Don’t let ’em tell you it’s all bullshit. And, oh yes, music matters…
The weather was still unseasonably warm; even the trees seemed to think so, too. The little park surrounding the marina was almost verdant that Tuesday afternoon – and though a few trees had lost their leaves after the storms that had so recently caused so much havoc, the grass was green and most of the shrubbery surrounding the marina was still almost lush with life.
Clyde walked over to a new favorite patch and circled twice before dropping a load, and after waiting a moment for the most pungent waves of stink to drift away, Henry walked over and picked them up with his pooper-scooper. He bagged the still-warm turds – and like always a shiver of absolute revulsion ran up his spine – then he walked over and dumped the little pink bag in a special receptacle placed there just for dogs who had the temerity to shit on this pristine Parisian grass.
“Jesus…who thinks of stuff like this?” he said to Edith as she walked along by his side. “I mean, really, it was someone’s job to come up with this box for dog shit!”
“If you build it, Henry, they will come. Isn’t that the way of the world?” Edith replied, trying not to smile at Henry’s nervousness. “Anyway, having something like this right here is lots better than stepping in a hot fresh one.”
“I’ll give you that,” he replied.
“Speaking from experience, I’m sure.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “I’ve managed to step in my fair share of shit over the years.”
She smiled, tried not to laugh at that jab. “Was it really so bad? You and I?”
Henry turned and looked at Claire’s echo once again, his eyes still not quite able to reconcile the past and the present, let alone all the discordant pain he felt when he looked into Edith’s eyes. If Claire was alive, he thought, if she hadn’t died forty-something years ago, it was impossible not to think that she’d look almost exactly like Edith did right now. They’d always resembled one another, often strikingly so, but the passage of time had simply blurred the lines between the two so much that his memory no longer worked. Claire was gone, but if this was true then who was he looking at now?
Edith? Yeah, but what then about that DNA? Where did the expression of traits end in one sibling and arise in another? Because looking at Edith now was like a journey into the looking glass – a kaleidoscope of hopes and dreams, memory and doubt that served only to open the way ahead to more questions than answers.
And Tracy had seen into his confusion, too. Because, he knew now, she had seen it coming from far, far away. Because she’d been paying attention during all those little talks between mother and daughter, and who knows, maybe she had because she’d seen this moment unfolding all her life. Maybe Tracy had come to think of herself as a kind of placeholder, holding Henry down until her mother could reach him again…
Or had Claire done it?
“We were never bad together, Edith. We were just never meant to be.”
“I used to believe that, Henry. After you went to Seattle.”
“We should have never been, Edith. It was wrong.”
“Wrong? How could it have been wrong, Henry? I’d wanted you my whole life and suddenly there you were.”
“You know, it took years to move on, Edith. Years to get over the one-two punch. First Claire, then you. Did you really have no idea?”
“Of course I knew, Hank. You didn’t fall off the edge of the earth, we had friends in common. They kept me up to date.”
“So…why are you here?”
Edith stepped close and took his hand. “When Tracy told me about things, about how bad things have gotten, I wanted to see you again. I wanted to touch the skin on the side of your face, look into your eyes.”
He sighed, shook his head. “I wish you’d stayed home.”
“Really? You’d wish for something like that?”
“I’m not sure I can deal with…all those old feelings now.”
“I don’t suppose you realize that what you’re saying is an admission of love…?”
He turned away – from everything about her. “And that’s the problem, Edith. Exactly. When I look at you I feel my love for Claire Come Alive. How could that be a good thing for any of us?”
“Because, Hank, that’s all I ever was – the problem that just wouldn’t go away.”
“Well, at least they’re talking to each other…” Tracy said to Anton.
“I don’t know. See how Genry hunched over. Defensive, if ask me. Like he afraid he hit.”
“You think I should go get her?”
“Better we both go.”
Henry walked over to a park bench and sat, feeling light-headed again and wishing he hadn’t left the hospital. Clyde came over and hopped up on the bench and laid down next to him, draping his head over Henry’s lap; Tracy followed a moment later, leaving Anton to to get Edith back down to Time Bandits.
“This was a mistake,” she said as she sat next to Clyde.
Henry crossed his arms over his chest, the reflexive move almost comically protective – at least under present circumstances.
“How long did she say she was going to stay?” he asked, his voice a lifeless monotone now.
