[So, this post is chapter 21 complete, including subsections 1-16 but with a few minor revisions to tweak the plot and clear up a few (well, you know) ambiguities. Music Matters? I’m thinking King Crimson’s Pictures of a City and Spirit’s It Shall Be. The next post? I see some Harry Callahan in your future…]
Still standing at the aft rail, Henry Taggart watched the coiling toroidal clouds as they climbed through the stratosphere, the haunting cacophony of perishing souls trapped within now crystallized inside his reeling mind. He looked up and saw the B-21s launch a second strike, this second wave of hypersonic lances slanting-in to take out Amsterdam – and Taggart groaned as the implications became clear in his mind.
In order to prevent the massive supplies of oil cached in these two ports from falling into Russian hands, in a now all too familiar calculus the two cities surrounding these ports were being sacrificed. As in: blood for oil. As in: for the last one hundred years the brutal efficiency of this formula had guided human history like nothing ever had before – because as Everett DeGolyer had so cogently explained, oil was power and global dominance of geo-petrochemical production would lead to world dominance. Roosevelt understood the implications all too well; so had Joseph Stalin. At Yalta the game was afoot!
Now, even as hydrocarbon emissions were choking off their future, humans were once again willing to go to the mats to control supplies of the stuff – even if this would quite necessarily be the last time humans fought any kind of war at all. If the whole thing wasn’t so sickening, Taggart thought, it might have even been kind of funny. Like the same kind of funny if John Galt was to be suddenly brought to life and Ayn Rand’s archetypal Übermench then decided to take out the human race rather than watch it be subsumed in some sort of neo-Marxist non-conforming conformism. Humanity was, after all, a particularly fragile construct – one particularly ill-suited to comprehensive introspective analysis – especially with so many deontologists on the march and willing to kill millions in the service of an idea, and who were so much more efficient than disaffected writers.
“How wrong we were,” Henry said to the cobalt-encased, thorium-enriched clouds settling into their familiar mushroom formations over the burning cities. He tried to think of the most pathetic example you could find of humanity – say, for instance, a club-footed Sudanese boy of perhaps two years, born with a cleft-palette and no arms, the sort frequently used to attract donors to any of the dozens of charitable organizations founded to help such ‘wastrels.’ Legions of oil companies directing battalions of marching soldiers had ground an endless number of such children into the sand, and all in an endlessly mad search for energy. Humanity had been reduced to a series of variables to be substituted in equations derived to suit the exigencies of the moment. Sorry about that, little boy.
But when Taggart joined the Seattle Group he had quickly learned that there was more energy locked inside a single thought than there was in the most devastating hydrogen bomb ever built. He’d laughed at the simple-minded lunacy of the idea, too – until a freak named Winky had taken him and a gastrointestinally challenged young male orca for a five minute spin around Vancouver Island…at speeds in excess of Mach 50. He’d shut the fuck up after that – and started listening…big time. Even as the stomping legions in their Brooks Brothers’ suits lined-up to do battle with one more new idea that dared to challenge the existing world order.
One more time.
Because this war was for all the marbles, wasn’t it?
They’d talked about war once, too. He and Winky, that is. And Winky had listened patiently, even tactfully given the circumstances, then he’d turned to Taggart and asked one simple question. “How many wars have been fought since the end of your Revolutionary War – where oil was the principle organizing objective of your intervention?”
Taggart had thought long and hard about that one, then threw the answer “Ten!” out there to hang around in the air apparent, yet Winky had only smiled that patient smile of his before he’d turned and walked off.
“That’s not fair!” Taggart yelled – causing men all around the ‘Special’ hanger at Boeing’s Everett Field to turn and see what the commotion was all about –
But by then he and Winky were standing in the History section at the Harvard Coop Bookstore across from Harvard Yard, and Winky had simply pulled a book from the shelf titled A Country Made by War and handed it to him – before stating: “More than 400 – by Perret’s count, anyway – though my own was a little more aggressive.”
“What? Are you serious?”
“Read it and find out, Hank.”
“Forgot your wallet again, I see? Well then – let me, please.”
Those had been the days, Taggart mused. Winky or Dinky could appear as anyone, of course, though Winky usually walked and talked like Cary Grant or Bela Lugosi, depending on his mood and the state of his humor, which, in those days, had been generally somewhat more playful.
He heard someone in the cockpit and turned to see Mike standing there, looking aft at what was left of Rotterdam, and Taggart saw that the naval officer was finally at a loss for words.
“This is what happens when your best laid plans fall on their ass,” Mike croaked, his voice a parched mirror of his facial burns. “What about Amsterdam?”
Taggart shook his head. “It’s gone, too, I think.”
Mike flipped a few switches but nothing worked now, not even the diesel, so he walked back to the rail and stood there beside Henry. “Looks like EMP took out everything,” he said softly.
Taggart shrugged. “I’ve got a few spares.”
“That figures. What about the sails?”
“Standing rigging is toast, though if I can get up the mast I can rig the main and staysail stay, enough to get us down the road a little, anyway.”
“I take it you weren’t expecting this?” Mike asked as he took it all in, his voice suddenly full of real sorrow.
But Taggart turned and faced Mike, the anger behind his eyes manifest: “No, I’ve been expecting this my whole life, Mike. In fact, I’m surprised we made it this far.”
Mike nodded. “What’s that old saying? Kill someone in an alley and you go to jail, but kill thousands to the beat of marching bands and you’ll get medals. I guess that makes us…what?”
“Irredeemable is, Mike, the word I think you’re searching for. An evolutionary dead end, and maybe it is time to put an end to this…”
But a series of far away explosions ripped through the air and the two of them turned to watch a number of fighters whirling around tens of thousands of feet above the sea, shooting missiles and firing machine guns at one another in a last ballet of death. Too far away to make out any detail, Taggart turned away from it all and walked back to the cockpit, helped Dina and Rolf get to their feet. Rolf seemed almost in a state of shock as Dina took him down the companionway –
– then he felt Eva in his mind…
‘There is a great evil coming to you now,’ she told him. ‘Get everyone below and prepare yourself.’
‘You are injured. I will help you if I can.’
‘Thanks. I get by with a little help from my friends.’
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’ He felt the lightness in her thoughts, the noble purity, and he smiled – as if he was a flower turning to face the sun.
“You’d better get below, Mike. Now.”
“What? Why? What’s happening…?” Two of the fighters were locked in a struggle to the death, one diving now, the second turning to pursue… “I think they’re out of missiles,” Mike sighed. “They’ve been going at one another like this for a few minutes now.”
“Too stupid to know they’re already dead.”
“Don’t forget testosterone. Homo sapiens…to the very end.” Taggart held onto the backstay, his head turned up to watch this unfamiliar scene play out to it’s inevitable conclusion…
An American F15 was trying to turn inside of the pursuing Russian Su-35 when it went inverted in a sudden wingover and pulled-back hard at the apex…but this Russian wasn’t buying the dodge. The Russian committed now and drove his fighter right into the wings of the Eagle, the pilot ejecting at the last possible moment – just before their machines burst into flames and tumbled like falling leaves down to this sunless sea of gritty molten amber.
Taggart watched the ejection carefully.
The canopy broke away smoothly, the rocket under the seat fired and then the seat fell away from the pilot as the drogue opened. Perhaps a second later the main chute opened and then the man hung there, suspended by his harness…
Until the pilot realized he was falling towards an American yacht.
Which was when he reached for the pistol strapped to his thigh.
And Taggart just watched this fall from grace, knowing full well what he had to do now.
“Mike? There’s a spare sat-phone in the oven. Could you go get that for me, please?”
“In the oven?”
“Faraday cage, Mike. Don’t leave home without one.”
“Power it up, would you?”
He could see the pilot clearly now, see that he was watching everything Taggart and Mike did even as he fell through the gritty amber sky. And he could feel the malice in the man’s livid eyes as the water reached up and plucked him from the sky.
The swim platform worked well enough, and it still supported his weight as Henry stepped out on it. He flipped the swim steps out and watched them fall into the water – just as the pilot swam up to the stern, an ancient Makarov clenched in one hand.
“Stand back!” the Russian ordered as he reached out for the steps – speaking in Russian, of course.
“Would you care for a towel?” Taggart answered – in Russian.
“Stand back, now! Or I will shoot her!”
Taggart turned and saw Eva standing on the aft deck – but he saw the shimmering pink glow around her feet and knew it was Pinky.
“Oh…feel free,” Henry said, smiling genially at the aviator.
“What? Are you an imbecile? Did you not hear me? Stand back!”
Taggart leaned over and extended his hand. “Perhaps you didn’t know, but your left arm is fractured. Now, take my hand and I will help you up.”
“Stand back! Now!”
Taggart sighed and took a step back, then he watched the old Russian Colonel struggle up the steps while trying his best not to show overt disgust. “Would you like a towel now?” he just managed to ask.
The Russian, speaking through clenched teeth and with sweat running down his forehead into his eyes, snarled now. “No! Get back or I will kill all of you, now!”
“Not to put too fine a point on things, Colonel Peskov, but this is my vessel and you are my guest while here.”
“No! You are MY prisoners! Now, step back, but…say? How do you know my name?”
“Your gun, please. Give it to me.”
Furious now, Peskov took the pistol and placed it about a foot in front of Taggart’s face and pulled the trigger.
Except Taggart reached out and twisted the pistol free of Peskov’s hand, then tossed it into the sea. “We have a physician onboard if you’d care to have that arm looked at.”
“You are my prisoner! You do as I say!” Peskov commanded, now in rough, heavily accented English.
“Or, would you please just shut the fuck up?”
“We win, see?” Peskov shouted, pointing at Rotterdam’s feraly glowing remnants. “You understand? Russians wins again!”
“Okay, Anton, you asked for this, so hang onto your britches…”
They were in a woman’s mind now, seeing St Petersburg through her eyes. Running along the Martynova Boulevard, the river off to her right, two small boys running just ahead…
“Those are my grandchildren!” Anton cried. “How can this be?”
Only Henry and Peskov could hear the air raid sirens wailing all around them now, then the fear in all their voices as they ran for the shelter near to subway entrance – then the hideous, shrieking howl of a million souls perishing as a small sun erupted a mile above the city center…
Only Anton Peskov could see and feel the primordial fear in the wildly beating heart of his youngest daughter, then – through her eyes – he watched the all-enveloping fusion blast that came calling for the only three people left in the world he could honestly say he loved…
…and in the time it took to sigh they were gone, because in that instant they had been reduced to black grit that had somehow been fused to the pavement – like shadows painted on concrete…
And Anton Peskov fell to his knees, his bunched fists pounding Time Bandits’ deck, murderous rage welling up in his heart. “I will kill you all with my bare fists,” he howled, the burning pyre of St Petersburg alive once again in his eyes –
And in the next instant his eyes were focused like laser beams – attached to the re-entry cone of a MIRV boring through the atmosphere just above Moscow –
“No, this can not be! This must not be!”
As the MIRV mechanism deployed, all 28 warheads blossomed from behind the cone, each independently programmed warhead streaking down to impact on a prominent cultural landmark in the heart of the city of his youth…
Only now he had a God’s eye view of the moment, looking down on the city of his dreams as the first 28 warheads hit, then another and another, until all that remained of the city was a seventy mile wide slag-heap filled with a seething lava-like substance that bubbled away in the night. Nothing at all remained of the city and the culture that had defined his people for hundreds, if not thousands of years…
Consumed with fiery rage, Anton pulled himself erect and beat his chest with his good hand. His eyes full of grief for the dead as he turned on Taggart: “Think of all the children! The grandchildren – that you have just murdered!”
Taggart walked over and stood by Peskov’s trembling body, then he pointed at Rotterdam’s amber-glowing grit. “See the children over there, Anton? Can you feel them now? The grandchildren and grandparents and all their history – gone now, because of what you did here today? Can you feel them now? Here? Right here?” Taggart said as he ran his fingers through his hair and pulled it down for Anton to see, the sweat on his fingers speckled with little obsidian flecks of grit. “See them, Anton? This is all that’s left of them now. All their hopes and dreams, all that they were or would ever be…here they are…one last time and just for you!?”
“What are you talking about, you fool?”
“Here they are, Anton. Their remains, falling from the sky – right now. On you. Right on your head, Anton, and there, right on your face and in your eyes. Can you not feel them, Anton? Can you not hear their screams?”
As the realization began crowding out every other thought Taggart watched the man go mad right in front of his eyes. Peskov ran his hand through his own hair and he felt the grit on his fingers, under his fingernails, then he heard the millions of screams as the warheads blossomed overhead. And each little fleck of grit became a life’s blood on his hands until the man’s soul literally withered and burned out there on the aft deck, then the shell of the man stood there in mute grief as the ironies of his inherent contradictions consumed him.
