Every crossing hits the doldrums.
[Alan Parsons \\ Siren Song]
Intermezzo – Madness and the Desperate Flight of aquaTarkus
Part VI: Flight II
The dream comes in numbers, yet the solution still avoids him.
Taggart watched Geddes whenever he could, but most often when the kid took the wheel and steered. There is a rhythm to the waves that eludes most people, yet this boy seemed to understand the sea, to anticipate her moves, so much so that Taggart considered the kid a natural. If he’d known Geddes at all he’d have understood that the kid was smiling for the first time in his life, that he finally felt alive – yet Taggart alone was most likely to understand. He’d always felt pretty much the same way – whenever he took the wheel and began to vibrate to the ancient rhythm of water flowing over a rudder in a seaway.
The first morning out of LA Debra came up into the sun carrying the little baby, but already Taggart could see something different in this odd little creature’s eyes. There was an innate inquisitiveness deep inside the gaze, an expressiveness he found oddly inhuman at this age, like it was reading his soul, imprinting his deepest secrets. Henry watched it somewhat warily after that, not yet sure what he was dealing with but certain that trouble lurked in those eyes.
They sailed into Avalon Harbor well before noon and refueled at the dock by the old casino while Debra and Geddes ran ashore to get supplies, and while Daisy-Jane dumped a load on the grass – accompanied by a huge sigh of relief. Taggart scanned the sky, saw not a thing to cause any sort of alarm – which only alarmed him more – and then he helped get all the supplies stowed before backing from the fuel dock. Henry then cut under the south side of the island before resuming their westbound course, and he still considered Hawaii the most logical first step.
Debra fed the baby girl – for that was indeed what she was – and Brendan scanned through the LA Times that morning, finding no mention of the UAV episode but breathlessly endless coverage of the robbery and downing of the American 777 over South Central. There was scant coverage of the fracas on the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which he found the most surprising of all the omissions – because he had already figured out that the baby was the keystone holding the entire chain of events in place. The way Geddes now saw things, time could be divided between the period before and after the baby’s arrival on earth – because the baby was the fundamental shift. She was the plan. He still wasn’t sure who’s plan she was a part of, but that was a trivial concern at this point. Time had been reset – of that much he was sure.
Debra warmed formula and prepared a bottle, and all the while Geddes and Bacon took turns holding the little girl in their laps, cradling her close to keep her out of the wind and the sun. And then, two hours after aquaTarkus left Avalon the first orca appeared, and within an hour or so a half dozen more had joined them swimming just ahead, like sentinels out ahead of their legion, and at one point Geddes was sure he’d seen a fifty meter long white oblate form moving along about a hundred feet beneath the keel. He’d started to say something to Henry but then the oblate disappeared and he thought better of it.
Debra took the spud down below and the two of them napped, but Geddes saw the oblate again and he stepped closer to Henry. “There’s something down there following us,” Brendan said, his reedy voice coming across in hushed conspiratorial sighs.
But Henry had only nodded. “It showed up after the orca arrived. They’re following us.”
“Do you see a correlation?”
Taggart nodded, but he didn’t explain his thinking. “You ready to steer again?”
“Yes, of course,” Geddes said, his demeanor brightening in an instant.
“Swell. Uh, Sumner, you know anything about single sideband radio?”
“Uh…no, not really.”
“Okay…well…it’s time for your first lesson. It will be on how to download GRIB files and construct a 72 hour weather forecast.”
“A what file?”
Taggart groaned. “Never mind. Let’s go down to the chart table…”
Yet Taggart first noted that day that the kid could steer for hours on end, and the boy’s mind didn’t wander, either. If he told Brendan to hold two-seven-zero on the compass that’s exactly what the kid did, for hour after hour and with not a single complaint voiced. Yet, at one point Taggart came up to the kid and he found they boy’s eyes locked on a cloud.
“See something?” Taggart asked, now looking at the cloud suspiciously.
“Hm-m, oh…no. I was just reading something.”
“Reading something? In a cloud?”
“Yes. Tell me, Henry. Do you believe in God?”
“Excuse me, but where’d that come from?”
