Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
[Duncan Sheik \\ In The Absence of Sun]
Intermezzo – Madness and the Desperate Flight of aquaTarkus
Part IV: Murder, Mayhem, and Flight
His dreams came in numbers, only now all his numbers were changing.
The first change came to him in the form of a cat. Schrödinger’s cat, he realized with a start. He began to see quanta as he slept – and then the interactions between vast mechanical systems and large celestial bodies. In his waking hours Brendan Geddes soon became obsessed with gravity, and then quite suddenly his dreams metamorphosed into guiding animations of gravity waves – yet before he really understood what was happening these new animations examined gravitational interactions on a galactic scale.
He would wake in the morning soaked in sweat and utterly exhausted, and when he opened his eyes he usually found Susan sitting up in bed beside him, looking disoriented and confused. One morning he found a curious mark on the back of her neck, a small, delicately raised melanin-like horseshoe-shaped oblate, something he might have easily mistaken for a birthmark. Yet he knew her skin. He had kissed the contours of this neck. And this was new. When he pointed the mark out to her she reached up to touch it and flinched as sharp, burning stabs radiated down her arms and out to her fingertips. She didn’t have any birthmarks, she said, but she’d had a nightmare about something biting her on the neck as she’d slept.
And he knew then what she’d encountered. One of them. One of the Greens, one of the technicians. So…now they were interested in her, too.
The Doc picked them up the very next Friday. After work. Bound for Sea Ranch, bound for Callahan’s house, and The Doc seemed happy enough to see him – though there was now an undercurrent of unease swirling around the physician. That was to be expected, and Brendan understood what he saw inside the eyes he watched in the rearview mirror. Susan had told them, after all, that he’d been hospitalized. In one of those places. What was the term the blind used? The ‘Booby Hatch?’ Or…the hospital with rubber rooms? But that was so unfair, and so far away from the truth.
And yet he felt their unease even more acutely as they crossed the Golden Gate Bridge – with its ‘suicide fences’ and suicide hotline signs posted at regular intervals. But he’d never wanted to die, had never wanted to harm himself, so why were they regarding him as if he did? Didn’t anyone understand? Couldn’t they see beyond all that noise?
The Doc liked to take the Coast Highway. He liked the peace, he said, the windblown meadows and the flat slate blue sea beyond. Susan had decided to sit up front with her father, and that had left him sitting in back with Susan’s stepmother, and Brendan regarded her with cool, dispassionate precision. He was on guard as soon as he sat beside this woman – because she was closed-off to him. She was an abyss; no numbers formed around her so he had way of solving for her, and that unsettled him.
And she had been face down in a folder full of financial statements as he climbed in the rear seat; she had hardly looked up, barely acknowledged his presence through the city and out across the Golden Gate, and even then she had picked up a brick sized cellular telephone and called a broker in Hong Kong and another in Tokyo.
Yet when she finished her calls she had put away her papers and turned to him.
“Sorry,” she began, “but I had to get some loose ends tied up before we lose cell coverage.” Her easy smile was filled with genuine warmth and he’d instantly felt at ease. Numbers filled the air over her head and he started sifting through her various solutions.
“I missed you,” he said to her, and even Susan had thought that an odd thing to say.
“Really?” DD said, nonplused. “Well, how nice of you to say so. How have you been?”
He didn’t really know how to answer that question, so he decided the truth was best. “Lonely. Terrified and lonely.”
“Terrified? What scared you most?”
“Not knowing what they want.”
Unfazed, DD turned and looked into the boy’s eyes. “Who wanted what from you, Brendan?”
“I still don’t know what they want from me. From us. Or even why they are here?”
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Brendan.”
“The Blues. I’m not sure why they’re here.”
“The Blues? Do you mean some kind of depression?”
He shook his head. “No. The Blues, like this one,” he said, reaching out and touching something that could have easily been mistaken for a mote of dust. It was hovering near the overhead light between them, and DD looked at the tiny blue sphere and her eyes narrowed.
“What is that?” she said to no one in particular – as she reached up to touch it.
“Be careful,” Brendan said. “It’s very cold, close to absolute zero, I think.”
Susan had turned and was now looking at the orb, and even The Doc had adjusted his rearview mirror to take in the action – but as soon as he saw the sphere he slowed and pulled off the highway and onto the shoulder.
