Come Alive (23.2)

[Work on The 88th Key is coming along, look for something new in a few days. As for me generally speaking I’m doing pretty good right now, at least slipping back into the groove again. Still, as always, Music Matters. Words do too.]

Chapter 23.2

An ancient diesel crane sat on the dock above Karma and Time Bandits, and men swarmed over both boats erecting lumber guides to aid them as they pulled each mast. After they were pulled, each was wrapped in plastic and then loaded onto a long trailer, leaving Henry to plug the hole through the deck left by the absent mast, though H-R had thoughtfully included one so it only took a few minutes to get that chore out of the way. All he and Tracy had to do now was wait for the fuel truck, so they decided to sit in Bandits’ cockpit while they waited. She brought a few croissant and a jar of citrus marmalade she’d put up while in Horta, and he used a French press to brew up some freshly ground Ethiopian coffee beans.

He was still almost in shock after talking with Tracy’s mother; once she’d ascertained he was alone on his boat she declared her intent to come to Paris as soon as North Atlantic air travel resumed. Now, watching the port come back to life he harbored no illusions; Edith would no doubt show up in Paris by the time they could move their two boats up to the Arsenal Marina.

Though even now Tracy seemed a little put-out by the whole thing. She had, after all, decided to leave on this trip after her divorce was finalized – which no doubt included the brutal family upheavals that inevitably follow such things. Yet Edith, her mother, had been through a real blockbuster of a divorce as well, and not too many years ago, so suddenly there was a very real potential for all kinds of combustible excess baggage if Edith showed up out of the blue.

Yet…Tracy was a physician. A psychiatrist too, true enough, but a licensed M.D. nonetheless – and assuming Dina followed through and didn’t return he knew he was going to need one soon enough.

“What medicines are you carrying onboard?” she asked as they sat in the shade.

“For?”

“You. As in, you know, your condition?”

But Henry had simply shrugged the question away. “I couldn’t really tell you, Tracy. Dina stocked three pantries with all kinds of stuff, right down to chemotherapy agents she put in the ‘fridge.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

“Nope, but could we finish our coffee first?”

She’s smiled at that. “I forget…I’m not on California time anymore.”

“It takes a few months to break free of all that crap,” he said, smiling at his decisive indecisiveness. “Two cups of coffee, however, and I’m right back in the groove.”

“This is good stuff. Where’d you pick it up?”

“In Copenhagen. Everything good in life can be found in Denmark.”

“Funny, I wasn’t planning on going north, but now I’m not so sure that was the right decision.”

“That’s the thing about having your home with you. I had simply intended to follow the weather, to stay in one place until the weather dictated a change.”

She looked away for a moment, then turned to face him again. “I know you’re used to all this by now, but the whole cancer thing is new to me, and I have a hard time accepting – your future.”

He nodded. “I understand. And yes, I get the whole five stages of grief thing, too. But frankly, I think I’m stuck in the pissed-off stage.”

She smiled at his self-deprecating humor, but she nodded her understanding. “I think I would be too. How could you not be?”

“Well, there’s a lot going on that we haven’t gone over yet. Hopefully we’ll have time to in Paris.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Henry.”

He nodded. “And that makes me wonder, Tracy. Why not? Are you homesick?”

She looked away, looked almost lost in thought. He poured a little more coffee and nibbled at his croissant while he looked at her. “You know, I don’t think I miss California – not really,” she said a while later – softly, almost gently. “The thing is, I grew up hearing about Claire – but all those conversations, all those memories, always seemed to include you. I don’t know, Henry, but it’s like you and Claire were inseparable, even in death. You were always the knight in shining armor, too, if you know what I mean…”

“Not true,” Taggart said ruefully. “I never, ever, not even once shined my armor.”

“But you were inseparable, weren’t you?”

“Yup.”

“So I have to assume everything I know about this whole thing is true…”

“I’m curious, Tracy. Listening to you for a while now, it seems that Claire has taken on the dimensions of mythology, even if it is only a family mythology. Why?”

“I think my mother grew up in Claire’s shadow, and because of that she grew up most unsure of herself, but all that changed when Claire got sick. From all the stories I’ve heard over the years, Mom seemed to blossom in the aftermath of Claire’s passing, and I think therein lies the tale – at least from a shrink’s point of view. Mom never felt guilt – I mean, how could she? – yet at the same time Claire’s passing was probably the biggest thing that everhappened to her – at least while she still lived at home.”

“You know,” Henry said, “it’s funny, but I barely remember your mother before all that happened – even though she was just a few years younger. But to say she was lost in Claire’s shadow really doesn’t do the situation justice, Tracy, because from the little I do remember it seemed she almost worshipped Claire. She tried to mimic Claire at school and it always backfired, too, and I think I remember those things more than anything else.”

“Dad told me about it,” Tracy said, looking down now. “Mom blossomed, or so he told me, but he also said that no matter how hard she tried she always paled in comparison to Claire.”

Henry shrugged evasively – though as he looked away he struggled with another flood of unwanted memory. “I wasn’t around for a lot of that, I guess. Most of that would’ve happened my senior year, and Edith was a sophomore that year.”

“That’s what seems so strange to me, Henry.”

“Strange?”

“Yes, strange. Because Mom always used to say she would have never made it through that year without you.”

“Oh, did she?”

“And funny, too, because one of the things Dad told me when they broke up was that he was tired of competing with you.”

“Yes,” he said, standing up suddenly, “that is funny.” Then he walked over to the lifelines and stepped down onto the quay – before he walked off with his hands in his pockets and his head hung low.

She couldn’t decide whether to follow him or not, but in the end her heart won that battle.

+++++

The fuel truck didn’t make it until almost 1500 hours, but by then the tide had turned again and there was no point trying to head upriver until early the next morning. Henry made arrangements for both boats to remain tied-up where they lay, then, after slipping another sublingual anti-nausea med under his tongue he took Tracy out to dinner in LeHavre. The three of them left for the half hour walk, with Clyde forcing a few diversions to water the grass along their meandering way.

“Have you ever transited a lock before?” he asked once they’d settled at a table and been handed menus, and once Clyde had settled on Henry’s feet.

“No, but I’ve been reading up on it.”

He sighed. “It’s nothing what you expect it will be, Tracy. These locks are huge so they might not be too turbulent, but your boat is heavy and it doesn’t have a bow thruster.”

“Yours does, I take it?”

“Actually, it has bow and stern thrusters so I can handle the lines from the wheel. You’ll have to tie off the tiller and work the lines from amidships. Don’t get me wrong here – you can do it – assuming you don’t panic if turbulence gets hold of you. Beyond that, just watch out for that bowsprit.”

“You really think you can handle your boat alone?”

He nodded. “I think I’ll need help once we get to the marina in Paris.”

“You were counting on Dina and that boy, weren’t you?”

“Yup. They’re still kind of MIA, if you know what I mean, so…”

“No, I don’t understand all that, Henry. And…what’s the big mystery? – I mean, it’s kind of hard to believe you don’t know where they are.”

He shrugged. “Like I said, there’s a lot going on.”

“And you don’t want to tell me.”

“If and when circumstances allow I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

“Gee, I love paternalistic assholes so much!” she said through a malignantly forced smile. 

“Not paternalism, Tracy. I simply don’t want to stretch the limits of credulity, at least not yet.”

“Well, I love a mystery.”

“Good. Is your ground tackle up to snuff?”

“I’ve anchored out a few times without any problem, if that’s what you mean?”

“Just in case things get sideways on us. Best to be able to get your anchor down in a hurry if you lose an engine in a narrow channel.”

“Nice. I like the way you change subjects.”

“Do you? Good. I’ve worked hard over the years to perfect the skill.”

“So, my mom’s sophomore year? Ready to talk about it, or is that a subject changer too?”

He shook his head. “No, not ready.”

“I see.”

“If your mom shows up maybe then we can cover some of that ground, because maybe it’s just not fair to talk about all that without her around to stick up for her point of view.”

Tracy nodded. “You’re right.”

“The other reason, if I may, concerns you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you. Look, you may be twenty something years younger than your mother, but you just have to understand that there’s a history between us.”

“What has that got to do with me?”

“Well, first of all you’re drop-dead gorgeous, and I’m still a male with a pulse and that means I recognize little things like that. Second, your mom and dad – and I – do have a history. A complicated history.”

“So, Dad wasn’t exaggerating…”

“No, he wasn’t, but also, well, look – it’s the reason I left LA for Seattle. And why I had to stay away.”

“So…you and my mom…?”

“It wasn’t as simple as that, Tracy. I was falling apart and she kept me from falling all the way down, but in a way she was still a kid. Worse still, to this day there’s no way I can look at her and not see Claire.”

“I figured it was something like that, but why Seattle.”

“Because…”

But Henry drifted on the crest of the word, lost in a wave as strings of memory pulsed into and out of view – but the pain was real, and the cost to all their lives too high.

She watched the change come over him and reached out, took his hand. “We don’t have to talk about it, Henry. I just thought that…”

“Someday, Tracy. There’s just too much I haven’t thought about in a long, long time, and only so much…”

“If my mom comes will things get weird between you two?”

He looked at her and shrugged. “I don’t know. I really don’t know what will happen. We were always an unstable compound, you know? Never meant to last, I guess.”

“You weren’t expecting any of this, were you?”

“What? You mean, like you – and your mom…”

“And all those memories. They were behind you, weren’t they?”

Henry shook his head, then he looked her in the eye once again. “You know what, Tracy? It feels like everything is coming full circle right now, yet I’m not really sure why. I’m closing in on the end of this journey, this return to Paris, but Honfleur was always going to be a part of that story, too. Now, here’s the weird part. In a way I think it was almost inevitable that we were going to meet up when and where we did. I know that sounds more than a little nuts, but think about it. Like, what if you’d decided to go to a different restaurant that night, or if I’d been a day late arriving. Think of how many things had to go ‘just so’ in order for us to meet when and where we did…and from the day I left California right up to that moment. And from the day you left, too. One little hiccup and we’d have missed each other – but that didn’t happen, did it?”

She nodded. “Kismet?” she grinned.

“Or…karma.”

“And there are a million possible explanations, Henry. It just happened, like these things do everyday, for everyone – everywhere.”

“Are you listening to what you’re saying, Tracy?”

“I’m a rationalist, Henry. Sorry.”

“Yeah, well so am I – but this was kind of a slap on the face.”

“Most people, especially when the end of life approaches, reach out for comforting explanations to perplexing questions. There’s nothing unusual about it, Henry, nothing new or unusual about your feeling this way right now.”

“I think you’re missing the point, Tracy.”

“What point is that? Your talking about ultimate causality, right? Things like predetermination, la forza del destino…”

“I’m not in any kind of a hurry to slap labels on these observations right now,” Henry replied. “Still, if I could ask just one thing of you right now, it would be that you try to keep an open mind about what you’re going to see between now and Christmas.”

She seemed to pause, to hold back for a moment, but then she smiled. “I can do that.”

“Good. Now, what do you think of these snails? Too salty?”

+++++

They walked back to the harbor, a good, solid half hour walk in a chilly breeze, but there simply weren’t too many options available yet. Only a few taxis were running around the city so far, and while there was a train scheduled to depart for Paris in the morning, air service still wasn’t an option – anywhere. The magnetic pole had re-stabilized – only now it appeared to be loitering over eastern Siberia – and the night sky was still alive with geomagnetic storms, and so for the time being the major airlines were limiting operations to very short haul overland sectors only. With almost thirty aircraft lost when the first storm hit, and with a final death toll more than twice the 9/11 tally, no airline seemed to be in a hurry to resume transoceanic operations.

They turned into the old port area and started for the quay where their boats were tied-off, with Clyde finally stopping here to shed a few unwanted pounds of salmon, but as they approached the quay Henry saw two navy blue Land Rovers idling there, just above Time Bandits

“Well, Hell,” he sighed as he recognized the same French Navy markings he’d spotted two nights ago, “this I was not expecting.”

“What?”

Taggart motioned with his head, indicating the Rovers parked ahead.

“Who are they?” Tracy said, now a little anxiously.

“The Bad Guys.”

“What? You mean, like mafia types?”

“No…worse. Naval Intelligence types.”

As they walked up a door opened and Captain Mike Lacy, USN, stepped out. Dressed regally now in navy blue sweats and a yellow ball cap, Lacy waited by the Rover while Taggart took Tracy down to Karma.

“Are you going to be okay?” she asked as he helped her aboard. “Or should I come with you?”

Henry shook his head. “No, stay here. I don’t know what they want, but I’m no threat to them now and they know it.”

She sighed. “Okay, but come get me after they leave.”

He nodded and turned to walk back up the ramp to the Rovers, but he stopped and turned to look at her again, measuring her every move as she went below, then he turned again and resumed walking up the ramp.

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Captain?”

“They want me to make the trip up the river with you, Henry. Sorry, I know this is going to be uncomfortable, but the alternative would probably be a helluva lot worse.”

“Well, I was wondering why you left clothes in your locker…?”

“I brought along a little inducement, too. If you don’t put up too much of a stink we’ll release Anton, providing he stays with you for the time being. By the way, who’s the dame?”

“The dame? Are you kidding? You trying out for a part in Casablanca, Mike?”

“Who is she, Henry?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

Lacy shrugged. “She’s not on our radar, Henry.”

“She a psychiatrist from California, left the US in April, came over by way of the Azores.”

“Uh-huh. You know her?”

“I do now,” Taggart said, grinning salaciously. 

“You dog…I shoulda guessed.”

“Where’s Anton?”

Lacy walked over to the other Rover and knocked on the glass, motioning to whomever that it was okay to come out.

Anton stepped out into the night, and even in the shadows Henry could tell his face was heavily bruised, and he walked over favoring his right leg.

“That’s just great, Lacy. What the fuck did you do that for?”

“Some Air Force intel guy did it before we could stop him. Apparently he was pissed off about the F-15 Anton waxed.”

“War…the gift that keeps on giving,” Henry sighed. “Like things weren’t bad enough already.”

“Look, Henry, Anton asked for political asylum and the French are willing to go along with that – provided you keep him off the streets.”

“That’s not a problem, Mike. I told Anton he was welcome to stay with me as long as he wants, and that still applies…”

“Henry, again, he has to stay with you…”

“Genry,” Anton grimaced, “they afraid I spy. I stay. I make no problem here.” Taggart held out his right hand and Anton took it, but then the Russian pulled Henry into a tight hug.

“Good to have you back with us, shipmate,” Taggart whispered.

“Good be back, my friend.”

“I’ll help you down.”

“No. Better I do alone, Genry. That way bastards get no satisfaction.”

“Fine by me.”

“Want I should take Clyde?”

“No, just be careful…the ramp is a little slippery.”

Henry watched the aviator limp over to the handrail before he turned to face Lacy, then he would up a haymaker and let it fly, his fist catching the captain off-guard and knocking him to the ground.

And when all the doors on both Land Rovers flew open, and as the heavily armed intel types raced to take him down – Taggart simply smiled.

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

Oh, just one more thought. Oh, have you watched Pixar’s Soul yet?

Come Alive (23.1)

Chapter 23.1

He woke to the sounds of the ancient village coming back to life. No cars. Still no cell phones. Smoke from fireplaces and old kitchen stoves. He heard a horse drawn cart roll by on the quay and smiled as he made his way to the head, but with no one onboard, not even Clyde, he suddenly felt more alone than he ever had in his life.

“But why now?” he said to the stranger in the mirror.

Was it because the last six months had been an aberration? An aberration that had redefined his expectations of what life could be. 

“Or just maybe, Dickhead, what might have been?” the stranger in the mirror said.

Had he chosen, he wondered, to follow a path different from his father in a fit of defiance, perhaps even repudiation? Or had he, more likely than not, simply drifted into the loneliness that had defined his life – kind of a default move after Claire and all the emptiness that followed?

The face in the mirror was quiet now, the eyes suddenly empty…almost hollow.

“Or did you never find your soul after that night?”

The face in the mirror smiled a bit at that, but then it turned and walked away.

+++++

He walked around the old port until he found a place cooking breakfast, and he marveled at the tastes of things cooked on a simple fire. Croissant baked in a wood fired oven were a revelation. Eggs harvested an hour before they hit the skillet had a flavor he’d never experienced before, and a slice of freshly smoked fish almost brought tears to his eyes. He looked back on a life consumed with factory processed foods and he knew the answer even before the question formed in his mind: the heat had been turned up too slowly, the frog had failed to jump out of the water in time…and suddenly, just when he’d looked up from one more burger and fries grabbed on the run, it was too late. 

He saw a woman hop off a boat and walk his way, and when she sat at a table near his he smiled. Not too tall, dirty blond hair, athletic build – very California looking.

“Is that yours?” he asked her as she sat.

“What? The boat?” she replied, in the pure, easy going lilt of a native California Girl. “Yes, it is.”

“I haven’t seen a Westsail in years. You’ve kept her in good shape.”

She nodded. “Almost lost her in that damn storm. Raced in under bare poles, bloody near piled up on the rocks a couple of times.”

“You single-handing?”

“Yes.”

“When did you cross?”

“Last April. I left from Oriental.”

“Me too, but from Mystic.”

“Oh? What did you come over on?”

“A Nauticat, but I picked up a Hallberg-Rassy a month ago.”

“Oh? Is that yours tied up over on the quay?”

“Yup.”

“So, you’re from Newport Beach, too. Small world,” she sighed. “Where you headed?”

“Paris. The Arsenal.”

“Yup, small world.”

He had to laugh when he heard that.

“What’s so funny about that?” she asked.

“Can’t you hear them?” he replied.

“Hear what?”

“The cosmic tumblers – falling into place.”

She smiled at that, then for the next hour or so they compared notes on how they might go about getting their masts pulled before heading up the Seine. When it was time to head out and start the day he hesitated, then looked at her one more time.

“Want to grab some dinner tonight?” she asked, her eyes twinkling a little.

“I was about to ask you.”

“He who hesitates is lost,” she said, grinning. “Look, we’re on the same errand, so maybe we can work on this together, maybe finagle a better price in the process.”

“Spoken like a true cruiser.”

They both laughed at that – just as Clyde hove into view, walking across the little bridge over the lock by the carousel – and Taggart stood and whistled once (loudly), causing the old pup to look his way.

And that was all it took. Clyde ran as fast as he could right up to Henry and sat on his feet, looking up expectantly as if to say “I need some salmon, please.”

“He’s yours, I take it?” she asked.

“Yes, and pardon my French but I don’t even know your name.”

“Tracy,” she said, smiling and holding out her right hand.

“Henry,” he said, taking her hand in his. “And this wayward beast is Clyde. He’s been out running with his buddies for a few days – haven’t you, Buddy?”

Clyde barked twice, loudly.

“Uh-oh, I know that bark.”

“Time to find some grass, I take it?” Tracy said, smiling at the pup.

“Yup. There’s a little park right by the boat, too.”

“I’ll meet you there in a few minutes,” she said, then she made her way back to the Westsail.

He turned to Clyde and grinned. “I’m not even gonna ask where you’ve been. I hope she was worth it.”

“Woof!”

“Why’d I know you were going to say that?”

They walked back to Time Bandits – without a leash – and Clyde hosed down everything he sniffed, holding the heavy load until he reached the grass, then he cut loose.

“Jesus H Christ, Dude! What have you been eating?”

This followed by a long, low rumble, then a slow, hissing fart – that whistled a little on the closing notes.

“Dude…I don’t know you…” Taggart snarled, as nearby pedestrians began pinching off nostrils while looking his way…before they fled in terror.

+++++

They met again for dinner, at the same little bistro he’d taken Mike and Anton the day before, and not quite knowing what else to order he asked for the same thing he’d had yesterday. Tracy followed his lead and asked for the same, though she begged off having wine with her meal, and luckily the owners had enough food to pull it off again.

“So, Tracy from Newport Beach,” he said casually, if only to get the conversation going. “Where’d you go to high school? Harbor High?”

“Yup…you too?”

He nodded. “Okay, I gotta ask. Your last name is?”

She grinned. “Tomlin,” – then she saw his face. “What’s the matter?”

“And let me guess,” he said as he tried to catch his breath. “Your mother’s name is Edith.”

“How’d you know that?”

“Does the name Henry Taggart mean anything to you?”

“Hank?” she said, her face turning beet red.

The name hit him like a hammer blow, though he only nodded a little. 

“You were with Claire when…”

He looked away, his heart breaking all over again. “I thought you looked a little too familiar,” he sighed. “It’s the eyes, I guess.”

“Six degrees of separation,” she whispered.

“And then a butterfly sneezes in Beijing,” he added.

“Do you believe in coincidences?”

“Me? I believe in the righteousness of tequila and fresh limes. Nothing else much matters.”

“Right,” she said. “Isn’t that called deflection?”

“And what are you? A psychiatrist?”

She simply looked at him – without saying a word – though a slow smile began to spread across her face.

“Oh God, say it ain’t so. Not a GD psychiatrist!” he cried, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms protectively over his gut while he grinned a little too madly.

“And you’ll never guess who my inspiration was!”

“Don’t tell me…let me guess…how ‘bout my mother.”

She smiled at that, too. “You’re smarter than you look, Hank.”

He nodded. “How is your mother?”

“Okay, all things considered.”

“I heard about the divorce. Ugly.”

“Too much money involved, I guess,” she sighed.

“And so you cut the cord, cast off your lines and beat feet. Why not the Coconut Run? Been there, done that?”

She nodded. “My husband and I, a few years ago.”

“Divorce?”

She nodded again. “Orange County has the highest divorce stats in the state.”

He laughed at that. “More lawyers in California than there are in the rest of the world.”

“That’s not true,” she scoffed.

And he shook his head. “My dad used to say the state Bar Association Directory was thicker than War and Peace. I laughed once, then he showed it to me. Beat it by a hundred and twenty pages; smaller type, too.”

“I don’t want to get personal, but I talked to my mom from the Azores. She told me you were up in Norway. And that she’d heard you’re pretty sick.”

“If you lived with a dog that farts like Clyde you’d be pretty sick, too.”

Her eyes widened just a bit, then they watered a little, too. “What is it? Cancer?”

“What gave it away? The weight gain, or my rosy complexion?”

“Deflection, Hank.”

“Tracy, I got this thing called a comfort zone…”

She quietly held up her hands in mock-defeat. “Okay Hank, you win this round,” yet her eyes never left his.

“Thanks.”

Their snails arrived and they were predictably better than wonderful, and so they comfortably retreated a little and talked about sailing – as sailors are wont to do from time to time – and then he brought up Dina and Rolf.

“Where are they?” she asked after he passed along the bare contours of the situation, asking the next, most obvious question.

“They sort of took off after Brugge. I don’t know where they are now.”

“You brought that boat in here by yourself?”

“Oh, no, not really. There were two guys with us.”

“Two guys?”

“Yup, a real asshole as it turned out, Navy Intelligence, and a Russian fighter pilot we plucked out of the Channel after he took a missile up the tailpipe.”

“That sounds about right. For you, anyway.”

“It’s been a weird summer.”

“Sounds a little like an understatement, Hank.”

“That ain’t the half of it.”

“So, why Paris?” she asked as she picked at her salad.

“It’s got to do with my parents.”

“And Claire, I take it.”

“Yes, and Claire.”

“So, Paris is the end of the line?”

“Yup. I’m getting off the train there.”

“You mind if I hang around for a while?” she asked.

“Do I mind? Are you serious?”

She nodded.

“Look, even if I did, Tracy, going against the whole cosmic tumblers thing seems kind of irresponsible to me. Not to mention stupid.”

“So, you think I’m here for a reason? Is that about it?”

He shrugged. “My temperature gauge has always been stuck about halfway between agnostic and full-blown atheist, so cut me some slack, would you? Truth is, I’m not sure what I think, but I have days – not often, you understand, but every now and then – when I’m smart enough to keep an open mind about the things I don’t understand.”

“What kind of wine is that?”

“A Piesporter. Goes pretty good with salad, by the way.”

“Mind if I have a glass?”

“You can have two…if you twist my arm enough.”

+++++

He took Clyde out for a long walk about five the next morning, then he walked over to Karma – the name of Tracy’s Westsail 32 – to see if she was awake yet. The plan was to set off and motor across the mouth of the Seine to LeHavre on slack water – at about 6:15 that morning – and they’d meet up with an outfit that promised to remove their masts over on the old commercial docks. A fuel truck would meet them out there around noon to fill-up both boats, and if all went as planned they’d head upriver and tie-off for the night at a riverfront restaurant that had been recommended to them. He heard her moving about below so took Clyde back to Time Bandits, then he jumped in the shower after he downed his breakfast – a can of Ensure, today – before he checked the weather and the BBC World Service.

He saw lights on across the river, a lot of lights, and surmised that the power was coming back on sooner than expected – a great development – then he saw Tracy in Karma’s cockpit talking on a cell phone. He dashed below and pulled his iPhone out of the charger and powered-up the unit, and as soon as his phone connected to a network his calls, texts, and emails started flowing into their respective folders.

