Short snippets for the next week or so; hope you understand. The little bursts of music highlighted here are meant as guides, mainly to inform the mood as you read. I hope you follow along. Question. Have you ever heard of something in psychology being referred to as the p-factor? If not, try to wrap your head around something akin to Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ and the cosmological concept of ‘dark matter’ and you’ll be on your way.
He pressed his face to the glass, the cold on the icy pane almost shocking. Just as it had been a long time ago…once upon a time – when all his dreams looked like they might all come true one day.
And it was snowing out there beyond the glass, too, and that made the smile he felt coming on just a little bit sweeter.
Because it had been snowing the morning he and Claire last sat by a window just like this one, inside another train and bound for the same station they were headed to right now. Edith had been there that morning too, and wasn’t that so strange?
He turned to thoughts of Edith again, then he looked at her sitting across from Dina – and soon their eyes met. He tried to smile and her head nodded as she made the connection. She’d always been good at that, hadn’t she?
‘How very strange,’ he thought again. ‘In a few days she’ll still be here. She’ll still be breathing, still be feeling crisp air in her lungs. She might be on an airplane headed back to LA looking out a window kind of like this one, and her eyes will still see this world spread out below. But my eyes won’t, and isn’t that just the shit…?’
He turned away from the thought and faced his reflection in the glass, and suddenly his very existence felt as substantial as those features pinned behind a lepidopterist’s glass. ‘Turn out the lights and I’ll just disappear, won’t I?’
He looked down at his hands and the sight made his skin crawl. His flesh was yellow-gray now, his fingernails striated by deep grooves, and the discolored veins on the top of his hand seemed fragile, almost febrile. ‘I was a linebacker once upon a time,’ he reminded the reflection in the glass. ‘Kids on the other side of the line feared me. They feared these hands…and isn’t that just absurd?’
The train went over a switch and their carriage swayed to-and-fro before it settled down again, but just then he could caught a glimpse of the three spires of the cathedral in Rouen through time-streaked snow. He remembered how, one day, he and Claire had stared at the huge central spire above the transept – through a window just like this one, and she’d even said how odd it was to see her own reflection superimposed over the cathedral in the distance, Like maybe she was supposed to be there somehow, someday…just another butterfly in the collection.
She’d looked at him just then and kind of smiled. And he’d nodded as gently as he could, trying not to disturb the echoes pinned to the glass.
The impactor came out of Orion, out of the southeast sky and was now heading northwest across the Pacific. On its current trajectory it would make ‘landfall’ just north of Hokkaido and make its final plunge into the Arctic Ocean somewhere north of Svalbard.
The Pink had driven her ship hard and fast. It was a heavy lifter ill-suited to moving such a large mass, yet she’d made a rough landing on the craggy rock and was now using the ship’s drive to push the impactor down into the earth’s atmosphere. There, she thought, into the vast, empty forests west of Sakhalin…
She looked at the countdown timer and then at the ship’s central display, and she had just commanded the ship to decrease thrust when the impactor suddenly began to break apart beneath her ship…
The 2 July 1908 edition of the Sibir Newspaper quoted residents of the village of Karelinski as describing an odd event that had occurred just a few days previously. The sky had opened up, these peasants said, and a huge cylinder appeared up there in the dawn sky – just before first the sky turned to fire, and just before the forests around their village caught fire. One man described the cylinder as bluish-white and surrounded by lightning, and that the cylinder appeared to be driving something down into the earth. Then the noises came. At first like rocks tumbling in a landslide, these witnesses reported, but soon like an artillery barrage coming closer and closer, and they had listened in fear until one cataclysmic impact knocked everyone off their feet. That was before the forest began to fly through the air.
Almost fifty years passed before the cylinder was found, intact and at a depth of almost fifty feet in a small lake. It took almost a year to build a road in order to reach the site, then months to retrieve the cylinder and move it to the Dzyomgi Airport, located in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in far eastern Siberia. Not one of the engineers at the Sukhoi factory knew what to think of the object, and only a few were willing to state that the surface of the cylinder was blinding white and appeared to be made out of some kind of unknown ceramic-like material. Not one scientist or engineer was willing to admit that the hardest drills and sharpest saws then known to Soviet science had produced not a single scratch on the cylinder’s smooth, matte surface.
The object was, however, huge. Fifty meters long and thirty meters in diameter, it nevertheless weighed nothing, apparently not even a kilogram. In fact, Sukhoi engineers had to tie the cylinder to the ground to keep it from floating away, and every physicist called to examine the cylinder claimed that this was a physical impossibility. The engineers nodded and sighed and walked away, the cylinder like forbidden fruit forever just out of reach.
Then one evening hundreds of people gathered around the original cylinder after several smaller cylinders appeared over the airport. Then one by one these new arrivals landed at the airport – right next to the original cylinder salvaged from Lake Cheko. The gathering looked on in wonder as several very tall humanoids exited these smaller craft and then entered the large cylinder, only to exit the craft a few minutes later – only now carrying the shattered body of one of their own – another being who had, apparently, been trapped inside for many, many years.
