The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 70.1

88 final image 1.1

So, here is the first part of the last chapter of Harry Callahan’s story… Maybe a few surprises in store, so better grab a cup of ginger tea. Forewarned is forearmed, neh?

Music for today’s story comes from Glass Hammer’s 2010 album titled IF. No YouTube links as GH doesn’t appear to go in for all that; their work is in the iTunes music store and is also available at the Glass Hammer store (hi-res downloads available at reasonable prices, too). This is the first album of theirs to feature Jon Davison on lead vocals. He did two albums with GH before moving on to take over lead vocal duties with Yes, so while you might not mistake this for Yes music you’ll feel distinct similarities. Standout tracks to me include Behold The Ziddle and If The Sun. Elements of Close to the Edge shine through these two. Enjoy.

GH IF cover art

So, on to the story.

88/70.1

Callahan sat at the piano, a beat-up and very old Yamaha upright, riffing on Bill Evans’ B Minor Waltz. He was playing at an ancient blues lounge a few blocks up from the Wharf, playing for tips left in an old jar. The place was crowded and dead quiet, because after events of the past few days there just wasn’t a whole lot left to be said. 

After years of runaway wildfires in northern California and Montana, and years after water had been cut off from the Colorado River, life on the West Coast had been growing increasingly insane. The past summer sidewalks had grown so hot in the city that they’d buckled, then streets started to break apart so badly that the city’s cable cars could no longer run. But in the past few days the entire world had watched, aghast, as Russia moved on Europe and hushed whispers of ‘another world war’ could be heard everywhere Callahan went, and that was before Amsterdam and St. Petersburg disappeared in blinding flashes spilling out byproducts of nuclear fusion.

And then, to make matter more interesting, the sun had gone crazy. The earth’s magnetic pole had started vaulting around unpredictably just as satellites in low earth orbit started failing. Communications between the continents fractured, the internet disappeared and all the various GPS constellations went offline. Air travel ground to a halt, electric cars could no longer be charged and gasoline remained in underground tanks – because the electric pumps that controlled the flow had all failed. Suddenly there was a lot of talk about the utility of horses and that it was high time to set about revitalizing the areas railroads. High rise buildings with no windows had become uninhabitable within hours, and grocery store shelves had long since been picked clean.

Callahan had been in the city when the latest X-class solar flare had slammed into the atmosphere. He’d been living in his old apartment building, one of the first projects he’d undertaken with DD Watson, because he’d been spending a lot of time in the city recently. He and DD had been working nonstop hardening all of Callahan’s various buildings against the effects of increasing temperatures, first by installing operable windows and then by installing ultra high efficiency air conditioning systems. Aerial hydroponic gardens were being developed in green spaces while solar panels and wind generators popped up wherever their installation made sense.

Yet Harry had purchased this old speakeasy decades ago, but only recently had the building had been modified – because Callahan wanted people in the area to have a place to come when everything else became too overwhelming. Hence…the crowds.

But Callahan was an old man now, well into his eighties, anyway. He enjoyed his music more than he had in years, and he finally felt at home playing in front of strangers, but something else had changed. He studied the people in the lounge more often now, watched their reactions to his music, but he was looking for something in particular, a certain kind of reaction.

And a few nights after the week long war ended something strange was happening to Callahan. Winding through the B Minor Waltz he looked at a young couple and thought he could see the worry on their faces, the fear in their eyes – and then great gouts of fiery light erupted from their being. Almost like flames, rippling blue fire-light danced around them, pale blue tinged with glowing silver embers sputtered in the air and he changed tempo as he drifted into Peace Piece – and he watched as the light around them reacted to this change of tempo. He looked at a brooding old drunk at the bar and watched deep jade colored waves dance and flare around the man, yet certain chords released torrents of sparkling red embers while others seem to release the man from all his cares—and Callahan watched as the old drunk’s aura subsided into smooth pale blues… 

His new architect had removed all the windows from the front of the bar and replaced them with overhead ‘garage’ doors, and these new ‘windows’ let the music out, free to roam the street, and when open they let the air come inside for a visit. The windows were wide open now and a warm evening breeze was coming in through the Golden Gate and Callahan felt himself drifting along with the air and the music, thinking for a moment about Old California when San Francisco had been little more than a collection of whiskey bars and whore houses and clipper ships at anchor off the Embarcadero.

