen, but she was holding up. “We should arrive in twenty hours, Admiral.”

“We should? Why the uncertainty?”

“Unusual solar winds, Admiral, and unknown gravimetric distortions are affecting the fusion reactors. Power output is down almost four percent across the board.” 

“Steady or increasing?”

“Steady…so far.”

“Is the Jump point stable?”



“Measurements within the chromosphere are not currently possible.”

“So, if I’m reading you correctly all Jump points are theoretically unusable at this point?”


“Then whoever fired that weapon could still be in-system, right?”

“Possibly. If they knew such displacements were likely, it’s also possible they could predict shifts within the chromosphere and predict where each new Jump point might reappear. In either case, Admiral, as we can’t scan for ships in tight solar orbits we may never know.”

Ripley nodded. “Well, see if you can nail down a launch timeframe or even a possible location where they fired that weapon from. They had to be on the far side, right? Maybe we can infer a relative position and work forward from there. Meantime, try to pin-down the new Jump point. Highest priority to that.”

His screen went dark and he rotated his G-couch into a deep recline, then administered a sedative. When he felt the pinch of the needle in his arm he closed his eyes and tried to dream.

And it seemed like only a few minutes later when he felt stimulants coursing through his veins, bringing him back to wakefulness. He tentatively opened an eye but saw Ina Balin on screen – and he sighed as he suppressed a shudder.

“Ripley? You up yet?” he heard the infernal woman screech.

“Go away,” he moaned, then he realized the ship wasn’t under acceleration and his eyes popped open. “What’s on your mind, Doc?”

“Have you considered that our Jump points are being shut down by an outside group?”


“Oh come on, Ripley. Think about it! Some group wants to bottle us up in Sol system so they crash all the jump points in the Sun – and all at the same time. So now we’re stuck here, in system, with no way out unless we’re willing to make generations long sub-light speed journeys.”

“Well, two questions come to mind. First is who? Next is why?”

“Well, the who and the why is anyone who doesn’t want to compete with us. They bottle us up and that’s the end of the problem, right? I mean, look at us, will you? Within a few years of jumping to Mintaka we’re already on the cusp of another large war. Again. It seems like everywhere we go we say we’re trying to expand human civilization out into the stars, yet everywhere we go we set about trying to exterminate one another. If you were an outside group and you were watching us, would you want us moving into your neighborhood?”

“Okay, so we’ve determined you’re a cynic. Bravo! Now, have you found out anything useful about that weapon?”

His screen went dark and he sighed. 


“Yes, Admiral?”

“How long was I out?”

“Almost six hours, sir.”

“Anything from Stanton, or Fleet?”

“Ellen is still with Admiral Stanton at the lunar south pole. And Fleet concurs that an outside force, or the company, is behind the solar disruption. We are to try and map as many altered Jump points as possible, and relay that information to Norfolk before we depart. Also, Commander Brennan is under mandatory sleep protocol, Admiral, but we’ve already located four altered Jump points. No, make that six.”

“When will we tank?”

“Thirteen hours, twelve minutes.”

“Hyperion’s status?”

“They will finish tanking within the hour, and they now have the corrected Jump point for Mintaka.”

He switched to COMMs and called Judy, and when her screen came on he could see the bustle of activity on Hyperion’s bridge. “How are you?” he asked his wife.

She shook her head. “I don’t like going in blind like this, Denny. We haven’t had any new intel in days, not even an estimate of current Russian fleet dispersements. Hell, they could have a fleet assembled at the Jump point, just waiting for us to come out.”

“That’s exactly what any freshman at the Academy would do, Judy. I doubt they’ll make it that easy for you.”

She looked at him and then slowly shook her head. “Maybe we should trade places, ya know? Military strategy was always your thing, not mine.”

“Read Admiral Tōgō’s summary of the Battle of the Tsushima Strait.”

“Denton, I don’t have time for…”

“Make time, Judy. Delegate and don’t micromanage your people, and don’t take your eyes off the big picture. Remember: the element of surprise works both ways, especially in a fast-moving three-dimensional tactical engagement, and always deploy your forces to come from unexpected vectors. Read the entire article now, and call me with any questions before you reach your Alderson Point.”

“Denton, I…”

“That’s an order, Captain,” he snarled, and though he hated to pull rank she was having a crisis of confidence, and this was not a good time for that kind of malarkey.

“Yes, Admiral,” she said, flipping off her screen.

“Gordon? Is Lars awake now?”

“Yes, he and Yukio are running another simulation, Admiral. Dr. Balin thinks they are close to a solution.”

“Why are we in zero-G?”

“Coasting to bleed off velocity as we approach the tankers, Admiral. The solar wind is much stronger than anticipated, and we are taking advantage of that while we can.”

“What’s happening with that sunspot?”

“Decreasing in size rapidly now, and it is approaching the apparent limb now. No indications of a second spot forming. And Admiral, we have located our corrected Jump point.”

“Good. How long has Brennan been out?”

“Not quite five hours.”

“Wake her when she’s had six hours and get her up to speed.” Ripley got out of his G-couch and stood, then he stretched to ease the burn in his lower back. “Damn, I hope they’ve got real food in the galley,” he muttered as he made his way to Main Street, but he stopped himself and sighed. No, he’d have to go and mend fences with Balin; she was likely to be madder than a wet hen right now, and he’d have to get her settled down. He turned and walked down to the weapons bay and found her inside the inner chamber again, cussing up a storm as she worked a multimeter into a balky connection.

“How’s it going in there?” he asked.

“What are you doing down here?” Balin growled, her anger still at a low simmer.

“Checking on the condition of my ship. What are you doing in there?”

“Shielding around the input conduit is not holding up under load, and I can’t understand why. It worked perfectly on Earth.”

“What’s different here?”

“Nothing that I am aware of, Captain.”

Ripley sighed. “Did I not hear someone mention gravimetric distortions? Could that affect the conduit?”

“Of course! How obvious! We would need to isolate…” she said as she disappeared back inside the beast once again, but Ripley looked at her and shook it off, then made his way up to the main crew mess and found something made with TVP, or textured vegetable protein, that resembled something vaguely similar to meatloaf – and it even smelled kind of like the real thing, too – so he picked up a tray and went through the line, then he sat next to a couple of enlisted ratings who seemed blissfully unaware that they were sitting next to their admiral. He listened to their smalltalk – the usual stuff about loose women and fast bicycles, of course – while he ate, then he ambled off to his in-port cabin and took a shower. His yeoman had laid out a fresh uniform and she had hot cocoa waiting on his desk while he finished getting dressed.

Then a call from Judy came in and he watched the screen come up, then he entered his authentication code and waited for the connection.

“Okay, I read it,” she began after she appeared, “but I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at.”

“You need a diversion. You need to divide their forces. Then the main axis of your attack shows up, but the key is to hit them with long range gunnery. Don’t let them close on you; pick them off at a distance, then have what’s left of your diversionary force come in from their rear so you can divide their fire.”