DD reached up and touched the sphere and her hand immediately recoiled.
“What the Hell is that thing?” The Doc said as he picked up his wallet and swatted the sphere. Yet the sphere did not move. At all. So The Doc pushed on the sphere. Gently at first, then more forcefully. And still it did not move. Yet where his leather wallet touched the sphere, material began to sputter and smoke. “Okay everyone, out of the car,” The Doc said, now clearly unnerved.
“There’s no need,” Brendan said quickly. “The Blues won’t hurt you. They might even protect us.”
DD reached out and touched him. “Do they ever hurt you?” she asked. Her voice was overflowing with empathy, her eyes full of the gentle, unknowing sincerity so common among the innocent. The untouched.
“The Greens hurt,” he told her, his words measured and equally sincere. “I don’t think they mean to, but they do. I think the Greens are measuring Susan now, and that troubles me.”
“Susan?” The Doc growled. “What has she got to do with this?”
“I don’t know. They don’t talk to me.”
“They don’t, Brendan, or they won’t?” The Doc asked.
And Brendan shrugged. “Is there a difference?”
But The Doc shrugged. “Have you asked them anything?”
But the boy shrugged his man-child shoulders. “I never see Them. Only their spheres.”
“You mean,” The Doc said, pointing at the sphere, “that there’s someone inside that thing?”
“No. At least I don’t think so. I think they come when I sleep. Susan, show them your neck.”
Susan pulled her hair away, revealing the horseshoe shaped oblate, and The Doc palpated the area with his surgeon’s fingers, then he sighed. “I think there’s something in there,” he said, his voice trembling a little. “Brendan? Who do you think these people are?”
“I’m not sure. But Harry knows, and I think you’ve seen them before, too.”
And then the sphere simply disappeared.
And in the blink of an eye they arrived at their house in Sea Ranch, having traveled seventy miles in what felt like less than a second. Only now it was dark out, and when The Doc looked at the clock on his car’s dash he realized four hours had simply vanished – and that he didn’t remember driving since he’d pulled over to the side of the road.
“What just happened?” DD asked the darkness.
But Brendan was simply looking out the car’s window – as if there was nothing out of the ordinary going on – and he opened the door and climbed out into the night. He looked up into the night sky, trying to orient himself to his surroundings, trying to see Them and where they were hiding now. He heard Susan running and he turned to her with open arms.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said to her as she wrapped herself around him. It was all so clear now, the why and the how. The only variable remained the when of things.
“I can’t help it,” she cried into his chest.
“I think I understand, but I don’t think they will hurt you.”
The Doc heard that and swung around to face Brendan. “What are you talking about? What’s going to happen?”
Brendan looked at the physician then he pointed at the sky. “They’re going to take Susan, but you will try to stop them.”
“What? Who’s going to take my daughter…?”
“They are,” Brendan said, still pointing at the sky.
DD came over and stood next to her husband, and then she took his hand while they both turned and looked up.
“What the devil is that…” The Doc whispered.
The sphere was so translucent it hardly registered to the human eye, but it was there, it was decidedly green…and it was huge, at least compared to the blue mote they’d seen earlier.
“Brendan,” DD started to ask, “can you stop them?”
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to do that.”
“But…can you?” Susan asked, now clearly more than terrified.
“Let’s drive back into the city,” The Doc began, but Brendan cut him off.
“That won’t matter,” he said.
Susan stepped back a little, and she looked up into the man-child’s eyes. “You told me you needed to see Harry, and that you wanted to talk to him about a murder…”
“What?” The Doc screamed. “what murder?”
“Susan. Susan is going to be murdered.”
“Who’s going to kill her, Brendan?” The Doc stuttered. “Do you know?”
“Oh, yes. I am.”
DD rushed to her stepdaughter’s side and pulled her away from the man-child. The Doc reached inside his car and pulled a small pistol from a cubby in the door, and then he placed the black hole of the barrel right up against the man-child’s forehead. “Start walking, mother-fucker,” The Doc growled as he pushed Brendan up the street towards the Coast Highway, the end of the barrel pressing into the skin above the man-child’s eyes.
