If anything, the seas had become even more calm. As the sun lifted above the indistinct horizon, Taggart looked out over a vast silvery pool, a celestial mirror with no reflections to concern itself with, then he turned and looked at Time Bandits’ wake – like an arrow in flight as straight as could be. He checked their surroundings and noted the pod was still aft, now not more than a hundred yards off their port quarter, and that the Cape St George was visible again, perhaps two miles astern but simply holding position – neither gaining nor receding.
He went below and popped a pod in the coffee-maker, then went back to the cockpit.
A warning dialogue popped on the plotter: “Weather Data Now Available” – so he hit the enter key and layers of meteorological data overlaid the nautical chart – so he sifted through the information, noting a mid-Atlantic hurricane had turned north and would skirt Jamaica before turning northeast. A huge high-pressure system was sitting off the Norwegian coast and temperatures inland were breaking records from Bergen to Helsinki. The forecast out to ten days showed little possibility of change, and that was bothersome.
“Since when have high pressure systems stalled out over near arctic latitudes?” he asked the mirror-sea. “They usually don’t do that…”
Heard footsteps on the companionway and turned to face the music.
Eva. His moody blue, dancing barefoot to ancient rhythms, her syncopated soul moving to the alternating currents between the here and now and the dissonant chords of yesterday and tomorrow. Eva – the empath. His Eva, mother of the new.
She swung her hips suggestively – her arms held in loose stasis above her head – as she danced past the cockpit and out onto the aft deck, and once there she held onto the backstay still moving to an unseen beat. He heard a whisper of the music, saw her lips moving…I know you’re out there somewhere…and the strength of the emotion is like thunder in the air…
But now he saw the pod arcing in – all excited atoms in a vibrating universe, and Eva was calling out to them – her entrancing movements an ancient music all her own.
And Taggart simply didn’t exist now, not in her new world order. They were responding to her now, all of them. Eva pirouetted on the deck and one of the females leapt into the sky in a pirouetting arc of her own, coming down in a massive splash that soaked half the boat.
He knew the moment was coming. She would dive-in and rejoin her first circle…but no. Not today, at least not now. They came close and moved with her, conjoined inside the symphonic swirls of their beating hearts. Close, but not touching.
And it was then that he noticed she was not really conscious. Her eyes closed, her breathing deep within the cocoon of sleep she had created for them all. Her hands high, her body a perfect arc suspended from the stay, her breasts full, her womb sanctified now by the presence of her guardians.
And even Taggart knew not to interfere.
This is something beyond the New, he told the mirror in the sea. And I love her.
“What is she doing?” he heard little Erika ask.
“I don’t know…dancing to the music of the spheres, I think.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she dances to a music we can’t see or hear…?”
“Is she asleep?”
“I think so. How’s your mother?”
“Sore. Is it time for her medicine?”
Taggart looked at his watch and nodded. “Better make her some tea and I’ll fetch the pills.”
“Can we leave her up here like this?”
“Well, if she falls over she’ll be in good hands.”
“If you say so…”
He led Erika below and took his own meds, then got Rosa’s opiates and antibiotics and went forward to the galley. Rosa was sitting at the table, her face an ashen gray this morning, so he helped Erika make a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and French toast before he retreated to the cockpit. Eva lay in a crumped heap on the aft deck and he ran to her, helped her sit up and get oriented, then he helped her to the slanted shade of the early morning cockpit.
“What happened?” she asked. “Why am I up here?”
“I have no idea; in fact, I was kind of hoping you’d tell me…”
“What was I doing?”
He pointed to the aft deck: “You danced up the companionway and out to the deck. You seemed quite into it…whatever you were doing.”
“I was dreaming, at least I think I was dreaming…”
“You had an audience,” he added, now pointing at the pod swimming just off their stern.
“Oh yes, I remember now. One of them was calling to me. One of the females.”
“And you understood her?”
Eva nodded. “Yes, I think so…”
Henry nodded. “Okay. Let’s get you below, have some breakfast and take a rest?”
She shook her head. “No, I want to be with you now.”
“Okay, breakfast then sit with me up here. Now…scoot! You need to eat every now and then, you know?”
