Harry’s tale is rapidly drawing to a close, so hang on tight.
[supertramp \\ know who you are]
Debra Sorensen watched the General as he strutted around the underground facility, and she concentrated on his ever-shifting aura. Unlike her father, or even Delbert Moloch, this man rarely displayed the oily black shimmers of overt evil that those other two had, yet even so she picked up patterns and colors that upset her. While he wasn’t exactly evil, he wasn’t the benign character he so often pretended to be—despite all his airs of calm passivity. But now, with Callahan’s and Goodman’s disappearance, his aura had flared once again, filling the space around his seething eyes with hideous green streamers.
Then she parsed his thoughts.
He was angry because a tracking device had failed. Because the tracking device could only follow people traveling back in time. But not into the future. He was, for some reason, now thinking about Franklin Roosevelt, the depression era president. But why? What could someone who had passed away almost eighty years ago have to do with the future? She struggled to remember Roosevelt and grew faintly disoriented when she thought she recalled meeting him recently, but when she saw Roosevelt in the General’s thoughts her sense of disorientation only grew more diffuse, almost like a heavy fog had settled over her. Then she saw huge, misshaped beings, squat triangular white-skinned things that moved with ponderous heaviness, and she saw the General talking with Roosevelt and one of these beings…
Krell. They called themselves Krell, and Debra wondered why that sounded so familiar?
She followed him to the huge orca pool on the lower level, and she watched the General’s aura as it shifted from red to green and finally to a gentle cool blue, so she naturally concluded that he came here to relax—but as she looked on he waded out into the water – and then just disappeared.
A minute passed, then two, and she ran out and looked down into the peaceful abyss and saw…nothing. No orcas, and no General. He had simply disappeared.
She focused on the water and tried to follow his thoughts but she found that way blocked, as if someone was deliberately trying to keep her away from the General’s thoughts. But…who among the people in the underground complex was capable of that? No one she was aware of, with the possible exception of Brendon.
So she made her way up to the living quarters, and she found Brendan in the dining room reading a book and waving at the sky. She picked up an omelet and went to a nearby table and watched the boy, watched his ever shifting aura, but all she could make out was a simple veil of swirling cool blues. When she entered his mind and began sifting through his thoughts he stopped reading and looked up from his book for a moment, then he turned and looked at her.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Me? Why…nothing. Nothing at all?”
Then she heard his thoughts, now directed at her: ‘You don’t belong here. Leave. Now.’
She looked away then finished her eggs and, now ignoring the boy, she left the room, doing her best to clear her mind.
‘So, I’m not the only one,’ she thought. ‘Is that was this place is all about? Corralling us all in one place so they—whoever they are—can keep us under lock and key?’ That would explain why the General was so upset about Callahan’s disappearance, wouldn’t it? ‘But, where did he go? And why weren’t there any orcas in the pool?’
Jim watched as Callahan and the woman were put into stasis, but he was still not sure this was the best way to deal with the two humans. Callahan’s abilities were just blooming, but it was the woman who presented the biggest threat. She’d jumped, admittedly while she slept, beyond his ability to track, which meant she’d left this galaxy—yet she’d returned to her cabin within minutes. If this was indeed true she’d exceeded everyone’s expectations. And if this proved to be the case, as it appeared to be, then these humans were indeed in a race against time.
How long would it take this species to fully evolve this latest ability? On a planetary scale? A hundred years? A thousand? And then what?
And then what, indeed.
That was the real question, wasn’t it?
Humanity had proven to be a predatory species almost without parallel, but now they were standing on the threshold of becoming members of a very elite group. There were, at present, only a handful of species in this galaxy capable of roaming the universe, so the question being posed wasn’t a trivial one.
Should they be stopped. Now. Before a sufficient number acquired the ability to jump as this human woman had. The Krell had already voiced their opinion: humans should be left alone to develop without interference. The Aerons, at least the Pinks among them, had also decided against any interference, while the Blues and Greens were actively trying to manipulate the outcome. The Sidions viewed humanity as a plague and wanted them destroyed, but for now their political leadership was divided on how best to accomplish this. Active intervention would draw a violent response from both the Krell and the Aerons and that might lead to open hostilities the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the galaxy for almost a million years.
Which left Jim’s people, the Centaurons, as the deciding factor. If the Centaurons and the Sidions formed an alliance, war might be averted but humanity would in short order be eradicated. If his people sided with the Krell and the Aerons, humanity might be saved but at the cost of open warfare, as the Sidions seemed unwilling to negotiate any outcome that didn’t include humanity’s obliteration. Jim’s task was therefore quite simple: to determine which side the Centaurons would take in this dispute he needed to develop an understanding of how potentially dangerous humanity could become if turned loose on the universe.
But there was one other concern. An even greater concern.
The Others. The deciders, the final arbiters, the group known as the Phage.
There was evidence that the Others had detected humanity’s first infantile interferences with time, and they never allowed such species free reign. And no one tried to stop the Others, for they were simply too powerful.If they were indeed coming to this solar system, time was now of the essence, and a decision could not be put off for much longer.
He regarded the two humans in stasis with something akin to wonder. Few species evolved to permit travel at the Speed of Thought, and fewer still evolved that could bend the laws of Time, yet this species was on the edge of the abyss, among the few that had evolved both abilities, and at the same time. The reality of this development was almost beyond comprehension, because if left on their own these humans could, in time, evolve to challenge the abilities of the Others.
And that one simple fact, more than any other, was what had long filled Jim with a sense of wonder. But now, a molten sensation of dread filled his mind—for even as he stared at Callahan in the stasis chamber the human’s form began to pulse and shimmer…just before it disappeared.
Sorry for the prolonged absence; I’ve been in and out and deep within some pressing medical issues once again. Thankfully these were not vision related but even so it was difficult to sit up long enough to write anything even remotely coherent. On the flip side, I did some mental outlining of a few new arcs to finish up Harry’s story, so maybe there was a reason?
[Bizet \\ Carmen Suite No 1: Intermezzo/Interlude]
The General stood over the console, staring at Callahan’s beacon as it drifted sometime in the past — but then it disappeared.
“Where is he now?” the General growled.
“I don’t know,” the operator said. “He’s disappeared.”
“What does that tell us?” the General asked.
“The future…somehow they’ve moved from the past to the future…”
“But that’s not possible, is it?!”
“It’s the only explanation that fits,” the operator sighed, resting his forehead on his hands.
Yet on another screen the General now saw Callahan and Didi Goodman thrashing around in the orca pool, and he bolted from the control room and ran as fast as he could for the pool area. When he got there both Callahan and Goodman were treading water while two orcas circled them, in effect preventing the humans from getting out of the water.
Yet now, as the General entered the vast cavern, the two orcas stopped and raised their heads, eyeing the General as he came to the water’s edge—and then they moved off, made no further moves to prevent either Callahan or Goodman from moving to get out of the pool.
“You two better get out while you can,” the General said from the water’s edge, but even from ten meters he could see that both Callahan and Goodman were blue again, so he called for a medical team to meet him in the pool area. Gurneys were summoned and about the time Brendan and Deborah Eisenstadt arrived Callahan was being wrapped in heated blankets, while docs worked on Didi Goodman.
“What’s wrong with Didi?” Eisenstadt said as she walked up to the General.
“Extreme hypothermia,” he said, “and it’s led to some kind of rhythm disturbance.”
“Rhythm? You mean cardiac?”
The General nodded and when Brendan began crying Eisenstadt moved to comfort the man-child. She looked at Harry as EMTs began pushing his gurney towards the clinic and he too seemed rigid with extreme cold, but at least he smiled once and shot her a limp thumb’s up.
“What happened to them?” Brendan sighed. “Where’d they go?”
“We’re not completely sure,” the General lied. “When they’re better you’ll have to talk to them. Maybe you can find out more.”
Two hours later Callahan lay on a hospital bed drifting in and out of sleep, his mind a hazy mist of shifting memory, the events of their brief trip to the red ship gone from memory. He still felt icy cold—despite the heated blankets and the warm fluid coming in by IV. Then he saw an intense and very brief flash of light through his closed eyes and he struggled back to wakefulness…
…only to find Jim, the very tall alien from the high desert, kneeling over him.
“Are you aware of me?” Jim thought into Callahan’s consciousness.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Do you know where you have been?”
“I’ve been somewhere?”
“Yes. Do you recall meeting people? Perhaps even important people?”
“No. I can’t remember anything that happened today.”
“I must touch you now. Do not be afraid,” Jim thought as he leaned close, putting the tips of his fingers around Callahan’s head.
Callahan felt an intense vibration then, just before a flood of unlocked memory washed through his conscious mind. And as his mind began to process these events he reeled under the weight of so many incomprehensible consequences of the people and places he’d just seen…
“You have not yet learned to retrieve these memories,” Jim thought now. “Tell me, what did Roosevelt tell you?”
Callahan told him.
“You are no longer safe here,” Jim thought bluntly. “You must come with me.”
Callahan looked at the ECG hooked up to Didi—and then he noticed that her cardiac trace had simply stopped, almost like the machine had frozen somewhere in time, and he started to say something to Jim…
…but Jim stopped him. “Time has stopped for you now, at least while I am here.”
“What about Didi? Shouldn’t she come with me?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Are you saying the General might try something?”
“If he finds that he can manipulate time through you he could do great damage.”
“What about Brendan?” Callahan added, almost as an afterthought.
“The boy can do nothing without you…at least for now.”
“But—am I missing something?”
“He may change. We will reevaluate.”
“But if you think we’re in danger here, why not bring him?”
“He represents a danger to us that we may not be able to control.”
Callahan nodded while he drifted through the implications of that revelation, then he made up his mind. “Okay, let’s go…”
The control room operator saw a flash on the monitor that was displaying a non-stop feed from the clinic, and when the monitor cleared both Callahan and the woman with him were gone. He hit the alarm button and began locking down the facility, and just moments passed before the General made it to the room.
“What’s happened?” he growled, rubbing much needed sleep from his burning eyes.
“Callahan and the woman with him…they just disappeared. They were both asleep, and then there was a flash on the screen. When that cleared, they were gone!”
“Kill the alarm,” the General sighed, “and alert the surveillance team up at Sea Ranch. Is the tracking beacon still on him?”
“No sir. You can see it there on the monitor, on the ECG stand.”
“It was on when he went to sleep,” the General muttered, “so how did he know what it was, or even where it was?”
When Callahan came to he was in a heated mesh cot of some kind, and a – physician? – of some sort was hovering over him, looking at a display that seemed to hover in the air over his “bed”. The physician adjusted something there and the bed grew warmer and Callahan felt himself relaxing for the first time in what felt like days. Still, he looked around and couldn’t see Didi and a wave of panic washed over him.
“Where’s the woman who was with me?” he said aloud, forgetting that Jim’s people were telepaths…
“She is in the room next to this one,” he heard in his mind. “Her hypothermia is much more severe. We are adjusting thyroid levels and boosting electrolyte infusions.”
“Is she in any danger?”
“No, not at all.”
“Where is Jim?”
“He will return as soon as I have finished my studies.”
“Yes, you are my first human patients.”
“Uh, well, okay. Gee, have you ever taken a course in bedside manners?”
“No? To what are you referring?”
Jim came in just then and he walked over to the wall and operated a display; a portion of the curved white wall turned into a transparent window of some kind and Callahan saw a vast blue planet below, and one visible limb of the planet was bathed in a vast auroral display. Greenish pulsing labyrinthine glows snaked along the horizon line, yet just below the only surface Callahan could see looked like an endless plain of slowly swirling clouds.
“Where are we?” Callahan said aloud.
“You call this world Neptune. When we come around to the side closest to your home star you will be able to see Saturn and Uranus from here.”
“Is this another one of your outposts? What did you call the other one? A Dyson sphere?”
“No, this is a military ship, what you might call a type of aircraft carrier.”
“I’m sorry, Harry, but there is much going on that you are unaware of, and several groups are now maneuvering into position. We fear some may try to influence events.”
“Influence…?” Callahan sighed. “What do you mean?”
Jim stood by the window, looking down on the storms raging within the swirling cloud deck below the ship, then he turned and looked directly at Harry. “There is no easy way to say this, so pardon me if this sounds thoughtless. There are two species on your world on the brink of profound genetic change…”
“Yes. These changes could directly influence the nature of time, therefore these changes have the potential to permanently alter the normal state of the universe. Many other worlds have sent teams here to study these changes, to estimate the potential for disruption before these changes manifest throughout either or both species.”
“But…you said you see the need for military intervention?”
“Not against any inhabitants of your home world.”
“You mean…one of these other groups could turn hostile? Towards us?”
“We are examining this. One group has been assembling military and political leaders from your recent past, with obvious implications. Another is gathering noted philosophers and thinkers and relocating them, but we have not discovered where or why they are doing this.”
Callahan thought about that for a moment, then: “So, why are you here?”
“The leaders of my world are concerned there could be war.”
“War? Between who?”
“There are four groups, not counting our own, presently studying events on your planet. It is thought that at some point open conflict may break out between these groups. Or even within one of these groups. If that happens we want to be in a position to stop such a conflict from spreading.”
“With this ship?”
Callahan swallowed hard, his mind suddenly filling with dark images of impossible doom. “And how would you prevent such a conflict?”
“If there is no Earth, there can be no conflict.” Jim looked at him for a moment, then he spoke again. “I am sorry, Harry.”
Callahan nodded, but he could understand Jim’s dilemma. “That’s okay. I think I see what you’re up against.”
Jim sighed, if such a thing could indeed be transmitted by thought, then he spread his hands wide and shrugged. “This is why I wanted you here. I can protect you here.”
“I understand,” Callahan said, desperately trying not to think about his predicament while Jim was so close.
“When Goodman is well we will move her to this room.”
Jim and the physician left him then, but the window was still “open” and he watched as the auroral display grew closer and closer until it was almost directly beneath the ship, and he felt lost as he watched the writhing display – without once thinking that he was on a warship in orbit around a gas giant. At one point he thought it would be better if the lights weren’t quite so bright and within a millisecond the lights in the room dimmed. He experimented further, deliberately thinking that he was now too cold—and almost instantly warmth began to flow through the mesh into his body. He tried ‘I’m hungry’ next, and some unseen nutrient flow passed through the mesh into his bloodstream, and again within moments he began to feel satiated, then almost full.
The implications of such technology were staggering. ‘If I think I’m having trouble sleeping? Does that mean automatic sleep comes on? And what if I need to use the toilet?’ What were the limits of such a device, he wondered? ‘Can I ask it to take me back to earth?’
Then the obvious hit him, and hit him hard. He didn’t need this device to return to earth, because he already possessed the ability to move through time. No, now all he needed to do was wait for Didi to be moved into this room, then he’d make his move.
Jim and the physician watched Callahan’s thoughts take form on a monitor overhead, and though Jim regretted doing so, the solution he needed now was the obvious one.
“Put him to sleep,” Jim sighed.
“For how long?”
“Five of his years.”
“That may present problems. Their physiologies are not well suited to these conditions.”
Back into Harry’s world as the eighty-eighth key begins to wind down to a conclusion…but don’t worry, you still have time for tea.
[insensatez \\ sylvia telles]
Callahan stood by the edge of the pool — staring into the blue as if transfixed by something only he could see. Shadows passed by not far below, yet even deeper, perhaps hundreds of feet below the surface, he could just make out a faint, iridescent glow only a shade or two lighter — yet even so the whole scene appeared out of place. The water, he told himself,should have simply faded away to black, not grown lighter with increasing depth, yet when an orca swam by the creature was backlighted, and that most definitely was just plain wrong. But, then again, everything about this place seemed completely wrong.
The walls seemed to have been blasted away to create this “pool”, yet the pool appeared to cover several acres or more in total area, and it also appeared to be impossibly deep — and while he didn’t know a lot about construction he’d been involved in several large projects and he didn’t see how this cavern could have possibly been man made. But how could a natural formation like this exist, undetected, on earth?
The immediate conclusion he reached wasn’t as far-fetched sounding as it first seemed to Callahan. Hadn’t he just spent a year inside a Dyson sphere, allegedly billions of light years distant…
But as he reached for a memory of his time there he found it missing. Indeed, now those first days inside the sphere seemed to be the only period he still remembered, but how could that be?
He remembered the Air Force general, however, and that time just weeks ago when he’d flown to Hawaii with Brendan’s father. And right now this general and one of the men in lab coats was walking his way.
“Harry Callahan,” the General said, holding out his right hand. “Nice to see you again.”
Callahan took the man’s hand, trying to hide his disorientation behind a minor grin. “You too,” he managed to say.
“This is Ralph Richardson,” the General added. “He’ll be running one of the research labs here.”
