barnacle bill and the night of sighs, part II

Barnacle bill IMAGE

So, into the fire and into the fight we go.


[Genesis \\ Dance on a Volcano]

Barnacle Bill and the Night of Sighs

The Second Part of the Tale

There’s hardly anything better than waking at first light in a marina, and by that I of course mean first light on a sailboat. With coffee in hand you stub a toe at least twice on your way up the companionway to sit in the cockpit, and when you finally manage to sit, after rubbing your bruised and contused toe for a minute, you realize you’ve forgotten to wipe the morning dew from your sopping wet cockpit seats. And just about then your dog comes traipsing up the companionway steps, farting all the way – because this is his way of letting you know that just because you’ve done your morning business he hasn’t, not yet, and he’s ready – now. This means you put your coffee on the cockpit table and find your shoes and his leash then you hop down to the dock and water ski along behind your dog as he pulls you like a horse pulls a plow up to a patch of grass where he can squat and drop.

And by the time you return to your boat and climb back up into the cockpit, you invariably find that your coffee is now either ice old or that a passing seagull has used your favorite mug for dive-bombing practice. So off come the shoes and it’s back down the companionway to the galley, stubbing the same toe along the way, to wash and refill your mug. By the time you finally manage to sit several toes are now bleeding stumps and the last thing on your mind is coffee, yet somehow you manage to sit and enjoy what’s left of the moment. The mongrel who sleeps beside you settles in and sighs contentedly and for a few seconds you remember why you fell for this dream in the first place. Oh well, shit happens. Right?

But wait! That ever-growing to-do list beckons and the first five items absolutely have to be knocked-out today, so it’s down to the shower and then into some clean clothes we go and hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go…up to the car and into the fight…

But Max came with me that morning. It was his day to be washed and dried and to get his hair cut, so we hopped down and had just started up to the parking lot when Barnacle Bill – aka Patrick – came dragging along behind, and one look told me all I needed to know. The man was in pain and he needed help.

“You okay, Pat?” I asked, and this was met with a grimace and the slightest shake of the head you could imagine.

“No,” he hissed through gritted teeth, “I may need a hand this morning.”

And Max’s response was priceless. He sauntered over and leaned into Pat, in effect giving the Old Man something to lean on, and I came up along his free side and offered my arm, and between us we helped him up to my car, an ancient Chevy Blazer almost as old as I was. Max hopped in back and I helped Pat up into the passenger seat, and when he asked me to drive him over to the ER I knew we were in for a long morning.

But the woman I’d seen walking to and from Haiku was there waiting for us, and she took Patrick from me and escorted him inside.

“Thanks,” he said as the two of them walked inside. “So sorry to trouble you.”

And that was that. 

Max and I weren’t even late for his day at the puppy spa, or whatever the hell you call such places. Once Max was inside all his attention went elsewhere, namely to the über cute girl with the clippers who was about to bathe him. Well hell, I’d have been smiling just like he was if that girl was about to give me a bath, but oh no, that’s not for us mere mortals, not these days, anyway. No, item two on the to-do list beckoned so I was off to another marine supply shop, this time in search of a hard plastic placard that had to be prominently posted in every head regarding the discharge of human waste into coastal waters. I shit you not. There’s a placard for every conceivable human activity these days, too. As I’m sure all methane emissions will soon become illegal I have to assume that farting while at sea will become a regulated activity requiring its very own placard, but where on earth will we post them? Over the crock pot in the galley, I have to assume? Before the kidney beans are so carelessly added?

After I picked up an oh-so-gorgeous Max we wound our way over to the gardens for his hours long walk, and he pranced about the park like a Viennese Lipizzaner, high-stepping his way from tree-to-tree, his golden plumage almost iridescent as he went about his business. Testosterone was in the air, too, and sure enough, soon the ladies came calling. Not canine, mind you. Human females. Each one prancing over to Max, their overt displays of affection no match for him, and soon he was rolling all over their feet as they rubbed his belly. And of course these interlopers would go back to their Chihuahuas and Dachshunds, leaving me to pick the grass off his fragrant back.

But when we finally made our way back to the marina, I was surprised to see the woman from the ER waiting for me in the parking lot. It must’ve looked as though I was expecting bad news, as she walked right up to me and said that everything was okay, and that Patrick would only be staying overnight, but he’d wanted her to make sure I knew how much our help that morning had been appreciated.

“So,” I asked, “do you work for Pat?”

“Occasionally, yes.”

“It’s just that I’ve seen you coming and going a few times?”

But she just smiled.

“Do I need to check on the boat while he’s away?”

“It’s not really necessary,” she replied. “Anyway, I think he’ll be discharged by midday tomorrow.”

“He seemed like he was in a good deal of pain. Is he alright?” I asked.

“You know as much as I do, I’m afraid. He doesn’t tell me about these things.”

“I’m sorry, but could I at least know your name?”

“Ah, sorry. Yes, I’m Carolyn. And you’re…the Spud?”

“Neal Harrington,” I said, trying to break the ice.

But no such luck. “Nice to meet you,” she said, taking my hand. Then: “Well, perhaps we’ll see you tomorrow,” she said as she turned and walked back to her car.

Funny, but what I remember most about Carolyn was her hands. They were like ice, her skin cold and almost hard, like she lived in air conditioning and the temperature was set very low indeed. And as she’d failed to lavish either attention or praise on Max, he wasn’t exactly sorry to see her go. Yet what was funny, but no, odd would be a much better word to use here, was my immediate reaction to her leaving. I realized it had been months since I’d touched another human being. Even the times I could remember shaking someone’s hand seemed like a far distant memory, like something from another era, because maybe it was. Once the virus hit, all that stuff seemed to be one of the first casualties of this new war, and yet now that mask mandates and social distancing had been consigned to some vast collective unconscious I was beginning to realize that we’d all gotten a little too used to a new kind of distancing. We weren’t coming together to celebrate surviving a pandemic; no, here in America we were shooting one another in record numbers. And even in the moribund old world people were going around killing each other like it was some new form of sport. 

The net result of all this was a sudden and instant realization that I had grown far too used to a profound lack of human touch in my life, and that I really didn’t like the feeling. I was in my fifties now, though just barely, but I still ran five miles three times a week and still had the same waist size I’d had in college. I had most of my hair, too. And while no one would mistake me for Robert Redford, women had told me I wasn’t ugly. 

And I had another problem, a fairly big one. Recruiters.

Someone at Delta Airlines had found out I had retired and had more than eight thousand hours of flight time. I’d received a letter from them while still in Santa Barbara, and I’d even read through it once, scoffing at the starting salary they’d quoted, and I never replied or answered the calls that followed. Now, even though I’d only been in Seattle a month, I’d received another letter from them, and the salary quoted was nothing to laugh at or about. Pilot shortage was mentioned more than once for their change of position, and in just a few months I could living the dream and getting paid real money, too.

And I wondered. Was that what had happened to dad? Had someone dangled enough money in front of him to make it impossible to follow his dreams? Because isn’t that what always happens?

But I actually didn’t need the money. Sure, working for a few more years would just be, literally more money in the bank, but what else could happen during those “few more years?” Get sick? How about a car accident? Either could certainly ruin your rainy day and all those dreams would get flushed down the very same storm drain that had swallowed my father’s dreams.

There comes a point where you have to decide what kind of importance you attach to your dreams. Were your dreams ever worth anything in the first place, or were they really, really important to your conception of yourself? Were your dreams worth living right now, or were they worth so little that they could be pushed aside with ease – for what? For a few more years? Ten? Even more?

As far as I could tell, my father had spent the last few years of his non-working life on his knees tending tulips and nurturing blue hasta plants. His lawn had been the stuff of every gardener’s dreams, until drought and water restrictions brought all that to a screeching halt. Then he’d bought a recliner and parked it in front of a 65 inch screen and watched other peoples’ dreams until Alzheimer’s came calling, and all those dreams faded right alongside all his dwindling horizons. What would I be like in ten years? Ready to cross the Pacific? Was I willing to put up or shut up, to get back in the saddle again and go to work for 12 more years, or cast off my lines and head south tomorrow? 

Funny, too, how odd moments come together in our lives. I think of synergy when I manage to think about such things. The synergy of souls.

Max was sitting there beside me in the cockpit later that evening and he put his muzzle on my thigh again, just as he had countless times over the last year or so, and he sighed contentedly while I rubbed his head and I could feel all the cares of our world slip away from us both.

And if I gave up this life, this dream, I’d have been throwing all these precious moments right out into a rubbish heap of broken promises, not to mention that all our broken dreams reside in the very same landfill. I’d be gone days at a time, and who would take care of Max while I was away? More to the point, what kind of life would Max enjoy if I was home two nights a week? Would it even be worth it, to put him through that kind of emotional abuse. He’d known no one else for the first two years of his life, and wasn’t abandoning him now no different than abandoning a child? Sure, I’ve heard people respond to that line of reasoning…as in: “get a life, it’s just a goddamn dog…” But when you get to know a pup like I knew Max, you begin to realize just how hollow some people really are, and how mean. Duty is duty, and I’ll make no apologies here – love is love. When you love someone you don’t abandon them, and so yeah, I loved Max and I wasn’t about to put him through that.

So there I was sitting somewhere on the edge of forever wondering what to do while I’d already, when you got right down to it, made up my mind. I was casting off my lines, casting my fate to the wind – or so the song goes – and so it was going to be me and Max, off to see the world, together. 

