Once again, I have to apologize for the time between posts; life has simply intervened once again. And with that in mind, today we jump back to Henry’s story for a brief glimpse of the way ahead, so the music for the day is a little different – a little too discordant, a little too dreamy, but perhaps the perfect soundscape to get lost inside as possibilities dawn.
The being that Henry Taggart called Pinky walked out of the ship’s genetics facility and began the long trek back to the ship’s central command facility. This involved a fifteen minute walk to what might have passed for a railway station – in Taggart’s worldview, anyway – then her walk was followed by a half hour ride – in something similar to a train – to the far regions of the ship. She was worried now. Too many variables were being introduced, and outcomes were no longer certain.
She looked out the window by her seat, lost inside the moment. When she’d first come to earth only a handful of scientists had joined her. These new beings were of a type, she had realized initially, that needed little study. Self destructive and violent beyond reason, she had caught sight of another side of them and wanted to know more. They were at times somewhat reflective, prone to introspective bouts of self analysis, and some of them had begun reaching out. She couldn’t allow them to pass into oblivion without first coming to understand what had gone wrong with them.
Their first ship had been almost tiny, but it had been large enough to allow her team to explore the earth. When her superiors realized what was happening on this “Earth” – when the true dimensions of the problem came into sharp relief – a succession of larger ships had been dispatched until, finally, this ship and her immense crew had been detailed to assist the academic teams already at work on the surface.
Arthur C Clarke just about had the design of this ship dead to rights when he penned the Rama series of novels…at least that’s what Henry had said to Rupert Collins after their first journey out to L3 together. The ship had looked, on that first approach, like a huge cylinder, but Henry’d had no way to wrap his head around the true scale of the structure’s size, not even after they docked their Boeing built ARV at one of the dedicated ports.
They’d made their final approach to an area indicated on the ship’s main display, to one of the ‘flat’ ends of the cylinder – and only then did Taggart begin to realize how big this thing really was, and how fast it was rotating. There were 36 docking ports arrayed around the axis of rotation, and Henry had correctly assumed the structure was rotating to provide gravity – yet the entire docking structure, as well as the port indicated on his central display, wasn’t rotating – at all!
Rupert had looked at the display, then at the docking port, before nodding appreciatively. “No need to match rotation, or rotation speed, for that matter. Clever…but I’ll bet it was a bitch to get the engineering right.”
“Rupert? You got any idea how big this thing is?”
Collins had leaned forward, trying to see any two sides at once, and when he realized he simply couldn’t he began to feel a little queasy. “I don’t know, Henry. I can’t make out anything but an endless expanse of white steel down there, almost as far as I can see. I got no frame of reference…”
“There’s the docking facility, Rupert. It’s tiny. Yet there’s room for 36 ships, ships the size of this thing…”
“But…this thing’s bigger than the Nimitz,” Collins muttered. “Hell, Henry, the end of that tin can could be fifty, maybe even sixty miles across…”
“Which makes the cylinder…?”
“Call it five hundred miles long, maybe more. Sweet mother of Jesus, Taggart! I wonder how long this thing has been parked out here?”
“Rupert…we ain’t in Kansas anymore, are we?”
“I reckon you got that one right, Henry Taggart.”
“Well, Hell, Rupert…there’s a first time for everything.”
After Dina finished taping Edith’s ribcage, she helped get her blouse back on and they walked up to the salon.
“I so sorry,” Anton said to Edith as she gasped her way onto the settee.
Yet Edith just smiled. “Accidents do happen, Anton. It wasn’t your fault, so don’t think anymore about it.”
She was, he knew, letting him off easy, and a part of him wondered why. Still, he returned her smile and noted a new warmth in her eyes, a feeling he’d never noticed before. Was that for me, he asked the cold, dark place that remained of this oddly hollow Christmas morning. “I put on borscht now,” he resumed – now more cheerfully than he felt, moving warily back to the galley, returning to the certainty of his beets and onions and cabbage.