“I don’t want to leave them,” she said, now looking at the pod.
“Alright. I’ll fix you a plate and bring it up.”
“No! You must not leave me!”
It wasn’t just what she said that startled him, it was the frantic desperation he heard within that left him unsure of the moment. “What is it, Eva? Can you tell what’s going on?”
She slid down to the cockpit sole and grabbed his legs – as if to physically restrain him from leaving, or even moving – and now she seemed afraid, very afraid, yet she remained silent and said not a word…
“You can’t leave us, Henry. You can’t…”
“Leave? What do you mean?”
“You can’t die, Henry! You just can’t leave us…”
He grabbed her and held her close, then whispered in her ear: “There’s nothing anyone can do to stop it, Eva, and you have to accept that. I’m trusting you to take care of yourself, and the children, after I’m gone. Do you understand?”
“Of course I understand…but can’t they do something?” she said, jabbing a finger angrily at the sky.
“No, they can’t. And beyond that, Eva, you have to understand that I’m not afraid – about what happens to me, anyway. But I am terribly concerned about you and Britt, and the children, and what happens to you all after I’m gone.”
“Don’t be…we’ll get by…”
“Getting by isn’t enough, Eva. People living in mud huts and scrounging for scraps get by, but that won’t be enough – not for the demands raising two kids will place on you.”
“What are you saying, Henry.”
“I’m saying that your life is tied to Rolf’s now. He will be taking care of you – after. You’ll be with him. Do you understand?”
“You mean, he will be my my husband?”
“No, not at all. I’ve charged him with the responsibility of taking care of you and all the children, and you’ll have two boats available to you when you need them…”
“Yes, when. When things get bad. Rolf will know what to do, but he won’t be able to help you if you move beyond his reach.”
“I don’t understand…”
“You don’t have to understand, Eva. You simply have to trust me and do what I ask. I hate to put it so bluntly, but you will be a vital part of this family going forward, so please, try to honor what I’ve built for you.”
“Alright, Henry. I will. But what about them,” she said, pointing to the pod swimming off the stern.
“I’m not sure yet. I want them to stay with you and Britt, but I don’t know if they will or not.”
“And when we get to Bergen? What happens there?”
“You keep asking me that. Why?”
“Because I know if you leave without me I will never see you again.”
He looked away, now lost for words. “What will be, will be, Eva.”
She moved away from him then – as if his words held the pain of physical blows, then she walked down the companionway.
“Nicely done, Henry,” he said to the mirror in the sea. “How ‘bout an encore? Anyone else you want to push away today?”
He looked down at his hands, at the flesh and bones of his existence, and he felt a kind of disgust. “Why do I say the things we do,” he asked the face in the mirror, “when you know, on some level, our words are bound to hurt the ones we love?”
He walked over to the rail and looked down into the big male’s eye, and now he could see his reflection in the deep brown orb – almost like Nietzsche’s Abyss, he thought. “I didn’t mean to hurt her, my friend,” he said to the face in the orb. He leaned over but grabbed the lifeline at the last moment and fought the urge to just let go and fall…
“No, not yet, not yet…I’ve got to hang on…”
When he looked up a few minutes later the pod was gone – and the Cape St George was gaining on them, now less than a half mile away. “Oh, great. Just what we needed.” He went below to the chart table and got out his passport, then went topsides and waited for the next inevitable piece of the wall to crack and fall away.
And there he cleared his mind and held out his arms…
They came in three large inflatable boats, complete with machine guns on their bows, and he saw what had to be the captain standing in one of them. His arms crossed over his chest, the man had adopted a kind of imperious pose, kind of a ‘Napoleon in a Zodiac’ look that Taggart found transparently funny. Two of the boats sheered off and took up stations along either side of Time Bandits, while the Captain’s boat came to the port-side boarding gate. Taggart dropped the gate and held out a hand as the captain leapt across, helping him aboard then leading the way to the cockpit.
“What can I do for you this morning, Captain?” Taggart asked as he took a seat behind the wheel. “And would you care for some coffee?”
“Nothing, thanks. Mind if I sit?”
“Please,” Henry said, indicating the seat closest to the wheel.
