Taggart pulled out the log and scanned the instruments at the chart table – everything was pulling information except the GPS, and the position display on all the chartplotters read the same: Danger/No Signal/Do Not Use For Navigation. The satellites would come back online in a few days, so in the meantime he was running a dead-reckoning plot on a paper chart– which on these mirror calm seas was a cinch.
He’d looked aft about an hour after picking up Mike and seen the pod following along about a quarter mile behind, and Rosa had come up looking for them. He noticed that, too. She had started walking around by midday, pushing herself more than he thought necessary or safe, but he soon realized she had come up looking for them – because the connection she’d made was strong, atypically strong, and even Erika noticed the change in her mother.
He tried to condense all this ‘stuff’ in his noon log entry, but something was gnawing away in a dark corner of his mind – then it hit him: even at 55 degrees north latitude it was hot outside. Not warm…hot. Really hot. He pulled up the sea temp and found it near normal, 48 degrees F, but the OAT, or Outside Air Temp was 95F, and even running with all the hatches open was leaving the interior stiflingly warm. With Eva’s pregnancy and Rosa’s current state wearing on his mind, he went below and shut all the hatches and fired up the air conditioner – something he’d never even imagined needing to do before. He looked at the Amp draw and seemed satisfied, but the idea of a sailboat equipped with an air conditioner running at sea bothered him. It just wasn’t right…but what if they were right and this was the new normal?
He finished his log entry and went topsides for a moment, checked on Mike at the wheel.
“How you doing?” he asked.
“I can’t get over this heat,” Mike sighed. “Something ain’t right.”
“Super high pressure system, I reckon.”
Mike scanned the horizon then shook his head. “Not one goddamn cloud. We getting any kind of weather information yet?”
Taggart shook his head.
“Well, I got to hand it to you, Taggart. If your intent was to take civilization back to the Stone Age, you’ve succeeded admirably.”
“The intent was to get you boys to sit back and take stock of the situation before you flipped the switch and sent all your missiles off with a one way ticket to hell.”
“You said ‘the intent,’ not ‘my intent.’”
“Stop digging, would you? You’re like a fugitive now, so just chill out.”
“Sorry…you’re right. Diesel is getting decent mileage, by the way. You could run under power almost all the way to Iceland if you needed, so why Bergen?”
Mike nodded. “Then back south to the Seine? By the way, your hands are shaking pretty good. What’s up with that?”
“Jesus H Christ, Taggart…what were you thinking – doing this alone, out here by yourself?”
“Hey, just livin’ the dream, Amigo…”
“The dream? Sounds kind of like a death wish, if you ask me…”
“That’s funny, because – you know what? – I can’t remember asking you.”
“You do like putting me in my place, don’t you?”
“No, not really. And I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I could really do without a lot of this bullshit – if you don’t mind.”
“Just comes naturally, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, I get that.”
Mike peered at the chartplotter for a moment… “The radar just turned off.”
“Probably drawing too much power,” Taggart said as he slipped down the companionway to the electrics panel. “You running the autopilot, too?” he called out.
“No, not for a while…!”
Taggart cycled the breaker, but nothing changed on the display down below, so he turned off the chartplotter and watched the ammeter dip and re-stabilize. “Power down your plotter!” The ammeter dipped and re-stabilized again, so he went back to the cockpit. “We’ve got plenty of power, so I’m not sure what’s going on.”
“Some jammers intentionally overload radar displays,” Mike said, looking aft again. “You don’t want to be a bird and fly through that crud, either.”
“So, you think…”
“It’s possible. Yeah.”
“Shipborne or airborne?”
“Usually big ship mounted things, but Growlers use ’em too.”
“So…someone out here could be jamming us as they…”
“As they make their approach,” Mike said, looking at Taggart. “Probably not a good idea to run the radar now, know what I mean?”
“Maybe cycle at irregular intervals?”
Mike shook his head. “Ineffective, and besides, we won’t be able to outrun anything in this boat.”
“So…we sit back and see what happens. Ready for lunch?”
“Some salads and a little wine?”
“No alcohol for me…not in this sun. I’d pass out in ten minutes flat.”
“Okay. Water it is.”
They were eating in the cockpit ten minutes later when a low flying jet came up from the rear; it passed along their port side just short of supersonic and in just a few seconds disappeared beyond the northern horizon.
“What the hell was that?” Taggart said.
“A Growler; EA-18G, airborne ECM platform. That’s what was burning our radar…and I wonder where he’s headed?”
“Probably a carrier, right?”
Mike nodded. “Pretty good assumption, and at his speed and altitude – it better not be too far away.” He paused, seemed to think for a moment. “Any reason why big ships shouldn’t be operating?”
Taggart shook his head. “Just no nukes.”
“Mike, yes – just no nukes.”
“If command and control nets are down, ground forces might assume the worst and…”
“Yes,”Taggart said, “they will.”
“You don’t know what I’m going to say…why do you…”
“You were going to say ‘lash out,’ right?”
“Yeah…but how’d you know that…and don’t give me that ‘you’re so predictable’ bullshit, ‘cause I ain’t buyin’ that one again.”
“Okay. Let’s see here: you’re not predictable and I guessed you’d say that. Sound about right to you now?”
Mike looked away. “Why’d you help me get off that island?”
“Oh, you know…something about ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer still’ crossed my mind.”
“I’m not your enemy, Taggart. I’m just not real sure who, or even what you really are.”
Henry sighed, got up and picked up their dishes and disappeared down the companionway. He cleaned up the galley and went forward, found Rosa and Erika deep in conversation so he dropped into Eva’s stateroom. She was knitting baby socks and listening to the Moody Blues on her headphones – but she looked up and smiled when she saw him.
“Henry! You have gotten too much sun! You are as red as a plum!”
“I feel like I burned the top of my head.”
“Do you have any aloe? You should let me rub it in before the skin is too damaged.”
“I’ll get it, but just in case you need it, I keep it in the back ‘fridge.”
He came back with the gel and sat beside Eva.
“Take off your shirt…your neck and shoulders are a mess!”