“God…anonymity was kind of nice, ya know?” he said to Clyde – who ‘woofed’ twice. “What? Already?”

Clyde farted. Twice.

“Okay, okay…you win…let’s go!” He hooked-up Clyde’s leash and pocketed his phone then headed for the bushes, and while he waited for Clyde to flush the lines he went through his voicemails, then his texts. Nothing from Dina. Nothing from Eva or Britt.

But one from Rolf.

That had come through sometime during the night.

‘Back in Bergen,’ read the text. ‘Call this number when you can.’ But while the text bubbles around his texts were usually blue or green, this one was pink.

“Not good,” he sighed, pocketing the phone as Tracy walked up.

“Hi there,” she said as she leaned into him, at the same time passing along her phone. “It’s Mom. She wants to talk to you.”

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

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 56v2 & Ch. 57.1

88th key cover image

Part VII

[Okay, just a heads up here. I’ve resumed Harry’s journey with a little editing of the last posted chapter, Chapter 56. Chapter 57.1 is all new material, and 57 will continue in short little snippets for the time being. Sitting for hours at a stretch just isn’t possible right now; it’s more like a half hour here and another half there. Writing now is more a mental process, stitching together the threads of the story as I lay in bed then trying to get the new bits down as I can. I’ve tried using the laptop in bed but it just doesn’t work for me now. So, this is the road ahead, at least for now.

And hey, because music always matters you might consider this.

So, there you have it. Read on…]

Chapter 56 v2

The right thing to do…

The right thing to do…

Callahan sat at his piano working through Carly Simon’s ode to the hopeful and brokenhearted, trying to shake the feeling that somehow she had been writing those words with him in mind. ‘But music has always been like that,’ he thought. ‘We relate. We let uncertain music define certain distinct periods of our lives. So why is this song speaking to me so clearly…?’

‘What is the right thing to do…?’ he wondered.

‘Loving you? Is that really all there is left in my life?’

It wasn’t just that Becky had grown abusive, at least not simply abusive to him. He’d heard Lloyd’s screams early one morning and come running to his room only to find her savagely pinching his belly, but then he found ferocious bruises all over the boy’s arms and legs, too. He’d jumped between them, pulled her away from Lloyd’s crib and forced her out of the room, yet he never forgot the absent, wide-eyed stare he encountered once he had her isolated in the kitchen. 

“What the fuck are you doing!?” he remembered screaming. “For God’s sake – do you have any idea…?!”

But he knew he had lost the war when he saw there was nothing in Becky’s eyes – no remorse, no anger, not even pity. 

But – no remorse at all? 

And in that moment he had felt the demons behind her eyes, memories in hidden shadows of a childhood he knew nothing about, a family history she’d always managed to keep in the dark. He’d watched her after that first night at Trader Vic’s, not really sure what he’d seen in the heat of their first moments. Where was the line between passionate intensity and barely contained depravity? Unfortunately for her, they both soon realized her need to control was no match for his ability to resist almost all forms of restraint, most especially from anyone masquerading as an authority figure. Callahan’s career in CID was a living testament to that idea, but she had no idea, did she? And little things like his experiences with back alley abortionists and serial child abusers stayed firmly in shadows of his very own.

But this was too much. Lloyd screaming hysterically, trapped in an endless loop of need and fear as he reached out for the safety of his mother’s arms again and again, only to fall into each new trap she set for him. His personality was fracturing as he fell, but as is almost always the case Callahan couldn’t see his place in the evolving catastrophe.

Yet when he looked at her in the kitchen that morning Callahan knew things had fallen apart; he called Doc Watson, asked him to come down to the house, and a few minutes later the doc had sedated Becky – before he came to terms with the devastation in Callahan’s eyes. DD arrived and carried Lloyd down to Cathy’s house and Elizabeth played with him, and as was fast becoming the norm, the patient old soul within Elizabeth helped Lloyd while everyone calmed down. Watson and Callahan loaded Becky in the old blue Range Rover and together they drove her down to Stanford and admitted her for psychiatric observation. Callahan, awash in feelings he’d been down this road before, remained in a state of barely controlled rage all the way to Palo Alto… 

Yet soon enough he was in a state of shock, and realizing his perilous state of mind Callahan let the doc drive back up the coast while he struggled with the very same demons he’d thought vanquished long ago. Lost in thought, fighting through waves of despair, when he got back to his little house on the cliffs he found Elizabeth and Lloyd asleep on the sofa – Elizabeth laying exactly where her father had passed – and he knew right then and there other forces were at work inside his little world. Maybe it was something other than fate, he told himself, still struggling with the singular fear that the Old Man in the Cape might show up at any moment and rain on his parade one more time. 

But no, he told himself once again, my life is unfolding like I’ve been forced to ride a giant roller-coaster and there’s another sharp bend just ahead – only the tracks are coming undone, shaking loose as I approach the seductively glittering curve…

So he’d sat down next to the kids and watched them sleep – at least until DD and Cathy came by to check on him a few hours later. Yet DD didn’t say a word, she just collected the doc and left. Cathy came and sat by him, put her head on his shoulder – and she sat with him while their children slept. When he woke up a few hours later Lloyd was curled up on his lap, still sound asleep; Cathy was asleep too, with her head still on his shoulder.

Elizabeth was, on the other hand, sitting in a chair directly across from Harry – staring at him – and he was struck that, to him at least, it looked as if she was very nearly lost, but also like she was trying to come to an understanding of something far away and still very obscure.

A few minutes later she came and sat by his side, the side opposite her mother’s, and she took his hand and held it while she fell asleep – again.

_________________________________

Becky spent a month in rehab before her doctors let her come back out to the house on the cliffs – but it was soon clear that everything was very different in the aftermath. She was hesitant, scared of what she might do if her fragile coping mechanisms came undone. 

Lloyd no longer reached out to her. For that matter, neither did Harry. He’d taken one look in her eyes and turned away when he recognized the demons lurking there.

A few weeks passed until one day Becky called from work; she told Harry that her brother was in town and that he’d be staying at her apartment in the city for a while – yet she soon grew consumed by the only passion she’d ever known: medicine. She worked thirty-hour days and stayed in the city, collapsed from exhaustion then returned for more of the same – until her family’s history began catching up to the moment, finally breaking free of the shadows.

And so it was in this way that, for Becky Callahan, the idea of motherhood gently slipped from her grasp – because it was as if, when she realized what she had done to her life she either could not or would not trust herself to be around Harry or Lloyd again. There was too much history behind her anger, too many hidden memories in her shadows. Motherhood had been a hopeful idea, but she soon realized that older forces were pushing her into the abyss, and if nothing else her psychiatrists had convinced her that she would forever be possessed by obsessions she would simply never be able to control.

Yet Harry Callahan did nothing to disabuse her of the idea. She had, in his eyes, failed them both – and he understood he did not want her around Lloyd. 

Because, he had to admit, he no longer trusted her – and he knew enough about his own way of looking at the world that he never would again.

Because his twenty years on the street had imbued in his outlook a profound distrust of abuse, and even in the very idea that someone could physically abuse a child. Because Harry Callahan, the abuser had consumed some kind of dark evil and would forever be marked by a profound moral weakness. And, he realized without quite understanding the ironies involved, that he viewed the abuse of a child as the most dangerously unforgivable sin there was.

And so, as quickly as he’d fallen in love with Becky – those feelings left, they disappeared behind the veils of his moral absolutism, and he soon felt embarrassed that he’d allowed himself to feel love once again. Because to Harry Callahan love had become a game of charades, an ongoing game with no resolution, a parade of lies told in shadowy pantomimes on a sidewalk he no longer wanted to walk on.

Even so, the curious among you might ask, if it wasn’t love he felt for his son, what was it?

Because those who spent time at the house on the cliffs saw a father who loved his son, who doted on him to the point that many thought Harry was spoiling the boy. Even so, Lloyd seemed a happy enough kid, to most people, anyway.

And perhaps that was because Becky quite literally stayed away from him for several years, seeing her son on birthdays and at Christmas, though even on those rare days she came out to the house she stayed but a few hours. Lloyd, as a result, grew up thinking of Cathy when he thought of a mother in his life, because Cathy took over that role as soon as Becky ran away from the consequences she knew would come if she remained with Harry. Another less apparent consequence was that Elizabeth became a sort of big sister to the boy, a role that would assume increasing significance in coming years – as the ghosts of unintended consequences gathered in the shadows.

And as Lloyd grew he came naturally to music, and music came naturally to him. Like Imogen, he was a prodigy. He composed massive symphonic works of elegant complexity – by the time he was five. Yet no matter how much he loved music, no matter how much attention he garnered from his accomplishments, he always felt as if something was missing. Missing…from his life.

His mother, perhaps? 

Doubtful, you say?

On the few days a year his mother drove out to the house on the cliffs, it was apparent to one and all that when his mother came near he grew distant. Lloyd, everyone knew, simply did not trust her, and after a few visits she knew he never would. 

Even so, the feeling would return – the emptiness of feeling that something vital was missing from his life. A spark…if you will.

Harry was the first to detect this hole in his son’s life, but curiously enough Lloyd had no interest in talking about it with his father, or even with Cathy. He did, however, begin to talk about this emptiness with Elizabeth – for a while, anyway.

And during the latter years of his time above the cliffs, and this was several years after his mother walked out of his life, Lloyd slowly came to know and understand the other half of his family – his mother’s side of this unbalanced equation. And actually, it was the first time Harry Callahan came to know them, too. Though when this happened…well, it was not under the best of circumstances.

________________________________

The Sawyer Clan was an outgrowth of central Texas, and Becky’s parents raised their kids on a sprawling ranch outside of San Saba, Texas. Their father, Clem, was the ranch foreman and was, generally speaking, considered a well-respected man in the community. The ranch itself was owned by an amiable enough sort, the wealthy owner of a Cadillac dealership in Fort Worth, yet even so it would be on-the-mark to say that the Sawyers clan really had very little money. As in – never did and never would.

And it wasn’t so much that her parents were strict; they were rather simply mean people, and often violently so. Ranch hands didn’t stay long and Becky’s friends from school never came out for dinner, and her parents never socialized in town – though they managed to go to church a few times a year.

But Becky’s mother and father were hard-drinking Texans, and her six brothers were as well, so the only thing that saved Becky from rapid onset ruination was an aunt who lived in town. Dorothy Richardson was a teacher at the local high school; algebra and calculus were the subjects she taught, though occasionally she taught physics, too; Becky tended to stay at her Auntie Dots’ house after school, and she usually did her homework there, too. Life was, she soon realized, safer that way.

With an unstable home to deal with, both Dot and Becky adhered to an unwritten code: Becky could escape this purgatory only by doing well in school. As her brothers were seriously below-average students – with one exception – Becky caught hell from them all, and the better she did in school the worse things became at home. Her oldest brother – the smart one – made it into Baylor University on a football scholarship and then went to the veterinarian school at the University of California Davis; he had vowed when he left San Saba to never return to Texas – for any reason. And he kept to his word to the end.

The remaining brothers were so off the mark genetically that even the Army wouldn’t take them; their lives were somewhat unremarkable – at least until two of them held up a gas station, shooting the owner and killing his wife after they raped her. Both made it into the Huntsville Country Club after that, which to this day is considered the roughest prison in Texas, if not the United States. Becky rarely talked about those two for obvious reasons, yet the most embarrassing aspect to her, and for the family, was the court’s ruling that both were considered too feeble-minded to execute.

Becky, however, was a brilliant student, more socially motivated to get out into that other world and grab her slice of the American Pie than anyone else in San Saba. She breezed through her undergraduate requirements in three years and went onto do impressively well in medical school, ending up in San Francisco for both her internship and residency. San Francisco was her first choice as Davis was only about an hour away by car, and she reasoned that having a semi-sane brother nearby was better than having no family at all – and that was that. She chose emergency medicine as her specialty and within a few years was considered one of the best trauma docs in California. Her star was rising, you might say, and she successfully kept everything about Texas firmly out of her mind.

But it was about that time that she met Harry Callahan.

Tom, her oldest brother and by then a veterinarian in Davis, was a fairly stable compound at room temperature, but like everyone else in the Sawyer family he had an addictive personality and was a full-blown alcoholic by the time Becky made it out to San Francisco. And after Becky left her apartment for Harry’s house on the cliff, Tom decided he would do better for himself by opening a practice in the Bay Area and so, with Becky’s blessing, he moved into her apartment.

So after her stay at Stanford and after Becky fled the house on the cliffs she had an instant roommate, a genetic time-bomb even then rapidly ticking away, mutating hourly into a genuinely unstable compound within San Francisco’s effervescent, if rather debauched, underground sex scene. By the time she arrived back at her apartment, Tom was having sex with anything that had a willing spirit – male, female, or – quite often – anything in between. Unprepared for this turn of the screw, Becky began to stress-out when her brother brought seriously immune-compromised gay boys into his bedroom, and it didn’t take her too long to figure out that Tom had simply supplanted one addiction with another. And it was around that time that her increased stress led to serious migraines.

And then one night Tom came into Becky’s emergency room – as a patient this time, as these things so often go – his face having been seriously rearranged by some biker-types who’d not appreciated his carefree advances. As a precaution she had him sign a few extra consent forms and she found out that her brother was well on his way to having full-blown AIDS – because it turned out that Tom had been into all kinds of people for quite a while. And so, without much warning she found herself caring for someone well on the way to being dead. Her migraines grew worse. Pharmaceutical reps began stocking her ER with samples of fentanyl patches, and these treated her migraines rather well. Rather too well, some might say.

And soon enough Becky Callahan was taking a one-way ride on the Sawyer family roller coaster – yet she managed to maintain her cool at work by tightly managing her addiction. Her work for Callahan Air Transport – Medevac Division, simply made her a more visible presence in the local medical community, expanding her credentials – and credibility – just as her addiction began to peak.

Then Tom died – a slow, gruesome death – and one she was forced to endure while looking on helplessly. She grew careless at work, often wearing fentanyl patches on the floor. Then she was caught stealing fentanyl from the ER stockroom, and Al Bressler worked the case. Harry became involved, her family background came into the open and he finally filed for divorce. She was fired from the hospital, her fall from grace as swift as it was final. Her case went to trial and she was convicted, but due to the circumstances she was given probation. Once home she took her remaining supply of hidden fentanyl patches and applied every one of them inside her arms and thighs, and she never woke up.

By that time Lloyd Callahan was not quite ten years old, and in the aftermath of his mother’s suicide his life went seriously off the rails – and yet another genetic time bomb began slowly ticking away.

________________________________

For Harry Callahan’s fifty-fifth birthday he took Lloyd, Elizabeth, and Cathy to Davos to go skiing, and the occasion marked a major turning point in Harry’s life, perhaps the last of its kind, too. The kids knew how to ski by then; Elizabeth was going to college the next year and Lloyd had just turned ten, and Cathy had been taking them up to Tahoe to ski for years. But Davos was different, because Switzerland is not California and as stupidly simpleminded as this seems it is a distinction too often lost on many people. 

For, as Harry had learned decades ago, there were villages in Switzerland that were already thousands of years old – so already old places long before the Americas were even discovered. Switzerland was, unlike the United States, a land governed by Tradition, ancient ways of being that made little sense to the freeway loving, suburban living people in North America. And this was a distinction not lost on Harry. Yet for years he had wanted Elizabeth and Lloyd to come to terms with those differences, to understand them and, hopefully, come to appreciate them, as well.

And Didi Rooney soon became instrumental in this other part of their education. She still managed Callahan’s financial affairs, those not linked directly to CAT, anyway, and so she was still in charge of Harry’s Swiss holdings, which included the house in Davos. Every summer she took the kids – her own as well as Lloyd and Elizabeth – to Davos, and as Cathy and Harry usually came for the music festival in Montreux, they also spent time with the kids there. So the kids, Lloyd and Elizabeth, grew up with another world of generally happy memories rooted in the mountains of Switzerland, yet for some reason, the kids had never come over in the winter.

Skiing in Switzerland is different from what most skiers in the Americas are used to. Cog-railways haul skiers to the summits of famous peaks in Switzerland, and Swiss skiers had for a hundred years dined in fine restaurants sprinkled all over these mountains. Meanwhile, in the America that came of age in the 60s and 70s, bulk-made cheeseburgers were on hand, served in cafeteria-style lodges designed to hold thousands of skiers. The distinction here is a simple one: neither is better, they are simply different, as different as the cultures that spawned them, and it was precisely this difference Harry Callahan wanted ‘his kids’ to understand and appreciate.

As he had when he first met Sara, he took Cathy and the kids up the funicular railway to the mountaintop station; they skied several runs together, then Harry begged off another just before lunch. He took Cathy to the restaurant and they had fondue and salad while they looked out over the alps, and an hour later the kids arrived, tired and finally ready to eat something. They all made a few more runs after lunch, then skied back through the village and all the way out to the house.

They followed much the same routine for several days and Lloyd seemed quite happy with his surroundings; indeed, to his father, the boy seemed happier than he had in months. And not to stretch the point too far, Harry felt happier than he had in years, and he put this down to Cathy being with him. 

There was an easygoing intimacy between these two old friends now, an intimacy borne of time and shared memory. Harry knew it was love, a loose varietal of love, anyway, yet certainly not the frenzied passionatas he’d played years before. Harry wore tweed jackets these days and occasionally smoked a pipe, too, and though he needed glasses to read he rarely used them, hating the very idea of the blasted things. And in a funny, almost an odd way, Cathy fit into this category as well. They had ended up together almost by default, like time had worn away all the extraneous things in their lives and each other was all that remained. And somehow Harry was sure that Frank would have approved.

Yet a seismic shift was underway, a kind of tectonic moving of plates happening right before all their eyes. One evening while walking back from a fondue palace, Cathy reached out and took Harry’s hand. An easy motion, unremarkable to most anyone who happened to see this simple gesture of affection, yet in Lloyd’s and Elizabeth’s universe this was something quite new, in the way that grinding tectonic plates create something new.

Lloyd, walking beside Elizabeth noticed the reaching fingers first, and he poked Elizabeth with an elbow and sort of giggled as the event registered in her eyes, then they looked at one another with ‘is this really happening’ plain to see in each other’s eyes.

But, and this is kind of important so pay attention, when he felt Cathy’s skin on his own Harry Callahan smiled, then he simply relaxed inside for the first time in a very long time, and in his mind’s eye it was as if the cosmic tumblers had finally aligned and settled into their rightful place. Cathy had been sleeping in a bedroom by herself until that night, but after the plates realigned in their new orientation she woke up in his arms, and there she would remain – forevermore.

Chapter 57.1

Didi was first to notice this first tectonic shift, this first gentle realignment. As luck would have it very early the next morning, this was just after she pulled Avi’s old Range Rover up to the door in front of the house. She was to drive them all to the train station for the trip down to Zurich, but she saw carefully concealed changes deep within Harry’s eyes as he carried the kids’ luggage out to the Rover. Was that a mischievous twinkle she saw? A release of pressure?

But Cathy was far less pretentious with her feelings that morning, and even the kids seemed to be skipping on air as they stepped out into the crisp winter light, so there was no question in her mind when she drove Harry and his new family to the station. After she dropped them off she returned to the house and put away the Rover, then she called a taxi to take her to the train station to rejoin the group.

But as it was still her duty even now she called in and reported this new development to her handlers at the Mossad, then she called Tel Aviv and talked with her father. He was not at all impressed.

+++++

The tea house and the various music additions were complete by that time, and with all the activity surrounding these various projects at an end life above the cliffs took on quieter hues. Perhaps not quiet the warm golden rays of a prolonged Northern California sunset, but fading in that direction.

Fading – because Callahan had followed through and stopped flying. At first he’d promised he would keep his hours and ratings current so he could assist during fire season, but those words proved hollow and before too long everyone at the CatHouse understood…Harry was through flying. And so Harry remained “in charge” of things in name only, and everyone understood that in time even Harry would disappear from their ranks. And of course DD understood the score first of all and began planning accordingly.

Curiously, Callahan maintained his status as a Reserve Inspector with the police department. He made the trek down to the department’s range – and to Hogan’s Alley – every month, and he still won the department’s annual combat pistol competition with nauseating regularity – well, at least officers half his age remained nauseated by Callahan’s prowess on the Alley. Harry went in one weekend a month and worked a solid 48 hour shift, catnapping when he could, and he opted to remain on-call status for really important incidents. For some reason Cathy seemed to understand this was a need, not a want; Harry was after all, just like Frank, a cop. They always would be, she realized, and there was by this point in her life no need to fight the unique gravity that bound Harry to this calling.

But Harry was, after his return from Davos, pulled in other less certain directions by an unexpected new gravity, and just as comets orbit their home star, Lloyd Callahan was pulled along on this new, disconcerting path. Soon, the unanswered questions posed by his mother’s life and death, still waiting out there in the darkness for what seemed an inevitable collision, took on a gravity all their own.

+++++

Once he had the original manuscript of Schwarzwald’s Fourth in hand, the one von Karajan had kept under lock and key for almost twenty years, Harry placed the precious score in a safe set in the floor of the MusicHaus. There were times when he took it out and looked at key passages, yet he understood that he could never, not ever and under any circumstances, play the key final passage – at least the end his mother had created. 

The end Herbert van Karajan performed at the premiere, and indeed at every performance since, had been hastily cobbled together by von Karajan himself – after he recovered from the experience of hearing Imogen’s shattering conclusion in Israel…the final phrasing that had, directly, ended her life even as the last notes drifted away. When Callahan met von Karajan, and this was near the end of the famous conductors life, the older man had explained everything in rich detail, right down to her final journey within the eighty-eight key, and perhaps the conductor hadn’t known what to expect when Imogen’s son heard the news, but he was utterly surprised when Callahan simply nodded understanding.

“You know of these things?” von Karajan asked, and when Callahan nodded the older man seemed taken aback – as if he had been of the impression that he alone knew the secrets contained in her music. “The Old Man in the Cape? Have you known him, as well…?”

“I have,” Callahan replied. “Almost my entire life…in one way or another.”

“Have you ever…?”

“I have. And there are many dangers within.”

“I could never bring myself to go there. He frightened me.”

They were sitting on a stone patio at von Karajan’s estate in Anif, just outside of Salzburg, enjoying the afternoon sun glancing off the nearby mountains, but there even so was an air of impermanence about the meeting. Karajan was old now, his pain immense, and though he wouldn’t say so the old man knew death was coming soon.

“Frightened?” Callahan asked. “Why frightened?”

“I have known the power of music all my life, or at least I thought I had, but that last afternoon with your mother was something of an epiphany. I suppose, you see, because I interpreted the music of others I rarely composed on my own, and I think I was, in effect, shackled to the past. Your mother saw the world in a different light, and the result was she experienced music quite differently than most others. I’m not talking synesthesia, Harald, but without going too deeply into something that is still a mystery to me, I think she saw music. She understood, and I think explicitly so, that music was for her a conveyance. And that, if you’ll pardon the digression, is what frightened me.” 

“A conveyance? What do you mean by that?”

“In the final passage, Harald, in the Fourth. She found a way not into death, but beyond.”

“Beyond? I’m not sure I follow…”

+++++

Callahan left Austria in a daze, von Karajan’s implications as dazzling as they were troubling, but he did not return home…yet. Instead, he returned to that most daunting past, to Copenhagen – and to his grandfather’s house near the university.

The old red brick house, her ancient timbers fresh with several new coats of pigmented oil, had been made into a museum dedicated to his mother’s life and works, yet the interior was almost blissfully untouched. The bedrooms were of course roped off, his mother’s first piano too, but the docent let him into his mother’s old bedroom on the top floor and he went to the window and looked out over the rooftops to the harbor and the ships beyond. How things must have changed since then, he thought, but really…how little might the important things change?

Yes, change was in the air – always. The wall was coming down in Berlin so Germany would be thrust into the miasma of unification, but perhaps with the Soviet Union dead and gone Europe would find herself in a new Golden Age…yet here in this little corner of the universe change was a little more hesitant, perhaps even resistant.

Gulls still wheeled about over the water and cotton-candy clouds scudded by in a majestic simplicity all their own, and as he stood there looking over the scene it was almost inevitable that soon he imagined he could hear horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping down cobblestone byways of the mind, and when he closed his eyes – standing exactly where his mother had so many times in her youth – he could almost see three-masted sailing ships gliding into the harbor.

Then in his mind he was playing her Second Piano Concerto and he felt the overwhelming burden of fear she had as the Gestapo followed her in the snow, then the full weight of Avi’s betrayal…and in the next moment the Old Man was standing there beside him…

…in a gently falling snow.

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

Come Alive (22.2)

Chapter 22.2

Henry appeared feverish the next morning; his skin was a grim waxy gray and with a tinge of yellow around his eyelids. Mike heard him moving around down in the aft cabin and he went below to check on him; he found Henry leaning over the sink in the head, splashing his face with cool water. Henry looked up, saw Mike in the mirror and grinned.

