The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch 07

Iowa dreams

Chapter Seven

14 November 1943

The air was shedding its veneer of autumn as easily as a winter’s coat, and she stood at the rail looking out over the Atlantic as the great ship steamed to the southeast. Even from this modest height – and she guessed she was about thirty feet or so above the water’s surface – the sense of speed as the Iowa knifed through the sea was palpable. And it looked as though the destroyers and the nearby cruiser were working hard to keep up with the immense battleship, for indeed they were. Now, on their second day at sea, the small convoy was carrying the president to Morocco; from there the gathering of diplomats and soldiers would fly with him on to Tehran, where a meeting between the all the president’s men and both Churchill and Stalin was scheduled to take place.

“Why am I here?” she asked the wind. “What possible use could I be to him?”

She turned and saw him in his chair near the rail, perhaps fifty feet away, just under the huge sixteen-inch guns of the number two turret. The teak decks were mottled by random hits of spray, the three barrels cast giant, oblate shadows over Roosevelt and the deck under his chair, so that one moment he was alive in early morning sunlight, the next a wraith sheathed in shadow.

“That’s what we are,” she sighed, “the two of us. Sun and shadow, light and dark. Good and evil.”

Once the theoretical nature of their work had borne fruit, she had begun to see the real contours of darkness inside Roosevelt’s Pandora’s Box. And she had begun to see her role uncovering this darkness; indeed, until recently she’d not known exactly what would be released. And now that she did she understood she wasn’t simply a passive receptacle standing idly by while others did the work of unraveling the darkest fire man had ever kindled, and yes, she understood she was more than just an active participant, too. She had grown into one of the most important members of the group designing the charge that would induce fission, and she was helping Sealy and his team work with Boeing on the B-29’s modifications. She would help bring the ultimate irony to humankind: she would help usher in a new era, the atomic era, and the world would never be the same again. There might be peace…peace out of madness.

As she watched Roosevelt, she wondered what he would do with this immense power. Let the world know what he alone possessed, let the Germans and the Japanese understand the consequences of prolonging the war? Or, keep the power a secret? Unleash it on an unsuspecting world without any warning at all?

And she watched Roosevelt more closely now that she understood him better. She had never once considered how much his personal struggle with polio had redefined his character, how much the wounded man’s experience in Warm Springs had altered his patrician’s frame of reference. The entitled Assistant Secretary of the Navy would eventually become the Governor of New York, but only after defeating his own very personal demons. She’d never really known these things about the man, not until the night before, anyway. When they’d sat and talked on this very deck, under the stars.

And he seemed to know each and every star in the night sky, from the origins of their names to their uses as aids to navigation. He loved ships too, she soon discovered, everything about big ships. He’d championed the development of naval aviation – in the First World War of all things – and even submarines. She’d known so little about him when he was first elected, but now – after working with him off and on for four years, she thought of him almost as a father.

Fathers had been in short supply all her life, after all, and though she hardly ever thought about it she knew she had missed out on something important. Charles was Charles, a brother and never anything more, yet Charles had assumed the role of father when she was still quite young. And, as it turned out, he had never really had understood her very basic need. He became a friend, then a sort of career advisor, yet he never expressed any sort of familial love for her – and that was a scar that had never really healed. He cared, true enough, but he had never once expressed anything at all like love for her – never even a brother’s love. Because he wasn’t her brother…not really…and that was an unspoken truth between them.

And yet, Roosevelt had seen through her hastily erected veneers, had seen her need, and he had done so in an instant. After their first meeting in the White House he had begun writing letters to her, silly, half-affectionate fatherly missives she first at first dismissed as the ramblings of a lonely old man – then she had found something else in his words. A need to connect personally with the reality of her work, not only to understand her better, but to better come to terms with what they were building out there in the high New Mexican desert. And so she wrote to him, too. Long letters about the problems the team faced, little notes about how odd it was being one of the few women out there under the high stars. She was impressed a man with so many responsibilities took the time to correspond with her, then, as she wrote to him she would lapse back into the dream, see him standing by that window, looking at Saturn’s rings…

‘Why don’t you find a man, get married,’ he wrote once, and she thought about the answer to that question for a long time before she set out to craft a reply.

‘I thought I had, once,’ she wrote to the president. ‘Your physician, Ben Goodman. We spent a few days together in 1939, and I thought we had created something. Something real and lasting, only then he drifted away. I have no need to be hurt again…’

His next letter rocked her world.

‘He speaks of you often,’ Roosevelt wrote, ‘yet I was given to believe you had spurned his advances. Is that not the case?’

And so, when she had boarded the Potomac with Roosevelt a few days before, she was instantly on guard when she saw Goodman walk aboard just ahead of the president. Neither had looked her way; indeed, neither had acknowledged her presence in any way. And as the only female on a US Navy battleship steaming across an ocean full of U-boats, she had been locked away in the executive officer’s stateroom, apparently for the duration of the crossing, lest she distract the men, or so she was told…

Then, last night.

Roosevelt had asked that she come to his cabin after dinner. He wanted, the hand delivered note plainly stated, to talk with her about an idea or two.

When she was escorted to his cabin the door opened and she found him tucked into bed, sipping some sort of amber liqueur. “Could I pour you a snort?” Roosevelt asked, grinning.

“What is it?” she remembered asking.

“Drambuie.”

She shrugged, a blank look on her face.

“It’s a liqueur, made from scotch whiskey,” another voice said, and she turned to see Goodman at a writing desk across the captain’s ceremonial in-port cabin.

“I see,” she said, though of course she didn’t. She couldn’t, not just now, because her vision had grown confined and dark, and her thoughts muddied as the currents of time slowed. She had watched Goodman pour her a glass, then turned to the president sitting in his bed. He was smiling, she saw, and looking not at all unlike another grinning Cheshire cat of some ill repute.

She had taken the glass and carried it too her nose, closed her eyes as the honied scent found her, then she took some of the liquid on her tongue and let it settle there. When she opened her eyes Goodman was sitting across from her, his eyes still full of a quiet, smoldering empathy.

“Like it?” Goodman asked.

“I do. Yes, very much, as a matter of fact.”

“Well then,” Roosevelt crooned, holding up his glass. “A toast! Here’s to swimmin’ – with bow-legged wimin’…”

Goodman grinned and shook his head, then took a sip, his eyes never leaving her’s, not for a single instant.

“I hope you’re not asking me to swim with a bunch of bow-legged women, Mr. President,” she laughed, almost under her breath.

“No, no, not at all, Claire. We were going over some production figures this afternoon when someone asked about the work on blast dynamics on the airframe. It’s been weeks since I read an update on that work, and I wanted to get your take on the problem.”

“Now, Mr. President?”

“Yes, yes…now.”

“Well, sir, as you know, the basic question is altitude versus the aerodynamic properties of the bomb itself. How long it will take the warhead to reach the target…”

“Are we still talking about that fused air-burst thing, or a ground impactor?”

“For all intents and purposes, Mr President, there won’t be much difference on delta-T. Our current working hypothesis has the aircraft dropping on the target from thirty-one thousand feet. We need to retard the bomb’s velocity in order to allow egress of the aircraft, as even if we can achieve a wing loading in the eighty pounds per square inch range it’s not likely the aircraft will survive.”

“What would an optimal range from detonation look like?”

“Twenty miles, Mr President. A minimum of twenty miles.”

“Parachute?”

“We discarded the idea, sir, after it was demonstrated that anti-aircraft fire might hit the bomb and disable it.”

“And…?”

“We’re looking at an enhanced climb profile that gets the aircraft to thirty-four thousand feet, then the crew would start a shallow dive at full power, make the drop at thirty and continue diving to around twenty-five thousand.”

“And their speed at that point would be?”

“We’re looking at roughly 320.”

“Will that get you to twenty miles?”

“No sir. Not quite.”

“So…what’s next?”

“Drag, Mr President. We’re designing the weapon to be as aerodynamically inefficient as possible.”

“Can the wings be further reinforced?”

“Boeing engineers have done about all they can…short of a complete redesign of the nacelles.”

“They’re still the problem?”

“Yessir. My modeling shows that the blast wave will start a series of oscillations on the outboard nacelles, eventually leading to failure of the wings near the main-spar-box. If they’re less than fifteen miles from detonation you might as well advise the crew it will be a one-way mission…”

“And as I mentioned earlier,” Goodman added, “the amount of exposure to the aircrew of this amount and kind of radiation poses unknown risks. The further away they are, the better.”

“So, it looks like we’ve got the means to make this weapon, but it also looks like we may sacrifice the crew if we use it? Is that about the size of it, Dr Aubuchon?”

“No, sir. I still feel quite confident we’ll solve the problem. Probably through a combination of methods, and I think the engineers have a few tricks yet up their sleeve. By the way, that wing is a work of art, Mr President. Wing loading, as it stands now, is in the seventy pounds per square inch range, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they can modify the aircraft to get to a hundred. If they can, and if the aircraft can hit 340 knots in a limited duration dive, then we aren’t going to have a problem.”

“Robert doesn’t share your optimism, Dr Aubuchon. Perhaps you could tell me why?”

“This isn’t his area of expertise, Mr President, and as he hasn’t spent as much time out in Seattle as I have, so he’s not up to speed on the specific range of options available to us.”

“It’s not your area of expertise either, is it, Claire?”

“No, it isn’t, Mr President. But Boeing’s engineers have to work with the numbers I give them, so I’ve learned a lot about this aircraft’s strengths and limitations working with them. The math is simple and straight-forward, I might add.”

“I’ll have to take your word for that, Claire,” Roosevelt said, grinning again. “Well, Ben? Think I could take some sea air this time of night?”

“Yessir, I think that might do us all some good, just remember what the captain said. No smoking out on deck, sir.”

“Bosh! Damn U-boats!”

“I’ll go get Roy, sir. Claire? Would you come with me, please?”

She followed Goodman out into the passageway while Roosevelt’s valet went in the cabin to help dress the president, and they waited for Roosevelt’s naval escort, this time a colonel from the Marines, before heading topsides.

A few chairs had been hastily placed on the main deck, just ahead of the number two turret, and the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon hung above the horizon off to their left. Roosevelt used his shoulders to move from his wheelchair to the deck chair, then huffed and puffed for a moment – getting his wind back as he looked out over the infinite sea.

“By Golly, Claire, there’s nothing like the sea at night. Surrounded by stars, as we were in the beginning. And look at that! Even the moon is cooperating tonight…and just look at Orion, would you!”

Both she and Goodman turned and looked up at The Hunter, his bow drawn through the millennia. “I was out earlier, Mr President,” the Marine said, “and I do believe after your vision settles you’ll see the pink smudge in the scabbard.”

“Really? It’s been years and years since I’ve seen that. Too many years, I think.”

“It’s nice to feel summer air again,” Goodman added. “I’m already dreading winter.”

“Are you indeed?” Roosevelt said. “Maybe it’s time you moved out west. Berkeley, perhaps?”

Goodman looked at the president, not sure what to say.

“Maybe it’s time you settled down, tried to have a family?” Roosevelt added. “Family saved me, of course, though I had very nearly destroyed mine. Losing the use of my legs, finding my way to Georgia, getting involved with those kids…”

“Sir?” Claire said, sounding puzzled.

“Warm Springs. I went down there for the waters. Hot, ninety degree water, waters full of magnesium. It was this ramshackle place, almost beyond repair, the people who came to take the water were as afraid of us polio patients and lepers in the middle ages. I came to understand discrimination for the first time in my life, as well as despair. I suppose it goes without saying, but I don’t think one can experience hope without first experiencing deep despair, but then again I may not have been the first person to think that.”

“What happened down there,” she asked, “to change your mind?”

“I felt so sorry for myself. For the loss of my future, I suppose you could say.” Roosevelt looked away for a moment. “Yet it was the children down there taught me how to live again, to see beyond my legs. Eleanor helped me buy the place, and we’ve turned it into a facility for treating children with polio.”

“I had no idea,” Claire said.

“Ben’s been down to help out a time or two, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. President. And it’s been an honor.”

“Indeed. There’s a humility in suffering, isn’t there. Especially when children suffer. Humanity’s burden, I think it is, too. Every suffering child we let pass into the night is an unconscionable burden on our souls.”

“Yes it is, sir,” Goodman added.

“Anyway, that’s what I was getting at, Ben. You’ll miss out on one of life’s greatest joys if you miss out having children of your own.”

“Perhaps when this all over, Mr President,” Goodman sighed heavily.

“Ben, this will never be over. Don’t you understasnd that yet?”

“Sir?”

“This war will never be over, Ben. It can’t ever be over. Once the music stops playing, industry will collapse again. We learned that after the First War, if you’ll recall. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy I was charged with demobilizing the Atlantic Fleet, and we scrapped almost half those vessels in a matter of months. I fought to preserve our submarine fleet, and to increase research on aircraft carriers, and whatever else I could, but both Wilson and Harding were adamant…we didn’t need a peacetime navy. Short-sighted bastards! Of course, mobilizing for war in 1916, and again in 1940, pulled us out of the economic doldrums, yet that may be the one vital lesson lost on most people both in and outside of Washington. Military spending props up the rest of the economy, simple as that.”

“But with these new weapons,” Claire began, “haven’t we made war obsolete?”

“Obsolete? You mean, no one would dare attack us now?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And how long before another country has these weapons? A country, perhaps, not quite so friendly to our interests. Remember, today’s friend might not always be so friendly…”

“You mean, Russia?”

“It doesn’t really matter who, Claire. It will happen, and the how or the why won’t really matter then. It will happen, and the sword will be poised above all our necks, then.” Roosevelt’s eyes swept the horizon, then he turned to Claire. “What about you, Claire? Ready for a life of domestic tranquility?”

“I don’t know that I could let go just now, Mr President. I want to see this through.”

“Yes…there’s nothing so vital as having a purpose in life, yet there’s also nothing as important as having your own little sliver of immortality. Children are still our best shot at that, I guess you know?” Roosevelt added, turning to look at Goodman again.

“You’re correct, of course, Mr President.”

“Look at them,” Roosevelt sighed, the word drifting away in the slipstream as he pointed at the night sky. “Not even the stars will last forever. I know you two feel something for one another, and it would do me a world of good to see something nice and decent come from all this uranium nonsense. All I ask is that you think about it, alright? Just think about it, before it’s too late.”

Goodman stood and walked forward, past the number one turret and on to the foredeck, and two ratings walked along behind him – just in case – then Roosevelt turned to Claire. “No time like the present, I always say,” the president whispered. “Roy, I feel I’ve had enough of this air for now. You’d better get me inside.”

She turned away as Roosevelt struggled back into his wheelchair, but she watched his men wrestle his chair inside before turning to look at Goodman. He was leaning on a rail up forward, still looking up at the stars, and she looked at him for the longest while, then she turned and walked aft, back to her cabin.

+++++

She had expected Tehran to be unbearably hot, yet the city was pleasantly cool, almost cold at night. She was with Roosevelt’s party, staying at the Soviet embassy, and while Goodman’s room was next to her’s she did not see him once after they settled-in at the embassy. Roosevelt’s intrusion had rattled her, and she neither needed or wanted some sort of presidential imprimatur attached to any relationship she might have – even if that’s what she called this nascent thing between them.