“You shouldn’t interfere,” Brendan said, his voice flat, his words matter-of-fact and dripping with icy-cold finality. “Harry Callahan is supposed to stop me. They need him to stop me. Don’t interfere!”
“DD! Go inside, now! And for God’s sake, call Harry!”
DD pulled Susan free of her confusion, pulled her back into the comforting grasp of that other reality, and she slammed the door shut on the unfolding anarchy consuming what remained of the life they’d known. She ran for the phone and dialed Harry’s number, and Eisenstadt answered on the seventh ring.
“Deborah, get Harry and come quick. It’s that boy, Brendan!”
“The one in the mental hospital?”
“Yes! And he says he’s going to kill Susan!”
Then everyone heard the sound of a pistol firing. Once. Then a second time.
“Oh my God,” DD screamed, dropping the phone…
“We’re on the way…” Eisenstadt said to the nothingness.
Susan clung to DD, her eyes closed so tightly her tears couldn’t run down her face, and they stood there waiting until they heard Harry’s Land Rover rounding the corner and racing down the street – then brakes screeching to a stop.
But an impossible stillness had enveloped the houses on the little cul-de-sac.
DD looked out a window and saw pulsing strobes in red and blue and so she assumed that Harry had somehow called for backup. She went and opened the door and stepped out into the night…
…and then she fell to her knees.
Brendan was inside a spinning blue sphere that was hovering about fifty feet above the pavement, and she could see that the man-child’s naked body was now bruised and bloody.
And Doc Watson was laying face up in the street, Deborah Eisenstadt doing CPR on his still, lifeless body. She started for her husband but Harry stopped her, and DD collapsed into his arms. Then she heard Susan run past, running to her father’s side.
But she stopped short – as a large pink sphere descended and settled a few feet above the pavement – and Susan watched in astonished agony as an impossible looking creature stepped out of the pink sphere and walked over to The Doc. It bent over Watson’s lifeless body and then gently pushed Eisenstadt away before it summoned another sphere. This second sphere settled over The Doc’s body then simply winked out of existence, leaving the tall pink feathered creature standing there. It looked up at Brendan inside the blue sphere and it summoned that sphere, too, only this one settled on the pavement and disappeared – leaving the man-child curled up on the pavement – then it turned to Susan.
“I think your friend needs some clothes,” the creature said, her voice decidedly feminine, and oddly enough she spoke with an accent that seemed to have been born on a beach while hanging around with a bunch of sunburnt surfer dudes. It bent over Brendan and sprayed something that looked like viscously transparent foam all over his body, then it turned to Susan, again. “Uh, like could you find him something to put on? He’s going to freeze his ass off out here.”
Susan twitched and her head shook rapidly, then she walked out to the car and picked Brendan’s duffel from the trunk. She found some briefs and shorts and a t-shirt and carried them back to the creature.
“Hey, if you think I’m putting his clothes on you got another thing coming,” it said.
“What?” Susan gasped.
“Put his clothes on, please,” the creature added, now exasperated.
Susan found that the foam had evaporated and Brendan’s skin was now spotlessly clean. She couldn’t see even one injury…no gunshot wound, no scrapes or contusions…not a – thing. She nodded and bent over to help dress Brendan, but she stopped and looked up at the creature. “What happened to my dad?”
“Acute myocardial infarction. Which does not explain why he subsisted on dead animal flesh and rum, but what the Hell. You only go around once, I say.”
Callahan walked up to the creature, a new stainless steel Model 629 hanging limply by his side.
“Excuse me,” the pink creature said, “but those things really scare the shit out of me.”
“Huh? Oh,” Callahan said as he slipped the Smith & Wesson into its shoulder holster. “Sorry about that.”
“No big, man,” the creature said. “Uh, like, I don’t mean to make a big deal out of all this, but could you, like, help her get some clothes on this dude?” Deborah came over to lend a hand and the creature finally noticed Harry’s stainless steel leg. “Oh! What the fuck is that?” the creature said, pointing at Callahan’s prosthesis.
DD walked down slowly – feeling bereft and alone – and she walked into Callahan’s arms. “Where’s my husband?” she sighed.
“The physician? You know, you really should take better care of him. No salt, just lemon juice, and no more red meat!”
“What?” DD gasped, openly weeping now.