He pulled his shirt off and she poured some of the goop into her hand and she gently massaged it in…
“Crap…that stuff is really cold as hell…”
“Just wait, the cool will feel soothing in a moment.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong…it already feels good.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then spoke again, only more softly this time. “Maybe it feels good because of who is rubbing it in, you know?”
“Do you know how often I dream of you?” she sighed. “Even when I am not asleep, Henry, I still dream of you.”
“I know. I love the way I feel when you are near me. It feels like some kind of shared polarity, almost like there is an attraction that pulls us together.”
“We vibrate at the same frequency, Henry.”
He smiled. “Maybe that’s it.”
“Can you not see that?”
“No, so sorry. I doubt I’m as far along the evolutionary ladder as you, Eva.”
“Now there you go again, making fun of me…” she said as she kissed the top of his head. “There…I think you will survive.”
“You know, I’d love you even if you weren’t so cute.”
“Oh, I know.”
“Nothing like self-confidence…” he grinned as he looked her in the eye.
“It is not that, Henry Taggart. It is the story in your eyes.”
“And I’m just a singer in a rock-n-roll band…”
“No, you are a moody blue.”
They laughed at these little inside jokes – because as she listened to The Moody Blues – literally almost all the time – he had started to play their music when she was aboard.
“Are you eating enough?” he asked. “Doesn’t look like you’re gaining much weight?”
“I could eat more but I am nauseated nearly all the time now.”
She nodded. “I think because there are two boys in the oven, you know? Perhaps they are already playing football.”
“More than likely.”
“Before you met me, who did you dream about?”
He smiled. “Doris Day.”
“The actress? Really?”
“Yes, but probably not for the reason you think.”
“Oh? Well then, tell me why?”
“When I was a little boy…”
“I know, you watched her movies and fell in love with her!”
“Almost. She lived in the house next door…”
He nodded. “Truly. A place called Lido Isle, in Newport Beach. That’s in California, by the way. John Wayne lived near my house too, but Doris Day lived, literally, right next door to our house. Anyway, when my dad and I would come in from races…”
“Races? What, you went to car races?”
“No, my dad and I, usually with some of his friends, raced his sailboat – called Bandit. That’s how I learned to sail, but anyway, when we came in from those races she would often be on her patio – and she was always playing with one of her pups – and she always asked me how we did. The first few times I was so nervous I could hardly even make eye contact with her, but pretty soon I looked forward to seeing her and talking with her.”
“Wow, that is pretty cool…”
“Yeah. Well, considering she was always considered the perfect ‘girl next door’ it was a riot to really have her as the girl next door. Anyway, ever since I was a kid she’s always been in my dreams, and I hate to break your bubble but she still is…”
“Really? After so long?”
“Yup. Old habits die hard I guess.”
“What do you remember most about her, besides these conversations?”
He closed his eyes and thought for a moment, then he smiled: “She had this kind of trademark song – Que Sera, Sera – from an Alfred Hitchcock movie, of all things – and she would sing back there on her patio while she planted flowers in her little garden. My bedroom window overlooked her backyard so of course I always heard her sing whenever she was out there, and when I was still pretty young I would just kind of sit there and listen…”
“That sounds almost magical…”
“Maybe that’s why I still dream of her.”
“I think maybe she was your first true love,” Eva said, smiling at his opening up to her.
He nodded. “I think maybe you’re right. When she passed I cried for quite a while; no one would have understood why, and I guess maybe because it must seem so silly.”
She sighed. “The first love is the deepest, Henry. You are lucky to have had such an unreal passion.”
“You know, I think you’re the first person I’ve ever talked to about her. Maybe that means something, too…?”
“As I said, Henry, I’ve seen these feelings in your eyes. You can’t conceal things like this, you know?”
“I wouldn’t want to conceal that from you.”
She smiled. “So, we will be in Bergen again and this thing with Dina will come between us once again. Oh, Henry…what will become of us?”
“I’ve created a very complicated universe, I’m afraid.”
“Please…do not apologize. I am happy to be a part of our little constellation…to have your sons and carry them forward into life…but I dislike being away from you so much…”
“This will be a difficult time, Eva, with our children coming…”
“I know. I will do what I must. What of this other woman. Rosa?”
“I must help her…”
“This I understand. What can I do to help?”
“You’ll always know what is best, Eva. Just see that she finds help when she needs it.”
She nodded. “And if something should happen to her?”
“Take care of the girl, please.”
“Taggart!” they heard Mike calling out. “Better get up here!”
He kissed her and made his way up the companionway; he found Mike looking to the northwest through the binoculars.
Mike handed him the binoculars and said “Take a look,” as he pointed to a spot on the horizon.
Taggart swung the binoculars and spotted the naval vessel headed their way. “Well, well, well,” he said, “look who’s coming to dinner…”
“Look at the bow wave. Flank speed, and if you look hard you can see an ASW helo working a pattern ahead of it.”
“So, working a submarine contact while beating up the water at flank speed sounds a little unusual, doesn’t it?”
“How the fuck do you know that?”
Taggart shrugged. “So, we assume he’s prosecuting a contact that’s closing on a carrier battle group, right?”
Mike shook his head. “I wish I knew who the fuck you really are.”
Taggart turned and looked at him, then he shook his head. “No, you don’t.”
“Just tell me you’re not some kind of Russian spook…”
Taggart laughed at that. “Isn’t that exactly what you’d expect a Russian spy to say?”
“Actually, I’m from The People’s Republic of California.”
“That explains everything.”
“I knew you’d understand. What’s he making…40 knots?”
“Try the radar.”
“Are you kidding me?! That’s the last thing we should do…”
“You’ll let him know we’re here.”
“You think he doesn’t?”
“Turn it to Standby, at least. I’m curious if it’s even working or not now.”
“Are those cylindrical things up by the spreaders radar reflectors?” Mike asked.
“Okay, then he’s seen us…”
Taggart turned to hand Mike the binoculars and froze. “Uh, take the binos and put them away.”
“Just do it. At your five o’clock, maybe fifty feet away, there’s a periscope. My guess is he’s matching speed with us, hiding behind our radar shadow…”
“And our engine is messing up any sonar readings in this area, too. You got a VHF at the chart table, right?”