Callahan took this man’s hand and he noted his firm grip and clear, direct eyes. “I hate to ask, but where the devil are we?”
Richardson spoke now: “About five hundred feet beneath Palo Alto. Do you know where the linear accelerator crosses the 280? We’re about a half mile southwest of there.”
“No shit? Given the size of this pool I assumed we must be on another planet.”
The General nodded. “We haven’t been briefed-in on that aspect of the project, but from what little I’ve been able to put together so far I assume it has something to do with teleportation.”
“What?” Callahan muttered. “You mean like ‘beam me up, Scotty?’”
The General shrugged. “Like I said, yo no se, ya know? By the way, you look a little chilly, if you don’t mind me saying so. Would you like to see your quarters now, maybe shower-up before lunch?”
“Quarters? You mean…we’re staying here?”
“After all the hullabaloo up at Sea Ranch, you bet you’re staying here. At least until we can get a handle on what that was all about?”
“I see. So, what you’re saying is you have no idea how we got here because you haven’t been briefed on some unknown aspect of a project that may or may not have something to do with teleportation? Is that what I’m hearing?”
“Yes,” the General said, tossing in another little shrug.
“Well, ain’t that just ducky.”
“Depends on your point of view, Mister Callahan. You’re alive right now and we want to keep you that way. There are some very bad actors out there gunning for you and that kid…”
“Why? I mean, what are they after?”
“You both have certain…abilities…that could easily be exploited if someone was of a mind to do so.”
“Exploited? What are you…”
“Let’s not play this game right now, Callahan. There are a bunch of things going on around here you know nothing about, but this ability you have, the ability to bend the laws of time, represents a very serious national security challenge, and right now about all you really need to know is there are several groups out looking for you — because they want to get their hands on you. They want to know how you do what you do, and to that end we’ve tried to round up everyone you might have demonstrated this ability to.”
Callahan blinked rapidly, then he turned and walked back to the water’s edge and looked down into the cobalt vastness. He saw an orca swim by perhaps ten feet down, but a second later the diffuse blue glow seemed to blaze for a moment and he thought it looked like a doorway had opened. And that’s when he thought he saw several orcas disappear inside the ship down there—just before the glow disappeared.
Deborah Eisenstadt sat beside Harry at lunch, but she was worried about him right now. After twenty minutes under a hot shower he was still shivering, and just now, when he tried to pick up his fork, his right hand had jerked so madly the utensil flew across the table before it rifled to the floor. His eyes were narrow slits and his skin excessively pale, yet after ten minutes more trying to eat his lips started to turn blue, and then his nail beds. Classic hypoxia, she thought…but why now?
Then she saw that Didi Goodman, the spy who had essentially raped him down on the beach, and she was shivering and cyanotic.
The General watched them for a minute, then got up to leave the dining room — but not before he stopped beside Callahan to see if he was feeling better.
“You’re not looking too good, Callahan,” the General sighed, gently placing his hand on Harry’s shoulder.
Then the air around Harry and Didi seemed to dissolve inside a blackish mist — just before they disappeared. Again.
‘Air cold and very humid. Inside that bucket. So I’m back on the Titanic…’
He reached out and felt the wood slats, felt the almost frozen condensation running down the varnished mahogany, then he felt Didi by his side.
“It’s starting all over again,” she whispered.
“You’re not pregnant again, are you?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” she teased.
“You sure? I mean…Brendan didn’t…?”
“I think I’d remember if he did…”
“Here now! What are you two doing up here?” one of two seamen said. “You two ain’t supposed to be…”
“Oh dear God!” the other sailor cried as he reached for the ship’s bell. “Iceberg! Dead ahead!” he shouted towards the bridge.
Callahan and Didi stood and both could see that this new iceberg was immense, and the ship’s speed inexorable. One of the seamen, Reggie Lee, picked up the growler and called the OOD, the Officer of the Deck, then he was telling the ship’s First Officer, Mr Murdoch, that there was a large iceberg “Right ahead.”
‘This isn’t like last time,’ Harry said under his breath, and just then he felt Didi pressing close, her hand feeling for his in the icy night.
The sharply pointed bow began to swing ever so slowly to the left, but even without already knowing the outcome they could see now the inevitable looming just ahead. A propellor was cavitating aft of the stacks, suddenly causing the entire ship to vibrate as the hull leaned slightly into the turn — all this just before first contact. Then a wall of shattered ice vaulted onto the foredeck and it seemed just minutes passed before raw seawater hit the boilers, causing vast plumes of steam to roar up and out of the four stacks, and everyone moved to cover their ears as the piercing cry of steam vaulted hundreds of feet skyward, shattering the still night.
“Harry,” Didi said, her eyes now filling with tears, “I’m scared.”
“You two best get yourself on down to the deck and find your lifeboat stations,” Seaman Lee advised. “And good luck to you both.”
Harry nodded and began making his way down the frozen steel rungs of the ladder, trying not to look at the listing deck almost a hundred feet beneath his feet.
The General heard screams and returned to the dining room, only to find Callahan and Goodman missing. He nodded again then slowly left the room.
He stood in the center of the control room, looking at banks of displays.
“Do you have a positive track on them?” the General said, glad the tracking device he’d put on Callahan’s back was working better now.
“Yessir,” an airman said. “Spring 1912, nearing the Grand Banks.”
“So, it’s the Titanic again.”
“Looks that way, sir.”
“What’s the locking signal look like?”
“It’s the new one, sir. Helium times Pi.”
“Same as yesterday’s?”
“Okay, let me know when they jump.”
Callahan felt sick, like his skin and bones were being stretched and somewhere in the middle of his gut he felt a bundle of hot pinpricks trying to push their way through his skin to open space. He swallowed hard, closed his eyes to the disorienting flow of black light until, seconds or hours later he felt something like a hard floor underfoot.
He was shivering again, but not from the cold. This time it was, he knew, pure fear.
But he opened his eyes and then blinked as he tried to comprehend where they were now.
Curved walls, pure red. No real ceiling, just a walkway suspended — like maybe around the inside-center of a toroidal structure? Yet it was the deep crimson red that most overwhelmed his senses, because he’d never seen anything even remotely like this place before.
Turning around he saw a circular opening that appeared to be some sort of large hatchway, and yet the number 2 was clearly emblazoned in bright white on the right side of this door. Didi was, apparently, now too petrified to move, but as he started to walk towards the doorway she reached out for his hand and pulled him close again.
“Don’t leave me,” she whispered.
“Look at that door,” he said, pointing, “and tell me what you see.”
“It’s round…but, w-wait…isn’t that the number 2. And I think I recognize the typeface, too.”
“Yup, so apparently we’re inside something built by human hands.”
Then he heard footsteps. Quiet, too, like rubber soles on soft flooring, so Callahan turned to see who it was. And he saw a man, perhaps a little older than himself, accompanied by two women; one much younger and the other little more than a toddler. The man approached—but veered off to the curved wall, and once there he located a button and pushed it. A large window recessed into the toroid’s curved wall appeared, and beyond the glass—Earth. And as the toroid was spinning to provide gravity, the planet appeared to be spinning away slowly only a few hundred miles away.
With Didi still holding his hand, Callahan walked to the window and looked out over the Earth for a moment, then he looked at the man. “Do I know you?” Callahan asked.
“Doubtful,” the man sighed. “I’m Franklin Roosevelt, and no, I don’t think we’ve met.”
Didi was staring at the woman, and even though she appeared to be ignoring both Harry and herself, Didi could see the faintest traces of a smile on the woman’s face. “What’s so funny?” Didi finally asked the woman.
“You have your father’s eyes,” Claire Aubuchon said.
Which seemed the most preposterous thing Didi had ever heard. “You know my father?”
“Oh, perhaps – just a little.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“Well, once upon a time I was his mother.”
Didi started to tremble in earnest now. “You…you’re…what?”
“I think that,” FDR said, grinning madly now, “makes her your grandmother. And, oh yes, by the way, I’d like to introduce you to your daughter, Dana.”
Didi Goodman started to say something…
But Callahan managed to catch her as she passed out, saving her from another nasty fall.
An earlier version of this story (from 2009) is still out there somewhere, but that original telling always felt wanting to me, incomplete, and perhaps like the proverbial the red-headed stepchild he was looking for resolution. At all of nine pages the story lacked detail enough to create a real arc, so I went to work on it a week or so ago and now the story weighs in at fifty plus pages and the original storyline is just barely discernible. You’ll need a fresh pot of tea for this one, and hopefully you’ll find this version an improvement.
[Rashida \\ Jon Lucien]
What is life if not a little bit strange? Or strangely predictable as the case may be, but who knows, really, when all is said and done. Some feel life is simply the result of random chance and, occasionally, in coincidence, while others believe in fate and destiny and see the hidden hand of God in everything. This split, this dividing line between chance and destiny, or between reason and faith, is often hard to see in our day to day lives, and yet perhaps it is this disparity that accounts for the feelings we experience within the stranger encounters we face during this thing we comfortably like to call life.
Because people are strange, though often in ways strangely unpredictable to us — even within those times we think we see patterns of predictability. With an open mind you can get a kind of feel for this dividing line, yet once again it is the unpredictability of chance encounters that often leads us to greater truths.
As in: just when you think you’ve really got a handle on things, when you can finally see the true and righteous path ahead – that’s when everything you’ve taken for granted seems to vanish in the shadows, right there in the moonlight. All your paradigms shift, the earth heaves underfoot — leaving you breathless and all too often unsure of your judgement. Maybe when your children grow up and leave the nest, begin lives of their own but take an unexpected turn. Or an uncle you hardly knew leaves you his prized Bill Evans collection — on vinyl, for heaven’s sake — which would be swell if you hadn’t given your turntable to the Salvation Army…fifteen years ago.
Or maybe your wife bails on you and apparently for no reason other than she wanted a change of scenery, but a few months later you find out she has been doing it with your best friend — and for the life of you nothing makes sense anymore. All your assumptions about life — like where you were going to live and who you were going to live with — go up in smoke.
Yet as the earth heaves underfoot the righteous path ahead seems to dissolve in tepid mists of gray ambivalence. Grass so green it used to hurt your eyes turns to somber autumn leaves, suddenly dry underfoot and dying — and now there is no longer any doubt that falling leaves are without a care in the world. And when you start to feel sorry for yourself you tell yourself that you should be so lucky. But perhaps that’s because you forgot which side of the line you used to stand…?
So you go to work, do your job — you soldier on, despite your feelings of ambivalence. Maybe you’re tired of the grind but too old to start over. Besides, you did that once and it made no difference. You carry around unhappiness like a turtle carries his shell; wherever you go it follows right along with you — like a shadow you wish would just go away and leave you be.
But…isn’t life strange? Somewhere along this path you begin to believe that your happiness has grown intertwined with another soul passing your way. Intertwined with her shadow, perhaps. Two shadows, if you will, standing in the moonglow.
So yeah, hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work you go. Up at seven and get the coffee on, shower and shave. Yet the coffee always tastes the same — the same as it did in that other life. When life still seemed new and full of the moment.
But life ain’t so new now, is it? Not after she packed up and left you. Not after she closed the door on that past and your house grew quiet and still. Nothing tasted the same in that quiet, not even life.
Your hair is quite a bit grayer this year, but don’t kid yourself. That’s white hair up there now, Slick. The crow’s feet astride your eyes, your ‘worry lines’, are a little deeper too, but do you really feel so old?
Your wife calls you. Make that your ex-wife. She sounds all wrong, all kinds of unhappy, and for a moment you feel kind of happy as you bask in her unexpected misery— because she deserves it, right? Then she’s crying and you remember what those tears used to feel like, don’t you? Your old friend, she tells you, who also happens to be her new husband, is in the hospital and he’s been diagnosed with some kind of rare bone cancer. He has a few months “at most” she tells you, and she should know. And yet, why doesn’t the news hurt more? Can’t you feel pain now, or did she pack that up and take it with her? Did she really take that away from you too? Or do you really, maybe deep down inside, hurt for her? And for your old friend? The friend who stole your wife?
You don’t know what to say so you speak the liturgy of all you’re supposed to at times like this. Things like “what can I do to help?” or “Gee, I’m so sorry to hear that.” And who knows, maybe you meant what you thought those words were supposed to mean. But you’re not happy now, that much you do know, and you really don’t give a shit what she feels. Do you?
No more shadows in the moonglow. You know that much is true because you’ve seen it with your own two eyes. You’ve felt that pain. She gave it to you.
The academic year is at an end. School’s out and this is going to be your first summer without her. The last few days of classes come and go and you walk from campus to your house. Exams are tallied and grades submitted, then you pack a suitcase and grab your old Nikon and hop on the T and head over to Logan.
Where to go this summer? Walk up to the Swissair counter and ask the woman there where the next flight is headed and she says Zurich so that’ll do just fine. You settle in a second floor seat inside an old 747 and look at all the bags being loaded and for a moment you wonder how so many people can fit inside one metal tube. Then you ask yourself ‘why would so many want to? Why are so many people running away?’
Maybe because, after all is said and done, we’re all the same? Walking along the same path — maybe even in the moonglow, right? Together? There aren’t any lines dividing us, not really. We’re all just a little confused about faith and reason so we’re just running now. Running and running, round and round.
A polite young thing comes down the aisle and offers you a moist warm towelette and a glass of Champagne and you stare at the bubbles, wonder where they’re going in such a hurry. ‘The same place I am,’ you tell yourself with an ironic little smile. All of us, all on the same road. Bubbles and all.
An hour after takeoff the polite young thing rolls a silver cart down the aisle and serves you freshly carved prime rib and creamed spinach and what, you wonder, could possibly be more absurd. A hundred years ago your immigrant grandparents were sailing to America across this same God forsaken ocean, and here you are going back in time, making the same journey in reverse as a polite young thing serves you prime rib while flying along inside a metal tube at six hundred miles per hour. Life has become so fucking absurd, hasn’t it? But when was it not? Can you remember a time?
You land in Zurich early the next morning and walk out of the metal tube into another self-contained glass and metal cube and then it hits you: you haven’t had a breath of fresh air in half a day and now you have to take-in this conditioned crap called air for another few hundred yards. Absurd. Even taking a breath has become an act of audacious absurdity.
So you take an escalator down to the basement and activate your Railpass and hop on the local to the main station on the river in downtown Zurich — and before you know it you’re inside yet another metal tube breathing even more conditioned air and now this just seems plain silly. You get off the train at the main station and look at the departure board and there’s an express to Interlaken leaving in a few minutes so you hop into the lone First Class carriage and find a nice single seat just as the doors close and the train pulls away slowly from the platform. And you’re breathing canned air again, aren’t you? Inside another metal tube?
You want to scream, but why bother all these nice breathing people.
You wander around inside a jet-lagged haze of stale coffee and dreamless sleep, burning eyes focused on urban sprawl then open pasture that springs up out of nowhere. Another polite young thing comes by with more stale coffee and you nod thanks, because…why not? You’ve been on this train a hundred times before and yet it almost always feels the same. Like home. Maybe because your grandparents moved to America from here long before the war. The first one. When you finished school you worked here, first with the Department of State, even if this was the least foreign posting in all the world — to you, anyway, and then with the UN. All that led to a job in the White House, and those were the worst days of your life. Until recently, anyway.
You still have family here, in Wengen. They used to keep a small dairy herd; now they manage small herds of tourists. You visit them as often as possible because for some reason these pastures and valleys still feel like home. America, you realized once upon a long time ago, is a country of the unhomed. Lost, perpetually wandering. No conception of the past — because there is no past. America has always been about discarding the past on the short cut to reinventing itself.
Interlaken glides into view and you smile at the pristine lake rimmed by towering peaks. You get off the train and grab a taxi for your usual hotel, the stately old Victoria Jungfrau, and once in your room you call your cousin and let her know you’re in town. Plans for the evening are made and you take a nap with the windows thrown wide open to the fresh mountain air. There’s nothing stale about this air, and you feel at ease for the first time in months.
Tradition reigns supreme in these ancient valleys, and so no one understands how you can be so suddenly divorced from a woman you promised to spend your life with. It makes no sense to your family here; most came to Georgetown for your marriage and when things like divorce happen people’s expectations change. Marriage is a forever kind of thing, and this uniquely American predilection for reinventing oneself seems particularly grotesque to them. Your cousins simply don’t understand the why or the how of such things. Even less so once they figure out that you too don’t understand any better than they do. When you tell them that the best man in your wedding betrayed you, they understand less and less. The subject is quietly changed when they read the pain behind your eyes, because all your life you’ve been like an open book to these people. So, they accept what is. The line between reason and faith grows a little blurry for a moment.