Edith sat beside Rolf – and his new friend – and she marveled at how much like the other Clyde this new, very little pup looked – then she noticed Dina staring at the dog, too. ‘Now that’s an odd kind of faraway look,’ Edith thought as she looked at Dina. And was that curiosity she saw – or was her curiosity mixed with a good measure of fear? She’d noted the same skittish eyes outside of the chapel in Honfleur while they’d been standing in the falling snow – and now she couldn’t help wondering just what this woman had experienced with Henry over the summer, and why she appeared to be so upset by the arrival of this cute little pup. The pup was now sitting quietly on her grandson’s lap…gently licking the boy’s chin while staring up into the boy’s eyes…just like that was the most natural thing in the world for a little pup to do. But, she wondered, was this just any pup?
Their second trip out to L3 wasn’t as pleasant.
Both Collins and Taggart were beginning to feel the effects of the heavy radiation exposure they’d experienced on their flight from eastern Siberia in the Tunguska craft, and even though they’d only been back at the base in Washington for a few hours, they both felt impossibly ill – a heavy, prickly feeling – like his internal thermostat had been dialed up to ‘High.’ Then Pinky had appeared and completely popped their bubble…
A Blue and a Green were assigned to each of them, and a whole team of Reds in special suits manned the stricken ship and took it away – leaving several four star types fuming as they watched their new plaything disappear someplace beyond the far side of the sky.
Henry had never seen one of their ships before, perhaps because he’d assumed all their ship’s would be just like the Boeing ARV he was used to flying…but the ship they were carried into was several times larger than anything he’d seen so far. And of course this new ship hovered just inches over the base’s runway, and made not the slightest sound doing so, but for some reason that didn’t surprise him, not in the least.
Just before moving into the main part of the ship, the Blue with Taggart helped him into some sort of decontamination chamber, then, after he dried himself off, the Green with him helped him onto a floating gurney…which was then inserted into something that looked a little like a hyperbaric chamber. Henry’s ears popped after the chamber was sealed, and then his eyes began to water like mad, but after he wiped them dry had noticed the Blue and the Green were still with him inside the chamber.
The Blue looked down at him and smiled. “We’re equalizing certain gases now so you may handle our internal atmosphere better,” the Blue said pleasantly, trying to help Henry feel somewhat less ill-at-ease.
“Pinky said something about radiation – from that ship?” Henry said, suddenly feeling unbelievably sick to his stomach, but then the Green leaned over and slipped a mask over Henry’s mouth and nose; after a few gasps of an unknown mixture of gases a deep feeling of ease settled over him, just before sleep came.
When he woke up sometime later the sticky, prickly-heat feeling was gone, and he was in a large room – with Rupert Collins in some sort of bed next to his – and Henry was struck by how terrestrial the room looked, right down to the huge Sony flat panel television on the wall.
Collins was deep into The Godfather, Part I, entranced as Michael Corleone sat at that small restaurant table with Captain McCluskey and Virgil Sollozzo, in a sort of stasis of his own as streetcars and subways rumbled by while he waited for just the right moment to shoot his family’s mortal enemies in the face…and Henry couldn’t help but question the how or the why this film had ended up playing on a television here, of all places. Was it a local favorite, he wondered, smiling at the thought? If so, what a perfect presentation of the human species at work – and at play! No wonder they were bugging out…! Collins turned away a few minutes later, when Sonny got himself obliterated at the toll booth, and the ensuing conversation was one Henry never forgot.
“They all look alike, ya know?” Rupert said.
“Yeah. It doesn’t matter if they’re a Pink or a Blue or whatever, their physical features are almost identical. The only differences I can see are to the coloring of their feathers, and their eye color. That’s it, Henry, but think of the implications.”
“Well, for one thing they’re functionally differentiated by color, as best as I can tell, by color, and by color alone. Think about it, will you? It would be like if we decreed that all Blacks would be railway porters and only Whites could be doctors. See what I mean? No freedom of choice, so…no freedom.”
“I seem to recall we tried that once…”
“Yeah, exactly,” Collins sighed, “but if you think about it doesn’t that kind of make us more advanced?”
Henry smiled. “I guess it depends on your criteria for success, or how you define a good life.”
Collins frowned. “I don’t think so, Henry. The Blues are deferential to the Pinks, but the Greens defer to Blues. Reds seem to be on the lowest rung, or Hell, maybe the highest, because they always get the impossible jobs…”
“How have you figured all this stuff out, Rupert?”
“Well, for one thing you’ve been out for a long time…”
“What? How long?”
“No idea, Shipmate. No clock, no watch, and the ship’s rotation has got to be a helluva lot faster than earth’s so that ain’t no help at all.”
