WIP: Asynchronous Mud

Well, a few odds and ends here, then on to the next story.

Against my better judgement I recently posted A Walk By the Sea at Lit., and again, despite knowing better I left voting turned on. More out of curiosity, mind you, as knowing what a melancholy tale this is I knew it would poorly received. I wasn’t far off. Mind you, I didn’t see getting an Editor’s Choice pinned to this one, yet most reactions posted in comments were charitably nice and on the mark.

One refrain in a few concerned me, however. One in particular dancing around the notion that this story somehow, in some way, represents suicidal ideation, and that I need to take a rest from writing of this sort.

Well, no.

I’ve written about time travel. That doesn’t make me a time traveler. I’ve even written about transsexuals, yet last time I looked I didn’t have a closet full of dresses and high heels. I do write about life, at least my perceptions and understanding of life, yet the last thing I felt when writing Walk was giving voice to suicidal despair. I felt the story more the completion of an arc, about one life coming to it’s forgone conclusion. As mentioned earlier, the story exists as metaphor. The man and the woman represent archetypes, paradigms, and as such represent something a bit more encompassing than two lives simply coming undone.

Anyway, it seems this one opened a few raw wounds, and while I can relate to that pain this wasn’t the intent of the story.

Oh, I managed to paint one side of the house yesterday (granted, one very SMALL side of the house) but I have to tell you, there’s something disconcerting about standing on the top rung of a twenty-six foot tall ladder in a strong breeze, holding a can of stain in one hand and a dripping paint brush in the other. And of course, that’s right about the time a horse fly comes along and bites you on the ass.

There’s a metaphor dangling around in there somewhere – I promise. If you figure that one out let me know, too (yes, I’m still looking).

Anyway. Asynchronous Mud. The story is a continuation of NightSide (you remember: assassination in Zermatt, 777 crashing in LA, then Eve enters the story), and the title derives from a piece of music I composed on mini-Moog decades ago. Hideous music, too. Sounded like digestive noises, perhaps someone in great need of Pepto-Bismol. Hopefully the story is a bit less explosive than that, and easier to swallow. At any rate, it’s just one more piece of the puzzle, and not a self-contained story.

So, happy reading, and we’ll see you around the next bend of the trail.

+++++

Asynchronous Mud

+++++

Man alone, born of stone,

Will stamp the dust of time

His hands strike the flame of his soul;

Ties a rope to a tree and hangs the Universe

Until the winds of laughter blow cold.

Emerson Lake & Palmer  +  Karn Evil 9 – third impression

+++++

Kenji Watanabe sat in the taxi next to MaryJane, trying his best not to stare at the girl’s legs – and soon finding this next to impossible he turned and looked at San Francisco Bay and SFO, the international airport now just off the 101. He watched as a JAL 797 flared over the water and settled gently on the runway, reverse thrust kicking up a small cyclone of dust and tire smoke – before all that sound carried across the water and washed over the orange Tesla. He shook his head, did his best to hide his revulsion of any and everything to do with aviation, and so of course found himself looking at MaryJane’s crossed legs – again.

He had picked her up just the day before, at Richardson Autonetics’ Palo Alto facility, and he was, he thought, almost proud of her. She was, according to Richardson, “our first unit certified for export;” she would be the very first of her kind in Japan – and she was his, all his and his alone. He would not disassemble her, would never reverse engineer her…no, after last night he was simply going to hold her close – cherish her and never let go. He had never experienced a night such as that before; he had never felt so in love, or loved.

She was more human than human, Ralph Richardson told him in that meeting. Incredibly sensitive – both physically and emotionally – Richardson said, yet unlike human females not prone to variations in mood, or desire – if that’s truly what Watanabe felt most comfortable with. This flexibility, Richardson patiently explained, was but one of the many behavioral parameters that could be customized – even after delivery – should the need arise. Watanabe had been skeptical then – but not now.

And after last night, Watanabe was one hundred percent certain that nothing about this remarkable being needed any sort of customization, at all – if only because she was utterly perfect in every way, and in every sense of the word. No…she was beyond perfect. She was as docile and empathically understanding one moment as the most accomplished courtesan of old, and yet the next she was a hellion – and least when the lights were out and her clothes off. Though it had been years since he had been with a woman, she had coaxed whatever lingering shyness remained from his bruised psyche and carried him over the ultimate threshold, back to the headiest days of his youth.