Elizabeth, your favorite cousin, is a little more empathetic, but then again she would be. She was famous once, a ski racer and a kind of icon in her own way. Now she is the rather stately looking matron of a family of young ski racers; her husband is an architect but he also runs the family owned network of hotels in Wengen and Murren. They are established here now, because they have always been rooted in the loamy soils of these valleys. As your family has been, for millennia.
And as an American you miss that sense of belonging to a place. You can’t understand why your grandparents left this valley. It makes no sense — because constantly reinventing oneself is a relentlessly exhausting ordeal. You can never just be — because you’re always too wrapped up with becoming.
You walk with her the next day, to the home beside the lower pastures where your grandfather once lived. “You seem so unhappy there,” she tells you. “Why don’t you come home now?”
“Don’t think I haven’t considered it,” you tell her. “But I’m an American now.”
“That’s a foolish state of mind,” she reminds you. “You always seem so happy when you are here. You were born here. You are a citizen.”
You walk through the old home. It is spotless, of course. Pristine. Family still lives here but they are all working the high pastures now that the snow is gone.
“This is your home,” she reminds you and the words almost hurt — because you know the truth behind them. And the impossibility within.
You slice apples and cheese in the sunshine and talk about her children. She wants to know more about what happened. To your marriage. Because she really doesn’t understand how something so right could fall apart so suddenly. And here, now, the line returns, and it has grown more severe.
And it’s impossible, this talk of coming back to live here. You’re too different now. You’d never fit in. The hearts and minds in this valley are wrapped in granite, covered in snow, and you’d never be able to break through all that ice. Because you don’t want to. Because what they have should remain unsullied. Marriage is good. Marriages shouldn’t fall apart. Marriage has been the bedrock underlying everything in this valley — for a thousand years. Who are you to bring such a contagion here?
You walk along the same old trails your fathers walked and the earth underfoot pulls at you. You pass a farm and there are puppies for sale, Bernese Mountain Dogs. Big, boisterous things full of big, loyal hearts. You talk to the people there and one of the pups seems to be following you around the yard and you can feel him calling out to you. You stop and pick him up and hold his face up to yours and the union is instantaneous, like a slap across the face. He is yours now, and you are his. The decision is made, arrangements set aside for another day. You walk away and are quite happy with this decision. Perhaps it’s time to leave all that other life’s nagging questions behind.
Like…he was your best friend. For years. And you left without talking to him even once, even when you knew he was going to die. Soon. Did all those years stand for nothing, not enough for even a simple ‘goodbye?’ Reason? Faith? Does anything really matter to you anymore?
And your wife? Your ex-wife? She was your friend too, once upon a time, and when she called to tell you her new husband was going to die you knew she wanted to hear comforting words from you.
Did you meet her need as you’d met so many of her other needs? Was that why she left you? Solid, relentless work ten months a year followed by a couple of months of unrelenting wanderlust? Did you leave her in the dust of all her broken dreams? Dreams you’d spent so many years passing by? Did she hurt so much?
So here you are on the outside looking in. Did your grandparents feel this way, once upon their time? What made them run away from this valley? What makes you need this place? Why do you keep coming back for more?
Is it because sometimes you fuck up, even with good intentions stuck halfway in mind? Did you cross that line between faith and reason one time too many? Like maybe you’ve been digging a hole for yourself for so long you’ve lost sight of the fact that you can’t stop digging. You kept on digging even when you knew your marriage dead—or maybe because you were just dead wrong. You could hide from the consequences of these questions during faculty meetings and even with your students, and maybe you were pretty good at keeping consequences from yourself, too. But she knew all about consequences — because she lived them every day. And she knew, in the end, what your silence really meant. Maybe she just got tired of waiting for you to see the truth. Maybe she lost faith in reason.
And it always comes back to that, doesn’t it? Like that time when a real smart-ass student asked you one of those really profound questions — something mind-bending like ‘Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?’ — and you were left so completely befuddled by the question that not even another pint of Guinness could clear away the rain in your brain. Because maybe you too had lost your faith in reason?
You figure out the details of importing the puppy to the States and the day finally arrives. You pick him up early in the morning and all your cousins take you to the central station for the train ride back to Zurich. Swissair allows him in the cabin — as long as he remains in his carrier — but really, just how much trouble could he possibly be? He’s just a puppy!
The very same polite young thing came around with her towelettes and Champagne and she cooed when she saw Odysseus in his little red carrier, then she asked to hold him. You were only too willing, weren’t you? She was, after all, a rather cute polite young thing.
Yet so too was Odysseus, and soon enough all the other polite young things came around for a coo and a cuddle. You even broke the rules and held him in your lap during takeoff, and he watched the world rotate then disappear beneath the clouds before he turned and licked your chin.
Such a good natured pup. Such a loving bundle of joy.
The polite young thing wheeled along her cart of prime rib down the aisle once again and this time she even offered up a slice or two for the pup and as soon as you unzipped the top of his carrier young Odysseus exploded upward like a sea-launched ballistic missile, careening forth with the velocity of a schizoid kangaroo on speed, ricocheting off the curved walls of the upper deck before landing at the top of the stairs just outside of the cockpit — where he dropped a Boston-sized turd the color and consistency of creamed spinach — before bounding down the gracefully curved stairway that led to the main passenger cabin.
You followed. Not particularly gracefully after you stepped in his steaming turd, but you flew down the steps in record time — just in time to see your pup racing towards the coach cabin at the rear of the airplane, with two more polite young things already in hot pursuit.
They chased the wretched creature down one aisle of the 747 all the way through the coach cabin, and Odysseus arced around the aft heads — pausing there thoughtfully to dump another load — before coming up the parallel aisle on the other side of the aircraft. The pup really seemed to be enjoying this game, too, and lots of people were laughing and having a fine old time. Until you caught him, anyway. Then, after you managed to get him into his carrier again you looked at the remains of your lunch on the ceiling and all over the cabin floor before walking to the head to clean his crap off your shoes. No one seemed to think the pup was particularly cute by that point, least of all the polite young thing left to clean up the mess all over the cabin.
But another plate appeared and the polite young thing sat beside you for a while, playing with the puppy, of course, while you ate.
“Perhaps he didn’t want to leave his home,” she offered — politely — after you told her about the pup and your grandparents and all that. “Maybe that’s why he is so anxious.”
“I know the feeling,” you managed to say.
“I had a difficult time convincing myself not to stay,” you told the girl. “Sometimes I feel like a tumbleweed, just blowing along where the wind takes me.”
“What stopped you?”
And you had a hard time answering that one, didn’t you? You swallowed hard and quickly turned and looked out the window, hoping maybe she wouldn’t see the tears in your eyes. You told her about your best friend and your (ex-)wife and all the unfinished business you’d left behind, notably not going to the hospital to talk with your oldest friend. You know, the one on his deathbed.
“Okay, so you go home and you finish this business. Then what? Is your job so important?”
“Some people think so.”
“But not you?”
“No, not me.”
“If you are so unhappy, maybe it’s time you do something about it.”
She patted you on the knee before she got up to tend to the other passengers and that simple gesture felt utterly remarkable, didn’t it? Because no one had touched you with anything like this girl’s empathy, and you could still feel where her hand had been in that one little slice of time several minutes later.
And you realized that not only were you still on the outside looking in, you were really quite alone out there.
Except for that little ball of fur curled up in his carrier down there beside your feet.
A few minutes later the polite young thing drops by and asks for your telephone number and she doesn’t explain why and you don’t question her, you just pull out your old Mont Blanc and scribble the number down on the slip of paper she handed you.
You smiled at the polite young thing when you left the plane, and it was kind of funny how your eyes lingered on her hand.
Your stomach burns, and you can’t sleep, and by that point the puppy has eaten all your running shoes and what the fuck, where would you run to, anyway? Classes start in a few days and you are finishing up the reserve reading list for your senior seminar because that has to be filed at the Kennedy School Library by noon tomorrow.
Odysseus is now Ody, and not without good reason. Ody, you seem to recall, was the idiot dog in the old Garfield comic strip, and that Ody was truly clueless but always happier than hell. And so is your Ody. He could run into a rock wall and come back smiling, because that’s just who he is. Nothing makes him unhappy…nothing. Except being ignored. And…isn’t that odd?
But not so you.
Nothing seems to make you happy these days.
Your old friend the vice president called you the night before and asked you to serve on a presidential commission. You neither accepted nor declined, but told your old friend you’d let him know.
Could you do that again? Live that life? Didn’t you come to Boston to get away from all that? The state dinners at the White House. The endless parade of self-important buffoonery. Lunch at Cosmos Club and endless nights on flights to Moscow or Beijing with SecState. Wasn’t once enough?
You look in the mirror as steam from the hot water tap begins to obscure the reflection you don’t really need to look at anymore. The crow’s feet are deeper now, the gray hair a little more white, only now Ody is there staring at you, wondering when you’ll grab the leash and take him for a run.
You look at him and snarl: “Stop eating my shoes and maybe we’ll go for a run! Okay?”
He shakes his head and walks to the back door and you hear his discontent as he slips through the doggie door to the relative freedom of the fenced-in yard, which reminds you it’s time to scoop the poop again. The glassed in back porch is his now and he has a bed and a pile of toys and easy access to the yard, but your little backyard isn’t exactly a high alpine pasture, is it?
No, it isn’t.
The phone rings. It’s Margaret. Maggie. Your (ex-)wife, the one who left the broomstick in the corner by the ‘fridge. She’s calling from work. Tom, your oldest friend in the world, has taken a turn for the worse.
“Robert, he really wants to talk to you.”
“Any reason I should — that you haven’t mentioned already?”
“He’s dying, Bobby.” You remembered that pleading voice, didn’t you? How she only called you Bobby as a last resort. “Please,” she added, tossing in a little insult to go with the injury.
“I’ll try. This afternoon, maybe.”
So Ody came in from the yard right after you found an old pair of sneakers in a hall closet and at least he was happy now. After an hours walk around Cambridge Common he seemed content again…
And the phone rang again.
“This is Heidi. Perhaps you remember me?”
“I was your flight attendant last month, when you returned with the puppy?”
“Ah, yes, how are you?”
“I have the day free and I wondered if you might like to meet up?”
“Sure, that sounds nice. What did you have in mind?”
“We are at the Hilton, at Logan. Could you pick us up?”
“Oh, sorry, just a figure of speech.”
“Say about noon? I am in room 412.”
“Yes, just come on up.”
“Alright,” you say to the stirring in your groin. “About noon, then.”
Ody is staring at you again. His eyes sparkle, and he seems amused.
You pull the cover off the old 911 in the garage and as the weather’s nice you pop off the Targa and put it in the front boot. Trickle charger off the battery terminals then check the fluid levels before you start her up and let her idle for a minute, then back out of the garage and drive down the ancient alley and off you go, down Mass Avenue towards downtown. Traffic isn’t too bad and there’s a snap in the air that feels a little like autumn.
Windows up when you hit the Sumner Tunnel and you immediately regret leaving the top off, but that’s life. You park at the Hilton and take the elevator up to four and find her room. Then a gentle knock on the door and there she is, in shorts and a polo shirt and wearing a smile brighter than the sun. She slips into a pair of sneakers and grabs a little backpack and she’s ready to go.
“So,” you said to her as the two of you stepped inside the elevator, “what would you like to do?”
“First I want to see the puppy, then you will let me take you to lunch.”
And you smiled at that, didn’t you? You hadn’t expected someone so bold.
You opened the door to the car for her and she didn’t like that. “I expected you to have an old Mercedes cabriolet. Why a Porsche?”
“Timeless lines, I guess.”
“And that appeals to you?”
“You do not belong here, Robert.”
“I do not have to return until tomorrow afternoon. Does that appeal to you, as well?”
And you looked at the invitation in her oceanic blue eyes just before she smiled at you.
You walked around the Commons, the three of you, the next morning, and she held your hand for a while.
“Will you take the job in Washington?” she asked at one point.
And you shook your head. “No. I can’t go down that road again.”
“So? You will stay here and teach?”
“Do you mind if I ask you something?”
She smiled. “Of course I do. To answer a question with another question…?”
“What about you?”
“Me?” she asked.
“Yes. What are your plans?”
“Robert, this all sounds so very serious.”
“I suppose I will continue to fly. Does this seem natural to you?”
“I have to teach this year, but after that I don’t know.”
“And what are you thinking of, dear Robert?”
“What it would feel like to wake up by your side — everyday.”
“Yes, this is serious. Oh, my…”
“And that must annoy you. Sorry.”
“I am not annoyed, Robert. I finally called you because I could not get you out of my mind, and I had to know…”
“I see. And what do you know now that you didn’t know before?”
“Your dog snores.”
“He does. And don’t forget…his farts stink.”
“I usually come her twice a week, and I have at least one night off. We could see if…”
“I know what I see, Heidi, and I know how I feel.”
“And after a year? Then what? You return to Wengen?”
And you nodded yes, didn’t you?
“You could turn your back on all this?”
“I think so. Yes.”
“And what if I wanted to come live here? Then what?”
“Then we would do that.”
“I see,” she said.
“Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“I think maybe this is so, to live here at least for a while. But…”
“There are other things I would like to do.”
“Is everything so easy with you, Robert?”
It used to be. At least that’s what you wanted to say to her. “Actually, I think I’m rather grumpy.”
“Ah, so you are trying to fall in love, are you not? You are only showing me the easy side of your personality.”
“Isn’t that what everyone does in the beginning?”
She smiled again. “Only if you’ve something to hide.”
“I know. And your farts smell not so good too, I think.”
You dropped her at the Hilton then beat the afternoon rush in time to take Ody out for a quick walk. You showered and changed then took the Red Line from the Yard down to Mass Gen, all the while trying not to smile at the remains of the day.
Yet you had always hated this place, this house of dis-ease, mainly because it took Margaret from you. It sucked the life out of your marriage and left a dried out husk to wither in the sun. But what did you expect? She did her residency in oncology, and all that was to be expected. You knew that going in. Now, as you walked over to the Cancer Center, you took a too familiar elevator up to the patient floor, lost in thoughts of Heidi and Wengen and doing your best to ignore the hideous hospital smell assaulting your senses. A couple of residents got in and chattered about drug interactions until the elevator doors opened again, and it’s kind of funny, but why does “interaction” stick out in your mind even now? Maybe something to do with dividing lines?
But wasn’t that what this whole attitude thing of yours all about? Some kind of surreptitious interaction between you and Margaret and Tom that only you were privy to?
And there she was. Margaret, at the nurses station making notes and additions to patient charts as you walked up to her side, then you leaned over next to her, as ever your disarmingly charming self.
“Hey, Bobby. Thought you were coming yesterday?”
“Getting ready for classes. Something always comes up.” Oh, weren’t you punny?
She shrugged, flipped through a stack of lab reports, scribbled furiously on one of the charts, cursing under her breath as she wrote.
“Well? What am I doing here?”
“Tom wants to talk to you. And I’d like you to listen for once in your life, if you think you can do that?”
Maybe you can’t remember the way you crossed your arms reflexively, maybe even belligerently, and while you could tell Margaret was prepared to be pissed at you, for some unknown reason she didn’t go there. She seemed too tired that night to be angry at you anymore. Too tired, you thought, to feel much of anything anymore.
Did you do that to her?
“Alright. So, how is he?”
“Look Bobby, I’m not going to lie to you. This is it. Tonight, maybe tomorrow. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“He’s dying? I think I got that a while ago. What’s changed?”
“Who’s handling his treatment?”
“Okay, so what else has changed? What new ground do we have to cover?”
“You know, Robert, I understand this is hard for you to grasp, but we were unhappy. You and I. We’d been unhappy for years. Everyone knew it. Tom knew it, he wanted to help…”
“I’m sure he did,” you said, troweling on the sarcasm extra thick.
“Just shut up and listen.”
“You’re wrong about that, Robert. He was the one that got me to a counselor, he was the friend that worked his ass off to keep us together, and I fell in love with him all over again because of all he did — to help us. Really, all he wanted was to help. I can’t believe you won’t accept that, Bobby. It wasn’t what he…he didn’t set out to break us apart. And neither did I. But, yes, you’re right. It happened.”
“And then God, bless his little heart, leaned over and tossed a few thunderbolts your way? Just rewards and all that…”
“Goddamnit Bobby, please tell me you don’t think that way. I mean it. Are you some kind of narcissistic child? Can’t you grow up? Or don’t you have feelings for anyone but yourself?”
“None that I’m aware of.”
You’d meant that sarcastically of course, but do you remember the way she looked at you? Like the truth had finally dawned on her?
