Medium length this time out, perhaps ten minutes or thereabouts, so you might do with a cup of jasmine tea to go with today’s music.
He knew where he was even before he opened his eyes.
He could feel the fine sand in his fingers, and even an errant breeze through the tall grass that lined the road sounded almost comforting. Then he heard Clyde stand and the pup groaned when he tried to stretch, and at that point Henry decided he might as well open his eyes and get on with it.
He sat up and instantly regretted it – he felt light-headed and dizzy beyond belief, so bad that he reached out and tried to steady himself before he fell – and this time even that didn’t work. Like an old redwood deep inside an arboreal forest, he fell slowly back to the cool white sand of the roadway, and then a hot white fog enveloped him…
Until he was aware of Clyde licking his chin, thin his lips – and THAT got his attention.
“Clyde, no licking the mouth. You know better than that.”
Clyde laid down again, this time draping his muzzle over Henry’s neck, then the pup sighed before he started to snore.
Henry opened his eyes and, though he hated to disturb the pup, he rolled on his side and found he could just see down the road towards the white house above the beach, and – about a half mile away he could just make out someone walking their way.
A woman, it seemed. Walking a dog.
“This hasn’t happened before,” he sighed, trying to sit up again and failing again miserably. Clyde, however, sat up and took note of the woman and the other dog on the road and slowly began to growl.
Blond hair, Henry saw. Kind of short, too. Turquoise culottes and a white short-sleeved top covered in pastel colored daisies.
“Yup,” he said as she came close, “it’s Doris.”
And her presence was, by now, completely normal to him.
“Hi Henry!” she said as she walked up to him. “Hope you don’t mind, but I brought along a friend for your pup. Her name is Bonnie.”
“Of course it is,” Henry muttered. “And this is Doggie Heaven, right?”
She laughed at that one, her pert, squeaky laugh. “I don’t know about heaven, but it sure ain’t Upper Sandusky!”
“I see,” Henry chuckled. “Is that your house down there? The one by the beach?”
“No, that’s yours.”
“Yes, Henry, of course. You’re home now, so…”
“What do you mean, home?”
“You’re here now. This is home now.”
“Now? You mean, like I’m dead?”
“That’s right!” she said, wrinkling her nose just a little, those precious little freckles dancing all across her face.
Bright white. Searing pain. Lights in the ceiling, the same two-tone siren warning people to get out of the way… ‘But why me…now…I’m dead…right? Why won’t you just let me be…’
There were six of them now, forming an almost perfect circle around him, and the water was unbelievably warm here…like their bodies were warming the sea…
Then one of the younger males came to him and, with his head coming straight up out of the water, the orca hovered beside him, now almost motionless – yet he was eye-to-eye with the beast.
Then…a translucent sphere almost like a soap bubble…drifted down until it was half in and half out of the water and completely enveloping both Henry and the orca…
And a moment later they were airborne and arcing through the sky to the northwest, passing over Vancouver Island at an impossible altitude…
Then, they were in a tank filled with water and the sphere – if it was indeed the same one – had enveloped his head. He turned to the orca and saw a similar sphere around its face and blowhole, and there appeared to be a bundle of cables connecting their two spheres.
Then he saw – Them.
Through a viewing port of some kind…dozens of them standing there on the far side or a transparent panel, staring at both the orca and him. Tall, feathery, and – at least one of them had wings!
Then he noticed the damndest thing…
…all of a sudden it felt like he was looking at himself floating there in the tank – only through the eyes of someone, or something else – but there was nothing else in the tank other than the orca.
Rupert stood. transfixed, staring at the sphere just outside of his cabin on the boat – and he suddenly felt almost afraid to move. There was something malevolent about the thing, almost like there was something – or someone – inside, staring at him…
…and a moment later the sphere seemed to expand – and then one of Them appeared.
Tall, covered in what almost looked like reptilian scales on first glance but were actually, he soon realized, feathers – white feathers tinged with shades of blue, from the color of a sunny day at noon to purest cobalt. And even its eyes were blue…a deep cerulean blue…and just now the creature was staring at him. Like it was waiting for him to make the first move.
“Do you have a name?” Collins asked. “What can I call you?”
The creature’s head canted to the side, then it smiled. “James Tiberias Kirk. Does that work for you?”
“What? Uh, no, not really.”
“Then I guess Luke Skywalker is out of the question, too?”
Collins nodded. “Yup.”
“Then let’s just settle on Yoda. I think that one fits me best.”