She was taking notes now, scribbling furiously as he spoke, and that bothered him. If she really was so tactically challenged she wasn’t the right person for the mission – and worse still, why did Stanton think she was? Then it hit him.

“How many escorts can you detail for a diversion?”

Six DEs. Burke class.”

“Your main force?”

“Hyperion, the FDR and JFK, and three Lafayette class heavy cruisers.”

“Any tankers?”

“Six, and one has an atmospheric ram-scoop.”

“Okay. Send the DEs in first, and have them scatter in three groups on 120 degree vectors. Wait 15 minutes then send in the JFK, and have them set a course for the Japanese colony. A half hour later, go in with the rest of your force. Do you have a good astronomy team?”

“Yes. A few from the last mission are still here.”

“Okay. Odds are if the Russians have a large enough force they’ll try to cut off any escape route to Sol system. If that happens, I want you to join up with me at Alpha Geminorum Ca. Worse comes to worse, send a messenger ship, but you’ll have to locate the Alderson point.”

She looked worried and unsure of herself, and once again it was her expression that bothered him.

“Judy? You have the training, and you have good people all around you. Once again, don’t micromanage, just keep an eye on them while you concentrate on the big picture. If your opponent moves to cut off a retreat that’ll be because they think they have you, and if that’s the case you either try to push on to the Japanese colony or get to me, but expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised if nothing is what you expected it would be.”

“Denton, you should be on Hyperion, not me.”

He nodded. “I’m not sure what Stanton’s objective is, but …”

And just then the line went dead, his screen dark – which could only mean Stanton had someone onboard one of their ships. And that someone, probably a Walter unit, had been tasked with monitoring communications between Judy and himself. Well, he’d suspected as much – and now he knew.

(c) adrian leverkuhn | abw | just another bit of fiction, plain and simple.

[Yes \\ The Revealing Science of God]

barnacle bill and the night of sighs, conclusion

Barnacle bill im3

Okay, time to wrap this one up. Grab some tea and I hope you enjoy the moment.

[Yes \\ Turn of the Century]

The Last Part of the Tale

By our fourth day out we were getting a much better picture of the damage up and down the west coast. It had been, unfortunately, one more hot summer, and lava ejected from Mount Hood had set off forest fires that were spreading over central Oregon and southern Washington state. More troubling was the news that Mount Shasta, a long dormant cone volcano located in northern California, had been upgraded from Potential to Imminent Eruption status by the US Geological Survey, and while no one was saying why all these volcanoes were suddenly letting go, the obvious conclusion was that forces released by the Cascade fault was, somehow, forcing a huge increase in upwelling lava. No one had been able to get close enough to Mount Baker, north of Seattle, to check the status of that volcano, and there had been little contact with anyone in the Seattle region since Rainier’s massive eruption.

Ash was obscuring most of the Pacific Northwest from satellite observation, but that wasn’t the case in California. Imagery was being posted on NASA’s Earth Observatory website almost hourly now, and bit by bit the damage in California was becoming alarmingly clear. Fires were raging east of Oakland and south of San Francisco, and the first detailed high resolution images of downtown San Francisco revealed catastrophic damage. Los Angeles was a different story, however.

The west side of LA seemed relatively unscathed and LAX appeared largely intact, but the downtown area had been obliterated and fires appeared to be out of control, literally, as no emergency services could be detected in image after image. Both San Diego and Santa Barbara appeared untouched, though no one was getting through – with the lone exception being radio contact with the huge Navy base in San Diego.

Barnacle Bill and, for that matter, everyone on Haiku remained quiet as we digested the news. Carolyn had taken on six strangers from the flotilla which was probably a good thing, because a couple of them were experienced sailors. Haiku had been sailing under staysail and a deeply reefed main ever since, just so the much larger boat wouldn’t run away from the rest of us, but what I remember most about our fourth day out was waking up and finding that Haiku had left us. I could still just see her through binoculars, but she was under full sail when she sailed out of radar range later that afternoon. 

I picked up satellite imagery of the latest weather information that evening and the storm we’d feared had been pushed east by the North Pacific High, and when I woke at dawn on our fifth day out, I swore as I headed topsides, only to be greeted by a mirror smooth ocean that seemed to stretch out to infinity. Only now it was hotter than Hades on deck, and Max really, really didn’t like that. I put his large astro-turf mat up on the foredeck, which was where I wanted him to do his business when we were at sea, but he looked at me like I was crazy. I went out in my bare feet and soon found out why: one step on our teak decks was enough to fry my feet and his paws, so we dropped down to the swim platform and he dutifully did the deed down there after I soaked the teak with sea water.

Life onboard was of course like nothing I’d ever expected it to be. The first and most important reason was the Gutierrez family, all five of them. Jesus and Matilda were from Guatemala, and he’d been working as a security guard at a small boat builder’s yard north of the city that night. He’d been living with his family in a small trailer on the grounds, but when he heard the tsunami warning he’d gathered his family and hopped in the first boat he found, a little Boston Whaler skiff the boatyard used from time to time. He’d seen Haiku motoring by on the sound and raced out to join the flotilla, and now here they were, on their way to Hawaii with the rest of us. Fortune favors the bold, no?

Heidi Mathieson was the second reason I found for my unexpected new life, perhaps because she was the strangest creature I’d ever run across. She’d graduated from college just a few months before all this broke loose, and she had snagged a boat-sitting job when the owner took off for some kind of job assignment in Singapore or Malaysia, she wasn’t sure which. She walked around like she owned everything in sight yet she doted on the Gutierrez kids. Max looked at her like he couldn’t make up his mind about her, which was really kind of strange if you stopped to think about it. His tail didn’t swish when she called his name or fixed his dinner, and most of the time he simply kept away from her – as much as he could given the limited space we shared. I tended to follow his lead, too, as I found her bossy demeanor more than annoying.

Matilda, on the other hand, was pure joy. She inventoried the supplies we had on board to cook with then simply took over the galley. She loved to cook like most babies take to breathing, if you know what I mean. She’d been born to cook, and she lived to see smiles on the faces of those she fed. I managed to whip up some brownies the first morning the kids were onboard, but I otherwise tended to eat salads night and day; I even served Max’s dinners of chopped veggies and canned chicken on a bed of fresh chopped kale, so he was a salad fiend too.

But now that Matilda was in charge of the galley things had changed. I had stowed a bread maker away somewhere, but she found my supplies of flour and corn meal and went nuts making homemade tortillas, and soon we were putting away huevos rancheros for breakfast and enchilada tortes for lunch or dinner. Jesus caught a few fish so we had fish tacos and ceviche, and life fell into new routines of epicurean bliss.