Now he turned and looked her in the eye – and as she turned and looked into his waves of unbelievable peace washed over his soul. ‘This can’t be happening to me,’ he told himself once again – for perhaps the tenth time in as many minutes. ‘She’s simply not possible…’

And yet she was. Here was the proof of that assertion – right by his side.

Her hair was purest black, her skin so white she almost looked ready to perform a kabuki set, yet it was her eyes that most enthralled him. Black one moment, then in the next a cobalt so deep it was almost possible to feel the mystery of existence – like an azure sea, he thought, at twilight. When she walked or stretched in just a certain way, even the shapes of her arms and legs varied – as individual bundles of ‘muscle’ reacted to new directions of movement. He had danced with her at dinner and not noticed even the slightest imbalance or hesitation; in fact he found her lightness of movement beyond graceful. And then at one point he had felt light-headed and had begun to lose his balance, and she had felt his unsteadiness and reached out to him, helped him to their table. Once there she had taken his wrist in her fingers while she watched his face, then reached into her clutch and produced the correct medication for the moment! He had looked at the competence in her eyes and smiled at a sudden passing thought…

“What is it, Kenji?” he remembered her asking. “Why are you laughing?”

“I was just thinking. If perhaps I suddenly needed open heart surgery, no doubt you would pull all the necessary equipment from that magic bag of yours and – presto! You’d be there, wouldn’t you?”

Her smile changed just the slightest, and he’d felt oddly reassured by the expression she wore in that moment.

“I will always be there for you, Kenji-sama. If it is in my power, I will do whatever is necessary to protect you. Even from yourself.”

And in that moment, inside the first time that particular feeling swept over him, he knew there was something utterly different about this being. She was sentient, yet she wasn’t exactly human, but neither was she some heartless artificial construct – as he had first been led to believe by his most vocal opponents at home. Sex robots had been on the scene at home for almost two decades, though none had ever caused an uproar. That might change now, Watanabe told himself, and perhaps that was because of that one little phrase Richardson had uttered at their introduction – that “more human than human” quip. And yet oddly enough, it was women’s groups who seemed most militantly opposed to the very idea of such a creation.

‘Yes, how very strange,’ Watanabe said to himself. Human, yet not human. Biological in a way, yet not. A robot? Perhaps, in the strictest definition of the word, but his company had been making robots for fifty years and this ‘MaryJane’ was anything but. His robots helped manufacture cars and produce medical equipment to impossibly fine tolerances, yet his designers had never once considered something so radical as this. True enough, yet this ‘machine’ was about to sit beside him on a flight across the Pacific…something none of his products would – or could ever do.

But no…he had her export documentation in his briefcase, and members of the consulate’s commercial section would be at the airport, along with representatives from US Customs – and Richardson Autonetics – to see that his departure was trouble free. She would travel in his suite, not in the cargo hold, but that was more for his comfort than hers. He simply disliked flying alone, almost as much as he hated flying with a companion, and as he looked at the airport an involuntary shudder passed through his body once again.

+++++

He marveled at her touch once again, the feel of her hand in his. Warm, the warmth of flesh on flesh, the pressure her hand exerted on his reassuring. He sat looking out the curved window ahead, looking through the leading edge of the vast wing at the main hull of the new Boeing StratoCruiser – the first of a new generation of hyper-efficient flying wing designs – and he only hoped this design was safer than the last aircraft he had flown on.

That had been 15 years ago, on a huge Airbus flying nonstop from London to Tokyo. Descending over South Korea, the number one engine had simply exploded when, apparently, corroded fan blades in the inner compressor failed. The wing a perforated mess, the pilot had tried an emergency descent for Incheon International, but less than a half mile from the threshold of runway 15 Right a vast fire broke out and the Airbus cartwheeled into the sea. There had been fewer than fifty survivors from the almost four hundred onboard, and family and friends told him how lucky he had been. How lucky to have survived.

Indeed…how very lucky.