The seas were strangely quiet as dawn came. Amber-gray with an oily sheen that spoke of endless terrors in the night without end that had just been.
Dina had wrapped the Russian colonel’s right arm and given him one of Henry’s precious opiates, then fixed the old aviator a cup of sweet tea on the propane stove. “How long will food keep with no power?” she asked Henry – who was then on his way to the engine room.
“Don’t open the doors unless you have to. Keeps the cold inside,” he said as he worked his way into the confined space under the cockpit and got to work. Rolf joined him under there, and they emerged two hours later and went straight to the cockpit. One punch of the starter and the pristine diesel rumbled back to life, the batteries began charging and the refrigerator cooling again. Rolf and Henry ‘high-fived’ – and Clyde barked twice…
Next, Henry rigged up his old bosun’s chair and went over safety procedures with both Rolf and the aviator, who both helped run Henry up the mast. After a few premature triumphs, Henry felt satisfied with the repairs and they rolled out the main and set the small staysail, everyone smiling as Bandits’ speed jumped from six knots under power alone to almost nine knots with the added lift from the sails.
Then Henry went to work on the radios.
And when the BBC World Service came on at the top of the hour he smiled.
“The world seems to have stepped back from the brink,” a heartened voice began, “yet with reports of at least four cities now silent it is time for us all to step back from the abyss and conduct a reckoning…”
Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Gone.
Moscow and St Petersburg. Gone.
Word was slipping out that China had threatened Russia’s military after Moscow went dark, that the Chinese leader had stated quite clearly that as they, the Russians, had started this madness, China would not sit idly by and let the Russians take down the species.
There had been a hideous price paid during these hours of madness, the commentator said, yet now it was time to move on. To reconstruct. To heal.
And Time Bandits left the afterglow in her wake, sailing now for Le Havre – just as the strangest hurricane in human history took aim at the northwest coast of France.
“What this is?” Anton Peskov asked, pointing at the weather display on the chart-plotter.
“Weather, from a satellite over the Atlantic,” Rolf said, clearly proud of Time Bandits – and in his growing understanding of her systems.
But one of the colonel’s bushy gray eyebrows arched up on hearing that. “This is live, not recorded?”
“Yes, live. Actually, it’s a service of the SiriusXM radio network, it just feeds into the chart and radar networks.”
“Very cool,” Peskov growled. “And this?” he asked, pointing at the hurricane still growing in the eastern Atlantic.
“That’s Epsilon, the new hurricane,” Rolf said, centering the display over the eye and calling up the Overlays panel. “We can display the current wind speeds, like this,” Rolf said, toggling the layer, “and we can add even more information, too, like sea surface temperatures” – click – “and barometric pressures.” – click –
“Very, very cool. And you knows how to use dees system?”
The display blinked and an alert popped in the center of the screen; Rolf silenced the alarm and pulled up the linked data-feed and quickly read through alert, shaking his head as the enormity of the information sank in. “Mike? Is Henry still up?”
Mike shook his head. “No way, man. Dina popped him with a syringe full of instant sleep. He won’t wake up ’til sometime tomorrow.”
“Well, you better come take a look at this, because I think we’ve got trouble.”
Mike stood – and cried out in pain as his back arched in an involuntary stretch – then he walked over to the helm and took a look at the display: “What’s up? Epsilon again?”
“Yeah, but take a look…”
Mike looked at the display and scowled. “That can’t be right. 280 knots in the eye-wall?”
“I double checked the feed. It’s a valid alert, and for all shipping heading into or out of the Channel.”
“What are the surface temps now?”
Rolf went back out to the main display window and zoomed out to show the entire storm. “Look up there, just to the north of the eye…”
Mike bent over and peered into the image, then he shook his head and scoffed. “No way, man. No way it’s a hundred and five degrees up there!” – yet while he was watching all the temperatures updated, most increasing by a degree or two as he stood there, and two more alerts popped. “Open ‘em up, Amigo…” Mike sighed.
Rolf hit the appropriate buttons and the display shifted to grayscale and a text filled the screen.
“Notice to Mariners,” the text read, “Imminent danger to life at sea northeast Atlantic basin from the Azores to the Irish Sea and points east. Hurricane Epsilon continues to intensify as conditions deteriorate further…”
“Well, fuck-a-doodle-do,” Mike whispered as he read. “What are the temps up here, in the Channel?”
Rolf flipped through the pages of data and pulled up the central region of the English Channel and hit enter, then he overlaid all the data he could find for their current position. “Okay, here it is.”
Mike sat next to Rolf and peered into the image again. “That Multi-display can pull up a real time sea-temp, right? Can we cross check these numbers with real time data?”
“Sure…easy… So, Sirius Weather is showing 84 degrees F right here, and…” Rolf said, leaning over to pull up the real time data on one of the smaller secondary displays, “our sensor is showing…uh, that can’t be right…” he said as 91 degrees registered.
“One good way to find out,” Mike said as he walked back to the swim platform, where he stepped down and stuck his hand in the sea. “Well, Hell, I wouldn’t want to take a bath in it, but it feels pretty damn warm to me.”
Anton had followed him down to the water and stuck his own hand in the water. “Da, is not good.”
“Okay, so it looks like some kind of super-tropical cyclone is coming up the Channel. The question for us,” Mike posed, “is what do we do about it today – right now, while Henry is down and out…?”
“How far we go in Channel? And how big is storm? Do the two areas, how do you say? Overlap?”
Mike nodded and looked ahead, then up at the sky. Strange, mottled-coppery cirrus clouds were already streaming in, and he wondered if global background radiation figures were changing already… He watched Rolf pull up more charts and data and walked back to the helm.
“Okay,” Rolf said, “we are almost to Bruges so call it 170 n-m-i to LeHavre, while the center of Epsilon is still about 360 miles out from LeHavre. What about London? Could we put in there?”
“I was just thinking about that,” Mike sighed, “but I keep thinking of the Thames Barrier.”
“Da, is not good.”
“What’s that?” Rolf asked.
“A tidal flood control barrier. If it gets taken out everything in London could be wiped out by storm surge.”
“What about the Seine? Couldn’t the same thing happen to Paris?”
Mike shrugged. “Southern shores should see less surge, but wind damage could be savage along rivers and coastlines, yet it looks like if we proceed direct to LeHavre from here we’ll get there about the same time the storm does.”
“What about Bruges?” Anton asked. “We here now, we need medic supplies for you and Mr. Genry, no? And it give time to get ready, which need. Correct?”
“Impeccable logic, my friend. Rolf, pull up the harbor chart and let’s make for the entrance…”
The sky was red – everywhere he looked.
Red satanic mills lighting the way ahead, roiling black spires of writhing cloud overhead, and trees on both sides of a blood-soaked canal reduced to glowing embers as, not so far away now, walls of orange flame moved through a row of medieval buildings – those ancient timbers adding their cry to the night.
And then there was the music.
A dark lament, yet he heard sublime chords weaving new tapestries into and out of the licking flames. Timbers consumed by the roving fires split and burst, howling into the night, coming together in the music before lifting away into the night – embers to stars – pitiless onlookers now as they rose from the earth.
First there was the fire and the music – coming together as yellow lightning moved across the charred prairie beyond the canal – and then the smoke. Suffocating smoke, the gritty remains falling from fouled clouds, the fleshy soot smothering flames in the tarry remnants of human screams…
He was coughing now, coughing and hardly able to breathe, Clyde’s eyes were full of panic too, as he coughed and gasped. Then a voice, faraway and cool:
“Take a deep breath…
“That’s it, take another…”
He felt cool plastic around his mouth and nose, could just hear the hiss of oxygen beneath her voice as he opened his eyes…
Two IV bags were hanging from one of the hand-holds on the ceiling and he knew they were connected to the port in his chest. Some sort of glucose solution in one; the other a vampire’s brew of platelets and plasma, and he reached out – feeling his body in this world again, wondering how much more he could take.
A pulse oximeter on his index finger, a BP cuff on his right arm, and there was Rolf pumping up the cuff as Dina passed along more of the dark arts to his receptive mind; she was even now teaching him, training him, and he could see budding interest everywhere the boy looked.
He took a deep breath and the cool oxygen felt good inside his nose – but – ‘What is that I smell? Honeysuckle?’
He looked up through the overhead hatch and could see a Linden tree wrapped in autumnal reds and golds, a coppery-blue sky beyond, and there was a gentle weight on his chest: Clyde – his muzzle resting lightly in the fading shade of the dream.
‘Not Rotterdam. Not even earth – I feel sure of that. But…where were we this time…?”
“Ah, Henry! You are awake!”
“I’ll have to take your word for it. And is that a tree I see up there?” Taggart asked, pointing to the Linden. “Because, and I think this is important, I don’t remember trees growing in the ocean.”
“We are moored outside of Bruges,” Rolf smiled, “warped off to the trees.”
“The storm. Epsilon, right? Rolf, where is it now?”
“The eye is between Brest and Exeter, almost exactly in the middle of the Channel. But Henry, the surrounding weather is beginning to behave in a most peculiar manner.”
“Define peculiar? I’m not sure what that means anymore.”
“Water temps now over a hundred, winds in the outer bands are almost 200 knots…”
Taggart sat up, rubbed his eyes while he tried to get those numbers to make some sort of sense. “Did you say 200 – as in knots?”
“Yes, and the northeast quadrant of the eye wall is over 275 knots.”
“That’s not possible.”
“That’s exactly what Anton said,” Dina added, scowling.
“Anton? Who the hell is Anton?”
“The Russian pilot. Do you not remember all that?”
“Vaguely. Something to do with World War Three, right? Or was that my hemorrhoids acting up again?”
Dina shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“How are our supplies holding out?” Taggart asked, changing course again.
“Fine now. We went into town and bought enough medicine to stock a small hospital…”
“And I have more rope, too,” Rolf added, “though right now the storm is tracking a little to the north…”
“What? You mean north, as in towards London?”
“Maybe so, yes.”
“So, assuming it…”
“Precisely,” Rolf added. “If it tracks just a little south landfall could occur somewhere along this coast tomorrow morning.”
“Dina, you were saying? About supplies for Mike’s burns?”
She nodded, smiling a little once again, if only because even after fifty years she still had to hold her tongue when men, and even boys, talked over her. “We are good now, and we were lucky with food supplies here, too. Apparently many stores in Brussels are quite bare.”
“Salmon for Clyde?”
“Yes, and very fresh, too.”
“So, how bad is it out there?”
She nodded, tried to smile – but he could tell the effort was for Rolf’s sake. “Better than expected. People are still using cash and electronic money equally well. ATMs seemed to have enough cash on hand, too.”
He nodded and turned to the boy again. “How’s our fuel, Rolf?”
“We beat the rush into Zeebrugge last night and we have full tanks now, and I topped-off the five-gallon jugs in the garage.”
“What do you need help with?”
“Nothing, really. Like I said, I have extra rope ready to deploy if needed.”
Henry smiled and nodded, then Clyde looked at him and sighed. “And what do you need, Amigo? Besides some fresh salmon?”
“Any good bushes around here?” he asked, looking to Dina.
“He just went, Henry,” Dina sighed as he looked in his eyes.
“And how are you doing?” he asked – finally engaging her eyes.
“I’m scared – and a little lonely.”
“Understandable. Not many people had a ringside seat at armageddon and managed to survive the night to talk about it.”
She slipped onto the berth and under his arm, pushing Clyde out of the way as she rested the side of her face on Henry’s chest, listening to his breathing and his beating heart in a decidedly non-clinical way, and feeling now more than anything just happy that he was still here. And Rolf had the good sense to get up and leave them alone, too.
“I have never been so frightened in my life,” she sighed, suddenly trembling as memories of that dreadful night came rushing back to her. “The wind has been out of the west ever since, so fallout is spreading inland; there are reports it is very bad near Hamburg and Berlin, Copenhagen also.”
“What about us?”
“I suspect low level radiation exposure for all of us, but I have no idea how much that Russian was exposed to as he fell through the sky.”
He heard the venom in her voice and tried to ignore it – for now. “You think there are looming food shortages?”
“Yes, but this is to be expected, is it not? According to the BBC, food convoys from the United States are being loaded now and should be here early next week, and the Chinese have been flying in field hospitals and medical supplies to Germany, and also near St Petersburg.”
“How did the boy take it?”