Until the wind returned, anyway. And after sitting becalmed for two days the wind felt invigorating. Until it didn’t. On the second day of this new, much colder wind, it really piped up, blowing a solid 25 knots indicated out of the northwest, and then the wave height began increasing until we were surfing along the crests of eight footers for hours on end. Steering under these conditions was tiring, and even though Heidi had some offshore sailing experience, Tiki’s 43 feet of heavy displacement was often too much for her. Thankfully, Jesus proved to be an eager learner and an able helmsman, and he seemed grateful to have some purpose onboard other than caring for his children. Yet something was wrong, and we all felt the change now.

For even though it was mid-summer it was only 50 degrees out, but with the increased wind it was growing seriously cold. Tiki has a solid dodger, or a hard covering over the companionway, and while this provided effective cover when sailing into the wind it did nothing to obstruct wind coming from astern. The hydraulic autopilot installed on Tiki was of little use now, though the Hydrovane self-steering gear was managing well enough, but it was getting too cold to stay outside for very long.

Yet as I watched our position advance across the chart I kept waiting to feel a little more warmth in the air – but day after day our hoped for warmth simply wasn’t showing up to the dance. Five hundred miles out from Oahu the temperatures were continuing to fall, and we hadn’t seen the sun in almost two weeks. No one onboard was attuned enough to the sea to understand what that meant, but one morning Heidi came up into the cockpit and told me I needed to go watch CNN for a while.

And even though it was July and New York City should have been broiling, it was snowing there today. Chicago had been blanketed in volcanic ash, but now the ash had a nice, foot and a half deep layer of fresh snow on top. Duluth reported ice was forming on Lake Superior and the Detroit River was frozen solid, something that had rarely happened over recent winters.

And the BBC reported that all air traffic was still grounded worldwide, though National Guard units were arriving by rail in remote parts of southern California and in Reno, Nevada. Relief convoys were forming up to try and reach the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and railway repair crews would follow the troops in. 

And then, when we were still 200 miles off the northeast tip of Oahu, snow started falling on Tiki’s deck.


I didn’t know what to expect next. Nothing made sense.

But approaching Kailua at four in the morning I saw city lights burning through the fog and snow, yet even though Diamond Head was lost in the clouds Honolulu was still burning bright. Calling the harbor master at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor on 16 brought an immediate reply from the US Coast Guard to stay off 16 unless absolutely necessary, so I did the next best thing. I powered up my iPhone and saw I had five bars, so I called the after hours number, expecting to be told the marina was full.

But no, far from it. The harbor master advised that every boat capable of making the trip to Polynesia had either already departed or soon would, and that there were dozens of vacant slips ready and waiting.

“Has a large ketch made it in? Name is Haiku?”

“Sure has. You want me to put you right beside her?”

And that was one less worry to deal with, even though it was beyond surreal to motor into a yacht harbor in Hawaii in the middle of a full blown nor’easter, complete with driving snow and with ice forming on the rigging. The likelihood of finding a snow shovel on Oahu was suddenly weighing heavily on my mind.

But when I pulled into the slip indicated by the harbormaster, I saw Patrick standing in Haiku’s wheelhouse, staring at me as I jumped onto the dock to tie off our lines. And then, after three weeks at sea, it hit me. I was on land again. The world wasn’t heaving underfoot, and I felt queasy, almost seasick – because this place wasn’t rocking and rolling.

Heidi came up, with her backpack already packed, and she hopped off, gave me a brief hug then walked off into the snow. You know, like ho-hum and thanks for the lift. Well, hating her had come easily enough, but not so Jesus and Matilda, or even their kids. I could barely comprehend a world without Matilda in my galley, and Jesus was such a kind soul the thought of losing him too was unsettling. I’d come to rely on them both, I knew, perhaps as much as they were relying on me, but now that we were here they had absolutely no idea what to do, and they had almost no money to see them on their way.

But Patrick came out on deck and asked me to come over to Haiku as soon as I finished up with formalities at the harbormaster’s office, so I asked Jesus to just stay onboard for the time being, then I marched off through the snow to find the office.

Despite the harbormaster’s usual role of maintaining their marina, they are usually a good source of information about all kinds of things in the immediate area, notably jobs, and apparently the main commercial wharves in Honolulu were short-staffed and most local hotels were in need of cooks, so that was one problem down. Next on the list, if Jesus was willing to work security at the marina they’d have a roof over their head, so that was another problem solved, but did I really want them to leave? Well, he’d pass along the information and let them decide what was best for them.

So I walked back out to Haiku and was stunned when I saw the tracks in the snow I’d made a half hour before were now filled-in, while drifting snow was piling up against dock-boxes, and right then I really understood how rapidly the planet’s weather patterns were shifting. I was wearing my full foul weather suit and would freeze to death out here in an hour, but this was Hawaii, in July, and it almost felt like I was having some kind of out-of-body experience. And I guess that explained the expression on Barnacle Bill’s face when I climbed up on Haiku’s deck and walked into the pilothouse.

“Are you alright, or still in a state of shock?” he asked.

“Shock, I think,” I managed to say as I took the towel he offered and started to dry the ice from my unshaved face. “It feels kind of like the North Atlantic…in January.”

He smiled. “We’re at about the same latitude as Havana. Can you imagine snow in Cuba?”

“No, and I don’t want to, either. How long have you been here?”

“Two days. And don’t ask. We’ve both been to the local cathedral, which is what hospitals are called these days, I suppose. Akira is doing very well.”

“And you?”

“I’m here. I suppose that counts for something. How was…your crew?”

“Couldn’t have been better. Yours?”

“Grateful, and they graciously departed as soon as we docked. Carolyn is now an accomplished sailor, and quite proud of herself.”

“You look better, Patrick. Maybe getting out in the sea air agreed with you.”

“Maybe. We were growing alfalfa sprouts so I was eating my weight in the blessed things. Quite the thing with lime and fresh tuna.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Need anything while I’m here?”

“Have you thought anymore about our last conversation?”

I nodded. “Actually, I’ve thought of little else.”


“I guess the reason…well, they’re still aboard. The family I took on, from that little skiff. Guatemalan refugees, lovely people, and I can hardly stand the idea of their leaving.”

“You don’t…hate them?”

“Don’t do this to me, Pat. Okay? Not now?”

He nodded, but his eyes were smiling again. “So? Tahiti?”

I shrugged. “What’s going on weather-wise?” I asked.

“Let me put it to you this way. Brad, the weather guru up in the harbormaster’s office, has a list of people willing to pay for passage to Tahiti. The going rate is a hundred thousand dollars.”

“What the fuck!” I shouted. “Are you shitting me?”

“You know, Neal, I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you swear.”

“A hundred grand? Seriously?”

Pat smiled again. “Seriously,” he replied. “We’re departing on Friday, with twelve guests onboard.”


“Yes it is. Quite a tidy sum, you might say. And interesting what an enterprising pilot, one such as yourself, could earn over the course of a year, don’t you think?”