He drifted inside Kurt Weill’s September Song for a while – until he saw a pale pink sphere no larger than a sweet pea hovering near the ceiling – and he sighed the sigh of an old man who understood the finite rituals of time. They were watching him again, and while he wondered why he was beyond caring. Time, he knew, did that to people.

Deborah had passed away almost two years before and he was surprised by the pervasive loneliness he felt in her absence, how frightening those feelings had become during the sleepless nights that followed, and yet the first time he felt that pain he’d thought of sitting in class when he was elementary school on a Friday afternoon, looking at the clock while waiting for the last bell of the week to sound. Each and every second was so precious, now as then, yet how many seconds had he wasted. He smiled at the mundane nature of this latest epiphany as he changed tempo once again, as he fell into Moonlight in Vermont, casting yet another spell over the room.

No one seemed to want to admit that nuclear annihilation had literally been just moments away, but now that humanity had stepped back from the abyss it was as if some sort of collective sigh had been waiting for release. At least among the living, anyway. He found his way into The Crystal Ship, and old song by The Doors, and he watched as people around the piano began to sway – almost like tall pines inside a windswept forest. He closed his eyes and saw his Looney Junes swaying to the music of even more ancient rhythms, holding her hands as she moved on top of him, perhaps as they’d made the baby that took her life. He took a deep breath as the memory passed, and when he opened his eyes again the pink sphere was still up in the beams above the swaying crowd of listeners. Yet…was the sphere reacting to his music? Could it be…?

He saw DD and the Doc walk in, and they finally found two seats at the bar. They listened – politely – with the rest of the people in the lounge…but Harry could tell by the expression on DDs face that it was time to take a break. He motioned for his backup to take over the keys and then he walked out the front door and across the street – to his old apartment building. DD made her way out a few minutes later and joined Harry in the elevator that took them to the top floor.

“Where’s the Doc?” Harry asked.

“Nothing of concern to him,” she said dryly.

And Callahan wasn’t used to seeing her like this. DD was always upbeat, usually wore a can-do attitude that fit like an old shirt, but right now she looked worn down and beat up by events beyond her control. “Okay,” he said, “you’ve got my attention now. What’s wrong?”

“Cash flow,” she sighed. “We’ve got thirty helicopters and twenty six fixed wing aircraft sitting on the ramps, and our payroll now has to cover almost three hundred people. With our cash on hand we can keep going for several months, but then what?”

“What’s on your mind?” Callahan asked as he poured two glasses of pineapple juice.

“Temporary lay-offs, for one thing.”

Callahan shook his head. “No way. There are already way too many homeless people on the streets, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to add to that problem. Besides, I thought we had enough spares on hand to keep our birds in the air.”

“We had all our aircraft operational within a day, Harry. What we don’t have is air traffic control. There’s no internet and no cell service, so no reservation system, and that means zero in the way of paying passengers.”

“Things’ll turn around in a few days.”

“Okay, but what if they don’t? Harry, I mean it…what happens if this is it?”

Callahan could hear the anxiety in DDs voice. He could see the same fear in her eyes. “What makes you think we’re at that point, DD?”

“Oh, Harry, I don’t know. All the stuff on the news recently, I guess.”

“The news? Did I miss something? What have you been watching?”

“Oh, the Doc’s been watching that series on the Eagle Network, stuff about the end of civilization…”

Callahan nodded. “They’re the ones running the series on homelessness, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Aren’t they advocating we rebuild the camps we used to intern the Japanese during the Second World War? Put all our homeless there?”

“Yup. Something’s got to be done about the situation, Harry. Have you been down in the Tenderloin recently?”

Callahan nodded. Alleyways all over the city were overrun with makeshift encampments, and the situation was so out of control even the police department kept away from the larger camps. Property crime was up, but so too were assaults and robberies. “Do you think that’s the best we can do? Round ‘em up and put in camps out in the desert?”

“Look Harry, I know how it sounds but nobody is coming up with any other solution. The situation is actually so out of control you’re taking your life in your hands just to…”

Harry held up his hands, then he shrugged. “The problem has been around for a while, DD. Maybe the only thing that’s really changed is the constant news coverage.”

“I don’t know, Harry. It just feels really different out there right now. Like things have really taken a turn for the worse.”

Callahan nodded. “All the more reason why we won’t resort to layoffs. How long can we make it without cutting into our reserves?”

“Six months. Then we’ll have to start selling properties.”

Harry sighed. “If this thing lasts six months, losing air transportation will be the least of our worries. What’s happening with the Doc?”

“The medical center is still open but the hospital is running generators full time to keep two ORs and a couple of floors open, and they’re running low on fuel.”