He was your best friend, after all. Come to think of it, you’d been best friends since second grade. Since you were, what? — seven years old. You played ice hockey together all the way through high school, you both made it into Harvard, but then he went on to Johns Hopkins to med school while you stayed in Boston to finish up at The Fletcher School. And Margaret had been there with both of you through it all, hadn’t she? Well, at least since third grade. And he was Best Man at your wedding and it was awkward because everyone knew he still loved Margaret at least as much as you did. Once or twice in junior high they pretended to be an item, right? Remember?
Yet some part of you was always convinced Tom never got married because he was just waiting in the wings to swoop-in and take Margaret away from you someday. All the buddy-buddy shit doesn’t mean a thing when women are in-play. Isn’t that what you always told one another?
So, deep down you were kind of surprised when you said that, and then you saw not anger in her eyes, but something more like dread. Maybe even fear. Was that what you wanted to convey to her that night? Did you want her to think you’d been a psychopath all your life? Did you know you succeeded beyond your wildest dreams?
“I’d kind of hoped you’d be able to get past all that tonight, Robert,” she finally said. “Throw away the hate for just a few minutes. If anyone deserves your hatred, it’s me. Not Tom.”
“No problem, Maggie. I hate you. There. You satisfied now?”
But she’d turned then. Turned and walked away. Got in an elevator and disappeared. You saw a nurse had been listening and now she was shaking her head silently, reprovingly.
“What room is he in?” you sighed.
“I’ll walk you down. I’ve got to adjust his IV.”
When you walked in the door the sight of your friend ripped through your soul like a scythe. In your mind’s eye he was still playing forward, passing the puck to you against Andover, helping you score the winning goal one more time, and the State Championship was yours again. Winners never quit, do they? But this guy looked like he had quit, therefore it couldn’t possibly be Tom.
But there was no running from the truth of the matter that night. Truth was staring you down, and winning, so take your reason and shove it up your faithless ass.
You wanted to check the name on the door because there just had to be some kind of mistake. That pale yellow scarecrow wasn’t your friend; couldn’t be — no way! No fucking way! You could see his catheter bag hanging down almost to the floor and his urine was blood red, so now that his kidneys were failing the end was coming on fast. Human, after all, forever and ever.
And so there he was, and this was it. The eyes never lie and you could see Death in those same glassy-brown orbs you’d known all your life. You’d always loved him — in your way, and you knew he loved you, the way best friends do. That’s why this betrayal hurt so bad, right? Best friends don’t stab you in the back?
You went to the side of the scarecrow’s bed, looked down into the stranger’s searching eyes one more time. And what did you see?
Hope? Scorn? Or was that Pity you saw? No time for disguises now. You can run but can you run forever?
But, did you feel the love you’d known for decades. The love the three of you had known as kids and as students and on Friday night pub crawls and baseball games at Fenway. When your father died, who was with you? When his mother died, who did he turn to?
Why had it taken you so long to remember all that? Why had it been so easy to forget?
Can you remember that night? You took his hand in yours, squeezed gently because it felt like the bones in his hand might shatter. Death became really real, didn’t it? And where was your line between faith and reason that night?
“Thanks for coming, Bobby,” he’d said to you, and it was like the issue had been in some doubt. In doubt! Can you imagine that?
How could he think that? After all that you’d been through together?
Indeed. The line was dissolving even then, wasn’t it? How could God do this?
Yet all you could do was nod your head. You had to come. You needed to tell him goodbye.
You sat with him that night for a long time, came to terms you could live with, and even when Margaret dropped by for a while it almost felt like old times for a quiet slice of time. Sure, he’ll hop out of bed and off we’ll crawl to another pub – any time now. Death isn’t for the likes of you and me…
But no. We didn’t do that.
And after a while you left his side, after Death came for your friend. And Margaret was out there in the hall. Waiting for this moment and hating you all the same.
Yet she hugged you and cried into your chest. For a long time. You leaned back, wiped away a tear running down her cheek just the way you always used to, then you kissed her on the forehead and even her hair smelled the same and it all came back like a fierce tide leaving you washed and dirty. Without saying a word you hugged her again, and in a way your hands around her still felt so right.
So right. Maybe because for a while the lines had blurred. Confusion is like that.
You sat in roaring silence on the ride back out to Cambridge, lost in passing memories that had all happened on the other side of this glass thing called ‘window.’ Memories of Margaret and Tom and a kid you used to know who still looked a little like you. The same hard steel rails, the same jarring ride, and when you walked out onto the sidewalk in front of the Coop the world was bathed in the very same moonglow. Silver light casting black shadows, and so what if you thought the full moon looked unnaturally hard and bright that night. Maybe you’d looked across this landscape a hundred times before but everything looked different that night. Really strange and different. Tom was gone now, wasn’t he? There’d be no new memories made with him. With the three of us.
Not even in these shadows.
Because there were no lines in these shadows.
You stopped then, held your hands out in the silver glow and regarded your own gray flesh, your own remorseless humanity, and what did you feel? Did you find yourself wanting? All the elements that had come together to make Tom were on their way to the basement now. Tom was dissolving in the morgue. He’d make no more memories, and now all that was left was a dark, lonely feeling in the pit of your stomach.
“What the fuck am I doing?” you said to the silver air. “What have I been doing?”
You walked to your house, slipped the key in the lock and opened the door. Ody came bounding up to you and you picked him up and brought his cold little nose up to yours and you could still smell his puppy-breath and for a while he made your heart sing.
Tom wanted his ashes spread at sea and one of his friends came forward and offered to take you and a few other friends out onto Massachusetts Bay. You and Tom’s friends and Margaret sailed about half way out to P-town and a pod a shiny black whales came by just as Tom’s ashes fell into the black water. The whales circled the boat a few times and you wondered if they understood the words people spoke into the blackness.
Sailing back into Boston you looked up as the boat motored along under the flight path of jets leaving Boston and you watched as a Swissair 747 lifted and climbed into the evening sky. Even Margaret noticed the smile on your face.
You knot the tie around your throat while you look at yourself in the mirror and you try to shake the feeling that a hangman has slipped his noose around your neck, and that suddenly your life feels like a never-ending trip to the gallows. You take Ody for a walk and he seems to notice that something is different this morning. That something in you has changed.
Without saying a word you slip from the house and walk across campus to the History building, and you walk unnoticed into the seminar room you will call your own for the next three months. You put your case down on the table and turn to write your name on the blackboard:
‘Dr Robert Drucker: American Foreign Policy – 1945-1989’
You scribble out your office number and student hours and take a seat, sit quietlybeside the podium while the early morning stragglers stumble in. Some wise-ass brings an apple and puts it on the table by your case. The kid smiles, says something witty and wholly unoriginal and you turn, look away, because the thought of having to deal with another pimply-faced Ivy League smart-ass makes you want to vomit. Your head hurts, you want to run away, and you think anywhere but here would do. Anywhere but here. But hey, no such luck. Not today. The puppet has his strings and so dance he must.
There are twelve people in the seminar, and the waiting list for your course is a long one. You’re very popular, or so you’ve been told. The kids love you. Politicians still come to you for advice, even though you decided against the offer to work in the White House one more time. Big deal. Once was enough. Never again. Everyone read about it in the Globe and for a moment you were famous again. Hah!
The fact of the matter is you are comfortable living in Boston. You gaze at The Yard through trees full and green with summer and at all the old red brick buildings everywhere you turn and this place feels almost like home. Teaching is what you do now, it is who you are. As you sit there looking at the new faces all the old passion returns for a moment, and now with the windows thrown open and the air full of the smell of sharpened pencils and new notebook paper, you’re almost happy to be alive again, to be here doing what you do best. You look at the assembled faces gathered around you, inquisitive faces alive with bright promise, and you smile — because Heidi will be here this Friday morning.
You’re walking Ody after lunch when you realize it’s going to be a problem, this leaving the pup home alone all morning. There’s simply not enough time between classes to walk home and back. The doggie-door works, but not for a Bernese Mountain Dog. They need to really get out and stretch those more than ample legs. Then you see Peter Kauffman leaving the faculty offices – with a huge Golden Retriever on lead – and he’s headed your way.
“Hey, Bob, didn’t know you had a Berner,” he said as he walked up to you. Ody tried to curl up around your ankles about that time, shaking like a leaf as the big Golden came up and began giving him the once over.
“Got her in June. Trying to figure out what to do with her while I’m in class.”
“Take her with you,” Pete said as he ambled along by your side.
“Take her to class. At this age it’ll only take a few days to train him to sit quietly…”
“No rule against it?”
“Nope. Not for faculty, anyway. How was Switzerland?”
“Still calling my name.”
“Oh? Got a new girlfriend?”
“No, I get tired of the mess.”
“Ah. Like C. S. Lewis, a bachelor to the end.”
“Dogs are much more practical,” Kauffman said contentedly. “Right. Well, off we go!”
Seminar that next morning was a subdued affair – like you knew it would be. The first assignment you gave them required a solid two hundred pages of overnight reading, and as you surveyed the red-eyed, coffee-stained seniors struggling to keep their eyes open you just had to smile to at yourself, didn’t you. Except today you’d brought Ody along. You had him on your lap when the students filed in and all the girls in the class had to come over and ooh and ah all over him. Fun, wasn’t it, to see the promise of love in all those clear eyes?
That first Friday as office hours drew to a close you stared impatiently at the clock on your wall and closed the door behind you promptly at noon. Into the Porsche and across town and she was waiting for you on a bench outside the Hilton. The way she felt in your arms left no doubt.
“How many days?” you asked.
“All weekend. I return Monday evening.”
“What do you feel like doing?”
“Going for a drive.”
Ody sat in her lap while you made your way through town to Interstate 93 and about three hours later you pulled into the Mount Washington Hotel, a stone’s throw from the site of the post-war Bretton Woods conference. Jet lag had caught up with her by then and she crashed as soon as you got her in the room, yet just a few minutes later Ody commandeered the leash and off the two of you went.
It was already quite cool in the far northern reaches of New Hampshire, and this was the pups first real experience with cold weather — but he took to it like a duck to water. In fact he took off after some ducks in the water and when he came out he was wearing his favorite shit-eating grin — before shaking off all that water and covering you in the process. You took him back to the room and then you both took a warm shower, going through a half-dozen towels drying him off enough to finish him with the wall-mounted blow dryer. Heidi woke up a little later and she was starving. Not really for food, as it happened.
You spent two days with her, two very special days as it happened. You talked about the future and she listened to your hopeful incantations. It was snowing up on the summit of Mount Washington and the sight reminded you of Wengen. She squeezed your hand after that and everything felt so impossibly right. Maybe even like Destiny had finally played a winning hand.
You drove back to Boston Sunday afternoon and while you unpacked and started laundry she called and checked-in with dispatch. She’d been reassigned. A flight on Wednesday evening from JFK to Geneva, so now you’d have two more nights. Very happy now, you took her to dinner then walked around the tourist traps by the harbor before heading to the house to take Ody out for his long walk. You walked around Harvard Yard then over to the classroom building where you spent most of your life these days and for some reason all that seemed impressive to her, like what he did was almost magic.
You left her to teach your Monday morning seminar then met her for lunch and she spoke a lot about what life in Boston might be like—together. She could see herself living here, and she smiled at the sight. You smiled, too.
You liked taking care of her. Cooking breakfast for her. Rubbing her head while she pretended to sleep on your chest. The way she played with Ody. And with you. It was all so impossible, so impossible you’d already forgotten about Tom and Margaret and Wengen and all the other impossible contradictions in your life. And why not? Was this kind of happiness some kind of original sin? Not hardly. You told yourself that a lot that week.
You took her to Logan early on Wednesday so she could grab a shuttle down to Kennedy, and she told you to think about next Sunday as she was fairly certain she’d have the day free.
It was one of those crisp New England days, not a cloud in the sky, and she called you from JFK — “just to hear your voice” — and oh, how wonderful those words had felt, as pure as the light of the moon overhead. She had to go, but she couldn’t wait to see you on Sunday.
It was all over. On CNN, early the next morning. The Swissair MD-11 she had been on had somehow caught fire and crashed into the sea off Nova Scotia. Sowhile you slept she passed from your life, and suddenly the line between reason and faith seemed very clear indeed. She was gone now, and there was no sensible reason for her going. Like Tom, there were no new memories to be had, none that you would share together, and oddly enough even Ody seemed to understand that something terrible had happened. You could see it in his eyes, too. Just as he had seen your grief.
You called Swissair, just in case someone had survived. You told them what little there was to know about your relationship and they were very sympathetic but no, there were no survivors. But now you were alone and there was no one to call, no shoulder to lean on, just the warm brown eyes of the friend by your side. He was still just a pup, though a very large one, but he came to you and held onto you while you cried. You tried to eat something and that didn’t work so you called your cousin Elizabeth in Wengen and tried to explain what had happened.
“When can you come home to us?” she wanted to know, clearly aghast at your loss.
But no easy answers came to you. Maybe Thanksgiving, definitely Christmas, but we’ll have to see.
She rang off but then she called you again an hour later. “I will be there tomorrow morning,” she said, and she gave you flight numbers and times before she told you she loved you. Yes, that word again.
And so you told her you loved her too. No hesitation. She was, after all, family, and you were beginning to realize that there are few things more important. That, and of course a nice big dog that eats all your running shoes.
A representative from Swissair called a few minutes later and asked if you wanted to go to New York for updates, but when you explained you had family coming from Switzerland to Boston you heard a subtle shift in tone.
“You are from Switzerland?”
“I was born there and I still have family in Wengen, so yes, I guess I am.”
“I show we have a diplomatic passport on file for you? Is this still active?”
“For special assignments only now, but yes, I’m still active.” She also wanted to know your cousin’s name and flight number, and where she would be staying in the States and you told her. She gave you her name and left her number and told you that anything you needed in this regard would be handled by the Swiss people. Then, strangely enough, she said I was now regarded as a part of the Swissair family and you thanked her for that even as the words tumbled around in your brain.
Part of the family?
And there is was again…that feeling of calm certainty. Of belonging to something greater than oneself, something with a feel of permanence about it. Was there a deeper reason for a feeling like this, something not simply to be taken as a matter of faith, perhaps? Something almost communal, passed along in genetic memory? Like need, the need to belong?
You had no idea how or why, but an hour later a reporter for the Globe knocked on your door and he wanted to ask questions for a story he was working on about the crash. Something about the “human angle,” about the survivors of tragedies like this. There wasn’t a whole lot to tell, was there? Heidi was all new, she was the way ahead. And now she was gone.
“What else can I tell you?” you managed to say.
“So, you fell in love with her after a flight you had been on with her?”
“Yes, that about says it all.”
And your story was on the bottom of the front page of the next morning’s paper, and just like that all your co-workers and all your students knew about that hidden part of your life. Essentially everything there was to know, too, because you’d left nothing out — but there wasn’t all that much to tell. Not yet. Your old friend the vice president called as you were leaving to go to the airport to pick up Elizabeth and he expressed his sympathy and told you he would pray for you because you were like family to him.
That word again. But the way it was bandied about…did it really mean anything anymore?
Elizabeth was a rock. But then again she always had been. She was the glue that bound you to all the other people in that faraway valley. To your family. Ody remembered her and he seemed to remember all the people in that faraway valley too, and you could feel the longing in his eyes — and in his heart — and for a moment you couldn’t see a difference between the two of you. Had you already grown so close? Something in the soil, perhaps?
Margaret came by around midday and she wanted to tell you how sorry she was. You wondered how she knew before you remembered the story in the Globe. Elizabeth was as ever welcoming and she hugged Elizabeth because they had been close once, because Elizabeth was family once — until she wasn’t. So odd. How did something so permanent become so disposable…?
The academic dean called and gave you the week off. The Swissair representative called and advised there would be a memorial service on the rocky shore close to where the MD-11 disappeared and you told her you would be honored to attend.
And it was all so disconcerting. A week later all the ceremonies were over and done with and there was nothing left but the dance of the lawyers and the apportionment of blame, an endless game of avoiding the one true thing.
Heidi was gone. The future you had seen taking shape was gone. And soon enough Elizabeth returned home. A few weeks passed and grim details about how Heidi passed filled the papers but you couldn’t read about those things. You didn’t want to know. Pain is pain and what more did anyone need to know?
Margaret called one Sunday in October and asked to come over. She told you she couldn’t take living in Boston any longer and that she had taken a position out in California. You knew the truth of the visit even before she did. She was coming to say goodbye. She wanted to see you one more time, maybe just to remember other times. You hugged once before she left and all the anger disappeared after that, didn’t it? The little girl you’d known all your life slipped into memory, the same place Tom was now.