There’s another funny thought I have about dogs from time to time. Do we choose them, or do they somehow choose us? And don’t answer that one, okay? Just think about it, especially the next time you run across a starving stray somewhere along your beaten path. Just look that soul in the eyes and think about the choices you make.

Running my fingers through his fur, feeling the pure simplicity of love and trust, movement once again caught my eye and I saw the very same snowy white owl land on Tiki’s lower mast spreaders, and it hooted once as our eyes met. Completely unafraid, too. Huge amber eyes, and the only word that came to mind was penetrating. Maybe kinda sorta like he was not simply looking at me; no, he seemed to be staring right inside me, to a place I rarely go and seldom think about. A gray place between night and day, a hidden space halfway between fear and hope. And he was right there, taking a slow walk around my deepest, darkest secrets, taking a casual look – at me.

Looking back on the encounter I feel pretty sure the owl was looking at my hands running through Max’s golden fur, and yet he wasn’t simply watching me, he was looking for the true measure of my feelings. And sure, I get it, it’s easy to say I was projecting, that I was anthropomorphizing out of misplaced emotions brought about by too many years in relative isolation. Sure. Understood. I get it. But, then again, you weren’t there. You weren’t staring into a wild raptor’s eyes. You weren’t feeling exactly what I felt, were you?

And after a minute or so of this the white owl jumped off the spreaders and took wing into the night; he flew off across the black water perhaps a foot or so over the mirror smooth surface – and then he was gone.

Max and I walked down the companionway into the aft cabin and curled up on the bed, and we fell into the deepest sleep as the boat rocked ever so gently, and as little wavelets slapped against the side of the hull the dream began. Gently, like the coming of a sigh…


A medieval castle in snow, then the coming of spring and with it the endless pink blossomings of cherry trees, yet in the distance the same castle. A tree just above, low hanging branches brushing a small, meandering brook. The castle is nestled into the side of a hill, and the castle’s structure is long and low – the antithesis of the European form. The castle’s wings spread out like the roots of a vast tree, and manicured gardens are spread out among the various wings like emeralds cast about carelessly on snow.

And the man in the dream sees a girl, her black hair pulled up tight, and yet her back is to him. 

He knows this is a dream but he’s never experienced anything like it before. He can feel a cool breeze running through his hair, and as he turns into the breeze he is aware of the sea and pines and he thinks that strange. He’d never caught the scent of things in a dream, not once, so why now? He looks around and realizes he is on a sailing ship, not a yacht or a boat but a ship, something like a cargo carrying sailing vessel. He sees cannons and barrels lashed on deck and the ship is sailing purposefully towards the castle just ahead and finally he realizes that he is the only soul onboard and that there is no helmsman and no one tending the trim of the sails and he runs to the bow and looks ahead. The ship is sailing fast and there are rows and rows of amber-rust colored rocks dead ahead and he looks down into the sea and he can see more rocks as the ship closes on the rocky shore under the craggy cliffs just ahead.

And at the top of the cliffs he can still just make out the castle, and the woman standing there, as the ship’s keel begins grinding into the sloping seabed below. She turns to the noise and he sees that she has the face of the white owl, her amber eyes ablaze in orange light as the ship begins disintegrating under his feet…


Barnacle Bill, or Patrick, didn’t return the next day, or even the day after that, but when he did come shuffling out the dock towards Haiku the woman was with him. Carolyn, he remembered, and there was a man with her carrying a bag of clothes and all the ancillary garbage the discharge nurse typically sends home with you from the hospital.

And Patrick seemed at once revived and yet a little more frail than he had been before the episode. His skin tones were healthier, a little more pinkish, a little less waxy, and he seemed a bit more clear-eyed, maybe even more alert than he had that morning. 

And Max was happy to see his friend again, too. Pat was in a wheelchair now, and he had no salmon to give Max, but that didn’t seem to matter in the least. Max came up beside the wheelchair and when Carolyn stopped Max gently jumped up and put his hands on Pat’s and then Max licked his chin and the Old Man smiled – and all was once again right in our little world. A boarding ramp had been put in place and Carolyn pushed his wheelchair out to Haiku and up the gently inclined ramp, and after a few twists and bumps they disappeared down below and Max looked up at me, perhaps a little confused. Pat looked different now, after all, and he wasn’t walking, so Max’s confusion was, I think, only natural. 

I had been programming the VHF radio all morning, and was planning on tackling the Single Sideband radio later that afternoon, but now it was time for our walk so Max was leashed-up and off we went, heading to the doggie park above the marina. Clouds were rolling in off Puget Sound and it was getting cool out, too cool for shirtsleeves and cargo shorts, so I ran with Max through the parking lot past the boat ramp, but today we sprinted out onto the sand, running down the beach and out to the pond at the north end of the park. We were winded so I sat on a log that had drifted ashore and Max roamed around, fresh on a new scent, then he turned and bonded down to the water’s edge and started barking.

He does that from time to time, usually when an orca or a dolphin cruises by, so I scanned the water – looking – but after a moment he came back to me and we walked back to the marina and, after I brushed the sand from our lower legs, we boarded Tiki. I freshened the water in Max’s bowl and I ate a few cherries just in from the eastern slopes of the Cascades, and just when I was about to tear into the Single Sideband I heard a knock on the side of the hull. I left the chart table and went topsides, halfway expecting to find Pat or even Carolyn waiting there, but no, I found nothing. And then I heard the knock again and jumped down to the dock to look at Tiki’s waterline. And again, nothing, not even a random bit of driftwood.

Another mystery, I thought as I returned to the chart table. 

A few hours later, with my days as a radio technician now behind me, I showered and was dressing again when the knocking resumed, this time more urgently. Max sat up and growled, so I knew then that these weren’t simply the imaginary knockings of a delusional mind, and he led the way up the companionway and out onto deck. Once again I hopped down onto the dock and made my circuit around the hull and again I saw nothing, as in not one thing. I did catch a slight swirling in the water aft, under the Zodiac, something like the minor disturbance a fish near the surface might make. And then Max looked over at me and sneezed in consternation, and he tossed in a low growl just for good measure.

So, mystery still unresolved.

Carolyn and her man-friend came down the ramp and walked past us without so much as a word, and I shrugged away the slight as I ducked below for shoes and a leash. After that chore was done I made a salad for us both, though I’m careful to avoid onions on Max’s, and he sneers at my salad dressings, and we ate in the cockpit while the last of the midday clouds dissipated and a vast crimson sunset beyond the Olympics burst into view. I read for a while, until it became too chilly for us both, and as I was gathering my book and blanket we heard a thrashing in the water just aft of the stern and I rushed over just in time to see a sea otter land on the swim platform. The creature looked up at me for a while, and even Max stood transfixed as he eyed the creature, though the hair on the top of his neck was now standing on end, and then the furry thing simply turned away and slid noiselessly into the inky black water.

“Well, Max,” I recall saying, “that’s not something you see every day.”

But he stepped close and then leaned into me, and I’m still not sure who was holding whom up at that point; I think we were both in a mild state of shock…

“Next time he comes,” Barnacle Bill said, his disjointed voice drifting over us from nearby shadows, “have a few slices of salmon ready. He loves his salmon.”

“Don’t we all,” I sighed. “So, you’re up and about?”

“Well, I’m not dead yet.” When I turned I saw he was dressed all in black. Like a running suit, with black sneakers tossed into the mix just for consistency’s sake.

“Going on a mission tonight?” I asked, admiring his choice of clothes – though I wondered where he was hiding his Uzi.

“No, just dinner. You two care to join me?”

Max was all-in. He hopped down to the dock and sat at Pat’s feet, his tail swishing in mad love; his hopes for more fresh salmon apparently knew no bounds, and then Pat rubbed his ears and Max drifted into that place he goes when just the right spot gets the attention it deserves. “Let me grab a few things,” I said as went below for car keys and shoes, and a few minutes later we were sitting on the narrowest of patios overlooking the water at Ray’s Boathouse. Slices of salmon magically appeared as soon as we were seated and so Max was on his best behavior; Pat, on the other hand, produced a pair of binoculars and trained them on a house down closer to Ballard locks. He fiddled with the focus and then put them away when our dinner appeared.

“Know someone down there,” I asked, “or are you just a run-of-the-mill peeping Tom?”

“You could say I know someone, yes,” Pat said as he carved a razor thin slice of salmon for himself – and a two ounce slab for Max. Pat actually managed to take in a few leafy sprigs of arugula and kale, too, before he pushed the plate away. Max eyed the remaining salmon dolefully, until Pat relented and started carving several slices for him, leaving me to shake my head in wonder. He kept a few slices in reserve, however, placing them in a zip-loc baggie and then in a jacket pocket.

“How was your stay in the hospital?” I asked, hoping beyond all reason to get him talking.

“All things considered, it could have been worse.”

“I assume you don’t really want to talk about it?”

“You assume correctly.”

“Humor me.”

Pat looked away, then down at the remains on his plate. “It seems that I am a fine candidate for dialysis, Spud. Yet let me be the first to tell you that I have no intention of subjecting myself to such torture.”

“Isn’t that a fatal course of action, Patrick?”

“So they tell me.”

“I see. Well, Max will certainly miss you.”

“He’s a remarkable fellow, you know? Especially his eyes. He seems to see things I can’t.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“I think he can see into my soul, Spud. But isn’t that silly?”