“I won’t take up too much of your time this morning, Mr. Taggart,” the captain said, emphasizing the name to indicate computer checks were now up and running. “It appears the NSA thinks you had something to do with the current, uh, difficulties. That true?”
“It certainly is, Captain.”
The man seemed taken aback by forthright honesty and tried to rethink his strategy…
“But Captain,” Taggart continued, “certainly that’s not why you’re here. Why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind?”
“We had several cameras trained on your vessel during the incident with the Akula. I’ve watched and rewatched that event a dozen times and I’ll be damned if I can make heads of tails of what was going on out there, but I can make out a red ball in this cockpit, then I can see it streak down into the water and take out that sub. You wanna tell me who or what that thing is?”
Taggart shook his head. “I haven’t the slightest idea what it is, Captain.”
“But you control it, don’t you?”
“No sir, I don’t.”
“Then you can summon it?”
Taggart nodded. “I can.”
“And it does what you tell it?”
“No, not at all. The entity becomes aware of my situation and acts to protect me.”
“Protect you? Why?”
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask.”
The captain smiled. “Okay. Summon it, let me ask.”
“Are you a threat, Captain?”
“You’re goddamn right I’m a threat,” he said as he brought a walkie-talkie to his lips. “Open fire NOW!” he ordered, and the men on the boats opened fire with their machine gun, bullets streaming in towards Time Bandits’ hull.
The captain went to the rail and looked at the undamaged hull, then turned to look at the Cape St George…
…but it was gone.
“What have you done!” the captain screamed. “Where’s my ship!”
Taggart walked over to the rail and looked up, then he turned to the captain. “Come here.”
The man walked over and looked where Taggart was pointing…
The cruiser was perhaps a thousand feet above the sea, torrents of cascading water falling from her hull, but they could see men up there at the rails, leaning out and peering down at the scene playing out far below.
Taggart went back to the cockpit and sat – just as Mike came up the companionway steps, carrying three cups of coffee. Erika followed with a plate loaded with fresh bran muffins and Taggart smiled, asked her to sit by his side.
“What was that noise?” she asked – and on hearing a child’s voice the captain turned around, wide-eyed and apologetic…
“Dear God, man! Why didn’t you tell me you had children aboard?”
“What? Cancer patients not enough for you?”
“Frankly, I didn’t believe you, Taggart. Now, would you tell me what the devil is going on here?”
“I’m sorry, but the answer is no.”
Then Mike spoke up: “Commander, I’ve asked, I’ve tried to trick him into talking about it, everything I can think of, really…”
“And who are you?”
“Captain Michael J Lacy, UN Naval Fleet Intelligence – out of Norfolk.”
“Lacy? I have orders to take you into custody…”
“I’m sorry,” Taggart said, “but you won’t be doing that today.”
“What?! Get my ship back down here immediately!”
“What’d you do to his ship, Henry?” Mike asked – a little too sarcastically.
“It’s up there!” the captain of the Cape St George screamed, pointing at the sky. “And I want it back! Now!”
Mike and Erika walked over to the rail and looked up. “Sheesh, now that’s what I call an airship…” Mike sighed.
“Have a seat, Captain, and let’s talk about that.”
The captain drew his sidearm and shoved it into Taggart’s forehead: “Now, goddammit! I want my ship back now!”
Mike watched, shaking his head knowingly as the pistol simply slipped from the captain’s grasp and floated out over the sea, then dropped into the water.
“Care to sit now, Captain?” Taggart repeated patiently.
Looking up again, the captain shook his head: “It’s gone? My ship is gone…”
“What did you expect?” Mike snarled. “Just do what the man asks, for Christ’s sake!”
“Where is it?” the captain asked as he sat down across from Taggart.
Taggart shrugged. “You want things back, I suspect the best way to go about that is stop acting in a threatening manner. I could be wrong about that, but I’d give it a try if I was in your position.”
“Where are my inflatables? Where’d you…”
“He doesn’t get it, Henry,” Mike said. “Commander, Mr. Taggart is not doing this. He has no control over any of this. Stop asking him to…”
“Bullshit! He does too…”
Taggart leaned back and closed his eyes and the captain of the Cape St George simply vanished. “Some people,” he sighed after he opened his eyes again, “just don’t know how to act in unusual situations. Poor choice to command a ship like that.”