Your students were different after all that confusion. They looked at you differently, and some even talked to you differently. Almost deferentially. Maybe like you’d been to that place no one ever wants to go to and somehow you’d survived. They seemed surprised when you smiled at someone’s lame joke and as the term drew to a close it was a given that everyone of them loved Ody.
He had become the glue holding you together by then, and everyone knew it. Everyone but you.
“So, what are you doing for Christmas?” Sarah Bergstrom asked. She was the token Neanderthal among the faculty, a deeply conservative former NSC staffer now teaching national intelligence law at the Kennedy School.
“Oh, going home I suppose.” Ody stops and looks at you, then at her. His tail sweeps the sidewalk and you smile when you hear the little swish-swishing sound he makes.
“No kidding? And that’s home?”
“The only home I have now,” you add, though quite unnecessarily.
“Much skiing around there?”
“You could say that, yes.”
“Do you ski?”
“Only when absolutely necessary,” you tell her, now wishing she would disappear. She’s cute in the way fireplugs can be. Short, solid, kind of like a little girl’s version of a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. Tough, because the word is she’d gone through the Army’s Ranger school at Fort Bragg on her way to becoming a major in the DIA. She wasn’t a pretender, and you’d felt a curious respect for her determination and…grit.
“I’ve always wanted to learn,” she adds, now looking right into you, pleading.
“And…do you think you could teach me?”
And suddenly you feel like you’re walking along the razor’s edge and you don’t know why. You despise her politics and you know she can’t stand yours, so what the Hell is going on here…?
You take a deep breath. You look her in the eye.
“Sure. Why the Hell not,” is about all you manage to say but you have no idea why you said that.
“How do I get there?”
“Gimme your passport number and I’ll take care of it.”
“Okay.” Maybe she can’t believe what just happened and she looks more shocked than relieved, yet her face is an open book. Guileless. Open. Honest and at the same time curious. And like a little girls, maybe a little scared of what she’d just done.
Then she looks at you again and she smiles and it feels alright to you, almost comfortable. “Could I take you out to dinner?” she asks you, and you smile right back.
“I’ve got to go home and feed Ody.” He has been watching this exchange like he was watching a tennis match, his head bouncing back and forth as the words bounced between the two of you and you can’t help but wonder what he’s made of all this.
She walks along with you all the way across campus, all the way to your house and you ask her in. You feed the pup and get him settled on his porch then drop your briefcase by your desk. She asks to use the WC and you change into tennis shoes while she’s occupied then it’s off you go, hi-ho, hi-ho.
Ody could not fly so you booked passage on the Queen Elizabeth 2. Two staterooms. Then two rooms at the Victoria in Interlaken. You took Sarah shopping. For skis and boots and all the other things she’d need. You could tell she was having fun and, you had to admit, you were too. Life goes on. Right? Isn’t that what people kept telling you? That you had to move on? Why? Because nothing is forever? Because you have to keep reinventing yourself?
Elizabeth was a little wary, her response more reserved than you’d expected. And why not. She’d never done anything like this in her life; she wasn’t the impulsive sort. Come to think of it, neither were you. At least you hadn’t been.
What had happened?
Had the line between reason and faith grown a little too blurry for you? Too blurred, even for you? But wasn’t all that just a matter of personal conviction? Why would she care? She was, after all, family. Yet you felt something in her voice, something unapproving, even after you explained that Sarah was just a colleague who wanted to learn to ski.
How very odd indeed.
Crossing the Atlantic in the QE2 in late November was hardly a good idea. Even Ody was seasick. Sarah was beyond seasick. She was green and any mention of food sent her back to bed. You called the ship’s surgeon and he gave her “the shot” and Sarah really went to bed after that. In the meantime you and Ody walked the canine approved promenade and the two of you stood with your faces to the wind, his ears streaming and when you leaned on the mahogany rail he stood next to you and you held him before you took off together on your walk. The next morning Sarah was up and starving, the seas were a little less boisterous too, and after breakfast she joined you and the pup for a steady five mile jog. She felt better after that, and so did Ody.
You took the train to Paris and connected for another that would take you onward to Basel and Bern and then finally to Interlaken. Sarah was a stolid traveler, she helped with Ody while you managed all the luggage and skis. Elizabeth was there at the station to pick you up, kind of an advance guard the family had sent to reconnoiter the situation. She joined you for dinner and went for a walk with you and Ody afterwards.
“Why did you bring this stranger, Robert?” she asked as you walked along the river.
“That’s…absurd, and you know it.”
“It is, isn’t it? I’m sorry that I don’t have a better answer for you.”
“Do you love this woman?”
“Love her? Hell no, Elizabeth. I can hardly stand to be around her…”
“Don’t be sarcastic…”
“Sorry, but I’m not being sarcastic.”
“What? You can’t be serious…!”
“Liz? She asked me to teach her to ski. That’s all there is to it, okay?”
“Do you expect to bring her up to the house for Christmas?”
“If you want to invite her, fine.”
“Would you come without her?”
She stopped in her tracks and shook her head. “Robert, you are an impossible human being. I mean…you know that, don’t you?”
And you looked down into the inky black water, then you pointed at a passing leaf. “See that? That leaf?”
She turned and looked. “The leaf? Yes. What of it?”
“That’s me, Liz. That’s me, just passing through. Lost on a current and headed nowhere.”
And she came close and took your arm in hers. “Oh, poor Robert. What are we going to do with you?”
But you didn’t hear her just then. You were too busy staring at that solitary leaf while images of Heidi danced about like sugarplum fairies around Christmas trees you would never share.
Sarah Bergstrom had, literally, only seen snow from the window of an airplane. An orphan, she’d never known anything about families, except that she’d never had one and quite probably never would. Because she wasn’t, she liked to say, date bait. Men didn’t ask her out because men were, generally, afraid of her. A priest had tried to rape her once upon a time, when she was about fifteen — or so she said — and she’d beaten the poor bastard quite literally almost to death. Even the boys in the orphanage didn’t pick fights with her, and that had suited her just fine.
Alabama, near Mobile Bay. Hot, humid summers and dusty winters. An ancient Catholic orphanage, older than old. A big, wide open dormitory had been her only home, and you could see the pain in her eyes when she talked about that place. And she’d gone from frying pan into the fire, enlisting in the Army as soon as she could. Fighting her way into college because she had unusually good language skills. She’s gone to Notre Dame then went through officer’s candidate school. She did it the hard way, but she fought and scrapped her way through, around, and over every obstacle put in front of her — and she always managed to come out ahead of the pack. And, oddly enough, she’d spent most of her career in the Middle East. Now she was teaching at Harvard.
She told her story the next evening at dinner, at Elizabeth and her husband Christian’s home, and all their many children sat around the huge dining room table absolutely enthralled. And Elizabeth looked at you all through dinner, still absolutely mystified. Her children had spent the day with you and Sarah, riding up to the Sphinx, the observatory and restaurant nestled in a notch between the summits of the Eiger and the Jungfrau.
Sarah had of course never seen anything even remotely like the view she enjoyed there, and do you remember the simple pleasure you felt sharing this moment. Her red hair and her sprinkle of freckles, the round sunglasses that looked incongruously hippyish on her, and so very much out of character — or so you thought at the time.
You took her skiing the next day, all of you. Elizabeth had one Olympic silver and two bronzes and two of her kids were headed for the national team, yet they were all home for Christmas and everyone got into the act. It was, you soon realized, teaching by committee — but Sarah was game, the consummate ‘good sport’ — and by the end of her first day on the mountain she was plowing her way down intermediate slopes. It wasn’t, you mentioned to Christian, just her Army training. She was a gifted athlete, very coordinated and strong as an ox, yet she was determined to learn and that made all the difference.
Ody had spent the day with his own family, with his mother and father, and when you picked him up after your long day on the mountain he seemed rejuvenated. He pulled you down to the snow and wanted to wrestle, and even Sarah joined in then, everyone laughing so hard it hurt.
You had planned to have dinner with her at the hotel that night but everyone decided to join in the festivities. It had to be fondue, for Sarah’s sake, and by the time you got back to the hotel she was snockered and Ody was humming along in high voltage bliss and maybe that’s why, when Sarah kissed you, the room began to spin and spin. You put your arms around her, you held onto the feeling because you knew the moment was something precious, something to hold onto and to cherish before it too faded in the moonglow.
Winter. Snow falling through bare limbs and little by little piling up on little edges, waiting to fall on an errant breeze. Classes are more difficult to prepare for; as your hair thins and turns whiter and whiter you realize that you too are waiting for an errant breeze, waiting for the fall. Everything is the same but now everything is so different.
Sarah fell in love with you. Like a heat seeking missile she had homed in on you from the beginning, and she was a patient strategist, an able practitioner of the Art of War. You, on the other hand, could never reciprocate, not now. Not after Margaret, and certainly not after Heidi. You’d fought your war and fallen about as low as you thought a person could only to get back on your feet just in time to get slammed down hard again.
You weren’t just suspicious of love, now you were afraid of it. Afraid that there was nothing left of love but the pain after the fall. You weren’t crazy and you certainly had never been a glutton for punishment, so Sarah Bergstrom and all her impossible little diversionary tactics simply made no sense. Not to you. Not now. Who knows…maybe a few years ago you might still have been willing to at least try.
Yet skiing with her had been fun. Your family loved her, they took her in and for the first time in her life Sarah knew that feeling. And yes, it was all a trivial cliché but so what? Maybe for a few days she’d restored your…oh, wait…what were you going to say? Your faith—in humanity? Yet, in the end, reason won out one more time. After you returned to Boston, once again on that tired old ocean liner, you’d precipitously drifted away from all her impossible expectations. All her maneuverings.After a while she stopped calling you, too.
You took long walks in the snow with Ody and he was finally in his element. He was happy now, happier than he’d ever been, and for some reason, yeah, reason, that was enough for you. You were working on your new book about JFK, writing taking up every waking minute of your day that wasn’t spent in the classroom. Running down obscure references. Scheduling appointments with the few remaining survivors of the Kennedy administration. Recording these interviews, graduate students helping to transcribe all your erudite questions, and winter turned to spring in a haphazard rush to finish writing each new chapter.
And one Saturday morning Elizabeth called and when she asked you about Sarah your pithy evasions were all she needed to know. She didn’t ask again. She did, however, want to know if you were coming home that summer. You were writing a new book, you explained, and she didn’t need to ask about that again, either.
Maybe looking back now you can see you were adrift. You’d cut yourself free from all your obligations to everyone but your work and all you had now was your new best friend, the puppy who never, ever left your side. Except he wasn’t a puppy now. Ody weighed more than you now, and recently you’d needed a real shovel to pick up his turds in the backyard. Still, when you crawled in bed at night there was something about the way he plopped down beside you, resting his chin on your chest as you scratched the top of his head.
Margaret called that summer. She was back from LA. Couldn’t stand it out there, too weird. No traditions and all alone, she’d felt herself…adrift.
“Me too,” you said.
“Think we should take a chance and go out for drinks?” she asked, and you could feel the tender wounds in her voice, the hesitation born of panic and loneliness.
“Why not?” you just managed to say. “You doing anything tonight?”
She moved back in three weeks later. By the time classes resumed in August all the old routines had taken root again. Like when she said “I love you,” as she headed out the door and you replied “Love you too” and it was like your life was on autopilot now. Again.
Ody got along with her. A good thing. And when Elizabeth called and you told her about all that you could hear the catch in her voice, the hesitation. Kind of like ‘are you out of your fucking mind!?’ Except those words really weren’t necessary between the two of you. She could still read you like the open book you’d always been—to her, anyway.
“So, will you be coming home for Christmas, or will you still be writing?”
“No, no, if it’s alright with you we’d like to join you.”
Yet the routines that had, once upon a time, unbound you to Margaret were your undoing. By mid-autumn she couldn’t take it anymore. “You haven’t changed!” she cried as she packed her bags.
“I didn’t know I needed to,” you mumbled as you hooked the leash up to Ody to take him for another very long walk. When you got back to the house she was gone again, though she’d left a note telling you that someone would be by for the rest of her things.
It was about that time that you began to think that maybe there was something wrong. With you. You found a highly recommended shrink and made an appointment, and both of you — Ody and you — went to the appointments. All four of them. The shrink was a pill-pushing idiot who apparently had no interest in talking to his patients. Take this pill now. In two weeks add this one. The pills made you sleepy. You couldn’t get it up. You flushed the remaining pills down the toilet and hopefully the micro organisms down there would be happier and more content as they went merrily on their way to the sewage treatment plant.
You ran into Sarah a few weeks before you were due to leave on the QE2 and she asked how you were doing.
“Horrible,” you said. “How ‘bout you?”
“What’s been going on?” you asked.
“Nothing, Robert. I think I realized that somewhere along the way through summer I wasn’t going to make it without you, then I heard your ex had moved back in with you.”
And you nodded. “She found her broomstick and flew the coop again.”
“Are you okay?” she asked. “You’ve got dark circles under your eyes.”
“I feel like shit. Other than that, I’m just ducky.”
“Like a ping-pong ball, bouncing around all over the place.”
Remember how you nodded?
“When’t the last time you had a physical?”
“Right about the time Reagan was sworn in. Though suicide seemed a logical choice— at the time, anyway.”
The’s she’d put her hand on your forehead and you felt that little electric feeling. She felt it too, but then again that had never been her problem. “I’m taking you to my internist,” she told you in this weird take-charge voice that reminded you she’d been through Ranger training.
Her doc made it as far as your groin. One of your testicles, the left one, was the size and texture of a golf ball. A tech with an ultrasound machine appeared and the next thing you knew the internist was asking if you knew a good oncologist.
There were few moments you’d faced before like that one. You’re naked but for the little open-in-the-back gown you have on and your emotions are already splintering on the jagged edge, but when a physician asks if you know a good oncologist? That takes the cake. You tell her about your ex and she makes the call while you get dressed.
Surgery is scheduled for five in the morning. Tomorrow morning. Sarah stays by your side, she gets you home and in the door. She calls your academic dean then she calls Elizabeth. No one asks questions. Everyone, she says, will be praying for you. And you know—on some unconscious level, perhaps—that Elizabeth is on the phone right now making reservations.
The urologist Margaret set up for the operation meets you in the pre-op ward before. He tells you that when you wake up, if it’s before seven in the morning there was no spread to the cord and it would be clear sailing. If it was around ten, or later than that, then he would have done a so-called retroperitoneal dissection, and that would be bad news. The worst possible outcome. That would mean months of chemo and radiation. Possible urinary incontinence. Sex would more than likely become a memory, a thing of the past.
And oddly enough, as cavalierly as you’ve treated sex all your life, it was that possibility that hit you hardest. You will no longer, that little voice in the back of your head says, be a real man. You will be…what? A eunuch? The castrated court jester? That oddity people whisper about when you aren’t looking?
You are given something to “take the edge off” before you’re wheeled to the OR, and you look at the lights passing by overhead and they are almost like the lights on the subway. Until you are lifted onto the operating table. Those lights don’t go away. They are there to help trained eyes peer inside your guts, to help them see whether you will spend the rest of your life in relative normalcy, or if you will become the freak, the court jester.
You see the light being aimed at your nuts just as your eyes close.
Your eyes open and after the confusion falls apart they seek the big silver clock on the wall and it is eleven thirty and there is nothing left to do but cry for the passing of the man you used to be.
Elizabeth is there with you when Sarah pulls up curbside and an orderly helps you into the front seat. You drive home inside a silent snowfall but you really don’t care what time of year it is anymore. In a way you almost feel like the old you, but that’s just modern biochemistry at work. Doing its thing. Making the pain less painful. But…can it make the unendurable endurable? But…what happened?
Well, after the surgeon handed your nuts and cords over to the waiting pathologist the surgeons and nurses waited for the technician to make slides from your tissues. You know, the cancerous tissues. Inside your testicles They stood there, waiting, waiting for the results while you waited on the table, kind of almost dead to the world. The pathologist with his microscope pronounced the verdict in the court of such things, because he had then pronounced you guilty of cancer in the first degree.
So the surgeons gathered now gathered around your belly and sliced you open. They moved your very own sewage treatment plant out of the way and set about removing all the lymph nodes deep inside the tissues of your lower back, and then they put everything back where it was theoretically supposed to go before they sewed you up.
So now you either took a handful of pain medications every four hours or your midsection felt like an uncontrolled forest fire. You were not yet allowed solid food. Worst of all, Ody was not allowed on the bed—and he had no clue why he’d been pushed out of your life. Sarah took him for long walks. Elizabeth stayed by your side. She never left you unless it was to go to the restroom.