“Right. I’ve also got the transceiver.”
“Just go to 16 and see if you can contact the bridge. Do you think they saw you looking their way?”
“I doubt it.”
“Okay, give it a try.”
Taggart went to the chart table and picked up the mic. “Sailing Vessel Time Bandits at 57 22 19 North, 5 34 20 East, to navy vessel northwest of our position.”
“CG71 Cape St George, go ahead Time Bandits.”
“Ivan is about fifty feet off our starboard quarter, glass up and hiding in in our shadow.”
“Time Bandits, this is the CO. Can you advise type?”
“Possible Akula, repeat, Akula.”
“Understood, Time Bandits. Please maintain your current coarse and speed, advise if and when he dives.”
“Wilco, out.” Taggart put on his sunglasses then went to the fridge and grabbed two Cokes; he went topsides, handed a Coke to Taggart while he looked at the periscope.
“Yup. Maintain current coarse and speed.”
Taggart looked aft and saw his friend’s dorsal fin cutting through the water, then he sighed as he looked down. “Are we at war, Mike?”
“You’re asking me?”
“I’ve got some friends in the water near here. I don’t want them to get hurt.”
“You – what?”
“That pod of orcas, they’re now about four hundred yards astern.”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Taggart…”
Henry shook his head. “Nope.”
“Well, if you can tell ‘em to get the hell out of here, right now would be the perfect time to do it…!”
Taggart took a deep breath, tried to think of another way but couldn’t…
“If I told you to go below, you wouldn’t, right?”
“What? Hell no I wouldn’t…”
“I thought you’d say that.” He took another deep breath then sat down, his knees crossed, his arms out, his head tilted back…
“Taggart…? What the fuck…”
But Taggart’s mind was someplace else now…though his body was still on Time Bandits, and when Mike turned and looked at the Cape St George for a moment the same spinning red orb appeared in front of Taggart’s face again. When Mike saw it now he flinched, then turned away from the brilliant light, then the light divided into two equally sized spheres and one streaked down into the water. To Mike it seemed like the light disappeared inside the submarine, then…
…a deep rumble…
…and then the submarine was surfacing, hatches soon bursting open and men running out on deck, coughing as smoke poured out behind them…
“Call the St George, Mike. Tell them the sub has a reactor fire and has surfaced. Now…!”
“Cape St George, Russian submarine surfacing our location, possible reactor fire, repeat, possible reactor fire. Men on deck…wait one…men in the water…need a helo this location now!”
Taggart was still sitting, and the other sphere was still pulsing right in front of his face.
And right then Mike wanted to destroy Taggart – and whatever that thing was. ‘If he can do that to a submarine, what can’t he do…?”
Then Mike heard emergency klaxons wailing inside the sub’s hull…
…and the original sphere streaked away – disappearing down Time Bandit’s trailing wake.
And a moment later Taggart stood and took the mic. “Cape St George, the Akula is taking on water, going down fast by the stern. Forty plus men currently in the water.”
“Uh, Time Bandits, we’re picking up some unusual radar activity in your vicinity…”
“Cycle your SPY-1A from active to passive and back to active. That should resolve the issue.”
“Stand by one.”
“Bandits, St George, thanks, all clear now.”
“Okay St George, sub is going under now, we have men swimming our way. ETA helos?”
“About a minute.”
Taggart flipped the mic to PA mode and began speaking to the men in the water – in perfect Russian: “Attention, crew of the Russian submarine Gepard. Rescue helicopters will be on site within one minute. Form rescue circles as per your training and standby. Do not approach the sailing vessel at this time, repeat, do not approach the sailing vessel.”
The men in the water formed circles of ten men each and began treading water; seconds later the first American helicopter arrived and dropped several large MOB canisters into the water. Seconds later huge life rafts deployed and the men began swimming to the boarding webbing.
When Taggart looked at Mike he saw death in the man’s eyes – as if he wanted to commit murder – and Taggart smiled.
“What in God’s name did you just do?” the navy captain asked.
“I didn’t do anything, Mike.”
“The Hell you didn’t.”
“No, seriously, I did nothing.”
“Alter course a little to the left, would you? I want to put some distance between us and those men.”
“Are you even a human being?”
Taggart laughed again. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
“So, you know some Shakespeare. Who the fuck are you?”
“I told you. A Californian.”
“Sorry, but Californians can’t do what you just did…”
“Anyone can do what I just did, even you. You just don’t know how.”
“You just took out a nuclear submarine, you mother-fucker…”
“Again, Mike – no – I did not.”
“Wait a minute…you had a run-in with another Russian sub back in June, didn’t you?”
Taggart nodded, willing him to make the connection.
“And did you…?”
“Yes, the same thing – I guess you could say – happened. And again, I was not responsible for what happened that day.”
“Just like you are not the one…”
“What’s your game, Taggart? What are you up to?”
“My game is to make it to Paris for Christmas, Mike, so I can die in the company of my fondest memories.”
“No, Mike, it’s not – and please, don’t piss me off right now.”
“Why not, Taggart? Will you do to me what you just did to those men?”
“No, but he might not be too happy about it?” Taggart said, pointing at the male orca – now swimming just off the stern.
Mike turned and looked at the orca: “So…are you telling me that whale is responsible for all this?”
“Nope. He’s just my friend.”
“Mine, too,” Rosa said as she came up the companionway steps. She stopped and stared at Mike for a moment, then walked back to the aft rail and sat with her feet dangling over the water.
Eva came up and gasped when she saw the orca…
“That looks like the same one that…”
“Because he is, Eva,” Taggart said as she came up and stood beside him.
“How is that possible?” she asked.
“Yes, that was my question, too. How is this possible, Henry?”
Taggart turned and looked at the orca, then at Mike. “How many conscious minds are there in the universe, Mike? Have any idea?”
Mike looked confused now. “What are you getting at, Taggart?”
“Just answer the question.”
“How the hell would I know?”
“Oh, go ahead…pick a number, Mike – any number at all.”
