Come Alive (34.1)

come alive magma art-1.2

I’ll ask ahead for a little charity in case you run across too many typos; my eyesight is well and truly compromised right now and getting a paragraph down is often a perplexing challenge. Hopefully what is making it to the page makes some sort of sense, but I make no guarantees.

Just in case you follow along with the music, here’s a little to help chart these difficult waters. And if that doesn’t float your boat, try this one. Yes, yes, I know…long live discordant chromaticism…

Chapter 34

Taggart couldn’t sleep that night. Rupert was simply in too much distress and with the door to his anxiety closet now thrown wide open, Henry lay awake wondering when the same symptoms would come calling for him. Blues and Greens were coming and going at all hours now – ‘whatever the hell makes for an hour around this goddam ship!’ he thought as he turned away from Rupert’s sloughing skin and thrashing misery once again.

But at one point, just when about a half dozen Greens were leaning over Rupert and all of them looking quite concerned, the outcome appeared to be in some doubt. Tapes were wrapped around first Rupert’s wrists, then around his own, but while Henry seemed to improve a little, Rupert appeared to be out of control, caught up inside a very ugly terminal spiral.

Then Pinky arrived. With a companion Henry had never seen before.

Maybe a bit over a meter tall, this smooth skinned creature was riding in some kind of hover-chair as it came into their room, and when Pinky took this visitor straight to Rupert’s bed Henry tried not to stare at this newcomer.

Skinny was an understatement, Henry thought, but its hideously misshapen head was gigantic beyond words, its almond shaped eyes bulging from an otherwise featureless face. And while it was obvious Pinky was communicating with the being, they must’ve been doing so telepathically because the little newcomer remained silent and, indeed, almost motionless.

Then the little guy stood – with great effort – and used a syringe of some sort to draw blood from a vein in Rupert’s neck. When the syringe was full, the little guy injected the blood into a portable analyzer pf some sort, then he sat back in his hover-chair – again, with great effort – while the machine did it’s thing.

And that was when Pinky turned and came to Henry’s bedside.

“Who’s that?” Henry asked – nonchalantly.

Pinky shrugged. “If it has a name I am unaware what it might be, let alone how to pronounce it. His group has been studying humans for about seventy years, and it was decided we should ask them to help us understand what has happened to Rupert – and you.”

“What has happened? What does that mean?”

“This chain of events was not foreseen, Henry. Rupert should not be so ill.”

“Will I? Get so sick, I mean?”

Pinky nodded. “Yes, your team feels this is now inevitable.”

“Will I…die? Is Rupert going to die?”

Pinky turned and looked at Rupert, then at the other creature, before turning back to Henry. “Rupert is very near death, Henry. You will be too, perhaps within hours.”

“I thought you said this was a slow moving mutation…”

“It was.”

“You know…I’m not so sure I like the way that sounds.”

“Neither do I, Henry.”

“What does it mean? Regarding the existing infective mutation on earth?”

Pinky shook her head. “Unknown, but no other cases have been discovered yet, so this new pathogen may well be contained to you and Rupert.”

“Gee. Lucky us.”

“I do not understand your sarcasm, Henry. Truly.”

“Oh? Well, take my word for it, Pinky – it’s an acquired taste.”

“Acquired? A pun?”

Henry smiled. “A double entendre, I think you might say, mon chéri.”

“What is it with you and France?”

“My mother was French.”

“Oh? You’ve never told me about her, and I’ve always wondered why…”

Henry shrugged. 

“You are hiding something, aren’t you, Henry?”

“What would be the point of that, my love? You know what I’m going to think long before I do.”

But then Pinky turned to the Greens standing beside Rupert’s bed – they were clustered around the small white creature’s blood analyzer talking excitedly about the results amongst themselves before one of them came to her.

“We need this protein,” the Green said, holding up the display. “Do you recognize it?”

Pinky nodded. “Yes, of course,” she said to the geneticist before she turned back to Henry.

Only now she smiled warily before she spoke: “Henry? Do you feel like taking a little trip?”

+++++

Dina cut away the clothing around Tracy’s left shoulder and quickly found the first bullet wound, a through and through wound in the muscle just above her left clavicle, and as she’d lost a fair amount of blood already Dina pronounced the need to get her to the nearest hospital “in a fucking hurry!”