Margaret took care of the rest. The lab work. Setting up chemo. Pain management. In a way, she did all the heavy lifting, the stuff that counted. The things that saved your life, or at least postponed your death. Then again, she’d done all this before, with Tom. Before it was his turn to go to the basement and dissolve. So she knew the score.
Yet she was hopeful. So Elizabeth grew hopeful, then Sarah did too. The Christmas tree went up in your living room and almost everyone that wasn’t racing for the Swiss national team came over to break bread and open presents. And despite it all, Christmas that year didn’t turn into some kind of morbid death watch. It was just Christmas. Candlelight around the big table, Sarah still mesmerized by the comings and goings of family. Ody stealing the show and carrying the day, the center of everyone’s attention. Even yours. Margaret’s too, because she was still a part of this thing Elizabeth called “our family.” When Margaret gave you a gilded nutcracker for Christmas even you laughed.
You had a light load scheduled that winter, just two graduate seminars, and you secured permission to have your students come to the house for class. There were only a half dozen students in each, so it promised to be fun. Elizabeth wouldn’t think of returning home just yet, not until you were back on your feet, and Sarah usually came to these seminars, at least when she could. Ody was still the star of the show, but by the time the term was at an end your students were complaining that they’d never had a more grueling academic experience. C’est la vie, you explained with a shrug. You gotta learn to roll with the punches.
You started your sabbatical one term early because the worst of your chemo was just ahead and you didn’t want to put your students through that. No one, Margaret told you, should go through what you were about to go through.
You were bald then, and very frail. In and out of Mass Gen, depending on how low your white count dropped. The idea of food wasn’t merely nauseating; when Margaret forced you to eat you cursed the gods for allowing you to be born. Deep ridges appeared on your finger nails and the whites of your eyes just didn’t look right. When they started to turn a little yellow Margaret cut back on the chemo, but as soon as they cleared she resumed with a different elixir.
Then came radiation. Which, surprisingly, didn’t hurt. Until it did, usually a few hours later. Same results. Nausea, vomiting. Then the good news; the radiation blew out your pancreas and we’re so sorry about this but you are now an insulin dependent diabetic. Hope you don’t mind giving yourself shots in the belly twice a day for the rest of your life.
Margaret didn’t drop by as usual one afternoon but she called you that night. She was going under the knife in the morning. Ovarian cancer.
And she laughed. Long and hard. Until she started to cry.
“We always did everything together, Bobby. And now this. We get to do this together, too.”
You didn’t know what to say, did you?
All that blather about faith and reason now sounded trivially meaningless.
“Where are you?” you asked her.
“Pack a bag. Bring it over. We’ll take care of each other now.”
Funny the way Elizabeth accepted that decision. Like…she’s family. Of course we’ll take care of her.
And so you did. At least you tried. You all did.
Nine months later and you’re back on the QE2. Sarah is there by your side, yet so to is Margaret, only she is dead now and you have her ashes with you. And some of Tom’s too, because she wanted a little of him to be with her. Elizabeth and Christian are here too, and so are her youngest kids, those not skiing on the circuit. Christmas at sea. That was what Margaret wanted. And she told you both as much as long ago and as far away as last summer.
She saved your life, yet you couldn’t save hers. That doesn’t seem fair now, does it? There was no reason behind this outcome, and no faith could help you make sense of the emptiness you felt.
It is midnight now and the stars so far out to sea shine so brightly they almost make you forget why you are here.
She wanted you to do this by yourself, out here in the star-shine, in the moonglow. Open two urns and let the wind do the rest.
You promised to set aside a little of her, and of Tom, so the three of you could be together again, but now, out here in the moonglow it only takes a few beats of the heart and they are gone. They are together again. You thank her for your life, for the life she shared with you and the life she saved, and you apologized for not being a better friend.
You looked down into the passing wake and you could feel her stretching off into infinity and you wondered, for a moment, what nothingness was really like.
The book did well. Your friend the vice president ran for president and the Supreme Court declared his opponent the victor. Airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, another turned to dust in a field and the handwriting was all over the wall now. All the things Kennedy had tried to do were now undone, all the Old Guard had passed on and now the forces of mediocrity were alive and running free. And it was then you realized your work was over, your time to make a difference was at an end.
You turned in your letter of resignation. You called a realtor and put the house up for sale. It was time to go home. You’d lead a comfortable life, but it would be a quiet time. A time to reflect on all the things that had been left undone.
Bernese Mountain Dogs are huge but their size works against them. A ten year old Berner is an anomaly. Most pass by eight, a few live to see fifteen. Now Ody was five and already he had trouble running. Boston was, you knew, not his home either and it was only fair that you take him home and give him a few years to play with his family on the high alpine pastures you called your own.
Christian had already drawn you a small chalet and construction would begin as soon as you got home and signed a few papers. You and Ody would stay with Elizabeth and Christian until your home was ready.
Sarah had exhausted all her tactical know-how and been defeated by your obdurate refusals to take her in, but she wasn’t a quitter and you never really saw her coming. Her final assault was a fast and furious affair that left everyone breathlessly waiting to see if she had finally worn you out and beaten you down.
Because everyone was counting on her to have done just that. Bets had been placed, and money had been wagered. Yet somehow no one realized that Elizabeth had rigged the game and that you never really had a chance.
She took you to the airport. She parked and helped you into the E Terminal and up to the Swiss check-in counter. Ody was a paying passenger this time, too, with his own ticket and everything. You’d declared him as your service animal and that you couldn’t manage without him—which just happened to be true. And he sat there at the counter in his leather harness looking at Sarah, wondering why there were tears in her eyes and not at all sure what to do about it.
Sarah kissed you there one more time and then she ran from the terminal, and still Ody looked up at you and perhaps he was wondering what was wrong with you. Like maybe you really didn’t you know much of anything about love?
You let a customer service rep take you out to the airplane, some kind of Airbus, and a polite young thing led you to your seat. She helped Ody get his seatbelt hooked up to his harness and he sat there looking out the window like he was looking for Sarah to come running up to the plane any time now, but it never happened. When the jet lined up and sprinted down the runway he looked at you for reassurance then he watched the earth fall away. Once the plane leveled off he curled up by your feet and slept the night away.
But not you.
You kept thinking about Sarah. Your mind lingered in the moonglow of that last kiss. In time, you thought about Heidi walking through the last few days of her life with you by her side, and Ody had been there too. You ran your fingers through the fur on the top of his head and you thought about the way she kissed you that last time. About the way you kissed her. No reason behind it. No lines between that kiss and her passing from this life. There had only been a brief flowering of love, of life, and then it had passed. As Margaret had, and Tom. As you would—one day.
The question now, you thought as your fingers sifted through the memories embedded within this pup’s fur, was simple enough to understand. What of the way ahead? Did you really want to walk all those old roads by yourself?
Sure, she was younger, but not by so many years. You’d never have kids, true, but you’d have a family all your own. Maybe you could raise puppies, more just like Ody? Wouldn’t that be something? And wasn’t something better than nothing?
But didn’t she deserve better than that? After the things she’d been through, the life she’d lived. Didn’t she deserve someone who would love her unconditionally? Why would she settle for anything less? How could you offer her anything less than pure commitment? What would be the point?
“Drucker? Bobby Drucker?”
You turned to face the voice. You didn’t remember his name now but he’d been at the Fletcher School with you and he’d gone on to work for Scoop Jackson in the senate. Strange. You’d always been good with names…
“Jensen. Pete Jensen. Yeah, yeah, of course. How’re you doing?”
“I’m working over in the EOB for Cheney. Say, what are you up to these days?”
“Retired, going home to visit family.”
“Figure of speech.”
“Retiring? Aren’t you a little young for that?”
“Not from where I’m sitting.”
“Say, I read the Kennedy book. Learned a lot.”
“Did you indeed.”
“You still have ties to State?”
“Tenuous at best, why?”
“We’re looking for someone to take over as ambassador in Bern. Until we can round up a replacement. You interested?”
“For how long, do you think?”
“One month. Two at the most, unless the senate holds up the appointment.”
You were thinking then, weren’t you? Like you always did when opportunities like this rolled around. Bern was hardly a half hour away by train from Interlaken and for the next several months you were going to be, well, homeless. You could do it for a month and would forever thereafter be addressed as Herr Doctor Ambassador, with all the rights and privileges thereto conveyed.
“Worth considering,” you’d said, but deep inside you were excited as hell. What a way to go out? On top and recognized for all the years of hard work.
Funny, you thought at the time, the way things work out.
“You’ve done what?!” Elizabeth cried when you told her about your “temporary appointment” to Bern. “Ambassador Bobby? You can’t be serious!”
You’d just shrugged it off, of course, like you always did. All bets were off now.
Christian went over the plans for the new house and he of course had all the paperwork ready. Construction would begin as soon as soil conditions permitted. The three of you had lunch in Bern the very next week, then you took them to the main embassy building for a quick tour. You hadn’t met your staff yet as you were still just settling in, but you promised you’d come home for the weekend.
And Elizabeth had just smiled. She knew you all too well.
Your first full day at the embassy and the chargé announced your staff one by one. Attachés from the armed services were introduced, followed by department heads from Commerce, Treasury, and State.
When your attaché from the NSA was announced you rubbed your eyes and stifled a yawn — just before Sarah Bergstrom sauntered into your office — and right about then everything clicked. All her tactical maneuvering fell into place in the span of one heartbeat.
Peter Jensen hadn’t just appeared out of nowhere on that flight out of Boston. He’d been pre-positioned there, put in place by someone with real cred in the NSA. And her smile said it all. Plain as day.
The chargé closed the door behind Sarah, and you could see traces of a faint smile on his face.
Of course one month turned to two. Actually, it turned into six months. The house Christian had drawn was almost finished by the time you walked out of the embassy that last time, and so glad you were that when you hopped on the train you didn’t look back. Not even once. Ody hopped up onto the seat next to yours and resumed his duties by slobbering all over your trousers, so all was right with his world again. And yours, too.
Elizabeth met you on the platform and took Ody’s leash while you manhandled the chubby little rolling suitcase you’d brought along, then you sat back and enjoyed the short drive out of town and up the valley to her house. There was, you were certain, nothing quite like this valley in summer.
You rolled down the window and Ody’s ears were soon sailing on the breeze. His jowls, too. And after the car rolled to a stop you let him run free—because leashes weren’t a necessity up here. His parents soon came bounding up the drive and within seconds they were a tumbling bundle of fur, before they took off up the mountain looking for squirrels or birds or whatever caught their fancy.
“How old is he now?” Christian asked.
“Five, I think. Sometimes I forget.”
“All too conveniently, I suspect,” Elizabeth added, chidingly reminding you of your track record.
“You should get another puppy,” Christian said, “from a different breeder. Have puppies. He won’t live forever, you know?”
“Well, with any luck at all our batteries will run out on the same day.”
“I added facilities in the lower floor in case you decide to.”
“To do what?”
“You might as well, Robert. I’ve never seen anyone who loves dogs as much as you.”
“That’s because,” Elizabeth sighed, “no one does. They couldn’t possibly…”
“Precisely,” Christian barked. “Just so!”
Elizabeth looked at her watch. “Why don’t you two get going? The bank closes soon.”
Remember her smile? All innocence and without a shred of guile in sight. You asked her to keep an eye on Odysseus then hopped in Christian’s Volvo and off you went. You had more papers to sign at the bank, to authorize final payments to contractors, then he slid through traffic over to main railway station.
And unbeknownst to you, Sarah had just arrived. She was standing near the taxi stand with two huge suitcases and when you looked at Christian he had to look away to hide his grin.
That’s when you hopped out and ran over to give her a hug.
When more pieces to the puzzle snapped into place.
‘Damn military minds,’ you grumbled. ‘Always think of everything.’
You let her sit up front this time. She’d have to learn how to drive here soon enough. Dinner that night was a pleasant summer affair, fruits and a salad, some sweet white wine. Then the four of you walked up to the house, the new house, and Christian gave her the deluxe tour while you and Elizabeth threw sticks for Ody and one of his new brothers. You were looking down to the valley floor watching a train heading up valley, picking up the last of the day’s tourists coming down from the Eiger run, and you just had to shake your head.
“It’s paradise, you know? This valley, this life. I still cannot for the life of me figure out why our grandparents left this place.”
“Oh, perhaps a thousand years in one place was enough for them. Time for a change, you know?”
You felt Sarah come up beside you and she reached for your hand. A simple enough gesture, innocent in her way. She wasn’t going to gloat, was she? She and Elizabeth had been in cahoots from the get-go.
“I like your house,” she sighed. “Room for a kennel, I see.”
“Our house,” you replied. “Me and Ody.”
You felt her deflate just a little, like maybe she’d won a skirmish but not the war.
Then you added: “And yours too, if you think you could stand living here.”
She was still way too strong and when she squeezed your hand you thought you heard bones snapping.
Once upon a time, when Sarah was a teenager and not long after a certain priest tried to rape her, she and a bunch of kids from the orphanage were taken to see a James Bond movie at a cinema in Mobile, and to this day it was her favorite. It was the one with George Lazenby as Bond, the one where Bond’s new wife is killed at the end. She’d cried and cried when she saw that movie, but she still loved it all the same. Whenever she heard Louie Armstrong sing We Have All The Time In The World she still got all choked up. Pretty weird stuff for an Army Ranger.
Bond’s lair was filmed up on a mountain across the valley from Wengen, above the tiny village of Murren. The place is called Piz Gloria, and from time to time they hold special events up there. Wedding receptions and such, but usually Bond reunions. Friends of yours from Boston and Washington came for the wedding, and of course all your family was there. Even Margaret and Tom were there, in their way. Blofeld did not appear out of the shadows and kill your wife, which was, all things considered, a good thing.
You kept writing, because—why not. You still had things to say, histories to pass along, and time enough on hand to find the work relaxing. Sarah started writing spy novels, which was more up her alley. Ody and Brigette got to work and started churning out puppies and that turned out to be the most physically challenging thing you’d ever done in your life. You’d never realized just how much crap could come out of something so tiny, but, then again, reality is a firm teacher. Wasn’t that what you told your students, once upon a time?
And you forgot all about long walks in the moonglow, at least for a while. The dividing line between reason and faith grew more obscure, or perhaps just a little less relevant, like now—when times were good and life was sweet. You were finally living the American dream, deep inside the warm bosom of an ancient Swiss valley, and you had to admit that life was really pretty good, all things considered.
Carrying big bags of puppy chow was soon a little more trying than it had been, but what did you expect? Your hair was now as white as pure, driven snow, and though your hand was steady and your mind as sharp as ever, something was changing. Aches and pains were to be expected at your age, and once you accepted that you just shut up and got back to work, because nobody likes a complainer.
But one morning the pain in your lower back felt different. In your pelvis, around the lower spine. Over the next few weeks it was obvious your pee was coming out with a lot less force, then one morning you saw blood in the toilet. When Sarah was out with the pups you called and made an appointment with your doc down in town. You had Elizabeth drive you to the appointment. You asked her to come in and wait with you.
Bloodwork followed, then another ultrasound, and there it was. New cancer, in your prostate and it had probably spread up through the spine. Funny, but you’d already guessed that was the case. Odd how you recognize Death when he comes knocking on your door. So the question you asked your physician didn’t exactly come out of the blue.
“If I do nothing, how long will I last?”
Then came the inevitable double-speak: ‘It is impossible to say without deeper diagnostics, more tests and a thorough evaluation by the oncologist,’ and you sighed as you listened to the exhausting liturgy of this new religion. Your first wife had preached from this altar and you knew the lines all too well, and despite all your lingering misgivings the line between reason and faith began to reappear, and with feelings of dread you quickly understood that reason would begin to reassert its hold over the contours of your day-to-day existence.
Elizabeth sat beside you as you absorbed this new reality, but she chose not to speak just yet. She waited until you were back in the Volvo.
“Of course you’ll go see the oncologist,” she stated flatly.
“To fight, Robert. You can’t give up now. You mean everything to Sarah.”
You turned away and looked out the window as the Volvo made its way through the outskirts of town and the way ahead was nothing but snow capped peaks, cold and hard. You swallowed hard to, and maybe you wanted to wipe away an unseen tear but you felt all dried up.
Ody was almost ten now, ancient by the standards of his breed, and he walked up to you ever-so-slowly as you opened the car door. He came up to you and looked into your eyes, then he let slip a long, slow moaning sound. Forlorn, you thought. Because he knew. But Sarah was coming down from the high pasture just then, leading a parade of puppies through ankle high grass sprinkled with bright yellow flowers.
And as you looked at the happiness on her face you turned to Elizabeth. “Okay. Call her back, have her set up the appointment.”
“So? You’ll fight this thing?”