“Where the Hell are we?” Taggart asked.

“About fifty miles from LeHavre. You have any idea where we can tie up when we get there?”

“Yeah, I have a place lined up across the river, in Honfleur. Get me an ETA and I’ll call…”

“Uh, right. We still no power…”

“Shit, how quickly we forget. Did you see any more lights after that power plant?”

Mike shook his head and looked away. “No, not a thing,” he said wistfully.

“Any ships in the Channel moving?”

“Nope. Everything’s still quiet, even the sea state. And…Dina and Rolf disappeared after you came down here.”

Henry turned and looked at Mike. “How long have they been gone?”

“Six hours, give or take. Oh, and at one point there must’ve been a dozen of ‘Them’ up above the masthead,” Mike added, pointing aloft. “Looked like an argument, too.”

“They get that way.”

“Look, Henry, I don’t want to be rude but I have no idea how to take care of you. If Dina doesn’t come back, just what the Hell am I supposed to do if you really go down…?”

“Once we make port it ought to become a non-issue. If something happens between now and then, get one of Them to bring Dina back.”

“And if they won’t?”

“They will.”

“So…you’re not worried about all this stuff with her and the kid?”

“Not really.”

“You know what’s going on with them?”

“Nope.”

“But you trust them? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I believe in what they’re trying to do, and they know it, too. The point, Mike, is that many of them trust me. A few don’t, but then again they’re not usually the ones hanging around.”

Mike sighed. “Well, if you’re not worried I won’t waste my time getting worked up about this stuff.”

“Any of that banana-nut bread left?”

“If Ivan hasn’t eaten all of it, you mean?”

“I detect a little bitterness in your voice, Mike. Still fighting the last war?”

Mike looked down. “Yeah, probably, but you know, the trouble with that is I almost like the guy. He reminds me of one of my redneck uncles. A patriot with all his loose ends…”

“And…you’re not?”

Mike laughed a little. “Point taken,” he said. “Can I help you with your meds?”

Taggart shook his head. “No, I got it.”

“Right. I’ll go rustle up some grub.”

Henry laughed at that. “Ready for the round-up, Duke?”

“I’d be content to feel some dry ground that’s not been heavily irradiated recently.”

Taggart nodded. “It’s been a bad week.”

“You could say that, yeah.” Mike shrugged, then he looked away. “Why don’t you take a quick shower. I’ll call you when breakfast is ready.”

“Maybe one egg and some of that bread.”

“Right.”

Taggart went to the panel and flipped on the mains, and when the breakers didn’t trip he smiled. He turned on the pressure water system and checked that the water heater was still operating, then he stuck his head up through a hatch and spoke to Anton: “Fire up the engine, would you?”

“Is safe now?”

“I think so.”

Anton hit the key and the diesel turned over.

“Go ahead and put it into forward, but keep the RPMs at 1400 for ten minutes, then run it up to 1800.”

“Got it.”

Henry ducked below and smiled again. Cold showers just weren’t in his playbook.

+++++

From a distance LeHavre looked almost pristine, but by the time Time Bandits approached the entrance to the commercial harbor the picture had soured – considerably. The storm had blown out windows on the windward sides of every building in view, and a huge crane used to offload containers from ships had been knocked loose from its foundations and now lay drunkenly half in and half out of water. On the other hand, people weren’t sitting back and crying in their milk; everywhere the three men on Time Bandits looked they saw huge teams clearing away rubble and busily rebuilding the port’s infrastructure.

Across the harbor, Honfleur had been spared the storm’s full impact by the simple happenstances of geography. The outer canal showed signs of the storm, with some minor debris still in the water, but the old inner harbor was blessedly untouched – though now devoid of the usual throngs of tourists over saturating the too cute sidewalk cafés that lined the marina. Time Bandits was, anyway, far too big to fit in the inner harbor, so Henry had contented himself to tie off just outside the little locks – just along the mole that led into the inner harbor.

Customs and Immigration were called, Anton’s lack of entry papers explained and a temporary visa issued on the spot, and then, just as he had done with his father too many times to count, once Time Bandits was secure he changed into clean clothes and took Mike and Anton to an ancient restaurant just off the harbor – hoping the proprietors had survived the storm and the place remained intact.

And yes, when Henry found the place was open his heart soared.

So Taggart slipped anti-nausea meds under his tongue and let them dissolve there while he ordered lobster bisque and escargot, then salad and duck. Anton had never been in western Europe, had never eaten anything like what he enjoyed that afternoon, and after a few bottles of red had warmed his soul a little he loosened up and talked a little…

…about his daughter and all the grandchildren lost in St Petersburg…

…and then, about his final flight. Tearing up the sky as he took off from from a captured air base just outside of Amsterdam, turning to engage flights of F-35s and F-15s, and then his vague recollections of that last dogfight in the sky over a sailboat far, far below…

“It funny, Genry. Everything about that day. I should have died at least two, maybe three times. My ejection seat had no life raft, and I forgot to put on my, what you call it, my May West. So no life jacket. And I eject at forty thousand feet and fall forever, and then I land in the water fifty feet from – you. And now here I am in this place, because of – you. I don’t pretend to understand these things, Genry, but I think maybe all this happen for reasons. I never think like these things before, but I should have drowned that day. I should be dead. Instead, here I am, with – you. Tell me this isn’t strange.”

“Anton? Do you know what toasted means?” Mike asked after he came back from the WC.

“Toasted? Da, like bread toasted?”

“No, toasted, as in drunk off your ass toasted.”

“I not drunk, Lacy,” Anton said quietly, almost gently. “I think about many times last two days. Like a burden lifted from soul. That is how feel now.”

Henry looked at the Russian, studying the easy-going warmth coming from his eyes just then. “What are you thinking, Anton? What do you want to do?”

“I think I want to become priest. I want to study this…feeling…”

Mike turned away, trying to hide the smirk spreading across his face…

But oddly enough, Henry Taggart did not.

“The first time I came here, and I mean here, to this restaurant, I was ten years old. Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve for the next eight years, as a matter of fact. One year when we came, and I was seventeen, my girlfriend had just died. Cancer. Breast cancer, if you can wrap your head around that. And Anton, a strange thing happened to me that night, something I’ve never been able to forget.”

“Oh? What happen, Genry?”

Taggart smiled. “I hope I can show you, my friend.”

“Tell me. You think my priest idea stupid?”

Henry shook his head. “Not if that’s the road you choose.”

Anton nodded. “I follow your road now, Genry. This where I supposed to be.”

They finished their meal after plates of cheese and glasses of port, then Taggart led them along smooth cobblestones through twisting alleys to a small chapel lost inside an ancient medieval neighborhood.

“My parents were married here, in this chapel, just after the war,” Henry said, looking at the old timbers that defined the outer contours of this memory. “And this is where I came on my seventeenth Christmas Eve.”

Anton and Mike looked at the old building, then at Henry. And there was something strange about Henry Taggart deep inside that moment, something otherworldly, almost like the moment was possessed of other times. Or perhaps more like Henry had slipped free of his body, of the time they were sharing, and that Henry had slipped away – leaving the husk of his body standing there on the wet cobbles while he drifted through time to a place more comforting.

But he came back to them, and Mike thought Henry looked contented. More content even than a man whose belly had just been filled with the most delicious food in France. And then Mike looked at Anton, and he saw that the burly old Russian was in tears, weeping openly.

“When I falling,” Anton sighed, “falling to the sea, I felt this time in heart. Is like everything since has leading me here, to this place…” 

“What kept you from drowning, Anton?” Taggart asked. “No life jacket, no raft. Why didn’t you die? Or again, and perhaps more to the point, who kept you from drowning?”

“You did.”

Henry shook his head. “No, it wasn’t me, Anton. It was you.”

“Not me. Can barely swim. Something help me to boat.”

Mike smiled. “It was the large male, Henry. It had to be.”

“What? The orca?” Henry asked, incredulity straining his voice. “I doubt the explanation is that simple.” But then Taggart turned and headed back the way they’d come, only this time he made his way to a little sidewalk crepe-stand not far from the boat. He ordered three and Mike and Anton watched in rapt awe as three Nutella and banana crepes took shape, only to be doused in Gran Marnier and flamed before being put on paper plates. Anton took one bite and swooned while Henry smiled at the memories of a little boy.

As they approached Time Bandits Henry saw men gathered there dockside, waiting, and when they moved to step aboard more men stepped out of the shadows and surrounded them.

Military Police. French Air Force. NATO Intelligence. And a captain from U.S. Naval Intelligence who tried her very best not to make eye contact with Captain Mike Lacy, U.S.N.

The group surrounded the Russian aviator. Handcuffs appeared, then Anton disappeared into the back of a dark blue Land Rover festooned with French military insignia.

And then the Russian was gone.

Henry turned and found Mike conversing with several of the NATO types; he turned his back on Lacy and stepped aboard, then he went below to take some meds while he was still able to concentrate. When Henry had calmed down he went back up to the cockpit and found Mike waiting for him there.

“Why?” Henry asked. “Why did you do it?”

“It’s who I am, Taggart. It’s my job. You were my job, but it’s over now. You made it this far and now it’s time for me to leave.”

Henry nodded. “Then I guess you’d better leave.”

“Well, good luck, Amigo. Seeya around the campfire.”

Henry nodded, and he stood there watching as Lacy stepped back into the shadows and disappeared.

The sudden quiet was overwhelming, his loneliness crushing.

He looked up to the masthead and saw only faint stars painted across the dome of the night. No spinning orbs. No Pinky.

No Dina. No Rolf.

He reached out to Eva and found only silence, the same when he tried Britt.

Taggart sat and flipped on the radio then hit the preset for the BBC World Service; he sat and listened to reports of nations around the earth slowly sorting through the rubble of sundered relations and dealing with simmering rumors of retribution, not at all surprised that things appeared to be headed to renewed conflicts in eastern Europe. He sighed and turned on the plotter and switched over to the weather overlay; a huge high pressure system had settled in over western Europe and several days of warm weather stretched ahead.

He heard a woman’s voice. Singing. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. And there she was, walking along the quay in pink culottes and a pastel yellow sweater. Short blond hair, a pink scarf over her head. She walked up to Time Bandits and stopped by the gate in the lifelines.

“Hi Henry!” Doris Day said. “Did you have a nice day sailing?”

He smiled and walked over to the gate and extended his hand. “You know it,” he said as he helped her aboard, then to a seat in the cockpit. “You know, I could swear I heard you passed away a few years back…?”

Her face split into an immense smile. “You looked a little too lonely just now so I thought I’d drop by and say hello.”

“Very thoughtful of you. Hello.”

“You were always so tongue tied around me. Why?”

“Because I had a crush on you.”

She giggled at that. “Well, truth be told, I had a little crush on you too.”

“Yeah, right.”

“No, really, I did. Your father took me up to a couple of your home games. I watched you play, and I always watched out for you when you came back from races.”

“So, this is what schizophrenia feels like? Is that what you’re telling me?”

She smiled again then leaned forward and pinched him playfully on the cheek, but then she stood and walked over to the gate and hopped down to the quay. She turned to him again, a little more serious now: “I was sorry to hear about Claire.”

Henry looked away, brushed away a tear. “Thanks.”

“You take care, Henry. Maybe we’ll…” 

But she stopped and turned away from him before she walked off into the night, leaving him alone with a million impossible questions hanging in the air apparent.

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

Sorry for the quiet spell. Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

And yes, music still matters

Come Alive (22.1)

[Well, I know I said Harry would be back first but he’s not quite ready to make a comeback yet, but the next snippet of Henry’s journey is, so here we go. Hopefully Harry will join us in a day or so. Excuse? I got the second jab of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this week and I can report it offers peace of mind – as well as a real swift kick in the pants. Injection site pain (check), fever (check), muscle aches (check), as well as night sweats (check) have made for a week much less productive than anticipated. Apologies. And one of our girls is about to have puppies, too, and that will no doubt interfere with writing for a week or so. Also, off to oncology on Monday, and I can’t wait to hear what she has to say…! Anyway, enough of this blather. Enjoy.

Chapter 22.1

Sailing less than a mile off the beach, Time Bandits felt like she was finally back in her element now – slipping along silently under full sail in the gentlest conditions, making easy headway in a close reach about a mile off the beach. Only now her crew was, literally and figuratively, sailing in the dark.

With no moon up, the shoreline was a blackish-green strip hard to differentiate from the sea, and every village and town they passed was darker than dark. A few homes and shops had candles going in windows, but those were the exception, not the rule, and there were no cars out on the roads yet…making the passing landscape feel almost medieval.

And all the large commercial ships normally steaming through the English Channel 24 hours a day were at a standstill, too, with no lights visible and all of them swinging at anchor. No aircraft had been visible since the massive CME hit earlier that day, and Anton mentioned that any aircraft out over the open ocean would have – probably – been lost unless they were within gliding range of nearby land.

This had been a world driven by the internet and guided by GPS, that now – suddenly, dauntingly – had grown coldly silent, like a cemetery in winter. Stock exchanges? Gone. Ordering food or goods online? Unavailable. Having chest pain at midnight? Good luck with that. Your car won’t start. Your kitchen appliances either don’t work or barely get the job done. Taggart wondered how long the niceties of civilization would last under these conditions? How long would it take for local governments to reassert control after two centuries of centralized federalism? Local farmers’ markets might return, and small ‘main street’ shops might too, but society was no longer organized along these lines, was it?

Or would the CMEs abate and the poles revert? What then?

How would the climate respond if they didn’t? Would a new ice age begin, or would warming accelerate?

And every question Henry asked himself led his gaze to Rolf. How would the boy handle all these changes?

Then the real question came into sharp relief. ‘How would I handle them?’ Because, Henry thought, if he couldn’t then how could he expect a teenager to make his way through the coming maze. He looked at Mike and the boy hunched over their charts, advancing the plot – laboriously. They were marking objects on shore and timing passages on an ancient windup Omega wristwatch, then deriving first their speed then their distance made good, then marking their progress on the chart – and though Rolf was soaking up the knowledge like a sponge – focused and interested, Henry wondered if the boy could see and understand that now more than ever knowledge meant survival.

And so Henry quite naturally thought of his father and their own passing rituals. How knowledge and understanding was passed quite naturally from one generation to the next, whether at sea or on the football field, or even hunched over desks trying to wrap minds around quadratic equations. Patiently, quietly, developing real understanding as well as a responsibility to the future, because if his father’s life had any meaning at all it revolved around one simple precept: there’s no such thing as freedom without responsibility.

Then he looked at Dina and seemed a little surprised by what he saw. She was sitting almost rigidly at attention looking out to sea, as if with nothing else to do she had slipped into some kind of hibernation mode…yet she had been like this since her brief disappearance the day before.

“Can you take the wheel for a minute?” he asked her, and she blinked out of her trance and slipped behind the wheel while he went aft to the swim platform to take a leak in the bucket they kept there. He couldn’t pee in the ocean anymore – he would look at the orcas and feel guilty, like he was taking a leak on their living room carpet. ‘Man, I gotta get a grip on this…’ he thought as he looked up at the pulsing waves of pink and green that were still rippling through the night sky. ‘Because like it or not, I’m running out of daylight…and there is no freedom without…’

“Henry?” Rolf asked, a question hidden in his voice.

“Yo.”

“We are approaching Boulogne-sur-Mer,” he said, pointing to a darkened city ahead to port. “Shall we continue to follow the coast or try to sail direct to LeHavre?”

“Let’s stay just off the beach…all the way. Without a reliable compass…”

“Yes, that is what Mike said too.”

“Unless the wind changes we’ll be okay, but if the wind shifts to northwesterly we’ll need to tack offshore.” He looked at Dina as he climbed back into the cockpit and scowled at her rigid countenance. “You baking bread tomorrow?”

“Hmm? – what? Oh yes, I think so.”

He nodded, convinced now that something was really wrong with her…

Then the music pushed it’s way back into mind…the same maddening melody as before…only now the music was growing in complexity and clarity – almost like…

‘No, it couldn’t be.’

‘It’s like the closer we get to Paris the richer the music becomes…’

‘Every voyage is a teacher,’ he thought again, then as if heeding a voice from the past: ‘There is no freedom without responsibility.’

‘Why, of all the things my father taught me, am I thinking of those two things right now?’

They would, he knew, be in LeHavre tomorrow, and there, for all intents and purposes this voyage would be over. They’d spend a few days getting the mast down and make arrangements for repairs when such facilities reopened, but all that would remain was the final trip to Paris.

‘Yet that won’t happen without engine power, will it?’

He looked down, shaking his head at the thought of such an end to this last journey. Would he finish the trip on a train? Or on horseback?

+++++

The water was warm here, Eva thought – until she remembered she was breathing this water. Or…was she?

She held her hands up in front of her face and could just make out the contours in the deep gloom, then she opened her mouth – expecting fluid to rush in. But nothing happened. Thick, moisture-laden air filled her lungs, then she leaned back until she felt the back of her head supported by water – or something like it. She reached out and almost immediately felt that the large female orca was still by her side, still almost motionless, then, as her eyes grew adjusted to the light, she looked up – and gasped at the sight.

There were hundreds of stars overhead, but many were so close she could easily make out planets in orbit around them…until she realized she was on a moon or some sort of satellite…perhaps a small moon orbiting – a huge ringed planet. The side of the planet facing this moon was in ‘night’ just now, but by the size of the rings she’d just seen the planet must have been very large indeed, with a third of her view of the sky dominated by an obsidian hole that simply had to be a huge planet. Yet beyond this planet and the nearby stars were vibrant fields of ionizing gases – nebulas of an astonishing variety of color and transparency, with pinks, yellows and pale greens predominating.

Then something else struck her: she wasn’t tired – neither was she expending any effort treading water. She was simply floating, yet the water wasn’t briny at all – it was simply very, very viscous, but otherwise very neutral – and despite not being a chemist that didn’t seem to add up.

Then a sliver of sunlight appeared on the limb of the planet overhead, and in this unexpectedly blueish light she saw land not at all far away. In fact, she saw a white structure of some kind, and then she felt Henry reaching out to her.

+++++

‘Where are you?’

She sent images of her surroundings to his mind, and even impressions of the ‘ocean’ she was in.

‘Where is Britt?’ he replied.

‘I haven’t seen her since I arrived.’

‘Were Dina and Rolf with you recently?’

‘No. Aren’t they with you?’

‘They are now, but they were gone for quite a while yesterday. Dina has no recall of anything like that.’

‘They weren’t here.’

‘Are you alone?’

‘No.’

‘Okay. You should make for land, see what your options are for food and shelter.’

Henry felt something odd and shook himself out of what felt almost like a trance-like state; he opened his eyes and looked up to find Anton standing by the wheel, but he was pointing at something ashore.

“Genry! Look! See lights?”

Taggart looked where the aviator was pointing and sure enough just ahead he saw an island of bright lights not far from the coast, and they were seemingly ablaze within a small forest; he pulled out his binoculars and looked at the scene, smiling as he recognized the familiar shapes surrounding a large nuclear power plant. Steam was rising from all four cooling towers and red anti-collision lights were blinking merrily away in the night, yet as “normal” as the scene looked – judging from surface appearances, anyway – an unsettled air of discontinuity still pervaded the scene. There were no cars or trucks moving about, and no streetlights or other signs of normalcy existed beyond the confines of the plant’s walls.

“They’re hardened facilities,” Mike said, now standing beside Anton and looking wistfully at the plant. “It gives the rest of us something to build on, I suppose.”

“Assuming everything inside the plant is intact, you mean,” Henry replied, his voice barely a whisper now.

“You feeling okay?” Mike asked.

“You no look so hot, Genry,” Anton added. “Here, I help you back to bunk.”

Henry nodded and tried to stand, but now it felt like the bones in his legs were about to snap and he cried out after a sharp pain in his right knee left him almost breathless. He slumped back then felt helping hands lifting him and carrying him down the companionway steps, and a few minutes later he was back on his bunk and restlessly asleep.

Mike went topsides and found Rolf at the helm, still holding their course to parallel the coastline about a mile off the beach, and Mike resumed his work on the chart.

“Whoa!” Rolf said, his eyes on the binnacle.

“What’s up?”

“The compass is swinging wildly again. It is so weird to see.”

Mike nodded then looked up – and as expected he found the upper atmosphere was a riot of iridescent pulsing waves, now filled with deep green and purple. He looked up in awe but a moment later the lifelines and the standing rigging began to glow, then even the winches and other deck hardware took on a blueish glow as static electricity began flooding through the atmosphere.

“Be careful,” he said to Rolf. “Try not to touch anything metal without grounding first.”

They heard Dina shriek from down below and Mike shook his head. “Sorry!” he called out. “Another CME is hitting and the compass is swinging again.”

She came thundering up the steps, glowering at Mike as she gained the cockpit, then she looked around with growing alarm in her eyes. “Where’s Henry?”

“Down below. He’s not doing too good right now.”

“Why didn’t you come get me?”

“Well, for one thing, we didn’t see you.”

“What do you mean you didn’t see me? I’ve been in the galley for the past two hours!”

“Oh? Well, you weren’t when we came down…”

“Nonsense!”

Mike looked at her and shook his head. “Anton?”

“Da?”

“Was Dina in the galley when we went down with Henry?”

“I not see her.”

Mike looked at Dina and smiled. “Maybe you were in the head?” he said, a little sardonically. “You know, like lost?”

Grumbling incoherently, an ambivalent Dina took off down the steps and disappeared into the aft cabin; Mike saw lights turn on and assumed Dina would begin looking after Henry, but Mike went to the hatch over the aft cabin and looked down; he instead saw her sitting down there like she was in some kind of deep trance, looking straight ahead and – resolutely ignoring Taggart.

“Something not right here,” Anton whispered, standing beside Mike and peering down into the cabin.

Mike looked up at the aviator, startled, but when he looked below again – Dina was gone. He raced down below but she was nowhere to be found. He made his way back up to the cockpit and found Anton at the wheel, and now Rolf was nowhere to be seen…

“Boy gone too,” Anton said, his voice strained, then he added: “Better look up.”

Mike looked; beyond the masthead several dimly glowing spheres were up there in the mist, and for an instant Mike almost thought the orbs were talking amongst themselves. One would pulse excitedly for a moment then grow dim, and then another would grow more animated for a while.

“This fucked up,” Anton sighed.

“I don’t think that was Dina,” Mike said, lost in thought as he looked at the gathering up there.

“Boy too. He not acting right.”

Mike nodded. “You’re right. They were like doppelgängers, or avatars. So…”

“So, where real Dina and boy?”

Mike felt a little out of sorts now, too. Henry needed attention, the kind only Dina could render, but she’d apparently been gone for most of the day and now he wondered if she’d ever be back. And without her, how long could Henry hold on?

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

Come Alive (21)

[So, this post is chapter 21 complete, including subsections 1-16 but with a few minor revisions to tweak the plot and clear up a few (well, you know) ambiguities. Music Matters? I’m thinking King Crimson’s Pictures of a City and Spirit’s It Shall Be. The next post? I see some Harry Callahan in your future…]

Chapter 21.1

Still standing at the aft rail, Henry Taggart watched the coiling toroidal clouds as they climbed through the stratosphere, the haunting cacophony of perishing souls trapped within now crystallized inside his reeling mind. He looked up and saw the B-21s launch a second strike, this second wave of hypersonic lances slanting-in to take out Amsterdam – and Taggart groaned as the implications became clear in his mind.

In order to prevent the massive supplies of oil cached in these two ports from falling into Russian hands, in a now all too familiar calculus the two cities surrounding these ports were being sacrificed. As in: blood for oil. As in: for the last one hundred years the brutal efficiency of this formula had guided human history like nothing ever had before – because as Everett DeGolyer had so cogently explained, oil was power and global dominance of geo-petrochemical production would lead to world dominance. Roosevelt understood the implications all too well; so had Joseph Stalin. At Yalta the game was afoot!

Now, even as hydrocarbon emissions were choking off their future, humans were once again willing to go to the mats to control supplies of the stuff – even if this would quite necessarily be the last time humans fought any kind of war at all. If the whole thing wasn’t so sickening, Taggart thought, it might have even been kind of funny. Like the same kind of funny if John Galt was to be suddenly brought to life and Ayn Rand’s archetypal Übermench then decided to take out the human race rather than watch it be subsumed in some sort of neo-Marxist non-conforming conformism. Humanity was, after all, a particularly fragile construct – one particularly ill-suited to comprehensive introspective analysis – especially with so many deontologists on the march and willing to kill millions in the service of an idea, and who were so much more efficient than disaffected writers.

“How wrong we were,” Henry said to the cobalt-encased, thorium-enriched clouds settling into their familiar mushroom formations over the burning cities. He tried to think of the most pathetic example you could find of humanity – say, for instance, a club-footed Sudanese boy of perhaps two years, born with a cleft-palette and no arms, the sort frequently used to attract donors to any of the dozens of charitable organizations founded to help such ‘wastrels.’ Legions of oil companies directing battalions of marching soldiers had ground an endless number of such children into the sand, and all in an endlessly mad search for energy. Humanity had been reduced to a series of variables to be substituted in equations derived to suit the exigencies of the moment. Sorry about that, little boy.