“She didn’t book a return flight yet. Want me to work on that?”
He turned and looked at her, not quite knowing how to say what he needed to say, but he dove in feet first: “Nope. I want her to come to terms with herself. I want her to figure this out for herself.”
“What if she decides to stay?”
“Then she stays.”
“Henry, I don’t want her to take away from the time you and I have left…”
“Then don’t let her.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if I just told her to leave?”
“It might be easier, Tracy, but if you do she’ll keep turning up and raining on your parade until the day she dies.”
“Why…why would you say that?”
“Because she enjoys it.”
He took them out to dinner that night, to one of his father’s old faves. An Irish pub a block away from the George V that served excellent French grub and even better Irish beer, and the old dark brown interior suited his mood just fine. Besides, he’d invited both Anton and Mike to join the fray and he was looking forward to some fireworks as the evening wore on…
And cliché of clichés, Edith ordered French onion soup and a glass of the house red. How very American, he thought as he ordered his habitual escargot and duck. Not really caring anymore, he slipped a Zofran under his tongue and leaned back, rarely taking his eyes off Edith.
“So, Mr Lacy…”
“Call me Mike, please.”
“Okay, Mike. What do you do for a living?”
Mike looked from Edith to Henry and back again, but then he simply shrugged. “I’m a spy.”
“Really?” Edith said, her voice chipper. “How very interesting. And who do you spy for?”
“You, I guess.”
“Me? Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, assuming you pay taxes…I work for the navy.”
“Oh. I see. And who are you spying on?”
“Really? Now that is interesting. I had no idea Henry was so, oh, what is the word I’m looking for…so important?”
Mike met that with stony silence, but he too kept his eyes focused on Edith’s.
“So, what were you off doing today? Spy-wise, that is?” she asked.
“I was at the embassy speaking to our naval attaché.”
“And what were you talking about?”
“That Henry is the only human being alive that can fly the ARV the Seattle Working Group was working on.”
Henry blinked once, slowly, then turned his head ever so slightly and looked at Captain Lacy with sudden curiosity.
“What?” Tracy said, her voice tinged with a little hysteria. “What are you talking about, Mike?”
“Yes, Mike,” Henry added. “Just what are you talking about?”
“I found the files on your laptop, Henry. It took some digging, but I finally found them…”
Henry tried not to smile, but it was hard not to. “I see.”
“What files?” Edith screeched.
Mike turned to Tracy and spoke in quick, hushed tones: “When Henry was in Seattle he worked with Boeing for a while. One of the off the books projects he worked on was to use alien technology, stuff recovered from a crashed vehicle, in order to make a working spacecraft. And they did, too. But there was just one problem. No one could fly the damn thing because the aliens fly it using some kind of telekinetic bridge, and for years now everyone kind of left it at that…”
“Henry?” Tracy sighed. “What is he talking about?”
But Taggart just grinned. “Go on, Mike. You’re on a roll now, aren’t you?”
“I sure am, Taggart, you goddamn sonofabitch. You did it, you got it to work – then you didn’t tell anybody. Why? Why’d you do that?”
Henry kept grinning, his eyes never once leaving Lacy’s as he let the silence build.
“The only thing we haven’t figured out, Henry, is did you actually fly the thing…?”
“That’s the only thing, Mike? Really?”
“Well, no. But there are a bunch of people in the inner ring really pissed right now, Taggart. Pissed – at you. So pissed they want to kill you. And do you know what the only thing holding them back is? I finally got my hands on those files. I’ve convinced them that once the new team has the information they’ll be able to get the craft operational.”
“Good for you, Mike. I’m happy for you. Then what?”
“Then we see if it works, Henry. That’s what.”
“Henry?” Edith groaned. “What is this man talking about?”
Taggart turned to her, his face a blank, but he simply shook his head before he turned to face Mike again. “And if it works, Mike, what’s next?”
“Boeing will put the craft into serial production.”
Henry smiled when he heard that, then he laughed – a little. “Do you and that group of clowns you work for actually think they’ll let things slide that far?”
“What makes you think they’ll try to stop us, Henry? They’d have to tip their hand, wouldn’t they? You really think they’re ready to do that?”
