Come Alive (34.1)

come alive magma art-1.2

I’ll ask ahead for a little charity in case you run across too many typos; my eyesight is well and truly compromised right now and getting a paragraph down is often a perplexing challenge. Hopefully what is making it to the page makes some sort of sense, but I make no guarantees.

Just in case you follow along with the music, here’s a little to help chart these difficult waters. And if that doesn’t float your boat, try this one. Yes, yes, I know…long live discordant chromaticism…

Chapter 34

Taggart couldn’t sleep that night. Rupert was simply in too much distress and with the door to his anxiety closet now thrown wide open, Henry lay awake wondering when the same symptoms would come calling for him. Blues and Greens were coming and going at all hours now – ‘whatever the hell makes for an hour around this goddam ship!’ he thought as he turned away from Rupert’s sloughing skin and thrashing misery once again.

But at one point, just when about a half dozen Greens were leaning over Rupert and all of them looking quite concerned, the outcome appeared to be in some doubt. Tapes were wrapped around first Rupert’s wrists, then around his own, but while Henry seemed to improve a little, Rupert appeared to be out of control, caught up inside a very ugly terminal spiral.

Then Pinky arrived. With a companion Henry had never seen before.

Maybe a bit over a meter tall, this smooth skinned creature was riding in some kind of hover-chair as it came into their room, and when Pinky took this visitor straight to Rupert’s bed Henry tried not to stare at this newcomer.

Skinny was an understatement, Henry thought, but its hideously misshapen head was gigantic beyond words, its almond shaped eyes bulging from an otherwise featureless face. And while it was obvious Pinky was communicating with the being, they must’ve been doing so telepathically because the little newcomer remained silent and, indeed, almost motionless.

Then the little guy stood – with great effort – and used a syringe of some sort to draw blood from a vein in Rupert’s neck. When the syringe was full, the little guy injected the blood into a portable analyzer pf some sort, then he sat back in his hover-chair – again, with great effort – while the machine did it’s thing.

And that was when Pinky turned and came to Henry’s bedside.

“Who’s that?” Henry asked – nonchalantly.

Pinky shrugged. “If it has a name I am unaware what it might be, let alone how to pronounce it. His group has been studying humans for about seventy years, and it was decided we should ask them to help us understand what has happened to Rupert – and you.”

“What has happened? What does that mean?”

“This chain of events was not foreseen, Henry. Rupert should not be so ill.”

“Will I? Get so sick, I mean?”

Pinky nodded. “Yes, your team feels this is now inevitable.”

“Will I…die? Is Rupert going to die?”

Pinky turned and looked at Rupert, then at the other creature, before turning back to Henry. “Rupert is very near death, Henry. You will be too, perhaps within hours.”

“I thought you said this was a slow moving mutation…”

“It was.”

“You know…I’m not so sure I like the way that sounds.”

“Neither do I, Henry.”

“What does it mean? Regarding the existing infective mutation on earth?”

Pinky shook her head. “Unknown, but no other cases have been discovered yet, so this new pathogen may well be contained to you and Rupert.”

“Gee. Lucky us.”

“I do not understand your sarcasm, Henry. Truly.”

“Oh? Well, take my word for it, Pinky – it’s an acquired taste.”

“Acquired? A pun?”

Henry smiled. “A double entendre, I think you might say, mon chéri.”

“What is it with you and France?”

“My mother was French.”

“Oh? You’ve never told me about her, and I’ve always wondered why…”

Henry shrugged. 

“You are hiding something, aren’t you, Henry?”

“What would be the point of that, my love? You know what I’m going to think long before I do.”

But then Pinky turned to the Greens standing beside Rupert’s bed – they were clustered around the small white creature’s blood analyzer talking excitedly about the results amongst themselves before one of them came to her.

“We need this protein,” the Green said, holding up the display. “Do you recognize it?”

Pinky nodded. “Yes, of course,” she said to the geneticist before she turned back to Henry.

Only now she smiled warily before she spoke: “Henry? Do you feel like taking a little trip?”

+++++

Dina cut away the clothing around Tracy’s left shoulder and quickly found the first bullet wound, a through and through wound in the muscle just above her left clavicle, and as she’d lost a fair amount of blood already Dina pronounced the need to get her to the nearest hospital “in a fucking hurry!”

And that was all Mike needed to hear. He swooped down and picked Tracy up, then carried her right up the companionway steps, Anton and Dina following close behind…until Dina stopped in mid-stride and looked at Edith.

“Will you look after my grandson? We shouldn’t be gone long…”

“Of course I will,” Edith replied, smiling through her pain. “And thank you for looking after my daughter.”

Dina turned and followed Anton and Mike out to the taxi stand, and Edith turned her attentions to the boy and his new pup…

…only now there was something very strange going on between the two…

…Rolf had been staring into the pups eyes from time to time, but now she thought it seemed as if the boy was almost imprisoned deep within the pup’s gaze…

“Rolf?” she asked. But the boy did not respond; he didn’t even blink an eye. “Rolf? Can you hear me?”

Again, no response – so she reached out to break contact, to take the pup away –

Yet as she reached across the distance the pup turned and looked at her, and then she felt her hands fall to her side and an overwhelming sleepiness come over her…and she thought she saw the dog smiling as she drifted away…

+++++

Henry was seated in a hover-chair, waiting on a platform that vaguely resembled what he thought he might find at a railway station in the U.K. or France, only there were no tracks, at least none he could discern. Pinky and Blue were flanking him, a Green was handling the controls of his chair, and when he looked around he noticed – for the first time – that this ship was a kind of city and that one helluva a lot of people lived here. There were dozens of Them standing on both sides of the platform – Blues and Greens and a sprinkling of Reds, too – but not one other Pink, and he might have wondered why if not for the fact that everyone on the platform was staring right now, at – him.

Indeed, he felt a little like a bug under a magnifying glass. Very small, and definitely very fragile. And even though Pinky was there with him they hadn’t really known one another all that long, and being separated from Collins left him feeling suddenly more than a little naked and very alone.

But of course Pinky felt that and quietly she reached out to him. It was a feeling somewhat like comfort, he thought. Maybe the way an infant feels when picked up by its mother. A warm embrace, the certainty of belonging in just these arms, and he turned and looked into her eyes.

“How do you do that?” he asked as he stared into her pinkish-amber eyes.

“I feel your need, Henry,” she said as she spread her wings a little. “I don’t want you to be afraid.”

“Do you fly?” he asked, his eyes drawn to the spreading feathers of her outer wings. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do it, you know?”

“Someday I will take you flying, Henry Taggart,” Pinky said rather matter of factly, yet his Blue quickly turned and stared at her for a moment – like he had been more than a little surprised by her words, and while Henry wasn’t sure he thought he felt wonder coming from within the creature.

“I’d like that,” he replied, and her smile made him feel alive, like within her easy countenance  – out here among the stars – he’d found a precious, secret place all his own. Then he felt an electric hum and he turned his attention to the ‘railway’ – and he could see something in the distance that just had to be a train of some sort – then all the varied dozens waiting on the platform stood back a little and seconds later a glass tube hissed to a stop in the station.

And then everyone simply stepped through the glass and found vacant seats, the Green maneuvering his chair, finding a place to park him before stepping aside to let Pinky –

– then a Blue sitting close to him saw Pinky and immediately stood and gave his seat to her, then he turned and walked away – leaving Henry to mull over Rupert’s thoughts about castes and hierarchies within this civilization…

…then their ‘train’ started moving…

But there was no discernible change he could feel, other than he could see they were moving now… They were in the lead car and he noticed there wasn’t an engineer or any kind of operator up front, only what looked like an infinite stretch of tracks disappearing in the farmland just ahead.

“How long is this ship?” he asked no one in particular, and his Blue must have thought Henry had been speaking to him so he leaned over.

“The ship?” his Blue asked in rough, heavily mangled English. “Do you mean how long in time, or as a measure of distance?”

“Distance,” Henry replied.

“About 1500 of your kilometers, I believe.”

“Shit…” Henry muttered.

“Excuse me, but are you saying you need to defecate now?”

“No. Sorry.”

“But is shit not a word for excrement?”

“It is, true enough, but it is also used to express emotions like wonder and anger.”

“Really? How odd.”

“You got that right. Say, you have a name?”

Pinky leaned over and spoke to his Blue, who nodded and smiled. “You may call me Bob, if that pleases you.”

“Works for me, Bob. By the way, my name is Henry,” Taggart said, holding out his right hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Is it?” Bob asked. “Why?”

But Pinky ‘said’ something to Bob and he quickly held out his hand, now almost apologetically. “Yes, nice to meet you, as well,” Bob said, in suddenly pristine English.

“Good. So, 1500 kilometers, you said.”

“Yes, and approximately half of the circumference is made of a translucent material that lets in sunlight…”

“I noticed that, but as I have no way of telling time…”

Bob looked at Pinky, who just barely nodded. “Well, you see, our day is roughly thirty hours, so we felt it might upset your sense of time passing. We have your time keeping devices in storage, by the way.”

Henry smiled. “So, how fast does this train travel?”

“Train?” Bob asked.

“This…conveyance. At what speed are we moving?”

Bob shrugged, and as Henry watched his wings lurch he tried not to laugh. “I do not know.”

“Where are we going now?”

But Pinky broke in at this point. “We are going back to Earth,” she said. “We must find your friend.”

“My friend? Who’d you have in mind, Pinky?”

“You will know, but we must hurry.”

+++++

Mike came down the companionway first, leading Tracy by her uninjured arm, and he was struck by the odd pose Dina and the boy had assumed. Rigid, staring dead ahead, and with the little pup returning their intent gaze – yet almost as soon as Mike gained the cabin the pup seemed to release them, and both came to as if coming out of a light sleep.

Yet a roast goose was now on the table, dressed out with stuffing and adorned with sprigs of dried thyme. Anton’s borscht was in a covered bowl, waiting for his special ceremony, while almost all of their Christmas presents remained under the tree, just waiting to be enjoyed – but when Edith saw everything out on the table she almost fainted.

“What’s wrong?” Dina said, coming down right behind Tracy.

“I don’t know who put all this food out,” Edith cried, “but it sure wasn’t us!”

“Mom?” Tracy said, “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that goddam dog put us out like a light and that someone else was down here, putting all this food out, getting everything ready for…”

“Borscht smell good,” Anton said, his deep voice grumbling with appreciative hunger. “What that in bowl? Round things?”

“Brussel sprouts,” Mike moaned before adding. “I hate those things.”

Tracy, still under the effects of a sedative, slipped onto the settee and slid over next to her mother, who now seemed quite put upon that someone had set the table – and done so quite meticulously – while she and Rolf had been out.

“Are you sure someone was down here?” Mike said as he started looking around for signs things had been disturbed.

“How the hell should I know?” Edith hissed. “Something like flipped a switch and I was – we were – out! How long have you all been gone, anyway?”

“About four hours,” Mike said, moving aside so Anton could help Tracy aft to Henry’s old cabin, yet no one said a word when he did, not even Rolf. Tracy had been Henry’s last girlfriend, so she could lay claim to the space – if she so wanted. Yet right now she too was simply out of it…

But a few minutes later Anton and Tracy came back to the salon and he helped her sit at the table while Mike started carving the goose, and even Tracy had to admit whoever had put this meal together had done so with real care to observe all the proprieties. Besides the goose – and Anton’s borscht – there was stuffing and a large bowl of buttery Brussels sprouts covered in what looked like walnuts and cherries, and there was a large oval dish loaded with portobellos stuffed with crabmeat drizzled with Hollandaise…a real sailors Christmas feast…then Rolf noticed an envelope under his plate, and he carefully pulled it free and began to look it over. 