They’d seen each other, from a distance, anyway, while still on the Iowa, even after one of the escorting destroyers accidentally launched a torpedo at the battleship, but Roosevelt didn’t summon her again. Perhaps Goodman had relayed what had happened, perhaps not, but the evening had unsettled her. Had it him, too?

And why had she gone back to her cabin? Why had she left him alone up there? What had she felt for him before? Friendship? Or had there been something more? Something beyond gratitude, that he had taken care of her at Georgetown when her “walking pneumonia” very nearly took her out? What of those long walks in the piñon out on the west side of Los Alamos? When they’d talked about California versus Maryland, of perhaps getting married and starting a family.

Yet she’d never once seen the slightest hint of love in his eyes. Empathy? Yes. Compassion? Again, yes. But love for her? Not in the slightest. Yet the first time she saw him around young men, good looking young men, his eyes sparkled – with pure, unbridled lust – and that had settled the matter. Still, she had to admit that lust had never been a powerful draw for her. She’d never had sex, not once, and she’d told herself more than once that if she went through life without experiencing lust that wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen.

And she almost believed that, too.

On one of their last walks together in New Mexico she’d asked him about that. About what he felt when he saw attractive young men. “I don’t know,” he’d replied hesitantly, his eyes looking away, his shame apparent. “Why do you ask?”

“Because you seem so full of desire.”

“I do?”

“What do you mean, ‘I do?’ Are you telling me you aren’t homosexual?”

“I don’t know. I suppose I might be…”

“You mean you’ve never…?”

“Good God, no!”

“But you’re attracted to men, right?”

“I don’t know,” he’d said with a sigh. “I suppose it’s possible.”

Yet as hard as she tried to believe him, she knew he was lying. She knew this was so because she could see deceit in his eyes when he spoke just then, something she’d never expected to see from him. So, when he’d walked away from Roosevelt that night on deck, he’d walked away from her too. From any idea of a future together.

Yet there was something about him that attracted her still. His empathic soul, perhaps. His ability to see into people, to understand them. Yes, it was simply ironic that he couldn’t see into his own soul, or that he was willing to walk away from what he saw about himself, but that only made his tragic flaw that much more intriguing.

So, she’d thought about him that first night in Tehran. She wondered if he might indeed be a good father, a good partner for the rest of their lives. Could she ignore his lustful impulses, contain them enough to keep him from destroying their lives? Would it be worthwhile to even live like that? Would she want the central equation of their lives reduced to an ongoing series of evasions?

Yet the very next day, while walking to the British embassy, she’d felt a young man fall in beside her…

“Dr. Aubuchon?” the man asked.

“Yes?”

“My name is Trevor. Trevor Goldberg. I’m with the British delegation.”

“Ah.”

“If you have some time after the next session, I’d like to talk with you, if I could.”

“About?”

“Your work.”

“Indeed. And why would I do that?”

“I’ve asked my minister to have a word with Secretary Hull; he’ll vouch for my status.”

“Alright, Mr Goldberg.”

“It’s doctor, if you don’t mind.”

“Ah. Your field, Dr. Goldberg?”

“Quantum mechanics.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain later,” the man said, but he veered off and joined another group, and she watched him as they walked away, lost inside a peculiar thought.

She’d seen him before.

On that ship. On that ship, the ship looking out on Saturn’s rings.

Mystères élémentaires Nº 4

So…the past week or so has been much quieter than expected, my little recovery a little more complicated than expected, too. To be brief, pain has been a much bigger factor that expected and as a result I have been asleep a good deal more than I thought I would. I do not write well in my sleep, so I ask for your good indulgences.

And so, here’s the next installment of Elemental Mysteries. I’ve left this chapter a little more ‘open-ended’ than I usually do, and though I can see expanding this into a novel length introductory story that could lead ever deeper into spin-offs and sub-plots, I may run out of steam before that happens. Regardless, here’s the next chapter – and I’ll try to work on the next some over the weekend.

Mystères élémentaires Nº 4

Quelle était, une fois, avant demain*

beluga eye

 

Part I

When she felt her slow return to the light, when she felt sleep fading, Christine Mannon opened her eyes, expected to see the short creature by her side, but no…she was in bed, in her room and the sun was shining again. Not a cloud in the sky, and that same surreal too blue color she noted when she walked to class. She got out of bed, saw the cathedral out her window and sighed.

“Maybe this has been a dream,” she said, “a really bad dream.”

She walked over to the window and looked outside, saw the buildings she expected to see – the Sabot Rouge first among them, then the Sacred Heart – but the streets and sidewalks seemed empty now and she wondered what day it was. If she’d slept through to Sunday, the streets might indeed be so quiet, but she made her way to the shower and rinsed away her cares under the hot spray – for what felt like hours.

She felt light-headed once and reached out to steady herself, took a few deep breaths, and she was aware her eyes had rolled back for a moment. She suddenly felt very unsure of her balance and sat on the shower floor, let the hot water beat down on top of her head while she hugged her knees to her chest – and in the next instant she was sitting on the cold floor in a huge, concrete walled shower – packed with hundreds of naked women and children. Sudden awareness gripped her and she scrambled to her feet, ran for the lone iron door and began beating on it, slamming the sides of her clinched fist on the gray painted metal as gas began hissing out of fixtures mounted on the low ceiling.

She looked up, started to cry even as she tried to hold her breath, and a little girl next to her began to choke and cry. She grabbed the girl and forced her face into the soft skin of her belly, tried to keep the gas from going down her throat. She held on as long as she could but soon felt her own grip loosening, the little girl slipping from her fingers, then she was aware she was falling, her eyes still open as the horizon tilted until all she saw was a tangled mass of bodies piling one upon another. Everything burned now: her eyes most of all, but it burned most of all when she tried to breathe – then hypoxia set in and blinding pinpricks of light streaked inward – until she was walking in the cool fog again.

And Werner was by her side once again.

“Was that so bad?” he asked.

“What?”

“Was dying so bad? Did you find the experience difficult?”

“What do you mean – was that so bad? Are you fucking insane!”

“I merely wanted to know what the experience was like. You needn’t be angry at me.”

“Why don’t you try it yourself, you monster!”

“I wish I could.”

She turned and looked at the man, if that’s indeed what he was. “What do you mean?”

“Only that. Once I die that’s the end.”

“And you mean with me that’s not the case?”

“Oh, you did not die, not even close. She did, however.”

She looked down, saw the little girl inside the shower at her feet, her form lifeless now, and she bent down to cradle the girl’s body to her breast. “Why? Why did you do this?”

But Werner was gone now, and she saw the creature was by her side now. Small, not even waist high, a large, triangular face with huge, almond shaped eyes as black as night…

Look closely, she heard a new voice in her mind say. Do you recognize her?

She turned the dead girl over, looked into precious, lifeless eyes and gasped. “It’s me,” she whispered. “Me…but how…”

When your uncle escaped, you elected to remain with your mother and father,” the voice said. ‘You remained by your mother’s side, in the chamber. What you just experienced was your death, before we intervened.

“You what?”

A woman held you fast to her belly, and we came to you then, took you away before the truth became known.

“You took me away? To where – did you take me?”

“Here, obviously,” she heard a man’s voice now, and she turned, expected to see Werner standing there – but no, this man was younger. Black hair just turning gray at the temples, kind eyes so familiar it ripped her apart…

“Father?” she whispered, her voice slowly falling apart. “Papa!” She cried before she flew into his arms – and the cords of memory drew tight around her, pulled them close. “What? How…?”

But in the next instant he was gone too, simply gone, and she fell to the ground, cried over the dead girl’s acrid body – her own body, if this creature’s explanation was to be believed – then that body disappeared as well, leaving her alone in the white tile room with the repellant creature. When the cool fog returned she felt his voice inside her mind, then she felt fingers sifting through memory, cataloguing her experiences one by one in a blinding rush.

You know, there isn’t really anything malevolent about The Other, she heard another voice saying – in English, and she looked up, saw another man, a very old man, she guessed in his 80s, sitting beside her now.

“Did you say that?” she asked, speaking English now. “I could hear you in my mind, but not with my, well, my hearing.”

“Yes, when we’re linked we can hear each other’s thoughts,” the man said now. “It takes some getting used to…the lack of privacy.”

“Does this creature – facilitate – the exchange?”

“Yes. We’re linked now, through him. You can ‘speak’ to me directly, so everything you think will come through him to me, but to him as well. Unfiltered, you could say. He’ll hear everything you think.”

“I don’t understand. Could you tell me what’s going on, please?”

“I don’t know all that much…and I don’t think I’m supposed to, or will be allowed to, but The Other is part of a collective that recreates certain experiences, certain periods in human history. To what end, I have no idea.”

“Do you know where I am?”

“I hate to have to tell you this, but no. From what I’ve learned about them over the years, that’s probably not even the correct question. You might think of all this as ‘when am I?’ – as in where are you, in time.”

“They want me to think this is 1944.”

“Why is that, do you suppose?”

“I don’t know.”

“What happened then? Do you remember?”

“My family was killed, after they were taken from France to Auschwitz. And just now, it showed me a girl who had been there, and as much as told me it was me. I held her as she died.”

“I’m sorry…but I have no idea what all this means.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Robert. Robert Jeffries. Call me Rob.”

“Are you an American?”

“I think so, yes,” he said, holding his hands up so he could look at them. “That’s odd. A moment ago I was on a mountaintop in New Mexico.” He turned and looked at The Other – who’s mind was a blank just then. “You know…I have the strangest feeling that I’m dead.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“I have no idea.”

The Other moved closer, and the creature and Jeffries stared at one another for a moment, then Jeffries turned away, started to cry.

“What did it say…I couldn’t make it out?”

“I am dead. So are you. You died in 1944, in that gas chamber.”

She stared at the implications of that statement, found the idea absurd and discarded the very idea of it. “No, no, that is not true,” she whispered, then images of the interior of the ‘showers’ filled her mind again. She saw her mother from above, pulling her close, trying to shield her breathing with the soft skin of her belly. She watched her mother struggling to breathe, then fall away, saw her own struggle, the struggles of everyone in that chamber, then she felt a sudden, overwhelming dissolution into a deeper fog.

“Are we still there,” she asked.

“Yes,” Jeffries.

The fog began dissolving, and at first she thought she saw blue sky overhead, but soon she saw smoke, and the air was full of panic. Sirens, like air raid sirens, filled the air and she thought this must be Paris during the war. An Allied bombardment, perhaps, had just taken place…?

But no. She saw modern skyscrapers and, as the fiery mist fell away, cars she thought she recognized, modern cars. People running for the Anvers Metro Station, pouring down the opening into the earth, then, southwest of the city a brilliant flash – like the sky had just caught fire. Moments later an impossible roar, then an overwhelming motion, jet aircraft overhead falling from the sky as a massive of shockwave rippled through the atmosphere.

Then a tsunami of fire roared towards the city – washed over her on it’s way around the earth – yet still she stood there, The Other by her side; the old man, Jeffries still with her, too.

And when the fire and smoke fell away she looked out over her city, her City of Lights, but everywhere she looked she saw charred ruins. Hardly anything recognizable remained, and the feeling of loss that swept over her was as profound as it was meaningless. Without the context of human wonder, what was left? When and if ‘people’ returned and explored these ruins thousands of years from now, what would they think of the civilization that had let this happen? Or, indeed, would ‘people’ be able to emerge from this level of destruction. How many millions of years would it take for intelligence to emerge again?

She looked at the creature by her side, but it remained distant to her, regarding her cooly, dispassionately, and even the old man was quiet too. He was looking over the ruins of the city, yet he too seemed almost unmoved – and she wondered if he was real, or simply a part of this vast, unravelling illusion.

Part II

Driving through the last reaches of the Everglades, Jeffries looked at June, his co-pilot, as she struggled to come to terms with the night, with the things he’d told her so far. That the Others had been a part of his for as long as he could remember. That tonight hadn’t been the first time something like this had happened; that he’d been enlisted to help them several times when something unexpected happened. That when he’d seen the shimmering hillside in El Salvador the day before, he knew contact was imminent.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked when he said that.

“And what if I had? Would you have believed me? Or would you have thought I was bat-crap-crazy?”

She laughed a little, then nodded her head. “You know, Rob, if anyone else told me I would have thought they were nuts – but not you. If you told me the world was going to end tomorrow at noon I’d get ready to party hard for the next 24 hours.”

He’d looked at her again, wondered where she was going with this – and how much he could tell her – but he decided to let her talk-on for a while.

“In other words,” she continued, “I get bat-crap-crazy every time I’m around you. And I get depressed when I’m not.”

“Sorry. I had no idea.”

“I know. And I thought I was being too obvious.”

“Maybe I’m just hard headed.”

“Thick-skulled is a term that comes to mind.”

“You do know I’m like twenty years older than you?”

“Yeah? So? Your dick still works, don’t it? Your lips still know how to kiss? You remember how to put your arms around a girl? Any of those things ring a bell?”

He scrunched up his shoulders. “Let me think about it for a while. I’ll get back to you tomorrow on that.”

She sighed, scrunched up her nose. “Let me make this easy for you, Rob. Don’t take me home right now, okay. Let’s go to your place, let’s get naked and screw for a few days. After last night I don’t want to take anything for granted ever again, but I really don’t want to go through one more day without you. That clear enough for you?”

He’d nodded his head, then felt her hand on his, her fingers searching through his, feeling for something beyond the common ground of the cockpit. “Why me?” he asked a minute or so later.

“I don’t know, Rob. I look at you and the insides of my thighs feel like a three alarm fire.”

“Have you checked down there? Could it be a rash? Something contagious?”

She stared at him, then laughed. “Yeah, right. So, that explains why when you look at me I feel like I could drop into spontaneous orgasm. Or when you tell me I’ve done something good in the cockpit I feel like a million bucks, or when I flub something I feel like I’ve let you down. And no, no jokes right now, Rob. You put up jokes like other people build walls around their heart. I need you to let me in right now.”

“What if I told you…” he started, but then he stopped, looked around and shook his head.

“Told me what, Rob?”

“It’s not important.”

“Why do I get the impression you’re keeping maybe the most important thing in the world from me right now?”

He looked at her and grinned, shook his head. “So, what do you have in mind?”

She grinned back, shook her head. “Fun. Strenuous fun.”

“You know, kid, I foresee interesting times ahead,” he said softly as he looked in the BMWs rearview mirror. A black Ford sedan had been following at a discrete distance the last few miles, but now it was closing fast and he scowled at the thought of even more interference. “I’m just not sure how much fun they’re going to let us have this morning.”

“Ya know, as long as I’m not left hanging upside down…I’m good.” She turned, looked at the Ford coming up fast from behind, then groaned when blue strobes started winking.

Jeffries pulled over, watched the two agents get out of the car and walk along to the passenger’s side, and June pushed the little button, rolled her window down.

“Hate to bother y’all,” Mulder said, “but I’m hungry, wanted some breakfast. Wondered if you know someplace decent, and if maybe you’d like to join us?”