“Well, let me ask you a question, Mike. Boeing built one, right? But so did Lockheed. And Northrup-Grumman built another one, did they not? Have you, by any chance, seen all three of them? Like…side by side?”
“Well, Mike, because they’re different. Different technologies, and even the basic design parameters are radically different.”
“What do you mean?”
Henry shook his head. “Man, you guys really haven’t thought this thing through, and I’m afraid it’s gonna reach out and bite you on the ass big time now.”
“What are you talking about, Henry?!”
“Well, Mike, the craft the Boeing team was working on was designed around occupants about three meters tall. The ship Lockheed was working on had a cockpit about the size of a three drawer file cabinet, yet there were six seats in there. And the ship out on Long Island? Well, they had to build a special hangar for that one, Mike, because the occupants are fucking huge. I mean, like the size of a house.”
“That’s three different races, Mike. Three of them, here. Now. Each with an objective. Maybe even competing objectives, if you get my meaning. And what your friends in the inner ring might not know yet is that these three civilizations aren’t really on speaking terms with one another these days, so if for some reason we happen to show up to the party in a faster than light spacecraft at least two of the groups involved are going to be major-league pissed at the other one.”
“So, yeah, you go right ahead and get to work on that. Tell the boys out in Renton to just pour their hearts and souls into it, okay? But here’s the thing, Mike, so be sure to pass it along, willya? We’ve fucked up the planet. Bad. So bad they can’t use it now. And that means they’re pulling out of here now, no harm no foul. But…these guys might have second thoughts if we somehow start showing up in their neighborhood in FTL ships.”
“God ain’t gonna help the boys in the inner ring, Mikey. God will more than likely just sit this one out and watch as two civilizations capable of intergalactic travel reduce the earth to rubble.”
“Oh, and Mike, one last thing. Do you really think I’d be stupid enough to leave a file like that on my laptop?”
He was sitting on the swim platform, his bare feet dangling in the water, listening to the sounds of the city beyond the wall of shrubs as he leaned back just a little, his eyes closed and his mind reaching out deep into the dome of the night.
‘They know,’ he said to Pinky when he reached her.
“I know. And I don’t think I was the only one there.”
“How far away?”
“Within a year, perhaps sooner.”
“Is there anything else we can do?”
“No, not now. All talk of an alliance has broken down.”
“So…this is it. Everything we did…was for naught.”
“I’m sorry. Yours was a good plan and you’ve made many friends, but…”
“I know. C’est la vie.”
“You saw the doctor this morning? Before you left the hospital?”
“I did. Wait – you mean, you weren’t there?”
“I assumed you’d like some privacy.”
“You know, I think I’ll miss you most of all.”
“I would like to have spent this time with you, Henry, but I understand. Do you find yourself thinking about what life might have been like if you’d met her two years ago?”
“I never liked Dina. Too brittle. Tracy was the better match.”
“Is that why you helped them get back to Bergen?”
“Brittle. I never would have thought that.”
“The music. You’ve been humming the same music again.”
“I know, I can’t get it out of my mind.”
“Do you know what it is yet?”
“No. I think it’s something I heard a few years ago, but I’m not really sure where.”
“It seems complex. Unusually so.”
“Complex? What do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing. Just a thought.”
“I know that tone, Pinky. You think it means something, don’t you?”
“Tracy is coming. I’ll talk with you later…”
“I brought you some tea,” Tracy said as she passed over a mug and sat next to Taggart.
“Ginger, honey, and lemon. And I brought a Zofran, just in case.”
“How are you feeling now?”
“Better. Humiliated and I don’t get along together.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever barfed on a sidewalk before. Especially not after a meal like that.”
She put her arm around him and pulled him close, shocked at how frail he’d grown over just a couple of days. “I thought you handled it as well as anyone might.”
He leaned over a bit and rested his head on her shoulder. “I love you, kid.”
“I love you, Hank.”
“Sorry I’ve got to put you through this.”
“I’m glad I’m here, Henry. I feel like I was born for this.”
“You’re not going to ask me about all that spaceship crap?”
“No, why? Did you want me to?”
“God, no. I just thought…”
“Try not to think too much, Hank. All that stuff just gets in the way, if you get my drift.” She leaned forward a little and he heard her gasp a little, then point down into the water. “What’s that?”
He leaned over and looked down into the water, then he grew very still…and quite afraid.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.