And everyone else around the table looked at him as he opened the envelope.

He read through the letter, then apparently had to reread the letter again – before he looked around the table.

“Well?” Dina said.

“It’s from Henry,” Rolf began. “He wanted, he wants me to read something to you after we finish eating.”

“Nonsense!” Edith barked. “Read it to us now!”

But Rolf simply folded the letter and put it back into the envelope before he asked Anton to fix him a bowl of borscht, and the old aviator smiled at that.

“This special borscht,” Anton said as he started filling bowls. “In church, um, in orthodox church believe that soul of person leaves this, um, place, in steam from bowl soup, and us get last chance to farewell, um, to say farewell as steam rises to heaven. So important to wave, to fan steam over face, to over your faces, as says goodbye.”

And everyone did – except, of course, Edith. She scowled when she received her soup, then she took her spoon and stirred the heavy broth before she took a bite. Predictably, she wrinkled her nose and pushed the bowl away, then she leaned back and looked up at the ceiling.

“It is very good, Anton,” Dina said. “Classic ingredients, perfectly prepared,” she added, and Anton smiled graciously.

“Thanks you, Dina, and thanks to Genry for new life he make, for all help. He special so many way. No word expresses empty feeling now.”

Mike began preparing plates and passing them around the table, and while everyone ate they did so in silence, and it was as though everyone was eating with one eye cast to the onrushing wall of a dark summer’s thunderstorm. 

Edith, however, stared at her daughter with growing malice in her lingering eyes.

+++++

Even Henry could make out the landscape below. Coming in from the northwest, high over the west coast of Vancouver Island, then arcing across to Sidney as Pinky’s ship zeroed in on Friday Harbor…

“Can anyone see us?” Henry asked – and Pinky shrugged. “So, where are we headed?”

“To where you first met your friend, the orca.”

“The…what? That whale?”

“Yes. That whale. You are joined now, after that night. He will be waiting for you.”

‘And you’re out of your fucking mind,’ Taggart wanted to say, but by now he was getting to the point where he knew it was better to just sit back and enjoy the show, to let the world unwind the way the world was going to unwind – because he was – finally – beginning to realize there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.

“You don’t say,” Henry decided to say, and that caused Pinky to turn and look at him again.

“I am not sure I understand that expression. I did say, yet you say I did not say.”

Henry pulled at an earlobe and scrunched his nose as he tried not to laugh. “Kind of an old saying, not sure where it comes from, but it means something like ‘Okay, I understand.’”

“Ah. You never fail to amaze me, Henry.”

“Yeah? Well, I love you too.”

“Like that. Why do you say something like that when you know and I know it simply is not true.  You do not love me. Correct?”

“No, that is incorrect. As a matter of fact, I do love you, and quite a lot, actually.”

This seemed to shake up Bob quite a lot, too, because he cast a quick sidelong glance Pinky’s way before settling in for a long stare at Taggart.

“Why do you say such a thing?” Pinky stated, clearly not amused.

“Because love is a feeling, Pinky, and when I’m with you this is what I feel.”

Bob turned away, appeared to try to solve a few quadratic equations in his head.

“Then I do not understand love,” Pinky said.

“Neither do I,” Henry added, “but I know it when I feel it.”

“Is love like…”

“It’s like friendship, Pinky, but stronger. It’s like caring for another person, and wanting to be with them – always.”

“You think of me as a person?”

“Uh, well, I’m not sure what else I could think, Pinky. Sometimes I’m a little in awe of you, but by and large I just think of you as a friend, but a friend I really enjoy being with.”

She turned and looked at him, her head canted to the right a little.

Bob closed his eyes, hoping she did not plan on vaporizing this impertinent human.

“Clearly I do not understand you, Henry Taggart,” she sighed.

But Henry just shrugged and grinned at her. “That’s okay. Hang around me long enough and you’ll catch on.”

“Catch on?”

“Learn. To understand.”

“Ah.”

“Ah, indeed. Say, isn’t this North Bay?”

“Yes. This is where you met your friend the first time. He is waiting for you here.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I asked him to, and he said he would.”

“No shit…?”

“Are you feeling constipated, Henry?”

“Chronically. But I’ll work it out.”

“Work it out?”

“Yes, like any good mathematician, I’ll work it out with a pencil.”

Bob went bug-eyed and slithered from the cockpit.

“Ah,” Pinky said. “This is a joke, correct?”

“Correct.”

“So…when you say you love me, this too is a joke?”

“Incorrect.”

She turned to the Red piloting the ship and rattled off something telepathically as the ship settled over the water. “There are a few airplanes in the area. We must hurry.”

“Okay…what’s the plan…?”

+++++

Rolf finished reading Henry’s letter to the people gathered around the table – his Christmas letter, as he called it – and Edith was the first to bust out in tears, holding onto her bandaged ribcage as she started to cry. Dina looked down at her hands crossed on her lap, then looked at Mike Lacy. She wasn’t exactly sure what she felt about the Navy captain, but there were times she had feared him and that bothered her, yet she also saw something else in him. Something that attracted her, and Henry had known that, he had seen it developing somewhere, somehow, and he addressed a part of his letter to her – and to Mike – challenging them to explore the possibilities. To Anton, Henry simply expressed that he regretted not knowing the Russian for longer than he had, and that he had felt real friendship for the aviator. 

Rolf’s part of the letter remained a private mystery, though when he finished reading Henry’s “public” musings he stood and handed out envelopes to everyone around the table. Edith tore hers open a found a single one dollar bill inside; Anton quietly opened his and found a check for two point five million dollars. Mike opened his and smiled a little, then pocketed the check. Dina and Tracy found seven figure amounts in their envelopes, but by that point Rolf had started handing out wrapped Christmas presents.

Edith’s one present contained a key and directions to a safety deposit box in Newport Beach; she slipped these into a pocket and smiled a little, lest she give away her mounting disappointment. Anton opened his first present and Tracy looked on knowingly; the Bulgari chronograph left him speechless and almost in tears. Mike opened a similar box and found an Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch” inside – and he did burst out in tears. Dina and Tracy opened theirs and found modest Rolex Submariners inside, and Rolf opened a box and found one for himself as well.

Then came the “gag” presents – a parade of inside jokes that Henry had hoped might break the ice a little, maybe get his friends smiling again, and he was by-and-large spot on. At least until Rolf handed Edith one last envelope.

This contained a one-way ticket that evening back to Los Angeles, and both Mike and Anton were given explicit directions to get her to the airport and to personally put her on the flight. As the only way to do so was for Mike and Anton to board the aircraft with her, they each had round trip tickets on the same flight.

Completely demoralized, Edith went to her cabin in the forepeak and began packing her suitcase; a very subdued Tracy wasn’t sure what to think of her mother’s performance that afternoon – beyond seeing her mother as seriously damaged goods – at least as far as her past with Henry was concerned. Yet she had seen anew the corroded decisions of her mother’s teen years as recounted by Henry, and as she’d had no reason to doubt his veracity she believed his version of events. The portrait Henry had revealed over the past six weeks was not flattering, so much so that by the time her mother appeared on the scene Tracy wanted very little to do with her.

Mike and Anton knew Edith not in the least, yet their take on her was grounded in Henry’s explicit directions to them. If Henry didn’t trust her, neither would they. And Edith’s narcissism  simply didn’t stand a chance when put up against Anton’s and Mike’s resolute desire to meet Henry’s expectations. Maybe the checks in their pockets demanded no less, but in truth both felt nothing more or less than a real need to be true to their friend.

With a brand new Louis Vuitton suitcase in hand, Edith was escorted off Time Bandits; she hysterically demanded that Tracy come with her once again, and – once again – Tracy brushed aside her mother’s histrionics and simply bade her farewell. There really wasn’t anything left to say to her now, as her course was set now. Henry had reset all their courses that day, she realized, and now the greatest unknown imaginable lay ahead, if they had but the courage the moment required.

She knew Rolf well enough to know what he would do now, and even Anton. But Dina and this unknown Navy captain? What would they do?

There was real danger along the route Henry had charted for them, that much she knew. Her wounded shoulder was a potent enough reminder, she understood all too well right now, but would their resolve stand up to what Henry was asking of them?

She felt Dina’s stare and did her best to ignore her, but at length she turned her gaze and met the other physician’s eyes.

“Last night…where did you go? What happened there?”

But Tracy simply shrugged and shook her head before she spoke. “Whatever happens next, Dina, it has to be your choice.”

The weight of Tracy’s words hit her like a blow to the soul, and she seemed to wither under the weight of those words. “Tell me, if you can – did you see my daughter?”

Tracy did not flinch, nor did she look away. “What does your heart tell you, Dina?”

“That you were with her. That you were with both Eva and my daughter.”

“Then follow your heart,” Tracy said, smiling. “And…Merry Christmas, Dina…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (33.3)

come alive magma art-1.2

Once again, I have to apologize for the time between posts; life has simply intervened once again. And with that in mind, today we jump back to Henry’s story for a brief glimpse of the way ahead, so the music for the day is a little different – a little too discordant, a little too dreamy, but perhaps the perfect soundscape to get lost inside as possibilities dawn.

Chapter 33.3

The being that Henry Taggart called Pinky walked out of the ship’s genetics facility and began the long trek back to the ship’s central command facility. This involved a fifteen minute walk to what might have passed for a railway station – in Taggart’s worldview, anyway – then her walk was followed by a half hour ride – in something similar to a train – to the far regions of the ship. She was worried now. Too many variables were being introduced, and outcomes were no longer certain.

She looked out the window by her seat, lost inside the moment. When she’d first come to earth only a handful of scientists had joined her. These new beings were of a type, she had realized initially, that needed little study. Self destructive and violent beyond reason, she had caught sight of another side of them and wanted to know more. They were at times somewhat reflective, prone to introspective bouts of self analysis, and some of them had begun reaching out. She couldn’t allow them to pass into oblivion without first coming to understand what had gone wrong with them.

Their first ship had been almost tiny, but it had been large enough to allow her team to explore the earth. When her superiors realized what was happening on this “Earth” – when the true dimensions of the problem came into sharp relief – a succession of larger ships had been dispatched until, finally, this ship and her immense crew had been detailed to assist the academic teams already at work on the surface.

Arthur C Clarke just about had the design of this ship dead to rights when he penned the Rama series of novels…at least that’s what Henry had said to Rupert Collins after their first journey out to L3 together. The ship had looked, on that first approach, like a huge cylinder, but Henry’d had no way to wrap his head around the true scale of the structure’s size, not even after they docked their Boeing built ARV at one of the dedicated ports.

They’d made their final approach to an area indicated on the ship’s main display, to one of the ‘flat’ ends of the cylinder – and only then did Taggart begin to realize how big this thing really was, and how fast it was rotating. There were 36 docking ports arrayed around the axis of rotation, and Henry had correctly assumed the structure was rotating to provide gravity – yet the entire docking structure, as well as the port indicated on his central display, wasn’t rotating – at all!

Rupert had looked at the display, then at the docking port, before nodding appreciatively. “No need to match rotation, or rotation speed, for that matter. Clever…but I’ll bet it was a bitch to get the engineering right.”