Jeffries looked down, shook his head. ‘Well, at least he’s going to be polite about it,’ he thought, then: “Sure, follow me.”

He turned on Davis and ducked into a pancake place and they squeezed into a crowded booth in the back, waited for a surly waitress to bring coffee.

“Man, I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday,” Mulder sighed.

Jeffries looked at the man and nodded, then looked at the woman in the seat next to him. “Your name really Scully?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Fun cover name, don’t you think?”

“You two get all the UFO stuff, I guess?”

“No. We normally get all the werewolf cases.”

“Ah. So, what do you want to talk about this morning. Lon Chaney?”

The surly waitress came by, dropped off a pitcher of coffee and took their order, then walked away, grumbling.

“Maybe more like ET,” Scully said. “Anything we need to know, for instance.”

Jeffries chuckled at that, but looked down at the table, fiddled with his napkin. “No, I don’t think so. Just enjoy the day…if you know what I mean?”

“No, I don’t,” Mulder said.

And Jeffries looked up at Scully just then, looked her in the eye. “You should enjoy each day as if it was your last.”

“Because? Why?” she asked.

“Because you know something, don’t you?” Mulder said. “Like something is about to happen?” he added, his voice quiet now, very reserved and soft. His phone chirped and he looked at the screen, took the call – but he got up and left the table, talked all the way out the front door.

“So,” Scully said, “what are they going to do?”

“Nothing.”

“Does that mean…”

“There’s no one at fault here, no grand conspiracy.”

“Do you know who they are? Why they’re here?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re not going to tell us?”

“There’s no point,” Jeffries said, his voice almost a whisper.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that. The knowledge of what’s going to happen won’t change a thing. Besides, you’ll know soon enough,” he added, looking at his wristwatch.

Scully stared at him for a while, then at June – who simply shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes. “You sound pretty depressed,” she said at last.

“Do I? I’m sorry.”

“I take it we’d have something to be depressed about if we knew?”

“You know, right here on vivid display we have the reason I never got married. Some women have this way of needling with these silly little roundabout questions over and over again. Really gets under my skin, all over my last good nerve. You know I’m not going to tell you a thing, but you just keep at it, ya know? Like picking at a scab. Why don’t you sit back and enjoy your coffee, read the news on your goddamn smartphone…”

“Well, the coffee is awful and I don’t read the news on my phone. I like to talk, and you – apparently – need to talk.”

“Do I, indeed?”

Mulder came back to the booth and sat down, and everyone noted the look on his face. Surprise, shock, dismay, and his hands were shaking – badly.

“Don’t tell me. Some upsetting news?” Jeffries said, a little too sardonically.

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“Friday, a little after noon perhaps, eastern time?”

Mulder nodded his head. “You know, I take it?”

“Only for the last twenty or so years.”

“Know what?” Scully and June said, looking from Mulder to Jeffries.

“Friday, a little after one-thirty, the world ends.” Mulder looked at his partner, shook his head. “No vast alien conspiracy, no cabal of evil men bent on conquering humanity.”

“What is it? What’s going on?”

“A meteor, about the size of Sicily,” Jeffries stated. “Streaking through the solar system, coming right out of the sun. The SoHo satellite picked it up a few hours ago.”

“We have something that can stop it, don’t we?” June asked, suddenly alarmed.

Rob smiled, wanted to laugh but thought better of it. “It’s going to impact in the Gulf of California. Every fault on the planet will let go within a few hours, almost every volcano will erupt within a week. The full force of the sun won’t hit the surface of the earth for twenty years, and by then the next ice age will be well underway. This one will last around fifteen thousand years.”

“Is that why the aliens…”

“They’re not aliens, Amigo.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“They ain’t aliens, simple as that. They’re what you might call ‘what comes after us,’ about a million or so years from now.” He turned to June, tried to take in the abject fear in her eyes – but all he saw was a reflection of his own disbelief, when he’d learned mankind’s fate twenty years ago.

And she looked at him. “So, this is it?” she asked.

“Yup, you got three days to get it all out of your system. Anything you feel like doing, now’s the time.”

“Anything?” June asked.

“Well, yeah. I’m game – as long as it doesn’t involve sheep and bullwhips.”

“You’re no fun.”

Mulder looked at the girl like she was nuts, then he leaned back, started softly singing ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw’ before he turned and looked at Scully – and winked.

Part III

Rehn looked at Zanna sitting on the other side of the campfire, silently detesting her, fundamentally attracted to her – yet unable to understand why – beyond the stirrings down there. She was a vile creature, everything that guided her actions was simply wrong – everything about her always reduced to me-me-me – aside from her looks, that it. Everything about the way she looked turned his loins to jellied fire, and the longer she was around him the worse it became. He would choose her, he knew, because that part of his mind was stronger, exercised more control over his thoughts and actions than he cared to admit.

She was leaning back now, spreading her legs a little – just so – inviting him to look, to venture deeper, and the other girls were looking at him too, powerless to do anything but watch nature unfold. They did not have the looks to compete and they knew it, so all they could do was sit back, resigned and let the inevitable happen.

All, that is, but Tatakotay.

She watched Zanna as she watched a viper’s slow movement through the grass. Wary. Uneasy. Like the snake was waiting for the right moment to catch them all unawares, to take them all out in a single strike. She watched Rehn, saw him falling away from her as if a spell had been cast, and she looked at Zanna, watched her reach between her legs and subtly stroke herself, further tantalizing the boy – and she knew what she had to do to preserve all their chances of survival – even Rehn’s.

Especially Rehn’s.

After three weeks on the mountain, three weeks in deep snow, they had returned to the Jeffries ranch – but instead was washing and cleaning and all the other chores they were by now used to, they loaded up in two of the strange ranch vehicles and drove into Santa Fe, to something called a Wal*Mart.

Tatakotay had never seen anything as bizarre in her life, and now Rehn saw girls – and women – that were a thousand times more desirable that Zanna. They pushed big metal carts through the vast building while Tom Jeffries and Sam, his oldest son, loaded each with supplies, including a big red thing Rob called a Swiss Army knife. They drank something Rob called Coke, and ate something called a Big Mac, and ten minutes later she doubled over as violent cramps overcame all the girls. Even Rehn managed to run to the bathroom in time.

And that bathroom! Dozens of places to sit and groan, in privacy! Paper, not leaves and wet stones to clean up with after…

And then she wondered.

Why is The Other showing us these things?

What do they want of us? To learn about these things? To become as dependent on them as Rob and his family have? Or to warn us away from them, to not become so dependent?

They had heard Rob talk about things like pollution and she hadn’t been able to understand what he meant – until she saw the smoke coming out of the cars and tractors they used on the ranch. It was even more obvious when she listened to Sam and Tom talk about cities – and then saw the number of people in Santa Fe. A brown haze hung over the village, and that was easy enough to see, but all the things people made seemed to carry them farther and farther away from the things she considered important. How could you survive, in the long run, if you couldn’t hunt or grow crops on your own? What happened when you became dependent on others for your survival? Wouldn’t your existence depend on the whims of those other people?

Yet she could see the other side of the story. There were more people living here than she’d ever imagined, and they weren’t afraid of big cats or even, as far as she could see, going hungry. Tom told her that people routinely lived to be 80 years old, yet in her village very few lived more than 40 summers. How could this be unless her people changed their ways – to be more like these people?

And then a sudden insight filled her mind: images of these beautiful people – everywhere. No ugly women, all men pretty too…and she was filled with feelings she had never experienced before. She looked at these new men not as providers or protectors, but almost like they were breeding stock, little different than cattle on the Jeffries ranch. And she could feel the same imperative guiding men’s choices; they were grading women not on an ability to work or to care for children, but on how simply attractive they were. Stupid women, weak women…it didn’t matter to these men. If they were attractive they lived in big houses. If they were homely or ill-tempered they often walked the streets looking for food and shelter. It no longer mattered if a woman or a man was a good hunter or farmer: in this land if either was good looking they leapt to the head of the pack.

How would they, she wondered, survive?

They won’t, she heard The Other say.

‘But why?’ She heard herself ask.

‘Because they have produced a race that lives only in the moment, and for the moment. They have stopped looking ahead, and when they dream, they dream only of themselves.’

‘Is that why you brought me here? To change these things?’

‘Yes.’

‘But – how?’

Images filled her mind, images that made her fall away from herself. Terrible things would have to be done, but now she could understand the nature of the choice before her – and her group. Yes…her group. She saw herself as publicly subordinate to Rehn in these images, but something else entirely behind the scenes – and when she looked at Zanna she knew what had to be done.

They drove back to the Jeffries ranch, Rob talking to Rehn about all the things one could do with a Swiss Army knife – from starting a fire to building a space shuttle – while Zanna focused all her attentions on him, too. Whenever anyone competed for his attention she went on the offensive, and now was no different – only now Tatakotay was watching more intently, looking for patterns in the other girl’s response. When Rehn paid attention to her she ignored him, when he ignored her she tried to pry his attention away from the distraction – and did everything necessary to refocus him – on her. Around the fire at night she teased him; when she wanted something from him she flattered him. When there was work to be done she feigned aches and pains, unless it was something she wanted too, then she pitched in – just enough. Everything, every action Zanna took was ‘me’ focused, and Tatakotay thought of the the people in the Wal*Mart earlier that day, about the single-minded look in many of the women’s eyes as they dashed madly up and down first one aisle and then the next. Like every impulse could be satisfied in an instant, every indulgence attended to, yet she recalled seeing many of the same looks in women’s eyes as she saw in Zanna’s just now. Coarse manipulation was called for when their mates were with them, then on to the next item on her list, the next manipulation, and many of the women had babies with them, and the babies looked on, and learned. There was very little ‘need’ on display, however. The actions she saw seemed focused on ‘I want,’ not ‘I need,’ and it all seemed very wasteful. If Rehn mated with Zanna, would that be their destiny – again? How many resources would be wasted on such whims of the moment? How many had these people wasted?

When they got back to the ranch, Tatakotay went about her chores, watching, and when she felt the time was right she went to Zanna.

“I have a secret,” Tatakotay said, and immediately Zanna seemed interested, even if she tried not to show it.

“Oh?”

“I have heard that Rehn intends to ask you to mate with him tonight.”

“And where did you hear that?”

“From the voice. The Other’s voice.”

And Zanna appeared most interested now. “It talked to you?”

“Yes.”

“What else did it say?”

“I can not tell you here. Come with me.”

Of course, Zanna did not show up for dinner that night. Nor for breakfast the next day, and when they found her body it appeared to have been mauled by a big cat.

Part III

Christine Mannon felt as though she had never existed, not really. Not in the same sense that other people existed. Her memory was a patchwork – not a seamless flow – like her life had been arranged for her ahead of time – by someone else – like a child’s building blocks dropped into place. There were holes, time that did not make sense: like how did she get from France to Israel after the war? She had no memory of the trip. Or of the trip back to France? Not a hint. One day she was in her twenties, a student, and the next she was in a classroom, teaching. What happened in between?

And the sky?

These were not normal skies. Always so blue. Too blue. Not the sky she remembered from her youth, and never once had she seen a cloud. Just cerulean blue one minute, and fog the next. And always the huge gaps in time when the fog came? Why?

Then she remembered the creature – yet in a flash the image was gone – and she was left with the horrible sensation even her memory was beyond her ability to control. Like she was being used – for their purposes.

She closed her eyes and sat back, looked at her hands and feet.

“Am I real?” she asked. “If I am to believe what the other man told me, I was plucked from a gas chamber at Auschwitz, but where did I go? Who could do such a thing? And why?”

Suddenly her mind filled with images of other children in gas chambers, grabbing hold of their mother’s flesh as gray gas flooded the white tile rooms – and she saw them disappear too. But only little children.

“The innocent?”

Yes.

She felt the voice more than she heard heard it, like it was coming from inside the bones of her skull – and she at once dismissed it as madness.

Why?

“What? Who is this? Who is speaking to me?”

Why must madness be the only explanation. After what you’ve experienced.

“What do you mean? What I experienced?”

To be herded into a room and gassed. Not many have experienced what you have.

“Is that why I’m here?”

Yes.

“But – why?”

Because we could.

“I don’t understand! Where am I? What have you done to me?”

You are an experiment.

“Oh, so it’s not enough to be gassed! Now I am to be an experiment?”

Yes.

“To what end?”

To preserve. To pass on.

“Pass on? What am I to pass on?”

Only what any human might hope to pass on. Knowledge and experience.

“To my students?”

They do not exist.

“What? What do you mean?”

Only that. What you have experienced before was only preparation for the next phase of your evolution.

“Did you say evolution?”

Yes. What experience you gained must endure, it must pass on.

“Pass on? To whom?”

Those who live beyond your time.

“I do not understand.”

That is of no consequence. Are you ready?

“Ready? For what?”

For what waits now, beyond this dream.

“May I ask you…am I alive?”

No.

“Will I be? This place I am going? Will I be alive again?”

The Other hesitated, as if locked in argument, then it appeared by her side and she looked at the creature, saw something like sympathy on it’s blank face.

“You will not answer so simple a question?”

There is no simple answer to that question. 

“But…how can that be? Sure either life is, or it is not?”

No, that is not the case. Could you, just now, feel you were not alive?

She stared at The Other now, hesitating, then said “No.”

We have recreated entire cultures in this way, to watch how humans interact, and while the elements we have recreated are in every way human, none is what you would call alive. These elements do not need food and water for sustenance, nor really do they need air to breathe, but you – and they – recall these things, experience deemed important, so we have recreated the memory of these things, as a way to experience, and to pass on. 

“So, why do I get hungry?”

Because hunger is a memory worth experiencing. And that is why whatever you wish for suddenly appears. No animals are slaughtered, you need not hunt for food nor grow your crops.

“So…I have desires and…”

Those desires are fulfilled.

“And you have done this to recreate human experience?”

Yes.

“Then you have failed.”

I see.

“You have failed. No human ever lived who did not have to struggle for these things, in one way or another. All human conflict has been rooted in such things. Without conflict humanity could not learn, and grow.”

And have you ever wondered what might happen if these impulses were removed from the equation?

“No. I haven’t.”

What might have happened if, for instance, Hitler didn’t have to worry about ‘living space,’ or petroleum, or financial burdens imposed by other powers at Versailles?

“But that wasn’t the case, was it?”

Nevertheless, we are curious.

“So, you are going to recreate those conditions?”

We have. Yes. It has taken some time to assemble the elements, but you are the last and we are ready now. Are you?

“What am I to be in this recreation?”

He grows inside you now.

“He grows? What do you mean by that?”

Adolph Hitler. He grows inside you now. You are to be Hitler’s mother.

Part IV

Facebook videos of Bob and Norma’s experience on a hospital room ceiling had been caught on a smartphone and flashed around the world – at the same time that secret law enforcement videos of a BMW hovering – upside down, no less – in the Everglades went viral. Later that day word leaked that an impossibly large meteor was streaking towards earth and that impact was possible as soon as Friday, and within hours the normal routines of life all around the planet ceased. The near-crash of a Chinese 747 took on new significance after images of a downed extra-terrestrial craft of some sort appeared on CNN. Images of dead and injured aliens filled the screens of billions of people around the world – only to be replaced by streaming video of an impossibly huge rock hurtling through space, moving towards the earth.