I shook my head. “No, not at all. I’ve felt that too. More than once, too.”

“Do you think it’s just him? Or are all dogs like this?”

“I’m not altogether sure, but I’d like to think they all can.”

“Terrible if that’s true. So many of them are treated so cruelly.”

“Oh, well,” I sighed, “we tend to treat everything and everyone with casual cruelty, at least when the situation warrants.”

“The situation warrants?”

“When the mood strikes,” I added.

“Ah, yes. We are such noble creatures.”

“We can be.”

“When the situation warrants?” he replied, smiling. “‘Oh, what a piece of work is man?’ Are we as simple as that?”

“‘And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’ Is that what you’re saying?”

“And the pilot quotes Shakespeare!” Barnacle Bill cried. “What have we here?”

“I don’t buy it, Pat. Dialysis can’t be as bad as the big sleep.”

He looked at me cautiously, yet almost sardonically: “And I pray you never have to confront the choice. The two look equally bad to me, at least from where I sit.”

“Are they telling you how long you’ve got? Before your kidneys fail completely?”

“No, of course not. Vague rumblings of a month or two, that’s all.”

“A lot can happen in a month or two, Pat. Can you think of anything you’d like to do?”

“No, not especially, but thanks for the thought. I am enjoying my time with Max, however.”

Our waitress came and despite my protests he picked up the tab, then we moseyed through the restaurant and back out into the night – and then it was as if every bird in Seattle took flight all at once. The air above us was, in an instant, full of birds flying out over the sound, and the hair on the top of Max’s neck stood on end again…

“What the…” I had just started to say when the earth beneath our feet fell out from underfoot and then started sliding sideways, and it all happened so fast that the three of us were quite literally almost suspended in the air above the sidewalk for a split second – and then gravity reasserted itself and we tumbled roughly to the pavement…just as Puget Sound came rushing in, covering us completely. Now, instead of standing up and brushing ourselves off we were treading in water too deep to stand in.

And then the sirens started wailing.

“What the hell is that?” I wondered aloud.

“Tsunami warning,” Pat sighed, just as the restaurant behind us began creaking and moaning as twisting lumber gave way.

“We’ve got to get to the boats!” I said, grabbing a clearly terrified Max and an equally mortified Barnacle Bill and pulling them into shallower water. When I found solid footing I picked up Max and put him around my neck, then I helped Pat climb out of the water. 

And when he was free and standing on a tilted slab of sundered asphalt he turned and looked towards Ballard locks, then to me. “Can you get your Zodiac in the water – fast?”

“My Zodiac? Why?”

“I’ve got to get over there,” he said, pointing to the house he’d been looking at through his binoculars.

And then the earth heaved again, only this time in earnest. We turned to the southeast as a vast rending of the earth unfolded in a sharp series of wrenching, grinding shrieks, this followed by a terrifying blast that once again knocked us off our feet. We couldn’t see the horizon now, just immense reddish-orange plumes of lava arcing into the sky, coming from the general direction of Mt Rainier, and now it appeared as though dozens of houses and businesses in the immediate neighborhood were on fire.

Once again I picked up Max, and after I helped Pat back to his feet we took off through the maze of jumbled asphalt back to the marina. I lowered my Zodiac RIB then my outboard, and after securing it to the little transom and hooking up the fuel line, I pulled the starter lanyard and the Yamaha sputtered to life. I tossed the lines to Pat on the dock and Max jumped in, and I helped Pat step in and sit.

“Where to?” I shouted over the sound of sirens going off all over the city.

“Towards the locks, right before the railway bridge, a house, a grey house, just on the south side…”

And as we spoke all the lights in the area simply went dark.

I twisted the throttle and off we went, and for a split second I could see Rainier. Lava was boiling down her flanks into the forests below and now everywhere we looked we saw two and three story condominium buildings that had been flattened under the concussive hammer blows of the Cascadia subduction zone giving way.

I had a small handheld ICOM radio in pouch near the fuel tank and turned on the WX band, and the warnings now were loud and clear. “Expect a large tsunami within 45 minutes. Seek higher ground now. All air traffic grounded.”

“Can you handle Haiku by yourself?” I asked Patrick as the meaning of the words sunk in.

And he nodded. “As long as I don’t have to set sail, yes.”

“If you’ve got a countdown timer on that watch, set it now.”

“Right. Good idea.”

Then he pointed to an area in the darkness. “Head there,” he said, pointing to a row of houses that lined the entrance channel to Ballard locks. The water level appeared to be six, maybe eight feet higher than normal, and as we drew near it was apparent that some of these homes were now awash, but not the house Patrick was pointing to.

I pulled the Zodiac up onto a small patch of green lawn and then both Patrick and Max jumped out and dashed inside the house. A small house down the hill towards the locks then burst into flames and I guessed that gas lines were venting and sparking off now, finishing the job that nature had just set in motion, but then the entire area was suffused in a garishly bright orange glow.

I saw Carolyn run out of the house, then her friend came out with Patrick, and between them they were helping another woman out of the house. Max sprinted out just before a gas line in the kitchen let go, and in the next instant the house went up in flames. The water level was receding fast now, and I pushed the Zodiac into deeper water to keep her prop clear, then I helped everyone get aboard and seated.

As we motored away, now grossly overloaded, houses started popping off like bursting kernels of popcorn, and the sulfurous odor of rotting eggs floated in the air above Elliot Bay. 

“How much time?” I asked Patrick, and he checked his wrist.

“Call it 20 minutes,” he sighed, because he was doing the same math in his head that I was. Five minutes to the docks, perhaps ten to cast off lines and warm up engines, then the balance to get out into the bay and to get our bows pointed into the tsunami. My only real concern was that the tsunami’s wave might prove too tall, but it would take a mighty wave indeed to take out Haiku.

When we made the docks I didn’t need to tell Patrick what he needed to do; he was, as was I, in the middle of a monumental adrenaline rush, and I think even poor Max was as well, and as Patrick and his group ran for Haiku I secured the Zodiac to the davits then went aboard to start the diesel. About a quarter of the boats in the marina were liveaboards and these were streaming out the breakwaters as fast as their motors would carry them, and after I cast off our lines I slipped the transmission into reverse and began backing out of my slip, trying to keep an eye on all the boats cascading towards the south breakwater while I also looked at Haiku. Her engines were running, lines were being cast off, then her bow-thruster kicked in and her bow began to swing away from the dock…

And I turned on my main VHF and selected the WX channel, and the computer generated voice came through loud and clear once again: “Tsunami imminent, seek shelter on higher ground,” was repeating over and over again. More sirens began wailing and as Haiku and Tiki rounded the breakwater I turned, hoping to see Mount Rainier in all her tortured glory.

But the main axis of her pyroclastic flow had been directed at Renton, and now the southeast horizon was a wall of blackish grey cloud that seemed to be alive with flickering arcs of lightning. The Space Needle was leaning drunkenly, and it must’ve been equipped with emergency generators or batteries as red lights still flashed on her uppermost rooftop, but everywhere else I looked all I could see was a darkened city dotted with spreading islands of fire. Helicopters were in the air, but that was about the only other activity I could see from my vantage point.

Then I heard a chorus of horns, yacht horns and small boat horns playing a shrill symphony of terror and I turned to face the music.

The tsunami must’ve dissipated some of it’s energy on it’s way past Whidbey Island, but now all that spreading energy was meeting the three-mile constriction between Edmonds and Kingston, and the tsunami’s wave was building again – but critically, for us anyway – it wasn’t breaking, yet.

Haiku was ahead and to our left, and I could see Patrick at her helm – steering not by hand but by autopilot inputs – and despite myself I had to laugh. 

As the onrushing wave came at us, it’s speed surreal, everyone out there on the sound pointed their bows directly into the wave, but not Patrick. He was approaching about twenty degrees off axis, correctly, so he could control his ship’s speed on the backside of the wave. Boats behind us began to alter their course as well…

…and then the tsunami was on us…

…and it was then that I saw the woman we had rescued from the house by the locks, and at first I didn’t recognize her. But now I was staring at her from behind, her kimono aglow in the orange light coming from the city burning in our wake…

…she was the woman from my dream. The woman with eyes of amber standing among the trees and the castle, and I followed her up the face of the wave – and then into the unknown on the far side of the night.

(c) adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, plain and simple

[Yes \\ I’ve Seen All Good People]

barnacle bill and the night of sighs

Barnacle bill IMAGE

Taking a break from the Memory Warehouse this week, doing some recreational writing.

[Delius \\ On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring]

Barnacle Bill and the Night of Sighs

The First Part of the Tale

Life on the water comes to some people as naturally as breathing, yet to others, a life afloat comes upon them suddenly, rather like a fish pulled violently from the sea. Some are born into the life, pulled along in the undertow of a parent’s passage through life. Still others happen upon a new way of life – perhaps a chance encounter with the sea at one of life’s critical junctures and a sudden tide turns within.

I think, or perhaps I’d just like to think, that I followed in the wake of my father’s best intentions. He wanted, more than anything else in life, to be a sea captain, to sail a copra schooner between the islands of French Polynesia, running the mail and provisions to scattered European settlements among those far-flung islands. At least he told me as much when we sat in front of the television, watching reruns of an old show called Adventures in Paradise. Yet it was hard to reconcile his life, his life as it really happened, with that other life, a far distant life that came to reside only in his dreams.