“What are you saying, Patrick?”

“Let me ask you again. Will you see to my daughter’s care after I’m gone?”

I nodded. “Of course I will, but you already knew that.”

He opened a drawer under his vast chart table and produced the same envelope – again. “Haiku passes to you and Akira on my passing, as a Delaware Corporation, wouldn’t you know. You’ll need to get your captain’s license to be legal, strictly speaking, but I’ll leave all that to you.”

I think a lot passed between us in those uncertain moments, too much for mere words to convey, anyway, but I did see a tear or two in his eyes, and maybe I felt a few of my own, but who knows, really?

“Patrick, I don’t know what to say…” I think I finally managed to say.

“Then don’t say a thing, Spud. Now, where’s that good boy, our little Max?”


Peel an onion and you’ll find many layers. 

I wonder if that’s always been the case with us, or did we evolve our thick layers of protective deceit to simply hide our true natures? If only from ourselves…?

Pat’s daughter, Akira, rarely ventured from her stateroom, and she never talked to anyone.

Carolyn’s boyfriend, I soon found out, was a physician. And an oncologist, and this Dr. Andrews was, in fact, Akira’s oncologist. And it turned out he already had everything he needed onboard, from bags of the latest chemotherapeutics to powerful anti-nausea compounds, and he even had a small, desktop-sized device that produced reasonably accurate lab profiles of blood draws. So, in effect, Haiku had been turned into a floating oncology clinic.

Which was why four patients from the University Medical Center were loaded onboard Thursday evening, and why those four were paying a quarter of a million dollars per person for the trip to Papeete. With eight other passengers paying a hundred grand a pop this little three week trip was going to generate almost two million in income. Five such trips would pay for Haiku, and everything after that would be gravy – or maybe enough to pay for her staggering upkeep.

Pat had a small cabin under the pilothouse, and I do mean small, and the first time I stuck my head in there I was stunned to find an otter curled up on a pillow in the middle of Pat’s sea-berth. It looked up at me and blinked once, then resumed its nap; Pat simply looked up at me and smiled, only now his eyes looked almost exactly like the huge snowy owl’s that I’d seen perched on my spreaders in the marina. Huge, amber, and studious – he looked at me over his Ben Franklin reading glasses, and it felt like he was daring me to question what I saw.

“Yes? What is it, Spud?”

“Everything’s loaded aboard. The tide turns at 0330.”

“Are all our provisions loaded in the galley?”

I nodded. “Matilda is getting everything squared away. Do you want something before going down for the night?”

He shook his head. “No. All the assets were transferred to the banks in Papeete this morning. Did that nurse get here yet?”

“Yes. She’ll stay in the little steward’s cabin off the treatment room.”


“Patrick? This boat just doesn’t make sense. How could you have possibly known?”

“What? That sooner or later the world would have to take a step back from the precipice? That sailing ships would once again be the most viable means of moving people across oceans? But Spud…it’s all a game, we live on a giant chess board. You just have to learn to see beyond the next move, but in truth I never expected to live to see this come about.”

“Patrick, you’re talking as if you’ve been expecting the collapse of civilization?”

“The collapse? Oh, no, far from it, Spud. This was just a momentary reset, a temporary change of course, but that’s the way it’s always happened. Nothing lasts forever, Spud. Whole industries will collapse – but new industries will emerge, and right now you and I are simply assisting in a brief, rapid relocation of assets, helping the next generation of change to emerge, to begin again.”

“So, we’re just cogs in some vast, cosmic machine?”

He laughed. “No, more like footnotes in a never-ending story. Maybe our names will be mentioned in an index somewhere, but I rather doubt that. So, this Matilda? She’ll stay here and her husband will come along in Tiki?”

“Yes, along with Heidi, the other girl that came over with us. She’s asked to rejoin the crew.”

“I dare say. Anything will be better than conditions here for the next few years. So, Matilda’s children will make the trip on Tiki?”

I nodded. “And we’re carrying four passengers.”

“She might be big enough to carry the mail to regional islands, assuming you can find crew for her.”

“That won’t be a problem in Papeete,” I added. “Assuming the weather doesn’t get too wild, anyway.”

“Oh, it will fluctuate as it destabilizes and seeks a new equilibrium. Hopefully we won’t lose satellite coverage anytime soon.”

“Any news from the States I need to know about?”

“Oh,” he sighed, “not much. Some talk of nationalizing the response to rebuild ports on the west coast, more blather about a new ship building program. And of course the usual suspects going on and on about the need to become a multi-planetary species, yada-yada-yada. I did hear something about the Gulf Stream cooling rapidly, so Europe may be in for a cold spell.”

“But that means fewer hurricanes in the Gulf, right?”

Pat nodded. “Complex systems only survive be maintaining equilibrium, Spud. You’ll want to concentrate on moving people from Hawaii this year, then moving many of these same people to Auckland or Sydney next year. By that time you’ll need to have started work on Haiku II, and with her you can link up to Singapore, then possibly even Japan. By the time you retire you should reestablish contact with North America, and who knows, maybe air transport will resume by then, as well.”

I looked at the otter, then at Patrick. “This an old friend?”

His amber eyes blinked slowly, but he then just looked away – trying to hide a growing smile. “We’ve been together for some time, you might say.”

“Like Max and me?”

“Precisely. What was the name of that television show you used to watch with your father? About a war veteran sailing the South Pacific, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. Adventures in Paradise. James Michener wrote a few of the episodes, but it was his idea, when all was said and done.”

“Ah. Some Enchanted Evening. Did you ever see the musical? In person, I mean?”

I smiled too. “Mary Martin, yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night.”

“Yes. Funny what we choose to remember. And what we fail to forget. Do you think of him often?”

“My dad? Yeah, all the time.”

“Well, I suppose he’ll be with you then, on your next adventure?”

“I hope so.”

“You’ll take care of Max, won’t you?”

“Of course, but…”

“You’d better go topsides and check the rigging for ice. And be careful, Spud.”

His whole demeanor had been changing by the minute, wistful here, then playful, but I went topsides and walked the vast decks, shining a bright light up into the rigging, knocking some snow and ice off one of the headsail furling units as I thought about what he’d meant. Then I checked in with Matilda and found she was baking brownies, then I talked with Carolyn and her doctor friend before I went back to Patrick’s tiny cabin to say goodnight.

But he was gone. Simply gone, and it was as if he’d never been there. Or maybe he’d never really existed at all, yet Pat’s otter was standing on his pillow just then, playing with the pure white feathers from the wing of a snowy owl.