“I don’t know – a billion trillion?” Mike said, smirking. “I mean really, c’mon Taggart, this has got to be the most stupid question I’ve ever heard in my life.”
So Taggart relented. “Okay,” he sighed. “You think about it for a while…and when you think you’ve got the answer you come and tell me.”
“You mean…like an exact number?”
“You’re out of your fucking mind.”
And just then both Eva and Rosa gasped, but Henry just smiled – while looking right into Mike’s eyes.
“What’s going on…and why are they staring at me?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”
“Him. The guy standing right next to you,” Taggert said, pointing to Mike’s right side.
Mike turned and saw what looked like a shimmering hologram – of a small humanoid looking creature about a meter tall – at which point Mike screamed and backpedaled towards the aft rail, slamming into it before flailing into a backwards somersault…landing in the sea with a resounding, bellyflopping splash.
Taggart shook his head and chopped the throttle, then walked aft, Eva and Rosa following him; they found Mike clinging to the orca’s pectoral fin and by that point almost in a state of shock.
Taggart turned and looked at the shimmering hologram-creature and grinned. “I think you’ve had enough fun for today. Think you could bring him back up here?”
The shimmering form reformed, coalesced into the same spinning red orb once again – and then split into three much smaller orbs; two disappeared and the remaining orb lifted Mike from the whale’s grasp and deposited him on deck – yet Mike was, by that point, nodding in and out of consciousness. The last orb wobbled a little, then disappeared.
“What was that?” Eva asked, somewhat amused as she watched Mike and the orca.
“I don’t really know. He calls himself Winky.”
“Winky?” Mike groaned. “You got to be fuckin’ kidding me…? Winky? – you mean, as in rhymes with…pinky? Why?”
“You know, when you get to know him better maybe you can ask him yourself.”
Mike turned and looked at the orca, and Henry could tell that the whale was looking right back at Mike… “You know, I feel like I should thank him for catching me,” Mike said, his gaze never leaving the orca.
“Then thank him.”
“You mean…are you saying he understands?”
“Hell if I know, Mike.”
And at that point, a totally confused Mike dove back into the water. He came to the surface and swam over to the orca – and just as the whale had once reached out to shelter him, Mike now reached out and placed his hand on the whale’s face – right beside an eye – and he seemed to drift off in a kind of trance, almost a communion.
“Is he alright?” Eva asked.
“Oh, yes,” Rosa said, her own recent experience still fresh in mind, “he’s good now. In able hands, I think you could even say…”
Taggart took another deep breath and then exhaled slowly, looking closely at the expression on Mike’s face as this first encounter played out…then he looked down into the sea. ‘Of course,’ he thought, ‘I’ve got to get the platform down, help him back aboard…’ He flipped the switch, dropped the platform and went down to wait for the moment to end…
Then Rosa was beside him. “I wish I could go back in again,” she said, rubbing her incision – and Taggart put his arm around her.
“Eva?” Henry said, looking up at her on the aft deck. “Are you ready?”
She nodded and came down to them. “Should I wait for Mike?”
Taggart shook his head, then pointed at a female and the new calf before deploying the ladder. “Just go down slowly, hang onto the ladder until they come to you.”
She took his hand and lowered herself into the cool water. “It is warmer than I thought it would be,” she said as the water lapped at her belly.
“A warm eddy from the Gulf Stream today. You lucked out.”
Eva turned and looked at the female and her calf; they were now just a few meters away – the mother a little wary as her playfully careless daughter swam alongside Eva’s belly…
…then the mother came directly to Eva, placing the side of her face on Eva’s protruding twins – and her reaction was swift…
Clicking and high-pitched whistles, her tail slapping the water in high agitation.
Three more females appeared and one by one they swam up to Eva’s twins and listened, each growing more excited than the one before.
Then the first female was beside Eva once again, this time offering a pectoral – and Eva swam into the females grasp. Together they swam off and they were soon far from Time Bandits – Eva alone in the sea with four female orcas…
Taggart climbed up on deck, then – holding onto the backstay, he stood on the aft rail so he could see better.
Eva was floating on her back, her arms spread wide, and by then the females had surrounded her.
“What are they doing to her, Henry?” Rosa said, and now Erika was on deck looking at all the whales in wide-eyed wonder.
“I have no idea.” Then the calf swam by the swim platform and Erika ran and dove into the sea. Rosa started to say something but Taggart stopped her. “Just be patient, Rosa. Something’s happening…”
“What? Henry! That’s my daughter!”
“And that’s his daughter, Rosa!” Henry said, pointing at Mike and the male orca…but then he looked at the expression on Mike’s face now and moaned. His eyes had rolled back and now only the whites of Mike’s eyes were showing, but by then Henry had had enough: he dove in and swam over to his friend, put his hand beside the orca’s eye and closed his own. Moments later Mike’s eyes fluttered and he drifted back into the present, then saw Taggart by his side in the water.
“Where am I?” Mike sighed.
“I don’t know, Paco. You tell me.”
“Man, it’s good to see you,” Mike said, drifting free of the orca; Taggart steadied him then helped him swim back to Bandits and get up on the platform. “Do you know what happened to me, Henry?” he asked as he took a towel and began drying himself off.
“I think you and Winky had a meeting of the mind.”
“What does that mean?”
“What’s the last thing you remember before you saw me in the water?”
“Stars. Stars everywhere. And something like a huge galaxy not far away.”
Taggart nodded. “Rosa? Would you take Mike below and get him something warm to drink, maybe help him to bed?”
When they were gone he turned to Erika – who was now holding onto the calf’s dorsal fin, laughing hysterically as they blasted through waves.
He turned and looked at Eva, still quite far away from the boat – only now Winky was out there, hovering over the gathering. Then he felt another presence and turned…
…only to find the Cape St George was there and at a dead stop about a hundred yards away, now with – literally – all hands on deck, and everyone staring slack jawed at the spectacle in the water.
“Well, shit…” Taggart sighed. He closed his eyes and reached out to Winky, who slowly disappeared beneath the surface of the water – then the male swam to his pod and in a flash they all sounded, even the calf, which left Erika stranded about fifty yards away and suddenly not very happy. He dove in and swam to her, and by that time Eva had made it to her, so the three of them swam in together. He helped the girls to towels, then took one and went to the helm and pulled the mic from its cradle.