“Rupert? You got any idea how big this thing is?”

Collins had leaned forward, trying to see any two sides at once, and when he realized he simply couldn’t he began to feel a little queasy. “I don’t know, Henry. I can’t make out anything but an endless expanse of white steel down there, almost as far as I can see. I got no frame of reference…” 

“There’s the docking facility, Rupert. It’s tiny. Yet there’s room for 36 ships, ships the size of this thing…”

“But…this thing’s bigger than the Nimitz,” Collins muttered. “Hell, Henry, the end of that tin can could be fifty, maybe even sixty miles across…”

“Which makes the cylinder…?”

“Call it five hundred miles long, maybe more. Sweet mother of Jesus, Taggart! I wonder how long this thing has been parked out here?”

“Rupert…we ain’t in Kansas anymore, are we?”

“I reckon you got that one right, Henry Taggart.”

“Well, Hell, Rupert…there’s a first time for everything.”

+++++

After Dina finished taping Edith’s ribcage, she helped get her blouse back on and they walked up to the salon.

“I so sorry,” Anton said to Edith as she gasped her way onto the settee. 

Yet Edith just smiled. “Accidents do happen, Anton. It wasn’t your fault, so don’t think anymore about it.”

She was, he knew, letting him off easy, and a part of him wondered why. Still, he returned her smile and noted a new warmth in her eyes, a feeling he’d never noticed before. Was that for me, he asked the cold, dark place that remained of this oddly hollow Christmas morning. “I put on borscht now,” he resumed – now more cheerfully than he felt, moving warily back to the galley, returning to the certainty of his beets and onions and cabbage. 

Edith sat beside Rolf – and his new friend – and she marveled at how much like the other Clyde this new, very little pup looked – then she noticed Dina staring at the dog, too. ‘Now that’s an odd kind of faraway look,’ Edith thought as she looked at Dina. And was that curiosity she saw – or was her curiosity mixed with a good measure of fear? She’d noted the same skittish eyes outside of the chapel in Honfleur while they’d been standing in the falling snow – and now she couldn’t help wondering just what this woman had experienced with Henry over the summer, and why she appeared to be so upset by the arrival of this cute little pup. The pup was now sitting quietly on her grandson’s lap…gently licking the boy’s chin while staring up into the boy’s eyes…just like that was the most natural thing in the world for a little pup to do. But, she wondered, was this just any pup?

+++++

Their second trip out to L3 wasn’t as pleasant.

Both Collins and Taggart were beginning to feel the effects of the heavy radiation exposure they’d experienced on their flight from eastern Siberia in the Tunguska craft, and even though they’d only been back at the base in Washington for a few hours, they both felt impossibly ill – a heavy, prickly feeling – like his internal thermostat had been dialed up to ‘High.’ Then Pinky had appeared and completely popped their bubble…

A Blue and a Green were assigned to each of them, and a whole team of Reds in special suits manned the stricken ship and took it away – leaving several four star types fuming as they watched their new plaything disappear someplace beyond the far side of the sky. 

Henry had never seen one of their ships before, perhaps because he’d assumed all their ship’s would be just like the Boeing ARV he was used to flying…but the ship they were carried into was several times larger than anything he’d seen so far. And of course this new ship hovered just inches over the base’s runway, and made not the slightest sound doing so, but for some reason that didn’t surprise him, not in the least.

Just before moving into the main part of the ship, the Blue with Taggart helped him into some sort of decontamination chamber, then, after he dried himself off, the Green with him helped him onto a floating gurney…which was then inserted into something that looked a little like a hyperbaric chamber. Henry’s ears popped after the chamber was sealed, and then his eyes began to water like mad, but after he wiped them dry had noticed the Blue and the Green were still with him inside the chamber.

The Blue looked down at him and smiled. “We’re equalizing certain gases now so you may handle our internal atmosphere better,” the Blue said pleasantly, trying to help Henry feel somewhat less ill-at-ease.

“Pinky said something about radiation – from that ship?” Henry said, suddenly feeling unbelievably sick to his stomach, but then the Green leaned over and slipped a mask over Henry’s mouth and nose; after a few gasps of an unknown mixture of gases a deep feeling of ease settled over him, just before sleep came.

When he woke up sometime later the sticky, prickly-heat feeling was gone, and he was in a large room – with Rupert Collins in some sort of bed next to his – and Henry was struck by how terrestrial the room looked, right down to the huge Sony flat panel television on the wall.

Collins was deep into The Godfather, Part I, entranced as Michael Corleone sat at that small restaurant table with Captain McCluskey and Virgil Sollozzo, in a sort of stasis of his own as streetcars and subways rumbled by while he waited for just the right moment to shoot his family’s mortal enemies in the face…and Henry couldn’t help but question the how or the why this film had ended up playing on a television here, of all places. Was it a local favorite, he wondered, smiling at the thought? If so, what a perfect presentation of the human species at work – and at play! No wonder they were bugging out…! Collins turned away a few minutes later, when Sonny got himself obliterated at the toll booth, and the ensuing conversation was one Henry never forgot.

“They all look alike, ya know?” Rupert said.

“Who? Gangsters?”

“No. Them.”

“Them?”

“Yeah. It doesn’t matter if they’re a Pink or a Blue or whatever, their physical features are almost identical. The only differences I can see are to the coloring of their feathers, and their eye color. That’s it, Henry, but think of the implications.”

“Such as?”

“Well, for one thing they’re functionally differentiated by color, as best as I can tell, by color, and by color alone. Think about it, will you? It would be like if we decreed that all Blacks would be railway porters and only Whites could be doctors. See what I mean? No freedom of choice, so…no freedom.”

“I seem to recall we tried that once…”

“Yeah, exactly,” Collins sighed, “but if you think about it doesn’t that kind of make us more advanced?”

Henry smiled. “I guess it depends on your criteria for success, or how you define a good life.”

Collins frowned. “I don’t think so, Henry. The Blues are deferential to the Pinks, but the Greens defer to Blues. Reds seem to be on the lowest rung, or Hell, maybe the highest, because they always get the impossible jobs…”

“How have you figured all this stuff out, Rupert?”

“Well, for one thing you’ve been out for a long time…”

“What? How long?”

“No idea, Shipmate. No clock, no watch, and the ship’s rotation has got to be a helluva lot faster than earth’s so that ain’t no help at all.”

“You been out of bed? They let you walk around?”

“No way, man. I got out of the sack and tried to stand and it felt like I weighed about a ton and a half. Gravity must be higher here; it’s that or we’re sicker than shit.”

“That would explain those zero-G gurneys, wouldn’t it?” Henry said. “Have you asked anyone about some kind of caste system, anything like that?”

“Yeah. Asked my Blue. He told me to ask Pinky, who I haven’t seen since we were on the ground at the base in Washington.”

“She hasn’t been by? That’s surprising.”

“I wonder…is it, really? Pinks are the Empaths so they probably have a hard time keeping things from people like us, but Henry…if that’s the case and she’s avoiding us then they are definitely keeping some very important stuff from us.”

“How’d you get so paranoid, Rupert?”

Collins laughed at that – as he turned back to The Godfather. “Forty years, Henry. Forty years of going toe to toe with those goddamn Russians.”

Henry nodded as he looked at Michael Corleone and Apollonia Vitelli walking along a rocky path, the way ahead anything but clear, then he wondered if Pinky had ever seen Dr. Strangelove.

+++++

Dina was taking cinnamon rolls from the oven when she felt the boat rock just a little, but she recognized the motion. “Someone just came aboard,” she said to Anton as she looked at the companionway.

“Da. I feel too.” He stood and went to the steps and slid the hatch back, letting a blast of cold air into the boat as he did, then he smiled. “Captain Mike! Merry Christmas! Come down, soon we have borscht!”

“Is that what stinks?” Mike Lacy said as he started down the companionway. “Sheesh, you can smell that shit all the way out on the street…”

But then his eyes went to Rolf, and to the new pup sitting on the boy’s lap – and right then he knew. He just knew. When he turned to Dina she met his gaze defiantly, and he met the protective embrace of her barely perceptible shake of the head with a nod of his own. And he couldn’t help it. He turned away, away to hide his tears, away to plead for more time to get his emotions back in check. Away – to help the boy meet the needs of the day.

But first he turned to Dina, and he handed her a little pale blue box, accented by a single white ribbon. 

It was, she saw, from Tiffany’s, and she looked at Lacy for a moment before she took the gift, yet she did so with the grace of a gentle smile. She opened the box and found a sterling book mark fashioned rather like a totem pole, replete, she saw, with prancing orcas…and the design took her breath away. She held the piece to her heart and her eyes filled as she nodded her thanks to ‘Captain Mike,’ then she went to him and held on tight as gales of loss battered her again and again.

They had shared so many sleepless nights worrying about Taggart. Maybe it wasn’t enough, but he had developed feelings for Dina and he wanted her to know.

Then Lacy turned to Rolf. “So, I see someone brought you a pup?”

“Yes,” Rolf said, grinning, “it is Clyde again.”

Mike smiled, then he nodded. “Perfect,” he managed to say before he turned away again. 

Dina saved the day by handing him a plate loaded with cinnamon rolls. “Could you put those on the table please, Mike?”

“Sure, yeah. Did you just make these?”

She nodded, her eyes twinkling.

“Well then,” he sighed through a deep smile, “this is the best Christmas ever!”

She smiled and slid across the settee to sit next to her grandson, and Mike slid in next to Dina. “Where’s Tracy?” he asked.

Dina looked at Edith, wondered how she’d handle this – until Anton broke the ice: “She gone, but back soon.”

“What?” Edith cried. “Why didn’t you tell me, Anton! I’ve been worried sick!”

“She tell me no, Edith. Hope you forgive.”

“Where is she?” Edith asked, clearly now very agitated.

“I don’t know name of place, sorry. But she safe. No worry now, Edith. Tracy, she safe.”

And as if right on cue, the boat rocked as someone stepped on board, but a moment later Tracy came down the companionway steps – almost at a run…

Edith seemed to fall into a trance, almost in shock, as she looked at her daughter…

…who was wearing camouflaged BDUs and carrying a Glock pistol…

And when Tracy saw that everyone down here was safe she turned and pointed the Glock up the companionway – waiting for something, or someone, to come…

Then Anton noticed Tracy was bleeding – from at least one gunshot wound – and he was about to say something when he saw Tracy grow unsteady on her feet, and he stepped forward to catch her just as she began to stumble to the floor.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

The Eighty-eighth Key (60.1)

88th key cover image

So, today marks a shift in the narrative arc. While Come Alive is not yet at an end, developments in both stories will start to come to light here, as we approach the 88th key. And a short snippet today, perhaps just enough for half a cup of cardamom tea.

So, ready for some music? Well, I am if you are, so let us begin again.

Chapter 60.1

Elizabeth Bullitt walked across Harvard Yard to the T Station, to the main entry just across from the Coop. She hopped on the Red Line towards Mass Gen, but got off at MIT; there she walked to the Physics Department in Maclaurin 4 and found the office she wanted, then she looked at her wristwatch and sighed. She stepped inside and found a few students already there, waiting – she assumed – for faculty office hours to begin, so she found an empty chair in the small anteroom and sat.