After doing hard time at a small college in California, small of course being a relative term when anything in California is discussed, I ‘worked’ in Cherry Point, North Carolina for a while, then in places like Bosnia and Afghanistan, and yes, even Iraq, before finally cashing out and moving back home, to Santa Barbara. I guess I’d had dreams of my own once upon a time, even if they were little more than the distant echoes of my father’s, yet after he passed those dreams took on a peculiar note of urgency. So, a year later, after my mother passed, I had a decision to make: keep their house and inherit all his miseries, or sell out and try to find a new path forward. Perhaps one my Old Man would have taken – under the weight of other circumstances.

Which was how, not quite a year later, I found myself tied up at a slip on Seattle’s north side, wondering why I had just done what I’d done.


Marinas are, of course, full of boats. Some people call these things yachts, but such people are often misinformed, you might even say that they are misguided souls. Yachts are toys that rich people pick up to amuse themselves, while boats are anything but. Boats are expressions of the soul, and as stupid as this may seem, you can look at someone’s boat and tell a lot about their dreams. And aren’t dreams just expressions of the soul?

Stroll the periphery of any marina anywhere in the States and you’ll find a breathtaking cross-section of the people who live here. In slips closer to shore you’ll find small powerboats good for an afternoon on the water, sometimes laying next to small sailboats – the owners of which often dream of fitting out their little boats to cross oceans and explore different shores. I’ll leave it to your imagination to decide who owns which, but it isn’t hard to make out the two types. 

As you walk out the pier you run across larger boats in the fractionally deeper water; larger motorboats designed for fishing and the occasional overnight trip, and these reside next to real blue-water passage-makers, sailboats purpose built to cross vast oceans in relative comfort. The people on these boats have moved beyond the dutiful dreamer stage, too; they have decided to make the leap and are preparing to follow their dreams.

Walk even further out this imaginary pier of the mind and into the really deep water and you might run across a real yacht or two, but out here the old maxim still applies: if you have to ask how much these dreams costs you can’t afford them. Among the yachts out here you’ll also find the playthings of the idle rich, racy looking boats that for all the world remind you of penile implants. These toys change hands regularly, and yacht brokers salivate when these people walk in the door. Yet strange yachts appear out here from time to time, and strange things come to pass where dreams meet the full light of day.

I was tied off in this middle section, and wondering just how the hell I could justify my new, uprooted and disjointed way of life. I had been retired not even two years, and ‘confirmed bachelor’ fit my worldview to a T; I’d never been married and, as I thought bringing one more child into the world nothing less than a grievous felony, you could say that I was more than content to live out the rest of my life alone.

Well, not quite alone.

At the time I lived with Max. Max was then a not quite two year old Golden Retriever, and I think you could safely say that he liked people a good deal more than I did. He trusted people, even strangers, whereas I had never been able to make that leap of faith, and Max positively doted on women. I mean he loved them beyond all reason, and there were times I thought he simply couldn’t get enough of them.

We all have our failings, I guess.

When a new woman appeared on our pier Max would sit bolt upright, his nose pointed into the wind, scanning the walkway that passed in front of our new home. When this new woman appeared his tail would start swishing away, then he would look at me – willing me to get down on all fours and assume the position: nose forward, tail straight out, and to get ready to pounce and retrieve.

But a few minutes later he would slink back into the cockpit and slump down beside me in utter despair. Resting his muzzle on my thigh, he would do his level best to ignore me after that – for at least five minutes, anyway – then all was forgiven and it was time to move on again. And that was why I had chosen to live with Max, and those of his kind, whenever I could. 

But into every marina a little rain must fall, and in our marina this rain took on the form of an eccentric old soul who most referred to as Barnacle Bill. I assume his name might have been William, or even just plain Bill, but that would be an unwarranted assumption. Barnacle Bill appeared to be in his 70s, but given this lifestyle he might have been forty. Or eighty. You just couldn’t tell, even when he spoke – which is to say he spoke gently, if at all, and he sounded British. Not English, mind you, but very British. 

He was white-haired and as thin as a reed, with skinny legs and knobby knees that had been operated on, and he usually walked – with great difficulty, I might add – to and from his yacht in bare feet.

And yes. I did say yacht.

For Barnacle Bill lived on one. A big one. A seriously big fucker, as a matter of fact. Whether he owned the thing or resided somewhere down in the bilge was a matter of some debate around the marina, but one thing was certain. No matter the time of day, be it seven in the morning or coming up on midnight, Barnacle Bill smelled like he’d just finished a bottle of rum. 

Or perhaps it was just his after shave. I never figured that one out.

He wore old khaki shorts and always had on a worn out polo shirt, but his shirts were always white. If the sun was out he had on Wayfarers, and while there was a stainless steel Rolex Submariner on his wrist I never saw him look at the thing. When he walked by in shoes you would invariably see grey felt Stedmann clogs that looked disreputably old, and on those rare occasions when he walked up to a large, white tricycle that had baskets front and rear, he would pedal off to a nearby market in search of fresh vegetables and salmon fresh off the boat.

His yacht, for, as I have said, it was indeed a yacht, was tied off at the end of my pier, and the thing looked like something out of time, a huge thing from a bygone era, and again, I assumed, like we all did, that the yacht couldn’t possibly belong to him. Dark grey hull, varnished mahogany superstructure and acres and acres of teak everywhere else you looked, the yacht also had two hideously tall masts that stood taller than the tallest pines in the nearby forest. The name of the yacht, Haiku, seemed to fit the man perfectly, though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you why.

Every now and then a woman visited, but she rarely remained onboard for more than an hour, and what transpired while she was there was anyone’s guess.

When I bought my boat, which I dutifully named the Tiki IV, the brokerage helped secure my slip in this particular marina, and the location was a good fit for my immediate needs. Though she was new, Tiki IV needed a few odds and ends to let her be handled by me, myself, and I, and it was thought the additions would only take a few weeks to complete. 

And yes, I actually believed that.

But when you’ve been around boats long enough you soon realize that “a few weeks” can mean anywhere from a month to a year, but usually somewhere in between. You need to be, in other words, flexible. Or not ‘time challenged’ – in the current vernacular. You also need to understand that when you are quoted a price for a project, the final cost will be twice what was originally quoted. 

At a minimum. 

If you’re lucky.

Yet that did not appear to be the case where Haiku was concerned. If something wasn’t running ‘just so’ the appropriate tradesmen were mysteriously summoned and their work invariably completed in record time, and the old man in his khaki shorts and white polo shirt would shuffle by in his felt clogs as if all was right in the world. Because in his world things most certainly were. You could count on that.

And then one day there he was. Barnacle Bill, standing beside my cockpit looking up at me. There was an odd twinkle in his eye, and it was the damndest thing I’d ever seen in my life, but then again, so was his smile.


“You’re the pilot, right?” he asked, his eyes smiling.

“That depends,” I replied.

“Oh? On what, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“If you want me to fly down to Mexico to pick up drugs, then fuck off. All other inquiries cheerfully accepted.”

His head bobbed back fractionally, quizzically, then his smile deepened just a tad. “I see,” he said – as his eyes settled on Max. “No, no drugs involved. Does he bite?”

“The dog? Or me?”

“You’re a rather stand-offish prick, aren’t you?”

“That’s the rumor,” I replied. Our eyes were locked-on now, as if we had suddenly engaged in a duel to the death. “Is there something I could do for you?” I added, reluctantly, and certainly not out of an abundance of caution, or even guilt.

“I am going to Chinook’s tomorrow for lunch, and wanted to know if you’d care to join me.”

Not at all knowing what to say, let alone how to say it, of course I smiled and said something polite like “Of course,” but to tell you the truth I can’t remember what I said – because by that point Max had stood and hopped down to the dock. And this Max had never done before. But worse still, Max stood on his legs and stretched his hands out and placed them on the Old Man’s chest. “I’m so sorry,” I said, hopping out of the cockpit and down onto the dock. “Max? What’s gotten into you?”

But the Old Man leaned over, and Max tentatively scented him before he licked his chin.

“Now that’s a good fella,” the Old Man cooed soothingly as he rubbed the sides of Max’s face, and just under the ears where he loved it most. And then he looked up at me and smiled again. “How does eleven-thirty suit you? I like to get there early, before the crowds.”

And I seem to recall saying that would be fine – but really, I just don’t remember. The moment is lost now, gone in the shuffling of dreams.


He came by at exactly eleven-thirty. Very prompt, and quite jolly, too – given the circumstances. Max hopped down and joined us as we walked up to the parking lot and over to a little car hiding under a tan protective cover, and the Old Man unwrapped an ancient Porsche Targa, then he folded the cover and tossed it behind his seat before asking Max to hop in and take a seat.

And here I have to back-up a little. 

Max was usually confined to quarters when I left the boat, but the Old Man assured me it would be fine if Max joined us – yet I had my doubts. Max was just two and hardly what most people would considered trained, and let’s not even mention that he lived to chase seagulls – and females of any breed. Getting him on a leash was usually a two handed chore as that usually meant we were headed up to the Golden Gardens dog park for one of our hours long walks – but not when the Old Man showed up that morning. Max was docile yet smiled all the way to the restaurant’s parking lot, and he walked between us through the restaurant and out to their patio.