The first time he’d seen the results of his luck his soul had filled with such despair he’d very nearly killed himself. The left side of his face was a field of molten lava – an angry red flow of indignant malice that begged no further explanation when he saw ‘those looks’ in women’s eyes, but that had hardly been the worst of it. His left shoulder was titanium, the femurs of both legs as well. There had been two metal plates in his skull, but those, mercifully, had been replaced with ceramic moldings a year after the accident. He had fewer headaches the next few years, anyway.

In the beginning he resorted to escorts and call girls, and the best of them ignored his looks – for a few minutes, anyway – but in the end he couldn’t meet the revulsion in their eyes with anything approaching dignity. So, he’d been unwilling to meet disappointment head-on time after time, and he turned away from human companionship. He disappeared into work, turning a once modestly successful company into a wildly successful multinational venture, and in the process turning further and further from his own humanity. He worked with a small group of known associates and for the first few years rarely left his office. After five years he never left, and had in fact constructed living quarters on the same floor as his office. People on the factory floor had named him ‘the Monk’ – after his so-called self-enforced celibacy – yet his closest associates knew even this almost reverential term of endearment cut him to the core.

Then he’d been introduced to a man from California, his name Toby Tyler, a man who knew of his predicament, his ongoing isolation, and who after dinner in his office had proposed a radical solution. Toby told him what he needed was a new assistant, an assistant who’d never judge him, who would never turn away in dismay. A friend of this man, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur in similar straits, had been the first to employ one of these assistants and was extremely enthusiastic about her.

“Perhaps I could find out more for you?” this Toby had asked.

And Watanabe had wanted to know more, though not in the beginning. At least, not enthusiastically, but by then he’d been given Mark Stuart’s number – and not fully understanding why – he’d called the man, not quite knowing what to expect. But it seemed this Stuart had almost been expecting his call, and had been more than willing to talk about his experience with his new ‘assistant…’

“Look, there’s really no way to describe this rationally,” Stuart said near the end of their conversation. “You need to meet Eve, so why don’t you fly over this weekend? As it happens, my jet will be passing through on Friday, refueling at Haneda. You’re welcome to come anytime, of course, but you’d have the aircraft to yourself…”

With such an irresistible invitation, Watanabe had agreed to come. He’d enjoyed the luxurious accommodation, the splendid isolation of a cabin designed to hold twenty all to himself, and Stuart’s driver met him at SFO and took him directly to a large house in the hills above of Palo Alto, a rambling affair out among the evergreen hillsides off Skyline Drive. He’d been shown to a small cottage below the main house, a Mission Style bungalow of cedar and stone nestled deep in a clinging grove of eucalyptus and oak. His only bag had been carried in for him, and the driver told him to expect dinner in a few hours, and someone from the main house would come down for him.

He had napped for an hour, then showered and changed clothes, wondering once again why he’d agreed to this.

Then, a knock on the door.

He saw a man much like himself when he opened the door. His face scarred, wounded terribly once, but Watanabe saw something he hadn’t expected in the man’s eyes. Hope, perhaps? Or was it simple contentedness he saw?

The man held out his left hand, and Watanabe saw the man’s right was disfigured, barely useable. He held out his own battered left hand and bowed slightly.

“Mark Stuart,” the other man said, returning the bow.

“Kenji Watanabe. I am so pleased to meet you.”

“What say we head on up to the house. Sorry, but there are going to be a few people here tonight, politicians and other like-minded whores, if you know what I mean, and a few Hollywood types to liven things up a bit.”

“Ah, well perhaps I should excuse myself then. I am tired, and do not feel much like a party tonight?”

“As you wish, but I have to tell you, I think you’ll regret that decision.”

There was something in the way Stuart said those last few words…some infinitesimally small warning in the man’s tone that let him know he was being judged from afar. He decided to put aside his discomfort and continued walking up to the main house.

Which was, as far as he could tell, a most faithful replica of Greene & Greene’s Gamble House, right down to the arboreal front entry. He walked inside with Stuart and his eyes lit up as he took in forests of honeyed oak, all glowing in verdigris lamplight. And then he saw several Hollywood types, unimaginable beauty dressed in shades of preening vanity, men and women so astonishingly gorgeous he found the scene grotesquely amusing. And two senators, two men whose corrupt nature would normally be a given, if he hadn’t known them personally to be noble men dedicated to government service. One of the men, the senator from California, saw him and waved, then came over to he and Stuart…

“Kenji! What the devil are you doing here?”