But when Taggart joined the Seattle Group he had quickly learned that there was more energy locked inside a single thought than there was in the most devastating hydrogen bomb ever built. He’d laughed at the simple-minded lunacy of the idea, too – until a freak named Winky had taken him and a gastrointestinally challenged young male orca for a five minute spin around Vancouver Island…at speeds in excess of Mach 50. He’d shut the fuck up after that – and started listening…big time. Even as the stomping legions in their Brooks Brothers’ suits lined-up to do battle with one more new idea that dared to challenge the existing world order. 

One more time. 

Because this war was for all the marbles, wasn’t it?

They’d talked about war once, too. He and Winky, that is. And Winky had listened patiently, even tactfully given the circumstances, then he’d turned to Taggart and asked one simple question. “How many wars have been fought since the end of your Revolutionary War – where oil was the principle organizing objective of your intervention?” 

Taggart had thought long and hard about that one, then threw the answer “Ten!” out there to hang around in the air apparent, yet Winky had only smiled that patient smile of his before he’d turned and walked off.

“That’s not fair!” Taggart yelled – causing men all around the ‘Special’ hanger at Boeing’s Everett Field to turn and see what the commotion was all about –

But by then he and Winky were standing in the History section at the Harvard Coop Bookstore across from Harvard Yard, and Winky had simply pulled a book from the shelf titled A Country Made by War and handed it to him – before stating: “More than 400 – by Perret’s count, anyway – though my own was a little more aggressive.”

“What? Are you serious?”

“Read it and find out, Hank.”

“But…I…”

“Forgot your wallet again, I see? Well then – let me, please.”

Those had been the days, Taggart mused. Winky or Dinky could appear as anyone, of course, though Winky usually walked and talked like Cary Grant or Bela Lugosi, depending on his mood and the state of his humor, which, in those days, had been generally somewhat more playful.

But today?

He heard someone in the cockpit and turned to see Mike standing there, looking aft at what was left of Rotterdam, and Taggart saw that the naval officer was finally at a loss for words.

“This is what happens when your best laid plans fall on their ass,” Mike croaked, his voice a parched mirror of his facial burns. “What about Amsterdam?”

Taggart shook his head. “It’s gone, too, I think.”

Mike flipped a few switches but nothing worked now, not even the diesel, so he walked back to the rail and stood there beside Henry. “Looks like EMP took out everything,” he said softly. 

Taggart shrugged. “I’ve got a few spares.”

“That figures. What about the sails?”

“Standing rigging is toast, though if I can get up the mast I can rig the main and staysail stay, enough to get us down the road a little, anyway.”

“I take it you weren’t expecting this?” Mike asked as he took it all in, his voice suddenly full of real sorrow.

But Taggart turned and faced Mike, the anger behind his eyes manifest: “No, I’ve been expecting this my whole life, Mike. In fact, I’m surprised we made it this far.”

Mike nodded. “What’s that old saying? Kill someone in an alley and you go to jail, but kill thousands to the beat of marching bands and you’ll get medals. I guess that makes us…what?”

“Irredeemable is, Mike, the word I think you’re searching for. An evolutionary dead end, and maybe it is time to put an end to this…”

But a series of far away explosions ripped through the air and the two of them turned to watch a number of fighters whirling around tens of thousands of feet above the sea, shooting missiles and firing machine guns at one another in a last ballet of death. Too far away to make out any detail, Taggart turned away from it all and walked back to the cockpit, helped Dina and Rolf get to their feet. Rolf seemed almost in a state of shock as Dina took him down the companionway – 

– then he felt Eva in his mind…

+++++

‘There is a great evil coming to you now,’ she told him. ‘Get everyone below and prepare yourself.’

‘Alright.’

‘You are injured. I will help you if I can.’

‘Thanks. I get by with a little help from my friends.’

‘I love you.’

‘I love you too.’ He felt the lightness in her thoughts, the noble purity, and he smiled – as if he was a flower turning to face the sun.

21.2

“You’d better get below, Mike. Now.”

“What? Why? What’s happening…?” Two of the fighters were locked in a struggle to the death, one diving now, the second turning to pursue… “I think they’re out of missiles,” Mike sighed. “They’ve been going at one another like this for a few minutes now.”

“Too stupid to know they’re already dead.”

“Anger…and adrenaline.”

“Don’t forget testosterone. Homo sapiens…to the very end.” Taggart held onto the backstay, his head turned up to watch this unfamiliar scene play out to it’s inevitable conclusion…

An American F15 was trying to turn inside of the pursuing Russian Su-35 when it went inverted in a sudden wingover and pulled-back hard at the apex…but this Russian wasn’t buying the dodge. The Russian committed now and drove his fighter right into the wings of the Eagle, the pilot ejecting at the last possible moment – just before their machines burst into flames and tumbled like falling leaves down to this sunless sea of gritty molten amber.

Taggart watched the ejection carefully.

The canopy broke away smoothly, the rocket under the seat fired and then the seat fell away from the pilot as the drogue opened. Perhaps a second later the main chute opened and then the man hung there, suspended by his harness…

Until the pilot realized he was falling towards an American yacht.

Which was when he reached for the pistol strapped to his thigh.

And Taggart just watched this fall from grace, knowing full well what he had to do now.

“Mike? There’s a spare sat-phone in the oven. Could you go get that for me, please?”

“In the oven?”

“Faraday cage, Mike. Don’t leave home without one.”

“Yeah…right…okay.”

“Power it up, would you?”

“Sure.”

He could see the pilot clearly now, see that he was watching everything Taggart and Mike did even as he fell through the gritty amber sky. And he could feel the malice in the man’s livid eyes as the water reached up and plucked him from the sky.

The swim platform worked well enough, and it still supported his weight as Henry stepped out on it. He flipped the swim steps out and watched them fall into the water – just as the pilot swam up to the stern, an ancient Makarov clenched in one hand.

“Stand back!” the Russian ordered as he reached out for the steps – speaking in Russian, of course.

“Would you care for a towel?” Taggart answered – in Russian.

“Stand back, now! Or I will shoot her!”

Taggart turned and saw Eva standing on the aft deck – but he saw the shimmering pink glow around her feet and knew it was Pinky. 

“Oh…feel free,” Henry said, smiling genially at the aviator.

“What? Are you an imbecile? Did you not hear me? Stand back!”

Taggart leaned over and extended his hand. “Perhaps you didn’t know, but your left arm is fractured. Now, take my hand and I will help you up.”

“Stand back! Now!”

Taggart sighed and took a step back, then he watched the old Russian Colonel struggle up the steps while trying his best not to show overt disgust. “Would you like a towel now?” he just managed to ask.

The Russian, speaking through clenched teeth and with sweat running down his forehead into his eyes, snarled now. “No! Get back or I will kill all of you, now!”

“Not to put too fine a point on things, Colonel Peskov, but this is my vessel and you are my guest while here.”

“No! You are MY prisoners! Now, step back, but…say? How do you know my name?”

“Your gun, please. Give it to me.”

Furious now, Peskov took the pistol and placed it about a foot in front of Taggart’s face and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

Except Taggart reached out and twisted the pistol free of Peskov’s hand, then tossed it into the sea. “We have a physician onboard if you’d care to have that arm looked at.”

“You are my prisoner! You do as I say!” Peskov commanded, now in rough, heavily accented English.

“Or, would you please just shut the fuck up?”

“We win, see?” Peskov shouted, pointing at Rotterdam’s feraly glowing remnants. “You understand? Russians wins again!”

“Okay, Anton, you asked for this, so hang onto your britches…”

They were in a woman’s mind now, seeing St Petersburg through her eyes. Running along the Martynova Boulevard, the river off to her right, two small boys running just ahead…

“Those are my grandchildren!” Anton cried. “How can this be?”

Only Henry and Peskov could hear the air raid sirens wailing all around them now, then the fear in all their voices as they ran for the shelter near to subway entrance – then the hideous, shrieking howl of a million souls perishing as a small sun erupted a mile above the city center…

Only Anton Peskov could see and feel the primordial fear in the wildly beating heart of his youngest daughter, then – through her eyes – he watched the all-enveloping fusion blast that came calling for the only three people left in the world he could honestly say he loved…

…and in the time it took to sigh they were gone, because in that instant they had been reduced to black grit that had somehow been fused to the pavement – like shadows painted on concrete…

And Anton Peskov fell to his knees, his bunched fists pounding Time Bandits’ deck, murderous rage welling up in his heart. “I will kill you all with my bare fists,” he howled, the burning pyre of St Petersburg alive once again in his eyes –

And in the next instant his eyes were focused like laser beams – attached to the re-entry cone of a MIRV boring through the atmosphere just above Moscow –

“No, this can not be! This must not be!”

As the MIRV mechanism deployed, all 28 warheads blossomed from behind the cone, each independently programmed warhead streaking down to impact on a prominent cultural landmark in the heart of the city of his youth…

Only now he had a God’s eye view of the moment, looking down on the city of his dreams as the first 28 warheads hit, then another and another, until all that remained of the city was a seventy mile wide slag-heap filled with a seething lava-like substance that bubbled away in the night. Nothing at all remained of the city and the culture that had defined his people for hundreds, if not thousands of years…

Consumed with fiery rage, Anton pulled himself erect and beat his chest with his good hand. His eyes full of grief for the dead as he turned on Taggart: “Think of all the children! The grandchildren – that you have just murdered!”

Taggart walked over and stood by Peskov’s trembling body, then he pointed at Rotterdam’s amber-glowing grit. “See the children over there, Anton? Can you feel them now? The grandchildren and grandparents and all their history – gone now, because of what you did here today? Can you feel them now? Here? Right here?” Taggart said as he ran his fingers through his hair and pulled it down for Anton to see, the sweat on his fingers speckled with little obsidian flecks of grit. “See them, Anton? This is all that’s left of them now. All their hopes and dreams, all that they were or would ever be…here they are…one last time and just for you!?”

“What are you talking about, you fool?”

“Here they are, Anton. Their remains, falling from the sky – right now. On you. Right on your head, Anton, and there, right on your face and in your eyes. Can you not feel them, Anton? Can you not hear their screams?”

As the realization began crowding out every other thought Taggart watched the man go mad right in front of his eyes. Peskov ran his hand through his own hair and he felt the grit on his fingers,  under his fingernails, then he heard the millions of screams as the warheads blossomed overhead. And each little fleck of grit became a life’s blood on his hands until the man’s soul literally withered and burned out there on the aft deck, then the shell of the man stood there in mute grief as the ironies of his inherent contradictions consumed him.

21.3

The seas were strangely quiet as dawn came. Amber-gray with an oily sheen that spoke of endless terrors in the night without end that had just been.

Dina had wrapped the Russian colonel’s right arm and given him one of Henry’s precious opiates, then fixed the old aviator a cup of sweet tea on the propane stove. “How long will food keep with no power?” she asked Henry – who was then on his way to the engine room. 

“Don’t open the doors unless you have to. Keeps the cold inside,” he said as he worked his way into the confined space under the cockpit and got to work. Rolf joined him under there, and they emerged two hours later and went straight to the cockpit. One punch of the starter and the pristine diesel rumbled back to life, the batteries began charging and the refrigerator cooling again. Rolf and Henry ‘high-fived’ – and Clyde barked twice…

Next, Henry rigged up his old bosun’s chair and went over safety procedures with both Rolf and the aviator, who both helped run Henry up the mast. After a few premature triumphs, Henry felt satisfied with the repairs and they rolled out the main and set the small staysail, everyone smiling as Bandits’ speed jumped from six knots under power alone to almost nine knots with the added lift from the sails.

Then Henry went to work on the radios.

And when the BBC World Service came on at the top of the hour he smiled.

“The world seems to have stepped back from the brink,” a heartened voice began, “yet with reports of at least four cities now silent it is time for us all to step back from the abyss and conduct a reckoning…”

Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Gone.

Moscow and St Petersburg. Gone.

Word was slipping out that China had threatened Russia’s military after Moscow went dark, that the Chinese leader had stated quite clearly that as they, the Russians, had started this madness, China would not sit idly by and let the Russians take down the species.

There had been a hideous price paid during these hours of madness, the commentator said, yet now it was time to move on. To reconstruct. To heal.

And Time Bandits left the afterglow in her wake, sailing now for Le Havre – just as the strangest hurricane in human history took aim at the northwest coast of France.

21.4

“What this is?” Anton Peskov asked, pointing at the weather display on the chart-plotter.

“Weather, from a satellite over the Atlantic,” Rolf said, clearly proud of Time Bandits – and in his growing understanding of her systems.

But one of the colonel’s bushy gray eyebrows arched up on hearing that. “This is live, not recorded?”

“Yes, live. Actually, it’s a service of the SiriusXM radio network, it just feeds into the chart and radar networks.”

“Very cool,” Peskov growled. “And this?” he asked, pointing at the hurricane still growing in the eastern Atlantic.

“That’s Epsilon, the new hurricane,” Rolf said, centering the display over the eye and calling up the Overlays panel. “We can display the current wind speeds, like this,” Rolf said, toggling the layer, “and we can add even more information, too, like sea surface temperatures” – click – “and barometric pressures.” – click – 

“Very, very cool. And you knows how to use dees system?”

The display blinked and an alert popped in the center of the screen; Rolf silenced the alarm and pulled up the linked data-feed and quickly read through alert, shaking his head as the enormity of the information sank in. “Mike? Is Henry still up?”

Mike shook his head. “No way, man. Dina popped him with a syringe full of instant sleep. He won’t wake up ’til sometime tomorrow.”

“Well, you better come take a look at this, because I think we’ve got trouble.”

Mike stood – and cried out in pain as his back arched in an involuntary stretch – then he walked over to the helm and took a look at the display: “What’s up? Epsilon again?”

“Yeah, but take a look…”

Mike looked at the display and scowled. “That can’t be right. 280 knots in the eye-wall?”

“I double checked the feed. It’s a valid alert, and for all shipping heading into or out of the Channel.”

“What are the surface temps now?”

Rolf went back out to the main display window and zoomed out to show the entire storm. “Look up there, just to the north of the eye…”

Mike bent over and peered into the image, then he shook his head and scoffed. “No way, man. No way it’s a hundred and five degrees up there!” – yet while he was watching all the temperatures updated, most increasing by a degree or two as he stood there, and two more alerts popped. “Open ‘em up, Amigo…” Mike sighed.

Rolf hit the appropriate buttons and the display shifted to grayscale and a text filled the screen.

“Notice to Mariners,” the text read, “Imminent danger to life at sea northeast Atlantic basin from the Azores to the Irish Sea and points east. Hurricane Epsilon continues to intensify as conditions deteriorate further…”

“Well, fuck-a-doodle-do,” Mike whispered as he read. “What are the temps up here, in the Channel?”

Rolf flipped through the pages of data and pulled up the central region of the English Channel and hit enter, then he overlaid all the data he could find for their current position. “Okay, here it is.”

Mike sat next to Rolf and peered into the image again. “That Multi-display can pull up a real time sea-temp, right? Can we cross check these numbers with real time data?”

“Sure…easy… So, Sirius Weather is showing 84 degrees F right here, and…” Rolf said, leaning over to pull up the real time data on one of the smaller secondary displays, “our sensor is showing…uh, that can’t be right…” he said as 91 degrees registered.

“One good way to find out,” Mike said as he walked back to the swim platform, where he stepped down and stuck his hand in the sea. “Well, Hell, I wouldn’t want to take a bath in it, but it feels pretty damn warm to me.”

Anton had followed him down to the water and stuck his own hand in the water. “Da, is not good.”

“Okay, so it looks like some kind of super-tropical cyclone is coming up the Channel. The question for us,” Mike posed, “is what do we do about it today – right now, while Henry is down and out…?”

“How far we go in Channel? And how big is storm? Do the two areas, how do you say? Overlap?”

Mike nodded and looked ahead, then up at the sky. Strange, mottled-coppery cirrus clouds were already streaming in, and he wondered if global background radiation figures were changing already… He watched Rolf pull up more charts and data and walked back to the helm.

“Okay,” Rolf said, “we are almost to Bruges so call it 170 n-m-i to LeHavre, while the center of Epsilon is still about 360 miles out from LeHavre. What about London? Could we put in there?”

“I was just thinking about that,” Mike sighed, “but I keep thinking of the Thames Barrier.”

“Da, is not good.”

“What’s that?” Rolf asked. 

“A tidal flood control barrier. If it gets taken out everything in London could be wiped out by storm surge.”

“What about the Seine? Couldn’t the same thing happen to Paris?”

Mike shrugged. “Southern shores should see less surge, but wind damage could be savage along rivers and coastlines, yet it looks like if we proceed direct to LeHavre from here we’ll get there about the same time the storm does.”

“What about Bruges?” Anton asked. “We here now, we need medic supplies for you and Mr. Genry, no? And it give time to get ready, which need. Correct?”

“Impeccable logic, my friend. Rolf, pull up the harbor chart and let’s make for the entrance…”

Chapter 21.5

The sky was red – everywhere he looked.

Red satanic mills lighting the way ahead, roiling black spires of writhing cloud overhead, and trees on both sides of a blood-soaked canal reduced to glowing embers as, not so far away now, walls of orange flame moved through a row of medieval buildings – those ancient timbers adding their cry to the night.

And then there was the music. 

A dark lament, yet he heard sublime chords weaving new tapestries into and out of the licking flames. Timbers consumed by the roving fires split and burst, howling into the night, coming together in the music before lifting away into the night – embers to stars – pitiless onlookers now as they rose from the earth.

First there was the fire and the music – coming together as yellow lightning moved across the charred prairie beyond the canal – and then the smoke. Suffocating smoke, the gritty remains falling from fouled clouds, the fleshy soot smothering flames in the tarry remnants of human screams…

He was coughing now, coughing and hardly able to breathe, Clyde’s eyes were full of panic too, as he coughed and gasped. Then a voice, faraway and cool:

“Take a deep breath…

“That’s it, take another…”

He felt cool plastic around his mouth and nose, could just hear the hiss of oxygen beneath her voice as he opened his eyes…

Two IV bags were hanging from one of the hand-holds on the ceiling and he knew they were connected to the port in his chest. Some sort of glucose solution in one; the other a vampire’s brew of platelets and plasma, and he reached out – feeling his body in this world again, wondering how much more he could take.

A pulse oximeter on his index finger, a BP cuff on his right arm, and there was Rolf pumping up the cuff as Dina passed along more of the dark arts to his receptive mind; she was even now teaching him, training him, and he could see budding interest everywhere the boy looked.

He took a deep breath and the cool oxygen felt good inside his nose – but – ‘What is that I smell? Honeysuckle?’

He looked up through the overhead hatch and could see a Linden tree wrapped in autumnal reds and golds, a coppery-blue sky beyond, and there was a gentle weight on his chest: Clyde – his muzzle resting lightly in the fading shade of the dream.

The dream?

‘Not Rotterdam. Not even earth – I feel sure of that. But…where were we this time…?”

“Ah, Henry! You are awake!” 

“I’ll have to take your word for it. And is that a tree I see up there?” Taggart asked, pointing to the Linden. “Because, and I think this is important, I don’t remember trees growing in the ocean.”

“We are moored outside of Bruges,” Rolf smiled, “warped off to the trees.”

“The storm. Epsilon, right? Rolf, where is it now?”

“The eye is between Brest and Exeter, almost exactly in the middle of the Channel. But Henry, the surrounding weather is beginning to behave in a most peculiar manner.” 

“Define peculiar? I’m not sure what that means anymore.”

“Water temps now over a hundred, winds in the outer bands are almost 200 knots…”

Taggart sat up, rubbed his eyes while he tried to get those numbers to make some sort of sense. “Did you say 200 – as in knots?”

“Yes, and the northeast quadrant of the eye wall is over 275 knots.”

“That’s not possible.”

“That’s exactly what Anton said,” Dina added, scowling.

“Anton? Who the hell is Anton?”

“The Russian pilot. Do you not remember all that?”

“Vaguely. Something to do with World War Three, right? Or was that my hemorrhoids acting up again?”

Dina shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“How are our supplies holding out?” Taggart asked, changing course again.

“Fine now. We went into town and bought enough medicine to stock a small hospital…”

“And I have more rope, too,” Rolf added, “though right now the storm is tracking a little to the north…”

“What? You mean north, as in towards London?”

“Maybe so, yes.”

“So, assuming it…”

“Precisely,” Rolf added. “If it tracks just a little south landfall could occur somewhere along this coast tomorrow morning.”

“Dina, you were saying? About supplies for Mike’s burns?”

She nodded, smiling a little once again, if only because even after fifty years she still had to hold her tongue when men, and even boys, talked over her. “We are good now, and we were lucky with food supplies here, too. Apparently many stores in Brussels are quite bare.”

“Salmon for Clyde?”

“Yes, and very fresh, too.”

“So, how bad is it out there?”

She nodded, tried to smile – but he could tell the effort was for Rolf’s sake. “Better than expected. People are still using cash and electronic money equally well. ATMs seemed to have enough cash on hand, too.”

He nodded and turned to the boy again. “How’s our fuel, Rolf?”

“We beat the rush into Zeebrugge last night and we have full tanks now, and I topped-off the five-gallon jugs in the garage.”

“What do you need help with?”

“Nothing, really. Like I said, I have extra rope ready to deploy if needed.”

Henry smiled and nodded, then Clyde looked at him and sighed. “And what do you need, Amigo? Besides some fresh salmon?”

“Woof-woof!”

“Any good bushes around here?” he asked, looking to Dina.

“He just went, Henry,” Dina sighed as he looked in his eyes.

“And how are you doing?” he asked – finally engaging her eyes.

“I’m scared – and a little lonely.”

“Understandable. Not many people had a ringside seat at armageddon and managed to survive the night to talk about it.”

She slipped onto the berth and under his arm, pushing Clyde out of the way as she rested the side of her face on Henry’s chest, listening to his breathing and his beating heart in a decidedly non-clinical way, and feeling now more than anything just happy that he was still here. And Rolf had the good sense to get up and leave them alone, too.

“I have never been so frightened in my life,” she sighed, suddenly trembling as memories of that  dreadful night came rushing back to her. “The wind has been out of the west ever since, so fallout is spreading inland; there are reports it is very bad near Hamburg and Berlin, Copenhagen also.”

“What about us?”

“I suspect low level radiation exposure for all of us, but I have no idea how much that Russian was exposed to as he fell through the sky.”

He heard the venom in her voice and tried to ignore it – for now. “You think there are looming food shortages?”

“Yes, but this is to be expected, is it not? According to the BBC, food convoys from the United States are being loaded now and should be here early next week, and the Chinese have been flying in field hospitals and medical supplies to Germany, and also near St Petersburg.”

“How did the boy take it?”

“Better than I expected, Henry. In fact, he seemed most concerned that he get things done in a way that you would approve. Dedicated, I think, is the word I think of…”

“For a teenager that’s kind of a miracle, don’t you think?”

She shrugged. “Perhaps, but he has seen what Time Bandits is capable of, and I think he appreciates what such things mean to our future.”

“I wonder how much damage radiation did to her hull?”

“The stern took the worst of it, but the mast, too…”

“Yup, probably a new mast and, well, a couple of new sails are a given, but stripping off the gelcoat to see how deep the radiation damage goes inside the hull…you’ll need to do that next spring, by the way…so that will be your number one priority. I’m in the process of writing it all out, by the way.”

“Good. Have you been getting hungry at all?”

“No, not really.”

“How about some soup?”

“Maybe.”

“I have bread in the oven now, too.”

“I know – I think that’s what woke me up. Best smell in the world, isn’t it?”

She smiled. “That…and a strong cup of coffee. Together those create a magic all their own.”

“Yeah. We have our flaws, but we manage to pull a few rabbits out of our hats every now and then, I guess.”

“Are you worried about…Them?”

“Them? No, not really. What’s done is done, at least as far as they are concerned.”

“And what about Eva, and Britt? What is happening to them?”

“You probably shouldn’t worry too much about them, Dina. That book has gone to press.”

She seemed taken aback by that, and sat up – her eyes flaring in anger; “That is the most terrifying thing you have ever said to me, Henry. Just what am I supposed to make of a statement like that.”

He held her eyes in his own, conveying empathy – and strength: “I understand.”

“Indeed? Do you really?”

“Of course, but the truth of the matter is I trust – them – a lot more than you do.”

“They could be…”

“Not harmed, Dina. Not ever. In fact, they are safer now than they’ve ever been.”

“I see. Will I see my daughter again?”

He nodded. “I assume as soon as we get to Paris you will go pick them up.”

“What?! You mean, I will be leaving you again?”

“Just for a few hours – and because you are the only one here who knows where to look.”

“Look? What do you mean by…look? Will they be hiding?”