“St George, this is Bandits. Go ahead.” He pulled out his binoculars and watched the commanding officer put a walkie talkie up to his face.
“That’s quite a show you guys put on. Mind telling me what that red thing is?”
“I have no idea, Captain, but it seems intelligent.”
“I see. And just who am I talking to?”
“Me? I’m just the man behind the curtain, Captain.”
“Yeah, well, we ain’t in Kansas anymore Mr. Wizard, so I’m going to need a real name. You know, like the one on your passport?”
“Which one what?”
“Which passport, Captain. You want the one the NSA gave me, or perhaps one from the CIA?”
“How many do you have?”
“How many do you want? Oh, by the way, did you see the guy out there with the male?”
“Kinda hard to miss.”
“Annapolis, I think he said class of 80, or maybe 81. He’s an active duty captain, assigned as liaison between you guys and Sleepy Hollow.”
“You know what…this is getting a little over my pay grade. Where you headed?”
“Bergen, transporting a female cancer patient from Helgoland for treatment up there.”
“Alrighty. Get under way…and if I have any further questions I guess I know where to find you. By the way, thanks for the sub report.”
“You’re welcome. Hope everyone was okay by the time you got them out of the water, and I’ll stay on 16 if you need me.”
Henry put the mic back in its cradle – only to find Mike standing there with two cups of cocoa.
“Here you go. Thought you could use this,” he said.
Taggart started the engine and re-engaged the autopilot, then took the cup and quickly put it down, his hands suddenly starting to twitch – and violently.
“Where are your meds?” Mike asked gently.
“Pill-minder” – spasm – “by the sink in my head. Just bring it up, please.”
By the time Mike came back his hands were shaking so violently he couldn’t hold a thing, let alone dig pills out of their cubbies…
“Which ones do you need?”
“Two from” – spasm – “uh, two from A, one from” – spasm – “one from D.”
Mike dug them out and got them in Henry’s mouth, then opened a fresh bottle of water and held it up to his mouth. “Take it down slowly. That’s right, try to relax…”
Taggart’s breath came in short, ragged gasps now, and he started to slump over as he lost muscle control; Mike came and sat by his side, held him up until the meds began to kick in, telling Henry to hang on, and that it would be okay in a minute – in effect, trying to prop up his spirits along with his body.
“You sh – should’ve been a doc, Mike. Tha – thanks.”
“My grandfather had Parkinson’s. I still know the drill.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me too, Henry.”
“I think our plot is kind of screwed up now,” Taggart said as he unrolled their plotting sheet a few minutes later. “Any guesses?”
“Yeah, let’s call it an hour at two knots. I think we’re still getting a little ride on the Gulf Stream.”
Taggart found his pencil and willed his hands to obey, to stop their insane trembling, then he stopped and handed it over to Mike. “Maybe you better do it,” he sighed.
Mike advanced the plot and guessed their current speed was still around nine knots, then extended the run to Bergen and worked the math. “We should get in late afternoon tomorrow.”
“Man, I hate to say it but you look like you could use some rack time…”
“Takes a while,” Taggart whispered, “to come back sometimes.”
“You keep burning the candle at both ends and this ain’t gonna end well, Hank.”
“You know what? I don’t even know your name…is it really Mike?”
“Yeah, matter of fact it is. Mike Lacy, late of Lubbock, Texas – by way of Annapolis and Norfolk.”
“Thought I heard some Texas in that thar twang. Grow up on a ranch?”
“Yup. Angus and oil wells, except the wells really weren’t worth a shit. Dad says they found some gas, so who knows…?”
“Gotta girl back there?”
“I did, yeah. I think she got tired of waitin’ for me to pop the question so she went ahead and married some football player.”
“Occupational hazard, I guess.”
Eva came up the companionway with some fresh hummus and pita chips, some olives and sliced salami too, and a few minutes later Erika helped her mother up the steps, then carried up some fresh gravlax and freshly baked rye toast.
“Man, this was one helluva day,” Mike sighed. “Has anyone got this figured out yet?”
“I sure haven’t,” Taggart sighed, the circles under his eyes noticeably darker now.
“Try to eat something, okay?” Eva said, leaning close.
“Could you fix me a few pieces of salmon on that toast? That looks great.”
She bent to it and tried to help him eat, but Henry was on the ragged edge so she didn’t push him; a few minutes later she helped him down to his cabin and got him undressed and into bed. She lay with him then, holding him close from behind, gently scratching his head until she felt him relax and fall away – and still she held him, until she felt Clyde hopping up and the bed, draping his head over Henry’s legs.
At some point he heard Doris Day singing Que Sera, Sera in the far corners of the night, and he smiled through the memory. Then he woke up needing to pee in the worst way, so he made his way up to the cockpit and stumbled aft to the rail. He looked around, didn’t see any whales nearby so he let fly.
“See the bio-luminescence in our wake?” Mike asked.
“Yeah. Water must be fairly cool here.”
“Dropped back down into the fifties about three hours ago.”
Henry looked at his watch and freaked out. “0330? How long have I been out?”
“Not quite twelve hours. Feeling better, I hope?”
“Jesus…you better get some shut-eye, Mike. Eva’s in my bunk right now, so take her’s.”
“That girl’s something else, Henry.”
“She is that. She’s also fragile right now.”
“You love her, I take it?”
“Madly-deeply, as a matter of fact.”
“I don’t get it, Henry. What gives?”
“Life, I guess. Things just started happening a few months ago, and I’ve been hanging on ever since. Funny thing, too. Sixty some-odd years nothing like this ever happened to me – then…boom! It’s been nonstop ever since.”
“I feel different, Henry.”
“I know. They do something to us, I think.”
“They? You mean that red thing?”
“Yeah, that red thing.”
“What is it?”
“If I had to guess I’d say it’s some kind of projection.”
“Of what, for pity’s sake?”
“I don’t know, Mike. I really don’t. My guess is it’s either someone out on Long Island or something from out there,” Taggart said, pointing at the sky.