And that was all Mike needed to hear. He swooped down and picked Tracy up, then carried her right up the companionway steps, Anton and Dina following close behind…until Dina stopped in mid-stride and looked at Edith.

“Will you look after my grandson? We shouldn’t be gone long…”

“Of course I will,” Edith replied, smiling through her pain. “And thank you for looking after my daughter.”

Dina turned and followed Anton and Mike out to the taxi stand, and Edith turned her attentions to the boy and his new pup…

…only now there was something very strange going on between the two…

…Rolf had been staring into the pups eyes from time to time, but now she thought it seemed as if the boy was almost imprisoned deep within the pup’s gaze…

“Rolf?” she asked. But the boy did not respond; he didn’t even blink an eye. “Rolf? Can you hear me?”

Again, no response – so she reached out to break contact, to take the pup away –

Yet as she reached across the distance the pup turned and looked at her, and then she felt her hands fall to her side and an overwhelming sleepiness come over her…and she thought she saw the dog smiling as she drifted away…

+++++

Henry was seated in a hover-chair, waiting on a platform that vaguely resembled what he thought he might find at a railway station in the U.K. or France, only there were no tracks, at least none he could discern. Pinky and Blue were flanking him, a Green was handling the controls of his chair, and when he looked around he noticed – for the first time – that this ship was a kind of city and that one helluva a lot of people lived here. There were dozens of Them standing on both sides of the platform – Blues and Greens and a sprinkling of Reds, too – but not one other Pink, and he might have wondered why if not for the fact that everyone on the platform was staring right now, at – him.

Indeed, he felt a little like a bug under a magnifying glass. Very small, and definitely very fragile. And even though Pinky was there with him they hadn’t really known one another all that long, and being separated from Collins left him feeling suddenly more than a little naked and very alone.

But of course Pinky felt that and quietly she reached out to him. It was a feeling somewhat like comfort, he thought. Maybe the way an infant feels when picked up by its mother. A warm embrace, the certainty of belonging in just these arms, and he turned and looked into her eyes.

“How do you do that?” he asked as he stared into her pinkish-amber eyes.

“I feel your need, Henry,” she said as she spread her wings a little. “I don’t want you to be afraid.”

“Do you fly?” he asked, his eyes drawn to the spreading feathers of her outer wings. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do it, you know?”

“Someday I will take you flying, Henry Taggart,” Pinky said rather matter of factly, yet his Blue quickly turned and stared at her for a moment – like he had been more than a little surprised by her words, and while Henry wasn’t sure he thought he felt wonder coming from within the creature.

“I’d like that,” he replied, and her smile made him feel alive, like within her easy countenance  – out here among the stars – he’d found a precious, secret place all his own. Then he felt an electric hum and he turned his attention to the ‘railway’ – and he could see something in the distance that just had to be a train of some sort – then all the varied dozens waiting on the platform stood back a little and seconds later a glass tube hissed to a stop in the station.

And then everyone simply stepped through the glass and found vacant seats, the Green maneuvering his chair, finding a place to park him before stepping aside to let Pinky –

– then a Blue sitting close to him saw Pinky and immediately stood and gave his seat to her, then he turned and walked away – leaving Henry to mull over Rupert’s thoughts about castes and hierarchies within this civilization…

…then their ‘train’ started moving…

But there was no discernible change he could feel, other than he could see they were moving now… They were in the lead car and he noticed there wasn’t an engineer or any kind of operator up front, only what looked like an infinite stretch of tracks disappearing in the farmland just ahead.

“How long is this ship?” he asked no one in particular, and his Blue must have thought Henry had been speaking to him so he leaned over.

“The ship?” his Blue asked in rough, heavily mangled English. “Do you mean how long in time, or as a measure of distance?”

“Distance,” Henry replied.

“About 1500 of your kilometers, I believe.”

“Shit…” Henry muttered.

“Excuse me, but are you saying you need to defecate now?”

“No. Sorry.”

“But is shit not a word for excrement?”

“It is, true enough, but it is also used to express emotions like wonder and anger.”

“Really? How odd.”

“You got that right. Say, you have a name?”