“Better than I expected, Henry. In fact, he seemed most concerned that he get things done in a way that you would approve. Dedicated, I think, is the word I think of…”
“For a teenager that’s kind of a miracle, don’t you think?”
She shrugged. “Perhaps, but he has seen what Time Bandits is capable of, and I think he appreciates what such things mean to our future.”
“I wonder how much damage radiation did to her hull?”
“The stern took the worst of it, but the mast, too…”
“Yup, probably a new mast and, well, a couple of new sails are a given, but stripping off the gelcoat to see how deep the radiation damage goes inside the hull…you’ll need to do that next spring, by the way…so that will be your number one priority. I’m in the process of writing it all out, by the way.”
“Good. Have you been getting hungry at all?”
“No, not really.”
“How about some soup?”
“I have bread in the oven now, too.”
“I know – I think that’s what woke me up. Best smell in the world, isn’t it?”
She smiled. “That…and a strong cup of coffee. Together those create a magic all their own.”
“Yeah. We have our flaws, but we manage to pull a few rabbits out of our hats every now and then, I guess.”
“Are you worried about…Them?”
“Them? No, not really. What’s done is done, at least as far as they are concerned.”
“And what about Eva, and Britt? What is happening to them?”
“You probably shouldn’t worry too much about them, Dina. That book has gone to press.”
She seemed taken aback by that, and sat up – her eyes flaring in anger; “That is the most terrifying thing you have ever said to me, Henry. Just what am I supposed to make of a statement like that.”
He held her eyes in his own, conveying empathy – and strength: “I understand.”
“Indeed? Do you really?”
“Of course, but the truth of the matter is I trust – them – a lot more than you do.”
“They could be…”
“Not harmed, Dina. Not ever. In fact, they are safer now than they’ve ever been.”
“I see. Will I see my daughter again?”
He nodded. “I assume as soon as we get to Paris you will go pick them up.”
“What?! You mean, I will be leaving you again?”
“Just for a few hours – and because you are the only one here who knows where to look.”
“Look? What do you mean by…look? Will they be hiding?”
He sat up suddenly, coughing roughly as fluids pushed against his lungs – then an arrhythmia shook his heart and he closed his eyes until it too passed – then he took a couple of deep breaths and tried to concentrate.
“I must find an aircraft, one that the Russian knows how to fly, and you must go to Bergen. I will write down what you need to do, who you need to see once we get to Paris…”
“The Russian? You trust this man?”
Henry shrugged: “Everything seems to be happening for a reason right now, Dina. Please try to remember that every time you find yourself confronting the new and the unknown.”
Yet even as he spoke those words he could feel Eva probing his thoughts, then Britt was there too. He closed his eyes and felt them coiling around his thoughts, smiling as he basked in their warmth. Reaching out now, he could feel the warm water, almost feel the rough skin as orcas slid alongside the girls…
Then a gust of hot wind slammed into Time Bandits, knocking her into the muddy banks of the canal. He heard Rolf running up the companionway, then he heard the boy talking to Mike and Anton, deciding what needed to be done as Epsilon’s steamy tendrils started to reach out for them.
‘Was that the dream?’ he wondered. Would this storm bring red skies and burning timbers to the night?
He tried to sit up when the music returned – but couldn’t – and the feeling of helplessness that came next only made him angrier.
He took several deep breaths and willed himself to stand – yet Dina was right there with him, removing the IVs from his port and swabbing his chest with alcohol.
“Do you want to go topsides?” she asked – as the hidden music from his dream crept into the moment.
He nodded and held onto her as she led him up the companionway steps into the cockpit – and the change he felt was so startling it left him feeling breathless.
Time Bandits was no longer a creature of the open ocean; here she was, now – bound to the earth in places, to trees in others, and in a canal perhaps 20 meters wide – surrounded by trees and medieval buildings…in short, all the ingredients to make his last dream come true. And the music only grew more incessant…
He turned and looked up at the sky and the old Russian was by his side in an instant.
“Sky not look right,” the old bear grumbled. “Too hot. No clouds.”
Taggart nodded. “Do you know how to fly any business jets?”
“737 smallest thing I fly long time.”
“I need you to go up to Bergen, get some people and bring them to France.”
“Okay, can do.”
“Rolf? Pull up the Metars page, would you? Let’s take a look…”
The weather page filled the plotter’s display and Henry bent over and scanned the isobars over the Channel. “Okay, hit the 24 hour forecast.”
The page froze and an error message popped up.
“Try backing out to the main page again…”
Dina saw it first, and she gasped as she jumped back.
A swirling pink sphere not a half-meter in diameter was up by the masthead, and when Henry stopped talking and looked up Pinky fell quickly and stopped right in front of his face. This was of course Anton’s first meeting and he back-peddled with flailing arms until he launched into a sputtering back-flip, landing in the canal like a small whale…
But then Pinky did something she had never done before.
She slipped inside Henry Taggart – until her soul rested neatly beside his.
Perhaps ten years ago Henry Taggarthad been the first to reach out.
And ‘Pinky’ had been the first to feel Henry’s tentative probes. The first to feel a human’s focused thoughts, the first to – in a very real sense – make contact with an individual.
His thoughts were anything but coherent then, but they were sentient so she took note and followed protocol. Within hours her team was preparing to respond and evaluate this new contact.
Pinky’s people were children of the mind and as such they relied less on physical instrumentalities than their most distant ancestors ever had, and while not strictly speaking immortal their lifespans would most likely have been considered, by human standards, anyway, ridiculously long. Still, there had been no discussions of this between humans and Them if only because there had been no common frame of reference, and Pinky had simply felt the matter irrelevant.
Now – after her fusion with Henry Taggart – death was everywhere: an omnipresent awareness locked-up in a tight, hot place somewhere between cold dread and pounding fear. When she felt Taggart’s compounding diseases the first thing she wanted to to do was run – anywhere – to get away from this hostile, unfamiliar feeling. How can he stand it, she wondered.
But as suddenly she had wanted to know how he coexisted with such an intimate cascade of negative emotions she tried to extrapolate this feeling and imagine it on a species-wide scale. And because she had been studying humans for several years, she wanted to reconcile her understanding of human support systems – like religion and medicine – with what she was just now experiencing for herself.
‘This is terrifying,’ she said to Henry as she settled in next to his psyche.
‘You’re telling me. Now I know what schizophrenia feels like.’
‘Death is everywhere. How do you not think about it all the time?’
‘You’re kidding, right? I think we do, especially as we get older. Probably ninety percent of the time, anyway. But I think it’s safe to say that whenever we’re not thinking about death we’re thinking about getting laid.’
‘So…you think either of death – or procreation?’
‘Yup, pretty much, but the two are intimately linked, ya know? So, how long do y’all live?’
‘That is a question, Henry Taggart, for which we have no easy answer.’
‘Okay, but I’m curious. Why now?’
‘Do you mean why have I come to you – now – in this way?’
‘Yeah, I think that about sums it up.’
‘Your systems are failing rapidly. We need to know more about this process.’
‘You asking about me specifically, or about civilization in general?”
‘So, you’re asking me about death and dying? Why?’
‘Because we do not understand how this process affects you.’
‘Most directly, I think I can safely say.’
‘But…where do you go?’
‘Where do your thoughts go – after you die?’
‘I don’t understand. Our thoughts don’t go anywhere, because when we die we stop thinking.’
He could feel her puzzlement, an almost paralyzed sense of incomprehension as she stumbled in the dark for the truth of the moment: ‘What do you mean…you stop?’
‘I mean when our bodies stop functioning everything ceases. Including our thoughts and feelings.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘No, of course not. As far as I know, no one really understands what happens after we die – beyond the very certain biological processes of decay which begin at that time.’
‘So much uncertainty. It is no wonder your kind is consumed with matters concerning spirituality and an afterlife.’
‘Your kind is not, I take it?’
‘No, we are focused on other things.’
‘What about getting…uh, procreation?’
‘The process is known to us.’
‘You are evasive, I’ll give you that much. But why? Why conceal so much from us?’
‘I think it is simply a question of frames of reference.’
‘So, you think I can’t understand. Is that your frame of reference?’
‘In a way, yes. What is that noise you have been making taking?’
‘Yes, almost melodic, but it almost seems to come from deep inside your body.’
‘Ah. Humming. As in humming a musical tune.’
‘How does this differ from singing?’
‘Humming is more of an approximation of the original…’
‘Is this approximation subliminal?’
‘I suppose it could be. What are you getting at?’
‘Is it possible the source could be external?’
‘External? You mean like sent from someone else?’
‘Yes. Is that possible?’
‘I don’t think so. At least, not in any way I know of.’
‘This is strange. When humans gather and listen to music many tend to become one with the structures within the music, and it is here that we have experienced many encounters recently.’
‘Encounters? You mean, as in reaching out?’
‘So, you think it is people changing, or something within the structure of the music changing people?’
‘We are uncertain.”
“I see,’ Taggart said knowingly. ‘And so you think you have discovered something new…’
‘Yes, Henry. Something new, but also something quite unexpected.’
He saw the women one morning while out walking; he watched them make their way out to the water’s edge and disrobe, then most surprisingly, he stared – utterly amazed – as the two women stepped into the icy water and simply disappeared. Not at all sure what to do, he grew concerned when they did not reappear after several minutes, so he pulled out his phone and called the town’s rescue services.
Within minutes divers and helicopters were scouring the waters north of Bergen.
Rolf was aft now, down on the swim platform helping a thoroughly flummoxed Anton back onboard, while both Mike and Dina stood, transfixed, after ‘Pinky’ merged with Henry. Moments later Anton and Rolf were back in the cockpit, Rolf’s face an open book, Anton’s a vivid mix of confusion and paranoid fury.
“What the fuck is this shit?” the Russian aviator bellowed, pointing at the shimmering amber-pink aura pouring out of Taggart’s every pore – yet by this point even a few passersby on the canal tow-path had stopped – and were gaping – at the bizarre spectacle.
“Be quiet!” Dina snarled. “Don’t interfere – don’t say another word!”
Anton took the towel Rolf handed him and shook some stray water from his ears, all the while never taking his eyes off Henry Taggart – until, a few minutes later the swirling sphere emerged from Henry’s face and simply winked out of existence…
…and as suddenly Henry seemed to phase back into the present…
He saw Dina and reached out for her – and she intuited that Henry was now suddenly very unstable and about to pass out. “Mike! Help me!”
Yet it was Anton who reached out for Henry, Anton who caught him as he started to fall, and Anton who helped Henry onto the helmsman’s seat and held him there while Henry caught his breath and regained his bearings.
But even so, everyone could see the change that had come over Henry.
He seemed physically diminished, palpably weaker now, and Dina rushed to his side and began a quick assay of his vitals even as Henry seemed to wilt into her gathering strength. “Rolf, some water, please,” she said to her grandson.
“That was some seriously weird shit,” Henry muttered.
“Da,” Anton echoed, “you no kidding…”
“Henry,” Dina said, sudden concern clear in her voice, “this must not happen again. Your pulse is now very low and you are as white as a sheet…”
“I didn’t exactly ask her to do this, you know?” he sighed.
“What happened?” Mike asked. “Did she tell you why?”
“I’m not sure. She had a bunch of questions and she’s looking for answers…”
“Did she know how this would effect you?” Dina asked.
“I don’t know. Next time you see her why don’t you ask…?”
“What is this?” Anton asked. “You speak of woman, yet I saw no woman…?”
“Well, believe me, she is,” Henry smiled wistfully. “And she has an attitude, too.”
“But,” Anton barked, “what is she?”
Mike chimed in now: “She’s not from around here, Anton.”
“No shit she’s not from around here,” Anton growled. “Question is, anyone know where she from?”
Mike pointed at the sky, which caused an audible gasp from the startled crowd of onlookers still gathering on the tow-path…
…yet as if on cue a gust of hot wind blew threw the crowd, reminding everyone of the approaching danger, and even Henry sat up and took note of the change in temperature.
“Rolf, let’s get the latest weather updates pulled, okay?” Henry said, ignoring the questions written all over Anton’s ruddy face, as he took a bottle of water from Rolf. Henry looked at the compass and then tried to visualize their physical orientation to the English Channel – and he figured they were almost bow-to the north, so tied-off to the west bank of the canal. So, they would be beam-to any gusts that came up the Channel and hit the Belgian coastline.
And then fragments of the dream returned. The red skies, the coiling clouds and the rows of medieval buildings burning…and that goddam music… ‘Yes, just like those right over there,’ he said to himself as Rolf bent over the plotter and pulled up a new page.