And the Old Man had apparently called ahead as there was a plate of thinly sliced salmon ready and waiting on the table. An adorable young thing came by and kissed him on the cheek before she handed me a menu and, I wondered, what other surprises might be lying in wait this morning? He never ordered yet a plate of salmon sashimi appeared out of nowhere, along with a vanishingly small Caesar salad, and whenever Max asked the Old Man slipped him a thick slice of the fatty salmon. 

“So, you flew the EA-6B?” he said at one point, his eyes fixed on mine as he gauged my reaction. “Before you retired?”

“And you know this how?” I asked.

But he shrugged, and I’d like to say he did so playfully but you could never be sure with that guy. Nothing, I soon learned, was ever what it seemed where he was concerned. “Oh, I guess I heard someone talking on the dock,” he finally said.

Which was a meaningless diversion – as I’d never mentioned flying, and hadn’t since my retirement – and I told him exactly that.

And the old bastard had simply shrugged and smiled again, then turned and given Max another slice of salmon. “You were with VMAQ-4, weren’t you? In February of ’13?”

“And you’re beginning to piss me off,” I think I said.

“I was responsible for sending you to Kamchatka. I thought you should know.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I might have said, but by that point I think I actually wanted to kill the bastard.

But he shrugged one more time, then he looked away: “Everyone that moves into the marina, well, I’ve made my share of enemies over the years and you can never be too careful.”

“I see.”

“Do you? Splendid.” He reached out and rubbed Max’s chin, a move that was guaranteed to send him into barrel rolls of bliss, then he looked at me once again. “I was married to a Japanese girl, you see, yet I was British Intelligence. I lived a complicated life.”

“And now here you are, living on a boat in Seattle.”

“Some circumstances are beyond our control.”

“Circumstances? What the hell does that mean…?”

“How is your crab? I hear it’s good here?”

“You’ve never tried it?”

“No. I’m on a rather strict diet. Low carbohydrates, no sugars.”


He nodded. “Vicious stuff, but with effort you can stay one step ahead of the curve.”

“I see. So, Haiku. Are you going out, or just living aboard?”

“I’m not quite sure yet. Time will tell.”

“No dog of your own?” I asked.

And he shook his head. “Seems unfair to me. Some days I can barely walk up to the parking lot, and I think such a life would be cruel for a pup.”

“Go to a shelter. Find an older pup with arthritis.”

“Brilliant idea.”

“My mom volunteered at a shelter in Santa Barbara. Dad insisted, because she kept bringing strays home.”

“So you’ve always had dogs in your life?”

“Within the obvious limitations, yes.”

“Yes, always on the move. He seems a good friend.”

“Max? Oh, he’s the best.”

“Where are you headed?” he asked.

“I think we’ll do the coconut run, but nothing’s set in stone.”


“My dad and I always dreamt of going to Polynesia, sailing the islands.”

“Just you and Max?”


He smiled. “Romantic, even though it’s illegal.”

“What do you mean, illegal?”

“Single-handing by definition means you can’t stand a proper watch, so you’ll not be able to secure insurance for the longer, offshore passages. No insurance means you can’t clear into France, which the islands belong to, of course.”

“I see.”

“Haven’t done your homework yet, I take it?”

“I guess not.”

“Bureaucrats rule the entire world these days, but I guess you know that. I hear there are a few companies that will underwrite single-handers, but their policies are quite expensive and very limited in scope. You’d do far better, I think, to run down to a shelter and pick up a wife. Perhaps one without arthritis?”

He was of course enjoying himself immensely; if eyes could laugh his were rolling on the floor. “Point taken,” I remember muttering – just under my breath.

“Ah, well, just one more thing to add to the list. Funny how our lists grow and grow.” He passed another slab of salmon to Max, then rubbed his chin again. Max was, of course, not taking his eyes off the Old Man now – not even for a second.

“How’s your salad,” I asked.

“Marie makes a special Caesar dressing for me. No sugar means no lemon, and of course I crave lemon now. I could bathe in the stuff and not be happier.”

“So, what’s stopping you?”

“Indeed. That is the question. Fear of death, I think, more than anything else. But that’s hardly original, I suppose.”

“Doesn’t have to be original to hurt…say, I hate to ask, but I don’t know your name.”

“No, you don’t. And technically, I suppose, I don’t know yours.”

I nodded. “And I reckon you want to keep it that way, don’t you?”

Oh, how those eyes laughed.


The next day, more out of curiosity than anything else, Max and I walked out the pier to the Old Man’s yacht. To look it over, you might say. To say the design was austere was an understatement, yet her lines were defiantly elegant. The antithesis of almost all modern sailboats – with their fat sterns and plumb bows, Haiku reminded me of an old J boat from the ‘20s – the 1920s. Low freeboard and gallant overhangs, her decks were teak and her coachroofs were varnished mahogany, and all the deck hardware, every bit of it, was bronze polished to a golden sheen. As Max and I walked along admiring her, I couldn’t help but wonder how much this beast had cost. 

But just then the Old Man appeared, walking out the pier from the parking lot, and he had a small package wrapped in white paper in his hand. Salmon, no doubt. And he didn’t seem the least bit surprised to see us, either.

“And how is Max today,” the Old Man said as he walked up.

And yes, Max stood and licked the Old man’s chin again.

“That’s such a good boy,” he cooed. “Such a good boy.”

“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “He’s usually not like this.”

“Of course he isn’t. But then again, if you walked up to him with two pounds of fresh salmon in hand you might be surprised what he might do.”

“I see your point.”

“So, what brings you out today?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, but I just had to take a look,” I said, my eyes lingering on Haiku’s bow.

“Bruce King drew her; she was built in Spain a few years ago.”

“What? She looks like something straight out of The Great Gatsby…”

“Thanks. I think that was his intent.”

“Again, I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For the intrusion.”

“The intrusion. Oh, my. Do I really seem so forbidding?”

I don’t know why, but in a way our being out there felt like an intrusion on his privacy – and this despite the fact that people were forever walking the docks looking at other sailor’s boats. At times it almost felt like an evening ritual, but there was something about the man and his yacht that seemed to scream out for privacy. Like it was a palpably physical need of his. So of course I apologized again and turned to leave.

But Max wasn’t buying it. He sat at the Old Man’s feet and wouldn’t budge.

And then the rascal just looked at me and smiled. “Is this what you call a Mexican standoff?” he said, his eyes smiling again. 

If it was, perhaps that explained what came next. The Old Man walked back down the pier to Tiki IV – with my sorry-ass turncoat hound at his heels – and then he pointed to Tiki’s cockpit and told Max to sit up there and wait for his treat.

God damn dog!

Because of course Max hopped right up into the cockpit – something he had resolutely refused to do for me – and then he just sat there, grinning while he waited for his next slice of nirvana. And the Old Man opened his carefully wrapped package and picked up a rather large slice of salmon and gently passed it over to Max.

Who looked at me as if asking for my permission.

But then Max took the slice so gently I could scarcely believe he was my dog.

And so the Old Man gave him another slice, and another.

“If you keep this up,” I sighed, “I’ll never be able to afford to feed this dog again.”

“If he keeps this up,” he replied, “I won’t be having my supper tonight.”

We laughed and Max smiled, and when the Old Man saw that smile his resolve seemed to melt away. And so, there went the rest of his supper.

“Let me take you down to the Boathouse,” I said. “I don’t want your death from starvation hanging over my head…”

But he shook his head at my suggestion. “I’m beyond tired. Perhaps another time.”

“Assuming you survive the night, you mean.”

“Yes. Quite so. Now Max, you stay there with – oh, that’s right – I forgot, we’re on a no-name basis, aren’t we?”

“Call me Spud,” I offered.

“Ah, that’s right. That was your handle, wasn’t it? In the squadron, I mean.”

“Yes,” I sighed, still aggravated by the depth of his knowledge.

“And I’m just Pat, to my friends, anyway,” he tossed-in, as a kind of consolation prize. “Now Max, I’ve got to go now, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

And as I watched him walk off, obviously without a care in the world, it struck me that he looked rather sad, and I’d say almost even lonely – but that would have been just a guess on my part. He seemed indecipherable, not merely enigmatic – like an obsidian wall lost in shadow. There was no way to tell what was inside the Old Man, or where the shadows and the black-hearted wall met.

But as we, Max and I, watched him walk out to Haiku we saw the strangest thing.

A great white bird circled overhead and at first I thought it was just another gull, but then the raptor spread it’s wings and slowed before it settled on one of Haiku’s mast’s spreaders, and then I could see that the bird was a large white owl. Rather enigmatic looking, too.

And as the creature settled-in up there on his perch the creature seemed to watch the Old Man for a while, but then it’s amber eyes turned to me, and to Max, and it would be difficult for me even now to describe what I felt in that moment. Whatever it was I felt, I was aware of a deep shiver running up my spine and into that part of the brain that commands you to run.

(c)2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, plain and simple

Hyperion/Agamemnon Chapter 3

Hyperion AGA im1.1

Okay, so on we go with the Ripley Chronicles. Time for some mischief, me thinks.

[Yes \\ That, That Is]

Chapter 3

Yukio Matsushima sat to Ripley’s right, while Ina Balin slouched to his left, and Ripley was a little upset by the arrangement. After one more run-in with Balin, he was beginning to detest the woman, so he’d hoped that Gordon would keep her beyond arm’s length – in case he decided to reach out and strangle the hell-bitch over dinner. That, alas, would not be the case.

Not tonight.

Brennan was seated at the far end of the table, while the remaining five Middies were crowded around the Admiral’s in-port cabin’s massive transparent glass wall – and they were looking at a pinpoint sized Earth and Moon receding behind Agamemnon and her support ships.

