And so another journey into night begins.
[Neil Young \\ Harvest Moon]
The Air Force C-20H flared over the numbers at San Jose’s Mineta International and settled on the runway, exiting left and turning onto the Victor taxiway on its way to a general aviation apron just south of the tower. Two more black Suburbans met the aircraft and all the passengers scurried rapidly down the airstairs and into the waiting SUVs without so much as a glance, then the caravan headed for the northbound 101, the two vehicles eventually making it to Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto. The Suburbans skirted the Stanford campus and passed the linear accelerator center as they crossed the 280, and at that point four more identical Suburbans entered the mix, escorting the caravan to a small group of unmarked office buildings inside a gated, self-contained campus overlooking Searsville Lake. All six SUVs pulled into a locked sally-port off to one side of a low, one story building, and once all the overhead doors were secure everyone exited and walked into a heavily fortified and secured entrance foyer before getting into an unmarked elevator.
One of the escorting guards hit the ‘Down’ button and once the doors slid-to the elevator car began a minutes long descent down into the earth, and after several seconds passed Debra Sorensen wondered just how far down they were going. Dana Richardson began fidgeting nervously, holding onto her father’s hand so tightly he grimaced. Sumner Bacon cast a nervous, sidelong glance her way and he grinned cheerfully, if a little stoically, when he too realized just how deep they were going.
But little Dana simply held onto the General’s hand and stared up at him. If she had any concerns at all she gave no voice to them.
When the doors finally slid open the were confronted by yet another security team, and at this point even the General had to produce credentials. Then, with this minutiae out of the way, the group was led past living quarters in a small wing, and Debra guessed there must have been sleeping facilities for several hundred people down here — yet the group passed these by and were ushered into a small office. Everyone but the General and Tracy Abernathy was fingerprinted and photographed, color-coded ID badges were handed out and security oaths were meticulously recorded.
“What the hell is this place?” Ralph Richardson finally asked the General, perhaps when he couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.
“It’s an engineering facility, Mr. Richardson,” the General replied. “That’s all you need to know at this point.”
“Why are we here?” Richardson asked, still a little flummoxed.
“We’re here to figure out why Dana is here, and if there is, indeed, any commercial opportunity afforded by her presence with us.”
“I hate to ask,” Debra asked now, “but are we prisoners?”
“I’d really rather you didn’t think of it in quite those terms, Miss Sorensen, but your movements for the next few weeks will be closely monitored. At least until we know what your father is up to, anyway; once we have a handle on that situation we’ll reassess your status.”
“I’m not sure I like the sound of that, General,” Debra sighed.
“Understandable,” the General stated matter-of-factly. “But I’d ask that you consider my point of view. First, Dana claims you as her mother. Second, you have been demonstrating certain, shall we say, unusual abilities for not quite ten years, and these abilities may or may not be related to your…daughter. And, quite frankly, until I know more about these abilities I’m not certain I understand exactly what kind of security risk you may or may not represent.”
“Me — a security risk?” Debra cried, now clearly exasperated. “What on earth do you…”
But the General simply held up his hand, in effect stopping her before she could complete her thought. “At this point, Miss Sorensen, I’m most concerned about the implications of your falling into the wrong hands, and by that I mean the people your father seems to be working for, and until I do I need to keep you out of their reach.”
“Just who is my father working for?” she added.
“We can talk about that some other time,” he said — his voice suddenly hard with an edge of finality. “We’ve all had a long day. I suggest we head to our rooms and get cleaned up for dinner. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later this evening.”
Debra remained fixed in place, yet everyone else walked off to the wing they’d been assigned to…until she noticed Tracy Abernathy had remained behind and was now just standing there — while looking at…her.
“There’s a lot going on here,” Abernathy said, “and a lot I still don’t understand, but take it from me, he only has your best interests in mind.”
Debra turned to face her: “I noticed they didn’t print you, or take your picture…?”
“I’ve been here a time or two.”
Tracy shook her head. “No. With the General.”
Debra seemed taken aback by this revelation. “So, do you know what’s going on around here?”
“No, not really. Just the broad strokes, mainly because my area of expertise is very peripheral to the undertaking.”
“So…what are ‘the broad strokes?’”