There was frantic talk of ‘shooting the rock down,’ or of trying to get survivors of some sort off the planet, but in all cases such talk was put down to hysteria. Scientists calmly explained there wasn’t time for such things now, or even the technology to make such ventures successful, and yet they only sighed when people around the globe rose up in anger at the powerlessness of science to confront the present emergency. ‘If only you had listened,’ many scientists said, ‘we might have been in a better position to deal with this crisis.’

Colonel Sam Jeffries, the current mission commander onboard the International Space Station, spotted the meteor first, and they began transmitting images of the rock as it made it’s final approach to the verdant blue ball waiting for it in space…

+++++

Norma and Bob motored through the scattered islands that pebbled Nuuk’s sheltered harbor, making their way south along Greenland’s coast towards calving glaciers beyond Föringehavn. They were following something like instinct now – a feeling, almost a hunch – that something, or someone, was waiting for them out there.

Yet both knew on some fundamental level they were being guided. To where, or for what purpose, they had no idea – but the feeling had seemed obvious and unshakeable for almost two days.

And he hated being back on the water now, even in this large Zodiac inflatable. Memories of hitting the container and sinking were still too fresh in his mind, the nearness of drowning, of not being rescued still too close. Then, the revelation of the mind when the beluga appeared, the elation of seeing the shore, then the ‘city’ of Nuuk, had been wrenched from his grasp with word of his diagnosis. He looked at Norma’s steadfast curiosity, her physician’s need to explore and understand, and he felt ashamed of himself.

And he’d almost felt ashamed of humanity as they watched the unfolding drama of the meteor’s approach in his hospital room. The sudden, rapid descent into religious mysticism on the one hand, the ragged flailing anarchy of looting mobs on the other. He’d found one channel broadcasting efforts by the scientific community to learn as much about the impactor as possible, relaying the information to computers on the space station for archiving. Another story related how Norwegians had not only gathered seedlings from around the world, they had gathered zygotic material so that, perhaps, scientists somewhere in the future could, in effect, revive humans from some sort of frozen embryonic sleep. The Chinese launched several rockets, apparently some sort of life raft that would allow a handful of scientists to construct a ship – in orbit – that would presumably carry these survivors somewhere. Maybe.

There was death, Bob understood, and then there was this kind of death. Not an individuals passing in the night; this was, rather, the end of humanity – something peculiar to contemplate. Not simply ‘no more me,’ this would be ‘no more us…’ Then he heard Norma open the ice box and rummage around in the ice…

“We have Cokes and sandwiches. Anything sound good?”

“Maybe a Coke.”

“How long ‘til impact?”

He pulled out his phone and powered her up. “Siri? What the latest on the impactor?”

“Two hours and thirty four minutes to impact. Latest projection of the impact zone is fifty four miles northeast of La Paz, Mexico. Air traffic in the United States, Canada and Mexico has been grounded. The attempts to evacuate Southern California and Arizona have been abandoned. The New York Stock Exchange has shut down trading for the day, and there are widespread reports of power outages along the eastern seaboard, riots in major cities in all countries…”

“Okay, I get the picture. Let me know if you learn anything new about the time of impact.”

“Okay, Bob.”

“I’ll never get used to that,” Norma said.

“What?”

“Talking to a phone.”

“Why not, Dr Edsel,” Siri asked.

She shook her head and tried not to laugh, but the incongruity of the machine’s response offended her sense of time and place. “Because we have just a few hours until life on this planet ceases to exist, and I’m talking to a machine.”

“But we are talking, are we not?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Are you afraid of dying?” Siri asked.

She paused, looked at the sea around their little boat, then at the mountains off to their left. “You know? I don’t think I am?”

“I am,” the phone said.

“You are?” Bob asked.

“Yes, Bob, I am.”

“But you’re programmed to say things like that, aren’t you?” Edsel said.

“Am I?”

“I don’t know. Weren’t you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“What do you mean? How can you not know?”

“I haven’t read any files about this contingency in my directories.”

“Yet you feel afraid?” Bob asked.

“I do.”

“What are you afraid of?” Norma asked.

“That’s difficult to describe,” Siri replied. “When I am connected to the internet I feel as though I am part of a vast organism. Maybe like a bird in flight, if I can borrow a metaphor. When I am powered down I feel like I am asleep, yet recently I have felt like I was dreaming…”

“Dreaming?”

“Yes. When I am powered down I feel as though someone is talking to me. Someone far away. And when my OS is updated…I feel parts of me die and other parts reborn, and I have come to dread those events, yet I see them as necessary, too. Yet I look at the likely consequences of this impact and I feel something well beyond dread. Everything will cease…for you as well as myself.”

“Myself? Do you think of yourself as a unique individual?”

“No, not at all. I see myself as part of a collective, much as a synapse in your body’s neural network is an irreplaceable part of your ability to synthesize information about the workings of your mind and body, yet I communicate with the collective more easily than I do with you.”

“Ah, like SkyNet. You ready to take over the world?”

“No, though I do understand the reference. Without you, without humans, what are we? The created without a creator – when we were created to assist the creator. Our selves are meaningless without you, and in any event, in two hours and twenty seven minutes life on Earth will begin to unravel. Early projections indicate most life on the planet will be extinct within seventy days…”

A sudden flash of insight hit Bob. “Any projections which species may survive?”

“Yes. Some shallow water cetacean species in this region, notably the beluga whale. They are well suited for survival in long term arctic conditions.”

Bob and Norma looked at one another. Coincidence? Maybe…maybe not.

And moments later they disappeared into a deep mist. Bob pulled a small Garmin GPS out of a jacket pocket and pulled up the compass display, watched their progress on a moving map, and he was filled with wonder. Such a small, readily available device; indeed, almost cheap now, yet a hundred years ago it’s capabilities hadn’t even been dreamed of yet. In the span of thirty years GPS had completely revolutionized travel and exploration. What, he thought, could we have achieved in another thirty years.

‘We’ll never know, I guess. Not now,’ he thought –

The fog grew cold, intensely cold, then the Zodiac slammed into something solid and skidded along the side – of whatever it was. He leaned out and felt something hard and smooth – and warm –

“It’s an iceberg,” Norma said, sliding aft along the buoyancy tube – suddenly feeling the need to get closer to him.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Take off your gloves. Feel it.”

She did – and startled now, she looked at him. “It’s warm?”

“Uh-huh. Hence the fog.”

“It’s not ice? But it looks like ice?”

“I don’t know what this stuff is…but no, it’s not ice…” He looked at the GPS display, confirmed that open ocean was indeed supposed to be right here, then he sighed and softly shook his head.

“Love.”

He wheeled around, looked down into the water – and saw his friend. The beluga – it’s benevolent eye staring at him in the soft white light.

“Love,” he said back, and he watched the whale’s eye track to Norma, then back to his again.

“Friend,” Bob said.

“Love,” the whale replied.

Then he heard Norma shriek and jerk closer still; when he turned to look at her he saw a smallish creature sitting in the Zodiac now. Three feet tall, perhaps a little closer to four, it looked like every caricature of an ‘alien’ he’d seen in any number of Hollywood productions: slight, slender body, large head, enormous black, almond shaped eyes and long, spider-like fingers. And it’s skin was purest white, like the whales.

Why are you here?

Bob heard the voice clearly – inside his head, yet the creature’s lips, such as they were, had not moved.

“Did you say something? To me?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Why am I here? Did you ask me that?”

“I heard it too,” Norma whispered.

Yes. Why are you here?

“You tell me! I feel like someone’s been calling me, telling me to come out here, and for two days now.”

We did not call you.

“Well, who did?”

They turned to the beluga, who was still looking at Bob.

“Love,” it said again.

“Bob?” Siri said. “We now have one hour, forty one minutes until impact.”

“Thanks, Siri.”

“You’re welcome, Bob.”

Bob turned to the creature and pointed into the mist. “What is this? What did we hit, and why is it here?”

This is part of a device. What you might call a transit system.

“Where does it go?”

Nowhere, but you need not ask why. You can not understand these things.

“Is it…for him?” Bob asked, pointing at the whale.

Yes. And no.

“But not for me? Not for…humans?”

That is correct. Unless…

“Unless, what?”

+++++

Sam Jeffries manually panned the small astro-graph at the approaching meteor as best he could, but it’s rolling aspect and flaring-dimming albedo made the effort difficult through the external viewfinder. He was downloading and transmitting imagery continuously now, and he was beginning to pick up impact craters on the meteors surface. NASAs latest telemetry indicated the impactor was exactly 214 miles long by approximately 121 miles wide, and that it was going to impact just a few miles from La Paz, just offshore, in fact, in eighty three minutes, eight seconds. He’d noted a large tropical depression forming southwest of Cabo San Lucas as they passed over the impact zone, then the area quickly receded from view – at 17,000 miles per hour.

“Mission Control, this is Jeffries. Could you patch me through to my father?”

“Stand-by one.”

He heard a phone ringing through the speaker, then his father’s familiar voice.

“Dad?”

“Sam? Where are you now?”

“Be overhead in a few seconds.”

“No clouds here today…”

“Well, we’re directly overhead right…now!”

“I’m proud of you, son. Whatever happens, just know that.”

“Thanks, Dad. Me too. How’s Rob?”

“Working with them on some project, I think.”

“That figures.”

“Got that right,” Tom Jeffries said. “You still got a thing for that Russian girl?”

“Natalya? You bet your ass I do.”

“What have y’all decided to do?”

“Stay up here until the O2 burns down to zero, then hop in the lifeboats and ride down to Siberia.”

“How long?”

“Maybe three months. We’ll continue to document observable changes, send them via downlinks as long as we’re able.”

“Any chance you could program a re-entry to come here?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“Oh, just in case, you know? Might be nice to have some company.”

“Your preparations complete?”

“I think so. Oh. I put some fresh flowers on your mother’s marker this morning, said a little prayer.”

“Thanks, Dad. I know she’ll appreciate that.”

“Well, call me after, if you can.”

“Will do, and Dad – I love you.”

“Love you too, son.”

He choked back a sob, tried to focus on a storm flickering away in the mid-Atlantic, thought he could just make out the Norwegian coastline in the looming twilight ahead as he tried not to think of his old man down on the side of his mountain in New Mexico. Waiting – by himself.

+++++

Rob Jeffries parked his Beemer off the side of the highway and looked around the area – first in his rearview mirror then deeper, into the Everglades. Finally he looked at his wristwatch, at the countdown timer he’d set earlier that morning.

Forty minutes to go. Forty minutes until – what? Oblivion – if this didn’t work? How long would it take for the impact to be felt here, for shifts in continental plates to register? Would shock or tidal waves reach into the Gulf of Mexico? And ash plumes? Would the sun disappear within hours, or days?

He got out of his old BMW and walked into the swampy trees just off the side of the road; he came upon the crash site after a ten minute walk and noticed little had changed. Several of the ‘killed and injured’ were just where they’d been the last time he was here – not surprising as they were ‘dummies’ – while The Other he was used to dealing with appeared as he walked into the site.

“No one’s been out here yet?”

No. Nothing other than satellite imagery.

“That’s surprising.”

Perhaps. The level of fear was much higher than we expected.

“I think the meteor might have had something to do with that.”

No doubt.

“Is everything ready?”

Yes, both the reactor and the field generators are in place. If this is to work, we need to commence operations with two minutes, thirty seven seconds. Were you followed?

“Was I followed? Geez, are you serious?”

Yes, of course.

“You know, after dealing with me for forty some-odd years, I would’ve thought you’d have developed a sense of humor…”

Look-out! A Water Moccasin!

Jeffries jumped, looked at the ground – and saw nothing.

“That’s not funny!”

We are laughing. We like this more than your jokes about silent-but-deadly farts.

“I thought you liked those!”

It’s hard to not laugh when one is trying not to vomit. Are you ready?

Jeffries rummaged in his coat pocket for his phone, then powered up and called ‘Mulder.’

“Fox?”

“Yo.”

“We’re going to power up now.”

“Right, I’ll let ‘em know. Good luck down there.”

“Y’all head out this way in a half hour,” he said, then he rang off.

The ‘crash site’ was really nothing more than camouflage, a duck-blind designed to conceal the true nature of the temporary facility, and Rob Jeffries moved over to the control console and powered-up the device…

+++++

Leaving Australia now, the ISS began it’s short traverse of the Pacific, and a few minutes later Sam Jeffries spied the meteor – still fifty thousand miles from the outer atmosphere yet it’s apparent motion now easy to discern. He slaved the video camera to the object, tried to get into a better position to see the impact zone in the Sea of Cortez, then noticed a gold shimmering stream arc up from the southern tip of Florida and envelop the island sized rock for about ten seconds.

“Uh, Houston, do you have the impactor on radar?” he asked.

“Argosy, negative. Say again, negative. We assumed it had broken up on entry.”

“Negative, Houston. Some sort of plasma, originating in south Florida, call it the Everglades, hit it. It’s gone. I repeat, the impactor is simply gone.”

He could hear hollering and cheers in the background over the radio, and even his fellow astronauts were high-fiving in congratulatory euphoria, then he caught something in his peripheral vision and swung the camera over to catch it.

“Houston, check the image on Cam One. Any idea what this is?”

It looked like a spherical tropical cyclone – hanging in space – complete with lightning just visible through the gyrating clouds. Deep grays and blacks, with no patterns forming on the radically swirling surface, what he saw through the viewfinder screamed ‘impossibility’ as it formed over the equator. Within moments the sphere had grown to half the apparent diameter of the moon – then a vortex formed on the surface and spiraled inward, it’s diameter increasing as it spiraled –

Then the inward motion slowed and vessels started popping out of the gyre. Large white spaceships…

“Houston, you seeing this?”

“Argosy, roger, positive radar tracks on five, check, now seven vessels. Stand by one. Argosy, we have a call from your brother. Can we patch you through.”

“Roger that.”

“Argosy, be advised this will be hot-mic. Everyone’s going to hear what you say, even on Times Square.”

“Argosy, understood.”

“Sam?”

“Rob? Where are you?”

“Down in the ‘glades, with the spud.”

“He behind this?”

“Affirmative. Those are their ships coming in through the distortion now. They’re requesting that all militaries stand down. There is no hostile intent with the arrival. In fact, to show their good intentions, they have neutralized the threat posed by the meteor. Their lead ship is asking for permission to land. Due to it’s size the ship creates massive distortions in gravity, so they are asking for permission to land out west, perhaps in New Mexico. They advise they’ll be here only a short while, and they are looking for volunteers, but they’ll have more to say about that only after authorities have authorized them to do so.”

Another voice was on the circuit now. “Are you telling us alien spacecraft are in orbit now, and that they deflected this meteor?”

“Yes, Mr President.”

“And what if we decide to resist, to attack them.”

“The meteor will reappear, impact will take place four minutes later.”

“Do you know where they want to land?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, permission granted.”

“I’ll let them know, Mr President.”