Yeoman Joan Carson had come from Hyperion and she rang the ship’s bell at precisely 1805 hours and called the room to order, and then Ripley walked into the cabin and sat. Maintaining .7Gs allowed normal meal service, but it also allowed for deferred shipboard maintenance routines to get underway, as well as the all important showering routine for those coming off watch, like Ripley. He noted that Balin smelled like a goat and scowled.

Carson had a spicy Phanaeng curry ready to go as soon as Ripley took the seat opposite Brennan’s, while the Middies literally dove for their seats and promptly sat at attention. This display of rank and fear, apparently, amused Balin to no end; she sat up in her chair and laughed openly at the Middies as they sat. “Oh, you children!” she said, her eastern European accent pronounced, “you sit so solemnly! We are no longer under acceleration so surely it is a time for smiles, no?”

Yukio smiled. “Yes, just so,” she said to Balin, as always wanting to keep everything calm and harmonious. “It must be difficult working on such a delicate instrument under these conditions?”

“Actually, I find this work easier in zero-G. I can get into and out of the chamber more easily, and I can work more efficiently in the confined space above the reactor shielding. It is under heavy acceleration that my work becomes impossible.”

Yukio smiled and bowed her head slightly, and Ripley studied the crusty old physicist closely while she spoke. What was she doing up here, he wondered. She had to be at least forty years old, ancient in relative terms, at least to the age of the crew onboard Agamemnon, and after reading her dossier she did not possess a single skill that others on her team did not. The obvious answer had to be that she was Mossad – but why would they want her onboard just now, and at this particular time? To learn more details of their mission before Agamemnon left the system? Possible…

Well, perhaps he would learn more this evening.

He turned to Lars Jansen, one of the new Midshipman from Stockholm. “So, what have you been learning this week, Lars?”

“Doppler velocity measurements in phase-sensitive holography, Admiral.”

“And have you made any observations yet?”

“Yes, Admiral,” he said, looking at Brennan. “There are two active sunspot regions on the far side, and one appears to be unusually large.”

Ripley nodded – as he’d already seen the forecasts. “Any possible displacement of our Alderson Point?”

Larsen cleared his throat – then he looked down as if suddenly unsure of himself. Which was exactly what Larsen’s last instructor had mentioned in her evaluation of the young physicist.

“Go ahead, Lars. There are no stupid questions here,” Ripley coaxed. “In fact, I’ve found the most dangerous things happen as a result of unasked questions.”

“I have seen the latest forecast models,” Lars sighed, “and I disagree with it.”

“Oh? Why is that?” 

“Sir, subsurface flows of the measured direct inversion as well as the frequency-wavenumber correlations do not conform to predictions using Fourier domain waveforms. This could occur only under two possible conditions, Admiral. Either the Fourier domain hypothesis is more generally incorrect or there is a super-massive sunspot forming on the far side. As Fourier domain analysis has been used to accurately measure these waveforms and formations for more than a century, this seems unlikely.”

“So, you think a large sunspot is forming?”

“No, Admiral. I said I believe a super massive sunspot is forming. Far-side satellite monitoring went offline two sol days ago, Admiral, so we are currently not receiving monitoring data from the far side.”

Ripley looked at Brennan. She nodded.

“So, Mr. Larsen, have you made any computations about possible Alderson Point displacements?”

“That’s not possible yet, Admiral.”

“Get with Commander Brennan after dinner and we’ll discuss a temporary reassignment to the bridge.”

“Yessir. Thank you, Admiral.”

“Yeoman!” Ripley crowed. “You’ve outdone yourself once again. I am positively sweating in agony!”

“Thank you, sir,” Joan Carson sighed, basking in the glow of his complement.

“A curry that doesn’t make flames shoot out the ears is a waste of time,” he added, winking at Yukio. “Isn’t that right, Commander Brennan?”

Brennan, now red-faced and about to gag, heartily agreed.


Ripley looked over Larsen’s figures and could find no obvious fault in his calculations, but more importantly, neither could Brennan.

“So, this sunspot will take out satellites in Earth orbit?”

“Satellites, yes, but even in LEO,” Larsen added, indicating satellites in a Low Earth Orbit. “Personnel in orbiting stations in low orbit and on the lunar surface will need to relocate to hardened shelters, and all critical electronics protected.”

“How long until this spot rotates into position?”

“Well, here’s the problem,” a pedantic Larsen began grumpily. “A normal CME would need to be aimed directly at Earth to produce this kind of impact, but this sunspot is so large it could be as much as plus or minus fifteen degrees off axis to produce systematic interference. But if a super-large event of this scale is aimed directly at Earth it’s possible surface telecoms will be adversely effected…”

“Mister Larsen, I asked about timeframes?”

“Yessir. Sorry. The sunspot will first rotate into view in one hundred eleven hours, plus or minus two hours.” 

“Louise, any simulations on how this might impact our Alderson Point?”

“Not with any reliability, Admiral. In fact, our safest course of action would be to enter a braking orbit now and shelter behind Venus…”

“We don’t have that kind of fuel, and even if we did the deceleration would be monstrous.”

“We have the fuel, Admiral, if we use atmospheric braking,” Brennan added.

“You want to take a brand new hull through that atmosphere?”

“There’s another option, Admiral,” Yukio sighed quietly after clearing her throat.

“And that is…?”

“We accelerate to 3.8 G and slingshot around the sun, and so stay ahead of the sunspot. We will be in a better position to recalculate the Alderson Point from an up-pole orbit…”

Ripley looked at Brennan who grinned slightly. So, Yukio had come up with the idea and Brennan was allowing the Middie to take credit where credit was due, and he nodded understanding. “Okay Louise, get word to Hyperion and her escorts. The tankers will have to reposition and shelter behind Venus, and we’ll refuel when we come back around. Yukio, start on the calculations for the tankers; Lars, would you get your figures off to Admiral Stanton? Commander Brennan, when you get off COMMs would you lay out our course and let’s plan on acceleration one hour after you finish-up.”

Ripley then pulled up his COMMs screen and called Judy on Hyperion.

“We’ll shoot the numbers to you in a minute, but we have the mother of all sunspots about to come around. We’ll need to shelter behind the sun, and we’ll be going up-pole, orbit north to south for our run. My guess is you’re already too close for that. We should make up some time, catch up to Hyperion as she comes around the west limb, so we can start an Alderson Point survey as we clear, see how many Points have been impacted by this thing.”

“Ellen’s still on the station, Denton? Shouldn’t she go down to Maine?”

“She’s never experienced that kind of gravity, Judy. I’m not sure she could survive…not at her age.”

“Do you think the station is the safest place?”

“The safest place would out in the belt but there’s not enough time for that now,” he sighed.

“Armstrong Base, or what about Lovell, down at the South pole.”

“Lovell would work. That has the deepest living quarters. And the fusion plant there is heavily shielded.”

“Call Gordon,” Judy said, but he could see the concern in her eyes, “and see if he can get her down.”

“No one knows about this yet, so he shouldn’t have any problem.”

He closed the encrypted channel and sent a triple-walled text to Gordon, then turned back to the developing chaos on Agamemnon’s bridge – just as the first acceleration warning came out over the ship-wide intercom: “Attention all personnel, heavy acceleration warning, repeat heavy acceleration warning…”

And then he heard a collective groan throughout his ship. One hundred hours at 3.8Gs was near the limits of human endurance, and even bodily functions had to be handled by catheters and cholestramine, which produced a chemically induced state of total constipation for days on end. Until their next period of zero-G, in fact, every human on board would consume a low-fiber liquid protein diet – which Ripley detested.

And then, right on schedule, Ina Balin called – and her ass was chapped…


They were at the mid-point now, halfway between the Sun’s North and South poles, and just before Agamemnon began slingshotting around the South Pole, Brennan executed a mid-course correction. At two million miles from the solar chromosphere, Agamemnon’s Langston Field was handling the intense radiation with ease, but even so Ripley couldn’t wait to make orbit behind Venus. They’d already burned through half their hydrogen and would arrive at Venus with their tanks almost dry, and he didn’t like being so vulnerable – and for so long.

Especially as there were now vast solar quakes disrupting the Sun’s chromosphere. Coronal loops were arcing ahead and astern, and it was just a matter of time before one came up and hit them. Depending on the loop’s intensity, the Langston Field would consume a tremendous amount of energy to stabilize the ship, but as Agamemnon would be the first ship to actually transit a coronal loop there would be vital measurements to make. And not only that. Brennan was already hard at work on her Alderson Point displacement observations, and this data would need to be transmitted to both Hyperion and Norfolk as soon as they emerged from behind the sun.

Then Agamemnon would make for her refueling tanker in Venusian orbit, while Judy on Hyperion refueled and jumped to Mintaka – and into a possible naval engagement with the Sino-Russian fleet. And, what kind of damage would they find once they emerged from behind the sun? Had Gordon and Stanton sent Ellen to Lovell Base, or had she remained on the station? What kind of damage had Earth sustained? The Moon? Only Musk City on Mars would have been beyond reach of this storm, vindicating once again the visionary’s proactive sense of human frailty and the need for a destiny beyond Earth.

“Admiral,” Brennan said from her couch, “we’re finding negligible Field displacements, and we are in contact with Hyperion now.”