And she took your hand just then, yet she looked away because she was crying. “I couldn’t stand to lose you, Robert. Please, please, I will help all I can…”
“Now you must tell Sarah.”
But Odysseus has other plans, for this is his journey too. He stands and puts his hands on yours and then he scents your hand before he licks and licks. “Yes, old friend,” you hear yourself say, “I promise I’ll fight. I won’t leave you, so don’t you even think about leaving me.”
He looks at you and you’re eye to eye now. His eyes are so deep and brown, the love you find there infinite—like it could go forever and ever. He licks your chin and you nudge the tip of his nose with yours because he understands what that means. He hears Sarah and Brigette just then and he leaves you to go see his children and you know he will go on and on. Forever.
“Is there anything you’d like to do now?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh, you know, maybe this weekend we could take the train up top, to the observatory?”
“Up the Eiger? Really? Why?”
“I’m not sure, really, but it almost feels like you can see forever when you’re up there.”
You set aside your misgivings as you look at her, at this the beating heart and bosom of your family, and she smiles her perfect smile at you. You close your eyes and wish away all the pain and the fear, and you hear them then. Margaret and Heidi, away in the moonglow and on the far side of forever. They are calling you now, and you smile.
“It seems strange to have to lie,
About a world so bright.
And tell instead a made-up story,
From the world of night.”
[Genesis \\ Keep It Dark]
He always enjoyed this stretch of Highway 79. The mountains here reminded him of the High Sierra, especially the jagged spires beyond Mammoth Lakes, yet for some reason the air here felt cleaner, more pure than California, while even the villages here seemed like something out of a distant, though somehow more comforting past. He leaned back in the limousine’s plush rear seat and rolled down the window, letting gales of crisp Andean air wash over his jet-lagged body, and he closed his eyes and sighed.
He felt the Mercedes slowing and barely opened his eyes; he could make out the first rustic chalets of the Colonia Suiza just ahead and he asked the driver to stop at his favorite little bistro — as he usually did after so long a trip.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the driver replied. “I’ve been instructed no stops allowed today. I’m to take you directly to the Eagle’s Lair.”
Ted Sorensen nodded and closed his eyes again. ‘They’ll probably kill me,’ he thought — yet he really didn’t care one way or another. Not now. Everything was coming together nicely, on time and under budget. Beyond that…nothing else really mattered.
Moloch was waiting for him. Moloch was always, or so it seemed, waiting for him.
“We lost her again,” Moloch sighed as they met, and Sorensen nodded.
“Where was she this time?”
“British Columbia. North of Vancouver. And she had help…sophisticated help.”
“Air support. Planted assets designed to throw us off.”
“So…military — or an intelligence service?”
“More than likely both, so yes,” Moloch grumbled.
“So, you underestimated Taggart. Again.”
“I’m not so sure this was his operation.”
“Oh? Who do you…?”
“I’m not sure yet. What happened in California? I’ve heard it did not go well…”
“That’s a long story, and I’d only like to tell it once.”
The Chancellor’s secretary summoned them, asked them to follow him to the conference room off of the Chancellor’s suite, and Sorensen stood and followed Moloch through several layers of security to the distant room. The Chancellor and his advisors were waiting, and they did not appear to be in a good mood.
And the first thing Sorensen noted was the absence of a chair for either Moloch or himself. ‘So, we are to be made an example of,” he sighed. ‘What else does he have in store for us?’
So the two men entered the conference room and just stood there, waiting, for the Chancellor turned away from them and picked up a telephone and talked for about ten minutes, angry one minute then laughing hysterically the next. Sorensen shifted weight from one leg to the other while trying not to appear too put out, but this callous reception was simply unwarranted…even it they had failed.
Then the Chancellor hung up the phone and turned to Moloch.
“We have gone over your report. Anything to add?”
“There are no new leads at this point, sir.”
“Very well. You may leave us.”
Moloch turned to leave, and whatever moral support Sorensen might have hoped for evaporated. The Chancellor remained silent until the door closed behind Moloch. Then:
“I’m still not sure, sir. We assumed the boy was guarded only by the ex cop, Harry Callahan, but that appears to have not been the case.”
“You are saying he too had outside help? By any chance do you know who?”
Sorensen shook his head. “No sir, and we have no leads. As far as we can ascertain at this point, the boy is no longer on site — yet despite having assets in the area watching every possible egress route, we did not see him, or Callahan, leave.”
“You are sure they are gone?”
“Yessir, and there is an additional element we weren’t counting on.”
“And that is?”
“We literally destroyed the man’s home, yet a half hour later one of our drones photographed the area and there’s no visible damage — anywhere. Even our assets on the ground disappeared, and the area looks completely untouched, like nothing there ever happened.”
“So, it’s true. The boy can manipulate time.”
“So it would appear.”
“You have a different assessment?”
“I think it’s possible Callahan may have similar capabilities.”
“You knew him, did you not? As a child, I mean?”
“Yessir. But if he did have such abilities they were unknown to me.”
“You were friends at one point, were you not?”
“Not really a friend, sir. At one point I considered him something more like a big brother.”
The Chancellor’s left eyebrow arched. “Indeed. And you were willing to kill him?”
“He’s simply an obstacle now, sir.”
“Unless he has knowledge we need, you mean?”
“Then perhaps we may need to focus our attentions on this Harry Callahan for a while?”
“Possibly. But first I’d say we need to determine who’s assisting him, and what their capabilities really are.”
“When I was a boy, Ted, I hunted with my father. We used dogs, of course. We used them to flush our prey, to scare them from the safety of their place of hiding. Perhaps you could do the same, no? Perhaps you could find a few of Herr Callahan’s oldest friends…and perhaps do something terrible to them?
A little snippet to add to the previous little snippet. Come to think of it, isn’t life just a series of little snippets?
[Begin the Beguine \\ Artie Shaw]
The Huey landed at the CAThouse adjacent to the old Presidio, and the Doc escorted Deborah and Brendan to a waiting Land Rover — and then, after DD and the Doc got in, the four of them drove over to the Wharf for lunch. Deborah had a million questions she wanted to ask, but all DD was willing to talk about was the unseasonably warm weather the Bay Area was experiencing. After arriving at Scoma’s the Doc studied his menu with assiduous effort, finally settling on a coquille St. Jacques and the Dover sole amandine, recommending the same to Brendan. DD had her usual seafood Louie — while Deborah watched the unfolding proceedings with something akin to astonished agony bubbling away just under the surface of a steaming caldron.
Then she finally broke down and blurted: “I thought Frank Bullitt had passed on?”
“So he did,” the Doc replied casually.
“But…” she cried, “he was there!”
“So he was,” the Doc replied, again without so much as a sniffle.
“But…how can you explain that!?”
“Aren’t you at all curious?” Deborah wailed.
And after both DD and the Doc shook their heads Deborah just shrugged and let the matter drop. Brendan, of course, had no idea who Frank Bullitt was — beyond what was revealed in his sky-bound equations — so he really didn’t care at all. Yet Deborah waded through the stultifying lunch with more and more questions boiling to mind with each passing minute…
But when lunch was over, and after the Doc paid the bill, DD drove them back to the CAThouse and everyone re-boarded the Huey — and a few minutes later they were northbound passing the Golden Gate. Forty minutes later the Huey circled Harry’s house and Deborah stared at the scene in disbelief — and she was soon about to burst as the scale of things began to unveil before her eyes…
…for it looked as though nothing had happened earlier that day. The wrecked house and the burning studios were now intact and, apparently, undamaged. There were no mangled helicopters and no crumpled bodies in the street, no shattered glass and the copper roof on the house looked brand new.
And as the Huey settled on the old asphalt pavement she saw Harry and Didi walk out of the house, and Harry was Harry again. He was old now and his stainless steel prosthetic gleamed in the midday sun, while Didi too seemed her cheerful older self once again. Harry came up to the Huey as the rotors spooled down and he helped everyone out before walking back up to the house, and for some reason even Brendan wanted to let bygones be bygones as he sidled up to Didi and walked back to the house — only now he was holding her hand!
‘Has the world suddenly gone crazy?’ Deborah thought, walking along behind Didi and Brendan, and with DD and the Doc bringing up the rear.
And yet the insanity continued once back inside the house. Nothing was damaged. Harry’s Bösendorfer was right where it had been yesterday and the day before that. The slate floors were as new, undamaged and almost looking at they might have the day they were laid, and it was the same everywhere she looked. Curious now, she went to the bedroom and the palm scanner in Harry’s closet was gone, and now there was absolutely no sign it have ever been there…
She sighed and went back to the kitchen and was about to put on water for tea when she noticed that everyone was down on the rocks and headed for the beach — so she followed them as quickly as she could. At one point she heard the helicopter taking off and turned to watch it leave, then she resumed following everyone down through the rocky passageway to the beach…
…yet when she arrived on the beach no one was to be found…not even a footprint in the sand…
…yet now there was only a lone orca waiting beyond the nearest line of breaking surf, and it seemed to be waiting for her…
Still keeping the snippets rather small. Apologies.
[Loggins & Messina \\ Angry Eyes]
As strained as the moment was, Deborah Eisenstadt did not feel violated or even used; instead she was relieved when the man-child found release and wilted away from her. He was openly weeping by that point, crushed under the weight of a self-loathing few ever experience, and she couldn’t help but feel pity for the stunted soul within. She had experienced more than her fair share of such men in both Soviet Russia and during her escape through Armenia, little men who relied on the weight of their encroaching bureaucracies to force their way between a woman’s thighs, yet she more than understood that wasn’t exactly the case with Brendan Geddes. Other, far more insidious forces had shaped his soul, and when she had chanced a glance into his eyes she had only then grown fearful. The man-child wasn’t what he at first had seemed; no…she had suddenly realized that he was far more dangerous than any of them had previously realized.
He was, she could now plainly see, quite morally unhinged. Right and wrong simply did not exist when numbers were standing-by to provide an answer to every single question. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” had never entered his hierarchy of thought.
Yet his actions just now had broken through that barrier, and laying there on top of Eisenstadt she could feel his confusion. He was careening back and forth between guilt and anger, his fists clinched and intertwined in the bedding as he looked away one moment before he tried to return and apologize the next. Yet he never really could bring himself to say he was sorry…and that was what had frightened her so.
…and just then a roaring sound surrounded them…a deep, hideously loud roar like a jet fighter running up its engine before takeoff, and Eisenstadt turned in time to see a wall of steam emerging from the bathroom…
…and a moment passed before Harry emerged from the steam, now apparently dripping in seawater, and the first thing he saw was a barely clothed Brendan lying spent between Deborah’s thighs.
And he appeared to be not in the least amused.
Yet he ignored them. He was toweling himself off now, then quickly drying his hair before Deborah realized this was a totally different Callahan. This Harry was not yet thirty years old. This Harry Callahan still had two legs — two intact legs. His eyes were clear, focused, and full of an easy malevolence she didn’t recognize. Yet she saw his fury wasn’t directed at Brendan, or even at herself…
“Get under the bed,” Harry growled, “now!”
“What?” she said…just as Didi Goodman and another man came out of the steam-filled bathroom.
“Get the boy under the bed,” Harry repeated as he walked to his closet. She noted there was some kind of optical palm scanner installed there now, a device that hadn’t been there yesterday, and she watched as Callahan put his hand on the scanner and waited. A moment later a vault opened and Callahan passed assault rifles over to Didi and the other man, along with several magazines, before he grabbed one for himself.
Deborah was pushing the boy under the bed as Harry ran from the room, but before she got under the bed she went to the bathroom to have a look around…
Hot water was still coming from the shower head, yet the floor was covered with briny smelling sea-ice, so she bent over and touched a large shard of ice then brought her finger to her mouth…
“…sea water…” she whispered before she turned and scurried under the bed.
They heard gunfire after that, and a lot of it. The sound of shattering glass filled their ears, then came two explosions and moments later smoke poured into the bedroom. Helicopters, several of them, roared by overhead and she cringed when heavy machine gun fire ripped through the ceiling, the bullets slamming into the slate floor with calamitous effect. Then a blinding flash followed a gut-wrenching lurch — before silence returned to the house.
Then — footsteps, running their way. Sounds of boots on crushed glass and shattered cabinetry falling away before she heard Harry’s voice:
“You guys okay?” Callahan snarled as he entered the room.
“Yes, I think so,” Eisenstadt mewed.
“Okay, you can come out now,” he said as he leaned over and took her hand. “We need to get you two away from here for a while.”
She followed him through the wreckage of his house — yet he seemed curiously detached from the carnage, almost like he’d never seen this place before. The living room was a shattered wreck, and the piano room was simply gone, blown away. And now, as they walked out of the ruins and down to the street, she saw that two of the studios were in flames, then she saw the bodies of dead men laying in the street. Dozens of them, and at least two helicopters were down, their mangled wreckage again leaving Callahan totally unimpressed.
She saw smoke coming from beyond Liz’s house, then the man she’d seen walk from the shower was now walking from Liz’s house towards Harry. Meanwhile, Didi Goodman was walking among the corpses, lifting each head and looking at the revealed face — as if she was looking for someone in particular — and Brendan could hardly reconcile this image of her with the Didi he’d come to know over the last few weeks.
The man walking up from Liz’s house walked up to Harry and Deborah Eisenstadt tried her best not to scream in fright. She recognized him now, noted the same tweed jacket and the wavy dirty blond hair — and that grin! It was Liz’z father, and she knew because she’d seen photos of the same man at both Liz’s place and in the living room at Harry’s.
“Everything okay?” Harry asked Frank Bullitt.
But Bullitt just nodded and grinned, tossing a handheld radio to Harry as he passed.
And Harry turned on the unit and called — but who, exactly?
Yet a minute later a Callahan Air Transport Bell 412 circled and landed in the cul-de-sac, and who slid open the door and beckoned them inside? Of course, it had to be DD and the Doc, and as soon as they were inside the helicopter and buckled in they were airborne and headed for The City.
Yet Harry hadn’t joined them. Neither had Didi — or Frank.
“What the hell is going on?” she asked DD.
Who only shrugged before turning away.
Brendan, however, looked beyond the far side of the sky and all he could think to do was smile.
A very brief look inside the darkness. Perhaps you’ll see why, even without a lantern.
[Estupenda Graca \\ Pat Metheny]
Brendan looked on helplessly as the Titanic disappeared within banks of swirling black mist, but Deborah Eisenstadt looked at the sight feeling both curiosity and revulsion.
“I think what we just witnessed was some kind of wormhole formation,” she sighed warily, “but what was that ship doing there?”
“What were they doing there?” Brendan cried — before angrily turning away from Deborah and running to his bedroom.
‘My God, he has fallen in love with that spy!’ she thought, now seriously unnerved by the all the dawning implications such an emotional upheaval might bring. She couldn’t imagine anyone less emotionally secure than Brendan, and certainly not if rejection was part of the formula, and especially as Didi and Harry were the only two people in the world he seemed to care about now. Yet there was nothing to do now but go to the man-child and try to pick up the pieces; this was about all she could think to do. Try to salvage what she could and get ready to deal with whatever fallout came their way.
Yet when she knocked Brendan came to the door and held it open for her, then he stood aside and let her pass. She was curious now, yet on guard as she walked inside and sat in a little chair beside a small, built-in desk. Brendan came back to his bed and sat there with his arms crossed over his stomach, looking down at the floor.
“You like her, don’t you?” Deborah started, innocently enough. “I mean, more than a little?”
He nodded. His downward gaze remained unfocused, his voice a flat wasteland.
“She’s almost twice your age, Brendan.”
“I can’t help the way I feel.”
“That’s okay, I understand. How about Didi? Do you know how she feels — about you?”
He shook his head. His arms seemed to constrict around his midsection.
His arms broke free and with his hands now free he pulled back the sky: “This!” he cried.
Deborah came and sat next to him, and from this vantage she could see what he had revealed. Didi pushing Harry to the rock-strewn beach. Her grasping hands pulling Harry free before she mounted him, her back arched and her arms outstretched as if taking flight. Streams of auburn riding the wind in contrapuntal harmony to some deep reservoir of need, then their hands came together in grinding supplication…
Deborah wanted to look away — yet she couldn’t.
Brendan wanted to run from these images — yet he dare not. Not now. Not yet.
Then in a flash she watched a milky run of seed seeking new life — just before the image flickered and disappeared.
“That’s what happened,” Brendan said, his voice a ladle of despair. “Now she’s going to have his baby. A girl. Another Dana.”
“Another one of…them.”
“Them? Brendan, what are you talking about?”
“The baby will be one of theirs, just like the other Dana. They’re part of the plan.”