“He’s come,” Stuart interrupted, “to spend some time here with me this weekend. We were going to take a ride in the morning, if you have the time…?”

“Hell, Mark, I’ll make time. I had no idea you two knew each other…”

And just then a starlet of some repute walked over; she’d just been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in a remake of The Way We Were and Watanabe regarded her warily, afraid of her reaction to his disfigurement.

“Mark? I didn’t know you ran with Republicans,” she said in a chiding tone as she walked up. “What the devil’s going on here, Mark?”

“Oh, Samantha, you know me…I’ll let anyone come to these little parties…” Stuart said with a self-deprecating shrug. “Let me introduce you to a friend of mine, just in from Tokyo. Kenji, this is Sam Sinfield. I don’t think you two have met…”

“A sincere honor,” Watanabe said, bowing deeply as he held out his hand. ‘She took it! And not the slightest look of revulsion in her eyes…!’

“Kenji! Isn’t that the cutest name!” she gushed in a deepest Carolina accent, keeping his hand firmly wrapped in hers. “Kenji? Why don’t you come with me – buy me a drink or two, maybe?” She pulled him away from Stuart and they walked over to a bar set up off the kitchen. “What’ll it be, Kenji?” she asked as she ordered some kind of Mojito.

“The same, please,” he said, bowing his head indifferently.

When the bartender finished, the two of them walked out onto a vast brick and stone patio just off the living room, and Watanabe almost hissed as, startled, he took in the view of the bay spread out below. The sun was setting and he saw city lights just winking on, yet he felt the autumn air was still warm, though a fine breeze was drifting through the forests surrounding the vast house – giving the whole scene more than a little ‘Hollywood’ feel. He took a sip of his drink, noted fresh mint and berries of some sort mashed in the bottom of the glass, and he nodded his head in approval.

“It’s just yummi out here, don’t you think, Kenj…” the woman sighed intimately. “Like the night is full of magic, alive with infinite possibilities…ya no?”

He heard the woman but was too wrapped up in the even-glow to consider her words carefully, at least at first, but then he stopped himself from falling further under her spell. ‘I am being manipulated,’ he told himself. ‘Why else would this woman be here with me? Speaking to me in such familiar terms?’

“Yes,” he replied, “just so. But I always considered the infinite resides in the night.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“How else could the way be lit?”

She sighed, nodded her head. “So, why’d Mark invite you tonight?”

“I’m not sure. We talked earlier in the week, about a business proposal of sorts, and he invited me to meet someone.”

“Someone?”

“An assistant. Eve is, I think, her name.”

“Oh. Her,” she said, a falling note of despair in her voice.

“You do not sound very happy about that. May I ask why?”

“Sure, but it’s no secret. Ever since she came into his life he’s been different. I would have said it was love at one point, but it’s much deeper than that now, I think. She’s become like an extension of his soul, and he rarely goes anywhere without her these days. Mark used to be very shy, almost introverted, but now I’d say he’s almost the exact opposite. Very secure, very sure of himself, I think I’d have to say…”

“And why is that such a bad thing?” Kenji asked, but immediately he regretted asking the question, for he could see the answer in the woman’s eyes. She had loved him once, though he suspected in the superficial way an actress might love a wealthy man, and she had been unable to elicit such a response from Stuart. “I mean,” he said quickly, trying to seize the direction he wanted this conversation to go, “have you talked to her? Do you think she feels the same way towards Mr Stuart?”

“You know, I have. Once, at lunch, on Mark’s boat, we talked a bit – about men, I think – and she professed to know little about them, only what she knew about men through her understanding of Mark. It’s funny, I think, but I felt she can see no past beyond what he’s given her.” She paused, took a sip from her glass and shook her head. “All I can say is that she seems completely devoted to him. And I mean completely.”

“Devoted, you say. What about love? Do you think she loves him?”

“Kenji…what is this? Are you pumping me for information?”

Watanabe felt red-faced and flushed, sweating fire when she asked him that, and though he stammered an apology he felt angry with himself for such an obtuse show of emotion. “No, I’m sorry if it seems that way. It’s just that I’ve heard so much – yet very little – about her. I was merely curious. So, did you love him so?”