“Hard to do surgery by candlelight, I suppose,” Harry said, looking across the bay to Oakland. “Weird looking across the bay at night and not seeing lights. I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime, I guess.”

“Change is slow, until it isn’t. I think all this caught everyone off guard.”

Callahan turned and looked at her again. “Good thing you weren’t out at SeaRanch when all this hit the fan.”

“How’re you doing, Harry? You look…I don’t know…tired?”

“Me? Oh, I’m doing okay.”

“Do you hear much from Didi?”

“No. Not since she went back to Israel. Her father is barely hanging on – from what I hear, anyway.”

“Did you know him well?”

But Callahan shrugged off the question, then after a moment he turned and looked out the Golden Gate. “I miss the fog most of all, I think. Hard to believe we haven’t had fog in the city for five years.”

But DD was confused now, because it wasn’t like Harry to ignore her like this; she looked at him again, closer now than she had in a long while. His hands looked old and she noted a tremor pass through his fingers, and then a terrible thought ran through her mind. Harry was indeed getting old and right before her eyes, so what else had she missed? Was she too close to the problem to have missed something so obvious, and mundane? ‘How long will he make it,’ she mused, yet even thinking the very idea filled her with dread. She’d hitched her wagon to his star so very long ago she could hardly remember his not being the center of her universe, and she had to admit now, if only to herself, that the idea of his passing scared the hell out of her.

“Times change, Harry,” she just managed to say.

He nodded, then he turned and looked her in the eye: “We had a pretty good run, didn’t we?”

“It’s not over yet, Harry,” she said, perhaps a little more wistfully than she should have.

But Callahan had simply shrugged and turned back to his view of the setting sun. “I always liked the view from this room,” he sighed.

“Have you given up on going back to SeaRanch?”

But she watched him shrug – from behind – and that was it. He’d decided not to layoff his pilots and ground support teams and that was that, all he had to say.

“Are you going to play some more tonight? Some Gershwin, maybe?”

But he didn’t respond. In fact, he hardly moved.

She walked around and sat beside him. Even his eyes looked tired, and she wondered why.

“Harry? Are you okay?”

The slightest hint of a smile passed over his face and he took a deep breath before he turned his head a little and looked into her eyes… 

…and what she saw there terrified her. Anger, fear, loneliness—yet most of all his eyes reeked of despair—and she’d never seen anything like the malicious hopelessness she now saw etched across his face.

She reached out to him, took his hands in hers. “Harry…what is it? What’s happened?” 

He took another even deeper breath, then he looked up into the darkening sky—and to the stars beyond. “Parents should never live longer than their children,” he whispered coarsely, holding up his hands and staring at the wrinkles and spots he saw on his outstretched fingers.

She looked at his hands just then and was sure she saw blood under his fingernails. When she looked at him moments later she saw tears rolling down his face.

+++++

“We have, of course, penetrated the Israeli operation,” Ted Sorensen said. “For almost twenty years they have struggled and yet not once have they produced a stable wormhole. We, of course, are no longer concerned with such efforts. That was a dead end.”

Sorensen was showing a young man, their latest new recruit, around the grounds. The Chancellor, he pointed out, lived inside the hilltop castle that most deliberately looked to be an identical copy of Neuschwanstein, while the rest of the colony’s recruits resided inside dormitories arrayed around the vast glacial bowl carved out of the surrounding mountains.

“How many people live here now?” the young man asked.

“Here on the surface? At this point—only about fifteen hundred. Already the majority of the population is underground. We have two power plants in operation, and we now have almost a thousand acres under cultivation.”

“You carried that much topsoil down there?”

Sorensen sighed. “No, of course not. Most of the yield comes from hydroponic setups, and with the exception of a large poultry processing facility, our diet is essentially vegan. We tried diary production but large amounts of grasses were needed. That effort failed.”

“How far down is the colony? A few hundred feet?”

“I’m not quite sure, really. Why do you ask?”

“I’ve always been a little claustrophobic,” the young man said, looking across the shallow bowl at the Chancellor’s castle. “That really is a magnificent building,” he added.

“So, pardon my curiosity, but why did you ask to see me?”

The young man looked away and crossed his arms over his chest. “I wasn’t sure if you’d heard, but Debra was in LA during the recent upheaval. I’ve learned she was killed. I’m sorry…”

Sorensen nodded yet the old man seemed otherwise unfazed. “I see,” was all he said, before he changed his mind and added: “And so, why else did you feel you might fit in here?”