“Oh, I was just reading something…”
“Up there in that cloud?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And, well, it seems to me that most religious texts have set up a patriarchal view of our relationship to animals…”
“To…animals? Well, that seems to go with the territory, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, gee, don’t you think religions tend to be pretty paternalistic?”
“Ah, yes, I see what you mean, but I don’t eat meat. Never have. It seems cruel to me, yet most religions have no prohibitions against eating animal flesh. Then I read that these same religions don’t regard animals as sentient, which seems to mean that religions don’t see animals as having feelings like love or that they cannot experience friendship.”
“Just curious, Brendan, but what do you eat?”
“Avocados, for the most part.”
“And are you pretty sure avocados don’t experience love or friendship?”
That seemed to stump the kid for a moment. “Avocados don’t have a brain, so how could they?”
“Hey, don’t ask me, ask a fruitarian.”
“That, Brendan, is someone who only eats fruit. And some fruitarians hold that even fruit have feelings.”
Brendan’s eyes went wide. “Seriously?”
Taggart nodded his head. “You could get real hungry real fast if you hold to extreme points of view.”
“So do you think that eating an animal isn’t cruel?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll ask the next cheeseburger I run across.”
“That’s a specious argument.”
“Not if you’re a cheeseburger,” Taggart sighed. “But tell me…what if it could be demonstrated that avocados have feelings. What would you do?”
“I don’t know,” Geddes said, now completely flummoxed.
“Really? You’d choose death by starvation over eating the avocado?”
“Okay, so what about the Inuit people of the arctic north. There’s no ready food supply but whales…”
“But that’s not true. They can go to a store, or even…”
“Brendan, there were no stores until about fifty years ago, so try again. Their choice was simple; either eat meat or starve to death. What should they have done?”
“That doesn’t seem right.”
“Okay. So, if I hear you correctly, you shouldn’t eat something that has the capacity to feel emotions.”
“Yes. I think that’s correct.”
“So, if you fall overboard, should that shark over there not eat you?”
Brendan turned and looked at a scythe-like dorsal fin slicing through the water about fifty feet off their starboard beam, and he instinctively inched towards the center of the boat. “What is that?” he moaned, now terrified.
“Tiger shark. About a twelve footer.”
“Isn’t that a man-eater?”
“A spud like you would take him about three bites, so yeah, you could say that.”
“But he’s not sentient.”
“Oh? Are you sure about that? What about the Inuit? Are they not sentient?”
“Well, that seems to be what all these religious texts seem to say.”
“Oh? How do they define humanity?”
“I’d say compassion and empathy are the difference?” Geddes said after he thought about it for a moment.
“So, that Killer Whale over there cannot feel compassion or empathy? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“I think that’s probably so. Yes.”
“You think so? Does that mean you aren’t sure?”
Geddes seemed to hesitate. “Maybe they feel those things for their own offspring, but…”
“But not for us?”
“Are you sure about that?”
Geddes shrugged. “No. Not really.”
“Well, why don’t we find out,” Taggart sighed as he started for the aft rail. “Come with me,” he added, stopping to engage the autopilot. Once Geddes was with him aft, standing above the swim platform, Taggart looked down into the water then over at the Tiger Shark. “What do you think the orca would do if you were to fall overboard?”
“I don’t know,” Brendan said, his voice now a little tremulous.
“Well, let’s find out,” Taggart said – just before he jumped off the platform and into the sailboat’s wake.
Geddes watched as the Tiger Shark turned towards the sound of Taggart’s thrashing splash and he turned towards the cockpit: “Help! Man overboard!” he cried, and then he heard Debra and Sumner running up from below. The shark had closed about half the distance when it seemed to explode, then vault into the air; seconds later an orca appeared beside Taggart and then cupped him in what appeared to be a protective embrace. The orca came to the platform and lifted Taggart out of the water, and Henry stepped aboard, wiping sea water from his eyes.
“Any questions?” Taggart sighed as he turned to the orca and waved.
“Did you know it was going to do that?” Geddes cried, clearly exasperated.
“Did I know?” Taggart asked with a shrug. “I dunno. Let’s just say I had faith, and we’ll call it a day.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Brendan said, muttering to himself as he walked back to the wheel.