“Whatever you say, blue eyes…”
“Blue eyes? Say, I like that. Go with that one, will you, Rupert?”
“So, you know my name? What else do you know?”
Blue Eyes shrugged, an odd gesture considering his drooping wings spanned from ceiling to floor. “The craft you salvaged. You’ve made good progress everywhere but with the power plant. You’re about the screw the pooch big time with that one.”
“You don’t say. And you know this, how?”
“Rupert? Let’s just be friends, okay? No suspicions, no blind prejudice…”
“Uh-huh. You say so.”
“Okay, Rupert, we’ll do this your way. You’re building a tokamak reactor, but the walls of the toroids will never withstand the temperatures you’re going to generate. Your ship is going to just melt down, and years of work will melt down with it.”
“And why do you want us to succeed?”
“Well, Rupert, we’re the ones who left it for you in the first place, so please, give some credit where credit is due.”
“What material do you recommend we use?”
“Try graphite, Rupert.”
Collins looked up then sighed. “Alright. What else?”
“The boy out there in the water? Henry?”
“Yes? What about him?”
“You’ve been thinking he might be useful on the project…”
“And how could you possibly know what I’ve been thinking! I haven’t said anything to anyone…”
Blue Eyes smiled, then his eyes focused on Collin’s with feral intensity. “You and Henry. When you think about things in a certain way, we can hear you.”
“Just Henry and myself?”
“So…you know what I’m thinking right now?”
“Yes, of course – and oh, by the way, you left your 50mm lens in the top drawer. You’ll need at least that much aperture to catch those whales in the moonlight.”
Rupert blinked rapidly as he digested the implications of the creature’s words, then he shook his head. “Lucky guess,” he said, backing up a step and growing very anxious.
“Rupert, just relax, would you – you’re starting to scare the shit out of me!? But one thing to consider…Henry would do well when it comes time to actually fly the craft.”
“Oh? He’s not a pilot, just in case that matters, and he’s certainly not a qualified test pilot, so why would…”
“Do what you want, Rupert,” the exasperated creature sighed. “It was just an idea…”
One of them appeared in his mind, and he felt almost certain it was one of the creatures on the other side of the viewing port, but this sudden, new presence was beyond disconcerting. Not like a thought, the creature was just – there – in the middle of his mind and pushing everything else aside. Standing there silently while looking him in the mind’s eye, the impression of strength and compassion he felt was overwhelming.
“Hello,” Henry said. “Do you understand me?”
The creature nodded and stepped closer. “I like your eyes, Henry,” the creature said, and without quite understanding why he knew he was speaking with a female. “They’re – almost – honest, but to be truthful I’ve never seen brown eyes before and I find them kind of interesting. Almost shocking.”
“My eyes? Is that why I’m here?”
She smiled and looked at the orca hovering a few feet away from Taggart. “Did you know that their brains a similar to your own? The biggest difference we’ve found is that there is a larger part of their higher brain function dedicated to compassion and empathy than in you humans.”
“No, no I’m not. Similar areas in your brains seem dedicated to organizational logic, a minor difference from your Neanderthal ancestors and very interesting. And do you know that orca family structures are more highly specialized than human families? The pods we’ve observed spend a much greater percentage of their time on child rearing activities, and teaching, than humans do. Much more than modern human families, especially.”
“Okay, so you’re an anthropologist. What can I do for you?”
“Anthropologist?” she said, chuckling. “Oh…no, not really. You would do better to think of me as a geneticist, but even that misses the mark.”
“What’s this cord between me and the whale?”
“He’s not a whale, Henry, and we’re implanting memories.”
“Implanting memories, into the orca.”
“Yes, of course.”
“We need to see if the biochemical structures of your memories are compatible with theirs.”
“Yes, of course. Your memories are simply encoded biochemical sequences, and while the chemicals you use to encode memories are identical to what his brain uses, we became concerned that the storage and retrieval mechanisms of your brains might be sufficiently different to inhibit functional transfer.”
He nodded and shrugged. “At one point it felt like I was inside him looking at me. Were you expecting that?”
She shook her head and looked concerned. “No. We will stop now.”
And with that she blinked out of his mind and he was aware of his surroundings in the tank again – and that the cord linking him to the orca was now gone, too.
Edith was waiting for him at the gate when he came out the jetway, and with red-rimmed eyes and a tear-streaked face she ran into his arms. He didn’t know what to do now, either, as her father had just passed away and she’d always been close to him so he assumed she was coming undone more than just a little. He folder her in his arms and held her close, phasing between the reality of her and the shattering echos of her sister crashing all around them, falling to the floor like broken glass falling like tears from a broken dream.