Almost two hours later the last legitimate student walked out of Dr. Deborah Eisenstadt’s office; when she heard the professor call out “Next!” she stood and walked inside, then stood before a completely disheveled desk, waiting to be acknowledged. 

The woman sitting there was tiny and seemed almost owl-like, with hot, inquisitive eyes magnified by eyeglasses as thick as a Coke bottle’s under a shock of unruly chestnut colored hair. Her lab coat was coated in chalk dust and her stockings were bunched in wrinkle lines around her ankles. The poor woman was, Liz could readily see, a total dweeb – and had no idea.

“You aren’t in my seminar,” the owl said. “Who are you, and what do you want?”

“My name is Elizabeth, and I’m an undergrad at Harvard studying music theory, and I wanted to speak with you about harmonics and quantum wave theory.”

The owl’s eyes blinked rapidly now. “Oh? And tell me, just how do such things apply to music theory?”

“They don’t, at least not directly.”

The owl shrugged. “Okay?”

“I’m more interested in harmonically induced states that might enable, well, ones ability to perceive time differently.”

The owl smiled dismissively. “Indeed. How so?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you.”

“Well, such a thing is not possible…unless of course you are talking about the sort of metabolic dyschronia that accompanies drinking too much alcohol too quickly. As you go to Harvard, I am sure you are more than qualified to discuss such states of mind…”

Liz smiled back as dismissively. “Well, what if that’s not exactly the case. I mean, what if you could literally slip back in time, as an observer only, and that you could passively observe events in the past.”

“Again, not possible. If, and I mean if such travel was possible we could only journey to the future.”

Liz nodded. “Okay…but what if I told you that you could slip back in time, and do so with almost no expenditure of energy?”

“Then I would say you are wasting my time. You might also try reaching out to the psychiatric counseling available to you through your student health services…”

“Would you like me to show you how?”

The owl’s eyes began blinking rapidly again, but now she uttered not a word.

“All I need is a piano,” Liz added. “I can prove it to you.”

Eisenstadt stood and took off her lab coat, revealing an ancient cardigan coated with even more layers of chalk dust. “Come with me,” the Nobel Laureate in Physics sighed, as she took off for the Security office.

“I’d rather you not take me to the security guard, if you don’t mind,” Liz said.

“What makes you think I am doing that?”

“Call it a hunch, Dr. Eisenstadt. Look, I need you to trust me…because I need your help, and so do a couple of friends of mine.”

“Help? What do you mean by help?”

“Trust me, okay? Now, maybe you’d better come with me…”

+++++

The leather cup on Harry’s latest prosthesis chafed against the folds of skin on the stump of his thigh, and after only ten minutes of exercise the pain was so intense he needed to stop and pull the thing off. The technician examined Harry’s skin and made notes, then he and Ida helped Callahan back into bed. She wiped sweat from his forehead and got him a glass of ice water as he cried in frustration.

“What about my piano?” Harry asked her – again – a while later. “Any word from the moving company yet?”

“We have no room for such a thing here, Harry, and until we know how well you will be able to move around it is pointless to consider buying a house just yet.”

“It’s not pointless to me, Ida.”

“It is too soon, Harry,” she said, but she could see the pain in his eyes, almost like the pain of withdrawing from a powerful narcotic, and yet she’d never once considered that music could act like that on the brain.

“Well then, I’d like to return to California, back out to the house at Sea Ranch.”

“But I’ve already told you…”

“I know what you told me, but I’d like to speak to someone from the embassy about my passport. Now, Ida! Today!”

Ida stood, her anger on full display now, and walked out of Harry’s room.

She walked to a locked door, opened the lock to her “secret office” and went inside. She dialed Colonel Goodman’s number from memory.

+++++

They took a taxi to Kirkland House, her dorm, but once there she walked with Professor Eisenstadt to the music building. One of the piano rooms was vacant and they went inside.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Eisenstadt said. “I mean, you really think you can do this?”

“Why don’t you wait and tell me what you think after I show you,” Liz said as she sat at an old Steinway grand. She warmed up playing a few scales, then she turned to Eisenstadt. “Sit here beside me if you like, then I need you to clear your mind, so do whatever you need to do to get that done…”

“What do you recommend?”

“Deep breathing works for me,” Liz replied. “Then I’ll need you to think about someplace in the past you’d like to see. I’ll start playing a random piece of music, and when you’re really concentrating on that place I want you to place a hand on my shoulder – then relax.”

“That’s it? We’re going to think our way back to the past? No DeLorean required? No 88 miles per hour?”

“I’m not sure what does it, professor, but I am pretty sure the music has something to do with what happens next.”

“The music? Is there a certain piece you play?”

“Clear your mind, professor. Clear your mind, then think of a place, a time…while I start to play…”

Liz began a Chopin nocturne – until she felt Eisenstadt’s hand on her shoulder – then she drifted into Schwarzwald’s Fourth, into the critical Third Movement, and inside a shimmering instant they found they were hovering above a desk in a small office, looking down at a man as he worked in fading light on a series of equations…

“Dear God-in-heaven,” Eisenstadt whispered, “is it him? Is that really Einstein?”

“You don’t have to whisper, Professor. He can’t hear us.”

“Get me out of here, immediately!” Eisenstadt cried, so Elizabeth simply stopped playing – and in the next instant they were back inside the music room in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eisenstadt backed away from Liz like she was a leper, blinking wildly now like some kind of trapped animal looking to escape a sudden trap.

“It’s alright,” Liz reassured the woman, “just breathe easy…”

“That was Imogen Schwarzwald, was it not? Her Fourth Piano Concerto?”

“Yes.”

“How did you come to know such an obscure piece of music?”

“My Godfather – is her son.”

“What?!”

“I grew up with him, professor. After my father passed away he taught me how to play, and you could say he shaped and guided me as a musician…”

“My grandfather,” Eisenstadt sighed, now more than mystified, “worked with Imogen when she was teaching in Copenhagen…”

“I know, Professor. And I think it was Schwarzwald who discovered this doorway, when she lived and studied in Denmark.”

Eisenstadt began pacing the small room, her eyes flashing like a semaphore beating out an SOS as she circled the floor in a manic frenzy. “This friend of yours, your godfather? Is it he who is in trouble?”

Elizabeth nodded. 

“Well then, I owe it to my grandfather to help Imogen’s boy. Tell me what has happened…and leave nothing out…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (33.2)

come alive im2 HR57 small

If only because the music leads the way.

Chapter 33.2

Rolf walked down the companionway steps, then he sort of screamed as he jumped back up into the cockpit. “Holy shit!” he cried out as he tried to gain his balance. “Someone has been here while we were away…”

“What?” Anton snarled as he dashed over to the companionway and disappeared below. 

“Ha!” they heard him say a moment later. “Amazing! Dina! Bring boy and come!”

When the rest of the group made it below everyone stood in the salon with their eyes and mouths wide open – because the little space had been turned into an advertisement for all the excesses of a commercialized Christmas. Merry strings of multicolored light were strung about everywhere, and now there were also literally dozens of presents under the little tree that Edith had set up on the salon table. Even the galley looked – and smelled – like a riot of Christmas-gone-wild…

Edith checked the oven and found a goose roasting away, and that took her right back to their Christmas in the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird – where she and Henry had grown so close on another Christmas Day, but then everything seemed to grind to a sudden stop when the sharp, clipped barks of a puppy wiped away every other sound inside the boat.

And then Rolf dashed to the aft cabin, to Henry’s old cabin, and he found an absolutely tiny Golden Retriever puppy bundled up on Henry’s bunk, ready and waiting to face his life ahead with a new best friend. Rolf saw the pup already had a little collar on, and that the pup’s name was, of course, Clyde.

“It little Clyde,” Anton exclaimed as he came up behind the boy, “like clone, maybe…?”

The pup sat up and made eye contact with Rolf and within seconds that first vital connection was made, then the boy picked up the pup and some serious face licking got underway…

“Anton?” he heard Dina call out. “You’d better come up here and see this.” She was back up in the cockpit, and he found her pointing at Henry’s left hand when he arrived – which was now almost frozen to the snow on the cockpit seat.

“What find, Dina?”

“Look at his hand,” she whispered.

“Oh yes, I see…he write something in snow. B-e-w-a-r-e. Beware? What this mean?”

But Dina turned and looked around at the fog, wondering who was out there watching them right now, before she turned back to Anton. “This isn’t right,” she sighed. “Something about this just reeks of being staged – for us, like it wasn’t supposed to happen this way…at least Henry didn’t plan it this way.”

“What happen not right? You know something not say?”

“No, Anton, it’s just a feeling…a hunch…but this is all wrong…I mean, who could do this? Who put out all those presents? Where did that dog come from?”

The aviator nodded, because in the end he understood what Dina was alluding to, and he knew that intuitions such as this often meant the difference between life and death. “What does this word mean, Dina?” he repeated, pointing at Henry’s last thoughts.

“It is a warning, Anton. Henry must’ve seen something, or someone, setting up all these things, and he must have wanted to warn us about them.”

Then Anton turned and looked at Henry for the longest time, yet he sighed just before he leaned over and brushed the writing in the snow away. He looked at Dina and grumbled about not worrying the boy, then without saying a word he walked down below into the warmth of this suddenly very questionable Christmas…

+++++

Anton had gathered all the ingredients to make a ‘memorial borscht’ and after he made it back down to the galley he started cleaning his vegetables and simmering his stock…until Dina came along and began making her breakfast pancakes.

“Need bigger boat,” Anton grumbled as he sliced beets. “Too many arms.”

Dina laughed and leaned her head onto Anton’s shoulder, and while his instinct was to tense up and pull away, he found he simply couldn’t – not today…today of all days. “I’m sorry,” she added, “but when I get depressed I want to cook, and the more people I have around me the more things I need to cook.”

“Me too,” Edith said as she pushed her way through the galley on her way to Henry’s cabin. “Would anyone mind if I start using Henry’s cabin now?” she sighed. “I’m SO crowded up front…!”

Anton turned and looked at Edith, his face turning red as his fury built toward a chain-reaction: “This boat boy’s now. He sleep there with new friend.”

“What?” Edith cried maliciously. “That’s ridiculous! There’s no way Henry Taggart gave this boat to a fifteen year old kid!”

“Yes. Way!” Anton growled. “I witness paper lawyer bring. I call lawyer tomorrow and they come.”

Dina turned to Edith, pure venom in her eyes now. “Don’t you dare spoil this day for Rolf. It will be hard enough as it is, so hold your tongue…”

“Or what, you old shrew,” Edith cackled. “So, you think Henry left all this to you, do you?”

“I have no idea what Henry did,” Dina sighed, “nor do I care.”

“I do,” Anton said, grinning at Edith. “You wait. You see, then go home.”

“Oh, I’ll wait alright,” Edith smiled. “And we’ll see what my lawyer has to say about all this…” she said as she waved her hands airily about, indicating that inside her little world Time Bandits was her property now, and there was not a thing anyone in the universe could do about this one simple fact of life.

Edith started to head aft – but Anton stuck out his arm and blocked her way. “You talk about these things around boy and you go to fish in river. Understand?”

There must’ve been something in his eyes, because after she turned and looked at Anton she apparently decided now was not the time to challenge him, or anyone else, for that matter. She really, she knew, had only one justification to be here, and that was because her daughter had been Henry’s last close friend.

Only – now Tracy was gone. And for how long was now anyones’ guess.