He sat up suddenly, coughing  roughly as fluids pushed against his lungs – then an arrhythmia shook his heart and he closed his eyes until it too passed – then he took a couple of deep breaths and tried to concentrate.

“I must find an aircraft, one that the Russian knows how to fly, and you must go to Bergen. I will write down what you need to do, who you need to see once we get to Paris…”

“The Russian? You trust this man?”

Henry shrugged: “Everything seems to be happening for a reason right now, Dina. Please try to remember that every time you find yourself confronting the new and the unknown.”

Yet even as he spoke those words he could feel Eva probing his thoughts, then Britt was there too. He closed his eyes and felt them coiling around his thoughts, smiling as he basked in their warmth. Reaching out now, he could feel the warm water, almost feel the rough skin as orcas slid alongside the girls…

Then a gust of hot wind slammed into Time Bandits, knocking her into the muddy banks of the canal. He heard Rolf running up the companionway, then he heard the boy talking to Mike and Anton, deciding what needed to be done as Epsilon’s steamy tendrils started to reach out for them.

‘Was that the dream?’ he wondered. Would this storm bring red skies and burning timbers to the night?

He tried to sit up when the music returned – but couldn’t – and the feeling of helplessness that came next only made him angrier.

He took several deep breaths and willed himself to stand – yet Dina was right there with him, removing the IVs from his port and swabbing his chest with alcohol.

“Do you want to go topsides?” she asked – as the hidden music from his dream crept into the moment.

He nodded and held onto her as she led him up the companionway steps into the cockpit – and the change he felt was so startling it left him feeling breathless.

Time Bandits was no longer a creature of the open ocean; here she was, now – bound to the earth in places, to trees in others, and in a canal perhaps 20 meters wide – surrounded by trees and medieval buildings…in short, all the ingredients to make his last dream come true. And the music only grew more incessant…

He turned and looked up at the sky and the old Russian was by his side in an instant.

“Sky not look right,” the old bear grumbled. “Too hot. No clouds.”

Taggart nodded. “Do you know how to fly any business jets?”

“737 smallest thing I fly long time.”

“I need you to go up to Bergen, get some people and bring them to France.”

“Okay, can do.”

“Rolf? Pull up the Metars page, would you? Let’s take a look…”

The weather page filled the plotter’s display and Henry bent over and scanned the isobars over the Channel. “Okay, hit the 24 hour forecast.”

The page froze and an error message popped up.

“Try backing out to the main page again…”

Dina saw it first, and she gasped as she jumped back.

A swirling pink sphere not a half-meter in diameter was up by the masthead, and when Henry stopped talking and looked up Pinky fell quickly and stopped right in front of his face. This was of course Anton’s first meeting and he back-peddled with flailing arms until he launched into a sputtering back-flip, landing in the canal like a small whale…

But then Pinky did something she had never done before.

She slipped inside Henry Taggart – until her soul rested neatly beside his.

21.6

Perhaps ten years ago Henry Taggarthad been the first to reach out.

And ‘Pinky’ had been the first to feel Henry’s tentative probes. The first to feel a human’s focused thoughts, the first to – in a very real sense – make contact with an individual.

His thoughts were anything but coherent then, but they were sentient so she took note and followed protocol. Within hours her team was preparing to respond and evaluate this new contact.

Pinky’s people were children of the mind and as such they relied less on physical instrumentalities than their most distant ancestors ever had, and while not strictly speaking immortal their lifespans would most likely have been considered, by human standards, anyway, ridiculously long. Still, there had been no discussions of this between humans and Them if only because there had been no common frame of reference, and Pinky had simply felt the matter irrelevant.

Until now.

Now – after her fusion with Henry Taggart – death was everywhere: an omnipresent awareness locked-up in a tight, hot place somewhere between cold dread and pounding fear. When she felt Taggart’s compounding diseases the first thing she wanted to to do was run – anywhere – to get away from this hostile, unfamiliar feeling. How can he stand it, she wondered.

But as suddenly she had wanted to know how he coexisted with such an intimate cascade of negative emotions she tried to extrapolate this feeling and imagine it on a species-wide scale. And because she had been studying humans for several years, she wanted to reconcile her understanding of human support systems – like religion and medicine – with what she was just now experiencing for herself.

‘This is terrifying,’ she said to Henry as she settled in next to his psyche.

‘You’re telling me. Now I know what schizophrenia feels like.’

‘Death is everywhere. How do you not think about it all the time?’

‘You’re kidding, right? I think we do, especially as we get older. Probably ninety percent of the time, anyway. But I think it’s safe to say that whenever we’re not thinking about death we’re thinking about getting laid.’

‘So…you think either of death – or procreation?’

‘Yup, pretty much, but the two are intimately linked, ya know? So, how long do y’all live?’

‘That is a question, Henry Taggart, for which we have no easy answer.’

‘Okay, but I’m curious. Why now?’

‘Do you mean why have I come to you – now – in this way?’

‘Yeah, I think that about sums it up.’

‘Your systems are failing rapidly. We need to know more about this process.’

‘You asking about me specifically, or about civilization in general?”

‘You.’

‘So, you’re asking me about death and dying? Why?’

‘Because we do not understand how this process affects you.’

‘Most directly, I think I can safely say.’

‘But…where do you go?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Where do your thoughts go – after you die?’

‘I don’t understand. Our thoughts don’t go anywhere, because when we die we stop thinking.’

He could feel her puzzlement, an almost paralyzed sense of incomprehension as she stumbled in the dark for the truth of the moment: ‘What do you mean…you stop?’

‘I mean when our bodies stop functioning everything ceases. Including our thoughts and feelings.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘No, of course not. As far as I know, no one really understands what happens after we die – beyond the very certain biological processes of decay which begin at that time.’

‘So much uncertainty. It is no wonder your kind is consumed with matters concerning spirituality and an afterlife.’

‘Your kind is not, I take it?’

‘No, we are focused on other things.’

‘What about getting…uh, procreation?’

‘The process is known to us.’

‘You are evasive, I’ll give you that much. But why? Why conceal so much from us?’

‘I think it is simply a question of frames of reference.’

‘So, you think I can’t understand. Is that your frame of reference?’

‘In a way, yes. What is that noise you have been making taking?’

‘Noise?’

‘Yes, almost melodic, but it almost seems to come from deep inside your body.’

‘Ah. Humming. As in humming a musical tune.’

‘How does this differ from singing?’

‘Humming is more of an approximation of the original…’

‘Is this approximation subliminal?’

‘I suppose it could be. What are you getting at?’

‘Is it possible the source could be external?’

‘External? You mean like sent from someone else?’

‘Yes. Is that possible?’

‘I don’t think so. At least, not in any way I know of.’

‘This is strange. When humans gather and listen to music many tend to become one with the structures within the music, and it is here that we have experienced many encounters recently.’

‘Encounters? You mean, as in reaching out?’

‘Yes.’

‘So, you think it is people changing, or something within the structure of the music changing people?’

‘We are uncertain.”

“I see,’ Taggart said knowingly. ‘And so you think you have discovered something new…’

‘Yes, Henry. Something new, but also something quite unexpected.’

+++++

He saw the women one morning while out walking; he watched them make their way out to the water’s edge and disrobe, then most surprisingly, he stared – utterly amazed – as the two women stepped into the icy water and simply disappeared. Not at all sure what to do, he grew concerned when they did not reappear after several minutes, so he pulled out his phone and called the town’s rescue services.

Within minutes divers and helicopters were scouring the waters north of Bergen.

21.7

Rolf was aft now, down on the swim platform helping a thoroughly flummoxed Anton back onboard, while both Mike and Dina stood, transfixed, after ‘Pinky’ merged with Henry. Moments later Anton and Rolf were back in the cockpit, Rolf’s face an open book, Anton’s a vivid mix of confusion and paranoid fury.

“What the fuck is this shit?” the Russian aviator bellowed, pointing at the shimmering amber-pink aura pouring out of Taggart’s every pore – yet by this point even a few passersby on the canal tow-path had stopped – and were gaping – at the bizarre spectacle.

“Be quiet!” Dina snarled. “Don’t interfere – don’t say another word!”

Anton took the towel Rolf handed him and shook some stray water from his ears, all the while never taking his eyes off Henry Taggart – until, a few minutes later the swirling sphere emerged from Henry’s face and simply winked out of existence…

…and as suddenly Henry seemed to phase back into the present…

He saw Dina and reached out for her – and she intuited that Henry was now suddenly very unstable and about to pass out. “Mike! Help me!”

Yet it was Anton who reached out for Henry, Anton who caught him as he started to fall, and Anton who helped Henry onto the helmsman’s seat and held him there while Henry caught his breath and regained his bearings.

But even so, everyone could see the change that had come over Henry.

He seemed physically diminished, palpably weaker now, and Dina rushed to his side and began a quick assay of his vitals even as Henry seemed to wilt into her gathering strength. “Rolf, some water, please,” she said to her grandson.

“That was some seriously weird shit,” Henry muttered.

“Da,” Anton echoed, “you no kidding…”

“Henry,” Dina said, sudden concern clear in her voice, “this must not happen again. Your pulse is now very low and you are as white as a sheet…”

“I didn’t exactly ask her to do this, you know?” he sighed.

“What happened?” Mike asked. “Did she tell you why?”

“I’m not sure. She had a bunch of questions and she’s looking for answers…”

“Did she know how this would effect you?” Dina asked.

“I don’t know. Next time you see her why don’t you ask…?”

“What is this?” Anton asked. “You speak of woman, yet I saw no woman…?”

“Well, believe me, she is,” Henry smiled wistfully. “And she has an attitude, too.”

“But,” Anton barked, “what is she?”

Mike chimed in now: “She’s not from around here, Anton.”

“No shit she’s not from around here,” Anton growled. “Question is, anyone know where she from?”

Mike pointed at the sky, which caused an audible gasp from the startled crowd of onlookers still gathering on the tow-path…

…yet as if on cue a gust of hot wind blew threw the crowd, reminding everyone of the approaching danger, and even Henry sat up and took note of the change in temperature.

“Rolf, let’s get the latest weather updates pulled, okay?” Henry said, ignoring the questions written all over Anton’s ruddy face, as he took a bottle of water from Rolf. Henry looked at the compass and then tried to visualize their physical orientation to the English Channel – and he figured they were almost bow-to the north, so tied-off to the west bank of the canal. So, they would be beam-to any gusts that came up the Channel and hit the Belgian coastline.

Not good.

And then fragments of the dream returned. The red skies, the coiling clouds and the rows of medieval buildings burning…and that goddam music… ‘Yes, just like those right over there,’ he said to himself as Rolf bent over the plotter and pulled up a new page.

Taggart looked at the dock lines Rolf had set, and while most were well-placed he could see a few weak zones that would need reinforcing if the winds were truly apocalyptic. Then again, if the storm was packing both extreme heat and wind speeds probably nothing would save them – aside from fleeing to the south and east.

Pages started appearing on the plotter and he leaned forward, fought through the light-headedness and the pulsing light that rattled his vision; he saw Epsilon’s eye was now in mid-channel, about halfway between Brighton and LeHavre and headed directly for Calais – and just beyond, Bruges. 

And he wondered then… ‘Should I send them away? Get them to the train station and send them to Geneva?’

“What are you thinking, Henry?” Anton asked. 

“It might not be safe here.”

“Da, no kidding. Maybe we go south?”

“Maybe.”

“And what about you, Henry?” Dina asked. “You won’t leave, will you?”

Henry shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. There’s something I’ve got to see here.”

“Well,” Anton said quietly, “that is that. We stay.”

Henry looked at Rolf, then Dina…

“Don’t you dare say it, Henry Taggart!” Dina hissed before she turned and went below.

Taggart nodded and looked at Rolf: “Get some more line ready to go, son. We’ve got some work to do…”

+++++

The large female was with Eva when she felt the disturbance growing along the shore across the bay. Men were gathering in the water and in the air and in an instant she knew who the men were looking for. She reached out to Eva and passed along images of her concerns…

As Eva processed these warnings she reached out to Henry, but she felt danger gathering all around him and pulled back. Not knowing what else to do, she wondered what would happen if she reached out to one of Them – the pink one, perhaps?

And a moment later a pinkish orb appeared in front of her, a fiercely glowing shimmer perhaps a foot beneath the water’s surface. She ducked under the water and almost instinctively placed her hands on the sides of the sphere, and in the next instant she felt Pinky probing the deepest reaches of her mind.

And when she felt traces of Henry in this new place she closed her eyes to the warmth as it enveloped her. She turned and looked around, saw that both she and Britt were no longer in the sea. Then she realized she had been holding her breath, so she inhaled – slowly – until she relaxed as fresh air washed through her lungs. 

And then she turned to Britt…

…who was clearly not amused.

“What happened?” Britt cried as she struggled to move, before she began screaming “Where are we?” over and over again.

Eva went to her, reached into her mind, let her feel Henry all around this place until she felt Britt relax.

“Do you know where we are?” Britt finally whispered.

“No, but I think Henry does.”

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Eva,” Britt said to Eva while clutching frantically at her belly. “I don’t understand what’s happening to me…to us…”

Eva grabbed Britt, pulled her close and told her everything would be fine, but she could feel Britt’s trembling uncertainty. “You have to trust Henry. You know he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us. Trust him, trust him…”

She felt Henry just then, felt his probing thoughts, then he felt her moving-on to Britt, then Britt growing warm and soft again as his thoughts caressed her…

…and only then did she pull back and look at her surroundings…

They were in a tank of some sort; huge, smooth and cylindrical, made of some kind of resinous material, but one area was full of viewing ports. She focused there, on the ports, and she tried to move but found she couldn’t, then realized they were weightless and had nothing to push against.

Then the cylinder began spinning, very slowly at first, but faster – until gravity began to assert itself and they both began drifting to what must have been purposed as a floor. Once she felt something solid underfoot, Eva walked over to the wall of viewing ports…

…in the space beyond the ports she saw dozens of glowing orbs moving about some sort of control room, all heedless of her presence – aside from one pinkish orb spinning there just on the other side of the port.

Then she felt Britt standing by her side.

“I’m okay now,” Britt said.

“I know. How is Henry?”

“Worried. That storm, Epsilon. It’s coming right at them…”

Then Eva cocked her head to the side a little as a gentle stream of music came to her…

+++++

Henry and Rolf stood on the tow-path looking over the web of lines they had wrapped around Time Bandits, hoping they would be strong enough to secure the boat to the canal. Both banks were lined with small craft now, and crews were frantically running lines to every available tree or bollard in sight. Henry looked at the mess and shook his head, knowing that if even one or two boats cAME loose the end results would be ugly – perhaps tragically so.

“I wonder how mother is doing?” Rolf asked.

“She’s fine,” Taggart sighed.

“How do you know that, Henry?”

“Good question. Someday I might even know the answer myself.”

“So?”

Taggart looked around, saw a bench in the shade of an old Linden tree and he walked over and sat there; not knowing what else to do, Rolf followed and sat beside him.

“Do you think we’ve done all that we can do to secure the boat to the tow-path?” Henry asked.

“I think so…yes.”

“So, your mind can be at ease about that? Is that about right?”

“I suppose so.”

“Fair enough. With your mind at ease, can you imagine going to a place where you can think of nothing at all?”

“Nothing? No, not really.”

“Close your eyes, Rolf.”

“Okay.”

“Concentrate on the blackness you see now, and only that.”

“Okay.”

“Just listen now. Don’t think, don’t even try to answer me. If you feel something strange, just concentrate on the blackness and ignore everything else.”

And just as Winky had shown him once, he reached inside Rolf’s mind until he could feel the  boy’s uncertainty gathering all around them…

“Listen to the wind in the trees,” Henry whispered. “To the sound of my breathing, even to the earth breathing.”

He could feel Rolf relaxing, letting go.

“Your mother is here, Rolf, in this place, in this darkness. Imagine reaching out for someone in the dark, someone you know is there, only use your mind to reach out, not your hands.”

He felt an image of Britt forming in Rolf’s mind, watched the image resolve and grow.

“There she is. Keep reaching, reaching until she is close enough to hear you…”

He could feel Eva with them now too, and then Britt and Pinky were there – all of them watching Rolf, willing him on.

“Mother?”

“I’m here. Come to me, my son.”

Dozens of wildly spinning orbs were gathered at the viewing ports now, watching this next most important phase of their ongoing experiment as it unfolded.

“Where are you?”

“I’m with you, my son. You’ve made it to me and we are together now!”

“How is this so?”

“Take my hand. See? I’m here with you…”

Henry watched as Rolf reached out for his mother’s hand, then he opened his eyes.

Even before he heard Dina’s screams he knew Rolf was gone, then he took a few deep breaths before he tried to stand. He pushed himself up from the bench, then the earth started spinning wildly and he fell to the ground, grabbing at the earth with his fingers to slow these new gyrations.

He heard them running for him even as the darkness came for him, then he was under the cool blue light of the vast ringed planet, only this time everything felt different…

21.8

She saw him falling, but he was still too far away. She was concentrating on his head and the way it bounced off an exposed tree root, and she winced as she imagined his brain bleeding after the impact. Yet she was by his side within moments, feeling for a carotid pulse, checking his neck, then his pupillary responsiveness. Getting him on his left side, putting her jacket under his head while she watched his breathing, counting his respiratory rate.

Then Anton was there by her side, though clearly now more confused than ever. “Where is boy?” he asked in his heavily accented English.

But she was looking past the burly Russian, looking for Mike – and she spotted him running off the boat with her ‘go-bag’ – which contained everything she might need to treat Henry in a crisis just like this – and he was by her side a moment later. She opened the bag and handed Mike a pack of alcohol swabs while she asked him to clean up the skin around his port. She took out an IV bag and handed this to Anton, and she told him to, above all else, hold it above Henry’s head. She hooked the line to the port and then set the flow-rate, checking his heart rate from time to time while the fluid stabilized his electrolytes.

“Okay, let’s get him to the boat,” she said after a few minutes, and both Anton and Mike helped lift and carry him back to Time Bandits.

Only now there was a small band of thugs on deck, and it appeared that several had already been below – ransacking the interior by the looks of things scattered about the deck.

“We need to get this man below,” she said to one of the teens standing by the gate in the lifelines.

“Mange moi, beetch!” he replied as two other hoods came over to join their leader. “Dees ees my boat now, so fock off!”

Taggart’s eyes flickered a little, but they did not open…

+++++

He was sprawled out on the white road, staring up at the ringed blue planet as his fingers clawed at the white sandy soil…

“Why…why am I here again – now?”

He pushed himself up to a sitting position and looked around, fighting off waves of nausea and disorientation as he looked around these eerily familiar surroundings. 

‘Yes, there they are. The shadows. The shadows and that brilliant white place in the forest…’

He heard cries in the air now, almost like birds but more like feral cats…weird, screeching calls – that seemed to be reacting to his return.

Then one of the shadows was on him, gently pushing him down into the sandy dirt, yet as he was looking through this spectral form he saw that this shadow also had substance. 

Almost humanoid, yet the skin was an iridescent matrix of textures that might have been scales, perhaps even feathers, and while the creature within at first seemed more or less androgynous he began to make out a startling pinkness to the iridescent shimmer along the edges of the creature’s scales-feathers.

“Pinky?” he asked aloud.

The creature reached inside his mind: “Yes.”

“Is this you? What you really look like?”

“There is trouble. I feel I must intervene, but to do so I must use your form once again.”

“Okay?”

“There is great danger to you if I do so. You may not survive, Henry.”

“I understand,” he said as she sent images spiraling into his mind, images of thugs and of a terrified Dina. “We must do what we can do.”

“I will do what I can for you after, but it may not be enough. I wanted you to be prepared for what may happen.”

He reached up and put his hand on the side of her face – yet she seemed to physically swoon from his touch, rocking from side to side – and the iridescent edges of her scales-feathers began pulsing brightly in concert with the movements of his fingers. Her androgyny melted into pure femininity, and what he felt next was unmistakable; he took a deep breath and looked into her eyes. “I understand, my friend. Let’s go…”

+++++

Dina was by his side now. He was resting on the bench, his breathing ragged, his flesh a waxy-sallowed sheen when the change began.

Muscles redefined before her eyes as the pinkish aura began pouring from his skin again.

Anton shook his head: “This too fucking weird,” he muttered as he and Mike stepped back, and  as Dina placed her fingertips on Henry’s carotids. Moments later Henry was sitting up and looking at the rag-tag assortment of trash on his boat.

“Take this thing out of my chest,” he said to Dina, his voice now an odd, almost synthetic version of the original. She struggled to remove the line even as Henry stood and began walking towards Time Bandits

One of the thugs pointed at Henry as he approached and the leader returned to the gate in the lifelines, this time pulling a small pistol from his coat pocket, letting it dangle by his side as Henry came close.

“Leave now,” Henry said, his voice still a strange mix of human…and something else, “and I will allow you to live. Remain here and you will cease to exist.”

The leader was staring at the vibrant pink aura radiating from the few visible patches of Henry’s flesh, almost mesmerized by the sight – until Henry’s words registered – then the pistol began swinging up until the barrel was leveled at Henry’s face…

Dina saw the boy’s finger contracting on the trigger in slow motion, then primer detonation followed by a shockingly bright flash of light, then the pistol simply disappeared – and with it half of the boy’s right hand.

Henry raised his right hand and made as if to squeeze the air in front of his face – and in a mirror reaction the boy’s body began to implode in agonizing horror, his shattered body falling to the deck in sundered stillness. One of the other thugs took out a killing knife and dashed for Henry, raising the blade as he came: Henry raised a finger and lifted this assailant a hundred meters into the air, then slamming this body down onto the ancient stone tow-path – with predictably gruesome results.

“Leave – now, and you will live,” Henry said quietly to the remaining thugs, and no one doubted the wisdom of fleeing when they heard this last warning. “Leave everything,” he added, but one of the thugs kicked Clyde as he started to leave and Henry responded by sending this boy into the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere, leaving the remains to burn-up slowly on re-entry. He walked over to Clyde and placed his hand on the pup’s ribs, sending radiative warmth into the bruising bones, then Henry collapsed onto the deck beside Clyde…his eyes wide and his body now very still.

+++++

He opened his eyes, looked up into Pinky’s eyes.

“You know, for a benign pink alien you sure can be a mean sonofabitch.”

“I could not bear to watch them hurt you and your friends.”

“Oh?”

“I am no longer an impartial observer, Henry Taggart. I have feelings for you.”

“Feelings? What do you mean, like love?”

“I have known of this word, but the meaning was never clear to me until you reached out to me.”

“And now you understand?”

“I think so, yes.”

“I see.”

“Does this trouble you?”

“No, not at all.”

“I know you can not love me. You do not know me. But perhaps one day this will change.”

“That is the nature of love.”

“You must return now. Be strong for your friends.”

He nodded as pain washed through his body, then overwhelming weakness came for him…

+++++

Dina was kneeling over his inert body, hooking up the IV to the port once again then injecting adrenaline; she took her light and checked his pupils and shook her head.

“What do you need?” Mike asked.

“Bring a mattress up here, would you? I’m afraid to move him now.”

“Right.”

“Where is boy?” Anton asked – again, and Dina simply shook her head.

“I have no idea, but I suspect Henry knows…”

“What is going on here?” Anton sighed.

“You should talk to Henry…”

Mike asked Anton for help getting a mattress set up on one of the cockpit seats, then they moved Henry, hanging the IV bag from the cockpit enclosure in the process…and a moment later Rolf reappeared – sending Anton into another stumbling back-flip over the rail, and back into the canal…again.

21.9

“Where have you been?” Dina asked Rolf as they helped Anton out of the water again – and back up on the swim platform.

“I do not know, Grandma-ma, but I believe we were far from here…”

“We? What do you mean – we?”

“Mother and Eva were with me,” he added.

“How you disappear like that?” Anton asked, taking the fresh towel Rolf offered.

But Rolf only shook his head as he continued talking to Dina: “I almost think we were up there,” Rolf said, pointing skyward. “It felt like we were inside some kind of ship.”

“How is your mother?” Dina asked.

“She has changed, Grandma-ma. It is almost like she has grown more calm, or maybe less afraid – but I think many things have changed since you last saw her.”

“Things are changing here too. I am now more concerned about Henry.”

“How long was I gone?”

Dina shook her head. “Not long…an hour or so, maybe, but something terrible has happened. That…thing…went inside him again and he is more ill than the first time.” Dina seemed more than angry now, but even so Rolf thought she was reacting jealously as she spoke. “You’d better start tracking that storm again, and I’ll see if Henry will be strong enough to help you tonight.”

Dina returned to the cockpit as another gust of hot, dry air whipped along the grassy banks of the canal, rocking Time Bandits and sending the hull to the limits of her dock lines. Rolf grabbed onto a handrail in time – but Anton was knocked off his feet and back into the canal.

“Maybe just stay here, no?” Anton snarled.

+++++

‘Winky’ had called this meeting, and he had seemed more agitated than usual when he did.