Pinky leaned over and spoke to his Blue, who nodded and smiled. “You may call me Bob, if that pleases you.”

“Works for me, Bob. By the way, my name is Henry,” Taggart said, holding out his right hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Is it?” Bob asked. “Why?”

But Pinky ‘said’ something to Bob and he quickly held out his hand, now almost apologetically. “Yes, nice to meet you, as well,” Bob said, in suddenly pristine English.

“Good. So, 1500 kilometers, you said.”

“Yes, and approximately half of the circumference is made of a translucent material that lets in sunlight…”

“I noticed that, but as I have no way of telling time…”

Bob looked at Pinky, who just barely nodded. “Well, you see, our day is roughly thirty hours, so we felt it might upset your sense of time passing. We have your time keeping devices in storage, by the way.”

Henry smiled. “So, how fast does this train travel?”

“Train?” Bob asked.

“This…conveyance. At what speed are we moving?”

Bob shrugged, and as Henry watched his wings lurch he tried not to laugh. “I do not know.”

“Where are we going now?”

But Pinky broke in at this point. “We are going back to Earth,” she said. “We must find your friend.”

“My friend? Who’d you have in mind, Pinky?”

“You will know, but we must hurry.”

+++++

Mike came down the companionway first, leading Tracy by her uninjured arm, and he was struck by the odd pose Dina and the boy had assumed. Rigid, staring dead ahead, and with the little pup returning their intent gaze – yet almost as soon as Mike gained the cabin the pup seemed to release them, and both came to as if coming out of a light sleep.

Yet a roast goose was now on the table, dressed out with stuffing and adorned with sprigs of dried thyme. Anton’s borscht was in a covered bowl, waiting for his special ceremony, while almost all of their Christmas presents remained under the tree, just waiting to be enjoyed – but when Edith saw everything out on the table she almost fainted.

“What’s wrong?” Dina said, coming down right behind Tracy.

“I don’t know who put all this food out,” Edith cried, “but it sure wasn’t us!”

“Mom?” Tracy said, “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that goddam dog put us out like a light and that someone else was down here, putting all this food out, getting everything ready for…”

“Borscht smell good,” Anton said, his deep voice grumbling with appreciative hunger. “What that in bowl? Round things?”

“Brussel sprouts,” Mike moaned before adding. “I hate those things.”

Tracy, still under the effects of a sedative, slipped onto the settee and slid over next to her mother, who now seemed quite put upon that someone had set the table – and done so quite meticulously – while she and Rolf had been out.

“Are you sure someone was down here?” Mike said as he started looking around for signs things had been disturbed.

“How the hell should I know?” Edith hissed. “Something like flipped a switch and I was – we were – out! How long have you all been gone, anyway?”

“About four hours,” Mike said, moving aside so Anton could help Tracy aft to Henry’s old cabin, yet no one said a word when he did, not even Rolf. Tracy had been Henry’s last girlfriend, so she could lay claim to the space – if she so wanted. Yet right now she too was simply out of it…

But a few minutes later Anton and Tracy came back to the salon and he helped her sit at the table while Mike started carving the goose, and even Tracy had to admit whoever had put this meal together had done so with real care to observe all the proprieties. Besides the goose – and Anton’s borscht – there was stuffing and a large bowl of buttery Brussels sprouts covered in what looked like walnuts and cherries, and there was a large oval dish loaded with portobellos stuffed with crabmeat drizzled with Hollandaise…a real sailors Christmas feast…then Rolf noticed an envelope under his plate, and he carefully pulled it free and began to look it over. 

And everyone else around the table looked at him as he opened the envelope.

He read through the letter, then apparently had to reread the letter again – before he looked around the table.

“Well?” Dina said.

“It’s from Henry,” Rolf began. “He wanted, he wants me to read something to you after we finish eating.”

“Nonsense!” Edith barked. “Read it to us now!”

But Rolf simply folded the letter and put it back into the envelope before he asked Anton to fix him a bowl of borscht, and the old aviator smiled at that.

“This special borscht,” Anton said as he started filling bowls. “In church, um, in orthodox church believe that soul of person leaves this, um, place, in steam from bowl soup, and us get last chance to farewell, um, to say farewell as steam rises to heaven. So important to wave, to fan steam over face, to over your faces, as says goodbye.”