“You been out of bed? They let you walk around?”
“No way, man. I got out of the sack and tried to stand and it felt like I weighed about a ton and a half. Gravity must be higher here; it’s that or we’re sicker than shit.”
“That would explain those zero-G gurneys, wouldn’t it?” Henry said. “Have you asked anyone about some kind of caste system, anything like that?”
“Yeah. Asked my Blue. He told me to ask Pinky, who I haven’t seen since we were on the ground at the base in Washington.”
“She hasn’t been by? That’s surprising.”
“I wonder…is it, really? Pinks are the Empaths so they probably have a hard time keeping things from people like us, but Henry…if that’s the case and she’s avoiding us then they are definitely keeping some very important stuff from us.”
“How’d you get so paranoid, Rupert?”
Collins laughed at that – as he turned back to The Godfather. “Forty years, Henry. Forty years of going toe to toe with those goddamn Russians.”
Henry nodded as he looked at Michael Corleone and Apollonia Vitelli walking along a rocky path, the way ahead anything but clear, then he wondered if Pinky had ever seen Dr. Strangelove.
Dina was taking cinnamon rolls from the oven when she felt the boat rock just a little, but she recognized the motion. “Someone just came aboard,” she said to Anton as she looked at the companionway.
“Da. I feel too.” He stood and went to the steps and slid the hatch back, letting a blast of cold air into the boat as he did, then he smiled. “Captain Mike! Merry Christmas! Come down, soon we have borscht!”
“Is that what stinks?” Mike Lacy said as he started down the companionway. “Sheesh, you can smell that shit all the way out on the street…”
But then his eyes went to Rolf, and to the new pup sitting on the boy’s lap – and right then he knew. He just knew. When he turned to Dina she met his gaze defiantly, and he met the protective embrace of her barely perceptible shake of the head with a nod of his own. And he couldn’t help it. He turned away, away to hide his tears, away to plead for more time to get his emotions back in check. Away – to help the boy meet the needs of the day.
But first he turned to Dina, and he handed her a little pale blue box, accented by a single white ribbon.
It was, she saw, from Tiffany’s, and she looked at Lacy for a moment before she took the gift, yet she did so with the grace of a gentle smile. She opened the box and found a sterling book mark fashioned rather like a totem pole, replete, she saw, with prancing orcas…and the design took her breath away. She held the piece to her heart and her eyes filled as she nodded her thanks to ‘Captain Mike,’ then she went to him and held on tight as gales of loss battered her again and again.
They had shared so many sleepless nights worrying about Taggart. Maybe it wasn’t enough, but he had developed feelings for Dina and he wanted her to know.
Then Lacy turned to Rolf. “So, I see someone brought you a pup?”
“Yes,” Rolf said, grinning, “it is Clyde again.”
Mike smiled, then he nodded. “Perfect,” he managed to say before he turned away again.
Dina saved the day by handing him a plate loaded with cinnamon rolls. “Could you put those on the table please, Mike?”
“Sure, yeah. Did you just make these?”
She nodded, her eyes twinkling.
“Well then,” he sighed through a deep smile, “this is the best Christmas ever!”
She smiled and slid across the settee to sit next to her grandson, and Mike slid in next to Dina. “Where’s Tracy?” he asked.
Dina looked at Edith, wondered how she’d handle this – until Anton broke the ice: “She gone, but back soon.”
“What?” Edith cried. “Why didn’t you tell me, Anton! I’ve been worried sick!”
“She tell me no, Edith. Hope you forgive.”
“Where is she?” Edith asked, clearly now very agitated.
“I don’t know name of place, sorry. But she safe. No worry now, Edith. Tracy, she safe.”
And as if right on cue, the boat rocked as someone stepped on board, but a moment later Tracy came down the companionway steps – almost at a run…
Edith seemed to fall into a trance, almost in shock, as she looked at her daughter…
…who was wearing camouflaged BDUs and carrying a Glock pistol…
And when Tracy saw that everyone down here was safe she turned and pointed the Glock up the companionway – waiting for something, or someone, to come…
Then Anton noticed Tracy was bleeding – from at least one gunshot wound – and he was about to say something when he saw Tracy grow unsteady on her feet, and he stepped forward to catch her just as she began to stumble to the floor.
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.