Dozens of the ship’s crew had already gathered in something like a conference room when he entered and called the meeting to order, and he quickly detailed what he had seen on the planet below. ‘Pinky’ had intervened in Terran affairs and in the process killed three humans; the gathered scientists and academicians seemed shocked and a few wondered if Winky had evidence to support such startling accusations. He reached into their minds and presented what he had – which was, apparently, enough to quiet the naysayers. Pinky was then quietly summoned, and no one looked forward to what surely had to happen next.

+++++

“The water is shallower here, and so much warmer,” Mike said, pointing at the weather overlay on the plotter. “If the storm comes ashore at Calais the dangerous quadrant will hit us, and hit us hard, but the winds will come from the east, or maybe the east-southeast…”

“Those temperatures can not be correct…” Anton whispered, his eyes wide as he tried to visualize what calamities awaited in the night.

Rolf picked up the latest news feed from Radio France and pulled up images from LeHavre; the port area was ablaze and every tall structure had been flattened; trees and farmland had been similarly scorched. The last available reports from the harbor area recounted 190 knot winds and 130F degree temperatures before the reporting stations went off the air, and even Paris had reported similarly hideous extremes before Epsilon’s influence passed.

Mike looked at Henry, still asleep but apparently out of immediate danger, then he looked at the outside air temp display; it was already almost a hundred degrees Fahrenheit out and the sun was only just setting now. “If the winds will be coming from the east, these lines aren’t going to do much,” he said, pointing at the spaghetti bowl of lines warped around the boat. “We’ll need a bunch run across to the far side of the canal, and we’ll need to be prepared to reset any that come undone, too.”

“See all fire in video?” Anton began. “If tree catch fire,” he said, pointing at the closest Linden a few yards aft of them, “could fall on boat. What we do if happen?”

Mike’s face scrunched up as he thought about that. “If the wind is from the east it ought to blow away from us…”

“If not, there’s an axe in the garage,” Henry said, his eyes open a little now.

“Henry!” Rolf cried as Dina bent over to look in his eyes. 

“Hey, Bud. Glad to see you made it back in time for the festivities.”

“How are you feeling?” Dina said, whispering in his ear as she kissed his cheek.

“Not bad, considering. Somewhere between roadkill and an end-cut of prime rib.”

She shook her head. “I’d say you’re feeling fine, no thanks to that pink thing.”

“She saved your lives, Dina. Mine too, come to think of it.”

“You almost died this time, Henry.”

“She asked this time, Dina. I agreed.”

“You did what?”

“They were armed, were they not?”

“Yes, but she killed at least two of them. Doesn’t that strike you as odd…?”

“It’s complicated, Dina.”

“No it isn’t, Henry, and any fool can see that.”

He looked her in the eye, didn’t break contact but neither did he say a word.

“I see,” she said. “Well, at least you understand my anger.”

“I do.”

“You can be such a paternalistic prick.”

Henry nodded and smiled. “And I can’t tell you how many years I’ve spent perfecting my craft.”

“Well, you’ve succeeded admirably.”

He grinned but turned to Rolf. “Let’s get a few lines across the canal to those two trees,” he said, pointing at an oak and a linden on the far side of the waterway. “You grab some line and we’ll get the Zodiac ready to go,” he said, turning to Anton and Mike. “You two feel up to some work?”

“Yeah, sure,” Mike said. “I know the drill; why don’t you just lay low for now.”

“Yeah, right…” Taggart said, rolling his eyes.

“Would someone tell me where boy went, please?” Anton asked – again.

+++++

When the added lines had been set, Henry went back to the plotter and checked on Epsilon’s progress; there was no doubt about it now…the storm was going to come ashore just north of Calais, so they were going to be slammed by the dangerous quadrant. Anton came and sat beside him just then and Henry sighed inwardly, not really wanting to fill in all the blanks right now – yet if anything, Anton was deeply perceptive and already Taggart was warming to the aviator’s wry sense of irony.

“So, storm comes to Calais?”

“Looks that way. I’d say eight hours to landfall; maybe nine.”

“So, after midnight. But we will feel effects before that, no?”

Henry nodded. “See that band?” Henry asked, pointing at the weather overlay on the plotter. “We’ll feel that one in about three hours, give or take. You better grab some chow and a nap; it could be a long night.”

Anton nodded. “Must say something first, Genry.”

“Okay.”

“Because I your enemy you could have let me drown, yet instead you take me here, you give respect to me. I want thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You are not well?”

“No, I am not.”

“I very sorry.”

Taggart nodded.

“One question more. Is okay I stay here?”

“Sure, stay as long as you want.”

Anton nodded – yet he looked a little relieved. “Thank you, Genry. You rest now too?”

“Maybe.” He looked at the Russian and smiled. “I actually feel rested right now, but we’ll need you rested tonight.”

Anton stood and extended his right hand, and Henry took it – looking into the aviator’s eyes as he did – and when he felt the man’s openness and respect he nodded again. “I’m glad you’re here, Anton.”

“War is a stupid thing, Genry.”

“I think so too.”

“Yet without war I would not be here.”

Henry nodded. “Be careful, Anton. Keep thinking along those lines and you’ll be thinking about God soon enough.”

The aviator nodded before he turned and walked below.

He turned his attention back to the plotter but almost immediately felt Pinky reaching out for him – and for the first time in his life he experienced someone else’s fear.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.

‘I am hiding.’

‘From?’

She filled his mind with images of events earlier today, and then of a hastily called meeting where her actions were being roundly criticized.

‘What do you need?’ he asked.

‘A place to think.’

‘And a place to hide, I take it?’

‘That too.’

‘So? What are you waiting for?’

‘I will no longer be able to hide my physical form from you, Henry.’

‘Okay.’

‘I may frighten you.’

‘Let me deal with that.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’

He heard Anton coming up the companionway steps and he turned in time to see the aviator coming up to the cockpit carry bowl of salads and some fresh bread. He placed these on the cockpit table about the same time Pinky appeared on the aft deck…

“Holy Mother of God…” Anton muttered as he stumbled backwards towards the lifelines; Taggart shook his head – if only because he knew what had to come next – but he turned to the aft deck and he too seemed more than a little in awe of what he found there.

She was easily three meters tall, and her body was covered with white – feathers? Yet…she had very human hands and feet, and what he thought on first glance was a most angelic face. Then she spread her wings, revealing a span of almost six meters…and only then was the visage was complete.

“Don’t tell me,” Taggart quipped. “Your real name is Gabriel…”

“Fuck me in the a…” Anton cried as he catapulted over the rail – again – causing a stampede of voices and footsteps coming from below as everyone made their way up the companionway steps.

Dina was the next to see Pinky; her screams were worthy of a B-grade slasher film.

When Rolf saw her he dropped to his knees and started giggling uncontrollably.

Mike took one look at Pinky and crossed himself before he dove into the canal; he and Anton swam for the far side.

“Maybe we’d better get you below?” he said to Pinky.

29.10

Epsilon’s first band washed over the central Belgian coast a little after 2100 hrs, and this first brush with the storm worried Henry Taggart and absolutely terrified Rolf and Dina. 

The outside air temperature had been holding steady at 105 degrees Fahrenheit through the early evening when suddenly the barometer jumped and the temperature went up ten degrees; moments later a 90 knot gust slammed into the Brugge area and older trees began snapping and tumbling away in the wind. The sound made by the snapping trees, Anton said, reminded him of distant cannon fire.

Yet Time Bandits hardly budged under the force of this first onslaught. She leaned a bit, perhaps two to three degrees off-plumb, then shrugged-off the impact and stood resolutely upright, and Henry was pleased.

Pinky was secreted below, her massive frame curled up on Henry’s berth in the aft cabin; Dina remained in the galley working on a fresh batch of bread but every now and then she looked in on Pinky to see how she was doing. The sight horrified her.

After Epsilon’s first band passed a pale blue orb appeared at the top of Time Bandit’s mast; the slowly spinning orb simply fixed itself there, an inert, watchful presence that was simply impossible to ignore. People on nearby boats stared and pointed, yet by now nothing seemed to surprise these people after a day of watching the antics on the American boat.

Clyde seemed to be in a little too much pain after the thug’s kick and Henry looked at his urine after each walk to the bushes, but it was still running clear so he resolved to simply keep a watchful eye on the old boy for a few more days – or until they could find an open veterinarian clinic.

He looked up at the masthead from time to time, at the baleful eye lingering up there, and at one point he saw stars and moon glow through an opening in the scudding clouds, and maybe the faintest hint of an aurora, too. He could just make out Orion up there, and even the pink glow under the belt was faintly visible – yet the overwhelming mood of the moment was how utterly surreal this bizarre heat made everything feel. It was autumn in northern Europe coming up on 2200 hours and it was now 120 degrees Fahrenheit on deck.

The BBCs 2200 broadcast was rife with vivid images of British seaports along the southern coast all ablaze. Cathedrals from Canterbury to Salisbury had lost their roofs, and there were reports of airports closed after fuel storage facilities ‘cooked off’ as the storm hit. Taggart and Anton looked up at that, if only because the various tank farms in Zeebrugge were less than ten miles away, and Rolf intuitively switched to the weather overlay function when he heard that, and they all gathered around the display and measured distances in their minds’ eyes.

“The next band will hit in less than an hour,” Henry said, “and it won’t let up until the storm moves out of the area. If anyone is still hungry, now’s the time to do something about it…”

He felt Winky probing his mind then and didn’t even try to resist.

‘Is she with you?’

‘Yes. She’s below and quite afraid.’

‘What happened?’

‘When she moved inside me I resisted, but using her strength I was able to strike out at the intruders.’

‘So…you are saying it was not her actions that resulted in those three deaths, and that they were the result of yours?’

‘I am.’

‘I see. I had no idea you’d grown so attached to her.’

‘Nor had I.’

‘I was being sarcastic, Henry.’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t.’

‘She must answer for what she has done.’

‘She didn’t do anything.’

‘I am sorry, but she will not be allowed to hide behind your denials.’

And with that, Winky disappeared. Taggart stood and steadied himself as he grew light-headed, a wave of nausea washing over him, then he went below to check-in on Dina, then Pinky.

“You look pale…” Dina said as he came down the companionway. “Sit down. Let me take your blood pressure.”

He sat and she put a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice down on the table in front of him, then she hooked up the cuff and pumped it up.

“100 over 40. Drink your juice, then go lay down for an hour.”

He nodded. “How’s she doing?”

“Sleeping, as far as I can tell.”

“Sleeping?” Henry asked. “Or simply depressed?”

Dina shrugged. “Beats me. I’ve never treated an angel before.”

“An angel? Dina, are you serious?”

“What would you call her?”

“I don’t know; a species that evolved on a low gravity planet, maybe?”

“Oh, Henry, you are such a romantic.”

“What kind of bread are you baking? It smells outrageous!”

“Walnut and black olive. It will be ready in a half hour or so.”

He tossed down his juice then stood, holding onto the table until the light-headedness passed, then he shook his head and walked back to the ten foot tall winged creature asleep on his bunk…

+++++

She knew the dream was over yet it felt so good to simply sleep…

Eva sat up in the darkness expecting to feel the harsh contours of the tank, but groping around she felt a mattress underneath and something that seemed to imply she had returned to normal gravity. She swung her legs out of bed and felt carpet underfoot and then knew she was back in Britt’s house, so she walked to the kitchen and found the light switch, then she found a clean glass and filled it with water.

And there was Britt on the sofa in the living room, apparently wide awake and staring out the windows that overlooked the bay. She filled a second glass and went to the sofa…

“Here. Drink this.”

But the physician appeared to be in some sort of trance-like state; Britt was rigid, quiet, and unresponsive, so Eva looked out the window too.

The female orcas were out there, not a hundred meters away from what she could tell, and they were perfectly still, too. Shaking her head, her thoughts reached out for Henry – yet she was shocked to find her way blocked. She’d not experienced this before, and she wondered what it meant.

+++++

As he lay down on the bed her eyes opened, then she smiled.

And as soon as he looked into her eyes he smiled too – because he’d never felt anything quite like what he was feeling inside that moment. It was reminiscent of the first time he’d looked at a girl back in grade school and he’d felt a funny stirring in the pit of his belly – a funny, timeless tremor both within and beyond the moment. Yet different, too.

Her eyes were larger than his, but otherwise her face was in proportion almost human. Still, her eyes were silver-gray and flecked with specks of pinkish amber; the skin on her face was silver-gray  too, yet almost pinkishly iridescent. And almost everything else he saw was covered in whitish feathers; white with amber roots and faintly pink ends.

Then she folded one of her wings over the bed, covering his entire body in one easy move – and affording an unusual layer of privacy. And she pulled him closer, her eyes taking on an almost laser-like intensity, and whatever else it might have been, he felt an overwhelming wave of love washing over him.

“What is this?” he whispered.

“My feelings for you, Henry Taggart. This is what it feels like when you reach for me, and it is now as it has always been – from the beginning.” Her hand came up and caressed the side of his face, and when her skin touched his another overwhelming wave of love crashed over him. “Do you feel how it is for me now?”

She was, he decided then and there, something like love-heroin. Her feelings, her touch, the look in her eyes. Could he live without these feelings?

He instantly doubted that.

“What would be the point?” he said to the universe.

“What do you mean?”

“What would be the point of life without you?”

The smile in her eyes left him breathless and he felt himself drifting away into the madness of pure timelessness.

Then Rolf was reaching into his mind –

‘Henry? We need you up here. Can you come now?’

Then Eva was there, too –

‘I couldn’t reach you. What happened?’

She cupped his face in her hands and strength poured into his parched body, then she nodded. “Go to them. There will be time for us.”

“I’m not sure I can now…”

“Yes, you must, for you are their strength now, and this is your time.”

She then placed a hand on his chest and warmth poured into him, and with the warmth a kind of resolve. He inhaled deeply and seemed to grow into the moment…

When he stood this time there was no light-headedness, only the strength to get through the coming storm.

21.11

This was a different world. Entropy – no longer gradual, but energetic, almost chaotic – reigned supreme here.

“Henry…look at this news report,” Rolf exclaimed almost breathlessly, pointing at the screen.

Taggart hunched over and looked at the display: two more hot cyclones had formed in just the last six hours – one south of Bangladesh, and another, much larger storm southeast of Japan. Like Epsilon, both of these new storms were redefining meteorological theory with their blistering hot temperatures and historic wind velocities, and now climate change scientists were gathering information from every available source, trying to make sense of these developments. Yet as information poured in from satellites and remote sensing buoys the data just didn’t seem to make sense…

Unless…

Some unforeseen tipping point had been breeched.

Henry looked up from the screen and shook his head, then he looked up at the masthead.

But Winky wasn’t there.

He closed his eyes and leaned back, reached out for Winky – only to find a wall of emptiness in the darkness. This hadn’t happened before, and he suddenly felt very unsure of his footing.

So he reached out to Pinky – and once again found only a void.

He reached out to Eva and found she was sitting up in Britt’s seaside home just outside of Bergen, watching several female orcas, while Britt seemed to be lost inside of some kind of catatonic funk.

‘What’s happening?’ he asked Eva.

‘She’s been like this for hours, Henry. I’ve never seen this before.’

‘Have you tried talking to her?’

‘Yes. It’s like she can’t hear me, or even see me.’

‘What about the whales? What are they doing?’

‘The same. It is like they are rigid and unmoving.’

‘The storm is just about here. I’ll let you know when it’s over.’

‘Be careful, my love.’

He nodded and returned to Time Bandits. Anton was staring at him, almost seething with anger.

“Where you go when you fade out like this?” the aviator asked grumpily.

Henry shrugged and turned to Rolf. “Pull up the weather radar, would you?”

The main northeast wall was less than a fifty miles away now, so Taggart looked to the southwest. In the inky blackness he saw towering cloud tops alive with flickering streamers of lightning. “The first wave of wind ought to be here within a half hour,” he said, looking at Mike and Anton. “Make sure you’ve got gloves handy, as well as the big bolt-cutters and that axe. Let’s keep the decks clear, and our lines, too. We may need to reset lines that break loose, and in a hurry, too.”

“Why you ignore me, Genry?”

“Because I don’t have time to explain things in detail right now. When we get past this storm we’ll have a long talk…just you and I.”

That seemed to satisfy Anton, for now anyway, and he turned to help Mike gather supplies from the garage, so Henry turned to Rolf. “Are you ready for this?”

“In truth, no, yet I don’t know what else we could have done to prepare.”

“Every voyage has a storm, Rolf. Some bigger than others. Just like life, I guess, but the important thing to remember is this: storms are teachers. You learn from them, or you perish – but we can talk about all that tomorrow, on the other side.”

“You seem certain we will be here tomorrow.”

“We will be.” He winced as the music returned.

“Thanks. I feel a little better now.”

“Words matter, Rolf. Especially the right words – at the right time. Every captain learns this, and when this is your ship you’ll need to remember this first lesson.”

“I will never be able to think of this as my ship, Henry. Time Bandits will always be yours.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Rolf. A ship can have only one master, just like a life can only have one master. When I’m gone, this ship is either yours – or it isn’t. If you feel like it isn’t, you’ll need to pass it along to someone who can take her over. Is that clear?”

Rolf nodded.

“You’re still young, Rolf, and I realize I’m asking you to grow up in a hurry, but I’m only doing that because I’ve seen something in you. An ability, what I’d call a great inner strength. Maybe you don’t get that yet, maybe you can’t understand what I mean right now, but there it is. Believe me, okay Rolf?”

“Okay, Henry.”

Another hot gust hit, and everyone turned to face a deep, rumbling wall of thunder, but even Henry seemed to cower for a moment when he realized what he was looking at…

A huge, anvil-headed cloud full of lightning was almost upon them, but along the horizon a wall of writhing snakes approached. Water-spouts. Dozens and dozens of black tornadoes, as far as the eye could see.

And they all appeared to be converging on the huge fuel storage tanks in Zeebrugge.

‘What haven’t I thought of?’ Taggart asked as he looked at the coiling snakes.

“Fuel. In the water,” he murmured.

“What?” Rolf said.

“What happens if those fuel storage tanks let go? Pull up the local tides, Rolf. Now.” Henry took a deep breath, tried to keep a growing sense of panic from seeping into his voice.

“Right! Got it!” Rolf cried.

The graph was clear. It was slack water now, but the flooding tide would return in a few minutes – and if a lock failed the sea would potentially flood into the canals here, and all the way into Brugge. And if the storage tanks failed the canals would fill with inrushing waves of fuel carried by the tides.

And with one spark and everything would soon be lost to fire. Including Time Bandits and everyone on her.

21.12

The lightning was close now. Too close to ignore.

He sighed, looked around his little world and tried to imagine what was waiting for them in the next few hours – and he didn’t like what he saw. “Dina, you’d better go below now.” 

From the tone in Henry’s voice she knew this was a command – yet she stood her ground. “No, I will stay with you,” she said, reaching out and taking his hand.

The feel of her skin on his was pure electricity now, her love palpable in the darkness – like something he felt hovering beyond the uncertainty pacing back and forth within the growling wind. She was knowledge, and knowledge is strength. The same old story, he thought. Every storm is a teacher, right?

A stroboscopic series of blue flashes and wailing sirens split the night as fire services and EMS went racing by, headed for the port and the leading edge of the storm; Henry flipped on the radar and tried to measure the distance to the leading edge. He used the cursor and mapped out the distance – eight miles – and then knew that was that, the wait was over. The storm was making landfall – right now – and so the fuel storage tanks would soon be feeling the first impacts of 200 knot winds. He looked to the southwest and saw the writhing snakes, so guesstimated a bearing and placed the closest waterspout on the radar display – “Just about there,” he murmured.

“What?” Anton asked as he came into the cockpit.

“The waterspouts are just about on top of the fuel storage yard.”

The aviator nodded and turned to look at the sky.

“How about some juice?” Dina asked, her voice a life preserver. When everyone nodded she ducked below, then started passing up plastic cups full of fresh squeezed OJ, and Taggart watched her little ballet with more than a sense of wonder. Everything she had done since Amsterdam she had done out of strength – and with Love. Was that what had attracted him to her in the first place? Had he seen this moment coming – back in May?

Because right now he was almost sure that he had.

Britt and Rolf – and that fiercely glowing lump in his breast – had taken him from the uncertainty of his voyage to the sheer certainty of her Will – and yet everything since had been leading them all to this moment, to this last confrontation.

‘Because every storm is a teacher,’ he repeated. ‘Right, Dad?’

Then – ‘Dina is my storm, my teacher,’ he realized as he watched her come up the companionway steps. Their eyes met. They never wavered, never once looked away, even as the feelings of strength and love returned. Then she nodded – just once – when she saw the understanding in his eyes.

Another flash. A few seconds passed – then the deep rumble of thunder still a few miles distant.

He drank his juice, marveled at the simple strength contained in this magic liquid…

Just as more lightning hit. A massive, prolonged volley – the following thunder sounding more like a burst of rifle shots not even a second later – then he saw a billowing mushroom of boiling flame rising over the port area, and the tank farm.

Within seconds the blast wave hit, sending Time Bandits reeling and knocking Mike and Rolf off their feet, and yet this first blast was only a precursor to the second, much larger wave that hit seconds later. Henry instinctively turned away from the searing heat that followed – just as another wave of the storm hit –

A searing pain in his chest announced the arrival of the first hot gusts, and he watched the outside air temperature readout leap from 118 to 135 Fahrenheit, just as scalding rain began slamming into their exposed skin. Henry looked at the fabric awning that covered the cockpit and wondered if it would hold up to this assault – while Mike and Rolf leapt to get under its protective embrace.

“Yeow!” Mike yelled, holding up his arm while he inspected the rising welts. “This shit is hot, Henry. I mean, like, really hot.”

Anton held his hand out and quickly pulled it back under cover. “This not right, Genry. Something very wrong here…”

But his words were cut off by another blast from the port – just as a writhing, snakelike tornado came into view – now just a few hundred yards away and heading right for them.

21.13

For some reason Judy Garland was the first thing he thought of when he saw the tornado. Dorothy and Toto, running for home as that writhing black twister came for them. And the funny thing about it? Dorothy’s celluloid storm wasn’t an abstract weather formation, it was a living beast full of malicious intent – and that thought too ran through Henry Taggart’s mind as he stared at the writhing black snake coming up the canal.

“Get below. Now,” he growled as the snake’s menacing hiss grew louder.

No one argued, and Dina led the way down.

“Where’s Clyde?” Henry called out.

“He’s not down here!” Rolf answered from the galley, and then Henry heard the boy running up the companionway.

Yet Henry was already off the boat and running for Clyde’s tree by the time Rolf was back on deck, and he saw the pup squatting and doing the deed right in the middle of the tow path as he ran up.

“Way to go, Fudge-butt!” Henry said, leaning over to rub the pup’s ears. 

Rolf ran up – carrying Clyde’s leash – and he snapped it on. “Sorry. I forgot the poop-bags…”

Henry laughed at that – hard and loud. “Yeah? Me too. Time to beat feet,” he said, scooping up Clyde and dashing back to the boat.

“You were so weak earlier today,” Rolf said. “How are you doing this?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with a tornado crawling up our ass…”

“Ah yes, so I see.”

Which made Henry laugh even more, even as they climbed on board and hopped into the cockpit. “You go first and I’ll hand him down to you.” And after he passed Clyde down through the hatch he went to the helm and looked at the display one more time before he powered everything down; the eye was visible on the radar now though still offshore, but it was headed their way and he wondered what that might lead to…

Then he made his way down the companionway steps and into the galley just as a colossal gust tore through the boats moored in the canal. He heard a few shrieks and screams, then people struggling with boats that had come undone; he heard what sounded like a high-pitched freight train  coming close and that reality pushed everything else from his mind. Looking through trees and houses, he saw the twister scything its way through boats moored a few hundred feet aft of Time Bandits, followed by more screams and several small explosions as bottled propane tanks ruptured and ignited. He ran up the steps and into the night, Rolf and Anton right behind him…

Then another wall of scalding rain hit.

+++++

She could hardly stand it.

The orcas were still out there, still motionless, still silent in the night – yet – she could sense they were calling out to her. Reaching. Reaching out to her. For her.

Then…puzzlement? Why wasn’t she answering?

Can she not hear us?

Yet no matter what she did, what she tried, she couldn’t make the connection.

She looked at Eva – now dozing on the sofa, and so cut-off from her frustration, her fear a dissolute reminder of that other life. That life before all this happened. Life before Henry Taggart came into their lives. Her life. And now something was growing inside her womb. Something – like Henry? Or…was it something else?

She stood and cinched up her bathrobe, then walked out onto the balcony.

And still they looked at her.

She went back inside and put on her clothes then walked down to the water’s edge – oblivious to the world around her. Heedless of the several biologists gathered on the rocks monitoring the orcas, or of the harbor police still in their boats searching for the two missing swimmers. Now everyone gathered on the rocks was watching this woman swim out to the orcas. 

Curious. Unsure what they were witnessing.

“That’s Dr Bauer,” one of the police officers said over the radio net. “She hasn’t been seen at the clinic for days…!”