Coming south from Hawaii, you typically spot the craggy spires of Mou’a Roa on the island of Moorea before your eyes find the twin spires of Tahiti’s Mont Orohena, and that was the case on our seventeenth day out of Honolulu. Haiku of course handled the passage with ease, and her long waterline and voluminous sail-plan ensured our passage was a fast one. Doc Andrews had his hands full, however, as two of our passengers were oncology patients and one was on dialysis. Had Patrick installed a single, portable dialysis unit just for himself, or had he envisioned Haiku becoming some sort of inter-island hospital ship? I suppose I’ll never know the answer to that question, but with his God’s eye view of things, notably the prescience to build Haiku in the first place, I had been left in awe of his grasp of time. And our place in the stream.

And yes, I missed him terribly. So did Max. And of course, so did Charles, Pat’s infernal sea otter. From time to time I saw that great white owl, too. He stood watch from the second set of spreaders on the foremast, though occasionally he came down to the deck to take food from Akira, usually a few slivers of raw salmon. She would stroke the feathers on his head and often I could hear her speak in slow, soothing cadences to him, but eventually he’d head back up to his perch and resume his scans of the sea ahead.

Charles and Max, on the other hand, were soon best friends, and when I hit the bunk for some sleep Max would curl up beside me – and Charles would curl up on Max. I started, or should I say restarted, having those most peculiar dreams on that first passage, too. The medieval castle perched over the sea and the infinite bloom of cherry blossoms. I could feel Japan in those dreams, Japan – calling out to me. But hadn’t Patrick told me as much?

I spent what time I could with Akira, yet she remained cool, almost aloof, the entire voyage. She spoke gently when she talked of her father, yet it wasn’t a stretch to say that she was still very uncomfortable with his memory. Things had apparently remained unsettled since the night of sighs, which was what she called the night that Mount Rainier erupted, and I began to suspect that his memory would never be a pleasant one, at least for her.

Matilda was baking cinnamon scones our last morning out, and Haiku was alive with the scent. Our passengers came up on deck and pointed at Moorea’s craggy-spired majesty as they sipped jasmine tea, but few bothered to look aloft at the owl scanning the far horizons. He remained up there the two days we were in Papeete, coming down only to take a few slivers of salmon from Akira, and he remained on his perch even after Tiki arrived, and as cargo and provisions were reloaded aboard Haiku.

Indeed, the old owl remained on his perch as we departed the old quay and turned north, as we sailed free of civilization once again, bound for Honolulu under his patient, watchful eyes. I was walking the deck later that afternoon when I felt a fluttering of wings by my side, and I felt the owl land on my left shoulder. Perhaps I was too stunned to move, yet it was funny, too, in a way. You see, I was not at all surprised when he began to whisper in my ear.

(c) 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | this was just fiction, plain and simple.

[Rodgers and Hammerstein (v1958) \\ Some Enchanted Evening]

…because that is the way some things happen in life…

barnacle bill and the night of sighs, part 3

Barnacle Bill im2

…and another theme emerges…

[George Strait \\ Thoughts of a Fool]

barnacle bill and the night of sighs

the Third Part of the Tale

The jet stream, as far as I could tell, was carrying Mount Rainier’s ash cloud across the northern tier of the United States, as well as into southern Canada, and, so far at least, cities around the Great Lakes appeared hardest hit. The constellation of GPS satellites was completely unaffected so Tiki and Haiku, as well as the few dozen other sailboats from the marina, were making our way to the northwest during that first night after the eruption of Mount Rainier. Sailing past Whidbey Island, and the Naval Air Station on the northwest coast of the island, most of the trees and houses seemed to have been scoured from the land, and I could see no trace of the hangars and all the other, smaller buildings at the air base. I’d spent months there just twenty years ago and what had once seemed so permanent had simply been wiped away. I felt real pain as I looked at the scrubbed remnants of the island and wondered how many people had managed to make it to the mainland or to high ground. In the 45 minutes we had.

And every frequency we tried on the VHF radio replied with only static, even the automated weather frequencies were silent now, and that could only mean one of two things: either the antennas were all down – and this was unlikely – or the Coast Guard and NOAAs reporting facilities had been taken out. Next thing to try was the internet, so I fired up the inverter and powered up my StarLink antenna, and it took a few minutes to acquire signal but I had an active connection. Once my MacBook was connected and the browser launched, I went to CNN. 

Coverage was scanty at best, but astronauts on the ISS had imaged the area from Vancouver to Portland, Oregon, and that was when everyone learned that Mount St Helens and Mount Hood had also both erupted overnight. Now even a cursory examination revealed that everything on the Pacific coast north of Eureka, California had been shattered and then scrubbed from the surface of the planet by either tsunamis or lava flows. The largest of the Puget Sound tsunamis had put out the fires we’d seen in the city, but then the wave had marched inland and slammed into the Cascades, in the process running into the lava flows racing down Rainier’s northwest flank. Lava had somehow continued flowing down the valleys that emptied onto the flat coastal plains where Tacoma and Renton had once been, but those images had been taken an hour or more ago and it was likely the lava had reached Puget Sound by now.

I switched on the loud-hailer and called out to the boats within range and asked them to go to VHF 16, then I relayed what I had seen on CNN to the 20 or so boats in our ragged little flotilla.

“So what do we do now?” someone asked. “I mean, we can’t go back, can we?”

“Look,” I said, “I can’t tell what conditions are like north of here, but CNN says there’s been no word from either San Francisco or Los Angeles so they may have earthquake or tsunami damage there. Same for Hawaii, and that begins to narrow down our options. We could move north, towards Desolation Sound and Alaska, or we could try for Polynesia, Australia, or New Zealand.”

“No way I could make it that far,” a woman said, her voice sounding very small indeed. “I’ve got twenty gallons of diesel and maybe forty gallons of water, and I’ve never been outside.” The open waters of the Pacific were often referred to as ‘Outside’ by sailors around Puget Sound, primarily because the Sound offered protected waters while the waters ‘outside’ were exposed to all manner of weather-driven sea states. Making a trans-oceanic passage in a small sailboat was not something to be undertaken lightly, either. Such boats had to be designed to handle offshore conditions and at a minimum there also had to be enough fuel, food, and water to sustain life for a prolonged crossing. A water maker would help, but only if the boat in question had enough fuel onboard to power the system. 

“Okay,” I said. “Before we make any decisions we need more information. I’ll broadcast a news update as soon as I can, and if you have questions or concerns let’s tackle those soon.”

Haiku dropped power and Carolyn was waving at me, so I altered course and closed on her, and a few minutes later I pulled alongside – and then Patrick stepped out of the inside steering station.

“Are you sure you want to take on this kind of responsibility?” he asked – kind of sarcastically, I thought.

“The alternative is what, exactly, Patrick?”

“Let them make their own way to wherever it is they want.”

“I see. What are your plans?”

And then Patrick shrugged.

“I see,” I nodded, now understanding where I stood in his world.

“It’s nothing personal, Neal. I’d imagined you’d be heading south now, whereas we’ll be heading west.”

“Japan? My god, Patrick! Won’t you need medical intervention sooner than that?”