Taggart looked at the dock lines Rolf had set, and while most were well-placed he could see a few weak zones that would need reinforcing if the winds were truly apocalyptic. Then again, if the storm was packing both extreme heat and wind speeds probably nothing would save them – aside from fleeing to the south and east.
Pages started appearing on the plotter and he leaned forward, fought through the light-headedness and the pulsing light that rattled his vision; he saw Epsilon’s eye was now in mid-channel, about halfway between Brighton and LeHavre and headed directly for Calais – and just beyond, Bruges.
And he wondered then… ‘Should I send them away? Get them to the train station and send them to Geneva?’
“What are you thinking, Henry?” Anton asked.
“It might not be safe here.”
“Da, no kidding. Maybe we go south?”
“And what about you, Henry?” Dina asked. “You won’t leave, will you?”
Henry shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. There’s something I’ve got to see here.”
“Well,” Anton said quietly, “that is that. We stay.”
Henry looked at Rolf, then Dina…
“Don’t you dare say it, Henry Taggart!” Dina hissed before she turned and went below.
Taggart nodded and looked at Rolf: “Get some more line ready to go, son. We’ve got some work to do…”
The large female was with Eva when she felt the disturbance growing along the shore across the bay. Men were gathering in the water and in the air and in an instant she knew who the men were looking for. She reached out to Eva and passed along images of her concerns…
As Eva processed these warnings she reached out to Henry, but she felt danger gathering all around him and pulled back. Not knowing what else to do, she wondered what would happen if she reached out to one of Them – the pink one, perhaps?
And a moment later a pinkish orb appeared in front of her, a fiercely glowing shimmer perhaps a foot beneath the water’s surface. She ducked under the water and almost instinctively placed her hands on the sides of the sphere, and in the next instant she felt Pinky probing the deepest reaches of her mind.
And when she felt traces of Henry in this new place she closed her eyes to the warmth as it enveloped her. She turned and looked around, saw that both she and Britt were no longer in the sea. Then she realized she had been holding her breath, so she inhaled – slowly – until she relaxed as fresh air washed through her lungs.
And then she turned to Britt…
…who was clearly not amused.
“What happened?” Britt cried as she struggled to move, before she began screaming “Where are we?” over and over again.
Eva went to her, reached into her mind, let her feel Henry all around this place until she felt Britt relax.
“Do you know where we are?” Britt finally whispered.
“No, but I think Henry does.”
“I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Eva,” Britt said to Eva while clutching frantically at her belly. “I don’t understand what’s happening to me…to us…”
Eva grabbed Britt, pulled her close and told her everything would be fine, but she could feel Britt’s trembling uncertainty. “You have to trust Henry. You know he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us. Trust him, trust him…”
She felt Henry just then, felt his probing thoughts, then he felt her moving-on to Britt, then Britt growing warm and soft again as his thoughts caressed her…
…and only then did she pull back and look at her surroundings…
They were in a tank of some sort; huge, smooth and cylindrical, made of some kind of resinous material, but one area was full of viewing ports. She focused there, on the ports, and she tried to move but found she couldn’t, then realized they were weightless and had nothing to push against.
Then the cylinder began spinning, very slowly at first, but faster – until gravity began to assert itself and they both began drifting to what must have been purposed as a floor. Once she felt something solid underfoot, Eva walked over to the wall of viewing ports…
…in the space beyond the ports she saw dozens of glowing orbs moving about some sort of control room, all heedless of her presence – aside from one pinkish orb spinning there just on the other side of the port.
Then she felt Britt standing by her side.
“I’m okay now,” Britt said.
“I know. How is Henry?”
“Worried. That storm, Epsilon. It’s coming right at them…”
Then Eva cocked her head to the side a little as a gentle stream of music came to her…
Henry and Rolf stood on the tow-path looking over the web of lines they had wrapped around Time Bandits, hoping they would be strong enough to secure the boat to the canal. Both banks were lined with small craft now, and crews were frantically running lines to every available tree or bollard in sight. Henry looked at the mess and shook his head, knowing that if even one or two boats cAME loose the end results would be ugly – perhaps tragically so.
“I wonder how mother is doing?” Rolf asked.
“She’s fine,” Taggart sighed.
“How do you know that, Henry?”
“Good question. Someday I might even know the answer myself.”
Taggart looked around, saw a bench in the shade of an old Linden tree and he walked over and sat there; not knowing what else to do, Rolf followed and sat beside him.
“Do you think we’ve done all that we can do to secure the boat to the tow-path?” Henry asked.
“I think so…yes.”
“So, your mind can be at ease about that? Is that about right?”
“I suppose so.”
“Fair enough. With your mind at ease, can you imagine going to a place where you can think of nothing at all?”
“Nothing? No, not really.”
“Close your eyes, Rolf.”
“Concentrate on the blackness you see now, and only that.”
“Just listen now. Don’t think, don’t even try to answer me. If you feel something strange, just concentrate on the blackness and ignore everything else.”
And just as Winky had shown him once, he reached inside Rolf’s mind until he could feel the boy’s uncertainty gathering all around them…
“Listen to the wind in the trees,” Henry whispered. “To the sound of my breathing, even to the earth breathing.”
He could feel Rolf relaxing, letting go.
“Your mother is here, Rolf, in this place, in this darkness. Imagine reaching out for someone in the dark, someone you know is there, only use your mind to reach out, not your hands.”
He felt an image of Britt forming in Rolf’s mind, watched the image resolve and grow.
“There she is. Keep reaching, reaching until she is close enough to hear you…”
He could feel Eva with them now too, and then Britt and Pinky were there – all of them watching Rolf, willing him on.
“I’m here. Come to me, my son.”
Dozens of wildly spinning orbs were gathered at the viewing ports now, watching this next most important phase of their ongoing experiment as it unfolded.
“Where are you?”
“I’m with you, my son. You’ve made it to me and we are together now!”
“How is this so?”
“Take my hand. See? I’m here with you…”
Henry watched as Rolf reached out for his mother’s hand, then he opened his eyes.
Even before he heard Dina’s screams he knew Rolf was gone, then he took a few deep breaths before he tried to stand. He pushed himself up from the bench, then the earth started spinning wildly and he fell to the ground, grabbing at the earth with his fingers to slow these new gyrations.
He heard them running for him even as the darkness came for him, then he was under the cool blue light of the vast ringed planet, only this time everything felt different…
She saw him falling, but he was still too far away. She was concentrating on his head and the way it bounced off an exposed tree root, and she winced as she imagined his brain bleeding after the impact. Yet she was by his side within moments, feeling for a carotid pulse, checking his neck, then his pupillary responsiveness. Getting him on his left side, putting her jacket under his head while she watched his breathing, counting his respiratory rate.
Then Anton was there by her side, though clearly now more confused than ever. “Where is boy?” he asked in his heavily accented English.
But she was looking past the burly Russian, looking for Mike – and she spotted him running off the boat with her ‘go-bag’ – which contained everything she might need to treat Henry in a crisis just like this – and he was by her side a moment later. She opened the bag and handed Mike a pack of alcohol swabs while she asked him to clean up the skin around his port. She took out an IV bag and handed this to Anton, and she told him to, above all else, hold it above Henry’s head. She hooked the line to the port and then set the flow-rate, checking his heart rate from time to time while the fluid stabilized his electrolytes.
“Okay, let’s get him to the boat,” she said after a few minutes, and both Anton and Mike helped lift and carry him back to Time Bandits.
Only now there was a small band of thugs on deck, and it appeared that several had already been below – ransacking the interior by the looks of things scattered about the deck.
“We need to get this man below,” she said to one of the teens standing by the gate in the lifelines.
“Mange moi, beetch!” he replied as two other hoods came over to join their leader. “Dees ees my boat now, so fock off!”
Taggart’s eyes flickered a little, but they did not open…
He was sprawled out on the white road, staring up at the ringed blue planet as his fingers clawed at the white sandy soil…
“Why…why am I here again – now?”
He pushed himself up to a sitting position and looked around, fighting off waves of nausea and disorientation as he looked around these eerily familiar surroundings.
‘Yes, there they are. The shadows. The shadows and that brilliant white place in the forest…’
He heard cries in the air now, almost like birds but more like feral cats…weird, screeching calls – that seemed to be reacting to his return.
Then one of the shadows was on him, gently pushing him down into the sandy dirt, yet as he was looking through this spectral form he saw that this shadow also had substance.
Almost humanoid, yet the skin was an iridescent matrix of textures that might have been scales, perhaps even feathers, and while the creature within at first seemed more or less androgynous he began to make out a startling pinkness to the iridescent shimmer along the edges of the creature’s scales-feathers.
“Pinky?” he asked aloud.
The creature reached inside his mind: “Yes.”
“Is this you? What you really look like?”
“There is trouble. I feel I must intervene, but to do so I must use your form once again.”
“There is great danger to you if I do so. You may not survive, Henry.”
“I understand,” he said as she sent images spiraling into his mind, images of thugs and of a terrified Dina. “We must do what we can do.”
“I will do what I can for you after, but it may not be enough. I wanted you to be prepared for what may happen.”
He reached up and put his hand on the side of her face – yet she seemed to physically swoon from his touch, rocking from side to side – and the iridescent edges of her scales-feathers began pulsing brightly in concert with the movements of his fingers. Her androgyny melted into pure femininity, and what he felt next was unmistakable; he took a deep breath and looked into her eyes. “I understand, my friend. Let’s go…”
Dina was by his side now. He was resting on the bench, his breathing ragged, his flesh a waxy-sallowed sheen when the change began.
Muscles redefined before her eyes as the pinkish aura began pouring from his skin again.
Anton shook his head: “This too fucking weird,” he muttered as he and Mike stepped back, and as Dina placed her fingertips on Henry’s carotids. Moments later Henry was sitting up and looking at the rag-tag assortment of trash on his boat.
“Take this thing out of my chest,” he said to Dina, his voice now an odd, almost synthetic version of the original. She struggled to remove the line even as Henry stood and began walking towards Time Bandits…
One of the thugs pointed at Henry as he approached and the leader returned to the gate in the lifelines, this time pulling a small pistol from his coat pocket, letting it dangle by his side as Henry came close.
“Leave now,” Henry said, his voice still a strange mix of human…and something else, “and I will allow you to live. Remain here and you will cease to exist.”
The leader was staring at the vibrant pink aura radiating from the few visible patches of Henry’s flesh, almost mesmerized by the sight – until Henry’s words registered – then the pistol began swinging up until the barrel was leveled at Henry’s face…
Dina saw the boy’s finger contracting on the trigger in slow motion, then primer detonation followed by a shockingly bright flash of light, then the pistol simply disappeared – and with it half of the boy’s right hand.
Henry raised his right hand and made as if to squeeze the air in front of his face – and in a mirror reaction the boy’s body began to implode in agonizing horror, his shattered body falling to the deck in sundered stillness. One of the other thugs took out a killing knife and dashed for Henry, raising the blade as he came: Henry raised a finger and lifted this assailant a hundred meters into the air, then slamming this body down onto the ancient stone tow-path – with predictably gruesome results.
“Leave – now, and you will live,” Henry said quietly to the remaining thugs, and no one doubted the wisdom of fleeing when they heard this last warning. “Leave everything,” he added, but one of the thugs kicked Clyde as he started to leave and Henry responded by sending this boy into the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere, leaving the remains to burn-up slowly on re-entry. He walked over to Clyde and placed his hand on the pup’s ribs, sending radiative warmth into the bruising bones, then Henry collapsed onto the deck beside Clyde…his eyes wide and his body now very still.
He opened his eyes, looked up into Pinky’s eyes.
“You know, for a benign pink alien you sure can be a mean sonofabitch.”
“I could not bear to watch them hurt you and your friends.”
“I am no longer an impartial observer, Henry Taggart. I have feelings for you.”
“Feelings? What do you mean, like love?”
“I have known of this word, but the meaning was never clear to me until you reached out to me.”
“And now you understand?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Does this trouble you?”
“No, not at all.”
“I know you can not love me. You do not know me. But perhaps one day this will change.”
“That is the nature of love.”
“You must return now. Be strong for your friends.”
He nodded as pain washed through his body, then overwhelming weakness came for him…
Dina was kneeling over his inert body, hooking up the IV to the port once again then injecting adrenaline; she took her light and checked his pupils and shook her head.
“What do you need?” Mike asked.
“Bring a mattress up here, would you? I’m afraid to move him now.”
“Where is boy?” Anton asked – again, and Dina simply shook her head.
“I have no idea, but I suspect Henry knows…”
“What is going on here?” Anton sighed.