“I can’t see it yet, but it’s taking shape now.” He turned to Deborah and awkwardly, timidly put a hand on her breast…
And she looked at the boy, then at his hand — before she took a deep breath. “Brendan, you don’t need to do this.”
“I have to. He took her from me, so I have to take you from him.” He pushed her down to the bed.
“Do you have any idea how old I am, Brendan?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Brendan — we aren’t equations, you know? You can’t balance human behavior that way.”
“Of course I can.” He started to unbutton her blouse and within the cresting waves of the broken hearted she felt him mounting her so she looked up into his eyes…
He was a wilderness, barren and unclaimed, yet she could think of nothing to do now but cradle his face with her hands. It was, she soon realized, easier to wipe away his tears.
Deeper is darker. Or is it, really? Kind of hard to tell sometimes, ya know? Maybe you need a lantern?
[My Man’s Gone Now \\ Gershwin \\ Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong]
88/66.3 — Walpurgis Nacht III
And wherever they were…it was still dark — and no matter where they looked. With no way to see, Callahan wondered what in this place was an illusion, or was truth the illusion?
But they were inside some “place” now and no longer adrift in deep space, and as his eyesight grew used to the dim light he could just make out the contours of a long steel-gray corridor ahead, and within a few moments he began to see shapes moving their way. Impossibly thin shapes he soon realized, but living beings nonetheless. As one of them approached he was startled by the apparent height of the creature, until he recognizedJim walking their way — or was it Jim’s identical twin — only the creatures with him did not appear to be his family. No, they were all as tall as Jim, and they all appeared equally curious.
‘We are sorry for the abrupt nature of your coming,’ Jim thought to Callahan, ‘but there was little time to indulge in formalities.’
“Okay,” Callahan said aloud to Jim.
“Okay…what?” Didi asked, clearly confused by Callahan appearing to talk to himself — and she was still clearly cold as could be, at least — if her breasts were any kind of indication…
‘She cannot hear my thoughts,’ Jim explained. ‘These were not directed at her.’
“Alright,” Harry said.
“Alright, what? Who are you talking to, Harry?” Didi added.
“We’ll need something for this woman to wear,” Harry said to Jim.
“You know what? I’m just going to shut up and let you have at it for a while,” Didi sighed.
“Probably a good idea. Jim? Could you say something to her?”
Jim turned to Didi and she suddenly felt as if she was the one under the magnifying glass, and now she felt very small indeed. Not only that, but this creature was positively Spielbergian in appearance — a spindly creature that seemed to have evolved in deep space, a creature bred to endure millennia in transit between stars and now, as he focused his attention on her she didn’t know what to expect.
Then she heard from somewhere deep inside the unknown recesses of her mind ‘Take me to your leader,’ and she had to laugh.
“I see. You’re a comedian, right?”
‘I couldn’t help myself. Oh yes, I need you to come with me now,’ Jim thought.
“Okay, but you need to know something first.”
“I don’t kiss on the first date.”
That seemed to stump Jim, but he only nodded and then turned to face his companions — who one by one came forward to look her over.
‘May I touch you?’ one of them asked, and for some reason Didi knew this one was female, or whatever passed for female around this place.
“Knock yourself out,” Didi grinned. “All of you. Go for it.”
‘We have never seen a human female in your condition,’ one of them said.
“That’s alright,” Didi sighed. “I’ve never seen an alien — so that makes us even.”
Callahan stood back as the mob surrounded Didi, who began pulling gently on her arms then flexing her fingers and wrists and elbows, marveling at the anatomical complexity that they, apparently, did not share. Another examined her spine, then her shoulder blades, while another bent low and probed her knees and ankles — then her toes.
‘The gross morphology is not all that different from the male,’ one of them said. ‘How do you account for that?’ this one asked Jim.
‘Sexual differentiation takes place hormonally, before either androgenesis or gynogenesis takes place,’ Jim said. ‘So both the male and the female contribute hereditary characteristics,’ he added.
‘Do you mean,’ another cried, ‘that sexual differentiation is a simple matter of chance?’
‘Then how do they control population growth?’
‘War and disease, primarily,’ Jim sighed.
They all turned to face Didi and Callahan, and both could sense the others’ feelings of astonishment and pity.
‘How do you mate?’ one of them asked next — out of the blue.
“What do you mean?” Callahan growled.
‘I mean, how do you physically join?’ this one asked.
“Privately, and that means without an audience, Butthead,” Callahan snarled.
‘I see. She is with child now, and we wanted to understand how this happened.’
“What do you mean, I’m with child?” Didi cried.
‘You mated,’ this one said patiently, ‘therefore you are with child. Is this not correct?’
“Not always,” Didi said, now clearly relieved.
‘But we have seen fertilization occur. Are you saying this may not lead to pregnancy?’
“What do you mean by you saw fertilization occur?”
‘We have observed a fertilized egg in your womb? Does this not mean you are with child?’
“I don’t know,” Didi replied, confused again.
‘We must keep both of you here until the child is born,’ Jim told Harry.
“I beg your fucking pardon?” Harry barked.
And that really seemed to confuse Jim. ‘You ask me for pardon? What does this mean, please?’
“It means we ain’t staying here, period. You need to send us back, and I mean now.”
‘We need your offspring.’
‘Your feces is tough?’ one said.
‘May we collect a sample, please?’ another asked.
“No. You need to send us back. Now.”
Jim stepped close again: ‘I will send you back, but not now. A year from now, by your method of time keeping.’
“Harry,” Didi whispered, “I don’t think we’re in much of a position to argue.”
‘When you return,’ Jim added, ‘no time will appear to have passed, and neither of you will have aged.’
Callahan seemed to think about that one for a moment, then he asked: “And just what the Hell are we supposed to do here — for a year? And oh, by the way, where is here, exactly?”
‘You will find we are interested in you, and so it is possible you will find us more than sympathetic students,’ one of the others said.
Didi turned to the group and shrugged: “Any chance I might get something to wear? Ya know, sometime in the next year or so?”
‘Apologies,’ Jim stated. ‘Come with me.’
They started to walk down the dimly lit passageway, but then Jim paused before he walked over to a wall and held a hand up to a sensor — and then a hundred meter long section of the passage turned translucent. Callahan could hardly grasp what had happened — because now it appeared as if their entire group was suspended in deep space. Yet…Callahan could feel the same floor underfoot, and he could still breathe, so…where were they?
“Jim? I hate to ask, but just what is this place?” he asked.
‘Your scientists call this a Dyson Sphere.’
“Is this your home?” Didi asked.
‘Home? Ah, no, this is not our home world,’ Jim said. He pointed at a spot and a tiny illuminated square appeared in the ether— almost as if it was hovering in space — then he turned to Didi. ‘Your home world is here,’ he said — but all either Harry or Didi could see was a faint smudge inside the illuminated square.
“That’s earth?” Harry sighed, his voice full of wonder.
‘What you see here is what you call your Milky Way, the galaxy where your home is currently found.’
Callahan swallowed hard and briefly, gently shook his head.
And then Jim turned and “walked” across the chasm until he came to a place he seemed to recognize, then he pointed again and another identical red square appeared — this one hovering in an area beyond a huge, densely packed cluster of stars and galaxies. ‘This region,’ Jim thought, first pointing to the clustered formation of galaxies, ‘is the approximate center of our current universe. This region, this one inside the illuminated square, is where our home galaxy is currently located.’
“I don’t see anything?” Didi sighed.
‘This region is beyond the resolving power of the current instrument.’
“How far away is it?” she asked.
‘From your earth it is approximately twenty billion light years.’
“But the universe isn’t that old,” Didi mumbled, “so how is that even possible?”
‘Your world is twelve point three nine billion light years from the center of this universe, but my world is another seven billion light years distant, only on the far side of the center of the universe relative to your home.’
“So…are you telling me you’re twenty billion years old?” she scoffed.
‘Me? No. I am seven of your years old.’
“Okay,” Didi whispered, “I give up.”
“Say Didi, did you know your headlights are showing…” Harry whispered.
“In case you’ve forgotten, Harry, I am completely naked. And I’m still cold as shit.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” he said — looking away, though now trying to ignore a certain stiffness coming on.
Jim grinned then turned away and took off down the passageway, and Didi followed — gratefully — while Callahan turned and looked around the translucent passageway once again. The first thing he noted was the little illuminated red squares — and he watched as those disappeared first — then the dull gray color returned to the surfaces and once again it looked like he was inside a long metal corridor of some sort. Completely baffled, he just shook his head and turned to follow Jim and Didi. He didn’t understand all that stuff about light years and time, but he did understand what a year felt like.
And right now a year felt like an awful lot of time to spend wandering around in the dark.
The Air Force C-20H flared over the numbers at San Jose’s Mineta International and settled on the runway, exiting left and turning onto the Victor taxiway on its way to a general aviation apron just south of the tower. Two more black Suburbans met the aircraft and all the passengers scurried rapidly down the airstairs and into the waiting SUVs without so much as a glance, then the caravan headed for the northbound 101, the two vehicles eventually making it to Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto. The Suburbans skirted the Stanford campus and passed the linear accelerator center as they crossed the 280, and at that point four more identical Suburbans entered the mix, escorting the caravan to a small group of unmarked office buildings inside a gated, self-contained campus overlooking Searsville Lake. All six SUVs pulled into a locked sally-port off to one side of a low, one story building, and once all the overhead doors were secure everyone exited and walked into a heavily fortified and secured entrance foyer before getting into an unmarked elevator.
One of the escorting guards hit the ‘Down’ button and once the doors slid-to the elevator car began a minutes long descent down into the earth, and after several seconds passed Debra Sorensen wondered just how far down they were going. Dana Richardson began fidgeting nervously, holding onto her father’s hand so tightly he grimaced. Sumner Bacon cast a nervous, sidelong glance her way and he grinned cheerfully, if a little stoically, when he too realized just how deep they were going.
But little Dana simply held onto the General’s hand and stared up at him. If she had any concerns at all she gave no voice to them.
When the doors finally slid open the were confronted by yet another security team, and at this point even the General had to produce credentials. Then, with this minutiae out of the way, the group was led past living quarters in a small wing, and Debra guessed there must have been sleeping facilities for several hundred people down here — yet the group passed these by and were ushered into a small office. Everyone but the General and Tracy Abernathy was fingerprinted and photographed, color-coded ID badges were handed out and security oaths were meticulously recorded.
“What the hell is this place?” Ralph Richardson finally asked the General, perhaps when he couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.
“It’s an engineering facility, Mr. Richardson,” the General replied. “That’s all you need to know at this point.”
“Why are we here?” Richardson asked, still a little flummoxed.
“We’re here to figure out why Dana is here, and if there is, indeed, any commercial opportunity afforded by her presence with us.”
“I hate to ask,” Debra asked now, “but are we prisoners?”
“I’d really rather you didn’t think of it in quite those terms, Miss Sorensen, but your movements for the next few weeks will be closely monitored. At least until we know what your father is up to, anyway; once we have a handle on that situation we’ll reassess your status.”
“I’m not sure I like the sound of that, General,” Debra sighed.
“Understandable,” the General stated matter-of-factly. “But I’d ask that you consider my point of view. First, Dana claims you as her mother. Second, you have been demonstrating certain, shall we say, unusual abilities for not quite ten years, and these abilities may or may not be related to your…daughter. And, quite frankly, until I know more about these abilities I’m not certain I understand exactly what kind of security risk you may or may not represent.”
“Me — a security risk?” Debra cried, now clearly exasperated. “What on earth do you…”
But the General simply held up his hand, in effect stopping her before she could complete her thought. “At this point, Miss Sorensen, I’m most concerned about the implications of your falling into the wrong hands, and by that I mean the people your father seems to be working for, and until I do I need to keep you out of their reach.”
“Just who is my father working for?” she added.
“We can talk about that some other time,” he said — his voice suddenly hard with an edge of finality. “We’ve all had a long day. I suggest we head to our rooms and get cleaned up for dinner. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later this evening.”
Debra remained fixed in place, yet everyone else walked off to the wing they’d been assigned to…until she noticed Tracy Abernathy had remained behind and was now just standing there — while looking at…her.
“There’s a lot going on here,” Abernathy said, “and a lot I still don’t understand, but take it from me, he only has your best interests in mind.”
Debra turned to face her: “I noticed they didn’t print you, or take your picture…?”
“I’ve been here a time or two.”
Tracy shook her head. “No. With the General.”
Debra seemed taken aback by this revelation. “So, do you know what’s going on around here?”
“No, not really. Just the broad strokes, mainly because my area of expertise is very peripheral to the undertaking.”
“So…what are ‘the broad strokes?’”
Abernathy hesitated for a moment, then she just shrugged — and grinned, though now a little impishly: “New technologies, I guess you could say. Now, let’s find your room. I’m sure a shower would do us both a world of good.”
“After six weeks at sea? My-oh-my Miss Scarlet, whatever do you mean…?”
Callahan came to, quite suddenly — and painfully — aware that it was blistering cold out…here. Wherever here was. He was curled up in a fetal ball, only now Didi was beside him — and she was as naked as the day she was born, and just now coming to.
She tried to sit up then realized how cold it was out here, then she noticed Callahan was sitting beside her, that his lips were blue, and that his teeth were beginning to chatter. She looked around and realized they were sitting inside a large wooden bucket, but the sky overhead was so clear that the view overhead was almost surreal.
They felt it then. A distinct humming vibration that seemed to be coming from someplace well below, and then it hit her: Callahan appeared to be about twenty years old — and both his legs were intact.
It took a moment for Harry to notice, and when he did he simply smiled then began to stand and help Didi up.
But before that could happen he looked around and gasped. “Holy mother-fuckin’ son of a bitch,” he mumbled as he pulled Didi up…
“Jesus,” she whispered. “Is this for real?”
As far as either could tell they were in the forward lookout tower aboard the Titanic, but there wasn’t a single light burning anywhere, and the bridge appeared to be completely unmanned. Smoke was coming from the stacks and the ship was easily cutting through the water at what felt like a decent pace, so Callahan concluded someone had to be aboard…if only because someone had to be tending the boilers.
Then he heard Didi again.
“Oh…no…” she moaned…
…and he knew without asking what was out there. It had to be…
Yes, a huge iceberg, now dead ahead.
He’d seen all the movies, knew what happened next and he reflexively reached for the bell’s lanyard but then the absurdity of the situation hit him. There was no one on the bridge to hear the bell, no one to command the helmsman to turn the wheel, so he braced himself on the leading edge of the crow’s nest and waited for the inevitable impact…
…yet it never came.
The great ship plowed dead ahead — hitting the iceberg with her slender rivet-plated bow — yet there was no sound of grinding metal, no explosion of shattering ice raining down on the foredeck — only a gathering darkness as the great ship plowed on her way into another night all her own.
Yet Callahan blinked as a glowing numbness spread through his limbs to his chest and finally to his face and eyes; he felt Didi by his side for most of this but within moments she disappeared in the dark. He reached out in total blindness, his hands seeking the rails of the crow’s nest, but that too was gone and he suddenly felt very disoriented, almost unsteady on his feet — until he realized that there was now literally nothing underfoot.
Little pinpricks of streaking light began to resolve but then stark terror gripped his chest as he realized he was adrift — in what appeared to be infinite space. His body slowly tumbling, there was nothing to reach out for, no way to steady himself, no way to stop this insane motion. Tentatively he took in a deep breath but he felt, again, nothing. No air flowed into his lungs — yet he did not in the least feel like he was suffocating. ‘That’s not possible,’ he thought — as his mind scrambled to make sense of this new reality. He brought his wristwatch to his face and hit the little button to illuminate the face — and though the light worked he saw that the second hand wasn’t moving — and that too made no sense.
‘Unless,’ he reasoned, ‘time has stopped.’
He looked at the streaking pinpricks of light for a moment before he realized all those streaks were headed in one direction, then he realized he too was moving in the very same direction — like he was falling with the stars, only without any sense of motion beyond this lone visible cue.
He looked around as best he could, trying to pinpoint Didi inside the glowing maelstrom — and while he thought he saw something he couldn’t be sure. And he soon discovered sound didn’t convey here; his attempts at speech were pointlessly unsuccessful — but just then his mind began struggling with what he thought must be the onset of something like claustrophobia. Panic settled, the inability to breathe buffeted him like a vulture’s beating wings and then he wanted to scream — and realized he couldn’t even do that…
Then in an instant as sudden as a returning heartbeat he was surrounded — by light — but he was breathing again and the first thing he wanted to do was cry. To scream out at the light and cry.
‘Is this what it feels like to be born?’ he said to himself — as Didi appeared by his side. And when she saw Callahan she flew into his arms.
Then he realized nothing had ever felt so good as her skin on his.