“Those are wild orcas,” one of the marine biologists yelled into her radio. “They’ll kill her!”

Police jumped into their Zodiacs and rushed across the water, men gathered on bow platforms with heavy rifles at the ready. The inherent confusion of adrenaline and testosterone taking on a certain mindless momentum all too familiar to one of Them.

To Pinky.

Who was overhead now, looking down at the all the pieces moving on this new board, moving to take the White Queen. 

Would the others listen to her now?

+++++

Their foul weather coats offered some protection from the scalding rain – but not to the people fleeing the carnage after several tornados tore through the moored boats lining the canal – and the results were predictably catastrophic. Anton collected a pregnant woman and tossed her across his shoulders then sprinted back to Dina – waiting on Time Bandits to take care of the injured; Mike dove into the canal and plucked two drowning children from the inky water – just before fuel arrived on the flooding tide. He passed them up to Rolf, then he carried more injured back to Dina.

Henry was first to smell the fuel arriving on the tide, and at the same time he saw flames spreading inland from the port area, heading for Brugge, heading for their stretch of the canal. It was, he figured, only a matter of minutes before the fuel ignited, turning the canal into a miles long inferno…like a torch in the night leading to their deaths.

Then some sort of environmental protection vessel appeared, stringing booms across the canal, booms meant to arrest the flow of contaminated water into the ancient city, then several brigades of fire services arrived – apparently setting up some kind of fire line here on the western edge of the city. Would it be enough, Henry wondered, as they began spraying foam into the canal.

Then Epsilon hit in all her fury.

Scorching winds blasted through the region, winds so hot they literally fried everything they touched. “Get down!” Dina yelled. “Cover your face!”

Trees ignited. An ancient row of medieval townhouses went next, and Henry knew then that his nightmare had been a window to the future – and as he wondered what that meant the incessant music poured into his mind.

The grass along both sides of the canal withered under the onslaught, then sparks began raining down from the sky, and as Henry looked on helplessly the water in the canal turned to fire.

21.14

Soon two boats were between Britt and the orcas; men warned her to turn around and return to shore, so she dove under the boats and continued swimming to the largest female –

Who remained resolutely still.

Even as a policeman chambered a round and took careful aim.

Evan as Britt swam up to the large female and rested there in the water beside her.

The female turned and looked at the man on the boat pointing at her with the oddly formed stick, and centuries of instinct told her to be very careful now.

Britt swam into her pectoral and the orca wrapped her in a protective embrace, then one by one the orcas slipped under the surface and were gone.

+++++

Firefighters sprayed more foam on the water; others sprayed water on the grass, halting the fire’s spread – for the time being, anyway. But now Henry noticed that the wind was so hot, and so strong, that the hot rain had simply stopped. Evaporated – before the water made it back to the earth’s fulsome embrace? Was that what the future held? Wasn’t that the route Venus had taken on her way to the runaway greenhouse that defined that planet’s atmosphere now?

But…why here, and why now? Wasn’t something like this supposed to be decades away – if it ever happened at all? What had changed?

With his back to the wind he looked up at the sky.

Yes. Two of them were up there, two wildly spinning orbs so easily mistaken for bright stars.

‘Have you given up on us?’ he asked the sky. ‘Did we disappoint you so deeply?’

Two more orbs joined the first two – but Henry could still see no signs of Pinky.

But worse still, they were all simply ignoring him now. Or at least they seemed to be…

Another shattering explosion from the port and the sky turned red again; roiling black clouds twisted and climbed into the night, their twisting red bellies full of embers just waiting to fall back to earth.

+++++

Eva woke to the sounds of a furious commotion out on the water, so she went to the balcony to see what was happening. Little red boats a few yards off the rocks were turning in frantic circles in the night, while a helicopter fluttered overhead, a white hot spotlight pointing down into the sea, and there were hundreds of people on the rocks lining the shore. These people were pointing and seemed agitated – but what about?

“Britt? Have you seen this? When did it start?”

Then the silence of no reply hit her. Icy fear reached out for her, grabbed her by the gut.

“Britt?”

A discarded robe in Britt’s bedroom; her running shoes gone. An impossible chain of events unspooled in her mind’s eye.

“Oh, no…”

She closed her eyes and reached out for Henry.

‘What’s happened?’ he asked.

‘Britt has returned to the sea, there are police looking for her in boats and helicopters.’

Then…Pinky’s spinning orb was there with Henry…

‘She is with me,’ she sighed. ‘Do not worry.’

‘Pinky?’ Henry almost screamed. ‘Where have you been?’

‘There are many difficulties I must attend to now, Henry.’

‘And Britt is with you? This is supposed to put me at ease?’

‘They will not hurt me,’ Britt said.

‘And they won’t hurt Pinky – as long as you’re there with her,’ he thought – but like all such unfiltered thoughts, off it went, reeling away into the infinite.

‘They will not hurt us, Henry.’

His mind filled with images of orcas and babies coming into the world and he tried not to jump to unwarranted conclusions. ‘Pinky, do you know what you’re doing?’

‘Of course. How is the storm?’

‘Bad.’

‘Be careful, Henry. The Others know what has happened, so I do not think they will help you again.’

‘I’ve figured that out already. Where’s Eva?’

‘She will be here soon.’

Henry tried to clear his mind. ‘Alright. You be careful too.’ He could just make out the faintest contours of her smile, then she was gone – leaving him to worry about Dinky and the others. Were factions forming? Were The Others split by unseen differences? If so, dare he even consider trying to meddle in their affairs? Play one off the other…?

“No,” he said aloud.

“What?” Dina asked, still treating the injuries of one of the people pulled from the canal.

“Oh…nothing. I was just thinking…”

“Henry,” Rolf called out from the tow path – now pointing towards Brugge, “look at the fire!”

Henry turned, watched helplessly as another cluster of medieval buildings disappeared behind another gout of towering red flames – even as fire services tried to quench this latest rampage. “Why does if feel like our history is being devoured?” he muttered.

“Maybe because we are tired of the past,” Dina replied wearily, wiping away sweat and soot from her forehead. “Maybe we have grown tired of hauling around all these ancient ideas. Or maybe we simply always lust for the new and are ready to burn away our past when the weight of her burdens become too much.”

Henry shook his head. “Like reinventing the wheel or squirrels in a cage running round and round. Maybe we’re going nowhere fast.”

“I need more gauze pads. Do you know where they are?”

Henry nodded and went below – and he found Dinky waiting for him. He was a pale blue version of Pinky, only taller, so Dinky was sprawled out on the sofa in a futile effort to fit into the cramped space.

“Well, long time no see,” Taggart said – a little too sarcastically. “To whom do we owe this pleasure?”

Dinky ignored the jab. “We will be leaving soon…”

“And what? You won’t be coming back?”

“No, we will not.”

“And Pinky? Will she be going, too?”

“No, she will not.”

Henry tried to digest that one, but he found the idea unsettling. “Okay. What else are you not telling me?”

“Eva and Britt. They will be going with us.”

“What?”

“And they will not return to this place.”

“You can’t do that.”

“We must. And you know this must be.”

Henry looked away, but even so he nodded understanding. “It’s all happening so fast.”

“We do not understand the process,” Dinky said, and Taggart could feel the creatures apparent confusion.

“When?”

“Very soon. We will be gone within days. Nothing of our presence will remain.”

“Aside from Pinky, you mean.”

Dinky just looked at Henry, as if his silence alone could explain the lingering ambivalence he felt.

“Will you remain closed off to me?” Henry added.

“No. But there will be little I can do to assist you.”

“So…alone again, naturally.”

Dinky shook his head. “Such a sad song. Why do you still like it so?”

“You never cease to amaze, Dink. Is there anything about me you don’t know?”

“I will miss you, Henry, if that’s what you mean. I will miss our talks on the beach most of all, but perhaps they didn’t mean all that much to you.”

“Perhaps,” Henry sighed, looking at his old friend. “Anyway, I’ll miss you, as well.”

“Britt and Eva will be with us soon, so please don’t interfere.”

Henry had almost expected this, yet he’d never really thought they’d actually try something so overtly disruptive, let alone dare to put such a plan into effect. Still, he shook his head before he spoke: “This is a mistake and you know it. Why do it?”

“Perhaps someday you will understand.”

“I’m thinking about Dina and Rolf. They’ll never understand.”

Dinky sighed. “Yes, that is true, yet it must be even so.”

“Will they be closed to me?”

“For a while. We will allow the boy a certain amount of contact after that.”

“His name is Rolf, and you will be hurting him terribly.”

“I agree; it is regrettable.”

“Regrettable?” Henry sighed. “My coming into their lives will be the darkest moment he remembers. You’ll undo everything I’ve tried to build.”

“Perhaps.”

“You know, the shittiest thing I ever did was to teach you the intricacies of poker.”

“That depends on your point of view, Henry Taggart.” Dinky smiled a little, his deep blue eyes twinkling in the cabin-light. “Again, my friend, I will miss you.”

And with that he was gone, leaving Henry dazed and confused. “Gauze pads. I came down for supplies, for Dina. What do I tell her? How do I…?”

He heard a cannon-shot crack as thunder and lightning erupted from the storm in the same instant, then Dina was screaming and running from the boat…

He ran topsides and saw Dina running in circles, screaming, while Mike and Anton appeared to be searching for…

“Rolf,” he whispered. “Where’s Rolf?”

But he already knew the answer to that, didn’t he? Dink had turned out to be a master of the bluff after all.

21.15

Dina was on her knees, her hands grasping at tufts of dry grass as she wailed into the night, then Henry dropped to her side and whispered in her ear –

– and like a switch had been thrown she stopped – crying, breathing, thinking –

– and in the next instant she too disappeared.

“Fuck-goddam-shit!” Anton roared as he stumbled backwards, tripping over a dock line and vaulting into the canal – again.

Mike looked at Henry. “Them?” he asked, pointing at the sky.

“Yup. I think we just got caught up in a dominance dance.”

“Swell. Say, what is it with this guy? He really must like falling into the canal?”

“He’s not a particularly good swimmer, is he? I guess we ought to help him again.”

“Better than watching him drown.”

Henry nodded. “I guess it’s time to tell him what’s going on.”

“That ought to be fun. Mind if I listen in?”

“Better than self abuse, I reckon.”

+++++

Eva had crept down to the rocks, the gathering crowds just out of sight, but the orcas were nowhere to be seen – and without them the water would be unbearably cold. Then…she saw a vague disturbance in the water and without thinking dove in.

‘What if it’s a shark?’ she thought as she swam a few feet under the surface…

Then a blinding white light hit her and she looked up through the clear water, saw a police helicopter hovering almost directly overhead, then a diver in a red and yellow drysuit jumping from the helicopter’s float, almost landing on top of her…

…but when the disturbance cleared this second naked woman was gone…as if she too had simply disappeared. Boats and divers moved to this new area, but an hour later this latest search was called off. Again.

+++++

“So,” Anton said, still clearly exasperated, “this group you belong to, in Seattle, yes?”

“Yes.”

“This Boeing group builds one of these space ships, but it never works. This is right?”

“Correct. The flight control system is maintained by direct neural link. We could never get it to respond to our efforts.”

“Ship is still in Seattle?”

“As far as I know. There were also ships out on Long island and Edwards Air Force Base.”

“What about this Area 51? Nothing there?”

Taggart shrugged. “If there is, I don’t know about it.”

“What about you. You think you can fly now? This reach out thing you speak of…is this not the means to control such aircraft?”

“It could be. We had no idea how specific and focused such thoughts can be, at least not then. Just food for thought here, Anton, but there were people still at work on the problem when I left a few years ago. There’s no telling how far along they are now.”

“Maybe that why Others leave now?”

“Yes, maybe.”

“We must get one of these ships,” Anton sighed. “We can get girls back, and boy too, if we have such ship.”

“But,” Mike interjected, “they don’t need ships, do they? They can just reach out and take anyone, anywhere. Right?”

“It sure looks that way,” Henry nodded, “but you’ve got to keep one thing in mind: most of this behavior is new to me. They’ve not done things like this before, so I really have no idea what their real capabilities are.”

“Only that they’re probably millions of years further along the evolutionary ladder than we are,” Mike added.

Henry sighed. “We play chess. They play chess in four dimensions.”

“Four?” Anton asked. “How this so?”

“Time is the fourth dimension, at least I think it is.”

“They move around time?” Anton asked, almost gagging, clearly struggling with the idea.

“I think so, but I have no proof.”

“Then ship make no difference. Would be fun though.”

Henry looked around the canal, at the massive damage that had been left in the storm’s wake, as he watched the sun rising through silhouettes of burnt trees and wrecked buildings. “We’re going to need to push through these lines and get back out to sea – and today, if possible.”

“What about…” Anton began, then he stopped. “Da, they find us if they want.”

“Yeah. And I don’t want to get caught in here if conditions deteriorate.”

“What are you thinking?” Mike asked. “Riots?”

“Or worse. If food and medical supply distribution stops for a few days, there’s no telling how fast a collapse might happen. Anyway, I don’t want to find out.”

“Okay,” Anton said, standing up and moving to the aft deck, “so we get dock lines in and you start engine. We no talk about no more, we go.”

“I like the way you think, Anton…”

And then Dina and Rolf reappeared – just a few inches from the aviator –

– who shrieked before somersaulting over the rail into the canal. Once again.

+++++

Eva tried to get her bearings again, and failed – again. She was submerged in some kind of fluid – yet she was breathing – and it was pitch black here – wherever here was.

‘Clear your mind,’ a voice told her. ‘Others are searching for you, and they intend to take you away.’

‘Away? Where?’

‘Clear your mind.’

But that was impossible. She was caught like a fly in honey – at night – with no idea where she was – and it was impossible to think of anything else.

But then she felt warmth on her flesh and she recognized the smooth skin of the large female, and in a heartbeat a sense of warm well being permeated the space around her. She relaxed when she felt the familiar pectoral, and after she took hold she felt them moving through the void…

+++++

Rolf helped Anton climb back up onto the swim platform, but then Rolf sniffed the air around the Russian and stepped back. “Henry? I think he’s covered in diesel fuel…?”

Dina hopped down to the platform and pulled out the shower head, but when she turned the valve nothing happened. “Is the breaker on?” she called out to the cockpit.

Henry shrugged then ducked below. After he turned it on he picked up a bottle a glycerin soap and carried it topsides. “Here, use this,” he said as he handed the bottle to Dina.

Dina used a huge natural sponge and warm water to lather up the burly aviator – who seemed to enjoy the whole thing a little too much – 

“You’ll need to toss the clothes,” Henry added. “That stuff will ruin marine washing machines without special detergents. Breaks down the seals, and the discharge is illegal.”

“So – what? You want I should take off all clothes here?”

Dina turned away, trying to hide her grin; Rolf held open a large trash bag and waited for Anton to dump the clothes before carrying it to a nearby dumpster. Dina handed the bottle of soap to Anton and smiled: “Here you go. I ain’t gonna wash your pecker for you, ya know?”

Anton smiled then got to work on his own equipment while everyone else got to work reeling in dock lines. A half hour later Time Bandits began inching her way back towards the ruins of Zeebrugge, the water in the canal an oily mix of fuel residue and fire retardants – and scattered hunks of debris clogged to waterway, making it quite possible the engine’s cooling water inlet could be fouled in an instant. Oddly enough, the closer they came to the port the less occluded the water became, until with about a mile to go to the open sea the canal cleared completely.

Fire services were still hard at work putting out fires near the few remaining fuel storage tanks lining the canal yet, eerily enough, they were the only structures still standing. What Epsilon’s winds had spared the fires had taken, and the landscape here felt little different from what they’d so recently witnessed around Rotterdam. Henry was heartened to find the entry locks manned, and they locked through with almost no delay and in a flash they were back in the English Channel.

“I didn’t mean to ignore you,” he at last said to Dina, “but where did you two go?”

“Go? What do you mean?”

“You and Rolf were gone for a while.”

“I do not know what you are talking about. We went nowhere.”

“Okay.”

“So, on to France?” she asked.

He looked at her then slowly nodded. “Yes, I think so. We have a clear weather window right now, and it looks like rough weather might follow Epsilon, coming from the north this time, too.”

“So…cold air?”

“Looks like a real possibility.”

“What is happening, Henry?”

“The planet has been in a state of equilibrium for thousands of years, but that’s changing now. My guess is it will take a while for a new equilibrium to take hold.”

“A while?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, but I’d also assume there’s evidence in the geologic record for similar events.” Henry absentmindedly looked at the compass then did a double take; the NAV page on the chartplotter showed their current heading was 320 degrees magnetic, but the ship’s compass was showing something completely unexpected. Magnetic north was now almost due south, and their current compass heading was 140 degrees – which led to a nauseating series of conclusions. Either the earth’s magnetic poles had flipped or the Mother of all coronal mass ejections was slamming into the atmosphere. He glanced upwards and his stomach lurched.

“What’s wrong?” Dina asked.

“Look at the compass,” he replied, keeping his voice down.

She leaned over and looked, then shook her head: “That can’t be correct.”

“Assume it is. Where does that lead you?”

“If polarity flipped, wouldn’t that effect the normal operation of electricity? Even our electronics?”

He nodded. “Yup. So, what else could do it?”

“I don’t know, Henry, but you’re beginning to scare me.”

“Don’t make a big deal about it, but look up…”

She looked up through the scudding clouds and her eyes went wide. “Oh no…” she managed to say – before all sound was pushed aside by a deep pulsing vibration…a strange, foreign sound, almost like a giant electrical transformer was up there on the far side of the sky. And it growing louder, like the noise was coming closer now.

21.16

They instinctively gathered in the cockpit, all eyes focused beyond the clouds, their attention commanded by the deep, pulsing waves of low frequency energy.

Kinetic eddies of chartreuse and magenta coursed through the upper atmosphere, yet just now Henry felt as though he could reach out and touch each and every one wave – before they moved out of reach. More curious still was the sky full of otherworldly sound – which seemed to ebb and flow depending on the color of the wave passing overhead. Magenta waves were deepest but not as boisterously loud as the lighter colored pulses, yet soon enough they could hear a kind of muted static crackling under the other modulations.

Then everyone’s hair began to stand on end…

“Dina! The breakers! Flip everything to ‘Off’ on the main panel!” Henry cried as he killed the diesel and then shut down the electronics at the helm. “Mike…help Rolf with the main and genoa. Rolf…remember…main first after I get the bow pointed into the wind!”

“On it!” 

Henry noted their position before he killed the plotter then looked aft to note features still visible on the shoreline before he turned into the wind; the huge mainsail rolled out of the mast moments later and Henry fell off the wind to port while Rolf and Anton turned to roll out the genoa. Time Bandits quickly picked up speed while Henry eyed his earlier repairs to the mast and shrouds, hoping things would hold together for just a few more days, then he fell a little more off the wind and reveled at the feeling of his little ship riding the wind once again, heeling and leaning into each new gust as she powered through the tiny waves. Rolf smiled too, and they nodded knowingly at one another, both then smiling at this simple, lasting bond between them.

Then Henry grinned and shook his head – at the sight of everyone’s hair now pointing skyward – then he reached over to steady himself against a wave and a powerful spark of static electricity arced off a stanchion and zapped a fingertip. “Shit!” he cried, then he looked at the tip of his index finger and saw a deep brown burn there. “Try not to touch anything metal,” he shouted just as Anton came into the cockpit. Of course, Anton touched the dodger frame and cried out when a two inch long arc caught a fingertip – but at least, Henry thought, he managed to stay onboard.

“Genry? Something seems very strange. Like the sicker you get the sicker the planet gets. Tell me this is just imagination.”

Taggart smiled. “Yup, imagination would do it, Anton. There are a lot of people out there who are sick and dying right now, let alone these are physical, and not metaphysical events.”

“Da. That sounds correct, yet even so…”

“Yet even so, Anton, humans have always looked to the supernatural to explain away things they don’t understand, and sadly, that may be the most human characteristic there is.”

“But if this was true, if your illness is tied to what is happening now,” Mike said, joining the conversation, “what would that lead you to believe?”

Henry shook his head. “No clue. Delusion. Schizophrenia…you name it.”

“Or when you die,” Anton continued, “earth dies too.”

“And you know what?” Henry sighed, grinning now as he looked away. “That would mean this is all a dream. That you’re all just characters in my dream…”

“Why not my dream?” Mike asked. “Or Anton’s or Rolf’s?”

“You’re wandering down a blind alley, guys. There are no solutions where you’re headed.”

“Why must be a solution?” Anton sighed.

“Because when you are faced with problems and you can’t bring yourself to look for solutions  you’ll find yourself wandering around the land of madness, my friend, and you don’t want to get lost in there.”

“What about God?” Mike asked. 

Henry shrugged again. “There are lots of people who still believe fire chases away evil spirits. So what? Let them. If someone embraces madness that doesn’t mean you need to, does it?”

Then little slivered arcs of static electricity began pouring out Henry’s fingertips, and he held out his hand and looked at the display. Mike held out both his hands a second later, and both were surrounded by glowing balls of static electricity…

Out of the clear blue sky lightning cracked and slammed into the sea – about fifty meters off the left side of the boat…

“We’ve got to find a ground!” Mike cried as the static hum increased in volume and strength.

Henry put his hand on the VHF radio head and the arcs disappeared from his fingertips, so he leaned over and touched Mike – and the glowing balls disappeared –

“Case in point. This radio is wired to a copper ground plane,” Henry said, smiling. “So, it’s either that or we’re a bunch of evil sorcerers.”

“Da,” Anton added, “I get it. So, what is going on with sky?”

“Probably a big CME, a coronal mass ejection, that’s also screwing with the magnetic pole.”

“You mean, the sun?”

Henry nodded.

“Maybe sun cause hot storms?”

“Maybe. One thing I do know…without GPS we’re going to have to sail along the shore. Too much traffic in the channel and I’m not sure I want to pull out the sextant.”

“Too many clouds for that,” Mike sighed.

“Okay, so let’s pull out the paper charts and start a DR plot. Mike?”

“Can do. Rolf? Wanna give me a hand?”

Henry looked at this exchange, feeling a whiff of nostalgia and maybe a little ‘changing of the guard’ too, yet he was happy to see Mike taking over the role of father-leader.

Henry sighed when he realized it was already the end of October. Seven weeks to Christmas, he realized, and to the end of his road. The Others were out searching for Britt and Eva – and Pinky – while Dina and Rolf were obviously now a part of the experiment, too. But was that Pinky’s doing, or was this some new scheme The Others were hatching? What could it be? A diversion? 

What was he missing?

Hadn’t Eva warned him of a great evil – just before Anton arrived?

And that vexing music! Why wouldn’t it leave him be? It kept playing and playing over and over whenever he tried to rest, yet he was sure he’d never heard it before. What could that mean?

And just then Dina came up the companionway with Clyde, who hobbled over and hopped into his lap. Clyde’s chin was soon resting on Henry’s shoulder, the pup’s paws on either side of his neck., and Henry held the old boy while he steered, and for the first time in weeks all felt right with his little world. 

He began humming a tune – that music again – as he up looked at the pulsing sky…but in the next instant he felt that other presence and looked down into the sea. Yes, his friend the large male was there, as were the two smaller males, and they had taken up position on his flanks once again. 

Then the large male swam close, so close Taggart could see the aurora reflected in his eye, and for a moment he sensed that the orca were happy to see the display. It was a sign, a vital sign marking the road ahead…

Then Anton saw the whale seemingly just inches away from Henry and he screamed – before he stumbled backwards and flipped over the lifelines – vaulting into the sea – again.

“This is getting old,” Taggart said.

“At least he can swim,” Rolf added.

No one saw Clyde dashing up the companionway nor streaking off the aft rail and diving into the sea, but one of the small males did…

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

Come Alive (21.16)

Chapter 21.16

They instinctively gathered in the cockpit, all eyes focused beyond the clouds, their attention commanded by the deep, pulsing waves of low frequency energy.

Kinetic eddies of chartreuse and magenta coursed through the upper atmosphere, yet just now Henry felt as though he could reach out and touch each and every one of them – just as they moved out of reach. More curious still was the sky full of otherworldly sound – which seemed to ebb and flow depending on the color of the wave passing overhead. Magenta waves were deepest but not as boisterously loud as the lighter colored pulses, yet soon enough they could hear a kind of muted static crackling under the other modulations.

Then everyone’s hair began to stand on end…

“Dina! The breakers! Flip everything to ‘Off’ on the main panel!” Henry cried as he killed the diesel and then shut down the electronics at the helm. “Mike…help Rolf with the main and genoa. Rolf…remember…main first after I get the bow pointed into the wind!”

“On it!” 

Henry noted their position before he killed the plotter then looked aft to note features still visible on the shoreline before he turned into the wind; the huge mainsail rolled out of the mast moments later and Henry fell off the wind to port while Rolf and Anton turned to roll out the genoa. Time Bandits quickly picked up speed while Henry eyed his earlier repairs to the mast and shrouds, hoping things would hold together for just a few more days, then he fell a little more off the wind and reveled at the feeling of the ship biting into the wind, heeling and leaning into each new gust as she powered through the waves. Rolf smiled too, and they nodded knowingly to each other, both then smiling at this simple bond between them.