“You should talk to Henry…”
Mike asked Anton for help getting a mattress set up on one of the cockpit seats, then they moved Henry, hanging the IV bag from the cockpit enclosure in the process…and a moment later Rolf reappeared – sending Anton into another stumbling back-flip over the rail, and back into the canal…again.
“Where have you been?” Dina asked Rolf as they helped Anton out of the water again – and back up on the swim platform.
“I do not know, Grandma-ma, but I believe we were far from here…”
“We? What do you mean – we?”
“Mother and Eva were with me,” he added.
“How you disappear like that?” Anton asked, taking the fresh towel Rolf offered.
But Rolf only shook his head as he continued talking to Dina: “I almost think we were up there,” Rolf said, pointing skyward. “It felt like we were inside some kind of ship.”
“How is your mother?” Dina asked.
“She has changed, Grandma-ma. It is almost like she has grown more calm, or maybe less afraid – but I think many things have changed since you last saw her.”
“Things are changing here too. I am now more concerned about Henry.”
“How long was I gone?”
Dina shook her head. “Not long…an hour or so, maybe, but something terrible has happened. That…thing…went inside him again and he is more ill than the first time.” Dina seemed more than angry now, but even so Rolf thought she was reacting jealously as she spoke. “You’d better start tracking that storm again, and I’ll see if Henry will be strong enough to help you tonight.”
Dina returned to the cockpit as another gust of hot, dry air whipped along the grassy banks of the canal, rocking Time Bandits and sending the hull to the limits of her dock lines. Rolf grabbed onto a handrail in time – but Anton was knocked off his feet and back into the canal.
“Maybe just stay here, no?” Anton snarled.
‘Winky’ had called this meeting, and he had seemed more agitated than usual when he did.
Dozens of the ship’s crew had already gathered in something like a conference room when he entered and called the meeting to order, and he quickly detailed what he had seen on the planet below. ‘Pinky’ had intervened in Terran affairs and in the process killed three humans; the gathered scientists and academicians seemed shocked and a few wondered if Winky had evidence to support such startling accusations. He reached into their minds and presented what he had – which was, apparently, enough to quiet the naysayers. Pinky was then quietly summoned, and no one looked forward to what surely had to happen next.
“The water is shallower here, and so much warmer,” Mike said, pointing at the weather overlay on the plotter. “If the storm comes ashore at Calais the dangerous quadrant will hit us, and hit us hard, but the winds will come from the east, or maybe the east-southeast…”
“Those temperatures can not be correct…” Anton whispered, his eyes wide as he tried to visualize what calamities awaited in the night.
Rolf picked up the latest news feed from Radio France and pulled up images from LeHavre; the port area was ablaze and every tall structure had been flattened; trees and farmland had been similarly scorched. The last available reports from the harbor area recounted 190 knot winds and 130F degree temperatures before the reporting stations went off the air, and even Paris had reported similarly hideous extremes before Epsilon’s influence passed.
Mike looked at Henry, still asleep but apparently out of immediate danger, then he looked at the outside air temp display; it was already almost a hundred degrees Fahrenheit out and the sun was only just setting now. “If the winds will be coming from the east, these lines aren’t going to do much,” he said, pointing at the spaghetti bowl of lines warped around the boat. “We’ll need a bunch run across to the far side of the canal, and we’ll need to be prepared to reset any that come undone, too.”
“See all fire in video?” Anton began. “If tree catch fire,” he said, pointing at the closest Linden a few yards aft of them, “could fall on boat. What we do if happen?”
Mike’s face scrunched up as he thought about that. “If the wind is from the east it ought to blow away from us…”
“If not, there’s an axe in the garage,” Henry said, his eyes open a little now.
“Henry!” Rolf cried as Dina bent over to look in his eyes.
“Hey, Bud. Glad to see you made it back in time for the festivities.”
“How are you feeling?” Dina said, whispering in his ear as she kissed his cheek.
“Not bad, considering. Somewhere between roadkill and an end-cut of prime rib.”
She shook her head. “I’d say you’re feeling fine, no thanks to that pink thing.”
“She saved your lives, Dina. Mine too, come to think of it.”
“You almost died this time, Henry.”
“She asked this time, Dina. I agreed.”
“You did what?”
“They were armed, were they not?”
“Yes, but she killed at least two of them. Doesn’t that strike you as odd…?”
“It’s complicated, Dina.”
“No it isn’t, Henry, and any fool can see that.”
He looked her in the eye, didn’t break contact but neither did he say a word.
“I see,” she said. “Well, at least you understand my anger.”
“You can be such a paternalistic prick.”
Henry nodded and smiled. “And I can’t tell you how many years I’ve spent perfecting my craft.”
“Well, you’ve succeeded admirably.”
He grinned but turned to Rolf. “Let’s get a few lines across the canal to those two trees,” he said, pointing at an oak and a linden on the far side of the waterway. “You grab some line and we’ll get the Zodiac ready to go,” he said, turning to Anton and Mike. “You two feel up to some work?”
“Yeah, sure,” Mike said. “I know the drill; why don’t you just lay low for now.”
“Yeah, right…” Taggart said, rolling his eyes.
“Would someone tell me where boy went, please?” Anton asked – again.
When the added lines had been set, Henry went back to the plotter and checked on Epsilon’s progress; there was no doubt about it now…the storm was going to come ashore just north of Calais, so they were going to be slammed by the dangerous quadrant. Anton came and sat beside him just then and Henry sighed inwardly, not really wanting to fill in all the blanks right now – yet if anything, Anton was deeply perceptive and already Taggart was warming to the aviator’s wry sense of irony.
“So, storm comes to Calais?”
“Looks that way. I’d say eight hours to landfall; maybe nine.”
“So, after midnight. But we will feel effects before that, no?”
Henry nodded. “See that band?” Henry asked, pointing at the weather overlay on the plotter. “We’ll feel that one in about three hours, give or take. You better grab some chow and a nap; it could be a long night.”
Anton nodded. “Must say something first, Genry.”
“Because I your enemy you could have let me drown, yet instead you take me here, you give respect to me. I want thank you.”
“You are not well?”
“No, I am not.”
“I very sorry.”
“One question more. Is okay I stay here?”
“Sure, stay as long as you want.”
Anton nodded – yet he looked a little relieved. “Thank you, Genry. You rest now too?”
“Maybe.” He looked at the Russian and smiled. “I actually feel rested right now, but we’ll need you rested tonight.”
Anton stood and extended his right hand, and Henry took it – looking into the aviator’s eyes as he did – and when he felt the man’s openness and respect he nodded again. “I’m glad you’re here, Anton.”
“War is a stupid thing, Genry.”
“I think so too.”
“Yet without war I would not be here.”
Henry nodded. “Be careful, Anton. Keep thinking along those lines and you’ll be thinking about God soon enough.”
The aviator nodded before he turned and walked below.
He turned his attention back to the plotter but almost immediately felt Pinky reaching out for him – and for the first time in his life he experienced someone else’s fear.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
‘I am hiding.’
She filled his mind with images of events earlier today, and then of a hastily called meeting where her actions were being roundly criticized.
‘What do you need?’ he asked.
‘A place to think.’
‘And a place to hide, I take it?’
‘So? What are you waiting for?’
‘I will no longer be able to hide my physical form from you, Henry.’
‘I may frighten you.’
‘Let me deal with that.’
‘Are you sure?’
He heard Anton coming up the companionway steps and he turned in time to see the aviator coming up to the cockpit carry bowl of salads and some fresh bread. He placed these on the cockpit table about the same time Pinky appeared on the aft deck…
“Holy Mother of God…” Anton muttered as he stumbled backwards towards the lifelines; Taggart shook his head – if only because he knew what had to come next – but he turned to the aft deck and he too seemed more than a little in awe of what he found there.
She was easily three meters tall, and her body was covered with white – feathers? Yet…she had very human hands and feet, and what he thought on first glance was a most angelic face. Then she spread her wings, revealing a span of almost six meters…and only then was the visage was complete.
“Don’t tell me,” Taggart quipped. “Your real name is Gabriel…”
“Fuck me in the a…” Anton cried as he catapulted over the rail – again – causing a stampede of voices and footsteps coming from below as everyone made their way up the companionway steps.
Dina was the next to see Pinky; her screams were worthy of a B-grade slasher film.
When Rolf saw her he dropped to his knees and started giggling uncontrollably.
Mike took one look at Pinky and crossed himself before he dove into the canal; he and Anton swam for the far side.
“Maybe we’d better get you below?” he said to Pinky.
Epsilon’s first band washed over the central Belgian coast a little after 2100 hrs, and this first brush with the storm worried Henry Taggart and absolutely terrified Rolf and Dina.
The outside air temperature had been holding steady at 105 degrees Fahrenheit through the early evening when suddenly the barometer jumped and the temperature went up ten degrees; moments later a 90 knot gust slammed into the Brugge area and older trees began snapping and tumbling away in the wind. The sound made by the snapping trees, Anton said, reminded him of distant cannon fire.
Yet Time Bandits hardly budged under the force of this first onslaught. She leaned a bit, perhaps two to three degrees off-plumb, then shrugged-off the impact and stood resolutely upright, and Henry was pleased.
Pinky was secreted below, her massive frame curled up on Henry’s berth in the aft cabin; Dina remained in the galley working on a fresh batch of bread but every now and then she looked in on Pinky to see how she was doing. The sight horrified her.
After Epsilon’s first band passed a pale blue orb appeared at the top of Time Bandit’s mast; the slowly spinning orb simply fixed itself there, an inert, watchful presence that was simply impossible to ignore. People on nearby boats stared and pointed, yet by now nothing seemed to surprise these people after a day of watching the antics on the American boat.
Clyde seemed to be in a little too much pain after the thug’s kick and Henry looked at his urine after each walk to the bushes, but it was still running clear so he resolved to simply keep a watchful eye on the old boy for a few more days – or until they could find an open veterinarian clinic.
He looked up at the masthead from time to time, at the baleful eye lingering up there, and at one point he saw stars and moon glow through an opening in the scudding clouds, and maybe the faintest hint of an aurora, too. He could just make out Orion up there, and even the pink glow under the belt was faintly visible – yet the overwhelming mood of the moment was how utterly surreal this bizarre heat made everything feel. It was autumn in northern Europe coming up on 2200 hours and it was now 120 degrees Fahrenheit on deck.
The BBCs 2200 broadcast was rife with vivid images of British seaports along the southern coast all ablaze. Cathedrals from Canterbury to Salisbury had lost their roofs, and there were reports of airports closed after fuel storage facilities ‘cooked off’ as the storm hit. Taggart and Anton looked up at that, if only because the various tank farms in Zeebrugge were less than ten miles away, and Rolf intuitively switched to the weather overlay function when he heard that, and they all gathered around the display and measured distances in their minds’ eyes.
“The next band will hit in less than an hour,” Henry said, “and it won’t let up until the storm moves out of the area. If anyone is still hungry, now’s the time to do something about it…”
He felt Winky probing his mind then and didn’t even try to resist.
‘Is she with you?’
‘Yes. She’s below and quite afraid.’
‘When she moved inside me I resisted, but using her strength I was able to strike out at the intruders.’
‘So…you are saying it was not her actions that resulted in those three deaths, and that they were the result of yours?’
‘I see. I had no idea you’d grown so attached to her.’
‘Nor had I.’
‘I was being sarcastic, Henry.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t.’
‘She must answer for what she has done.’
‘She didn’t do anything.’
‘I am sorry, but she will not be allowed to hide behind your denials.’
And with that, Winky disappeared. Taggart stood and steadied himself as he grew light-headed, a wave of nausea washing over him, then he went below to check-in on Dina, then Pinky.
“You look pale…” Dina said as he came down the companionway. “Sit down. Let me take your blood pressure.”
He sat and she put a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice down on the table in front of him, then she hooked up the cuff and pumped it up.
“100 over 40. Drink your juice, then go lay down for an hour.”
He nodded. “How’s she doing?”
“Sleeping, as far as I can tell.”
“Sleeping?” Henry asked. “Or simply depressed?”
Dina shrugged. “Beats me. I’ve never treated an angel before.”
“An angel? Dina, are you serious?”
“What would you call her?”
“I don’t know; a species that evolved on a low gravity planet, maybe?”
“Oh, Henry, you are such a romantic.”
“What kind of bread are you baking? It smells outrageous!”
“Walnut and black olive. It will be ready in a half hour or so.”