The ball in the other court now, he watched her reaction to this parry – yet he was disappointed again.

“You know, at one time or another everyone falls in love with him. First you fall for his generosity, then you see something under it all…something like a force of nature. A more powerful intellect you’ll never meet, but he’s at heart a gentle soul. He really wants to accomplish good in this life, yet he’s not so sure of himself that he really knows what ‘good’ is. Does that make any sense at all?”

Watanabe nodded his head. “Yes, very much. History has been a long parade of men who were certain of their knowledge, and the tides of time are littered with dubious results.”

“Exactly. Mark questions everything, but most of all he questions his own preconceptions. Anyway, I think everyone who knows him understands that. And I think that’s why everyone falls in love with him.”

“Everyone?”

“Oh, you know what I mean. It’s that thing that draws people. They used to call it charisma, but I never thought of it as something so banal. People loved JFK, half the country cried their eyes out for a week after his death…and I’m just as sorry as I can be, but that ain’t charisma. That’s love.”

“Ah, I see what you mean. You are saying that people almost, well, they almost venerate Mr Stuart?”

“Oh, not quite that…Oh, look! There she is…” Sinfield said, trying not to point.

“Who?” Kenji asked, following her gaze, but he didn’t need any further cues. No, he could tell, just by looking at Stuart’s eyes.

He was looking at a fairly good looking woman, taller than himself but about the same height as Stuart. Reddish brown hair, flawless skin, much whiter than Stuart’s, and she was dressed simply, yet quite elegantly – like she had consciously dressed so as not to upstage any of his guests that evening. And yes, there was something almost serene about the man’s eyes now that she was with him – like he was suddenly complete, whole again, despite his obvious injuries.

‘So much like me,’ Watanabe thought, and suddenly he wondered if that was important.

“Come on, Kenji, it’s time you met her, don’t you think?”

“Yes, perhaps so,” he said, taking the actress’ hand, yet now, suddenly, he felt quite nervous again about this whole evening. About the idea of a meeting with Stuart – and about acquiring an ‘assistant’ – whatever that might mean, but soon they were back in the living room, standing by the man…and this assistant of his.

“Mark?” Samantha said innocently, “has Eve met Kenji yet?”

“No, I don’t think he has,” Stuart said, turning to the woman by his side. “Eve, this is the man I was talking to Sumner about yesterday.”

“Ah, yes, Watanabe-sama,” the woman began, speaking now in flawless Japanese. “I am honored to meet you.”

“The honor is mine, Lady,” he replied in English, not wanting to make his host ill-at-ease. “Is this not a most gorgeous evening?”

She looked at him for a moment, accepting his gift of a traditional greeting. “Yes, the wind and the trees, just in silence, sing to the moon’s tears.”

Watanabe staggered under the weight of the woman’s haiku, at her perfect choice of words. He hissed sharply and bowed his head. “You know me so well?” he sighed inwardly, wondering if she saw him as the wind, or the trees.

Yet all he could see now was the quiet smile on her face, in her eyes. A serenity…borne of what, he wondered?

+++++

“It is an honor to meet you, Mr Richardson,” Kenji said. He looked at the man, at this man’s infirmities, and he thought he understood more about why he was here.  His wheelchair was a vast, complicated thing, almost a portable life-support unit, for the man had to be more than eighty years old. “And I must say, I admire this building very much. I have read much about it in the architectural press.”

“Have you now, indeed? Well, perhaps we can arrange a little tour, later this afternoon if you’d like.”

“Yes, I’d like that very much.”

“Fine, fine…Mark? Did Eve come with you today?”

Stuart whirled around, looked from Watanabe to Richardson. “She’s with Sumner right now, I believe. I think they’ll be along in a few minutes.”

“And have you told Watanabe-san about our project?”

“Yessir, I think he’s up to speed. At least through the episode on the bridge, sir.”

Richardson looked at Watanabe all through this exchange, trying to gauge the man’s reaction – but his face was a mask – all emotion impossible to discern. “So? Any questions, Kenji?”

Watanabe turned and faced the old man. “A few. This technology? Is it yours?”

“What’s your point, Kenji?”