She turned and fled up the companionway steps – and promptly screamed before she started falling back down the stairs. She landed on the cabin sole, pointing at something in the cockpit while she continued to scream, and Anton knew this was no act now. He bounded up the stairs and he too came crashing back down the companionway, with Edith unable to get out of his way. He landed with a thud on top of her, and both cried out in deep pain.

Then Dina slipped up the steps and quietly looked into the cockpit, and though her first instinct was to scream she remained calm…

…with her eyes locked on two aliens. Short, whitish creatures right out of a Spielberg film, down to the huge black, almond shaped eyes – and one of them was drawing blood from a vein in Henry’s neck…

She felt Rolf coming up the steps and she pushed him back before she too inched her way back down into the salon, holding a single finger up to her lips as she shh-h’d him to silence, shaking her head in an undeniable ‘no’ motion as she gained the floor.

“What is it?” Rolf whispered.

But all she could do was shake her head and shrug. “We’ve never seen these kind before, Rolf, but they are not from here.”

“What are they doing?” Edith moaned, obviously in real pain now.

“Taking blood from Henry,” Dina whispered again, and Edith’s and Anton’s eyes went wide at that…

…then came a bright flash from the cockpit, followed by a deep thunderclap…

…and after regaining her composure Dina went back up the steps…

The creatures were gone, but so too were Henry and Clyde, and without knowing why she ran out on deck and up to the bow…

…and yes, the orca was gone, too.

“Just like none of this ever happened,” she sighed.

“Maybe we weren’t supposed to find Henry,” Rolf added as he came up to her side.

“Beware,” Anton said, looking around the marina as the sun came out. “Now know what Henry want us to watch for.”

“I’m very confused,” Edith sighed, holding her ribs and doing her best not to cry.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Oh, wait, just one more tune to get you through your day. Adios!

Come Alive (33.1)

Come Alive Sirens art

A few musical moments to wrap yourself in while you read. Go here first, then here, before you wrap up this snippet here. Happy trails…right…off you go!

Chapter 33.1

Dina and Edith were standing together just outside Saint-Catherine’s, both still hurt and both feeling a bit lost – and more than a little furious – as they stood there huddled against the snow – which seemed to be falling harder now – waiting for Anton, Tracy, and the boy, Rolf.

“I have never felt so humiliated in all my life,” Edith snarled. “And to think my sister thought so little of me!”

“Were you close? The two of you, I mean?” Dina asked.

Edith shook her head as she looked at the snow gathering at their feet. “I thought we were, at least once upon a time I did, maybe. Now…I’m not so sure.”

“Did she have any reason to think you’d do something mean to Henry, even then?”

“No,” Edith sighed. “I can’t think of anything I ever did or even said that might have made her think something like that.”

“Interesting,” Dina said, looking through falling snow back towards the old port.

“Why…interesting?”

“She was expressing a strong emotion, almost a warning to you, yet she wrote that before she passed away, and when you were both still little more than children.”

“Yes? So?” Edith said.

“I’m sorry, but you were not around Henry this summer. SO many strange things were happening, so much so that almost every time I turned around I felt like I was confronting some new manner of existential crisis. And always a supernatural existential crisis…”

“Supernatural?” Edith said, clearly not understanding what Dina was getting at. “What do you mean by that?”

“You’ve met Pinky, I take it? And you know all about that stuff?”

“No, I really don’t understand, not any of it,” Edith said, distracted now and looking at the time on her phone. “We’ve been out here fifteen minutes. Should we go back to the restaurant and wait for them there?”

“Perhaps,” Dina said reflexively, “but we have no idea where Henry is, do we? And yet I have a feeling that goddamn priest knows exactly where he is. I want to…”

And just then the door to the church flew open and a hot breeze billowed from the nave, then out of nowhere Anton and the boy were standing just inside the doors, surrounded by hot, swirling mists…

“Dear God!” Dina cried as she turned and looked at her grandson. “What has happened to you? Where have you been?”

Their clothes were in tatters, and both were soaking wet. Worse still, they both looked badly sunburned – yet both seemed almost ecstatically happy…

Then the priest appeared, and even his somber demeanor was gone now – replaced by a heavily sunburned smile as he stepped out of the church and into the snowy evening.

Then Edith pushed her way through the three travelers. “Where’s Tracy!” she cried when she realized her daughter was absent. “What have you done with my…”

“She will return when she is ready,” Father Martin admonished.

“Where is Henry!” Dina shouted. “We’ve been gone from him for almost an hour…”

Only now, on hearing these words, did the old priest look down, and he seemed to be at a loss for words for the first time this evening. Then, looking pensive and almost reluctant to start down this path again, he looked at Dina. “Follow me,” he said as he turned and started for the park.

No one had yet shoveled or cleared the snow from the walkway beside the quay that led out to the point, so the going was slow – and now Anton and Rolf were wearing shorts and polo shirts and were ill prepared to make such a walk. Dina took off her jacket and wrapped it around Rolf’s shoulders, and then without quite knowing why she walked over to Anton and put an arm around his waist. Anton seemed embarrassed, and a little surprised, too, as they continued walking through the suddenly heavy snowfall.

“Look!” Rolf said. “Those are tracks made by a wheelchair, there, in the snow!” – and with that the boy took off at a sprint into the dark, and the snow.

“I go with,” Anton said, breaking free of Dina and taking off after Rolf.

The two women and the priest quickened their pace, and it wasn’t long before they gained the point. The air was warmer here by the water, the snow not as heavy, but Henry’s empty wheelchair was covered in white powder. His footprints leading to the rocks and the water were still just visible, however, and Rolf was standing with Anton down on the rocks looking out into the sea. Dina thought they looked deflated, almost wilted from the knowledge that Henry had taken things into his own hands and moved on in the night, his actions an echo of Claire’s.

“He’s gone to be with her,” she asked the priest, “hasn’t he? To rejoin her in the sea?”

“I fear for his soul if he has, physician, for that would be a mortal sin.”

She turned back to the water, nodding in agreement and very afraid now. “I…I don’t understand why he did this,” she added. “Do you?”

“In truth, physician, I do not understand, but I am no longer of this life.”

“What!?” Edith cried. “What do you mean…no longer of this life?”

“Perhaps one day you will understand,” the priest said – as his body began to shimmer in blue light, “but for some reason I doubt that will ever happen…”

Edith almost screamed when the old priest vanished, and when Dina turned to see what the commotion was all about she caught the last vestiges of the man’s form before he had completely disappeared – and at that point Dina began to feel the kind of fear she had convinced herself, through a lifetime of study, she knew to be irrational…and without really knowing why she began to walk to the rocks where Anton and Rolf stood.

The water was, of course, inky black as she stood there at the water’s edge, but almost reflexively she knelt and placed several fingers in the brine. ‘Cold,’ she said to herself as she pulled her hand away. ‘Too cold to survive for more than a few minutes…’

She stood and turned to Rolf, then she shook her head.

And maybe the boy knew what she meant, but for whatever reason he turned and ran from the rocks and out into the night…

+++++

Milos drove slowly along the Route de Rouen, taking the group back to Paris and the marina as the last snow fell in the middle of the night. The police had been summoned; they had taken notes and a few photographs but as no foul play was suspected they had released everyone. They would, one of the inspectors told Dina, keep an eye out for bodies washing up along the shore, but that was about all they could do – other than inform the U.S. embassy.

Anton had followed Rolf’s errant footsteps through the snow and he’d found the boy not too far away, sitting on a park bench and now completely covered with snow, shivering uncontrollably. He had picked up the boy and carried him back to the Mercedes, whispering what words of comfort he could think of as he walked through the park, but he had to admit to himself that he too was feeling a little lost.

“What good friend Genry was,” he said to the boy at one point. “Much love. Always much love.”

He felt Rolf’s grip tighten, heard the muffled sounds of inconsolable loss. “I don’t understand,” the boy whispered. “Why did he do this?”

“I not know, but maybe he want us not to see his suffer, his suffering, at end. Very hard to watch, Rolf. Maybe Genry think of you when he do this.”

Milos had turned the heater to MAX and the heated seats too, and it didn’t take Rolf long to warm up and shed Dina’s coat, and after just a few more minutes on the open road the boy was fast asleep.

And then Dina and Edith turned to Anton, cold fury in their eyes.

“So,” Edith hissed, “Where is my daughter? And just where the hell did the three of you go!?”

But Anton simply turned away and looked at the passing snow covered landscape, saying not one word to Edith…

Then Dina turned and looked at Rolf, then at Anton. “Isn’t there anything you can tell us, Anton?” she implored.

Anton nodded as he sighed. “We see Eva, see Britt. Both learning Greek, both very happy. Many little ones to take care of.”

“Greek?” Dina muttered. “What on earth for?”

“They live Greek village, Aristotle, Socrates neighbors, teachers. Raising babies, grow wheat and go fish too. Very busy.”

“What are you talking about, Anton?” Edith sputtered. “Aristotle? Socrates? What kind of nonsense is this?”

But Anton turned away again, shrugging away Edith’s idiotic apostasy.

“So you will not tell me what has become of my daughter?” Edith cried. “What kind of depraved creature are you!?”

But then Anton put his arm protectively around the boy, and that was his only reply.

“Fog, very heavy, just ahead,” Milos said. “Probably form over Seine, so may be heavy.” He slowed a bit more as they passed CDG, the main airport, then to a crawl as they entered the city proper. “Yes, very heavy now. Will take long time.”

And indeed it did, with the fog so thick the last five miles of the drive took more than an hour, and when they finally pulled up to the gates at the little Arsenal marina it was almost four in the morning.

Christmas Morning, Rolf said to himself as he climbed sleepily out of his seat and stepped onto the slushy cobbled street. ‘Only this is not how I imagined Christmas this year, is it…?’

+++++

The fog was so dense and the snow deep enough that even walking from the marina gates to Time Bandits proved tedious. Anton led the way but none of them had lived there long enough to really know the ins-and-outs of all the various criss-crossing pathways, so it took another ten-or-so minutes to find their way back to Bandits’ stern. Still, visibility was so compromised no one could see more than a few feet ahead, so after Anton hopped across to the swim platform he stood there with his hand extended and helped Dina and Edith across. He even kept his hand out for Rolf – who gladly grabbed hold before making the meter hop over the frigid water to the dew-slick platform.

And then Dina screamed. A real pulse stopping scream worthy of a B-grade slasher-flick, and Anton rushed up to the cockpit – only to find both Dina and Edith pointing to a man in the cockpit sitting behind the steering wheel. Anton hopped to the cockpit, placing himself between this stranger and the women…

…then he leaned over and looked at the stranger…

… “Shit damn fucker of mother,” he muttered. “Genry! You scare me!”

But Henry didn’t respond. Neither did he move.

“What?” Dina cried. “Is it Henry?”

“Da,” Anton whispered as the pieces of the puzzle began slipping into place, “Genry here now.”

Edith made it to him first, Dina not a second behind, and she grabbed his wrist and started looking for a pulse – but found none. He was sitting up with Clyde in his lap, and as he’d lost so much weight he’d been able to zip his parka around them both…

…and she saw Clyde was gone, too…

Then she saw the pup’s urine on the cockpit sole, presumably because he’d lost muscle control after his brain shut down, and she fell behind her physicians’ cloak and began analyzing the scene…

Henry was cold, ice cold, and his skin was cobalt blue in places, his lips and nail beds, too, though rigor mortis had yet to set-in fully, so he hadn’t been here all that long…

Then Dina saw Rolf by her side – staring at Henry with mute shock written all over his face – and she jumped to stand between them, to cut him off from the sight, but it mattered not a bit now. Not in the slightest. The damage had been done and the sight could not be undone.