He tossed down his juice then stood, holding onto the table until the light-headedness passed, then he shook his head and walked back to the ten foot tall winged creature asleep on his bunk…
She knew the dream was over yet it felt so good to simply sleep…
Eva sat up in the darkness expecting to feel the harsh contours of the tank, but groping around she felt a mattress underneath and something that seemed to imply she had returned to normal gravity. She swung her legs out of bed and felt carpet underfoot and then knew she was back in Britt’s house, so she walked to the kitchen and found the light switch, then she found a clean glass and filled it with water.
And there was Britt on the sofa in the living room, apparently wide awake and staring out the windows that overlooked the bay. She filled a second glass and went to the sofa…
“Here. Drink this.”
But the physician appeared to be in some sort of trance-like state; Britt was rigid, quiet, and unresponsive, so Eva looked out the window too.
The female orcas were out there, not a hundred meters away from what she could tell, and they were perfectly still, too. Shaking her head, her thoughts reached out for Henry – yet she was shocked to find her way blocked. She’d not experienced this before, and she wondered what it meant.
As he lay down on the bed her eyes opened, then she smiled.
And as soon as he looked into her eyes he smiled too – because he’d never felt anything quite like what he was feeling inside that moment. It was reminiscent of the first time he’d looked at a girl back in grade school and he’d felt a funny stirring in the pit of his belly – a funny, timeless tremor both within and beyond the moment. Yet different, too.
Her eyes were larger than his, but otherwise her face was in proportion almost human. Still, her eyes were silver-gray and flecked with specks of pinkish amber; the skin on her face was silver-gray too, yet almost pinkishly iridescent. And almost everything else he saw was covered in whitish feathers; white with amber roots and faintly pink ends.
Then she folded one of her wings over the bed, covering his entire body in one easy move – and affording an unusual layer of privacy. And she pulled him closer, her eyes taking on an almost laser-like intensity, and whatever else it might have been, he felt an overwhelming wave of love washing over him.
“What is this?” he whispered.
“My feelings for you, Henry Taggart. This is what it feels like when you reach for me, and it is now as it has always been – from the beginning.” Her hand came up and caressed the side of his face, and when her skin touched his another overwhelming wave of love crashed over him. “Do you feel how it is for me now?”
She was, he decided then and there, something like love-heroin. Her feelings, her touch, the look in her eyes. Could he live without these feelings?
He instantly doubted that.
“What would be the point?” he said to the universe.
“What do you mean?”
“What would be the point of life without you?”
The smile in her eyes left him breathless and he felt himself drifting away into the madness of pure timelessness.
Then Rolf was reaching into his mind –
‘Henry? We need you up here. Can you come now?’
Then Eva was there, too –
‘I couldn’t reach you. What happened?’
She cupped his face in her hands and strength poured into his parched body, then she nodded. “Go to them. There will be time for us.”
“I’m not sure I can now…”
“Yes, you must, for you are their strength now, and this is your time.”
She then placed a hand on his chest and warmth poured into him, and with the warmth a kind of resolve. He inhaled deeply and seemed to grow into the moment…
When he stood this time there was no light-headedness, only the strength to get through the coming storm.
This was a different world. Entropy – no longer gradual, but energetic, almost chaotic – reigned supreme here.
“Henry…look at this news report,” Rolf exclaimed almost breathlessly, pointing at the screen.
Taggart hunched over and looked at the display: two more hot cyclones had formed in just the last six hours – one south of Bangladesh, and another, much larger storm southeast of Japan. Like Epsilon, both of these new storms were redefining meteorological theory with their blistering hot temperatures and historic wind velocities, and now climate change scientists were gathering information from every available source, trying to make sense of these developments. Yet as information poured in from satellites and remote sensing buoys the data just didn’t seem to make sense…
Some unforeseen tipping point had been breeched.
Henry looked up from the screen and shook his head, then he looked up at the masthead.
But Winky wasn’t there.
He closed his eyes and leaned back, reached out for Winky – only to find a wall of emptiness in the darkness. This hadn’t happened before, and he suddenly felt very unsure of his footing.
So he reached out to Pinky – and once again found only a void.
He reached out to Eva and found she was sitting up in Britt’s seaside home just outside of Bergen, watching several female orcas, while Britt seemed to be lost inside of some kind of catatonic funk.
‘What’s happening?’ he asked Eva.
‘She’s been like this for hours, Henry. I’ve never seen this before.’
‘Have you tried talking to her?’
‘Yes. It’s like she can’t hear me, or even see me.’
‘What about the whales? What are they doing?’
‘The same. It is like they are rigid and unmoving.’
‘The storm is just about here. I’ll let you know when it’s over.’
‘Be careful, my love.’
He nodded and returned to Time Bandits. Anton was staring at him, almost seething with anger.
“Where you go when you fade out like this?” the aviator asked grumpily.
Henry shrugged and turned to Rolf. “Pull up the weather radar, would you?”
The main northeast wall was less than a fifty miles away now, so Taggart looked to the southwest. In the inky blackness he saw towering cloud tops alive with flickering streamers of lightning. “The first wave of wind ought to be here within a half hour,” he said, looking at Mike and Anton. “Make sure you’ve got gloves handy, as well as the big bolt-cutters and that axe. Let’s keep the decks clear, and our lines, too. We may need to reset lines that break loose, and in a hurry, too.”
“Why you ignore me, Genry?”
“Because I don’t have time to explain things in detail right now. When we get past this storm we’ll have a long talk…just you and I.”
That seemed to satisfy Anton, for now anyway, and he turned to help Mike gather supplies from the garage, so Henry turned to Rolf. “Are you ready for this?”
“In truth, no, yet I don’t know what else we could have done to prepare.”
“Every voyage has a storm, Rolf. Some bigger than others. Just like life, I guess, but the important thing to remember is this: storms are teachers. You learn from them, or you perish – but we can talk about all that tomorrow, on the other side.”
“You seem certain we will be here tomorrow.”
“We will be.” He winced as the music returned.
“Thanks. I feel a little better now.”
“Words matter, Rolf. Especially the right words – at the right time. Every captain learns this, and when this is your ship you’ll need to remember this first lesson.”
“I will never be able to think of this as my ship, Henry. Time Bandits will always be yours.”
“It doesn’t work that way, Rolf. A ship can have only one master, just like a life can only have one master. When I’m gone, this ship is either yours – or it isn’t. If you feel like it isn’t, you’ll need to pass it along to someone who can take her over. Is that clear?”
“You’re still young, Rolf, and I realize I’m asking you to grow up in a hurry, but I’m only doing that because I’ve seen something in you. An ability, what I’d call a great inner strength. Maybe you don’t get that yet, maybe you can’t understand what I mean right now, but there it is. Believe me, okay Rolf?”
Another hot gust hit, and everyone turned to face a deep, rumbling wall of thunder, but even Henry seemed to cower for a moment when he realized what he was looking at…
A huge, anvil-headed cloud full of lightning was almost upon them, but along the horizon a wall of writhing snakes approached. Water-spouts. Dozens and dozens of black tornadoes, as far as the eye could see.
And they all appeared to be converging on the huge fuel storage tanks in Zeebrugge.
‘What haven’t I thought of?’ Taggart asked as he looked at the coiling snakes.
“Fuel. In the water,” he murmured.
“What?” Rolf said.
“What happens if those fuel storage tanks let go? Pull up the local tides, Rolf. Now.” Henry took a deep breath, tried to keep a growing sense of panic from seeping into his voice.
“Right! Got it!” Rolf cried.
The graph was clear. It was slack water now, but the flooding tide would return in a few minutes – and if a lock failed the sea would potentially flood into the canals here, and all the way into Brugge. And if the storage tanks failed the canals would fill with inrushing waves of fuel carried by the tides.
And with one spark and everything would soon be lost to fire. Including Time Bandits and everyone on her.
The lightning was close now. Too close to ignore.
He sighed, looked around his little world and tried to imagine what was waiting for them in the next few hours – and he didn’t like what he saw. “Dina, you’d better go below now.”
From the tone in Henry’s voice she knew this was a command – yet she stood her ground. “No, I will stay with you,” she said, reaching out and taking his hand.
The feel of her skin on his was pure electricity now, her love palpable in the darkness – like something he felt hovering beyond the uncertainty pacing back and forth within the growling wind. She was knowledge, and knowledge is strength. The same old story, he thought. Every storm is a teacher, right?
A stroboscopic series of blue flashes and wailing sirens split the night as fire services and EMS went racing by, headed for the port and the leading edge of the storm; Henry flipped on the radar and tried to measure the distance to the leading edge. He used the cursor and mapped out the distance – eight miles – and then knew that was that, the wait was over. The storm was making landfall – right now – and so the fuel storage tanks would soon be feeling the first impacts of 200 knot winds. He looked to the southwest and saw the writhing snakes, so guesstimated a bearing and placed the closest waterspout on the radar display – “Just about there,” he murmured.
“What?” Anton asked as he came into the cockpit.
“The waterspouts are just about on top of the fuel storage yard.”
The aviator nodded and turned to look at the sky.
“How about some juice?” Dina asked, her voice a life preserver. When everyone nodded she ducked below, then started passing up plastic cups full of fresh squeezed OJ, and Taggart watched her little ballet with more than a sense of wonder. Everything she had done since Amsterdam she had done out of strength – and with Love. Was that what had attracted him to her in the first place? Had he seen this moment coming – back in May?
Because right now he was almost sure that he had.
Britt and Rolf – and that fiercely glowing lump in his breast – had taken him from the uncertainty of his voyage to the sheer certainty of her Will – and yet everything since had been leading them all to this moment, to this last confrontation.
‘Because every storm is a teacher,’ he repeated. ‘Right, Dad?’
Then – ‘Dina is my storm, my teacher,’ he realized as he watched her come up the companionway steps. Their eyes met. They never wavered, never once looked away, even as the feelings of strength and love returned. Then she nodded – just once – when she saw the understanding in his eyes.
Another flash. A few seconds passed – then the deep rumble of thunder still a few miles distant.
He drank his juice, marveled at the simple strength contained in this magic liquid…
Just as more lightning hit. A massive, prolonged volley – the following thunder sounding more like a burst of rifle shots not even a second later – then he saw a billowing mushroom of boiling flame rising over the port area, and the tank farm.
Within seconds the blast wave hit, sending Time Bandits reeling and knocking Mike and Rolf off their feet, and yet this first blast was only a precursor to the second, much larger wave that hit seconds later. Henry instinctively turned away from the searing heat that followed – just as another wave of the storm hit –
A searing pain in his chest announced the arrival of the first hot gusts, and he watched the outside air temperature readout leap from 118 to 135 Fahrenheit, just as scalding rain began slamming into their exposed skin. Henry looked at the fabric awning that covered the cockpit and wondered if it would hold up to this assault – while Mike and Rolf leapt to get under its protective embrace.
“Yeow!” Mike yelled, holding up his arm while he inspected the rising welts. “This shit is hot, Henry. I mean, like, really hot.”
Anton held his hand out and quickly pulled it back under cover. “This not right, Genry. Something very wrong here…”
But his words were cut off by another blast from the port – just as a writhing, snakelike tornado came into view – now just a few hundred yards away and heading right for them.
For some reason Judy Garland was the first thing he thought of when he saw the tornado. Dorothy and Toto, running for home as that writhing black twister came for them. And the funny thing about it? Dorothy’s celluloid storm wasn’t an abstract weather formation, it was a living beast full of malicious intent – and that thought too ran through Henry Taggart’s mind as he stared at the writhing black snake coming up the canal.
“Get below. Now,” he growled as the snake’s menacing hiss grew louder.
No one argued, and Dina led the way down.
“Where’s Clyde?” Henry called out.
“He’s not down here!” Rolf answered from the galley, and then Henry heard the boy running up the companionway.
Yet Henry was already off the boat and running for Clyde’s tree by the time Rolf was back on deck, and he saw the pup squatting and doing the deed right in the middle of the tow path as he ran up.
“Way to go, Fudge-butt!” Henry said, leaning over to rub the pup’s ears.
Rolf ran up – carrying Clyde’s leash – and he snapped it on. “Sorry. I forgot the poop-bags…”
Henry laughed at that – hard and loud. “Yeah? Me too. Time to beat feet,” he said, scooping up Clyde and dashing back to the boat.
“You were so weak earlier today,” Rolf said. “How are you doing this?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with a tornado crawling up our ass…”
“Ah yes, so I see.”