“Where are they?” Mike asked. “Any idea?”
“No, but they’ll be okay, wherever they are. Damn. Coffee’s cold now. And, did you bake these muffins, Erika?”
They motored into Bergen ten hours later, and the harbormaster had them tie-off by the fish market. No one seemed happier than Clyde, who barked twice and circled by the boarding gate while Henry hooked up the shore power cord and got the ship’s systems going on AC again. He grabbed Clyde’s leash and made it topsides just in time; Taggart walked him over to the nearby park and stood like an innocent bystander as the pup dropped a house sized load on a bush, then they walked back to the wharf.
“Uh-oh,” he groaned, “looks like trouble.”
Dina and Britt were already standing by the boarding gate, talking to Eva and Mike, and from this distance they didn’t look happy.
“What do you say, boy? Time to face the music?”
“That’s what I thought, too. Let’s go get some fresh salmon!”
“Yeah, their panties are all in a wad. Better give ‘em a minute.”
They walked to their favorite stall at the market and bought the freshest fillets they could find, and Henry asked if there were any fresh scraps for Clyde. Suitably stocked, they walked over to one of the benches that overlooked the waterfront and sat, watching the gulls wheeling overhead as fishing boats came up to the fuel dock. Henry pulled out a strip of salmon skin and Clyde took it gently and seemed to relish the taste.
“You’ll have to try it with wasabi sometime. Nice flavors.”
He looked up and saw Dina marching their way, her arms pumping like pistons on an old steam locomotive. “Looks like her panties are still in a wad, old boy. Wanna make a run for it?”
“Okay. Well, let’s see what happens…”
Dina’s vicious scowl gave way to a grudging grin as she thundered to a stop, steam pouring out her ears as her piston-like arms grew silent. “Well, well. Look what Clyde has! A nice treat, and for such a good boy,” she beamed.
Taggart was amazed at this chameleon-like performance, so he took out a fresh sliver of salmon and gave it to Clyde.
“And look here! It’s Henry Taggart! My wayward husband!”
Henry looked up, grinning noncommittally: “Hello, wife.”
“Nice of you to let us know you were coming!”
“Things have been kind of dicey the past few days, in case you haven’t been following world events.”
“So, what brings you here – of all places?”
“Ran into a nurse, she’s status post-mastectomy three days ago, no treatment options where she was located, and she has a daughter with her.”
“And what do you want me to do about it?”
“You are still a physician, I take it? Or has something changed on that front, too?”
“No. I am still working at the hospital,” she said soberly, calmly. “Of course we will take care of her.”
“Eva is with us,” he added. “I’d like to get her settled here for the time being.”
“Here? With whom?”
“Rolf will handle that.” The imperious glare he received bothered him not in the least, so he continued: “I also wanted to know if you’d like to come with me to Paris.”
She shook her head. “I can’t imagine being of any further use to you, Mr. Henry Taggart.”
“Indeed. Well, aren’t you just full of surprises today.”
“And I will not let Rolf depart with you, either.”
“I hadn’t planned on taking him, Ms. Bauer.”
“I’ve not filed for divorce,” she fumed, “so you will please not address me as such.”
“Well then, my lying wife. What are we to do?”
Clinched jaw, gnashing teeth, crimson flushed face.
“If you keep that up,” he sighed, “you may have a stroke.”
“No doubt that would solve all your troubles, Mr. Taggart.”
“You’re the least of my concerns now, Ms. Bauer. I need to speak with Britt and then Rolf; after that, we’ll be off.”
“And I refuse to let you see my grandson. You have become an insidious presence in his life.”
“Oh, Dina… When did you start hating me? And hating the life we created?”
She looked away, almost evasively. “As soon as I started to love you, Henry,” she said gently. “But that was a foregone conclusion.”
“I see. But then again, I keep forgetting your motivation was to keep Britt from…”
“From you, Henry Taggart. From you and all your mad contradictions. From your pathetic innuendos, your forced levities. It is a mother’s duty to protect her children from scoundrels like you!”