Without saying as much as a word to the assembled onlookers, the creatures boarded their smaller cylinders and left Soviet airspace, yet when the engineers turned to the huge cylinder – still strapped down where it had been for months – they found the doorway these creatures had deployed to gain entrance to the interior was still wide open, only now the interior of the craft was brightly lighted – as if these unknown creatures were inviting them inside, perhaps to come in and take a look around.
Milos picked up Henry’s group outside of the railway station in LeHavre, then he drove them to Honfleur, parking his Mercedes van by the park – the same little park adjacent to the quay where Time Bandits had tied off just a few weeks before, and which was the very same park Henry had taken Claire’s ashes before taking her to the Seine. Dina and Rolf set up Henry’s wheelchair and helped him get settled, putting a scarf around his neck and a blanket over his legs to ward off the snowy chill, then the group walked off to the restaurant overlooking the old port where he had first seen Tracy – just a month or so ago, wasn’t it…?
Henry’s head swiveled like an owls, his bright eyes taking everything in – as if, Edith thought, these new memories might sustain him through the looming darkness. The sight of him looking around like this frightened Edith as nothing ever had before, until she realized that not even Claire’s death had threatened such a rupture. Henry was too close to the moment and so much more fragile looking now, and walking by the old port it had hit her, and hard: ‘Henry is going to die. Soon.’ She tried to come to terms with the words in her mind and soon realized she couldn’t, and with this jarring realization she understood that after Henry passed she would finally, and irretrievably, come undone.
“The Air Force people in the Pentagon have referred to this as Operation Tantalus – for obvious reasons,” Dr. Collins told Henry. “Apparently when the passageway opened, a series of tests unfolded as well. No one passed and the cylinder closed up shop a few days later, and there it’s sat for the last sixty years. The word we have is Khrushchev was so pissed at the engineers out there he had about half of them shot.”
“And it’s not been airborne since, what, 1908?” Henry sighed. “Wasn’t that around the time of the Tunguska Event?”
“If those old Russian news accounts are to be believed, yes.”
“So, what makes you think it’s still flightworthy?”
Collins shrugged. “Just a hunch on my part, Henry. Again, those witnesses all said the Pinks left it open to the engineers out there, and for whatever reason they went in and screwed the pooch.”
“So…your supposition is that you think, because it belongs to the Pinks, I will be able to fly the damn thing?”
Collins nodded. “Yeah,” the old man said as he grinned.
Henry nodded, then took a deep breath. “Okay, so let me see if I have this right: you think that somehow you can smuggle my fat ass onto the grounds of the most secretive Russian aircraft manufacturing facility in the dead of night, and that – again, somehow – I can just waltz right up to this fucking thing and steal it?”
“You can’t steal it, Henry, because it ain’t theirs.”
“Yeah? Boy, I’d sure like to listen in on that discussion when you bring that up.”
“SecState thinks she can handle it.”
Taggart chuckled at that one. “Okay…so tell me this? Does she think she can help me talk my way out of there if I can’t get the goddam thing to work?”
Collins looked down. “If that happens we’ll have to make a trade.”
“A trade? Like for what? My ass – for a couple of refrigerators?”
“Look Henry, it’s like I told you up front. If you decide not to do this, I understand.”
“You…understand? What I’d like to know is what kind of bargain have you struck with the boys back in Virginia? What have you promised them…hmm?”
Collins turned and walked over to the window on the far wall of his little office, and Henry could feel the old man’s shoulders sagging under an impossible load…
“Okay, Rupert…don’t tell me. We get to live. Is that it?”
Collins turned and looked at Taggart, but then he nodded. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it, Henry. We pull this off and we get more time…”
“Rupert, how many times do I have to tell you? I’m the only one who can fly their ship. They ain’t gonna put a bullet in the back of my head, okay?”
“I wish it was that simple, Henry. I really do.”
“Why isn’t it that simple, Rupert?”
Collins steepled his fingers and pushed inward, then he looked up at the ceiling. “I’m not sure I can explain the mindset, Henry, but if these guys aren’t in control of everything there is about this thing they’d rather the whole thing just went away…”
“So…because I’m the only one who can fly the thing…”
“Exactly. Our ship is of no real use to them, but maybe this cylinder in Siberia won’t be hard wired for you, and only you. If it isn’t…”
“If it isn’t, then I’m toast. Is that what you’re telling me?”
“Pretty much. Yeah.”
“Rupert, I recall you saying once that you had a plan. Was that just bullshit?”
Collins walked over to his desk and opened a locked file cabinet, then took out a large manilla envelope and handed it to Taggart. “Have a seat,” the retired Air Force General said. “Look this over and tell me what you think.”
A half hour later Henry Taggart looked up at Collins, then he shook his head slowly. “Rupert, this is insane; brilliant, but totally insane. It might work – Hell, it probably will work – but you know as well as I do that they’ll be after us until the day we die.”
“May we be in heaven,” Collins whispered, “a half-hour before the devil knows we’re dead.”
Taggart shuddered, because now it was apparent no one had considered what the Russians might do if someone stole their little alien artifact.
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.