Which made Henry laugh even more, even as they climbed on board and hopped into the cockpit. “You go first and I’ll hand him down to you.” And after he passed Clyde down through the hatch he went to the helm and looked at the display one more time before he powered everything down; the eye was visible on the radar now though still offshore, but it was headed their way and he wondered what that might lead to…
Then he made his way down the companionway steps and into the galley just as a colossal gust tore through the boats moored in the canal. He heard a few shrieks and screams, then people struggling with boats that had come undone; he heard what sounded like a high-pitched freight train coming close and that reality pushed everything else from his mind. Looking through trees and houses, he saw the twister scything its way through boats moored a few hundred feet aft of Time Bandits, followed by more screams and several small explosions as bottled propane tanks ruptured and ignited. He ran up the steps and into the night, Rolf and Anton right behind him…
Then another wall of scalding rain hit.
She could hardly stand it.
The orcas were still out there, still motionless, still silent in the night – yet – she could sense they were calling out to her. Reaching. Reaching out to her. For her.
Then…puzzlement? Why wasn’t she answering?
Can she not hear us?
Yet no matter what she did, what she tried, she couldn’t make the connection.
She looked at Eva – now dozing on the sofa, and so cut-off from her frustration, her fear a dissolute reminder of that other life. That life before all this happened. Life before Henry Taggart came into their lives. Her life. And now something was growing inside her womb. Something – like Henry? Or…was it something else?
She stood and cinched up her bathrobe, then walked out onto the balcony.
And still they looked at her.
She went back inside and put on her clothes then walked down to the water’s edge – oblivious to the world around her. Heedless of the several biologists gathered on the rocks monitoring the orcas, or of the harbor police still in their boats searching for the two missing swimmers. Now everyone gathered on the rocks was watching this woman swim out to the orcas.
Curious. Unsure what they were witnessing.
“That’s Dr Bauer,” one of the police officers said over the radio net. “She hasn’t been seen at the clinic for days…!”
“Those are wild orcas,” one of the marine biologists yelled into her radio. “They’ll kill her!”
Police jumped into their Zodiacs and rushed across the water, men gathered on bow platforms with heavy rifles at the ready. The inherent confusion of adrenaline and testosterone taking on a certain mindless momentum all too familiar to one of Them.
Who was overhead now, looking down at the all the pieces moving on this new board, moving to take the White Queen.
Would the others listen to her now?
Their foul weather coats offered some protection from the scalding rain – but not to the people fleeing the carnage after several tornados tore through the moored boats lining the canal – and the results were predictably catastrophic. Anton collected a pregnant woman and tossed her across his shoulders then sprinted back to Dina – waiting on Time Bandits to take care of the injured; Mike dove into the canal and plucked two drowning children from the inky water – just before fuel arrived on the flooding tide. He passed them up to Rolf, then he carried more injured back to Dina.
Henry was first to smell the fuel arriving on the tide, and at the same time he saw flames spreading inland from the port area, heading for Brugge, heading for their stretch of the canal. It was, he figured, only a matter of minutes before the fuel ignited, turning the canal into a miles long inferno…like a torch in the night leading to their deaths.
Then some sort of environmental protection vessel appeared, stringing booms across the canal, booms meant to arrest the flow of contaminated water into the ancient city, then several brigades of fire services arrived – apparently setting up some kind of fire line here on the western edge of the city. Would it be enough, Henry wondered, as they began spraying foam into the canal.
Then Epsilon hit in all her fury.
Scorching winds blasted through the region, winds so hot they literally fried everything they touched. “Get down!” Dina yelled. “Cover your face!”
Trees ignited. An ancient row of medieval townhouses went next, and Henry knew then that his nightmare had been a window to the future – and as he wondered what that meant the incessant music poured into his mind.
The grass along both sides of the canal withered under the onslaught, then sparks began raining down from the sky, and as Henry looked on helplessly the water in the canal turned to fire.
Soon two boats were between Britt and the orcas; men warned her to turn around and return to shore, so she dove under the boats and continued swimming to the largest female –
Who remained resolutely still.
Even as a policeman chambered a round and took careful aim.
Evan as Britt swam up to the large female and rested there in the water beside her.
The female turned and looked at the man on the boat pointing at her with the oddly formed stick, and centuries of instinct told her to be very careful now.
Britt swam into her pectoral and the orca wrapped her in a protective embrace, then one by one the orcas slipped under the surface and were gone.
Firefighters sprayed more foam on the water; others sprayed water on the grass, halting the fire’s spread – for the time being, anyway. But now Henry noticed that the wind was so hot, and so strong, that the hot rain had simply stopped. Evaporated – before the water made it back to the earth’s fulsome embrace? Was that what the future held? Wasn’t that the route Venus had taken on her way to the runaway greenhouse that defined that planet’s atmosphere now?
But…why here, and why now? Wasn’t something like this supposed to be decades away – if it ever happened at all? What had changed?
With his back to the wind he looked up at the sky.
Yes. Two of them were up there, two wildly spinning orbs so easily mistaken for bright stars.
‘Have you given up on us?’ he asked the sky. ‘Did we disappoint you so deeply?’
Two more orbs joined the first two – but Henry could still see no signs of Pinky.
But worse still, they were all simply ignoring him now. Or at least they seemed to be…
Another shattering explosion from the port and the sky turned red again; roiling black clouds twisted and climbed into the night, their twisting red bellies full of embers just waiting to fall back to earth.
Eva woke to the sounds of a furious commotion out on the water, so she went to the balcony to see what was happening. Little red boats a few yards off the rocks were turning in frantic circles in the night, while a helicopter fluttered overhead, a white hot spotlight pointing down into the sea, and there were hundreds of people on the rocks lining the shore. These people were pointing and seemed agitated – but what about?
“Britt? Have you seen this? When did it start?”
Then the silence of no reply hit her. Icy fear reached out for her, grabbed her by the gut.
A discarded robe in Britt’s bedroom; her running shoes gone. An impossible chain of events unspooled in her mind’s eye.
She closed her eyes and reached out for Henry.
‘What’s happened?’ he asked.
‘Britt has returned to the sea, there are police looking for her in boats and helicopters.’
Then…Pinky’s spinning orb was there with Henry…
‘She is with me,’ she sighed. ‘Do not worry.’
‘Pinky?’ Henry almost screamed. ‘Where have you been?’
‘There are many difficulties I must attend to now, Henry.’
‘And Britt is with you? This is supposed to put me at ease?’
‘They will not hurt me,’ Britt said.
‘And they won’t hurt Pinky – as long as you’re there with her,’ he thought – but like all such unfiltered thoughts, off it went, reeling away into the infinite.
‘They will not hurt us, Henry.’
His mind filled with images of orcas and babies coming into the world and he tried not to jump to unwarranted conclusions. ‘Pinky, do you know what you’re doing?’
‘Of course. How is the storm?’
‘Be careful, Henry. The Others know what has happened, so I do not think they will help you again.’
‘I’ve figured that out already. Where’s Eva?’
‘She will be here soon.’
Henry tried to clear his mind. ‘Alright. You be careful too.’ He could just make out the faintest contours of her smile, then she was gone – leaving him to worry about Dinky and the others. Were factions forming? Were The Others split by unseen differences? If so, dare he even consider trying to meddle in their affairs? Play one off the other…?
“No,” he said aloud.
“What?” Dina asked, still treating the injuries of one of the people pulled from the canal.
“Oh…nothing. I was just thinking…”
“Henry,” Rolf called out from the tow path – now pointing towards Brugge, “look at the fire!”
Henry turned, watched helplessly as another cluster of medieval buildings disappeared behind another gout of towering red flames – even as fire services tried to quench this latest rampage. “Why does if feel like our history is being devoured?” he muttered.
“Maybe because we are tired of the past,” Dina replied wearily, wiping away sweat and soot from her forehead. “Maybe we have grown tired of hauling around all these ancient ideas. Or maybe we simply always lust for the new and are ready to burn away our past when the weight of her burdens become too much.”
Henry shook his head. “Like reinventing the wheel or squirrels in a cage running round and round. Maybe we’re going nowhere fast.”
“I need more gauze pads. Do you know where they are?”
Henry nodded and went below – and he found Dinky waiting for him. He was a pale blue version of Pinky, only taller, so Dinky was sprawled out on the sofa in a futile effort to fit into the cramped space.
“Well, long time no see,” Taggart said – a little too sarcastically. “To whom do we owe this pleasure?”
Dinky ignored the jab. “We will be leaving soon…”
“And what? You won’t be coming back?”
“No, we will not.”
“And Pinky? Will she be going, too?”
“No, she will not.”
Henry tried to digest that one, but he found the idea unsettling. “Okay. What else are you not telling me?”
“Eva and Britt. They will be going with us.”
“And they will not return to this place.”
“You can’t do that.”
“We must. And you know this must be.”
Henry looked away, but even so he nodded understanding. “It’s all happening so fast.”
“We do not understand the process,” Dinky said, and Taggart could feel the creatures apparent confusion.
“Very soon. We will be gone within days. Nothing of our presence will remain.”
“Aside from Pinky, you mean.”
Dinky just looked at Henry, as if his silence alone could explain the lingering ambivalence he felt.
“Will you remain closed off to me?” Henry added.
“No. But there will be little I can do to assist you.”
“So…alone again, naturally.”
Dinky shook his head. “Such a sad song. Why do you still like it so?”
“You never cease to amaze, Dink. Is there anything about me you don’t know?”
“I will miss you, Henry, if that’s what you mean. I will miss our talks on the beach most of all, but perhaps they didn’t mean all that much to you.”
“Perhaps,” Henry sighed, looking at his old friend. “Anyway, I’ll miss you, as well.”
“Britt and Eva will be with us soon, so please don’t interfere.”
Henry had almost expected this, yet he’d never really thought they’d actually try something so overtly disruptive, let alone dare to put such a plan into effect. Still, he shook his head before he spoke: “This is a mistake and you know it. Why do it?”
“Perhaps someday you will understand.”
“I’m thinking about Dina and Rolf. They’ll never understand.”
Dinky sighed. “Yes, that is true, yet it must be even so.”
“Will they be closed to me?”
“For a while. We will allow the boy a certain amount of contact after that.”
“His name is Rolf, and you will be hurting him terribly.”
“I agree; it is regrettable.”
“Regrettable?” Henry sighed. “My coming into their lives will be the darkest moment he remembers. You’ll undo everything I’ve tried to build.”
“You know, the shittiest thing I ever did was to teach you the intricacies of poker.”
“That depends on your point of view, Henry Taggart.” Dinky smiled a little, his deep blue eyes twinkling in the cabin-light. “Again, my friend, I will miss you.”
And with that he was gone, leaving Henry dazed and confused. “Gauze pads. I came down for supplies, for Dina. What do I tell her? How do I…?”
He heard a cannon-shot crack as thunder and lightning erupted from the storm in the same instant, then Dina was screaming and running from the boat…
He ran topsides and saw Dina running in circles, screaming, while Mike and Anton appeared to be searching for…
“Rolf,” he whispered. “Where’s Rolf?”
But he already knew the answer to that, didn’t he? Dink had turned out to be a master of the bluff after all.
Dina was on her knees, her hands grasping at tufts of dry grass as she wailed into the night, then Henry dropped to her side and whispered in her ear –
– and like a switch had been thrown she stopped – crying, breathing, thinking –
– and in the next instant she too disappeared.
“Fuck-goddam-shit!” Anton roared as he stumbled backwards, tripping over a dock line and vaulting into the canal – again.
Mike looked at Henry. “Them?” he asked, pointing at the sky.
“Yup. I think we just got caught up in a dominance dance.”
“Swell. Say, what is it with this guy? He really must like falling into the canal?”
“He’s not a particularly good swimmer, is he? I guess we ought to help him again.”
“Better than watching him drown.”
Henry nodded. “I guess it’s time to tell him what’s going on.”
“That ought to be fun. Mind if I listen in?”
“Better than self abuse, I reckon.”
Eva had crept down to the rocks, the gathering crowds just out of sight, but the orcas were nowhere to be seen – and without them the water would be unbearably cold. Then…she saw a vague disturbance in the water and without thinking dove in.
‘What if it’s a shark?’ she thought as she swam a few feet under the surface…
Then a blinding white light hit her and she looked up through the clear water, saw a police helicopter hovering almost directly overhead, then a diver in a red and yellow drysuit jumping from the helicopter’s float, almost landing on top of her…
…but when the disturbance cleared this second naked woman was gone…as if she too had simply disappeared. Boats and divers moved to this new area, but an hour later this latest search was called off. Again.
“So,” Anton said, still clearly exasperated, “this group you belong to, in Seattle, yes?”
“This Boeing group builds one of these space ships, but it never works. This is right?”
“Correct. The flight control system is maintained by direct neural link. We could never get it to respond to our efforts.”
“Ship is still in Seattle?”
“As far as I know. There were also ships out on Long island and Edwards Air Force Base.”