Then Henry grinned and shook his head – at the sight of everyone’s hair now pointing skyward – then he reached over to steady himself against a wave and a powerful spark of static electricity arced off a stanchion and zapped a fingertip. “Shit!” he cried, then he looked at the tip of his index finger and saw a deep brown burn there. “Try not to touch anything metal,” he shouted just as Anton came into the cockpit. Of course, Anton touched the dodger frame and cried out when a two inch long arc caught a fingertip, but at least, Henry thought, he managed to stay onboard.

“Genry? Some seems very strange. Like the sicker you get the sicker the planet gets. Tell me this is just imagination.”

Taggart smiled. “Yup, imagination would do it, Anton. There are a lot of people out there who are sick and dying, let alone these are physical, and not metaphysical events.”

“Da. That sounds correct, yet even so…”

“Yet even so, Anton, humans have always looked to the supernatural to explain away things they don’t understand, and sadly that may be the most human characteristic there is.”

“But if this was true, if your illness is tied to what is happening now,” Mike said, joining the conversation, “what would that lead you to believe?”

Henry shook his head. “No clue. Delusion. Schizophrenia…you name it.”

“Or when you die,” Anton continued, “earth dies too.”

“And you know what?” Henry sighed, grinning now as he looked away. “That would mean this is all a dream. That you’re all just characters in my dream…”

“Why not my dream?” Mike asked. “Or Anton’s or Rolf’s?”

“You’re wandering down a blind alley, guys. There are no solutions where you’re headed.”

“Why must be a solution?” Anton sighed.

“Because when you are faced with problems and you can’t bring yourself to look for solutions  you’ll find yourself wandering around the land of madness, my friend, and you don’t want to get lost in there.”

“What about God?” Mike asked. 

Henry shrugged again. “There are lots of people who still believe fire chases away evil spirits. So what? Let them. If someone embraces madness, that doesn’t mean you need to, as well.”

Then little slivered arcs of static electricity began pouring out Henry’s fingertips, and he held out his hand and looked at the display. Mike held out both his hands a second later, and both were surrounded by glowing balls of static electricity…

Out of the clear blue sky lightning cracked and slammed into the sea – about fifty meters off theft side of the boat…

“We’ve got to find a ground!” Mike cried as the static hum increased in strength.

Henry put his hand on the VHF radio head and the arcs disappeared from his fingertips, so he leaned over and touched Mike – and the glowing balls disappeared –

“Case in point. The radio is wired into a copper ground plane,” Henry said, smiling.” That, or we’re a bunch of evil sorcerers.”

“Da,” Anton added, “I get it. So, what is going on with sky?”

“Probably a big CME, a coronal mass ejection, that’s also screwing with the magnetic pole.”

“You mean the sun?”

Henry nodded.

“Maybe sun cause hot storms?”

“Maybe. One thing I do know…without GPS we’re going to have to sail along the shore. Too much traffic in the channel and I’m not sure I want to pull out the sextant.”

“Too many clouds for that,” Mike sighed.

“Okay, so let’s pull out the paper charts and start a DR plot. Mike?”

“Can do. Rolf? Wanna give me a hand?”

Henry looked at this exchange, feeling a whiff of nostalgia and maybe a little ‘changing of the guard,’ too, yet he was happy to see Mike taking over the role of father-leader now.

Henry sighed when he realized it was already the end of October. Seven weeks to Christmas, he realized, and to the end of the road. The Others out searching for Britt and Eva – and Pinky – while Dina and Rolf were obviously now a part of the experiment, too. But was that Pinky’s doing, or was this some new scheme The Others were hatching. What could it be? A diversion? What was he missing?

Dina came up the companionway with Clyde, who hobbled over and hopped into his lap, Clyde’s chin resting on Henry’s shoulder, the pup’s paws on either side of his neck. Henry held the old boy while he steered, and for the first time in weeks all felt right with his little world.

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

Come Alive (21.15)

Chapter 21.15

Dina was on her knees, her hands grasping at tufts of dry grass as she wailed into the night, then Henry dropped to her side and whispered in her ear –

– and like a switch had been thrown she stopped – crying, breathing, thinking –

– and in the next instant she too disappeared.

“Fuck-goddam-shit!” Anton roared as he stumbled backwards, tripping over a dock line and vaulting into the canal – again.

Mike looked at Henry. “Them?” he asked, pointing at the sky.

“Yup. And I think we just got caught up in a dominance dance.”

“Swell. Say, what is it with this guy? He really must like falling into the canal?”

“He’s not a particularly good swimmer, is he? I guess we ought to help him again.”

“Better than watching him drown.”

Henry nodded. “I suppose it’s time to tell him what’s going on.”

“That ought to be fun. Mind if I listen in?”

“Better than self abuse, I reckon.”

+++++

Eva had crept down to the rocks, the gathering crowds still just out of sight, but the orcas were nowhere to be seen – and without them the water would be unbearably cold. Then…she saw a vague disturbance in the water and without thinking dove in.

‘What if it’s a shark?’ she thought as she swam a few feet under the surface…

Then a blinding white light hit her and she looked up through the clear water, saw a police helicopter hovering almost directly overhead, then a diver in a red and yellow drysuit jumping from the helicopter’s float, almost landing on top of her…

…but when the disturbance cleared the diver found this second naked woman was gone too…as if she too had simply disappeared. Boats and divers moved to this new area, but an hour later this latest search was called off. Again.

+++++

“So,” Anton said, still clearly exasperated, “this group you belong to, was in Seattle, yes?”

“Yes.”

“This Boeing group builds one of these space ships, but it never works. This is right?”

“Correct. The flight control system is maintained by direct neural link. We could never get it to respond to our efforts.”

“Ship is still in Seattle?”

“As far as I know. There were also ships out on Long island and Edwards Air Force Base.”

“What about this Area 51? Nothing there?”

Taggart shrugged. “If there is, I don’t know about it.”

“What about you. You think you can fly now? This reach out thing you speak of…is this not the means to control such aircraft?”

“It could be. We had no idea how specific and focused such thoughts could be, at least not then. Just food for thought here, Anton, but there were people still at work on the problem when I left a few years ago. There’s no telling how far along they are now.”

“Maybe that why The Others leave now, maybe?”

“Yes, maybe.”

“We must get one of these ships,” Anton sighed. “We can get girls back, and the boy too, if we have such a ship.”

“But,” Mike interjected, “they don’t need ships, do they? They can just reach out and take anyone, anywhere. Right?”

“It sure looks that way,” Henry nodded, “but you’ve got to keep one thing in mind: most of this behavior is new to me. They’ve not done things like this before, so I really have no idea what their real capabilities are.”

“Only that they’re probably millions of years further along the evolutionary ladder that we are,” Mike added.

Henry sighed. “We play chess. They play chess in four dimensions.”

“Four?” Anton asked. “How this so?”

“Time is the fourth dimension, at least I think it is.”

“They move around time?” Anton asked, almost gagging, clearly struggling with the idea.

“I think so, but I have no proof.”

“Then ship make no difference. Would be fun though.”

Henry looked around the canal, at the massive damage that had been left in the storm’s wake, as he watched the sun rising through silhouettes of burnt trees and smoldering rubble. “We’re going to need to push through these lines and get out to sea – and today, if possible.”

“What about…” Anton began, then he stopped. “Da, they find us if they want.”

“Yeah. And I don’t want to get caught in here if conditions deteriorate.”

“What are you thinking?” Mike asked. “Riots?”

“Or worse. If food and medical supply distribution stops for a few days, there’s no telling how fast a collapse might happen. Anyway, I don’t want to find out.”

“Okay,” Anton said, standing up and moving to the aft deck, “so we get dock lines and you start engine. We talk about no more, we go.”

“I like the way you think, Anton…”

And then Dina and Rolf reappeared – just a few inches from the aviator –

– who shrieked before somersaulting over the rail into the canal. Once again.

+++++

Eva tried to get her bearings again, and failed – again. She was submerged in some kind of fluid – yet she was breathing – and it was pitch black here – wherever here was.

‘Clear your mind,’ a voice told her. ‘Others are searching for you, and they intend to take you away.’

‘Away? Where?’

‘Clear your mind.’

But that was impossible. She was caught like a fly in honey – at night – with no idea where she was – and it was impossible to think of anything else.

But then she felt warmth on her flesh and she recognized the smooth skin of the large female, and in a heartbeat a sense of well being permeated the space around her. She relaxed when she felt the offered pectoral, and after she took hold she felt them moving through the void…

+++++

Rolf helped Anton climb back up onto the swim platform, but then Rolf sniffed the air around the Russian and stepped back. “Henry? I think he’s covered in diesel fuel…?”

Dina hopped down to the platform and pulled out the shower head, but when she turned the valve nothing happened. “Is the breaker on?” she called out to the cockpit.

Henry shrugged then ducked below. After he turned it on he picked up a bottle a glycerin soap and carried it topsides. “Here, use this,” he said as he handed the bottle to Dina.

Dina used a huge natural sponge and warm water to lather up the burly aviator – who seemed to enjoy the whole thing a little too much – 

“You’ll need to toss the clothes,” Henry added. “That stuff will ruin marine washing machines without special detergents. Breaks down the seals, and the discharge is illegal.”

“So – what? You want I should take off clothes here?”

Dina turned away, trying to hide her grin; Rolf held open a large trash bag and waited for Anton to dump the clothes before carrying it to a nearby dumpster. Dina handed the bottle of soap to Anton and smiled: “Here you go. I ain’t gonna wash your pecker for you, ya know?”

Anton smiled then got to work on his own equipment while everyone else got to work reeling in dock lines. A half hour later Time Bandits began inching her way back towards the ruins of Zeebrugge, the water in the canal an oily mix of fuel residue and fire retardants – and scattered hunks of scorched debris clogged to waterway, making it quite possible the engine’s cooling water inlet could be fouled in an instant. Oddly enough, the closer they came to the port the less occluded the water became, until with about a mile to go to the open sea the canal cleared completely.

Fire services were still hard at work putting out fires near the few remaining fuel storage tanks lining the canal and, eerily enough, they were the only structures still standing. What Epsilon’s winds had spared the fires had taken, and the landscape here felt little different than what they’d so recently witnessed around Rotterdam. Henry was heartened to find the entry locks manned, and they locked through with almost no delay and were back in the English Channel.

“I didn’t mean to ignore you,” he at last said to Dina, “but where did you two go?”

“Go? What do you mean?”

“You and Rolf were gone for quite a while.”

“I do not know what you are talking about. We went nowhere.”

“Okay.”

“So, on to France?” she asked.

He looked at her then slowly nodded. “Yes, I think so. We have a clear weather window right now, and it looks like rough weather might follow Epsilon, only coming from the north this time.”

“So…cold air?”

“Looks like a real possibility.”

“What is happening, Henry?”

“The planet has been in a state of equilibrium for thousands of years, but for some reason that’s changing now. My guess is it will take a while for a new equilibrium to take hold.”

“A while? What does that mean?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, but I’d assume there’s evidence in the geologic record for similar events.” Henry absentmindedly looked at the compass then did a double take; the NAV page on the chartplotter showed their current heading was 320 degrees magnetic, but the ship’s compass was showing something completely unexpected. Magnetic north was now almost due south, and their current compass heading was 140 degrees – which led to a nauseating series of conclusions. Either the earth’s magnetic poles had flipped or the Mother of all coronal mass ejections was slamming into the atmosphere. He glanced upwards and his stomach lurched.

“What’s wrong?” Dina asked.

“Look at the compass,” he replied, keeping his voice down.

She leaned over and looked, then shook her head: “That can’t be correct.”

“Assume it is. Where does that lead you?”

“If polarity flipped, wouldn’t that effect the normal operation of electricity? Even our electronics?”

He nodded. “Yup. So, what else could do it?”

“I don’t know, Henry, but you’re beginning to scare me.”

“Don’t make a big deal about it, but look up…”

She looked up through the scudding clouds and her eyes went wide. “Oh no…” she managed to say – before all sound was pushed aside by a deep pulsing vibration…a strange, foreign sound, almost like a giant electrical transformer was up there on the far side of the sky. And it was coming closer now.

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

Come Alive (21.14)

Chapter 21.14

Soon two boats were between Britt and the orcas; men warned her to turn around and return to shore, so she dove under the boats and continued swimming to the largest female –

Who remained resolutely still.

Even as one of the policeman chambered a round and took careful aim.

Evan as Britt swam up to the large female and rested there in the water beside her.

The female turned and looked at the man on the boat pointing at her with the oddly formed stick, and centuries of instinct told her to be very careful now.

Britt swam into her pectoral and was wrapped inside a protective embrace, then one by one the orcas slipped under the surface and were gone.

+++++

Firefighters sprayed some kind of foam on the water; others sprayed water on the grass, halting the fire’s spread – for the time being, anyway.

But now Henry noticed that the wind was so hot, and so strong, that the hot rain had simply stopped. Evaporated – before the water made it back to the earth’s fulsome embrace? Was that what the future held? Wasn’t that the route Venus had taken on her way to the runaway greenhouse that defined the planet’s atmosphere now?

But…why here, and why now? Wasn’t something like this supposed to be decades away – if it ever happened at all? What had changed?

With his back to the wind he looked up at the sky.

Yes. Two of them were up there, two wildly spinning orbs so easily mistaken for bright stars.

‘Have you given up on us?’ he asked the sky. ‘Did we disappoint you so deeply?’

Two more orbs joined the first two – but Henry could see no sign of Pinky.

But worse still, they were all simply ignoring him. Or at least they seemed to be…

Another shattering explosion from the port and the sky turned red; roiling black clouds twisted and climbed into the night, their twisting red bellies full of embers just waiting to fall back to earth.

+++++

Eva woke to the sounds of a furious commotion out on the water, so she went to the balcony to see what was happening. Little red boats a few yards off the rocks were turning in frantic circles in the night, while a helicopter fluttered overhead, a white hot spotlight pointing down into the sea, and there were hundreds of people on the rocks lining the shore. These people were pointing and seemed agitated – but what about?

“Britt? Have you seen this? When did it start?”

Then the silence of no reply hit her. Icy fear reached out into the night, grabbed her by the gut.

“Britt?”

A discarded robe in Britt’s bedroom; her running shoes gone. An impossible chain of events unspooled in her mind’s eye.

“Oh, no…”

She closed her eyes and reached out for Henry.

‘What’s happened?’ he said.

‘Britt has returned to the sea, there are police looking for her in boats and helicopters.’

Then…Pinky’s spinning orb was there beside Henry…

‘She is with me,’ she sighed. ‘Do not worry.’

‘Pinky?’ Henry almost screamed. ‘Where have you been?’

‘There are many difficulties I must attend to now, Henry.’

‘And Britt is with you? This is supposed to put me at ease?’

‘They will not hurt me,’ Britt said.

‘And they won’t hurt Pinky – as long as you’re there with her,’ he thought – but as with all such unfiltered thoughts, off it went, reeling away into the infinite.

‘They will not hurt us, Henry.’

His mind filled with images of orcas and babies coming into the world and he tried not to jump to unwarranted conclusions. ‘Pinky, do you know what you’re doing?’

‘Of course. How is the storm?’

‘Bad.’

‘Be careful, Henry. The others know what has happened, so I do not think they will help you again.’

‘I’ve figured that out already. Where’s Eva?’

‘She will be here soon.’

Henry tried to clear his mind. ‘Alright. You be careful too.’ He could just make out the faintest contours of her smile, then she was gone – leaving him to worry about Dinky and the others. Were factions forming? Were The Others split by unseen differences? If so, dare he even consider trying to meddle in their affairs?

“No,” he said aloud.

“What?” Dina asked, still treating the injuries of one of the people pulled from the canal.

“Oh…nothing. I was just thinking…”

“Henry,” Rolf called out from the tow path – now pointing towards Brugge, “look at the fire!”

Henry turned, watched helplessly as another cluster of medieval buildings disappeared behind another gout of towering red flames – even as fire services tried to quench this latest rampage. “Why does if feel like our history is being devoured?” he muttered.

“Maybe because we are tired of this past,” Dina replied wearily, wiping away sweat and soot from her forehead. “Maybe we have grown tired of hauling around all these ancient ideas. Or maybe we simply always lust for the new and are ready to burn away our past when the weight of her burdens become too much.”

Henry shook his head. “Like reinventing the wheel or squirrels in a cage running round and round. We’re going nowhere, fast.”

“I need more gauze pads. Do you know where they are?”

Henry nodded and went below – and he found Dinky waiting for him.

He was a pale blue version of Pinky, only taller, so he found Dinky sprawled out on the sofa in a futile effort to fit into the cramped space.

“Well, long time no see,” Taggart said – a little too sarcastically. “To whom do we owe this pleasure?”

Dinky ignored the jab. “We will be leaving soon…”

“And what? You won’t be coming back?”

“No, we will not.”

“And Pinky? Will she be going, too?”

“No, she will not.”

Henry tried to digest that one, but he found the idea unsettling. “Okay. What else are you not telling me?”

“Eva and Britt. They will be going with us.”

“What?”

“And they will not return to this place.”

“You can’t do that.”

“We must. And you know this must be.”

Henry looked away, but even so he nodded understanding – Pinky was trying to stop this from happening. “Why so fast?”

“We do not understand the process,” Dinky said, and Taggart could feel the creatures apparent confusion.

“When will you leave?”

“Very soon. We will be gone within days. Nothing of our presence will remain.”

“Aside from Pinky, you mean.”

Dinky just looked at Henry, as if his silence alone could explain the lingering ambivalence he felt.

“Will you remain closed off to me?” Henry added.

“No. But there will be little I can do to assist you.”

“So…alone again, naturally.”

Dinky shook his head. “Such a sad song. Why do you still like it so?”

“You never cease to amaze, Dink. Is there anything about me you don’t know?”

“I will miss you, Henry, if that’s what you mean. I will miss our talks on the beach most of all, but perhaps they didn’t mean all that much to you.”

“Perhaps,” Henry sighed, looking at his old friend. “Anyway, I’ll miss you, as well.”

“Britt is with us now. Eva will be soon, but please don’t interfere.”

Henry hadn’t expected this power play, yet he’d never really thought they’d actually try something so overtly disruptive, let alone put such a plan into effect. Still, he shook his head before he spoke: “This is a mistake, and you know it. Why?”

“Perhaps someday you will understand.”

“I’m thinking about Dina and Rolf. They’ll never understand.”

Dinky sighed. “Yes, that is true, yet it must be.”

“Will they be closed to me?”

“For a while. We will allow the boy a certain amount of contact after that.”

“His name is Rolf, and you will be hurting him terribly.”

“It is regrettable.”

“Regrettable?” Henry sighed. “My coming into their lives will be the darkest moment of his life. You’ll undo everything I’ve tried to build.”

“Perhaps.”

“You know, the shittiest thing I ever did was to teach you the fine art of playing poker.”

“That depends on your point of view, Henry Taggart.” Dinky smiled a little, his deep blue eyes twinkling in the cabin-light. “Again, my friend, I will miss you.”

And with that he was gone, leaving Henry dazed and confused. “Gauze pads. I came down for supplies, for Dina. What do I tell her? How do I…?”

He heard another cannon-shot crack as thunder and lightning erupted from the storm in the same instant, then Dina was screaming and running from the boat…

He ran topsides and saw Dina running in circles, screaming, while Mike and Anton appeared to be searching for…

“Rolf,” he whispered. “Where’s Rolf?”

But he already knew the answer to that, didn’t he. Dink had turned out to be a master at the bluff after all. But…who had taken him? He didn’t know, and that bothered him. He walked over to Dina, intent on explaining what he knew – until he saw the anger in her eyes.

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

Come Alive (21.13)

Chapter 21.13

For some reason Judy Garland was the first thing he thought of. Dorothy and Toto, running for home as that writhing black twister came for them out of the clouds. And the really scary thing about that moment caught in the flickering light? Dorothy’s celluloid storm wasn’t an abstract weather formation, it was a living beast full of malicious intent – and that too ran through Henry Taggart’s mind as he stared at the writhing black snakes coming up the canal.

“Get below. Now,” he growled as the snakes’ menacing hiss became apparent.

No one argued, and Dina led the way down.

“Where’s Clyde?” he called out.

“He’s not down here!” Rolf answered from the galley, then Henry heard the boy running up the companionway.

Yet Henry was already off the boat and running for Clyde’s tree by the time Rolf was back on deck, and he saw the pup squatting and doing the deed right in the middle of the tow path as he ran up.

“Way to go, butthead!” Henry said, leaning over to rub the pup’s ears. 

Rolf ran up – carrying Clyde’s leash – and he snapped it on. “Sorry. I forgot the poop-bags…”

Henry laughed at that – hard and loud. “Yeah? Me too. Time to beat feet,” he said, scooping up Clyde and dashing back to the boat.

“You were so weak earlier today,” Rolf said. “How are you doing this?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with a tornado crawling up our ass…”

“Ah yes, I see.”

Which made Henry laugh again, even as they climbed on board and hopped into the cockpit. “You go first and I’ll hand him down to you.” And after he passed Clyde down through the hatch he went to the helm and looked at the display one more time before he powered everything down; the storm’s eye was visible on the radar now – though still just offshore, but it was headed their way and he wondered what that might lead to…

Then he made his way down the companionway steps and into the galley just as a colossal gust tore through the boats moored in the canal. He heard a few shrieks and screams, then people struggling with boats that had come undone; he heard what sounded like a high-pitched freight train coming close and that reality pushed everything else from his mind. Looking through trees and houses, he saw the twister scything its way through boats moored a few hundred feet aft of Time Bandits, followed by more screams and several small explosions as bottled propane tanks ruptured and ignited. He ran up the steps and into the night, Rolf and Anton right behind him…

Then an overwhelming wall of scalding rain hit, and the pain was shattering…

+++++

She could hardly stand it.

The orcas were still out there, still motionless, still silent in the night – yet – she could sense they were calling out to her. Reaching. Reaching out to her. For her.

Then…puzzlement? Why wasn’t she answering?

Can she not hear us?

Yet no matter what she did, what she tried, she couldn’t make the connection.

She looked at Eva – still sleeping on the sofa, cut-off from her frustration, her fear a dissolute reminder of that other life. That life before all this happened. Life before Henry Taggart came into their  lives. Her life. And now something was growing inside her womb. Something – human? Or…?

She stood and cinched up her bathrobe, then walked out onto the balcony.

And still they looked at her.

She went back inside and put on her clothes then walked down to the water’s edge – oblivious to the world around her. Heedless of the several biologists gathered on the rocks monitoring the orcas, or of the harbor police still in their boats searching for two missing swimmers. Now everyone was gathered, watching this woman swim out to the orcas. 

Curious. Unsure what they were witnessing.

“That’s Dr Bauer,” one of the police officers said over the radio net. “She hasn’t been seen at the clinic for days…!”

“Those are wild orcas,” one of the biologists yelled into her radio. “They’ll kill her!”

Police jumped into their Zodiacs and rushed across the water, men gathered on bow platforms with heavy rifles at the ready. The inherent confusion of adrenaline and testosterone taking on a certain mindless momentum all too familiar to her.

To Pinky.

She was overhead now, looking down at the all the pieces moving on the board, moving to take the White Queen. 

Would they listen to her now?

+++++

Their foul weather coats offered some protection – but not to the people fleeing the carnage as several tornados tore through the boats lining the canal – and the result were predictably catastrophic. Anton collected a pregnant woman and tossed her across his shoulders, then sprinted back to Dina – waiting on Time Bandits to take care of the injured; Mike dove into the canal and plucked two drowning children from the inky water – just before fuel arrived on the flooding tide. He passed them up to Rolf, then he carried more injured back to Dina.

Henry was first to smell the fuel arriving on the tide, and at the same time he saw flames spreading inland from the port area, heading for Brugge, heading for their stretch of the canal. It was, he figured, only a matter of minutes before the fuel ignited, turning the canal into a miles long inferno…like a torch in the night…and he thought of a certain boatman ferrying lost souls across the Styx in another endless night.

Then some sort of environmental protection vessel appeared, stringing booms across the canal, booms meant to arrest the flow of contaminated water into the ancient city, then several brigades of fire services arrived – apparently setting up some kind of fire line here on the western edge of the city. Would it be enough, Henry wondered?

Then Epsilon hit in all her fury.

Scorching winds blasted through the region, winds so hot they literally fried everything they touched. “Get down!” Dina yelled. “Cover your face!”

Trees ignited. An ancient row of medieval townhouses went next, and Henry knew then that his nightmare had been a window to the future – and he wondered what that meant.

The grass along both sides of the canal withered under the onslaught, then sparks began raining down from the sky, and as Henry looked on helplessly the water in the canal turned to fire.

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