Rolf walked forward, forward to the bow pulpit, and Anton followed the boy – not yet knowing what to say, only knowing he’d have to say something.

Then Anton saw the boy stumble and fall to his knees, pointing at something in the water while he tried to scream – but apparently the boy simply could not.

Anton dashed to his side and with his eyes he followed Rolf’s pointed finger…

…until he saw the big male orca resting there in the water, the orca’s huge, white belly facing the sky now, his massive body just resting there, though now very, very still.

“He’s dead too, isn’t he?” Rolf whispered as he joined Anton at the bow.

Anton nodded his head, and though he wanted to turn away he found he couldn’t. “Yes. Breathe through hole top of head, remember? Uh, but look belly. Many scars, fresh blood. I think orca carry Genry and Clyde upriver, jump up lock chambers to get here…”

“Do you mean to tell me,” Edith said, now standing up on the bow with them, “that Henry knew this goddam fish?”

Rolf turned and looked at this strange, offensive woman with pure malice in his eyes. “He’s not a fish, he’s a mammal, and he was Henry’s friend…!”

“Henry’s friend?” she said dismissively, tossing in a derisive flick of the wrist just for good measure. “Really? Do tell?”

But when Anton turned and faced Edith she had the good sense to remain silent.

“You, people like you,” Anton growled, “not understand things bigger than self. But yes. Genry and this other soul good friend. And you, go, before join other fishes in goddam water.”

But Anton stormed off, stomping back to the cockpit – and to Dina, who was sitting beside Henry just now, holding his hand. When he drew near she looked up at Anton and he saw something he hadn’t really considered possible. She looked lost. Lost, and alone. ‘Why?’ he wondered. He had only picked up little bits and pieces of their story, but Henry hadn’t thought much of this woman’s love. Was this an act, he wondered. Was she here to grab some of Henry’s money – while she still could?

‘Better die broke than die with vultures,’ Anton said to himself as he took in the woman. ‘At least can be sure what vulture want.’

+++++

Rolf returned to the cockpit and sat beside Henry, and after a pause he leaned on Henry’s shoulder one more time – while he looked at this grandmother’s last gasp of affection playing out before his eyes. ‘She is so confused,’ he thought, ‘so full of anger. How can you live in the moment if yesterday is all you feel?’

+++++

“Did you find everything?” Frank said to his daughter.

Elizabeth Bullitt nodded. “It’s all there, right where she said it would be.”

“What about the dog?” Harry Callahan said.

“Yup. That too.”

“Well then,” Callahan added, “we’d better get out of here – before someone sees us.”

“No one will see you,” the one called Pinky said, “but if you are ready we can leave now.”

“I don’t want to take any chances,” Frank Bullitt said. “Not now…”

“Then we should go,” Pinky said, but she stood there for a moment longer, looking in the general direction of Time Bandits, and to her friend Henry Taggart. She and her kind had forgotten how to cry eons ago, so she was more than a little surprised when she felt tears rolling down her cheeks.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (32)

Come Alive final chapters art

Into the fire, as they say, and into the light, if only because the music asks to take you there. Yes, you know this much is true, don’t you?

Chapter 32

Father Martin stood with Henry’s friends in the original, though much older nave, talking about the most unusual services he had presided over during his four decades as the parish priest at Saint-Catherine’s, and one thing became clear as he spoke: there had been something a little peculiar about Claire and the memorial she’d devised – once upon a time. And the event had taken on mythical proportions over time, because, he seemed to imply, many strange things had happened since.

It had been, at least in the beginning, hard to put a finger on exactly what it was about Claire that had seemed so unusual to him. An ethereal quality, he told them, that had captivated everyone she met. She had possessed, after all, a surreal beauty – beauty that had captivated everyone who saw her.

But then there was her sense of time, and of her place in it, that had struck him as wise beyond her years. And that had led the way, he wanted to say.

Then there was her last instructions, of sending her ashes to be spread at sea. 

“But perhaps not so unusual a request,” Father Martin said, though looking at Rolf as he thought of the eternal nature of the sea, “until you consider that this last wish was to be in the sea so that she could be with Henry. And, I think, to rest together – when his time came.”

Dina was wiping her eyes as Father Martin spoke now, realizing for the first time that she’d never really had a chance to be close to Henry, at least not in the way she’d wanted – the way any wife would want to be. There’d never been room in his heart she understood now, for anyone but this girl none of them had known. Well, all but Edith, yet she was a perilously narcissistic woman – even if she didn’t know her all that well.

“And one other aspect of the event, this spreading of her ashes at sea, has captured my imagination ever since. It was that Henry carry her out into the sea. That he placed her there – so she could wait for him there – for his return.”

“Do you mean to say,” Rolf asked, “that Henry swam out into the sea from here? With her ashes?”

“He did,” Father Martin replied. “And as it is now, he did so on a Christmas Eve many, many years ago.” The priest looked around the group, at their upturned faces and at their dawning comprehension, then his eyes rested on Edith’s. “You were here that night, were you not?”

But Edith only nodded.

“Claire wrote to me before she passed,” the priest continued. “She wrote in that letter that you are evil, that you would do evil things to Henry. I ask you now, before God…did you do such things?”

Again, Edith only nodded, though she began to cry openly now.

“Your heart is not pure,” Father Martin added, his voice full of pity. “Confess tonight before God or leave this place forever!”

Edith seemed thunderstruck, her eyes blinking uncontrollably as the import of the priest’s words ripped through her soul, but then she stood and walked out into the night.

“Dina Bauer?” the priest said now, his voice suddenly growing tired – as if worn down by decades of deceit and all the empty words of false penitence spoken by unbelievers professing their belief. “You professed Love before God when you had none in your heart. Why are you here in this place, if not to mock what is to happen tonight?”

“I found Love, Father. It took walking away from Henry to find it, but I know I will always love him, now and forever.”

“Truly?” the priest said. “That is not what I feel in your heart, physician, or in your soul. I feel Wrath borne of Greed, but no Love do I see or feel…so again I must ask…why are you here?”

“To be with Henry when he…”

“That will not be, physician. Such emptiness may never become truth.”

“Might I confess…?”

But the priest shook his head. “You are beyond the reach of such things, physician. Your grasp is for things beyond my understanding, so I must ask you to leave us now.”

“But I want to stay? Please…?”

Father Martin pointed at the door and gently spoke. “Leave us now. Perhaps you will rejoin us in the fullness of time, but tonight is only for the pure of heart – and so not for the likes of you.”

Furious at this rejection, Dina stormed down the nave and out into the night.

“The rest of you may stay,” Father Martin stated, “but I must warn you…there are things you will find in this night that you will not understand, and that you might not accept, so come with me only if you dare to seek the truth.”

“The truth?” Anton said, his voice full of natural suspicion. “What truth do you speak of? God’s truth?”

But the priest shook his head. “No, Anton. We will speak only of Henry’s truth tonight. And perhaps a pinch of Claire’s, as well,” he added, smiling impishly.

“What are you not telling us,” Tracy asked.

“You are Tracy, are you not? The physician of the mind?”

“I am.”

“And so, you are the door, our entry. Will you stand with us in this night?”

“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”

“Yes or no, physician of the mind. Will you stand with us, and not work against us. Speak the truth or leave us.”

“Yes, of course I will stand with you.”

“Speak the truth, physician of the mind, for there is no turning back after you cross the threshold.”

Tracy looked at the priest again, not sure what he was or what he was warning her about, but she looked at Rolf and knew instinctively that she had to protect the boy. “I am with you,” she promised – as she reached for Rolf’s hand.

“Then follow me,” the priest said as he turned and walked towards a small chapel off the main nave. Once there he placed a fingertip on a serpent’s eye carved in wood, and a small closet opened. The priest reached inside and took out a walking staff, and Tracy gasped at the sheer beauty of the wood. Rosewood, she knew, shining with the glow of countless centuries of beeswax. And what was that she saw? Bolts of lightning made of inlaid silver?

Then the priest reached inside his closet and produced three more staffs, one each for Anton and Rolf, and then one last staff – for her – and this staff had more complex lightning bolts than the other two.

She took the staff when the priest offered it to her, and as soon as her skin touched the ancient wood she felt a mesmerizing tingle spread from her hand up her arm…

“What is this?” she asked. “What is happening to me?”

“You will need this for strength, physician of the mind. You will find things in the night ahead that might easily overcome you without such strength to aid you, so let go of your staff only at your peril.”

“You said something about a door, about crossing a threshold. What are you talking about?”

“I am speaking of the journey we must take tonight. It is a perilous journey, physician of the mind, and it is one which will require all your strength to complete.”

“A journey? What are you talking about?”

But the priest turned and walked away. To the organ beyond the altar, and there he stopped.

“Our journey begins here, so if you are unsure of yourself you may yet leave us.” The priest looked at Anton, then at Rolf, and he smiled when they nodded at him. “You, physician of the mind, are you ready?”

“Ready for what? A journey? Where? Where are you taking us?”

“We seek Henry, and we seek Claire…and their truth.”

“What?” Tracy cried. “What are you talking about!”

“Place your hands on me now!” the priest commanded, and when he felt their hands on his tunic he slammed his staff down with one hand while he played a chord on the organ. When the silver tip of the priest’s staff hit the ancient stone lightning erupted from the head of the staff and Tracy gasped when she realized the music and the lightning were becoming one…

“What is this?” she cried as lightning began crawling over her skin. “What’s happening to me?”

“This is the threshold, physician of the mind. We cross into the world of the Eighty-eighth Key, so hold your staff close, and do not let go of me…!”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Perhaps a little music to help you on your way?

Come Alive (31)

come alive im2 HR57 small

A little music for the passage, the first one here

Chapter 31

Dina pushed him through the restaurant and out into the blue winter light, Clyde still walking along by his side. Shopkeepers were shoveling snow from cobbled walkways, windows were aglow with all sorts of enticements for last minute Christmas shoppers, and even a horse drawn carriage was out and about, an old man and his son offering rides around the old port.

Henry felt the sunset calling him, but then he closed his eyes to the phantasmagoria that beckoned. Images of his mother and father walking hand in hand just ahead, but then the eternal echo of Claire walking by his side down this same cobbled way. But now Dina was here with Tracy and somehow that seemed just about right. And there was Edith ahead of them all, leading their procession to Saint-Catherine’s – like a parade of lost souls.

He’d kept in touch with Father Martin over the years, if only because the old priest was his last remaining point of contact with Claire and her last wishes…her real wishes, not the laundered list of tattered ideas Edith had summoned once upon a time…and the old priest had agreed to talk to Rolf and Dina and Anton about the things that had gone on after Claire’s service. Edith and Tracy had, of course, wanted to bask in the reflected light of those faraway proceedings once again; that evening was a part of their family’s mythology now, wasn’t it, so why not?

In fact, he had been counting on that.

And now, gathered at the entrance to Saint-Catherine’s, the priest opened his arms and welcomed all of them to his sheltered domain – but Henry locked his chair’s wheels as he looked up at Dina. 

“Please,” Henry said, “go ahead. There are a few things I need to do now.”