“What about this Area 51? Nothing there?”
Taggart shrugged. “If there is, I don’t know about it.”
“What about you. You think you can fly now? This reach out thing you speak of…is this not the means to control such aircraft?”
“It could be. We had no idea how specific and focused such thoughts can be, at least not then. Just food for thought here, Anton, but there were people still at work on the problem when I left a few years ago. There’s no telling how far along they are now.”
“Maybe that why Others leave now?”
“We must get one of these ships,” Anton sighed. “We can get girls back, and boy too, if we have such ship.”
“But,” Mike interjected, “they don’t need ships, do they? They can just reach out and take anyone, anywhere. Right?”
“It sure looks that way,” Henry nodded, “but you’ve got to keep one thing in mind: most of this behavior is new to me. They’ve not done things like this before, so I really have no idea what their real capabilities are.”
“Only that they’re probably millions of years further along the evolutionary ladder than we are,” Mike added.
Henry sighed. “We play chess. They play chess in four dimensions.”
“Four?” Anton asked. “How this so?”
“Time is the fourth dimension, at least I think it is.”
“They move around time?” Anton asked, almost gagging, clearly struggling with the idea.
“I think so, but I have no proof.”
“Then ship make no difference. Would be fun though.”
Henry looked around the canal, at the massive damage that had been left in the storm’s wake, as he watched the sun rising through silhouettes of burnt trees and wrecked buildings. “We’re going to need to push through these lines and get back out to sea – and today, if possible.”
“What about…” Anton began, then he stopped. “Da, they find us if they want.”
“Yeah. And I don’t want to get caught in here if conditions deteriorate.”
“What are you thinking?” Mike asked. “Riots?”
“Or worse. If food and medical supply distribution stops for a few days, there’s no telling how fast a collapse might happen. Anyway, I don’t want to find out.”
“Okay,” Anton said, standing up and moving to the aft deck, “so we get dock lines in and you start engine. We no talk about no more, we go.”
“I like the way you think, Anton…”
And then Dina and Rolf reappeared – just a few inches from the aviator –
– who shrieked before somersaulting over the rail into the canal. Once again.
Eva tried to get her bearings again, and failed – again. She was submerged in some kind of fluid – yet she was breathing – and it was pitch black here – wherever here was.
‘Clear your mind,’ a voice told her. ‘Others are searching for you, and they intend to take you away.’
‘Clear your mind.’
But that was impossible. She was caught like a fly in honey – at night – with no idea where she was – and it was impossible to think of anything else.
But then she felt warmth on her flesh and she recognized the smooth skin of the large female, and in a heartbeat a sense of warm well being permeated the space around her. She relaxed when she felt the familiar pectoral, and after she took hold she felt them moving through the void…
Rolf helped Anton climb back up onto the swim platform, but then Rolf sniffed the air around the Russian and stepped back. “Henry? I think he’s covered in diesel fuel…?”
Dina hopped down to the platform and pulled out the shower head, but when she turned the valve nothing happened. “Is the breaker on?” she called out to the cockpit.
Henry shrugged then ducked below. After he turned it on he picked up a bottle a glycerin soap and carried it topsides. “Here, use this,” he said as he handed the bottle to Dina.
Dina used a huge natural sponge and warm water to lather up the burly aviator – who seemed to enjoy the whole thing a little too much –
“You’ll need to toss the clothes,” Henry added. “That stuff will ruin marine washing machines without special detergents. Breaks down the seals, and the discharge is illegal.”
“So – what? You want I should take off all clothes here?”
Dina turned away, trying to hide her grin; Rolf held open a large trash bag and waited for Anton to dump the clothes before carrying it to a nearby dumpster. Dina handed the bottle of soap to Anton and smiled: “Here you go. I ain’t gonna wash your pecker for you, ya know?”
Anton smiled then got to work on his own equipment while everyone else got to work reeling in dock lines. A half hour later Time Bandits began inching her way back towards the ruins of Zeebrugge, the water in the canal an oily mix of fuel residue and fire retardants – and scattered hunks of debris clogged to waterway, making it quite possible the engine’s cooling water inlet could be fouled in an instant. Oddly enough, the closer they came to the port the less occluded the water became, until with about a mile to go to the open sea the canal cleared completely.
Fire services were still hard at work putting out fires near the few remaining fuel storage tanks lining the canal yet, eerily enough, they were the only structures still standing. What Epsilon’s winds had spared the fires had taken, and the landscape here felt little different from what they’d so recently witnessed around Rotterdam. Henry was heartened to find the entry locks manned, and they locked through with almost no delay and in a flash they were back in the English Channel.
“I didn’t mean to ignore you,” he at last said to Dina, “but where did you two go?”
“Go? What do you mean?”
“You and Rolf were gone for a while.”
“I do not know what you are talking about. We went nowhere.”
“So, on to France?” she asked.
He looked at her then slowly nodded. “Yes, I think so. We have a clear weather window right now, and it looks like rough weather might follow Epsilon, coming from the north this time, too.”
“Looks like a real possibility.”
“What is happening, Henry?”
“The planet has been in a state of equilibrium for thousands of years, but that’s changing now. My guess is it will take a while for a new equilibrium to take hold.”
“Your guess is as good as mine, but I’d also assume there’s evidence in the geologic record for similar events.” Henry absentmindedly looked at the compass then did a double take; the NAV page on the chartplotter showed their current heading was 320 degrees magnetic, but the ship’s compass was showing something completely unexpected. Magnetic north was now almost due south, and their current compass heading was 140 degrees – which led to a nauseating series of conclusions. Either the earth’s magnetic poles had flipped or the Mother of all coronal mass ejections was slamming into the atmosphere. He glanced upwards and his stomach lurched.
“What’s wrong?” Dina asked.
“Look at the compass,” he replied, keeping his voice down.
She leaned over and looked, then shook her head: “That can’t be correct.”
“Assume it is. Where does that lead you?”
“If polarity flipped, wouldn’t that effect the normal operation of electricity? Even our electronics?”
He nodded. “Yup. So, what else could do it?”
“I don’t know, Henry, but you’re beginning to scare me.”
“Don’t make a big deal about it, but look up…”
She looked up through the scudding clouds and her eyes went wide. “Oh no…” she managed to say – before all sound was pushed aside by a deep pulsing vibration…a strange, foreign sound, almost like a giant electrical transformer was up there on the far side of the sky. And it growing louder, like the noise was coming closer now.
They instinctively gathered in the cockpit, all eyes focused beyond the clouds, their attention commanded by the deep, pulsing waves of low frequency energy.
Kinetic eddies of chartreuse and magenta coursed through the upper atmosphere, yet just now Henry felt as though he could reach out and touch each and every one wave – before they moved out of reach. More curious still was the sky full of otherworldly sound – which seemed to ebb and flow depending on the color of the wave passing overhead. Magenta waves were deepest but not as boisterously loud as the lighter colored pulses, yet soon enough they could hear a kind of muted static crackling under the other modulations.
Then everyone’s hair began to stand on end…
“Dina! The breakers! Flip everything to ‘Off’ on the main panel!” Henry cried as he killed the diesel and then shut down the electronics at the helm. “Mike…help Rolf with the main and genoa. Rolf…remember…main first after I get the bow pointed into the wind!”
Henry noted their position before he killed the plotter then looked aft to note features still visible on the shoreline before he turned into the wind; the huge mainsail rolled out of the mast moments later and Henry fell off the wind to port while Rolf and Anton turned to roll out the genoa. Time Bandits quickly picked up speed while Henry eyed his earlier repairs to the mast and shrouds, hoping things would hold together for just a few more days, then he fell a little more off the wind and reveled at the feeling of his little ship riding the wind once again, heeling and leaning into each new gust as she powered through the tiny waves. Rolf smiled too, and they nodded knowingly at one another, both then smiling at this simple, lasting bond between them.
Then Henry grinned and shook his head – at the sight of everyone’s hair now pointing skyward – then he reached over to steady himself against a wave and a powerful spark of static electricity arced off a stanchion and zapped a fingertip. “Shit!” he cried, then he looked at the tip of his index finger and saw a deep brown burn there. “Try not to touch anything metal,” he shouted just as Anton came into the cockpit. Of course, Anton touched the dodger frame and cried out when a two inch long arc caught a fingertip – but at least, Henry thought, he managed to stay onboard.
“Genry? Something seems very strange. Like the sicker you get the sicker the planet gets. Tell me this is just imagination.”
Taggart smiled. “Yup, imagination would do it, Anton. There are a lot of people out there who are sick and dying right now, let alone these are physical, and not metaphysical events.”
“Da. That sounds correct, yet even so…”
“Yet even so, Anton, humans have always looked to the supernatural to explain away things they don’t understand, and sadly, that may be the most human characteristic there is.”
“But if this was true, if your illness is tied to what is happening now,” Mike said, joining the conversation, “what would that lead you to believe?”
Henry shook his head. “No clue. Delusion. Schizophrenia…you name it.”
“Or when you die,” Anton continued, “earth dies too.”
“And you know what?” Henry sighed, grinning now as he looked away. “That would mean this is all a dream. That you’re all just characters in my dream…”
“Why not my dream?” Mike asked. “Or Anton’s or Rolf’s?”
“You’re wandering down a blind alley, guys. There are no solutions where you’re headed.”
“Why must be a solution?” Anton sighed.
“Because when you are faced with problems and you can’t bring yourself to look for solutions you’ll find yourself wandering around the land of madness, my friend, and you don’t want to get lost in there.”
“What about God?” Mike asked.
Henry shrugged again. “There are lots of people who still believe fire chases away evil spirits. So what? Let them. If someone embraces madness that doesn’t mean you need to, does it?”
Then little slivered arcs of static electricity began pouring out Henry’s fingertips, and he held out his hand and looked at the display. Mike held out both his hands a second later, and both were surrounded by glowing balls of static electricity…
Out of the clear blue sky lightning cracked and slammed into the sea – about fifty meters off the left side of the boat…
“We’ve got to find a ground!” Mike cried as the static hum increased in volume and strength.
Henry put his hand on the VHF radio head and the arcs disappeared from his fingertips, so he leaned over and touched Mike – and the glowing balls disappeared –
“Case in point. This radio is wired to a copper ground plane,” Henry said, smiling. “So, it’s either that or we’re a bunch of evil sorcerers.”
“Da,” Anton added, “I get it. So, what is going on with sky?”
“Probably a big CME, a coronal mass ejection, that’s also screwing with the magnetic pole.”
“You mean, the sun?”
“Maybe sun cause hot storms?”
“Maybe. One thing I do know…without GPS we’re going to have to sail along the shore. Too much traffic in the channel and I’m not sure I want to pull out the sextant.”
“Too many clouds for that,” Mike sighed.
“Okay, so let’s pull out the paper charts and start a DR plot. Mike?”
“Can do. Rolf? Wanna give me a hand?”
Henry looked at this exchange, feeling a whiff of nostalgia and maybe a little ‘changing of the guard’ too, yet he was happy to see Mike taking over the role of father-leader.
Henry sighed when he realized it was already the end of October. Seven weeks to Christmas, he realized, and to the end of his road. The Others were out searching for Britt and Eva – and Pinky – while Dina and Rolf were obviously now a part of the experiment, too. But was that Pinky’s doing, or was this some new scheme The Others were hatching? What could it be? A diversion?
What was he missing?
Hadn’t Eva warned him of a great evil – just before Anton arrived?
And that vexing music! Why wouldn’t it leave him be? It kept playing and playing over and over whenever he tried to rest, yet he was sure he’d never heard it before. What could that mean?
And just then Dina came up the companionway with Clyde, who hobbled over and hopped into his lap. Clyde’s chin was soon resting on Henry’s shoulder, the pup’s paws on either side of his neck., and Henry held the old boy while he steered, and for the first time in weeks all felt right with his little world.
He began humming a tune – that music again – as he up looked at the pulsing sky…but in the next instant he felt that other presence and looked down into the sea. Yes, his friend the large male was there, as were the two smaller males, and they had taken up position on his flanks once again.
Then the large male swam close, so close Taggart could see the aurora reflected in his eye, and for a moment he sensed that the orca were happy to see the display. It was a sign, a vital sign marking the road ahead…
Then Anton saw the whale seemingly just inches away from Henry and he screamed – before he stumbled backwards and flipped over the lifelines – vaulting into the sea – again.
“This is getting old,” Taggart said.
“At least he can swim,” Rolf added.
No one saw Clyde dashing up the companionway nor streaking off the aft rail and diving into the sea, but one of the small males did…
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop soon.