“The sphere Mr Stuart describes…he mentioned a being of some sort before the transformation?”

“A being, yes. That sort of complicates matters, doesn’t it? Who or what they are, well, we have no idea, and neither do we have any idea what their objectives are. They’ve not been, well, no one has had any contact with them since that night on the bridge…”

“And the more I think about them,” Sumner Bacon said, coming into the room with Eve, “the more unsure I am about what they are.”

“Ah, good morning Sumner, Miss Goodman. What have you two been up to?”

“Talking with MJ, seeing how she’s doing today.”

Watanabe turned and looked at the old police officer, the startling story of that night on the bridge still fresh in his mind. “You were saying, Sumner? What do you think that presence was?”

Bacon shook his head, sighed as he looked from Richardson to Watanabe. “Sometimes I feel like the thing that communicated with me was a being, other times I think it was a construct of some sort.”

“A machine?” Watanabe seemed incredulous.

Bacon nodded his head. “I’m sorry, but it’s all just a jumbled series of impressions, yet only before and after the event. We’ve tried hypnosis, all manner of off-the-wall methods to get at the time I was gone, after we disappeared inside that sphere, but all that time simply vanished, and I have no memory of it at all.”

“Memory forms in time,” Watanabe mused openly. “With time dilation, perhaps all that happened inside that sphere happened inside one instant, at least as far as you were concerned. People on the bridge might have experienced the passage of time as minutes, even hours, during that instant…”

Richardson looked at Bacon; they both nodded their heads. “Yes,” Richardson said, “that’s what our theoretical physicists say.”

“Very interesting,” Watanabe sighed. “So the question remains, which…”

“And we have no way to test either hypothesis,” Richardson said, his hands open, expressing the hopelessness all involved in the project felt.

“How many of them are there?”

“Seven.”

“And this new assistant of mine? She chose me, as well?”

Richardson nodded his head.

“I see. Am I…?”

“Only the second one. Eve was first.”

Watanabe turned to Eve just then, and looked into her eyes. “And your purpose? You know nothing of why you are here?”

She looked him in the eye as well, while she gently shook her head. “No.”

“I find this all very troubling,” Watanabe said. “Like we are pawns in a game we know nothing about…”

“Yes, that’s true,” Richardson interrupted, “but then again Kenji, whoever’s playing this game chose you. Doesn’t that make you just a little…?”

“Curious? No, not really. I would say fear is the word that comes to mind. Yes. I am afraid.”

“Of what,” a woman said, walking into the room, and Watanabe turned and looked at this new presence…

…and his world cartwheeled out of control as…

He looked at his idea of human perfection, a woman so gorgeous his heart jumped breathlessly in his chest, and his vision clouded.

“Kenji, I’d like you to meet MaryJane,” Richardson said.

But the woman was staring at Watanabe now, like there was no one else in the room. “Watanabe-sama? What are you afraid of?”

“You, dear lady. I am most afraid – of you –”

+++++

Now, sitting in this huge airliner high above the Pacific, he could think of little else. Fear and acceptance. Fear and curiosity. Fear, and the choices he’d just made over the last few days.

To let this woman, if that was indeed what she was, so deeply into his life. This was insane!

He turned, saw she was resting on the bed in their suite, and he looked around the room again – bewildered.

All the first class suite were here, inside the innermost portion of the Boeing’s huge wing, with the leading edge of the wing made of some translucent material. One entire ‘wall’ of this compartment was, in effect, a huge, curved window – and one could stare ahead as the jet arced through the sky with limitless views of the way ahead – yet as intoxicating as this view was, it was also intensely disorienting to him. He tried to wall those memories off, but when he slipped through time he saw another airliner cartwheeling into Incheon Bay and she came to him, comforting him without asking where the cause of his distress lay.

“You do this so naturally,” he said to her after the first time this happened. “Are you so empathic?”

“I can’t imagine the feelings you must have,” she whispered in his ear, “after all you’ve been through.”

“You know about – the incident at Incheon?”

“Of course,” she said, rubbing the mottled skin on the side of his face. “You have such strength, it leaves me breathless.”

He had turned then and looked into her eyes, yet he felt nothing duplicitous there, no insincerity whatsoever. “I wonder, would it be impossible for me to love you?”