“What?” Dina cried. “Certainly not! I’ll not leave you to stand out here in this dampness…”

“Dina, please go. I’ve a few last minute things to pick up for tomorrow morning…”

“Henry! There are already too many presents under that little tree…”

Henry smiled and nodded smartly. “Yup. It’s not a bad little tree after all, is it? Charlie Brown would be proud of us, I think.”

Dina shook her head. “You never grew up, did you, Henry?”

He looked her in the eye and nodded. “It’s been a struggle, but somehow I managed.”

“Managed, to…what?” she sighed, clearly exasperated with him…as she always seemed to be.

“Yes. Precisely. Now go! You might learn something tonight, so listen – with your heart if you can.”

He watched them go, this totally unexpected family he’d somehow acquired over the past few months, then he looked down at Clyde. “You want to stay with me?”

Oh, those eyes. Deep brown windows to the infinite. How he loved those eyes. 

“Well, okay then. Let’s be off – just like a herd of turtles!” He turned his chair and started off along the Quai des Passagers, right beside the canal that led to the Seine. Right where Time Bandits had been tied-off a few weeks ago, he told himself once again.

“That was in another life, wasn’t it, Old Boy…?”

He saw the girl from the restaurant again, only now she was standing almost exactly where his boat had been. And she was staring down into the water as he rolled up to her and stopped. And he watched her for a while, looked at her incongruous white ski parka and her preposterously purple socks.

Then she turned and knelt down – beside Clyde.

“Hello, Old Friend,” she said – and Clyde wagged his tail gently while he licked her outstretched fingers. “It’s good to see you again,” she added – unnecessarily.

“So…you know Clyde too?”

“In a way, yes,” the girl said. “May I walk with you?”

“Of course.”

She smiled, and looking hard now he couldn’t quite get a feel for the girl’s true age. Maybe twenty…or perhaps forty years old…he just couldn’t tell…

“My name is Henry,” he said, holding out his hand.

And she took it. “And my name is Elizabeth.”

He skin was soft and warm, invitingly so despite the penetrating damp air here by the Seine. “Elizabeth, would you mind too much pushing this contraption. My shoulders don’t feel up to the challenge this evening.”

“Be happy to, Henry.”

“So, pardon my asking, but are you from San Francisco, or Berkeley?”

She chuckled. “What gave me away?”

“Purple socks and Birkies. Dead giveaway…sorry.”

“I see,” she said as they began walking along the quay towards the point.

“So,” Henry continued, “I have to assume our meeting now is not a coincidence?”

She kept pushing his chair, but she’d missed a beat and he knew he had her now. Still, she said not a word…

And he let her. It was only, perhaps, a quarter mile to the point, and he was content to let her take her time, to come to her own point, he thought with a smile.

Clyde walked just ahead of his chair now, and he looked down at the trail of paw prints the pup was leaving in the slush and water. Then, without quite realizing what he was doing he leaned back and began to drift…

And then he was with Pinky.

“Why have you been avoiding me?” she said as she made contact with him.

“There isn’t all that much more to say, is there?”

“Goodbye might have been nice,” she said, and he could tell she had been genuinely hurt by his silence.

“Goodbye Pinky, my love.”

“Henry, you are in extreme danger. You must be very careful now.”

“Danger? Me? Are you serious?”

She looked at him and sighed. “There are worse things than death, Henry, and I fear you are about to discover one of those things.”

“I see. Care to give me any hints, or would you rather remain obscure and pedantic.”

“We can’t interfere now, Henry. We can only observe.”

“Ah, so obscure and pedantic it is. Thank you so very, very, very much,” he added – giving her his best John Cleese impersonation just for good measure.

“What was that all about?” Elizabeth said, jolting him back to the present.

“What was that? Oh, I think I was dropping off there for a second.”

“And you drop into a Monty Python accent when you fall asleep?”

“What was I saying?”

“You were thanking someone. Like ‘thank you so very very very much.’ It was kind of weird, really.”

“That was indeed Mr. Cleese, and doing his Robin Hood in Time Bandits.”

Time Bandits?

“Never mind.”

“I see. So, are you giving to the poor this Christmas, Mr. Taggart?”

“Doubtful, but sing a few bars and I’ll try to hum along.”

“Well then, maybe you’d like to give me a few million dollars…”

“No thanks, I’m trying to quit,” he said, but right now all he could think about was Pinky’s warning – and the fact that he’d not told this girl his last name was Taggart. “So, why have you come to me this night, of all nights?”

But she didn’t speak again, at least not until she’d pushed him all the way out to the point, and once there she pushed his wheelchair up to a park bench and she took a seat and caught her breath. 

“What an interesting place,” she sighed. “You’ve been here before, I take it?”

“Yes,” he said.

“So, a special place? Full of special meaning?”

“You could say that, yes.”

She reached into a coat pocket and pulled out a clear plastic device, exactly like the one the Old Man had used to show him pictures on. “Have you seen one of these before?” she said as she passed it over to him.

“Yes. A few days ago and Old Man used one just like it – to show me some photographs on.”

“And he asked you to hold the device? In a special way, perhaps?”

“That he did.”

“Show me,” she said, “exactly how you held it.”

“Why? What is this thing? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That’s because it hasn’t been invented…yet.”

He looked at her, tried to measure the strength of her character – and her words. “Okay. So what is it?”

“Think of it as something like a portable computer drive.”

He looked at the device again…about the size of a deck of cards…clear, transparent, with titanium on all the edges…and one resting place for his thumb. “He asked me to rest my thumb here,” he said, pointing to the thin metal pad.

“And when you did,” she said, “you felt something like an electric shock?”

“That’s right. What is this thing?”

“Mr. Taggart…I hate to tell you this, but you’ve been downloaded.”

“I’ve been…what?”

“This is a quantum drive, Mr. Taggart, and if you held onto the one the Old Man handed you for at least thirty seconds he now possesses every memory you’ve ever had, and everything you know he now knows, too.”

“No kidding. Well gee, ain’t that the bee’s knees?”

“And if you don’t mind, I need you to download onto this drive now,” she said, looking directly into his eyes.

“And why the hell would I do that?”

She smiled at him just then, and her eyes were twinkling with unexpected emotion. “Let’s just say you will because you want to save the universe – one more time.”

“One more time? You mean…I have before?”

She nodded as she positioned the drive in his hand. Then she pressed his thumb down on the corner plate and he winced at the shock – again – and he sat there in the silence as snow started to fall again, the light turning from blue to almost purple, the Seine a ribbon of blood tying past to whatever waited in the night. He closed his eyes and Pinky was there again.

“They have you now, Harry. Both of them have you, and there’s nothing I can do about it…” she said as she faded away into a purple haze of his making.

“Nothing you can do,” he repeated, his voice a fading whisper.

When he opened his eyes the girl was gone. Only Clyde remained now, and Henry looked at his friend one last time. “I can’t ask you to do this, Old Boy. If you come with me, it’s got to be your choice, because this is a one way trip.”

He pushed the blankets from his legs and stood, holding onto the armrests until his legs grew steady, then he walked down to the rocks and looked out into the night. He reached up to the stars and closed his eyes for a moment, then he walked down to the water, Clyde still by his side.

He walked out into the water, wondering for just a moment what it was going to feel like, then he realized he was crying. He started to swim, to swim for the lights on the far side of the sky, with his friend by his side.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

And the second here, because the music matters.

Come Alive (30.6)

Come alive image twilight lg

Hah! Sorry, but the muse struck! Enjoy! And…oh yes, try this one.

Chapter 30.6

“Genry? I have question.”

“Okay, Anton…fire away.”

“War this summer? All this has something to do with war?”

Henry nodded. “I think so, Anton, but there’s no way to be sure. The word we have is that your government became convinced that somehow this mutation was released by us, maybe acting in league with the Pinks, so that somehow this outbreak was part of a plan. The Chinese, by the way, have at least three ARVs of their own now, and they’ve been working with their own teams of Pinks and Blues for almost twenty years so they got up to speed on the mutation almost as fast as we did.”

“The Chinese?” Anton asked. “I hear nothing about this.”

“That figures. The Chinese are good at keeping secrets, and while we think they are trying to build ships to head for another world, Pinky told me it won’t work. The mutation is already global, so they’d more than likely just spread the plague to another planet.”

Tracy looked at Henry and grinned. “You son of a bitch,” she sighed. “You’re going to die and then just take off to this happy place somewhere in the future…”

Henry shook his head. “Who knows, Tracy, maybe I could, but that’s not the plan.”

Dina sat up and shook herself awake then refocused her attention on Henry. “Wait. You say you could go, but you will not? What does this mean?”

“It means I’ve been there…”

“What?” Tracy cried. “How could…?”

“Each time I’ve died, or come close, the past few months I’ve been yanked from our present to some kind of future earth, supposedly fifteen million years in the future. The earth is no longer a part of our solar system; it’s in orbit around a gas giant and part of a new solar system.”

“What happened?” Rolf asked.

“I think the result was, or will be, part of a galactic collision of some sort. Earth was ripped from one orbit and stabilized in orbit around this new planet…and around a new star, too.”

“So,” Anton asked, puzzled, “Earth a moon in this new time?”

Henry nodded.

“And Genry? We can go this new time? All of us?”

“If you like. Yes.”

“But Genry? You not go?”

“No, I don’t think I will, Anton. I’ve lived my life and I have no regrets, and going to this new world might extend lifespans a little but there are no guarantees. About the only thing the Pinks hope to accomplish is to wipe out the effects of the mutation, and to therefore enable a reset of humanity, perhaps on a more sustainable course…but who knows…that part will be up to you, not me.”

“You said time travel to the past is impossible, right?” Tracy asked.

“That’s right,” Henry replied. “It has something to do with the Pauli Exclusion Principle and the same matter occupying different places at different times, but the short version is that if you went to the future and became mutation free and then tried to return to your original past you’d negate yourself.”

“But Henry,” Tracy said, “don’t you see a problem with that? Isn’t that exactly what you’ve been doing?”

“How so?” Henry sighed.

“When you’ve had these near death experiences you describe, haven’t you traveled to this future and then returned. If so, maybe this exclusion principle doesn’t work the way you’ve been told it works…”

Henry nodded. “Yes, the thought crossed my mind, but Tracy, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to die – and soon, and as far as I know there’s still no coming back from death.”

“That you know of,” she added.

“Well, I’m all ears, Tracy, so if you know something I don’t now is the time to speak up.”

But Tracy simply sat back and shook her head in defeat. “If anyone knows, Henry, it’s those friends of yours.”

Which made Henry smile. “They’re sentient beings, Tracy, not gods…and it’s not like they’ve ever claimed to be anything like that…”

Edith coughed gently and spoke up: “It’s kind of funny then, isn’t it, Henry, that they look so much like angels?”

“Angels?” Henry said, puzzled. “So, let me see, you know what angels look like because, of course, you’re an expert on them, right?”

“Or maybe,” Tracy added as Edith scowled, “they look like what we expect angels to look like because they’ve been messing around down here on earth for thousands of years and that maybe, from time-to-time, they do little things that could easily be mistaken as miracles from heaven.”

“And all it took after that,” Edith continued, “was for a Botticelli or Titian to come along and put it all down on canvas and voila! Instant angels, everywhere you look!”

“Okay,” Henry shrugged, “I get what you’re saying but I’m not sure I get the point.”

“Isn’t the point,” Rolf said, interrupting, “that maybe Pinky can do things she hasn’t told you she can…?”