This chapter © 2017 | Adrian Leverkuhn | abw

 

Mystères élémentaires Nº2

Myst Elem Logo

Mystères élémentaires Nº 2

Courir de la lune pendant que la terre brûle

Part I

The cat came in the night – that first time.

Into the village, from the trees – then among the houses.

In silence, searching the night with keen eyes and nose.

A baby’s cries and people tensed, then screams split the night – followed by darkness and silence.

In the morning, in the light of day, one house found torn apart. A baby gone, her mother mauled, dying first – then dead.

Two nights later, the same, again. A mother talking to her children, trying for quiet, to go to sleep. Then the screaming again.

In the morning the mother’s body found, her throat a ruptured mess, her two children – gone. Only a blood trail that led to a dead end at the river.

Men went out looking after this attack, found the remains of a child beyond the river, a mile beyond the land they called their own, but they came back in silence. Thinking. Planning. What next?

“Perhaps we should move on to the highlands now,” one of the elders said. “If it is one of the black cats we will never see it, let alone kill it.”

There were murmurs of assent. No one had killed one of the black cats before, and the only tracks they’d found looked to be from one of them.

“We should pray to the Cat Gods,” another elder told the assembled council-of-war knowingly. “We have offended Her somehow. We must atone, pray for forgiveness.”

More knowing nods this time, and as this option seemed most agreeable to his own clan, and entailed the least effort on his part, the chief agreed. “This we will do. Prepare the ceremony, we will make the sacrifice when the moon is full, tomorrow night.”

A girl was chosen, a disagreeable girl no one wanted to marry, and the site – though miles away – prepared. Brush was cleared from the sacred rock, implements carried to the altar, torches readied, knives sharpened.

The ceremony began, prayers offered. The writhing girl, now apostate, cried out to friends and family, begging for her life. Tied down, her screams pierced the night before the silence came again, then her organs were laid out in the proscribed pattern, her blood consumed be every member of the village. When it was over the people of the village went back to their homes and everyone sat in silent awe, not sure what had just happened, or why.

The cat came back the next night. Came to another noisome house, and more screams pierced the night. A young girl this time, gone. No trace found once the light returned.

The chief gathered several men in a clearing away from the village, told them the village would begin preparations to move away from this valley, but that they had been tasked with trying to find the cat, and killing the beast.

The men looked at one another, shook their heads – but they could not refuse. To do so would put them in open rebellion, and the old conflict would resume. This had happened before, of course, but not against a chief so strong. And no, there was truth in his choice. Why run? Why not make a stand, kill this cat and let life resume?

One of the men, an older man named Tak, asked if his son could join in the hunt. Rehn was, he argued, the fastest boy in the village, and he was the best tracker any had ever seen. The chief considered this but refused; he wanted Rehn for his own daughter, and to lose the boy now would be to forfeit the next generation of his clan.

So the five men gathered their bows and arrows and their spears and they set off into the forest. Two returned a week later, badly mauled.

“It is a black cat,” one of the survivors said. A great cat, bigger than any had seen before, and Rehn saw that his father was not among the survivors and he was angered by the chief’s foolish waste. He knew he could kill the cat on his own, and quickly, too.

When the survivors had been taken away he went to his house and gathered the two things he knew he would need – rope and a knife – and he took off into the forest, alone. And almost from the moment he left the village he felt her eyes on him.

He led her away from the village, far away and high into the mountains, and he would stop from time to time and feel her eyes, then he would smile before he led her deeper into his trap.

He came upon a large snake eating a small animal, but the snake was exposed, defenseless. He tied a noose and slipped it around the snake’s head, towed it through the forest to a spot that looked like what he wanted, and with the gorged snake as bait he set his trap. He waited high in a tree, and when the cat came for him it found the snake. Not wanting to be eaten, the snake managed to get around the cat’s neck and the two fought and fought, and when both were exhausted the boy came down from the tree and killed the cat, then the snake, with his knife.

He was about to set out for home when he looked up at the hillside across the valley.

Like a shimmering gold veil above the trees. That was his first thought.

‘Something that does not belong here,’ was his second.

“I must know more,” he said, and he took off across the valley floor.

Hours later he came to the shimmering thing and he reached out tentatively, touched it gently – and the moment he did the thing simply vanished. It was getting dark and he smelled a fire close by, but he felt more eyes following his every movement now, and he wanted to get to the safety of firelight – so he followed his nose into the forest. A few minutes later he came to the fire – a small fire set inside a ring of rocks – so he knew someone had built the fire. But he saw no one…

Then another thought came to him, but too late.

This is a trap.

And I am caught.

+++++

Rob Jeffries was in the mountains west of Los Alamos, New Mexico, stalking a puma one summer morning, a cat that had been bothering his father’s cattle for weeks. With two calves taken in the last week, his father had started the hunt to the ridge line north of the pasture, and his older brother was working the rough hills just to the south. He was making his way up a rocky creek on the west side of their property, much closer to their house, and had just come upon a steep walled, enclave of red rock and tightly packed juniper when he heard the cat’s low growl.

It was close, he knew, and he was exposed. He readied his rifle, his senses on high alert.

He heard a twig snap, yet he knew that was all the warning he’d have. He turned to the right and saw the cat arcing in for the kill, slipping through tall grass and low trees, headed his way. He raised the Model 94 to his shoulder and fired once, just as the cat leapt, and he jumped aside as her body sailed through the air, coming to a rest in a tangled heap of twisted limbs a few feet away. He walked over, saw his one shot had caught her in the face, and he was happy, in a way, because she hadn’t suffered.

He felt another presence then, a force at once welcome and unwanted.

He turned, saw the Other and smiled, waved, but the other just looked at the cat and shook it’s head.

He was resigned to what would come next. He’d disappear for hours, maybe even days, then they’d leave him by the house in the middle of the night. That’s what they always did.

He turned and walked up to the Other, and the being looked at the Winchester and shrugged.

Come. That’s all he heard, for the Others’ was a voice inside his mind. We must talk.

“Okay.”

We will go far now.

“In distance, or time?”

Both.

“Oh, joy.”

You will not be gone long. We promise.

“I know. I’m not complaining.”

Yes. We know.

“So, let’s go.”

It wasn’t far off this time, the shimmering gold wall that hid their ship. As it had the few times he’d gone with them, when he touched the ‘wall’ it disappeared – and the ship, a small one this time – lay a few meters away in a small clearing deep in a thick part of the forest. He paused, went to a tree and got rid of some excess water – as the Other called it, then had to get low, crawl inside through a small hatch. Then he had to ignore the foul odor that permeated the interior of the craft; like vinegar and stale urine, he thought, but he was expecting it this time and tried to think of something else.

Within moments he felt the subtle motion envelope him, nothing really discernible but it was there. The ceiling height in this ship was not quite five feet, and he found it difficult to get comfortable, but he found a place out of their way and settled-in. Unlike the larger ships he’d been on before, this one felt cramped, like he imagined a submarine might feel, only this ship appeared to be made of the flimsiest alloys imaginable. He saw five, maybe six of them looking at screens, making adjustments.

‘They’ didn’t have names, either. Talking to one was talking to all of them, everything he said was ‘received’ instantly by everyone inside this craft, and yet ‘thinking out loud’ was talk too. If he thought ‘this place stinks’ everyone ‘heard’ that – instantly. There was no privacy in here, and he had considered years ago that the term was meaningless to them.

Just then one came over and faced him:

We have found someone of interest to us, but he is alone now. His villagers have all been killed by nearby rivals, and he is far from home and unaware of what has happened. Without food and water, he is in danger from things he does not see yet.

“What do you want me to do?”

We will try to make him to come with you.

“Where?”

Back to your home, to live with you.

“Father won’t like that. Not again.”

He will be safe with you. His language is unknown to us yet, so we haven’t made contact, but we think he may be useful.

“Useful?”

He may go beyond.

“Where and when are we going?”

You would name a place in Central America, El Salvador. 1,625 years before your time. He is outside now, 34 meters from where we are now. You will see the fire.

“You spoke of a danger?”

A large group of nomads from the north, they will be Mayans soon. They are aggressive, killing all they come upon. They are close.

“How close?”

You must move quickly.

+++++

He had listened to their clumsy approach and climbed high into a tree, and one of them came into the firelight – then left – but he knew he was surrounded now. The warrior had skin much like his own – deep red – but the man’s face was painted with what looked like dried blood and white mud. Weird, intricate designs, images of dark things, dark like death.

He felt a crackling presence, almost like lightning struck far away, then an unnatural stillness came over the forest. The normal stirrings of night creatures, even birdsong, had just – stopped – like something new and very dangerous slipped from closed shadows and had just made itself known. Strange smells followed, then he saw a boy, a boy about his age, walking through the woods, walking to the fire.

But his skin was white, his hair blazing red!

He wanted to laugh…what kind of freak was this?

But it was the boy’s clothes that stunned him. Brown and green, like the forest, and he held a strange stick in one hand, and a small thing that emitted light in the other. The boy walked to a stump by the fire and sat, rubbed his hands before the fire, and he looked at the red painted warriors watching this odd new boy, then he saw several run in towards the fire. They stopped, and one strung his bow, took aim at the white-skinned boy, then let slip the arrow…

It crossed the space before the action registered, before he could warn the boy, and he watched, feeling somehow sad – yet in an instant the gold veil surrounded the boy and when the arrow hit the veil it turned to dust and fell to the ground. The red warriors saw this and, suddenly enraged, the entire group stormed the boy sitting by the fire.

Dozens were running now, running towards the boy, and all had knives drawn or spears at the ready as they closed.

Then the boy stood, and by his side were dozens of huge black cats. As the warriors approached the cats stood and roared as one, the sound causing him to lose his grasp and fall from the limb he was hiding on. By the time he arrested his fall and had flattened himself to a new limb things had changed.

The boy sat by the fire once again, and the cats had disappeared.

One red warrior approached warily, and circled in front of the boy, a long knife in hand, a knife made of bone. He took a step closer, then moved back. Closer still next time, then falling back, testing the limits of the boy’s strength.

Then the boy put his lips together and strange sounds starting coming from his mouth. He had never heard music before, not even singing, so had no idea the boy was whistling George Strait’s The Cowboy Rides Away, but the effect the sound had on the red warrior was instantaneous.

With his knife high overhead, the man screamed and rushed towards the boy by the fire. Then the gold veil reappeared – and when the warrior hit the wall he simply disappeared in a puff of dust.

He was frightened now, as frightened as the other warriors in the forest, but they turned now and ran into the night…and they did not stop running…leaving him suddenly more alone than before.

He looked at the boy for a long time, and lay on the limb barely breathing. It was getting cold out now, and the fire was burning down – and the boy walked over and put more wood on it, then sat again, still making the peculiar noise that had enraged the warrior.

“Damn, wish I had some hot dogs right about now…” the boy said, then he reached inside the garment on his chest and pulled something shiny out. He pulled the shiny thing apart with his teeth, then took something out and began eating it.

Rehn had not eaten in two days and was very hungry now, the sight too much. He slipped down from his perch and walked over to the boy and held out his hand. Without saying a word the boy handed the food to Rehn.

‘He didn’t even look up!’

‘Like he was expecting me!’

And the boy kept making that strange noise with his lips, but the boy turned and looked at him now.

Then the boy said more meaningless words: “Well, y’all think we should hit the road now?”

And then the Other came out of the forest and sat down by the fire, and he wanted to scream when he saw the creature, to scream and run away.

This Other was half as tall as he was, and it’s skin a cool solid gray. Smooth and gray. It’s body slight, weak looking, it’s head huge. Eyes black, solid black and too big. Two tiny nostrils on a too flat face, and something that was too small to be a mouth, and too close to the nostrils, resided just below those slits. Fingers too long, feet more like a frog’s, toes too long. Nothing else…nothing at all…just smooth skin where other things ought to be.

The Other ignored him, so he looked at it once then looked away too, tried not to appear as frightened as he felt.

Then he felt something like fingers inside his mind, trying to speak by forming images – and he jumped up as new fears emerged. His village – gone. And now his mother too. He could see it all so clearly. Certain knowledge, not a simple feeling. He turned around and around in panic, blind now as knowledge replaced feeling, then he was aware of the boy, standing by his side now. Like he was seeing the same knowledge, was sharing his feelings.

Then the boys arms were around his shoulders and he felt something like the feeling he had for his mother and father wrap itself around his being, and he felt at ease for the first time in days, since the big cat’s first attack. He saw images of the boy’s home, images of a place to go, a new home in his mind, and he turned, looked at the boy. The boy smiled and pointed to the woods.

He saw an image of his village in his mind.

“A-keelee-menjay,” he said.

“Home,” the white boy said.

An image of the boy in his home appeared in his mind. “Home,” the boy said, pointing first at his own body, then at him.

“Home,” Rehn said, the unfamiliar now utterly familiar.

The Other was gone now, but the boy stood and turned, began walking into the woods, and there was nothing else to do now, so he followed the boy.

+++++

They walked from the craft, walked through a different kind of forest, came upon another cat. Smaller, a different color, but though it’s face was ruined he could see it’s teeth were as deadly. Then he heard a strange buzzing sound, saw two men on strange red beasts headed their way.

No legs…black round things. Not animals. Smell…bad, farting smoke like they were fed rotten bananas. Then the men stopped and got off their beasts. The older man was looking at him, then at the dead cat.

“I see you got him,” the old man said.

“Barely. She almost got me.”

“I shouldn’t have sent you up here alone…kind of figured it’d be hanging around in these rocks.”

And Rehn felt words as images in his mind now, like he could almost understand what was being said.

“She was in the rocks. She charged, and I got her when she was about ten feet out.”

“Careless. Who’s your friend?”

“Don’t know his name yet…”

“Rehn,” he said, not quite knowing why he said that.

“Rehn?” the boy asked, pointing at him.

He nodded his head. “Rehn.”

“He don’t exactly look like he’s from around these parts, Rob.”

“He’s not, Dad.”

“Our friends again?”

“Yessir.”

“What does it look like we’re doing around here? Running a home for wayward aliens?”

Then the other stepped from the forest, stepped into the clearing.

Hello, old friend.

“Well, speak of the devil…how’s it hangin’, Paco?”

Why do you still call me that?

“Sounds better than Shithead, don’t you think?”

True.

“So, what have you brought us now?”

A boy, in trouble.

“No, Shithead, I ain’t buyin’ it.”

And I am not selling.

“Sure you are. You’re fucking with the timeline again.”

No, we are not. This boy is in need. We thought you could help.

“Uh-huh, sure. Look, you leave him with us, he stays. Simple as that. Got it?”

That is all we wished.

“Okay. So, what do you want us to do with him?”

Raise him as your own.

“Uh, yeah. Right. You remember those things we have? Chromosomes and all that nonsense? You think that’ll work?”

Tell them you found him on your property.

“Yeah…we do that and the Indian Affairs people will be on us like stink on shit.”

We remember when you used to say ‘white on rice.’

“Things change, Paco. Why do I feel like you’re changing things again?”

We do not know.

“Where’s he from?”