“Not my main concern. Besides, there aren’t exactly many options, Neal.”

“Try UC San Diego; I’d should think they’d still be intact. Why don’t you see if you can’t contact someone down there? With your speed you could be there in under two weeks.”

“Well, I have a bit of a problem in that regard, Neal. I’m the only person onboard with any sailing experience.”


“There was no need to engage the services of a captain while Haiku was simply sitting there tied up in that marina.”

“Holy shit, Pat. Carolyn can’t sail? Or her friend?”

He shook his head.

“I’m sorry if this is none of my business, but who was the woman we picked up at that house?”

“Akira. My daughter.”

I tried to hide my reaction to this bit of news, but probably wasn’t real successful. “Where is she now?”

“Below,” he sighed. “She is quite angry with me, I’m afraid.”


“Yes. In fact, I may need you to help me with that.” 

“Uh-huh,” I think I managed to say. Oh, how the worm turns.


It fast became apparent after my first broadcast that our little flotilla was breaking down along the usual lines: left and right, as in liberals and conservatives. Even now, even as mutually dependent as many of these sailors were, the usual walls started falling into place. Bigger boats didn’t want to share fuel or water, and heaven forbid if you were low on perishable food or canned goods. Patrick had the largest yacht out there and he’d already made it abundantly clear he wouldn’t share a damn thing, with anyone. Myself included.

Then again, he was dead set on setting out for Hokkaido, a 4,300 great circle route that would take him as far north as the Aleutians. Pointing out that this would be against wind and current, that left him with a more leisurely alternative jaunt via Hawaii, a six thousand mile trip that would strain the physical resources of any fully crewed yacht, let alone an octogenarian in full blown kidney failure trying to single-hand a 120 foot super yacht across one of the most challenging bodies of water on the planet. Whatever he tried, he’d need every bit of food and fuel he had stowed away, so at least I could understand his point of view.

Tiki could just conceivably make the 3800 mile trip to Papeete, Tahiti – with one stop in the Marquesas Islands to take on more food. Assuming I could find someone willing to sell food to me once I got there.  I had a watermaker on board so could turn sea water into fresh – as long as I had enough fuel to run the ship’s diesel. If we ran into the doldrums, or the Intertropical Convergence Zone, Max and I could conceivably sit there bobbing about like a cork for weeks on end, and while I had four solar panels making 800 watts on a sunny day, things could get real dicey, real fast. The more I thought about it the more San Diego made sense, and surely things would be getting sorted out after the two to three weeks it would take us to sail down the coast.

But as I listened to CNN the more unsettled and unrealistic that first rosy outlook now seemed. Preliminary damage estimates to the Pacific Northwest region appeared to be in the tens of trillions of dollars, and entire harvests in California and the mid-American agricultural heartland were now more than questionable – and would remain so for years – and some scientists were saying it was beginning to look more than possible that a prolonged period of extremely cold weather could encircle the globe for up to a decade – because it seemed that no one had foreseen three large volcanos cutting loose at the same time.

And now, suddenly and unexpectedly, it was looking like my little ocean going cocoon might just prove to be one of the most reliable ways to get through this calamity – at least assuming the weather didn’t go completely batshit crazy. Maybe that was why billionaires had been building mega yachts for the past ten years? 

And now all I had to do was get Barnacle Bill to start thinking clearly.


So, as I passed along events during my next radio session, I passed along what I’d just learned from CNN and the BBC, and that proved to be a peculiar moment. Peculiar – because it was as though we could all feel a collective sigh drifting among the little islands of humanity that was our little flotilla – and what happened in the aftermath of that moment was nothing short of miraculous.

That wall, and all those partisan divisions among us, began to fall away.

A social studies teacher on our net talked about the possibility of near total cloud-cover resulting from all the ash circling the planet, and how that might, just might, bring on something like that so-called ‘little ice-age’ that had happened a couple hundred years ago. The southern hemisphere might not experience these conditions, she added, or might not to the extent the northern hemisphere might.

“So,” another member of our net said, “you think we all need to head south too?”

And that forlorn, lost sounding voice came back on just then: “I’ll never make it,” we heard the woman on the small boat say again. “I wouldn’t make it to Oregon, let alone Hawaii.”

“Then come on over and join us on Silver Bear,” another member of our new group said. “We’ve got tons of food and a water-maker, and plenty of room, too.”

So we started to sort through the people out there; who was on too small a boat and who had room to spare. Who had a water-maker, but maybe not enough fuel, or food. We were westbound now, heading towards Tatoosh Island and the Cape Flattery lighthouse, but already the sky looked peculiar – like there was a pewter-green colored layer high up in the stratosphere, and the winds had died down to nothing – which produced another sort of foreboding.

“Barometric pressure is 30.15 and rising,” Pat said over the net, “but there’s something that looks like a typhoon between Guam and Honshu; at last report it was turning northeast, towards the Aleutians, and there’s another deep low in the Gulf of Alaska.”

“What direction is that storm headed?” someone asked.

“Southeast,” Pat replied. “It should be here in four days.”

It was my turn now. “So you think we’d better head south now? Any idea what the weather in the Caribbean is doing?”

“Something organizing west of the Cape Verde Islands,” Pat added, “but the NOAA sea surface temp map is showing 88 degrees in the central Gulf of Mexico, so it won’t take long before a storm gets organized there.”

“So a storm could form there and jump across to the Pacific and head towards Hawaii?” the voice on Silver Bear asked.

“That’s a possibility,” Pat said. “Your best bet may be to thread the needle, head to the Marquesas.”

And on hearing the words ‘Your best bet’ I knew that Barnacle Bill was giving up the ghost, quitting right then and there. Mind you, I had no idea who this son of a bitch really was but all of a sudden the idea of losing him didn’t sit too well with me. That said, I altered course once again and closed on Haiku. Pat had apparently been reading my mind, and he was out on the rail, waiting for me.

So I hung fenders off my port rail and made my lines ready, then tied off on Haiku’s starboard rail, and when we were rafted together I stepped across to Haiku, and of course so did Max.

“I’m thinking about what you said,” Pat said, “about heading for San Diego.”

“Why not Honolulu?” I said. 

“Which do you think it the more vulnerable location?”

“Pat, if the San Andreas fault let go I’m not sure anything in California makes sense.”

“I’ve been thinking of home,” he said wistfully. “In an ideal world, I think I’d rather pass there,” he said.

“And where would that be, Pat?”

“Britain. South of Oxford.”

“And your daughter? She doesn’t exactly look well, Pat.”

“She’s recovering from chemotherapy.”

“Oh? Will she need medical support?”

“Yes. She could for the foreseeable future.”


“Tahiti,” he whispered, “might be the most appropriate choice.”

“I’m sorry. You’ve lost me, Pat.”

“I want you to take her with you.”

“Excuse me?”

“No man is an island, Spud. And you, you of all people, should know that by now.”