And everyone did – except, of course, Edith. She scowled when she received her soup, then she took her spoon and stirred the heavy broth before she took a bite. Predictably, she wrinkled her nose and pushed the bowl away, then she leaned back and looked up at the ceiling.

“It is very good, Anton,” Dina said. “Classic ingredients, perfectly prepared,” she added, and Anton smiled graciously.

“Thanks you, Dina, and thanks to Genry for new life he make, for all help. He special so many way. No word expresses empty feeling now.”

Mike began preparing plates and passing them around the table, and while everyone ate they did so in silence, and it was as though everyone was eating with one eye cast to the onrushing wall of a dark summer’s thunderstorm. 

Edith, however, stared at her daughter with growing malice in her lingering eyes.

+++++

Even Henry could make out the landscape below. Coming in from the northwest, high over the west coast of Vancouver Island, then arcing across to Sidney as Pinky’s ship zeroed in on Friday Harbor…

“Can anyone see us?” Henry asked – and Pinky shrugged. “So, where are we headed?”

“To where you first met your friend, the orca.”

“The…what? That whale?”

“Yes. That whale. You are joined now, after that night. He will be waiting for you.”

‘And you’re out of your fucking mind,’ Taggart wanted to say, but by now he was getting to the point where he knew it was better to just sit back and enjoy the show, to let the world unwind the way the world was going to unwind – because he was – finally – beginning to realize there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.

“You don’t say,” Henry decided to say, and that caused Pinky to turn and look at him again.

“I am not sure I understand that expression. I did say, yet you say I did not say.”

Henry pulled at an earlobe and scrunched his nose as he tried not to laugh. “Kind of an old saying, not sure where it comes from, but it means something like ‘Okay, I understand.’”

“Ah. You never fail to amaze me, Henry.”

“Yeah? Well, I love you too.”

“Like that. Why do you say something like that when you know and I know it simply is not true.  You do not love me. Correct?”

“No, that is incorrect. As a matter of fact, I do love you, and quite a lot, actually.”

This seemed to shake up Bob quite a lot, too, because he cast a quick sidelong glance Pinky’s way before settling in for a long stare at Taggart.

“Why do you say such a thing?” Pinky stated, clearly not amused.

“Because love is a feeling, Pinky, and when I’m with you this is what I feel.”

Bob turned away, appeared to try to solve a few quadratic equations in his head.

“Then I do not understand love,” Pinky said.

“Neither do I,” Henry added, “but I know it when I feel it.”

“Is love like…”

“It’s like friendship, Pinky, but stronger. It’s like caring for another person, and wanting to be with them – always.”

“You think of me as a person?”

“Uh, well, I’m not sure what else I could think, Pinky. Sometimes I’m a little in awe of you, but by and large I just think of you as a friend, but a friend I really enjoy being with.”

She turned and looked at him, her head canted to the right a little.

Bob closed his eyes, hoping she did not plan on vaporizing this impertinent human.

“Clearly I do not understand you, Henry Taggart,” she sighed.

But Henry just shrugged and grinned at her. “That’s okay. Hang around me long enough and you’ll catch on.”

“Catch on?”

“Learn. To understand.”

“Ah.”

“Ah, indeed. Say, isn’t this North Bay?”

“Yes. This is where you met your friend the first time. He is waiting for you here.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I asked him to, and he said he would.”

“No shit…?”

“Are you feeling constipated, Henry?”

“Chronically. But I’ll work it out.”

“Work it out?”

“Yes, like any good mathematician, I’ll work it out with a pencil.”

Bob went bug-eyed and slithered from the cockpit.

“Ah,” Pinky said. “This is a joke, correct?”

“Correct.”

“So…when you say you love me, this too is a joke?”

“Incorrect.”

She turned to the Red piloting the ship and rattled off something telepathically as the ship settled over the water. “There are a few airplanes in the area. We must hurry.”

“Okay…what’s the plan…?”