Abernathy hesitated for a moment, then she just shrugged — and grinned, though now a little impishly: “New technologies, I guess you could say. Now, let’s find your room. I’m sure a shower would do us both a world of good.”
“After six weeks at sea? My-oh-my Miss Scarlet, whatever do you mean…?”
Callahan came to, quite suddenly — and painfully — aware that it was blistering cold out…here. Wherever here was. He was curled up in a fetal ball, only now Didi was beside him — and she was as naked as the day she was born, and just now coming to.
She tried to sit up then realized how cold it was out here, then she noticed Callahan was sitting beside her, that his lips were blue, and that his teeth were beginning to chatter. She looked around and realized they were sitting inside a large wooden bucket, but the sky overhead was so clear that the view overhead was almost surreal.
They felt it then. A distinct humming vibration that seemed to be coming from someplace well below, and then it hit her: Callahan appeared to be about twenty years old — and both his legs were intact.
It took a moment for Harry to notice, and when he did he simply smiled then began to stand and help Didi up.
But before that could happen he looked around and gasped. “Holy mother-fuckin’ son of a bitch,” he mumbled as he pulled Didi up…
“Jesus,” she whispered. “Is this for real?”
As far as either could tell they were in the forward lookout tower aboard the Titanic, but there wasn’t a single light burning anywhere, and the bridge appeared to be completely unmanned. Smoke was coming from the stacks and the ship was easily cutting through the water at what felt like a decent pace, so Callahan concluded someone had to be aboard…if only because someone had to be tending the boilers.
Then he heard Didi again.
“Oh…no…” she moaned…
…and he knew without asking what was out there. It had to be…
Yes, a huge iceberg, now dead ahead.
He’d seen all the movies, knew what happened next and he reflexively reached for the bell’s lanyard but then the absurdity of the situation hit him. There was no one on the bridge to hear the bell, no one to command the helmsman to turn the wheel, so he braced himself on the leading edge of the crow’s nest and waited for the inevitable impact…
…yet it never came.
The great ship plowed dead ahead — hitting the iceberg with her slender rivet-plated bow — yet there was no sound of grinding metal, no explosion of shattering ice raining down on the foredeck — only a gathering darkness as the great ship plowed on her way into another night all her own.
Yet Callahan blinked as a glowing numbness spread through his limbs to his chest and finally to his face and eyes; he felt Didi by his side for most of this but within moments she disappeared in the dark. He reached out in total blindness, his hands seeking the rails of the crow’s nest, but that too was gone and he suddenly felt very disoriented, almost unsteady on his feet — until he realized that there was now literally nothing underfoot.
Little pinpricks of streaking light began to resolve but then stark terror gripped his chest as he realized he was adrift — in what appeared to be infinite space. His body slowly tumbling, there was nothing to reach out for, no way to steady himself, no way to stop this insane motion. Tentatively he took in a deep breath but he felt, again, nothing. No air flowed into his lungs — yet he did not in the least feel like he was suffocating. ‘That’s not possible,’ he thought — as his mind scrambled to make sense of this new reality. He brought his wristwatch to his face and hit the little button to illuminate the face — and though the light worked he saw that the second hand wasn’t moving — and that too made no sense.
‘Unless,’ he reasoned, ‘time has stopped.’
He looked at the streaking pinpricks of light for a moment before he realized all those streaks were headed in one direction, then he realized he too was moving in the very same direction — like he was falling with the stars, only without any sense of motion beyond this lone visible cue.
He looked around as best he could, trying to pinpoint Didi inside the glowing maelstrom — and while he thought he saw something he couldn’t be sure. And he soon discovered sound didn’t convey here; his attempts at speech were pointlessly unsuccessful — but just then his mind began struggling with what he thought must be the onset of something like claustrophobia. Panic settled, the inability to breathe buffeted him like a vulture’s beating wings and then he wanted to scream — and realized he couldn’t even do that…
Then in an instant as sudden as a returning heartbeat he was surrounded — by light — but he was breathing again and the first thing he wanted to do was cry. To scream out at the light and cry.
‘Is this what it feels like to be born?’ he said to himself — as Didi appeared by his side. And when she saw Callahan she flew into his arms.
Then he realized nothing had ever felt so good as her skin on his.
© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse. The painting above is by John William Waterhouse, titled Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses. The image is in the public domain.