“The Black Widow Works.”
“Never heard of that one.”
“Think Grumman’s version of the Skunk Works. Word is they’ve got several working ARVs out there.”
“Man, you really are not dialed in, Mike. Alien Reproduction Vehicle.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
A reverse engineered spacecraft, only not of this earth.”
Mike laughed. “Okay, sure, whatever you say.”
Taggart shrugged. “Like the man said, it is what it is.”
“You buy into that shit?”
Taggart looked at Mike, tried not to show any emotion. “You asked, Mike. Even your naval aviators are running into them these days, so why do you continue to wear the blinders?”
“I’m sorry, man, but I just don’t believe that stuff is real.”
“Understandable. Even the possibility it might be true can be a shock to the system.”
“And you’re telling me it’s true?”
Henry shrugged: “I’m telling you there are things I’ve seen that I can’t explain.”
“Things? This stuff is always laid out in terms like ‘things’ and ‘unexplained.’ To me this is nothing more than the bleating of sick sheep – or worse still, people without the courage of their own convictions.”
“You ever hear about the random number generator experiments going on at Yale and Princeton?”
“Oh boy, here we go…”
“This shit takes on all kinds of special significance when Ivy League schools get tossed in the mix.”
“Yeah,” Henry sighed, “a closed mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
“Okay, Henry, I’ll bite. Gee, no, I haven’t heard about the whatever they discovered at Yale…”
Henry shrugged and chuckled at the same time. “Never mind,” he said. “Have you tried cycling the radar from standby to on yet?”
“No…I didn’t want to rock any boats tonight…not up here by myself.”
“Go ahead and flip it on.”
Mike leaned forward and turned the rotary knob. “Nothing. I think there’s no power on the circuit.”
“Really? Let me go below and cycle the breakers.” Taggart climbed down and he felt light-headed when he reached the bottom of the companionway steps, so he went to the head and took all his evening meds then went to the electrical panel in the passageway by the engine compartment. He cycled the mains, then the circuits that fed all the ship’s instruments.
He heard the tell-tale ‘beep-beep-beeps’ as all the instruments powered up, so he went back up to the cockpit. “Anything?”
“Yeah. Looks like the GPS is trying to acquire satellites?”
“Cycle the radar.”
“Okay, cycling now.”
The display flickered then powered up. “Okay, we got radar!”
“Looks like St George is still behind us, and a shitload of targets now to the northwest…oops, their they go…yeah, they’re jamming us now.”
“Back to standby, quick!”
Mike turned the knob again and looked at Taggart. “What’s up?”
“I don’t want to draw too much attention right now. Did you get any course or speed vectors for them?”
“I have a sneaking suspicion they’re going to try and get between us and Bergen.”
“Why would they…oh, yeah, the passport thing?”
“Yeah. They can pull registration off the vessel’s name if they can make it into their main computer right now. If they do that they may want to ask us some questions, if you know what I mean.”
Mike nodded. “That might not be a good thing.”
“Was that an attempt at humor, Mike?”
Mike snorted a little. “Okay, what’s with the random number generator thing?”
“The work started decades ago, trying to figure out if people had psychic abilities…”
“Oh, no…not that bullshit…”
“Yes and no. They started looking for people who could identify random numbers on a computer screen, binary ones and zeroes, by the way, and while they observed some positive results it didn’t look promising. Then one of the researchers ran across a puzzling permutation; using something akin to EEG leads he wanted to see if participants could make either a one or zero appear. Now the odd part. By focusing on positive imagery almost all participants could make the number one appear, while negative imagery made a zero appear.”
“This is going somewhere, right?”
“Kind of. Because the researchers’ next leap of faith was even more interesting. They began to notice that the computer they were using began to pick up energy from somewhere in the spectrum, and that huge aggregates of ‘zero events’ began popping at the same time fairly negative news stories aired. Then one day the computer began registering a huge zero event spike, and they presumed this spike might be a precursor to a negative energy event – something like a big news event. Except the spike kept growing and growing over two days, to an unprecedented level, as a matter of fact.”
“And, on the morning of September 11, 2001, the spike went off the chart about a half hour before the first airliner slammed into the World Trade Center…”
“Yeah. Precisely. So some form of energy was reacting to an event before it happened, so the energy event was predictive. After that information began seeping out this same team of researchers was approached by the NSA, then the CIA got involved. And not long after, aerospace companies were called in…”
“Aerospace? Why those guys?”
“Because they were already involved in ARV technology, Mike, and sensors in these vehicles were registering and displaying the same energy events.”
“What the fuck!”
“Yup. So, consider this: these so-called alien reproduction vehicles had sensors in them that allowed the occupants to monitor psychic energy levels within the human population. Basic stuff like emotional events. So, the immediate question became ‘why?’ Why did these occupants want to receive information about human emotional states?”
“Henry? Are you pulling my leg?”
“Nope. Anyway, that’s when I got involved, and that takes us to a part of the story I simply can’t talk about. Not to you, not to anyone.”
“Yup, I knew that had to come along sooner or later.”
Henry nodded. “Okay, what I will tell you is this. What these researchers discovered was – quite literally – a type of communications system.”
“But you said they were picking up ones and zeroes with no hardware connection, right? So how is that even possible?”
“The only answer I can relate is that the Black Widow Group built the system with available materials, copying everything they could down to the types of metal employed, and their machine was reacting to these same positive and negative energy events. I was pulled into Boeing’s program as a programmer, because the ship Boeing had did in fact have some kind of computer system onboard.”
“Wait…Boeing built one of these reproduction ships, too?”
“I assume they did eventually, but the ship I’m talking about wasn’t a reproduction.”
“What? So you mean…”
“Precisely. Not of this world.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you? I mean, if this is your idea of a fucking joke I’m gonna…”
But Taggart held up his hand and stopped him from finishing the thought. “No jokes, Mike. And I’m only telling you because at some point, if we have contact, I don’t want you to do anything stupid.”
“Contact? You mean, with them?”
“I mean Winky is a projection, he’s not really here, but…”
“He’s close. I have no idea where but he’s close. And at some point it may become necessary for one of them to come here – materially.”