There was, I remembered thinking inside another such moment, no place like an aircraft carrier at night. Gliding along in the eastern Mediterranean at two in the morning, the seas looked like a black mirror stretching off into infinity. It looked to be, all in all, a good night to fly. Watching the intricately choreographed ballet of deck-apes and aircraft moving to the cats had, after almost twenty years, taken on the comfortable routine of the familiar, but there had been times when climbing up into the cockpit for a night cat-shot when the butterflies in my gut became unbearable. And so it was that night.

Spooks had identified an Isis command bunker near the Syrian-Lebanese border, and ground-pounders had choppered-in to put a laser on any moving targets that approached the bunker. An E-2 Hawkeye had already launched and was orbiting off the coast, at the time looking at Russian Su-24s flying strike packages against Kurds somewhere east of Damascus, and Navy F/A-18s were waiting for the spooks on the ground to give the Go call. Before they could launch, however, I would take my EA-6B to southern Syria and jam every radar in the region, clearing the way for the F/A-18s on their flight to the target.

Steam was hissing out of the catapult rail when I was given hand signals to taxi to Cat 1, and with the front canopy still wide open I watched as men and equipment scurried out of our way. The blast deflector retracted into the deck and I looked at the controller down to my left as he guided me out onto the foredeck, then I worked through my pre-launch checklist while men below hooked up the shuttle. When the launch director signaled the catapult was ready I closed the canopy and ran the power up to 60 percent and watched my pressures, then advanced power to 103 percent and saluted before pushing the back of my helmet into the headrest. I could see the director signal the launch and feel the catapult take over, slamming me back into my seat while I watched my airspeed and rate of climb indicators.

Launching at night with no moon is like stepping out into a black hole; there is no visual frame of reference, no horizon line or the lights of a distant city to orient yourself to – there are only six instruments in your field of view and every bit of concentration is centered on the information they provide. In the second and a half you are on the catapult you still feel the carrier beneath the aircraft, then there’s a slight dropping lurch before you are enveloped in pure darkness. Hand on stick, eyes on your instruments, you pull back slightly and watch your airspeed stabilize. Next you look for a positive rate of climb and when you see 145 indicated you retract the landing gear as you continue to watch your speed. Flaps and slats up next, then you check in with your controller in the E-2 and get your first vectors as you climb to your assigned cruising altitude. And that’s just the first thirty seconds.

But at that point in the game your job is almost over. The EA-6B is a chauffeur driven limo designed to haul three electronic warfare operators to the skies over the battlefield, and once near the target they do their thing until it’s time to go back to the ship, or to RTB – return to base – to either rearm and refuel, or to call it a night and head to the rack for some sleep. All you do while up there is fly the plane where the controller in the E-2 tells you, unless things get dicey, anyway.

On the night in question, the night Patrick was obliquely referring to, a Seal team had a small Isis command center about 30 miles west of Palmyra in their crosshairs; my part of the mission was to go in and orbit the area at very high altitude and provide cover for the F/A-18s that would bomb the target. The odd thing about Isis, however, was that they were at the time quite well-armed, and with US and Russian weaponry the group had taken with them when their members fled Iraq. In other words, they had Stingers and other small surface to air missiles they could deploy against us. Well, me.

And so, of course, that night the shit hit the fan. It always does.

One of the Blackhawk helicopters extracting the Seal team after the airstrike took heavy ground fire and went down, and within moments ground radars lit up at the Khmeimim Air Base on the coast. Then airborne radar-sets lit off as Russian Migs and Sukhois on ready alert took off and turned south towards Tartus – which was very bad news for all concerned. The Blackhawk was down somewhere east of Homs and I was flying a hundred mile racetrack with Homs my west-most anchor point, but when it was time to return to the carrier I’d need to fly just south of Tartus on my way back to the Lincoln. Only now I’d have a reception committee waiting – just for me and my Prowler. 

But now we also had a rescue mission underway. Several helicopters from a small carrier off Crete had already transited the coast and were heading towards Homs, but there was a big military radar just north of the city, at the air base in Hama, that would light them up momentarily. Then we got word from the strike commander via the E2 Hawkeye: Take out the Syrian radar on the ground at the Hamah Military airfield, then go low and set up high intensity jamming to provide cover for the inbound Blackhawks.

The Syrian radar was primitive, no frequency jumping, no phased-arrays, so as they were focusing their search to the southeast we looped around and came in from the northwest. One AGM-88 took of that radar but my right-seater called an ancient Mig-21 coming online as we returned to our racetrack over Homs. Even though the -21s were older than hell they were also very fast, and they carried two air-to-air missiles so we couldn’t ignore this new threat. Still, the pilot in the Mig relied on ground radar to provide targeting information, and he’d just lost that. 

Then our E-2 chimed in again: there were now four Sukhois south of Tartus and a Russian Mainstay AWACs aircraft was taking off from Khmeimim Air Base, and just then my EWO informed me that the fire control radar at the normally quiet Shayrat Air Base south of Homs had just painted our aircraft. One of my back-seaters then told me that an S-300 surface-to-air battery was concentrating on our racetrack and that they would soon have the Blackhawks.

I relayed this to the strike commander on the Lincoln and I was advised to take out the radar at Shayrat. And I had one -88 left. Normal Russian doctrine for the S-300 was to shut down their radar when they detected either an inbound Shrike or an AGM-88, but the -88 was smart – it would remember the location of the radar set even after the radar shut-down. The only danger with this feature was that the Russian engineers had wised up and soon put their S-300 radars on mobile mounts, so once we fired they could simply shut-down and move a quarter mile and wait for missile impact before reactivating their radar set.

So, just a quick recap here, but we had the Russian AWACs aircraft and four escorting Sukhoi-27s heading for our escape route over the coast, a Mig-21 coming up from behind and a Russian S-300 SAM battery dead ahead. Ho-hum…just another day at the office, dear.

So, priority 1: take out Shayrat. Burn up the spectrum the S-300 SAM used, take away their ability to detect or react to an AGM-88 launch. Their were Mig-23s located there, too, reportedly with a few Russian pilots on hand, as well as Mi-35 helicopter gunships – also with Russian pilots on hand – and killing Russians was still off the table, at least then it was. So it was the same drill; drop in low and come in from an unexpected axis, fire the AGM-88 to take out the radar at Shayrat then move out of range and begin to cover the Blackhawks.

And to the point that Barnacle Bill was making, I didn’t have to worry about the Mig-21 coming in from the north, or the Mig-23s that might come up from Shayrat, or even the Sukhois patrolling my exit lane south of Tartus – because two squadrons of F/A-18s were launching and forming up, getting ready to clear our exit. Kind of like the old Green Bay Packer’s power sweep, with Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston clearing the way for Jim Taylor around the strong side. First down every time.