The creature looked away, shaking her head a little as she spoke into the night. Moments later another pink sphere descended and settled on the pavement, and the creature reached down and took DDs hand then led her to the sphere. Once DD was inside this third sphere it too popped out of existence, and the creature returned to Callahan, Eisenstadt, and Susan. Then she looked down at Brendan.
“He won’t remember any of this,” she said, “but Susan, don’t blame him. He had nothing to do with this.”
“What – are you saying?”
“Harry,” the creature sighed, “maybe she could sleep with you two tonight?”
Callahan nodded, but his brow furrowed deeply now. “You know, it sure seems like you know an awful lot about us.”
“You know,” the pink creature replied, “I think so too,” she said as she stepped into her sphere and winked out of existence.
And Brendan did indeed not remember a thing. In point of fact he had no memory of the last two years. None. He woke up on the sofa in Callahan’s living room early the next morning and started screaming, and nothing anyone said got through to him. The last thing he remembered was heading off to Stanford – two years ago – and quite literally everything else was gone.
Harry called the boy’s parents and tried to describe in the most basic terms imaginable where their son was and then he asked what he should do with him; the boy’s father wanted to know if Harry could get him down to SFO and onto a flight to Los Angeles. Not wanting to make the drive he called the CatHouse and arranged for a noon pickup at the little airstrip near Sea Ranch, then he told the boy what had happened last night, while Susan filled Brendan in on the last two years of their life together.
And Brendan calmed down as the morning progressed. He wanted to know more about Susan, like how they’d met and how close were they. The basics, in other words, but he had a hard time putting two years into proper context. He managed to eat a little avocado and lemon juice, and for good measure he ate a handful of blueberries from Oregon, then it was time for his helicopter and Susan said goodbye to him before he left the house. Harry sat beside the boy all the way to SFO, and he and Deborah got him out to the gate and onto a Southwest flight into LAX before they left him.
He felt a yawning black chasm where his life had been, and looking down through the clouds at the sunburnt coastal hills he thought of a book he had read once. Henderson the Rain King. And he started hearing a voice that said I want, I want, I want…the rest of the way to Los Angeles International.
He recognized the Valley down there and then the 737 was turning onto final and downtown LA slipped by. He watched another aircraft – maybe a mile away – line up to land on the other parallel set of runways, the pair on the south side of the airport. The other jetliner seemed to hang there motionless in the sky – because the two aircraft were flying at about the same speed, and he wondered what it would be like to be suspended in the sky, neither flying nor falling, just being…
…and then he saw a helicopter vault up from below…
…and as he watched the helicopter struck the other airliner’s right engine. The engine fell away and an immense fire broke out on the wing, immediately engulfing the right side of the airliner as it shuddered like a wounded animal before it rolled and began to fall out of the sky…
And almost immediately the pilots of his airliner applied full power and climbed back into the safety of the sky, back to being suspended inside a metal tube surrounded by nothingness and now all he could see in the air was an equation that screamed I want I want I want – more life.
His airliner turned hard to the south and out over the Pacific and he saw the marina below and a rising column of black smoke coming up to meet the clouds and everything seemed different now. Life no longer felt like an abstract series of equations to be solved, but a precious thing to be nurtured above all else.
The pilot came on over the PA and told his passengers that LAX was now closed and that dozens of inbound aircraft were being rerouted to Long Beach, John Wayne, and Lindbergh Field, and that he’d let them know where they were going to end up as soon as he found out from air traffic control.
They landed in San Diego a few hours later and he called his parents. His father asked him to rent a car and come home as soon as he could and the boy remembered that he had in fact learned to drive once and he thought he could still drive. He had a license, anyway, and lots of credit cards, so why not give it a try…?
He got onto the Interstate and headed north just as the sun settled into the sea. He got off in Irvine and made his way down to the Coast Highway. He stopped for dinner in Newport Beach before he continued north along the coast. He felt alone. He felt lonely. And he’d never considered that those two things were separated by things like fear and faith, and now he considered that he’d never really known the difference – between fear and faith.
He saw things now with a clarity that had eluded him all his life, but he had to wonder about all the other things he’d missed out on along the way. And soon enough he saw the Vincent Thomas Bridge just ahead and he wondered what waited on the far side of this very peculiar night.
[Duncan Sheik \\ She Runs Away]
© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]