“You know, I think you think you’re onto something, but have you considered that you just might be barking up the wrong tree?”
“Yes,” Taggart replied, nodding as he did, “for about the first two years. Then we were given the 9/11 dataset, and several additional events that registered over the following nine years. Call these events predictive perturbations within an energy field, and the correlation between system registration and negative event formation was better than 95 percent on our reproduction. At which point we licensed the code to people who went on to introduce the algorithms to companies like Google and Facebook, and you can see where that led.”
“Energy. You keep mentioning energy. You talking about crystals and all that other New Age hooey?”
“No, not really, but then again I really don’t know enough about that stuff to comment on it.”
“I hate to change the subject, but have you noticed the seas are still mirror smooth after almost 24 hours? That just doesn’t happen in these latitudes, Taggart.”
Who shrugged. “I was hoping we’d have calm weather. A rough passage would have been difficult on Rosa and Eva.”
“So, you think your little green men flattened the seas?”
“Doubtful, but you never know.”
“And let me get this straight…you think this Winky is some kind of projection?”
“Next time you see him put your finger into the field – all you’ll feel is electric current passing through you to ground. It’s not pleasant, but there are no lasting effects.”
“Think I should cycle the radar again?”
“Go ahead…but try to get the VBL on a target and let’s see if we can pick up a course and speed.”
“I’ll do the power, you work the Bearing Line.”
“Okay…scoot over.” Henry went and sat next to Mike and they powered up the radar and used the Variable Bearing Line to mark one of the ships so the computer could determine course and speed – before jamming filled their screen again.
“Looks like that one is headed for Bergen too,” Henry sighed. “Took them about ten seconds to respond and jam our signal, and that seems too long. Is the GPS still online?”
Mike toggled from radar to plotter and instantly the display showed their position; both noticed it corresponded perfectly to their deduced reckoning plot.
“Well, that’s a minor sigh of relief,” Mike mused.
“Yup, but those ships are converging on our destination, aren’t they? Any bets they’ll try to board us before we get into Norwegian waters?”
“I wouldn’t bet against that happening, no.”
“We could alter course now and try to get within the 12 mile line?”
“Because they’ll take me.”
“Well, let’s see here. I seem to recall you are on officer in the US Navy, so is that a bad thing?”
“If they’ve talked to the Seals on the island it is. I evaded them, remember?”
“I doubt they’ve been able to send a signal – without access to a sat-phone, anyway.”
“They have one.”
“Okay, then we might not want to press that issue.” Taggart added.
“What about you? Do you really have different passports?”
“Well then, you’ve probably already been flagged by the NSA. Once the number is called in they’ll want to talk to you.”
“Alright, we change course slowly and make our way carefully into Norwegian waters. We try not to act like we’re evading.”
“And, hey…you can always call Winky and have him intervene, right?”
Taggart nodded, though he looked away.
“Hey, man, I was just kidding…”
“I wouldn’t, not about that.”
“Why? It was just a joke.”
“Yeah? Well, they don’t process jokes the same way you and I do. Understand?”
Mike stopped to think before he spoke next – mulling through the implications. “You’re saying they can read our thoughts?”
“Not thoughts, but strong emotional impulses register once they’ve, well, once they’ve tuned into us. If one of them picks-up what they interpret as a strong negative energy event you can almost bet one of them will appear and start scoping out the situation. You might not be aware of anything, never even see a thing, but even so, they might be around.”
“So, you’ve been calling them? Like with those two subs?”
“All I can say, Mike, is that they’re keeping close tabs on me. For reasons unknown, at least to me.”
“So, you think they’re, ultimately, hostile?”
“No, not at all. Sometimes I get the impression they’re almost like academics; others have struck me as being little more than curious tourists. I’ve met one that was either a congenital idiot or a total prankster. And nothing I’ve seen, or even heard about from others on my team, is anything resembling hostile intent.”
“Your team? You mean at Boeing?”
“Not Boeing, per se. The Seattle area group may be a better descriptor, but things started just outside of Everett, at one of Boeing’s smaller, less well known R&D facilities.”
“You’re talking about a black site, correct?”
“And they’ve built ARVs at this facility?”
Taggart nodded. “Several.”
“Have you been in one?”
“I mean – up – in one.”
“Just curious, but who was at the controls?”
“Regular Boeing test pilots. Occasionally with one of them along for the ride.”
“You mean…they don’t mind?”
“Not in the least, at least as far as I could tell.”
“Think you could fly one?”
“Me? Hell, Mike, I couldn’t fly a roll of boom-wad across this cockpit…”
“Toilet paper, Mike…”
“Where the hell did you pick up that one?”
“From sailing ships in old Royal Navy times. Buckets used for pooping in bad weather were called thunder-mugs, and you wiped up after with cannon wadding, which was called boom-wad.”
Mike shook his head. “Man, the things you learn on deep night watches. I learned about America listening to sailors shooting the shit on the bridge in the middle of the night. Anything goes, too. Anything and everything.”
“What about now, with women up there?”
“You’d think…but no, I think it just got worse. Thing is, some of the girls are raunchier than even the worst guys.”
“Yeah, the whole world has kind of turned on a dime, hasn’t it?”
“Sure has,” Mike said. “Lots of tradition thrown away…”
“Every dog has its day. Maybe it was just time to turn to a new page.”
“Looks like the sun is coming up now.”
“What time is it, anyway?” Henry sighed.
“Coming up on 0400. So, what happens after Bergen?”
“I reload supplies and see who’s coming south with me, then I’ll head straight for the west entrance to the Waddensee, then on to the east end of Amsterdam. I’m probably going to need a real tune-up by then.”
“You, or do you mean the boat?”
Henry laughed. “Probably both, Mike. Depends on what Dina has to say about things.”
“Do you mind if I stay aboard…for the time being?”
“When are you going to be considered AWOL, Mike?”
“I don’t know, but I’m eligible for retirement right now. I may put in my papers from Bergen.”
“What you say, really.”
“About staying onboard? Hell, Mike…have you considered what happens after I’m…well, after Christmas?”