Taggart looked up at her, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “Dina, you are a poster child for menopause. I’d appreciate it if you’d bring Rolf down to the boat after I talk to Britt.”
Steam was pouring out her pantyhose by the time she stomped back to the pier, leaving Henry and Clyde sitting beside puddles of her lingering anger.
“Woof!” Clyde said.
“Yes, I know. She’ll have her bags packed and be down at the boat with Rolf within two hours – guaranteed.”
“Alright, but this is the last of the skin. Could you at least save some fish for me?” He took out his pocket knife and then pulled out a small filet from his shopping bag, then cut a few sashimi sized slices of salmon, feeding them to the pup one slice eat a time…
…while he watched the predictable argument unfold as Dina lit into Britt – loud enough to cause a flock of onlookers to gather on the wharf and watch the festivities – then she stormed off, leaving Britt on deck, alone in a steam-driven flurry of doubt and self-recrimination.
“Okay boy, that’s our cue. Time to face the real music.” Henry gathered up his shopping bag and with leash in hand began the million mile journey to the boat.
Clyde was not amused.
“That looked fun,” Henry said to a clearly rattled Britt. “Anything said I should know about?”
Britt’s grin was a bit sardonic: “Oh, she mentioned guns, knives, and you – all in the same context.”
“Ah, well then, in other words – nothing new.”
“Eva’s down below, as is a nurse and her daughter from Germany. She’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer and needs to begin treatment. Post mastectomy, by the way.”
“I’d assume at this point your mother is headed home to pack her bags. I’d like Rolf to come with us this time, as well.”
“There’s an American naval officer onboard.”
“You know, it is a testament to your life that not even this information surprises me, because your life is a three-ring circus, Henry Taggart.”
Henry shrugged. “Truth of the matter is, Britt, all life is a carnival. Thrill rides and hucksters, and we guarantee a new freak show around every unexplored corner along the way.”
“That’s my Henry.”
“You’re my Britt, too, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I haven’t,” she said as she teared up a little. “I will come as soon as you arrive in Paris.”
“I’d like Eva to stay with you, if you can manage it.”
“Of course. Must Rolf stay with you through Christmas?”
“Not necessary. He will be free to come home as soon as we reach the city.”
“To choose. He must become the man I hope he will by then.”
“You are not placing too large a burden on his shoulders?”
“It would be for some. It won’t be for him.”
“Why are you so sure of him?”
Taggart shrugged. “No coincidences, remember? I can only hope our courses intersected for a reason…”
“Just as ours did, you think?”
“I was embarrassed for my mother, Henry. That she lied to you about something so important.”
“She couldn’t help herself, Britt. Just don’t ever let her stand in your way ever again. She’s not worthy of that.”
“That’s rather brutal, don’t you think?”
He shook his head. “Not brutal enough. There’s a dangerous difference between a mother’s protective instincts and a presumptive will to control lives. Don’t make the mistake of confusing one for the other.”
“Speaking from experience, I assume?”
He smiled. “I’ve seen a few things in my life.”
“Of that I have no doubt.”
“You know, this new journey began in the shadow of decisions you made, Britt. I’m here right now because of you, so remember this was our journey before anyone else came along.”
“I don’t forget that, Henry. But there are times I think you must.”
He met her gaze directly: “Confusing summer, wasn’t it? So many unexpected – people.”
“You could say that, I suppose. But sticking to just one of us might have been…”
“Unnecessary at this point in my life, Britt. You know and I know nothing between any of us was going to be a long term affair, so really, what did it matter?”
“Your love mattered to me, Henry. At least until I understood that my love, in the end, meant nothing to you.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry that you feel that way.”
“There’s no other way to feel, Henry. All I need do is point to Eva or my mother. And heaven knows what this new girl has been through because of you…”
“Well, when I’ve left feel free to talk to her. You might find her feelings illuminating.”
“Yes. We will see. Now, if you would collect Eva so that I may take her home?”
He lifted Clyde and put him on deck then started to climb on board, but his shoulders were burning and his hands started shaking uncontrollably. He looked up at Britt with uncomprehending panic in his eyes just before he collapsed, landing on the pier then rolling into the sea.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.
Same reaction as 53. These are unsettling.