Flying that night, or during any one of the seventy-plus missions I flew over Serbia, Iraq, or Afghanistan, I knew I was never alone up there. I was part of a team, that team deeply grounded in traditions of duty and loyalty, and yet here I was in the here and now – defiantly choosing to go it alone.

What had happened? Why had I changed?

So when Barnacle Bill told me he wanted me to look after his daughter, I think he was, in effect, telling me to get a life.


But standing there on Haiku’s broad teak decks, when I looked at Patrick I knew I was looking at a dead man. Whatever it was he had – well, it had him by the throat and wasn’t letting go. Britain was a pipe dream, and just watching him I wondered if he’d even make it to Hawaii. And his daughter? She had been doing chemo? What was her prognosis? How long could she be away from an oncologist without taking a turn for the worse?

“No man is an island? Isn’t that Milton?” I asked.

He shook his head and sighed. “I see another education was wasted. John Donne.”

“And that’s how you think I see myself? As an island?”

“That’s called a metaphor, Spud.”

I sighed. “And if I may? Why?”

“Your best friend is a dog, Spud.”

“Point taken, but then again Max is infinitely more trustworthy and caring than…”

“Oh, shut up, you imbecile,” he growled with sudden ferocity. “Have your experiences with women been so awful?”

I nodded. “Yup. Pretty much.”

“So…you’re a true misogynist, is that what you’re saying?”

“I think you’re missing the point. I don’t hate women, Pat. I hate people. All people. In fact, I’m an equal opportunity hater. I’ve never met another human being I could stand to be around for more than a few hours.”

“Truly?” Pat said, his eyes dancing behind cloudy strata of mirth. “A genuine misanthrope? I hardly knew any of you still existed! How utterly delightful!”

I, of course, found this reaction slightly perplexing. Indeed, almost confusing, which is of course one of the reasons I detest people. His words were laced with sarcasm, the double-meaning of his choice of words obscuring his derision, all of it a reflection of his need to slap a label on another human being.

“You asked to speak to me?” I said, our eyes locked on like dueling radars.

“I see that we’ll need to take on as many of these people as we can,” he said blithely, “and I suspect the best choice will be to make for Honolulu. There’s been no good news out of either San Francisco or Los Angeles, and whatever reasons there might be for heading that way, I doubt they’ll have the time or the resources to take care of an old fart like me.”

“Is there news about anything going on in Hawaii?”

“No, but I’m simply assuming that no news is good news – in this case. It does appear that both Tacoma and Olympia were hit by one of Rainier’s lahars, and that Portland has sustained major damage from two pyroclastic flows, but no one is sure whether these came from Mount Hood or St. Helen’s. Astoria, near the coast, was hit by the tsunami and apparently was severely damaged. The USGS in Oregon just confirmed that the San Andreas fault did let go just moments after Mount Rainier, so going to California represents a huge gamble, as at least two rather large population centers have probably been cut off from outside aid, and that means tens of thousands of people will be starving within a matter of days. And you must remember, Neal, that with all the volcanic ash circulating in the upper and lower atmosphere, it’s quite likely that all aviation will be grounded, and conceivably for a very long time.”

“So, you won’t be flying to London anytime soon, will you?”

“No, of course not, but with any luck at all I’ll find suitable medical facilities for Akira in Hawaii.”

“And for yourself?”

But then Patrick just smiled – as he took an envelope from his back pocket and handed it over to me. “In the event of my death, you are to open this and carry out my final instructions.”

“And your daughter? You said her name is Akira?”

Pat nodded. “That’s correct. Take care of her, Neal, at least until she’s well enough to make her way in the world on her own. Will you do that for me?”

“Why me, Patrick?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because it’s time.”

“Time? What on earth do you mean by that?”

“You can’t go through life with just a dog by your side, Neal. And if you don’t like people, you need to find out why. If you don’t trust them, you need to find someone you can trust. And if you can’t care for another person, then you need to tie an anchor around your feet and jump overboard,” he said – with a straight face, I might add.

“People are evil, Pat…”

“Yourself included, of course?”

“Of course. We’re evil, all of us, every single one of us.”

“But aren’t we also good?” Pat sighed. “I mean, surely you must concede that we are capable of acts of extreme goodness, so are you telling me that you’ve just discovered the dualities inherent in mankind?”

“Goodness is just another word for exercising self-interest, Pat.”

“Oh? So helping these stragglers out here by carrying them to Hawaii is in your self interest? And is keeping Max out here under the present circumstance in your best interest? Come on, Neal. Think it through. Think about what you’re really saying.”

“Well then,” I replied casually, “taking your daughter is certainly not in my best interests, right?”

“If you’re silly enough to think that way, then yes, give me the envelope. Go about your wretched life, and get on with your self obliteration, but don’t do it anywhere around me.” And as he said this he snatched the envelope from my hands and turned to leave, but first he turned knelt beside Max. 

“But isn’t that exactly what you’re doing, Pat?” I said to him as he knelt. “Getting on with your self-obliteration?”

Yet kneeling there as best he could, he rubbed Max’s chin and whispered in his ear, then he stood and looked at me. “You’ll forgive my predilection for falling back into the clutches of the classics, but I find that here I must, one last time: ‘Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’” And with that said, Barnacle Bill turned away from us and walked back to Haiku’s cockpit, then he disappeared down below. And me, not quite knowing what else to do, well, I walked back to the rail and hopped aboard Tiki, and Max followed along, too – yet I sensed he did so reluctantly this time.

And so we set about getting all the people off the smaller boats that had gathered around Haiku, and of the small flotilla out there, only four of us were capable of the almost three thousand mile crossing to Hawaii. One guy said he’d try his luck and head up to Vancouver, and then a small motorboat came alongside Tiki. I saw a family of five huddled in the twenty foot Boston Whaler; two adults and three kids, dad at the wheel and his family huddled under a  blanket and some life jackets. They had been bailing water from their little boat with two plastic buckets, and the kids looked frozen and exhausted.

The man in the Whaler handed me their lines and I tied them off amidships, then I lifted the kids from their mother before I helped her climb aboard. After I helped the man up on deck I could see he was a wreck, his hands were shaking and his eyes as red as plums as we cast off his boat’s lines; the poor soul watched his last possession on earth drift off into the night – just as a tiny sailboat with a lone woman behind the tiller came up alongside. She appeared quite young and adventurous looking, and it seemed she’d already packed all the belongings into a large mountaineers backpack. Now she motored-up alongside then simply stepped across, and her frail little sailboat drifted away, carried along by Tiki’s spreading wake until it too disappeared in the night.

Within ten minutes everyone on smaller vessels had migrated to one of the four larger sailboats, and I set the autopilot to steer 232 magnetic then I went below to fire up the stove and make hot chocolate. Those kids sure looked they needed it, and I knew I had a box of brownie mix down there somewhere.

(c)2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | fiction, plain and simple…

[The Doobie Brothers \\ What a Fool Believes]