“What? Are our orbits crossing?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Send them our data,” he said as he established a secure link with Judy. “How’re you doing over there?” he asked his wife.

“No issues. You?”

“We’re sending Brennan’s Field displacements now. Have you been able to make any?”

“Yes. Sending now, but we’re picking up indications that this sunspot was not, repeat not generated internally.”


“We’re trying to determine what could have done this, but it at least appears possible that this event was externally generated.”

“You’re talking about a weapon, aren’t you?”

She nodded. “The most plausible scenario would be a ship jumping into solar orbit and deploying a weapon, then jumping out of the system before anyone was the wiser.”

“If they jumped to a point on the far side we’d never know, would we?”

“That’s the point,” Judy sighed. “This has The Company written all over it. Only thing I don’t like is why do it now.”

“Because they know we’re out here. That has to be it.”

“So they’re trying to delay our jump to Mintaka.”

Ripley nodded. “That means they’ll be attacking soon. Maybe too soon.”

“Concur,” she added. “We’re going to 4.2Gs now.”

“Okay. We’ll match velocities and try to meet up with Hyperion between Mercury and Venus.”

He rang off and gave the order, then he called Lars on the intercom. “What kind of weapon could have generated this sunspot, Mr Larsen?”

“A weapon, Admiral?”

“Hyperion is collecting evidence that indicates a weapon generated this bastard. Get on it. I’ll see to it you get their data, but let your imagination run free. If this was produced by a weapon…?”

“Aye, sir. Understood.”

Ripley switched to the bridge command net: “Commander, increase to 4.2 Gs as soon as possible.”

Acceleration warnings sounded throughout the ship, and this time even Ripley groaned.

(c) 2023 adrian leverkuhn | abw | this is a work of fiction

Hyperion/Agamemnon Chapter 2

Hyperion AGA im1.1

So sorry for not posting in a while. Too busy with the ‘Cop Story’ – which means I’ve been too wrapped-up in my stroll through the Memory Warehouse. Writing is amazing in one key regard, especially writing from experience: the experience is, I think, rather similar to a self-administered psychoanalytic session. First there is the memory, often right there ready to jump out onto the page, but more often than not it is hidden away beneath layers of time and all of the inherent distortions such a layering presents. Then there is the ordering. How to squeeze memories into a narrative arc that makes some kind of coherent sense. Some memories are so intense they reside in nightmares, and so they are more than ready to find their way from brain through fingers to the screen. Some of these intense memories bring up equally intense feelings, and these have to be dealt with, too. At any rate, the tale is up to 780 pages now and about two-thirds complete (depending on font and sizing, this equates to about 300 book-length pages). I do want to wrap up this book by early summer, as I am beginning to feel a strong need to visit the sea.

[The World Spins So Slow \\ The Stewart-Gaskin Band]

So, off we go, back to the Prometheus-Covenant-Hyperion arc, so let’s resume Denton Ripley’s tale.

Chapter 2

Ripley watched live feeds from all over Agamemnon; presentlyhe monitored the main reactor control panels from his seat on the bridge, and this was on the main screen visible from every position on the bridge. He also watched the small contingent of Marines exercising on the hangar deck, agronomists in hydroponics tending their crops, and even the recycling plant turning todays excrement into tomorrow’s bioplast and yeast steaks – and with the flip of a switch he could literally zoom in on any shipboard activity, and as this was technically a warship there were no privacy rights to contend with. Still, Ripley saw no point violating spaces where privacy was the expected norm.

But right now he was looking at factory technicians still hard at work calibrating the new X-ray Maser. Agamemnon was the first ship not just in the Navy but the first ship period to be so armed, and this unit had been, technically speaking, the prototype. As the weapon had proven to be so devastating during its initial trial, and yet appeared to be so robust and reliable, it had been boxed up and launched on shuttles directly from the Haifa Spaceport – even as Agamemnon was hastily redesigned to accommodate the weapon. As a result of this redesign, she ship now had five fusion reactors, not the four originally specified; the fifth, smaller reactor alone powered the Maser, though its output could be channeled into the ship’s main drive if the situation warranted. And now, ever since he’d boarded and his command status transferred to the new ship, all he’d done was study the Maser – and it’s daunting power requirements.

Because fighting this ship meant one thing, and one thing only: getting the Maser online and lining up the shot. And there was, quite literally, no defense against this weapon. Its beam blew through Langston Fields like tissue paper, while ships without a Field were cut apart within milliseconds. In theory, the Maser’s beam had unlimited range too, but no one had dared test that theory yet.

But…why? Why had Agamemnon been equipped with this devilish thing?

To impress the Tall Whites, as they were being called now? Kind of a ‘Don’t fuck with us because we have this kind of technology’ statement. But again, why? Especially as the need at Orion was more pressing?

So, Stanton thought the biggest threat was waiting at Alpha Geminorum Ca-4, at this supposed university run by the Tall Whites. 

And he found he reluctantly agreed with that reasoning. The Russians were two generations behind both our Navy and the Chinese PLA-Space Force, and while their ships had both the Alderson Drive and Langston Field they were first-gen affairs that wouldn’t fare well against a modernized fleet, or even the modest contingent of Japanese ships at Mintaka-4. Either the QE2 or the de Gaulle would be able to handily deal with the Russians, hence Moscow’s hastily resurrected alliance with Beijing.

But Stanton’s thinking went further to the most obvious question of all: what had the Japanese found on Mintaka-4? Why were the Russians and Chinese so willing to break the peace?

Something obviously valuable enough to set this conflict in motion. But what?

‘We have all the mineral’s we need now, and all in-system. We have a practically unlimited supply of hydrogen in the Jovian satellite system, and we haven’t even begun to tap the vast supplies around Saturn. Everywhere we’ve been we’ve found minerals and hydrogen in vast quantities, so it can’t be that…’

But why hadn’t Stanton briefed him in? He was an admiral now, after all.

But he was a one-star, a rear admiral, and so not steeped in the rarefied air of a fleet admiral. He didn’t brief the President or members of Congress, and they certainly didn’t brief him. He was still just a cog in the war machine, a weapon to be expended, so whatever else he thought he might be, he was most definitely still very expendable.

He switched feeds and looked at the ship’s new Midshipmen, the Middies, in their acceleration couches, and they were all looking around excitedly, taking in their unfamiliar surroundings as the ship settled into her new routine all around them. He cut the audio here as he had no need to listen; teenagers were teenagers when all was said and done, no matter where home was. Five new Middies, as well as Yukio Matsushima, the lone holdover from Hyperion were with them now. Yukio had deferred her entrance to Annapolis until Thomas Standing Bull entered; they were, she said, soulmates. And who the hell was he to argue with her about that?

Ripley had tasked Agamemnon’s Executive Officer, Commander Louise Brennan, with taking Yukio underwing this trip, to in-effect start Yukio’s trial by fire in the fine art of astronavigation, and perhaps even give the girl some stick time on their way out to Mercury, before Agamemnon made her first official jump. The kid was bright enough, or so Brennan had told him on more than one occasion, and now was the time to put that to the test. The rest of the Middies would spend their days, when not in the classroom, rotating between engineering and damage control on this first outbound leg, but the next two weeks would see them in the classroom working on stellar classification and introductory helioseismology, and perhaps even some interactive asteroseismology, studying the resonant modes and frequencies of the more typical stellar formations they’d encounter on this trip, and how these shock waves interacted with an Alderson Point.

And one of his official duties entailed hosting the Middies for a formal dinner once a week, part of the whole ‘officer and a gentleman’ thing that the Royal Navy had been doing since, well, well before Nelson. That meant at least once a week, during one of the ship’s few two hour-long periods without acceleration, the Middies would get into their dress uniforms and congregate in the Admiral’s in-port cabin – for real food – with no yeasty bioplast steaks in sight.

Sensors soon started picking up Hyperion’s ion trail, so he asked Brennan to power up the 36-inch Schmidt Camera and sight along the vector. And sure enough, there they were: Hyperion and her escorts bound for Venus – but at the hideous rate of acceleration of 3.4Gs – enough force to fracture cervical vertebrae if someone was stupid enough to raise a head off their acceleration couch.

“X-O, what’s their range?”

“Eighty-thousand kilometers and steadily increasing, Admiral.”

“Any unauthorized traffic out there?”

“No, sir, and no Field signatures.”

“What’s the sun look like?”

Brennan changed cameras, first to a Hydrogen-Alpha, then to a Calcium channel filter. “One active sun spot visible, two shockwaves currently in the chromosphere. We’ll have a visible transit of Mercury in 97 minutes.”

His intercom screen flashed and he answered; it was one of the Israeli technicians and she looked angry. “Yes?” Ripley said to the scowling, red-faced woman.

“Captain, I was given to understand we would maintain a constant 1G acceleration! How do you expect us to work under these conditions?”

“First, my rank is not captain, and Ma’am, we’ll be under heavy acceleration until we are well beyond all the traffic in near-earth and lunar orbit. I suggest you take a sleep period now; when you get up we should be under 1G and well on our way to the first tanker rendezvous.”

“Very well,” the tech said – and then the screen went dark.

“Pleasant character, that one,” he said under his breath.

“That was Dr Ina Balin, Admiral. She has a reputation for confrontation, Admiral,” his Gordon said from the couch beside his own.

“Anything else I need to know about her?”

“Bright, well-educated, very opinionated and, from the communication intercepts I’ve noted, her colleagues couldn’t wait for her to get up here.”