“Well…I guess you could say that about faith in general, Brendan,” Henry said to the boy as he caught the towel Debra tossed his way. “Then again, I could just be full of shit.”
From the Log of SV aquaTarkus
Saturday, 20 December 2008 local noon by reduction
Lat: 28°40’24.85″N Lon: 132°51’31.69″W
Winds 030 degrees at 12-15 kts OAT 52 degrees F; Seas 2-4 feet; Depth: 13k charted SeaTemp 50F
Worked out a noon site today, first time with the sextant since last Vic-Maui race on the Swan. TG for Bowditch. Showed the kid how to shoot a site and reduce using the tables and he took to it like a duck to water. The cop was mystified. The kid also spotted the triangular shaped UAV again, about 0200 last night. Spotted by the craft occulting stars in Cassiopeia; I’d have never caught that. Bright kid but strange as hell, always looking at the sky. The baby is stranger still; she has grown about a foot and is eating solid food now as she has all her teeth. Quite a feat given that she’s ten days old. She seems to me like a passive receptacle, sponging up every word we say, gauging our every emotion. Never seen anything like it, which, given her probable origins sounds about right. Deb thinks the ship is keeping an eye on the baby, but keeping an eye on what? Something has been bothering me all day, namely that we really have no idea who the actors in this drama really are. If the UAV is somehow related to Ted Sorensen then that means what? He had to know the kid would appear on the bridge – but how the hell could that happen – could that even be possible? So, what if the UAV is in fact ‘alien’? That would mean we have another spacefaring civilization playing around down here on earth? And if that’s the case, what is their relationship to the ‘sphere civilization’? Already seeing signs that the Pinks are not on the same page as the Blues and Greens, and they all seem terrified of the Reds. Assuming this is a factional disagreement within the sphere groups, how will they react to another group of real outsiders beginning to meddle in our affairs? I get the feeling about the only way I’ll find any answers to these questions is to get back to Seattle, but then the moment passes. Yet the question remains: what do we do if something happens as we approach Hawaii? If dropping off the grid failed? Then we’re in the deep do-do – without a paddle, and with no place left to run.
The man-child stood at the aft rail staring down into the water. Looking at the fat oblate forms down there, following – him – just like that shark had. He didn’t know what to think now, not after Taggart and his orca, but he knew the ships were still down there, watching. ‘Watching me watching them, like a perfect infinity mirror…’
The cop was sitting at the wheel, the red from the binnacle casting a ghoulish glow over the cockpit, and Geddes wanted to jump into the blackness and wait to see who came for him first. The orca or another shark, so…faith or darkness. But then, inside the briefest flash of peripheral insight, he saw the other choice, the third option. The white shadows down there, following him. They wouldn’t let him die, wouldn’t let him be eaten alive. They couldn’t. Not now. Why else had they put him on the bridge just before time shuddered to a stop.
Brendan was about to step off the platform when Henry came up from behind and put a hand on his shoulder. “Having a moment?” Taggart sighed, his voice gentle and reassuring.
“They won’t let anything happen to me,” Geddes whispered. “They’re afraid of me, but they won’t let anything happen to me.”
“Who are they, Brendan? Do you know?”
“Of course I do.”
“They came from Sagittarius. They sent the signal. But they aren’t alone. And they are afraid.”
The hair on Taggart’s neck stood on end, perhaps because of the way the man-child spoke those words. So certain, like the certainty of numbers. Somehow the kid had worked it out, and now he had the answer to one question. Ted Sorensen wouldn’t be waiting for them in Hawaii. “Do you know why they’re here?” Taggart asked.
“I’m not sure. At first I thought the child interested them most of all.”
“But not now?”
“No, not now. Not after you jumped in the water.”
“What does that mean?”
“I think they’re interested in you, Mr. Taggart. You, most of all.”
Taggart shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense. Why me?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Okay. Well, maybe you could let me know when you are?”
“I’ll be dead before that happens.”
“I’ll be dead next week, at least that’s what I worked out. Probably next Wednesday.”
“Indeed. And how is this going to come about, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I think you’re going to kill me,” the man-child sighed.
© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…so how about a word or two on our 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.]
[Mark Tiemens \\ Hold On Blue Eyes]