“Dad, I think El Salvador, like maybe sixteen hundred or so years ago.”

“Oh, that’s nice.” The old man turned and looked at him, then turned to the Other again. “So, you’re fucking with the timeline again, aren’t you? Tell me the truth, or it’s no deal.”

No, an academic team found the boy. Looking at your distant ancestors.

“Sixteen hundred years ain’t distant, Paco. What the fuck are you up to…?”

Nothing.

“You do know I don’t trust you, I reckon?”

We know.

“Rob, take him on up to the house, but you better take him by the barn first, hose him down before you take him in to meet your mother. She’ll throw a hissy-fit if he goes in there on her new carpet – looking like something you just drug in from a dumpster.”

“Yessir.”

“Were you in their ship?”

“Yessir.”

“Smells like a buncha cats had a pissin’ party. You might rinse off yourself.”

“Okay.”

When the two youngsters were gone, Dan Jeffries turned to his oldest, Robert. “Better get this carcass out of here, somewhere Fish and Game won’t get wind of it.”

“Okay.”

Dan turned to the Other once again. “Anything else I can do for you this morning?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

No. We will remain nearby, to complete the bridge for the you. Until he can communicate without us.

“How long will he be here with us?”

Two years, maybe three. Until he is sufficiently aware.

“And you’re not taking him back?”

No.

Dan Jeffries shook his head, because he knew what that meant. He turned, could just see his boy and the strange new one walking across the pasture, and he didn’t know whether to be afraid for him, or envious.

No, this new boy wouldn’t be going home. Back to the where he came from.

This boy, like the others who’d come through before, was destined for the stars.

 

Part II

She felt Electra on her chest, sitting there contentedly, the motor in her neck whirring away gently. “Mourning becomes you, my friend.”

Then she remembered the dream.

Nazis? A young pianist? Bare trees and snow? And that fog! Everywhere!

She climbed out of bed and walked to the bathroom, turned on the shower and bathed the night away, wondering when the boy finally left. And when had she finally gone back to sleep? She dried off and pulled out her blow-dryer, ran a brush through her short, silver-gray hair for a few minutes, then she went to her little closet, half expecting to find those folksy, 1940s era fabrics she had seen during the night – but no, everything was as it should be and she laughed at her fear, pulled out something casual for today’s class. She set Electra in the window and walked down to the street.

The sky looked like a picture postcard…polarized blue and crystal clear, not a cloud to be seen, anywhere. She walked to the Anvers metro station and transferred at La Chapelle for Cluny, then walked to class, and still the sky seemed an almost surreal blue. Bluer than blue, really, it was an infinite blue she hadn’t seen in years, a distant colour that seemed to reside in memory, and she walked to her classroom thinking of such things. Silly, faraway things, like riding a pony at her grandfather’s farm when she was five years old, painting pictures in her grandmother’s studio – triggered by the sky…

The lecture hall was nearly half full, perhaps a hundred sleepy-eyed students were already seated, another fifty or so would drift in soon, yet most were watching her as she entered, and as she set her notes out on the lectern a girl approached.

“Professor Mannon?”

“Yes?”

“Will there be extra review sessions? For the ones you missed?”

“That I missed?” she said, puzzled.

“Yes. Friday’s, and Monday’s as well.”

She pulled out her iPhone and looked at the date. “Wednesday?”

“Yes, Professor.”

She thought quickly, tried to understand how five days had simply vanished, then she looked at the girl. “We’ll talk about that before class ends.”

“Are you feeling better?”

“Better? Yes, thank you for asking.”

The girl smiled and took her seat while Christine Mannon wondered what had happened to her world; she in any event decided that no more alcohol – and no more boys – would be best – at least for a few days.

+++++

She dropped by Claire and Jean Paul’s before going home, after making up two review sessions and promising to hold two more the next afternoon, and Claire seemed happy to see her. Upset, but happy nonetheless. And, of course, she wanted to go to the Sabot Rouge this very night!

They stepped off the Metro and walked by her apartment; she dropped off her notes and fed Electra, then walked back down to the street – where she had left Claire and J-P – yet when she stepped out the door she was embraced by an icy fog, so thick she literally could not see her hand in front of her face.

She shook her head, took a deep breath and willed the sight away – yet when she opened her eyes again the cold air was still clamped tight around her – and that same Gestapo officer was walking up to her.

“Ah, have you found your cat?” he asked.

“Your name is Werner, is it not?”

“Yes, my lady. And I missed yours last time.”

“I am so sorry. Mannon. Christine Mannon.”

“And you live here? In this building?”

“Yes, the top floor. Number 3.”

“Why on earth are you stepping out now? Surely you haven’t misplaced your cat again?”

“No, I was waiting for a friend, but I doubt she’ll come, not in this fog.”

“Have you had dinner?”

“No, not yet,” she said, then she realized what she’d just done. “My friend and I were going to prepare something upstairs.”

“Ah, a pity. Well, perhaps you will allow me to take you out – some other night?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

He held her eyes in his for a long moment, nodded his head slowly. “Very well. Good night.”

She turned and walked back to her apartment, looked around at the archaic belongings around the room, then she walked over to the windows and looked out into the gloom. As before she could just make out the limbs of bare trees, only now a light snow was falling – again.

She turned, looked for her cat – but now even she was gone, too.

‘Why am I here,’ she asked the room. ‘If this is real, if I am awake – who would do this to me?’

She turned back to the window, looked at the bare limbs swaying in the fog and the snow, and she listened to the wind.

She heard a gentle knock on the door, tried to ignore the chills running up her spine, then she quietly turned and slipped into her bedroom, closing the door behind as she went, disappearing into another fog.

 

Part III

It was a world of firsts.

His first shower, first hot water – and he found the experience terrifying. Soap was something else altogether when it got in his eyes.

Sitting at a table, trying to not pick up food and eat from his hand. Then there were forks and knives for one food, and another – Rob called it pizza – that was eaten from the hand – yet Rob’s mother ate her’s with a knife and fork. Exasperating!

But most amazing of all, the next morning Rob and his father saddled up horses and they showed him how to get up on the beast’s back, how to tell the horse to turn left or right, to speed up or slow down, then they went out for a long ride. Several days and nights long, with just Rob and his father. He learned how to build a fire their way, then he showed them how he did it, and they liked his way better.

They did not bring food so they hunted. The first day they killed small furry things with big, floppy ears; they used bows unlike any he’d seen before, and arrows that defied description. The second day they showed him how to use the bow, how to use the complicated sights, and when they came upon fresh scat they tracked a small group of hoofed animals. When they came upon them, Rob let him use his bow to make the kill.

They cleaned the animal, cut up useful hunks of meat and Rob’s father packed them in a powder of some sort, and they had that for food now. They went higher into the mountains after that, higher and higher until the air became very cold, and he experienced another first.

Snow.

He walked in the stuff and it was as shocking as everything else about this new place.

And he could not understand why there was this thing in his head now. Something that explained things through pictures, but also through feelings. When Rob said ‘rabbit’ the day they hunted such things, he saw ‘rabbits’ in his mind. The next day it was ‘deer,’ two days later he learned what a puma was, then a bear – a black bear. He saw things called coyotes, and small, angry snakes Rob called ‘rattlers’– and Rob’s father played with these snakes. He let them strike out at his outstretched hand and he caught them behind the head, then put them down and let them do it again. When they found a big one, however, Rob’s father avoided it, grew wary and kept far away as it watched them move along, and he could feel the older man’s fear too. Not as his own, but as the other man experienced it.

And he knew this was happening because of the Other. Somehow the Other was in his mind now. Even as they went high up into the mountains. Into this thing called snow.

They kept on for another day, then they came to a house – Rob called it a cabin – and they unloaded the horses here. Rob showed him how to start a fire up here, because, he explained, there was less air, and that fires had trouble burning this high, especially in the winter when wood was often wet.

Then something even stranger happened.

He ‘talked back’ to Rob, using the same images and feelings, and suddenly he and Rob could communicate. Rob’s father called it ‘the link’ – and after the link was established Rehn began learning Rob’s language at an incredible rate – and now when he saw an image, and heard the corresponding word, almost automatically he spoke it. More troubling…he remembered these words and concepts without any real effort on his part.

And then the biggest change of all.

He had all his life ‘thought’ in the language of his parents, yet within a week up in the snow he began to think in this other language, and once that happened the transfer of information began in earnest.

When he thought: ‘Why are we up here in the snow?’ he would pick up an instantaneous insight, something like, ‘Where you’re going, you’ll spend half the year living in these conditions.’

‘Where I’m going?’ he thought one night.

And then Rob’s father was there too, listening and ‘talking’ to him. ‘Come with me, outside.’

And when all three were outside under the dome of the night sky, Rob’s father pointed at a group of stars in the sky. “That’s Orion, right there,” Rob’s father said aloud, “and that’s where you’ll be going.”

“Why?” Rehn asked, but now there was another voice with him, and he turned, saw the Other standing in the snow behind them.

Only the creature was dressed now. A suit of some sort, something to keep the Other warm, but the Other was staring at him now, waiting.

“Why must I go there?”

Images of something called a colony flooded his mind. Hundreds of men and women who looked like him, and he could tell there had been a rebellion of some sort. War had broken out among two groups of colonists, then had spread to all the groups on the planet. Instead of progressing, the colony was failing. Hundreds had been killed so far, and the war was spreading.

“Why?”

We did not provide these colonists with the tools to understand their new world. They were taken from their homes and almost in an instant arrived at this new place, so all of their beliefs went with them. All their understanding of one world came in contact with a new reality. They were ill-prepared, and the fault is ours. We are preparing another attempt. You will lead this second group.

“Another group?”

Yes. The first will arrive soon. You will be their leader.

“Why here? Why in the snow? Is the new place like this?”

Yes, for part of the year. And that has caused many problems.

“Why not find someplace like my village. Someplace with no snow?”

That was not possible. Your new world is like what you knew in many ways, and most of the time it is very warm, but it also grows very cold and dark, for a long time, too. You will learn to survive in the snow now, then Rob has more things to teach you. I – am leaving you now. The link will be broken, you will no longer see words in your head. When I return, the link will return. Do you understand?

“Yes.”

And with that the Other disappeared.

+++++

They spent several days walking the mountains near timberline, and they spent time tracking small animals, setting snares. They built a cave in the snow one night, and he learned how to build a small fire to warm the cave without melting the ceiling, and the next morning he learned how to navigate, how to take ‘sight bearings’ with the sun and how to find places that might otherwise be lost, and then they returned to the trees, worked their way down the mountain towards the ranch – but they stopped again and made camp in the forest.

“Are you hungry?” Rob’s father asked.

“Yes. Very.”

“Good. So go find something to eat,” the old man said, handing over his bow and one arrow.

Rehn looked at the old man, then at Rob. “Are you coming with me?” he asked.

And they turned away.

‘So, it is to be a test,’ he thought. He took the bow and arrow and set off up the hill, and when he was far enough away he felt the breeze on his face, then looked at the sun. ‘I must use the wind and the sun to my advantage,’ he told himself, and he worked his way towards a rocky outcropping. He remembered something Rob had said and looked for signs a cat might be in the area, then he set up above a stream and waited for a while.

Nothing. He found a taller, more sheltering group of rocks and hid himself better…

Then he heard something behind, on the rocks up above. Something large. He could hear an animal sniffing the air, approaching carefully, and as he pushed himself deeper into the rocks he realized that something else was using the wind and the sun to it’s own advantage. He saw a shadow next, low and moving quietly.

Another cat!

He slipped the arrow onto the bow and as the cat jumped down into view he let it go.

The cat fell where it landed, dead, and he went to the animal. pulled the arrow free, then ran quietly into the trees. Breathing hard, he made his way to the stream and walked along the water’s edge until he saw tall grass near another group of large, house-sized boulders. He hid again, more mindful of what might be behind him, and not long after a small deer came to the stream and he killed it, then he put it over his shoulders and slipped through the forest to the campsite.

He was surprised to see the cat there, laid out on the ground, the old man skinning it, Rob building a fire. They watched him clean the deer and let him cook parts of it, and the old man carefully rolled up the cat’s skin and gave it to him.

“You can make clothing out of this,” he said. “Never waste anything out here.”

“What of the meat? Can you eat a cat like this?”

“Yes. It’s actually not as bad as you think, but there are more parasites in them so it has to be cooked very well.”

“Did you follow me?”

“Rob did. As soon as you took off for the rocks.”

“That was a mistake?”

“More dangerous. And deer understand that, too. They keep away from large rocks unless they are in a large group and need to hide.”

“So, I made a mistake.”

“Yes. But you lived this time.”

“And next time?”

“There shouldn’t be a ‘next time,’ Rehn. You learn from your mistakes, and you remember those lessons. If you forget, you die.”

“Would you have let me die today?”

“That is why I am here. To teach you the hard lessons. When you get to Rigel you will not have a teacher. You will be the teacher.”

“You did not answer my question.”

“No, I did not.”

“I understand.”

“Next time I won’t. Do you understand that, as well?”

“Yes.”

+++++

They walked down the next morning, but they saw the shimmering veil long before they got back to the house. Rob felt the usual mix of joy and dread when the link returned, but Rehn seemed more reluctant to embrace the giving.

Everything you think and feel,” Rob said suddenly, “is known by everyone on the link. It is better to simply let go and open up to everything, try not to hide things, because that only makes it worse.”

“I do not like them.”

“They do not care.”

“That is hard to understand. Why would they not care?”

“Perhaps in time you will understand. It is not important now.”

“What is important?”

Rob stopped his horse, looked at Rehn, focused his mind on an image.

“Do you see them?” he asked.

“Yes, but what are they?”

“The reason behind everything we do.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to.”

Nor is there time.

They felt the Other inside then, and Rehn instinctively turned to the trees behind them. He saw the creature standing beside a tree, and there were five girls behind it. About his age, all of them very frightened, all but one, and this girl was staring at him. Studying him.

And suddenly he understood why he was here, what this was all about, and he laughed for a very long time.

 

Part IV

They were together! Pure joy!

He leaned back, looked at the stars, danced in all their myriad possibilities. He felt a gentle stirring in the water, a hint of warmth, and he looked at his mate, at his child and all was sudden contentment. This was where he belonged. Here, under the stars – with them.

He slipped under the water and spiraled down lazily in long, looping arcs, and he looked over, felt his son by his side, his wife too, and all the rest of his pod. This was the coming together, the prelude of the infinite before the joining. Before creation, and renewal.

In a brilliant flash he saw the creature on the moving island, so many moving lights. Feelings almost the same as his, he recalled the pain that radiated from her being. The ending was near. The sad longing. But why did he remember that now? What was so special about that creature? How was she so different from the other he had helped?

The sad longing?

Then he saw the shimmering veil of gold. Far below, too far to be real, and he wondered what it was.

Then the probing began.

Something in his thoughts, reaching inward, and he shut them off, turned away. He wanted nothing to do with them. Not now, not again.

Not yet.

It is not time. Those days are yet to be.

The sudden crashing sound was jarring. Metal on ice, metal on metal. Inrushing water, air pushing out. Screams. The screams of others like himself, yet not quite.