“So I suppose they’d like her to stay?” Ripley said.

“That might be an understatement, Admiral.”

“Well, someone woke up on the sunny side of the morning. You seem happy today, Gordon. What’s the occasion?”

“The sunny side of the morning, Admiral?”

“It means you woke up feeling happy.”

“Ah. I was unaware of the reference, sir, but yes, I am happy.”

“Happy? Really?”

“Yes, Admiral. This is the purpose for which I was manufactured, so I am, in effect, fulfilling my purpose. That should make one happy, should it not?”

Ripley smiled. “That’s certainly a big part of the recipe, Gordon. I meant to ask earlier, but do we have any David’s onboard?”

“No, Admiral. There are two Walters in Medical, and five in engineering. We do have a new Jordan unit onboard, Admiral.”

“A Jordan unit? Well, this is the first I’ve heard of him.”

“He is a she, Admiral, and she is the second in a new series. She has been assigned to Medical, and emergency genetic and nano-medicine is her specialty.”

Ripley sighed. “Well, see to it that she comes to our first dinner – with the Middies, along with the Israeli dragon-woman.”

“Very well, Admiral. Tomorrow, as previously scheduled?”

“Unless something comes up, yes.” Ripley’s COMMs panel chimed, indicating an incoming high priority link from Stanton was waiting in his queue. He clicked the COMMs button under his right index finger, and he shrugged away the effort to move even one finger under this acceleration, and the screen went active. Stanton was looking into a holographic 3-D star chart of the region around Orion’s Belt, and even on his small screen Ripley could see that something was amiss.

“Ah, there you are,” Stanton said, the delay between transmission and reception currently less than five seconds. “We’re getting reports of unusual stellar activity near the Mintaka Group, possibly a stellar ignition. We’ve passed along a full sit-rep to Hyperion, but an incoming scout ship just relayed a more detailed data packet and you should pass that along to your astronomers as soon as you can. We have no reports concerning the Japanese response to this development, but the scout ship reports that both the Russian and Chinese assault groups are still in the Mintaka Group, so our assumption is that they still intend some kind of intervention. Stanton out.”

The screen went dark and Ripley sent the packet to Brennan, and he marked it ‘Eyes Only’ for now, at least until she could review the information and note her opinion. Mintaka was, like Castor, or the Alpha Geminorum system, a multiple star formation; the “star” Mintaka was in fact comprised of several stars, though when viewed from Earth in the 18th century the formation had appeared to be a single star. But Mintaka was also located within a region of dense interstellar ‘dust’ – and this dust was actually hydrogen, helium, and the other stellar building blocks. Much of the area around Orion’s Belt was considered a ‘stellar nursery’ – a region where the ingredients necessary for spontaneous stellar formation existed in just the right quantities. So, what Stanton appeared to be concerned about was the possible formation of a new star within the existing Mintaka system – and how that might impact the Sino-Russian fleet gathering to attack the Japanese colony on Mintaka-4.

“Brennan?” Ripley asked. “Did you receive the packet from admiralty?”

“Just coming in now.”

“COMMs, get me a text link with Hyperion Actual.”

“Aye, sir.” It took two minutes for the lasered signal to reach Hyperion, a few minutes to track down Judy, then two minutes to get an acknowledgement, and only then did Ripley send a query via an encrypted channel. 

“Let me know what you make of Stanton’s data as soon as you’ve looked it over,” Denton wrote, then he punched send. Five minutes later he received her acknowledgement so he signed off and then literally closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Then he heard acceleration warnings and opened his eyes. He’d slept for six hours…

“All stations, all stations, ship’s drive will cut-off in thirty seconds and remain off for sixty minutes. Repeat, sixty minutes free movement begins in twenty seconds. Ten seconds. Ship’s drive off.”

Ripley unfastened his harness and drifted free of the acceleration couch, and he found handholds on the overhead and pulled himself along to the central fore-aft corridor – which everyone had taken to calling Main Street – and he pushed off and sailed aft to the little hallway that led to his in-flight cabin. He stripped out of his overalls and into the shower, pushed the ‘Wash’ button and closed his eyes as first a soap then a surfactant blasted his skin for 30 seconds, this followed by a 30 second rinse with recycled water, and finally a minute under high pressure air to dry his skin, then it was out to put on a cotton-lycra skinsuit and grip socks.

Next, he looked at the central time display over his desk: 52 minutes until acceleration resumed.

His yeoman came in with hot tea and his usual scrambled eggs and bacon, all synthetics from the protoplast plant, then as he finished eating he noted he now had 40 minutes so off he went to the weapons bay. Dr Ina Balin, the Israeli dragon lady, was literally inside a chamber within the main body of the Maser, inspecting the magnetic coils that would modulate and focus the X-ray beam, so he turned to one of her assistants.

“Progress report?” Ripley asked.

“Final calibrations underway now, Admiral. She should be ready for a test fire after about ten more hours of calibrations.”

“I thought this unit had already been test-fired? What’s the hold up?”

“Each coil focuses independently, Captain,” Balin said as she crawled out of the chamber, “so the lens associated with each coil had to be recalibrated after transport up from the desert. They were all out of alignment.”

“Crap,” Ripley muttered. “Just how robust will this thing be under actual combat conditions?”

Balin shrugged. “The unit was designed to absorb 10G shockwaves, so more than the human body can take. Once the lenses and mirrors are aligned…”

“I read the manual, Doctor. I need to know how stable the unit will be under actual combat conditions.”

“That’s unknown, Captain.”

Ripley shook his head, not sure why this woman was continuing to insult him. “Well, I hope you don’t mind leaving someone onboard who can handle recalibrating the unit under less than ideal circumstances, Ma’am.”

“Please refer to me by my title, Captain.”

“I will if you will.”


Ripley pointed at the star on his collar. “Admiral, not Captain.”

“Ah, so sorry. Well, I am the only person capable of handling a complete recalibration of the lens chamber. With your staff observing for the next few weeks, they might be capable of assisting me. Under those conditions perhaps most of my staff could return to Haifa?”

“You do understand we are leaving the system?”

“No, we have not been briefed on your mission, Captain.”

“Well, you have three weeks to wrap up your work, period. This weapon will be operational by the time we reach Mercury, or there will be hell to pay. Ma’am.” He spun around and pulled himself up Main Street to the bridge, noting 11 minutes left on the countdown timer as he passed a clock in the officer’s mess. “Gordon!” he shouted as he came onto the bridge and settled into his couch.

“Yes, Admiral?”

“I need a hot chocolate. And make it strong, please.”

“Already loaded, Admiral.”

“Not in the dispenser. I need my mug.”

“Very well, sir.”

“Goddamn woman,” Ripley growled as he looked at a live feed from the weapon’s bay. “She’s deliberately provoking me!”

“She has that reputation, sir,” his Gordon said. “Her personality profile suggests a profound insecurity emanating from childhood anxieties. She should be handled with care, Admiral.”

“Send me her psych file, would you please? And I need the tech specs on that focusing mechanism.”

“Working, Admiral.”

“And while you’re at it, get someone you trust down there to start learning the calibration sequence. I don’t trust that woman.”

“Someone I trust, Admiral?”

“Yes, Gordon. Am I wrong in assuming you have the best interests of this ship and her crew in mind at all times?”

“No, Admiral. That is a correct assessment.”

“Well then, what I’m saying is that I trust you to make the best decision under our current conditions. You’ve been aboard since this ship’s keep was laid, so you should know the crew better than anyone else onboard. Correct?”

“Yes, Admiral, but I did not expect this level of trust,” Gordon said as he handed Ripley his mug of cocoa.

“If I can’t trust you, Gordon, you don’t belong on this ship. Understood?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Now, who do you recommend?”

“Myself, Admiral.”

Ripley hesitated, but he relented and nodded in agreement. “Make it so, Gordon.”

“Aye, sir. And I’ll send someone to assist you when I am away from my post, Admiral.”

“Thank you.”

The acceleration alarm sounded: “All personnel, repeat all personnel, 120 seconds to acceleration. Repeat, all personnel to acceleration stations in 110 seconds.”

Ripley heard scrambling all over the ship as everyone from the lowest rating to the ship’s officers dove for their acceleration couches and secured their harnesses – but Ripley saw that Balin was ignoring the alarm, that her weightless body was still hovering over the Maser’s main mirror chamber.

“Secure the weapon’s bay,” the X-O said over the intercom, then Brennan turned and looked at Ripley, shrugging ambivalently. “What do I do, Admiral?”

“Bring us up to 1G and hold us there for a minute, then resume 2.4. My Gordon will get her.”

Brennan brought the reactors online and the drive flared – and Balin sailed from the open chamber to the aft bulkhead, slamming into the foam padding there – and Ripley cut the audio feed just in time. His Gordon entered the picture and helped the screaming woman to her couch and managed to get her buckled-in, then he returned to the bridge and sat next to Ripley. When Brennan saw that Gordon was secure she brought the drives up to forty percent and watched the reactors stabilize at their new setting, and Ripley watched Balin cursing and shooting the finger at the camera – then he cut the feed and smiled.

“Remarkable woman,” Gordon said, perhaps a little too cautiously.

“Stupid, for someone rumored to be so bright,” Ripley replied.

“Are you sure you want her to join the Middies for dinner?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss that for the world,” Ripley said, smirking at the thought…

(c) 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction 

[Seven Psalms \\ Paul Simon]