“Henry, I haven’t thought anything through, and I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants right now.”
“Then don’t make any decisions you’ll regret in a week or two. Go slow, figure it out – then make your decision.”
Mike nodded. “I used to think that way, but things have been changing lately. Or maybe I’ve been changing.”
“Do you feel, I don’t know…maybe a little unhinged?”
“Yeah, sometimes. Or maybe impulsive is a better word.”
“Had a physical lately?”
“Not recently, no. It’s been a few years, I guess.”
“Something to think of, then. When folks make sudden revisions to a life plan, especially without thinking through the consequences, sometimes there’s an undiagnosed medical issue behind the move. And once again, think about it in terms of an energy flow state. A negative medical state that begins to bleed over into increasingly negative psychological states of mind, especially if it’s an undiagnosed condition.”
“This is leading back to that random number generator stuff, right?”
Taggart nodded. “And to the question I asked earlier, about how many conscious minds there are in the universe. Ever here of Erwin Schrödinger?”
“The Schrödinger’s cat guy, quantum superposition and all that stuff?”
“Exactly. Getting back to the question, Schrödinger said the total number of minds in the universe is one. One conscious mind. Now this guy wasn’t a random nutcase, right? I take it you studied physics, so you know he was a physicist working through problems in quantum mechanics with Einstein. Even so, maybe we should take his ‘one mind’ assertion with a grain of salt, yet we can’t just toss it aside like it was the pronouncement of a homeless schizophrenic living in a box under a freeway overpass.”
“I hear you.”
“So, how fast does a thought move?”
“Is this another one of those trick questions?”
“I don’t know…maybe as fast as the speed of light?”
“Okay. Now let’s talk about 9/11 again, and that huge spike in so-called negative energy, but let’s also toss in the idea that there is indeed just one conscious mind in the universe. Got that?”
“Okay, so let’s also consider that Winky, or one of his team, registered the 9/11 spike on the same kind of instrument I had been working on. What would it mean if Winky saw that spike happen in real time?”
“You mean when it spiked here it also spiked on his instrument – at the exact same time?”
“It would mean he was probably in earth orbit at the time.”
“That makes perfect sense, though even at the speed of light there would be a measurable time lag at that distance.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you have any idea how far away the Andromeda galaxy is?”
“2.5 million light years, give or take.”
“Are you saying this character received the spike in real time – from Andromeda?”
“Yup. And that holographic projection of him observed both impacts, in real time. So, what does that tell you?”
“Other than I don’t believe where this is going?”
“Right. Other than that.”
“That the speed of conscious thought is infinite?”
“But that’s not possible in a Newtonian framework, is it?”
“Okay, so…how do we measure a thought? I mean…in a Newtonian sense.”
“So within a material universe with laws governed by what we hubristically call Newtonian laws, if you can’t measure something it basically doesn’t exist – in the physical world. And let’s just ignore the Uncertainty Principle for the time being.”
Mike shrugged. “I’m not sure about that one.”
“Yes, that’s a big unanswered question right now, but even so, assume for a moment that the proposition, that there is just one mind, one conscious mind in existence, is true. It follows that a conscious thought at one point in the universe is almost instantly conveyed everywhere in the universe.”
Mike shook his head: “No…I’m still not buying it, Henry.”
“Yeah, I know. The hardest part is getting over this conceptual hurdle. Been there, done that. Still, the thing I want you to take away from this is that Winky appeared yesterday in transmitted form, not his material self…”
“You mean he was still somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy when he…”
“Logical, but no, he’s usually somewhere around here, frequently on Earth.”
“Wait a minute. 2.5 million light years away and he’s here? At the speed of light it would’ve taken him 2.5 million years to make the trip…”
“Okay. So let’s introduce a new concept. Let’s call it the speed of thought, for want of a better framework…”
“Hang on there, Captain Kirk…I think I’ve had enough for tonight…”
“Fine by me, but first, there’s one more thing I’d like you to think about – if you don’t mind. When you came to yesterday you said you were surrounded by stars. Where do you think you were?”
“Then, as now, I was in need of a bed.”
“Hasta later, Amigo.” Taggart watched Mike disappear down the companionway steps before he slid over and sat behind the wheel. He took in their position on the GPS and wondered how service had been restored so quickly, and a millisecond later Winky was there. First in the red sphere, then in the form of a holographic projection, and finally – Winky…in the flesh, so to speak.
A thought formed in Taggart’s mind, then he could see a team at Northrup-Grumman working to solve a problem. The problem, Henry saw. Other computer scientists working to find the code he’d sent around the earth, rooting it out, rebooting systems one by one…
Then another thought. A question. “Do you want me to do something about it?”
“No, there’s little need at this point. I think everyone is on the same page now.”
“This feels archaic,” Winky said. “We have made an error, and should not have been drawn in.”
“We are still here, still alive, and that was considered most important.”
“But now there are three factions fighting. Before, you acted as one. This is our fault.”
“No, it’s not your fault. This is just what humans do when suspicion becomes unreasonable.”
“Death wish. Your species is consumed with death.”
“But we learn fast.”
“Not fast enough.”
“Don’t give up on us yet.”
“No, not yet.” And with that the creature disappeared – first into holographic form, then into the red sphere – and finally just a small flash and an echo of something present in the mind. Something like a lingering memory.
Taggart worked the image on the chartplotter, figured out the quickest course to the 12-mile line and set that as their new heading. The Swedish oncologist’s admonishment crowded out all other thoughts for a moment – be in Paris by the end of October – and he took a deep breath, trying once again to weigh the tone behind Winky’s thoughts. Had he lost hope in the project? What if all of them had?
And then the words came out of nowhere…
Que sera, sera…will we have rainbows, day after day…
He closed his eyes as he sang, and he thought of Eva in the water with the female orcas…
Did the moment make any sense to her?
Would the twins understand?
Was Winky right? Was this the only way left?
“I’ll never know, will I? I’ll be gone by the time Eva knows.”
The thought hit him like the hammer of God.
‘I’ll be gone…’
‘I will no longer exist…’
“Oh well, what will be, will be, the future’s not ours, to see…”
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.