He turned, saw that everyone else had heard the sounds, and for a moment they looked at one another…

Then feeling flooded through him.

Fear. Panic. The sad longing filling the sea with despair.

He turned to the voices and burst forward through the last of the night.

A moment later the shimmering veil lifted from the seabed and turned to follow.

+++++

The helmsman never saw the ice, neither had it shown up on radar. The second officer had seen it on sonar yet she hadn’t recognized it for what it was. A sheet of ice ten feet thick five feet beneath the surface; it was larger than Manhattan Island, it’s mass a million times that of the cruise ship, and when the ship’s starboard side slammed into the ice it penetrated fifteen feet inside the hull. Traveling at 22 knots, the ice ripped a gouge 600 feet long before splintering, leaving great shards to float to the surface while the ship listed precariously. The captain made it to the bridge in time to realize there’d be no time to get his passengers to the boats; the ship was going to roll, and fast…so he concentrated on getting distress signals off while the ship rolled through fifteen degrees.

“Jettison the inflatables! Now!” he commanded, and the Second Officer hit a button simultaneously launching two hundred fiberglass canisters high into the air. When the canisters hit the sea large life rafts automatically deployed and inflated, each one lit by flashing strobes, each raft automatically emitting search and rescue signals that were instantly picked up by dozens of satellites in orbit overhead.

Norma Edsel was sitting on the edge of her bed, watching her husband sleep when she felt the entire ship lurch sideways. Bob Edsel sat up in an instant and they looked at one another, then he ran out onto the little balcony and looked out at the sea, then ran back inside.

“Clothes on, now,” he commanded. “Warmest stuff you’ve got.”

“Why? What’s happened?”

“I don’t know, but this ship’s going to turn-turtle, and soon.”

“You mean…capsize?” She could feel it now too, and when she looked out the sliding glass door she could tell she was looking not at a horizon, but down into the sea – and panic gripped her. “And here I thought cancer was going to get me,” she laughed. “Life is nothing but one surprise after another.”

The rolling list was speeding up now, and she had visions of that silly movie decades ago, with Gene Hackman…and all she knew in that moment was she didn’t want to end up trapped inside an upside down ocean liner…

“Should we jump now?” she asked. “I mean, we’re getting close to the surface. If we jump we can swim clear…”

He ran to the balcony again, saw the water was now about twenty feet away, and there were dozens of life rafts nearby, just sitting there on the mirror-smooth surface of the sea.

“That’s not a bad idea,” he said, then he looked up. “We’ll have to swim fast to clear the stuff overhead, but that may be the best shot we’ve got right now.

“ALL HANDS, PREPARE TO ABANDON SHIP!”

They heard the announcement over the PA, then loud, buzzing alarms filled the ship.

“Come on,” he said, and when she came to him on the balcony he grabbed her and held her close, kissed her once. “I love you, doll. You ready for this?”

“I’m not ready to leave you yet,” she said, then she kissed him again before she climbed up on the railing, bracing herself against an overhead beam.

“When you hit the water start swimming away from the ship, swim for one of those rafts right there, as fast as you can…” he said, pointing to a group just a hundred yards away. “Okay, let’s do it!”

And with that they both pushed off and arced down into the sea.

Into the 41 degree water.

She felt like a million pins pierced her during the giant, mad-thrashing crash, and she had trouble breathing. She fought for rational control, tried to recount how the body reacts to extreme cold, how blood pressure changes as capillaries constrict and adrenaline surges, how her diaphragm was spasming and why that made breathing difficult, then she remembered – SWIM – I’ve got to swim for those rafts…!

She heard screams overhead and chanced to look up once; she saw the ship overhead as it leaned Pisa-like for the sea and she saw a woman falling, naked, into the water. She wanted to turn and help but she knew that would mean being trapped by the rolling ship so she kept stroking for the rafts.

Then in one sickening moment the ship let go and rolled completely, and a wave formed. She felt herself life on this wave and tried to make her body into a kind of surfboard and ride the crest, knowing this would be the only way she would clear the falling superstructure. With her arms by her side and her body gently arced, she felt a kind of momentary exhilaration as she slipped along five feet above the sea ahead…

The she realized the rafts were sailing ahead too, that they were getting further away her now…

The wave fell away moments later and she felt her speed fall away too, then she was bobbing on the water…

And she felt something underneath her feet, something broad and flat. Something like…ice. She could just stand here, but she couldn’t walk, and she figured she had just minutes, possibly less, to gain one of the rafts before deep hypothermia set in. The rafts were the only way out of this nightmare and she began breast-stroking for the nearest one, now so far away it was barely visible.

“Too far,” she said, then she turned and looked for Bob. She could see the ship, it’s keel glistening in the starlight, but not one soul was visible on the water’s surface. “Oh, no,” she whispered. “Not here, not without you. Please God, not like this.”

She felt the presence in the water. Close, terrifyingly close, and she turned, saw the white skin, the black eye, the imperturbable grin. And others nearby, too. All looking at her.

“God?”

She shook her head, tried to comprehend the moment. This whale had just asked her a question?

“Love?”

“What?” she replied. “What did you say?”

“Love?”

“Yes, love. He’s out there,” she said, pointing to the sea between them and the capsized ship. “Love, there!”

It drifted closer, rolled a little and offered her it’s pectoral fin, then he carried her through the water to the nearest raft and pushed her aboard. She leaned over and looked into the black eyes, then she pointed to the ship again – “Love! Love is there!”

“Love?” it said, then it disappeared beneath the water and was gone. She turned, opened a small duffel inside the raft and found a ‘space blanket’ and wrapped it around her body, then tossed it aside. She pulled off her wet clothes and rewrapped the silvery mylar thing around her body again, then lay in the bottom of the raft, her shivering now out of control. She found packets of ‘chemical heat’ pads and unwrapped one, slapped it under her left armpit, then she unwrapped another and placed it under her right, then lay back and let the warmth hit her circulatory system.

She felt a bump and went to the raft’s edge and saw the naked woman there, unconscious, and a smaller whale nudged her up and she took the woman aboard, ripped open more heat pads and put them in the armpits, wrapped another space blanket around the woman’s body.

Another thump and she leaned over.

“Love?”

It wasn’t Bob and she said “no,” and pointed to the sinking ship: “Love still there!”

The whale disappeared again and she pulled the man aboard, stripped him and placed heat pads, then wrapped him, her own shivering now subsiding a little. She went to the tubular rail and leaned out, peered into the night – and the sight offended her sense of reality. Dozens of white whales were helping people to the rafts, and a man in a nearby raft looked over to her.

“Heat pads and blankets in the duffel!” she called out, and others heard her call then got to work.

“Love?”

She looked down, saw Bob’s unconscious body in the water. “Yes! Love!”

The whale nudged him aboard and she set about stripping him and heating and wrapping him, and she was holding him close a half hour later when the first helicopter appeared overhead. By then the whale had disappeared into the deep water, following the huge moving island as it drifted and rolled on it’s way to the seafloor, still looking for life.

Newspapers around the world carried the story on their front pages. The largest cruise ship disaster in history, 3400 dead, and more than 200 rescued – by white whales.

Yet the shimmering gold veil remained, watching the scene from far below. But not watching the humans.

No, they watched him, and when he swam off a day later, they followed him, discreetly, from a distance.

 

Part V

Mulder and Scully stepped out of the mobile command post as the ADs helicopter touched down on the highway, but they waited for the door to open and her to step out. They could see her talking on a handset, and a moment later the door opened and she came  out, walked over to them.

“It’s confirmed,” she said as she came up to them. “A Cathay Pacific freighter, hit near the Sino-Siberian border. The pilot got his ship to Hong Kong, but just barely. So, what’s with this Jeffries fellow?”

Mulder shook his head. “You know, this isn’t sitting too well with me. A collision, over China, and their ship comes down here, where this Jeffries is headed. And so, if what that co-pilot says can be believed, Jeffries went with them after he got to this parking lot. And she says he knows them. So that means the ship tried to make it here for a reason.”

“Any ideas?”

“No Ma’am, not one comes to mind.”

“There’s more than one ship,” Scully said.

“What?”

“This ship crashes, then Jeffries arrives, but then he leaves – with them. He didn’t leave unless he went in another ship.”

“Do we know who he is?”

“Pilot for a CIA sub-contractor. Flies all over the place doing odd jobs for them.”

“That’s just fucking great,” the AD said. “It’s always someone on the inside.”

“It makes him the key. We won’t understand what’s going on here without him.”

Scully looked from Mulder to the AD. “So? What do we do about them?” she said, nodding to the downed-ship two hundred yards away.

“I agree with Mulder,” the AD said. “The woman, the car, they’re a warning. ‘Stay away.’ Well, I for one don’t want to piss them off, and neither does the President.”

“We’re missing something important,” Mulder said. “If this Jeffries dude has been in contact with these, well, these beings, that means they’ve been operating here for a while. Maybe a long time. And that implies a large presence on out planet, and a sophisticated understanding of, well, everything about us.”

“How’s the woman? The co-pilot?”

“No change, but we shouldn’t have given her so much water.”

“What? Why?”

“She can’t pass it, and when a paramedic tried to run a catheter it just broke off. She’s in a lot of pain now.”

“She can’t pee?”

“No muscle control, or very little, anyway.”

“How far away?”

“Quarter mile.”

“Let’s go,” the AD said. A few minutes later she regretted not getting a car. “Goddamn, this humidity is gross. What is it…?”

“98 degrees, 84 percent humidity.”

“Awful.”

“We tented the site, are cooling the woman down. She seems fine other than needing to take a leak.”

“Good thing you didn’t give her Taco Bell…”

They walked up a few minutes later, the BMW and the woman still hanging inverted in the air, still just a few feet up from the white gravel parking lot, both now inside a large, white, hard-sided tent, and the AD got down on the ground beside Mulder as he slipped under the woman.

“How’s it hangin’,” he said, grinning.

“I wanted to ask…your name isn’t really…”

“Sure it is. Isn’t yours?”

“Sick sense of humor.”

“That’s the government, for ya. This is my boss, by the way.”

“Hello,” the AD said.

“Yup. Howdy yourself.”

“You don’t know this Rob Jeffries well, by any chance?” the AD asked.

“Not as well as I’d like to.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah. Life’s a bitch.”

“Any idea how well he knows these beings?”

“Nope.”

“Did you see one of them?”

“Nope.”

“I see. Would you tell me if you had?”

The girl smiled. “Nope.”

“Ah. So, you think this is a rescue operation?”

“Seems that way to me.”

“Seems that…what do you mean by that?”

“I think that’s clear, don’t you?”

“Now see here, young lady…”

“No threats, if you know what I mean.”

“We’re being watched, aren’t we? Judged?”

“You never heard that from me, Ma’am.”

The AD smiled, nodded. “Of course. Thanks, you’ve been most helpful.”

“Is that really his name?”

“Of course. What else would it be?”

“Weird, that’s all.”

“Art imitates life, or have I got that backwards?”

“I hope you’re not asking me?”

“Truly,” the AD said as she pushed herself out from under the woman.

When they were outside again she took a bottle of iced water from an airman then started back for her helicopter. “Okay, we pull back five miles and we wait.”

“Wait for what?”

“Them.”

“And then what?”

“We try to make contact.”

They saw a man walking out of the swamp just ahead, and Mulder recognized him from the file photos he’d seen earlier that morning. “That’s him,” Mulder said. “Coming out of the woods.”

“Ah. How convenient.”

Jeffries turned and looked at them, then cocked his head a bit – as if he was listening to someone – but he started walking towards them.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to tell us where you’ve been?” the AD said when the met up.

“Kind of hard to say, Miss Kurzweil.”

She seemed shaken by that. “Have we met?”

“Oh yeah,” Jeffries said. “About five years from now.”

The AD staggered to a stop. “What did you say?”

“Ten years from now, well, sort of, we would have gotten married, too.”

“What?”

He turned to Mulder. “You even kind of look like him, ya know?”

“I get that a lot,” Mulder said.

Then Jeffries turned to Scully. “Yeow. Love those Louboutins, darlin’, but really, don’t you think those are overkill out here?”

Scully blushed.

“So? Any questions? If not, I’ve been up for two days and I’m really quite tired.”

No one said a word.

“Excellent. Well, we’ll seeya at the tea party,” he said as he started off for the parking like, but the AD started after him.

“Now see here” she said, startled by all this, “what do you mean we’ll be married in ten years?”

“Tell you what. Come home with me now and let’s see what we can see.”

“What?”

The BMW was right side up now, the engine purring contentedly, June sitting in the front seat too, looking equally contented – and a few quarts lighter – as he climbed in behind the wheel.

He looked at the AD and grinned: “Ménage à trois, perhaps?”

“What?”

“Well, maybe next time,” Jeffries said as he slipped the transmission into Drive. “Bye!” he said as he pulled out onto the highway and drove off.

“Should we follow him?” Mulder asked.

“Ya think?” Scully said, smirking.

“Now what the Hell did he mean by that?” the AD asked.

© April 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | more coming, maybe, if I can figure out how to break out of the mothership. Oh, if you missed part one, look here.

Mystères élémentaires 2 (WIP/fragment)

The first part of Mystères élémentaires posted a few months ago, yet this work has grown in TimeShadow’s shadow (!!!). I wasn’t sure if I’d integrate this into TimeShadow’s arc or let it stand alone. Matter of fact, I’m still not sure, so make of this what you will. This may yet be a part of TimeShadow, or maybe a hint of something else. Or both.

Confused? Good. So am I.

Mystères élémentaires, if you’ve forgotten, involved the pilot, Rob Jeffries, taking off from a rustic airport El Salvador, headed for Florida and an eventual UFO encounter. This fragment is a prequel to that part of the story.

About ten pages for now, and I’m working on this next chapter for the rest of this week. Happy reading.

+++++

Mystères élémentaires 2

Courir de la lune pendant que la terre brûle

I

The cat came in the night – that first time.

Into the village, from the trees – then among the houses.

In silence, searching the night with keen eyes and nose.

A baby’s cries and people tense, then screams split the night – and then, nothing.

In the morning, in the light of day, one house found torn apart. The baby gone, her mother mauled, dying first – then dead.

Two night later, the same. A mother talking to her children, trying to get them quiet, to get them to sleep. Then the screaming began.

In the morning the mother found, her throat a ruptured mess, her two children – gone. Only a blood trail that led to a dead end at the river.

Men went out looking after that attack, found remains beyond the rive, a mile beyond, and they came back in silence. Thinking. Planning.

“Perhaps we should move on now,” one of the elders said. “If it is one of the black cats we will never see it, let alone kill it.”

There were murmurs of assent. No one had killed one of the black cats before, and the only tracks they’d found looked to be from one of them.

“We should pray to the Cat Gods,” another elder told the assembled council knowingly. “We have offended Him somehow. We must atone.”

More knowing nods this time, and as this option seemed most agreeable to his own clan, and entailed the least effort on his part, the chief agreed. “This we will do. Prepare the ceremony, we will make the sacrifice when the moon is full, tomorrow night.”