A woman walked into the restaurant and was seated not far from Henry’s table, and she ordered escargot and duck, speaking reasonably good French, too, but even so Henry felt there was something peculiar about her. She was wearing a decent enough dress, yet she had been wearing a white ski parka when she came in the door, and then he saw she was wearing brown Birkenstocks – with purple socks, no less! – he realized she just had to be from California! And with those hairy legs she was from the Bay Area, probably Berkeley…

Then he turned back to the table and found everyone staring – at him.

“Sorry. I guess I drifted off for a moment.”

Tracy grinned. “Don’t bother. She’s not your type, Henry.”

“Hmm? What?”

“The hippie chick from Berkeley. She’s not your type.”

“Oh? What makes you say that?”

“The hairy legs, for one thing. The thick glasses, too…”

“Da,” Anton chuffed. “Look like librarian uses aspirin for birth control.”

“What?” cried everyone at the table.

“Sure,” Anton said, grinning. “Hold between knees. Work like charm.”

+++++

The Old Man and the Young Boy stood just outside the restaurant, looking at Henry and at the people sitting with him. The Old Man tapped his cane on the cobbles once and thunder rolled across the valley…

“I don’t know why,” the Old Man said as he looked at the woman sitting by herself, “but I wasn’t expecting to find her here.”

Lloyd Callahan shrugged and shook his head. “There’s no way she could have found out, is there?”

“I didn’t think so.”

Lloyd looked at Elizabeth Bullitt sitting at a table beyond Henry Taggart’s and he was suddenly overcome with love for her once again – until he remembered she had become his mortal enemy. “She has to have someone helping her…but who?”

+++++

Perhaps fifty meters away two men stood deep in shadow; both were watching the Old Man and the Young Boy.

“I don’t know why,” Harry Callahan said, “but I wasn’t expecting this. How could they have known she was going to be here?”

“It doesn’t matter, Harry,” Frank Bullitt said. “As long as they don’t interfere, the plan will still work…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (30.5)

come alive im2 HR57 small

Short snippet, not even long enough for a cup of tea. Maybe not even long enough for what matters most

Chapter 30.5

“Rooster One, the target is now headed directly at your aircraft! Turn right and descend…now!”

“I have acquired target. Permission to arm and engage!”

“Rooster One, do not, repeat do not engage…”

+++++

“What is that, Henry? Radar?”

“Yup. And I think it’s an aircraft. Right speed and altitude, anyway.”

“Doesn’t this crate have any windows?”

Henry thought ‘window’ and the entire front of the cylinder seemed to turn transparent – and there about ten miles ahead they watched as a Russian fighter turned and headed right for them…

+++++

“Da. Standard doctrine, Genry.”

“Yeah? Well, for whatever reason the pilot never fired on us.”

“Wery unusual, Genry.”

Taggart nodded, but he looked away for a moment – as if collecting his thoughts. “It only took a few minutes to reach the coast. I mean the coast over British Columbia. Then we were at the base and landing, but by then we knew something was really wrong. My skin felt like it was being hit by a million pinpricks, and then Collins told me there was blood coming from my eyes…”

“What?” both Dina and Tracy said, the two physicians suddenly paying close attention.

Henry nodded. “There’d been some reactor damage, a radiation leak of some kind…I still don’t understand all the dynamics and elements involved…but Pinky and a bunch of her people met the ship and stopped us from getting out. They had some kind of containment structure and they got both of us inside the damn thing and before we knew what had happened we were back out at their base at L1. Pinky told us there was no real cure for the damage our cells had sustained, but that they could slow the progression of disease…”

“Oh, dear God,” Dina sighed. “So that is why nothing worked?”

“Yup,” Henry said, nodding. “But here’s the part you ain’t gonna like. Collins and I are now like mutated viruses, contagious in a way…”

“What?” Tracy cried. “And you knew this?”

Taggart nodded. “I knew. But it’s more complicated than you can imagine, Tracy.”

“Fuck you, Henry!” Dina screeched as she stood, now shaking a fist at Henry. “You did this to my girl! To both those girls! How dare you!”

“Unfortunately,” Henry sighed, “the damage had been done years before, after the Russians first moved the cylinder and gained entry. No one from Pinky’s team ascertained the extent of damage to the ship and all those Russian scientists were exposed. Soon after, pockets of a strange radiation sickness were detected in their far eastern provinces, and while they moved to contain it, the disease spread into North Korea and China, and that’s when Pinky and her people got seriously involved. The Greens with this project are geneticists and they’ve been trying to get a handle on this ever since that night, but for all intents and purposes their efforts will be too little, too late.”

“What do you mean,” Edith said, perplexed, “by too late?”

“It means, Edith, that climate change isn’t going to take us out, and neither is some kind of nuclear war. This mutation is going to do the job, but the Pinks and Greens – and especially the Blues – see this as their fault and they’re doing everything they can to come up with a way to save as many people as possible.”

Dina started to cry; Henry looked at her and nodded.

“That’s right, Dina. Britt and Eva were a part of the first experimental group to be treated, but it turned out the treatment causes an even more violent reaction among us. They’re gone – from here, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see them again. It only means that will depend on how you respond to treatment…to how all of you respond.”

“Gone? What do you mean by gone?” Rolf asked. “I thought you said they’re not dead?”

“They’re not dead the way you think of as dead, Rolf, they’re just no longer here. But no, that’s not right, either. They are here, on earth, only – not now.”

“What do you mean, not now?” Dina asked.

“Time travel not possible, Genry. I know little physics, but this much I do know.”

Taggart nodded. “Time travel into the past is not possible…yes, that much is true. Yet, it turns out there’s no limit to how far into the future we can go.”

“No way, Genry!” Anton snorted. “This is shit of bull!”

“No, Anton, sorry, but it’s not. There is, however, one little problem.”

“And what would that be, Hank?” Tracy sighed, suddenly pretty sure she really didn’t want to hear any more of this.

“Well, see…first you, uh, well – you have to die.”

Dina screamed – before she passed out, while the boy looked on – horrified, all his worst fears now completely realized.

“Hoo-boy,” Anton sighed as he looked around the table, “dis no good.”

+++++

© 2020-21 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (30.4)

Come alive image twilight lg

So, more short snippets for now, but here’s some music to soothe the savage beast.

Chapter 30.4

As it happened, a submarine dropped them off along a deserted stretch of coastline north of Vanino; they walked along a dirt road for a while, after they’d stowed their gear, until an old lorry came along and picked them up. Both Collins and Henry crawled into empty shipping crates for the next, most dangerous leg of their journey, bouncing along through the night on beds of flea infested hay, passing through several military checkpoints en route to Dzyomgi Airport.

“The last few miles of the trip,” Henry said, “was through marshy bogs.”

“Bogs? What is this word?” Rolf asked.

“Low lying land next to a river or lake, usually covered in shallow water,” Dina said in rapid fire Norwegian.

“Ah.”

Henry looked at Anton, not sure how he was going to take this next part of the tale. “The worst of it was a sewage treatment plant. Turned out they were dumping raw sewage into that marsh, and Rupert and I had been wading through the stuff for a couple of hours…”

“You must smelled good,” Anton said, sneering. “Probably helped. Dogs at air base couldn’t smell as you gets close.”

“Yeah,” Henry said, nodding, “Rupert mentioned that. Anyway, the craft was located on the east side of the airfield, in a pine forest not far from a tank farm…”

“A tank farm? What is this?” Rolf asked, and when Dina shrugged Henry filled in the blanks.

“An area where aviation fuel is stored, usually in large cylindrical tanks.”

“Oh, yes. I see. And it was then nighttime?”

Henry nodded. “Yes, the middle of the night. but the odd thing about it, at least when we looked back on the whole thing, was how easy it was. There were no guards, no patrols, just the ship – which also just happened to look kind of like one of those fuel storage tanks.”

“No guards?” Anton asked incredulously.

“No, not a soul.”

Anton shook his head. “Then they want you steal ship. It was trap.”

Henry looked down at his snails and smiled a little. “We were too slow, Anton. We didn’t figure that out until much later…until it was too late.”

+++++

“You know what, Taggart? You smell like shit.”

“I’m not the only one, Slick.”

Collins wrinkled his nose and dry-heaved.

“Don’t do that, Rupert. When they catch us we’ll be down on our knees barfing our heads off…”

“Henry, I think my skin is actually crawling…”

“That’s because it probably is.”

“You know, I bet James Bond never had to do this.”

Henry grinned. “I’ll have a shit martini, shaken, not stirred…”

“Shut the fuck up, Taggart. I mean it…”

A fighter was taxiing along a nearby taxiway, the jet’s landing lights suddenly illuminating half the airport – so both Taggart and Collins dove for cover, spitting and retching as the goo splattered their faces.

“There ain’t a shower with water hot enough…” Rupert said.

“I’m gonna take a fucking bath in Listerine,” Henry added.

They remained prone until the jet took off, then they stood and headed for the tank farm.

“Is that it?” Henry said, pointing to a monstrously huge cylinder just becoming visible through the pines.

Rupert looked at his compass and nodded. “Should be. Keep low and follow me.”

Henry was surprised the old man could move with such speed and agility, and he did his best to keep up with him as they darted between trees and thorny shrubs…then they were at the cylinder…

“You got any clue where the door is, Henry?”

And then Taggart had leaned back and cleared his mind for the first time in weeks…

+++++

Pinky saw the cylinder through Henry’s mind and for a moment she grew confused. What was he doing in Russia? How could he possibly know about that ship?

Then he was gone, and now very much afraid she reached out for Henry, because she had to warn him…

+++++

The entry opened and deep blue light flooded the ground under the steps that led inside the ship. “Good job, Taggart. Let’s get this road on the show…”

Henry darted inside and the first thing he realized was that this was a working ship designed for beings twice his height, yet as he reached out with his mind the way ahead lit up until moments later they were both in the cockpit.

And though much bigger, everything here looked very similar to what he had grown used to on Boeing’s ARV. He powered up the displays and began the power-up sequence to start the ship’s drive, but one whole panel started flashing blue – and blue was the color used for warnings that critical systems were in need of urgent attention.

“What’s that?” Rupert asked, pointing at the flashing blue annunciators.

“A warning light. Either the drive or the power plant needs attention – I think.”

“Needs attention? Does that mean something like a low oil light, or maybe like a headlight’s out? Henry, I need to know! Can we get this fucker off the ground or not?”

“Only one way to find out, Doc…”

+++++

Two colonels from the GRU were in the control tower; their teams had been keeping an eye on Collins and Taggart ever since they got out of the lorry and ‘disappeared’ into the swamp. Now they watched as the ship powered up and began rising slowly from the ground.

“Rooster One, the target is airborne. Repeat, target is airborne.”

Rooster One was the Sukhoi Su-27 that had just taken off; the pilot was now northeast of the airport, loitering at flight level 3-9-0. “Rooster One, understood. Have the target on radar.”

The colonel from Aviation Intelligence took the microphone from the controller. “Rooster One, you may close on target, but do not, repeat do not fire on that ship.”

“Rooster One understood.”

+++++

“Da! See, tell you this is so,” Anton bellowed, slapping the table. “They let go!”

Henry folded his hands over his lap, carelessly nodding at his snails. “Yes, that’s true enough, Anton, but that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it was just the beginning…”

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates…but don’t forget…the music matters.