The young man shrugged.

“Who sent you?” Sorensen asked, his newly menacing tone of voice suddenly full of suspicion.

“No one.”

“And I suppose you’d like to see more of the underground facilities? Or now that you have delivered your news perhaps you’d rather just leave?”

“If that’s all I wanted I could have simply sent you an email.”

“I haven’t seen you since you were very young, but now for some reason you have contacted me, so I hope you will pardon my obvious suspicions.”

“Only prudent, given what you’re doing here.”

“Indeed,” Sorensen sneered. “Tell me, please, but just what exactly do you think we are doing here?”

“Preparing for the end of civilization.”

For a moment it looked as though Sorensen was stifling an outburst of laughter, but he bit his lip and shook his head before he turned away. “That’s good,” he sighed. “But you are so wrong. We are not preparing for anything, you see.”

The young man seemed suspicious of this dodge, and apparently Sorensen could see the skepticism on his face.

“We are not preparing for the end of anything, you idiot! We are causing the downfall of civilization,” Sorensen growled, “and we have been for the past forty years!”

“Causing…? But why?”

Sorensen looked away, not sure if he wanted to proceed. He took a deep breath and came to a decision, then turned to face the young man. “Ask yourself this. What is the polar opposite of United We Stand?”

“What do you mean?” the young man replied, but Sorensen was growing aggravated now, and the young man watched as the old man started to tremble and shake.

“I mean,” Sorensen added, “what is the opposite of union, in a political sense?”

“Disunion?” the young man said.

“Yes, of course. As in Divided We Fall. So for the last forty years we have sown division. Where liberal democracies flourished we developed networks that spewed right wing fascist ideologies, and where right wing regimes flourished we broadcast the precepts and benefits of liberal democratic institutions, and one by one we have watched the governments of the earth collapse in disarray…”

The young man seemed startled by the admission. “Why? Why do this?” he asked again.

“You’ve obviously traveled some, and have developed an awareness of the world’s many problems, so tell me, what do you think is the single greatest problem facing humanity?”

“I don’t know…maybe climate change?”

“Okay, but take that one step further. What is the root cause of climate change?”

“People? The energy required to…”

“To what? To feed all those mouths?”

“Not just that…”

“Indeed, not just that. It was bad enough when humanity counted three billion in number, and yet at that point in time the United States barely numbered two hundred million. And think about that, would you? The world was plundered to the point of collapse just to feed the material lusts of not even a quarter million people; now the planet has been overrun with eight billion people and every one of them wants what Americans had in the 1950s. A two story house with a big grass yard and with two Ford pickups in the garage, endless barbecues in the backyard by swimming pools overflowing with crystal clear water…and guess what? Along comes climate change and now we’ve got failing agricultural output colliding with all those hopes and dreams. Yet every politician in the world has lied their way into office by promising that they alone can make all their hopes and dreams come alive!”

“So, you’ve…”

“Yes. So now we’re turning the tables, so to speak. We are stoking the fires of resentment, provoking the inevitable…collapse.”

“Are you saying the war, the thing in Amsterdam, the Russian invasion…”

“Yes, you fool, it was all our doing! You dangle enough money and power in front of any two-bit dictator and they will do exactly as they are told. Or, in this case, as they were led to believe…”

The young man grinned. “That’s fucking outrageous,” he said, chuckling a little as he nodded his head in approval. “So, let me get this straight. You use television networks to destabilize countries one by one…”

“And don’t forget,” Sorensen said with a sardonic smile, “we do this by stoking the fires of old, in-bred resentments. Immigrants are coming to take your jobs, or to eradicate your religion…”

“The wars in central Africa and central Asia?”

“Oh, we were just getting warmed up then, refining our technique.”

“So? What’s next?”

Sorensen grinned. “You do understand that if I answer these questions you will not be permitted to leave this place? Are you sure you wish to proceed?”

“Oh, Ted, if I want to leave this place I will do so, and whenever I choose to do so. But…be that as it may, yes, please, I want to know everything.”

“Are you saying you want to join us?”

“I think you could say that,” the young man said.

“Then you must prove yourself to us.”

“Oh? What did you have in mind?”

Sorensen looked the young man in the eye now as he spoke: “We want you to do something difficult.”

“Difficult? Such as?”

“We want you to kill your father.”

“Really? Is that all?”

“You will do this?”

“Of course,” Lloyd Callahan said. “That won’t be a problem.”

© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…

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