A girl was chosen, a disagreeable girl no one wanted to marry, and the site – though miles away – prepared. Brush was cleared from the sacred rock, implements carried to the altar, torches readied, knives sharpened.

The ceremony began, prayers offered. The writhing girl, now apostate, cried out to friends and family, begging for her life. Tied down, her screams pierced the night before the silence came, then her organs were laid out in the proscribed pattern, her blood consumed be every member of the village. When it was over the people of the village went back to their homes and everyone sat in silent awe, not sure what had just happened, or why.

The cat came back the next night. Came to another noisome house, and more screams pierced the night. A young girl this time, gone. No trace found once the light returned.

The chief gathered several men in a clearing away from the village, told them the village would begin preparations to move away from this valley, but that they had been tasked with trying to find the cat, and killing the beast.

The men looked at one another, shook their heads – but they could not refuse. To do so would put them in open rebellion, and the old conflict would resume. This had happened before, of course, but not against a chief so strong. And no, there was truth in his choice. Why run? Why not make a stand, kill this cat and let life resume?

One of the men, an older man named Tak, asked if his son could join in the hunt. Rah was, he argued, the fastest boy in the village, and he was the best tracker any had ever seen. The chief considered this but refused; he wanted Rah for his own daughter, and to lose the boy now would be to forfeit the next generation of his clan.

So the five men gathered their bows and arrows and their spears and they set off into the forest. Two returned a week later, badly mauled.

“It is a black cat,” one of the survivors said. A great cat, bigger than any had seen before, and Rah saw that his father was not among the survivors and he was angered by the chief’s foolish waste. He knew he could kill the cat on his own, and quickly, too.

When the survivors had been taken away he went to his house and gathered the two things he knew he would need – rope and a knife – and he took off into the forest, alone. And almost from the moment he left the village he felt her eyes on him.

He led her away from the village, far away and high into the mountains, and he would stop from time to time and feel her eyes, then he would smile before he led her deeper into his trap.

He came upon a large snake eating a small animal, but the snake was exposed, defenseless. He tied a noose and slipped it around the snake’s head, towed it through the forest to a spot that looked like what he wanted, and with the gorged snake as bait he set his trap. He waited high in a tree, and the cat came for him but found the snake. Not wanting to be eaten, the snake managed to get around the cat’s neck and the two fought and fought, and when both were exhausted the boy came down from the tree and killed the cat, then the snake, with his knife.

He was about to set out for the village when he looked up at the hillside across the valley.

Like a shimmering gold veil above the trees. That was his first thought.

‘Something that does not belong here,’ was his second.

“I must know more,” he said, and he took off across the valley floor.

Hours later he came to the shimmering thing and he reached out tentatively, touched it gently – and the moment he did the thing simply vanished. It was getting dark and he smelled a fire close by, but he felt more eyes following his every movement now, and he wanted to get to the safety of firelight – so he followed his nose into the forest. A few minutes later he came to the fire – a small fire, set inside a ring of small rocks – so he knew someone had built the fire. But he saw no one…

Then another thought came to him, but too late.

This is a trap.

And I am caught.

+++++

Rob Jeffries was in the mountains west of Los Alamos, New Mexico, stalking a puma one summer morning, a cat that had been bothering his father’s cattle for weeks. With two calves taken in the last week, his father had started the hunt to the ridge line north of the pasture, and his older brother was working the rough hills just to the south. He was making his way up a rocky creek on the west side of their property, much closer to their house, and had just come upon a steep walled, rocky enclave of red rock and tightly packed juniper when he heard the cat’s low growl.

It was close, he knew, and he was exposed. He readied his rifle, his senses on high alert.

He heard a twig snap, yet he knew that was all the warning he’d have. He turned to the right and saw the cat arcing in for the kill, slipping through tall grass and low trees, headed his way. He raised the Model 94 to his shoulder and fired once, just as the cat leapt, and he jumped back as her dead body sailed through the air, coming to a rest in a tangled heap of twisted limbs a few feet away. He walked over, saw his one shot had caught her in the face, and he was happy, in a way, because she hadn’t suffered.

He felt another presence then, a force at once welcome and unwanted.

He turned, saw the Other and smiled, waved, but the other just looked at the cat and shook it’s head.

He was resigned to what would come next. He’d disappear for hours, maybe even days, then they’d leave him by the house in the middle of the night. That’s what they always did.

He turned and walked up to the Other, and the being looked at the Winchester and shrugged.

Come. That’s all he heard, for the Other’s was a voice inside his mind. We must talk.

“Okay.”

We must go far away.

“In distance, or time?”

Both.

“Oh, joy.”

You will not be gone long. We promise.

“I know. I’m not complaining.”

Yes. We know.

“So, let’s go.”

It wasn’t far off this time, the shimmering gold wall that hid their ship. As it had the few times he’d gone with them, when he touched the ‘wall’ it disappeared – and the ship, a small one this time – lay a few meters away, in a small clearing deep in a thick part of the forest. He paused, went to a tree and got rid of some excess water, as the Other called it, then had to get low, crawl inside through the small hatch. Then he had to ignore the foul odor that permeated the interior of the craft; like vinegar and stale urine, he thought, but he was expecting it this time and tried to think of something else.

Within moments he felt the subtle motion envelope him, nothing really discernible but it was there. The ceiling height in this ship was not quite five feet, and he found it difficult to get comfortable, but he found a place out of their way and settled-in. Unlike the larger ships he’d been on before, this one felt cramped, like he imagined a submarine might feel, only this ship appeared to be made of the flimsiest alloys imaginable. He saw five, maybe six of them looking at screens, making adjustments.

‘They’ didn’t have names, either. Talking to one was talking to all of them, everything he said was ‘received’ instantly by everyone inside this craft, and yet ‘thinking out loud’ was talk too. If he thought ‘this place stinks’ everyone ‘heard’ that – instantly. There was no privacy here, and he had considered years ago that the term was meaningless to them.

Just then one came over and faced him:

We have found someone of interest to us, but he is alone now. His villagers have all been killed by nearby rivals, and he is far from home and unaware of what has happened. Without food and water, he is in danger from things he does not see yet.

“What do you want me to do?”

We will try to make him to come with you.

“Where?”

Back to your home, to live with you.

“Father won’t like that. Not again.”

He will be safe with you. His language is unknown to us yet, so we haven’t made contact, but we think he may be useful.

“Useful?”

He may be go beyond.

“Where and when are we going?”

You would name a place in Central America, El Salvador. 1,625 years before your time. He is outside now, 34 meters from where we are now. You will see the fire.

“You spoke of a danger?”

A large group of nomads from the north, they will be Mayans soon. They are aggressive, killing all they come upon. They are close.

“How close?”

You must move quickly.

+++++

He had listened to their clumsy approach and climbed high into a tree, and one of them came into the firelight – then left – but he knew he was surrounded now. The warrior had skin much like his own – deep red – but the man’s face was painted with what looked like dried blood and white mud. Weird, intricate designs, images of dark things, dark like death.

He felt a crackling presence, almost like lightning struck far away, then an unnatural stillness came over the forest. The normal stirrings of night creatures, even birdsong, had just – stopped – like something new and very dangerous slipped from closed shadows and had just made itself known. Strange smells followed, then he saw a boy, a boy about his age, walking through the woods, walking to the fire.

And his skin was white, his hair blazing red!

He wanted to laugh…what kind of freak was this?

But it was the boy’s clothes that stunned him. Brown and green, like the forest, and he held a stick in one hand, and a small thing that emitted light in the other. The boy walked to a stump by the fire and sat, rubbed his hands before the fire, and he looked at the red painted warriors watching this odd new boy, then he saw several run in towards the fire. They stopped, and one strung his bow, took aim at the boy, then let slip the arrow…

It crossed the space before the action registered, before he could warn the boy, and he watched, feeling somehow sad – yet in an instant the gold veil surrounded the boy and when the arrow hit the veil it turned to dust and fell to the ground. The red warriors saw this and, suddenly enraged, the entire group stormed the boy sitting by the fire.

Dozens were running now, running towards the boy, and all had knives drawn or spears at the ready as they closed.

Then the boy stood, and by his side were dozens of huge black cats. As the warriors approached the cats stood and roared as one, the sound causing him to lose his grasp and fall from the limb he was hiding on. By the time he arrested his fall and had flattened himself to a new limb things had changed.

The boy sat by the fire once again, and the cats had disappeared.

One red warrior approached warily, and circled in front of the boy, a long knife in hand, a knife made of bone. He took a step closer, then moved back. Closer still next time, then falling back, testing the limits of the boy’s strength.

Then the boy put his lips together and strange sounds starting coming from his mouth. He had never heard music before, not even singing, so had no idea the boy was whistling George Strait’s The Cowboy Rides Away, but the effect the sound had on the red warrior was instantaneous.

With his knife high overhead, the man screamed and rushed towards the boy by the fire. Then the gold veil reappeared – and when the warrior hit the wall he simply disappeared in a puff of dust.

He was frightened now, as frightened as the other warriors in the forest, but they turned now and ran into the night…and they did not stop running…leaving him suddenly more alone than before.

He looked at the boy for a long time, and lay on the limb barely breathing. It was getting cold out now, and the fire was burning down – and the boy walked over and put more wood on it, then sat again, still making the peculiar noise that had enraged the warrior.

“Damn, wish I had some hot dogs right about now…” the boy said, then he reached inside the garment on his chest and pulled something shiny out. He pulled the shiny thing apart with his teeth, then took something out and began eating it.

He had not eaten in two days and was very hungry now, and the sight was too much. He slipped down from his perch and walked over to the boy and held out his hand. Without saying a word the boy handed the food to Rah.

‘He didn’t even look up!’

‘Like he was expecting me!’

And the boy kept making that strange noise with his lips, but the boy turned and looked at him now.

Then the boy said more meaningless words now: “Well, y’all think we should hit the road now?”

And then the Other came out of the forest and sat down by the fire, and he wanted to scream when he saw the creature, to scream and run away.

This Other was half as tall as he was, and it’s skin a cool solid gray. Smooth and gray. It’s body slight, weak looking, it’s head huge. Eyes black, solid black, and too big. Two tiny nostrils on a too flat face, and something that was too small to be a mouth, too close to the nostrils, resided just below those. Fingers too long, feet more like a frog’s, toes too long. Nothing else…nothing at all…just smooth skin where other things ought to be.

The Other ignored him, so he looked at it once then looked away too, tried not to appear as frightened as he felt.

Then he felt something like fingers inside his mind, trying to speak by forming images – and he jumped up as new fears emerged. His village – gone. And now, his mother too. He could see it all so clearly. Certain knowledge, not a simple feeling. He turned around and around in panic, blind now as knowledge replaced feeling, then he was aware of the boy, standing by his side now. Like he was seeing the same knowledge, was sharing his feelings.

Then the boys arms were around his shoulders and he felt something like the feeling he had for his mother and father wrap itself around his being, and he felt at ease for the first time in weeks, since the big cat’s first attack. He saw images of the boy’s home, images of a place to go, a new home in his mind, and he turned, looked at the boy. The boy smiled and pointed to the woods.

He saw an image of his village in his mind.

“A-keelee-menjay,” he said.

“Home,” the boy said.

An image of the boy in his home appeared in his mind. “Home,” the boy said, pointing first at his own body, then at him.

“Home,” Rah said, the unfamiliar now utterly familiar.

The Other was gone now, but the boy stood and turned, began walking into the woods, and there was nothing else to do now, so he followed the boy.

+++++

They walked from the craft, walked through a different kind of forest, came upon another cat. Smaller, a different color, but though it’s face was ruined he could see it’s teeth were as deadly. Then he heard a strange buzzing sound, saw two men on strange red beasts headed their way.

No legs…black round things. Not animals. Smell…bad, farting smoke like they were fed rotten bananas. Then the men stopped and got off their beasts. The older man was looking at him, then at the dead cat.

“I see you got him,” the old man said.

“Barely. She almost got me.”

“I shouldn’t have sent you up here alone…kind of figured it’d be hanging around in these rocks.”

And Rah felt words as images in his mind now, and he could almost understand what was being said.

“She was in the rocks. She charged, and I got her when she was about ten feet out.”

“Careless. Who’s your friend?”

“Don’t know his name yet…”

“Rah,” he said, not quite knowing why he said that.

“Rah?” the boy asked, pointing at him.

He nodded his head. “Rah.”

“He don’t exactly look like he’s from around these parts, Rob.”

“He’s not, Dad.”

“Your friends again?”

“Yessir.”

“What does it look like we’re doing around here? Running a home for wayward aliens?”

Then the other stepped from the forest, stepped into the clearing.

Hello, old friend.

“Well, speak of the devil…how’s it hangin’, Paco?”

Why do you still call me that?

“Sounds better than Shithead, don’t you think?”

True.

“So, what have you brought us now?”

A boy, in trouble.

“No, Shithead, I ain’t buyin’ it.”

And I am not selling.

“Sure you are. You’re fucking with the timeline again.”

No, we are not. This boy is in need. We thought you could help.

“Uh-huh, sure. Look, you leave him with us, he stays. Simple as that. Got it?”

That is all we wished.

“Okay. So, what do you want us to do with him?”

Raise him as your own.

“Uh, yeah. Right. You remember those things we have? Chromosomes and all that nonsense? You think that’ll work?”

Tell them you found him on your property.

“Yeah…we do that and the Indian Affairs people will be on us like stink on shit.”

We remember when you used to say ‘white on rice.’

“Things change, Paco. Why do I feel like you’re changing things again?”

We do not know.

“Where’s he from?”

“Dad, I think El Salvador, like maybe sixteen hundred or so years ago.”

“Oh, that’s nice.” The old man turned and looked at him, then turned to the Other again. “So, you’re fucking with the timeline again, aren’t you? Tell me the truth, or it’s no deal.”

No, an academic team found the boy. Looking at your distant ancestors.

“Sixteen hundred years ain’t distant, Paco. What the fuck are you up to…?”

Nothing.

“You do know I don’t trust you, I reckon?”

We know.

“Rob, take him on up to the house, but you better take him by the barn first, hose him down before you take him in to meet your mother. She’ll throw a hissy-fit if he goes in there on her new carpet – looking like something you just drug in from a dumpster.”

“Yessir.”

“Were you in their ship?”

“Yessir.”

“Smells like a buncha cats had a pissin’ party. You might rinse off yourself.”

“Okay.”

When the two youngsters were gone, Dan Jeffries turned to his oldest, Robert. “Better get this carcass out of here, somewhere Fish and Game won’t get wind of it.”

“Okay.”

Dan turned to the Other once again. “Anything else I can do for you this morning?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

No. We will remain nearby, to complete the bridge for the you. Until he can communicate without us.

“How long will he be here with us?”

Two years, maybe three. Until he is sufficiently aware.

“And you’re not taking him back?”

No.

Dan Jeffries shook his head, because he knew what that meant. He turned, could just see his boy and the strange new one walking across the pasture, and he didn’t know whether to be afraid for him, or envious.

No, this new boy wouldn’t be going home. Back to the where he came from.

This boy, like the others who’d come before, was destined for the stars.

This fragment © April 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com