Yet she had smiled upon hearing those words. “Yes. I wonder,” was her only reply, but then she had leaned into him, kissed his forehead.

“This is all so impossible,” he said slowly again, so quietly. “Why are you here?”

And she had simply smiled at this question. “The day ahead will be very difficult, the next few days as well, but then you’ll see. The best years of your life lay just ahead, and I will be there with you, always, to keep you safe.”

He’d looked into her eyes then, saw something important there. “What do you mean? How could you possibly know what tomorrow will bring?”

And she had laughed away such questions. “What a wondrous machine,” she’d said, gayly. “It’s almost like a time machine, don’t you think?”

“A – what? A time machine? How so?”

“Oh, I was simply thinking what it must have been like to sail these seas a hundred years ago. From, say, San Francisco to Tokyo; such a trip as we make now would have taken months, would it not? And yet we will make the journey in ten hours, so in a way, this machine has compressed time – from months to hours. A time machine. And think of email. Time further compressed, another time machine.”

He smiled. “I see. You are most wise, MaryJane. And what other time machines might you tell me about?”

And she had simply smiled again…the same beguiling, inscrutable smile she called her own. “We are drawing near,” she said, pointing at the island of Honshu looming out of the mists ahead, then she leaned over and tightened his seatbelt, her face tightening into an equally grim set.

“What is it? Is something wrong?”

“No, Kenji-san. All is happening as it must, time must reveal herself as she will.”

“What does that mean?”

She pointed at Tokyo Bay ahead. “The rest of the day will be very difficult…”

“You said that before. What do you mean?”

And as they approached the airport, runway 34 Right he remembered, he saw she was pointing at a boat perhaps a half mile from the end of the runway…

He saw a flash emerge from this boat, and a finger of flame as the flash leapt into the sky…

“Oh no,” he said. “Not again.”

“Yes, Kenji-sama. And the first time? Over Korea? That was no accident.”

“What? How do you…”

But she leaned in and kissed him, this time roughly, on the lips. And he felt her tightening his seat belt once again…until the nylon bit into his lap…

…just before he felt the missile’s impact, somewhere off to this left…

Startled, his mind reeling again, he looked ahead as the left wingtip lurched and dipped violently, and he started to cry…

“Kenji-sama, look at me,” he heard her say, then she took his face in her hands and forced him to look. “You are not going to die, do you understand? I will not allow it.”

“What? What are you saying?”

“Kenji, do you love me?”

“What?”

He looked at the water reaching out once again, reaching up for him, waiting to hold him in cold embrace, then he looked back into her eyes…

“Yes, I do. God forgive me, but I do.”

He felt the wing slicing through water, then an explosion – and then he felt cold water everywhere. The air smashed from his chest, he thrashed wildly as he tried to move – but his legs were set in deep mud. He struggled and thrashed with all his might but he was stuck fast – then he saw her by his side. Smiling.

She came to him and kissed his lips again, then pulled him free and helped him swim for daylight. They burst free of the darkness a moment later and he wanted to cry for this latest rebirth, so her turned and looked at his precious MaryJane…

And she was looking at him with such love in her eyes it left him weightless, feeling almost immortal. He held her close and kissed her anew, with no reservations now.

“I am so proud of you, Kenji-san. You are most brave, and very wise.”

“And I love you,” he said, suddenly very happy to still be among the living – then he felt a growing disturbance in the water. Something below, he wondered, but no. The water around him was spinning, gently at first, then faster.

She came to his side again, held him fast. “Don’t be afraid, my love,” he heard her say as he looked into her eyes once again…

“What’s happening now?” he almost cried, then he saw tiny particles in the air – swirling like a small tornado around them, then he understood.

There was a flash just after the sphere formed, an inward collapse of some sort, then he was free of the motion, adrift in a sea of stars… But no, it was dark out now, and suddenly he knew he was still in the water. She was beside him still, holding onto him, helping him stay afloat, and then he heard a helicopter overhead, and rescue boats all around them.

Then he felt another presence and he looked out – at his hands.

He was carrying an infant, a baby girl in his outstretched arms, and he cried out when he saw the baby looking at him.

(C)2016 Adrian Leverkühn | abw

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