+++++

Rolf finished reading Henry’s letter to the people gathered around the table – his Christmas letter, as he called it – and Edith was the first to bust out in tears, holding onto her bandaged ribcage as she started to cry. Dina looked down at her hands crossed on her lap, then looked at Mike Lacy. She wasn’t exactly sure what she felt about the Navy captain, but there were times she had feared him and that bothered her, yet she also saw something else in him. Something that attracted her, and Henry had known that, he had seen it developing somewhere, somehow, and he addressed a part of his letter to her – and to Mike – challenging them to explore the possibilities. To Anton, Henry simply expressed that he regretted not knowing the Russian for longer than he had, and that he had felt real friendship for the aviator. 

Rolf’s part of the letter remained a private mystery, though when he finished reading Henry’s “public” musings he stood and handed out envelopes to everyone around the table. Edith tore hers open a found a single one dollar bill inside; Anton quietly opened his and found a check for two point five million dollars. Mike opened his and smiled a little, then pocketed the check. Dina and Tracy found seven figure amounts in their envelopes, but by that point Rolf had started handing out wrapped Christmas presents.

Edith’s one present contained a key and directions to a safety deposit box in Newport Beach; she slipped these into a pocket and smiled a little, lest she give away her mounting disappointment. Anton opened his first present and Tracy looked on knowingly; the Bulgari chronograph left him speechless and almost in tears. Mike opened a similar box and found an Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch” inside – and he did burst out in tears. Dina and Tracy opened theirs and found modest Rolex Submariners inside, and Rolf opened a box and found one for himself as well.

Then came the “gag” presents – a parade of inside jokes that Henry had hoped might break the ice a little, maybe get his friends smiling again, and he was by-and-large spot on. At least until Rolf handed Edith one last envelope.

This contained a one-way ticket that evening back to Los Angeles, and both Mike and Anton were given explicit directions to get her to the airport and to personally put her on the flight. As the only way to do so was for Mike and Anton to board the aircraft with her, they each had round trip tickets on the same flight.

Completely demoralized, Edith went to her cabin in the forepeak and began packing her suitcase; a very subdued Tracy wasn’t sure what to think of her mother’s performance that afternoon – beyond seeing her mother as seriously damaged goods – at least as far as her past with Henry was concerned. Yet she had seen anew the corroded decisions of her mother’s teen years as recounted by Henry, and as she’d had no reason to doubt his veracity she believed his version of events. The portrait Henry had revealed over the past six weeks was not flattering, so much so that by the time her mother appeared on the scene Tracy wanted very little to do with her.

Mike and Anton knew Edith not in the least, yet their take on her was grounded in Henry’s explicit directions to them. If Henry didn’t trust her, neither would they. And Edith’s narcissism  simply didn’t stand a chance when put up against Anton’s and Mike’s resolute desire to meet Henry’s expectations. Maybe the checks in their pockets demanded no less, but in truth both felt nothing more or less than a real need to be true to their friend.

With a brand new Louis Vuitton suitcase in hand, Edith was escorted off Time Bandits; she hysterically demanded that Tracy come with her once again, and – once again – Tracy brushed aside her mother’s histrionics and simply bade her farewell. There really wasn’t anything left to say to her now, as her course was set now. Henry had reset all their courses that day, she realized, and now the greatest unknown imaginable lay ahead, if they had but the courage the moment required.

She knew Rolf well enough to know what he would do now, and even Anton. But Dina and this unknown Navy captain? What would they do?

There was real danger along the route Henry had charted for them, that much she knew. Her wounded shoulder was a potent enough reminder, she understood all too well right now, but would their resolve stand up to what Henry was asking of them?

She felt Dina’s stare and did her best to ignore her, but at length she turned her gaze and met the other physician’s eyes.

“Last night…where did you go? What happened there?”

But Tracy simply shrugged and shook her head before she spoke. “Whatever happens next, Dina, it has to be your choice.”

The weight of Tracy’s words hit her like a blow to the soul, and she seemed to wither under the weight of those words. “Tell me, if you can – did you see my daughter?”

Tracy did not flinch, nor did she look away. “What does your heart tell you, Dina?”

“That you were with her. That you were with both Eva and my daughter.”

“Then follow your heart,” Tracy said, smiling. “And…Merry Christmas, Dina…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (33.3)

come alive magma art-1.2

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.

Chapter 33.3

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.

“Who? Gangsters?”

“No. Them.”

“Them?”

“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.”

“Such as?”

“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.