He drew a deep breath and images of Claire filled his mind’s eye – just as Edith’s scents pushed aside everything else he’d been thinking on the long flight down the coast. Her hair, the perfume she had chosen, even the clothes she wore – everything was an echo. A consciously chosen echo, he noted, instantly on guard again.
His father had called the night before and told him to come down as soon as possible, and when his father told him why he understood all the reasons. For all concerned…but he knew he wasn’t prepared for her…
“How’s your mother doing?” he asked, and Edith stiffened.
“Fine, I assume.”
“And Charles? How’s he doing these days?”
She pushed away and looked Henry in the eye. “Please don’t bring him up, Hank. Promise me, okay? Not this time.”
“Yeah, sure. Okay.”
“And before you ask, yes, Tracy is fine. She loved your Christmas presents too, by the way.”
He smiled. “I’m glad.”
They walked down the long tunnel to the baggage carousels and collected his two silver Zero-Halliburtons, then made their way to her car…to her father’s station wagon, as it turned out. She was living at home again these days, and had been for almost a year now, at least ever since she and Charles had separated. She drove – maybe out of habit? – and soon they were on the 405 headed south for Newport Beach.
“Dad didn’t tell me too much last night. Does anyone know what happened?”
She nodded. “Yes, it looks like a heart attack, a big one.”
Henry looked away, shaking his head at the inevitability of such things, but he was still of an age when things related to sudden death still seemed remote and untouchably far away. Now, this death was hitting a little closer to home, and he felt a sudden icy grip around his own chest and shuddered at the idea of things just stopping with little to no warning.
Edith got onto the 405, preferring – it seemed – to remain quiet, and he saw no need to break through that wall right now… but then…
“Do you remember that awful weekend, after our trip to Snowbird? You flew down for the weekend and I started pushing you away almost as soon as you got here?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that one, Edith.” She nodded as he spoke, and when he looked at her he could see tears streaming down her face. “What’s wrong, kiddo?”
“That weekend, Hank. That was it, the moment when everything started to go wrong with my life.”
“Why do you say that?” She looked away and a moment later cars were honking as she drifted out of her lane. “You want me to drive?” he added nervously.
“I was pregnant, Henry. With our baby. And dad insisted I have it terminated.”
He was sort of conscious of his eyes twitching, and even the corners of his lips began trembling. “What? Pregnant?”
She nodded, her eyes focused on traffic ahead now.
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“I was going to, that weekend. But dad told me not to; he said it would distract you from your studies and that school was more important.”
Taggart reached over and turned the air conditioning up to full and aimed all the vents at his face; he knew his face was turning red now, but all of a sudden he felt like he was on fire, too.
“You always do that, you know?” Edith sighed.
“When you get mad. You turn red and start to sweat.”
“I’m not mad, Edith. I think I’m in a state of shock.”
She sat in silence for a while, then she looked up. “The exit for Disneyland is coming up. Wanna go?”
He took a deep breath and looked at her, then he grinned a little, and nodded. “Sure, why not. Sounds good.”
She exited onto the Garden Grove Freeway and a few minutes later made for the main entrance gates. When she got to the parking kiosks she presented her father’s 33 Club membership card and was waved through to the special parking lot for club members. They made it to the club after the short walk down Main Street and through Frontierland, and rang the doorbell next door to the Blue Bayou restaurant and waited for the attendant to buzz them in. After they made it upstairs they sat at a table overlooking New Orleans Square and Henry looked down at the line snaking into the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, every now and then catching hints of “Yo-ho! Yo-ho! A pirates life for me!” blasting from somewhere inside the attraction…
Then a wave of pain and nostalgia came for him.
“Why did you want to come here?” he asked Edith.
“I’ve been thinking about what our lives would have been like,” she replied, and he stood and went to the restroom when the waves of pain became too much.
They split a Monte Cristo – just like he and Claire used to do when they came here – and yet he drifted over memories that had never had a chance to see the light of day. Little pieces of fiction, really. Edith and this kid that never was walking hand in hand to the Haunted Mansion on Halloween, or as they walked down Main Street at night, maybe a few days before Christmas…
“One of the big differences we have observed,” the creature said as Taggart drifted in the tank beside the orca, “is that the orca live completely within the moment. Your kind, on the other hand, seem to become easily overcome with concerns about the future and even guilt over past excesses.”
Henry looked at the creature, then at the great black and white creature hovering by his side. “I thought you said that the parts of their brains that govern empathy are bigger than ours? Wouldn’t that mean…?”
“No, not really. All his empathy is directed to the family’s offspring, with some left for the other members of his immediate family.”
“Pods,” Taggart said.
“Their families. We call them pods.”
“Really? Why? Doesn’t that simply make it easier for you to put some intellectual distance between you and all the others you feel yourselves superior to?”
Taggart shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose…but…what would you have us call them?”
“How about…families? Or would that make it too difficult for you?”
In his mind’s eye this little boy – his little boy – was walking along beside him, and they were holding hands while they waited in the long line to get on the log ride at Splash Mountain. The little boy grabbed hold of his leg when he watched logs full of screaming people make the plunge, then he hid his face with delight and giggled when he saw all of them getting drenched at the bottom of the chute. Henry could feel the little boys upturned eyes and the tiny, warm fingers in his hand, then like a wave the realization would come that this little boy had never been. They had never walked around Disneyland, and they never would, and suddenly everything about his life felt wrong…like he was marching out of step now, dancing to the beat of a different drummer…
“What are you thinking about, Henry?”
“An afternoon…that never was.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I.”
“Why are you crying so?” the strange creature asked.
“Because I still don’t understand,” the even stranger creature replied.
“How come you decided to tell me now?”
“Because dad is gone now, Hank. I guess I always thought you’d kill him if you found out.”
“Kill him? Why would you think that?”
“You were always so…conservative…about things like that.”
“Do you remember talking about it when we were up at Snowbird?”
“Having a family someday. You told me you wanted to have a bunch of bambinos. Your words exactly, too.”
He drifted and tried to find the moment but instead he found Claire and remembered having the very same conversation with her one afternoon…here…maybe even at this same table overlooking New Orleans Square…with all the smiling faces down there, waiting for their ride to begin.
He had curled up in a fetal ball and was crying hard now, lost beyond and within Claire’s and Edith’s echoes, caught up in what was and what had never really had a chance to be.
And the creature was staring at him, this much he knew, but then he felt extreme warmth and knew the orca was moving close. The huge pectoral then seemed to cup him and pull him close, and Henry could feel the bones in the orcas hand bending to cradle him…so he reached out to take it in his own.
And then the orca’s song began to fill the tank…
“Maybe we should go now,” Edith said as she watched the change come over his face.
“Why would he have done that, Edith. I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Edith looked away, then she nodded. “He didn’t, Henry.”
“So…who did? You?”
“No, of course not.”
“Charles did, Henry.”
“When you were joined,” the creature added, “when your memories were being transferred, it seems he also gained the ability to feel your emotions…”
“You mean…in real time?” Henry asked.
“Perhaps so, but we have never seen this across species before, so we will have to wait and see. But for some reason it seems there is a profound sympathy between the two of you.”
“So…you and Charles were…together? While I was at Berkeley?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Hank, but I thought you knew.”
“How would I have known that?”
“Because you stopped calling me. So…I thought you knew…”
“Communications breakdown, it’s always the same…”
He shook his head and looked away. “Doesn’t matter. Say, why don’t we go down and do the Haunted Mansion?”
Rupert Collins helped Taggart climb up the midships boarding ladder, but after he took the offered towel Henry turned around and looked at the small male half submerged on his side down there in the inky water…
‘I know,’ he thought to the orca, ‘I will try to stay close, at least as close as I can…’
The orca nodded once and then slipped beneath the surface and was gone; Henry felt a flinching sadness and took another deep breath, not yet wanting to break the link…
“What was that all about?” Rupert said, clearly perplexed.
“I’m not sure.”
“Where were you? You’ve been gone for almost three hours!”
Taggart turned to the general and studied the man for a moment, then he took the next leap of faith. “Tell me about the ship. What kind of problems have you run into?”
It was Collins turn to stare now, but his was a withering glare that hinted at betrayal – or worse. “I’d advise you be very careful now, Mr. Taggart, with your next words.”
Henry met the glaring eyes and held them in his own for a while, then he grinned. “Well General, the only thing I can tell you right now is I can fly the thing.”
“Yeah. A bunch of ‘em just gave me a kind of flying lesson.”
“And the reactor. The problems you’re having? Well, I have the solution.”
“Oh? Give you a set of plans, did they?”
But Taggart pointed to his head. Nope. Everything’s right up here…”
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates, or the music intrudes.