A Little Strange - on the Side
Published Sci-Fi Stories
A LITTLE STRANGE
– ON THE SIDE
Published Sci-Fi Stories of Michele Dutcher
Five Silver Discs Pages 2 – 17
Murder in a Fishbowl Pages 17 – 49
Moving Day Pages 49 – 54
A Pocket Filled of Posies Pages 55 – 85
Stormchaser Pages 86 – 90
Heaven’s Door novella ***
***available only at Borders in deference to
FIVE SILVER DISCS
As published in Bewildering Stories ezine
Ray Iella didn’t mind working the nightshift at the museum. In fact, he rather enjoyed it. The drive past the Mexico City airport was usually pleasant enough. At times, he would even pretend the runway lights that shone against the vacuum of the night, were the lights of an airport in Rome, or London, or Paris. “All airports look the same in the dark,” he chuckled, “like all women.”
That night he settled easily into his quiet routine of cleaning up after the hundreds of tourists which had strolled up and down the gallery halls of the Museo de Franz Mayer, viewing modern works of Mexican masters along with pre-Colombian artifacts.
At 1:35 A.M., as per his usual routine, Ray went into the break-room for a ten-minute sit. He checked his cell-phone for missed calls or a message, but there were none. The girl he had met this afternoon at the Burger King must have chosen not to call him after all. Damn.
Seven minutes later his phone rang.
“This is Ray”, he smiled into the bottom of his phone, holding it to his right ear.
“Ray, I’ve been thinking about our conversation this…” purred a female voice.
And then he heard it. It seemed to be the sound of someone speaking in one of the darkened rooms in the museum gallery.
“Hold up, Marita,” he rushed into the phone. “I think I hear something in the gallery.” He placed his phone on the table and took his gun out of its holster.
The janitor-slash-security guard inched his way around the breakroom wall, seeping into the hallway. He could hear the voice getting louder as he approached the gallery entryway. The voice was feminine but authoritative, as if she was giving a lecture. He didn’t recognize the language.
Ray cocked the gun and released the safety.
He exploded into the room, gun leveled between his arms. “Stay where you are…” he shouted quickly – only to stop just as suddenly.
There, hovering over a showcase of antique silver discs from Peru was the translucent image of a Caucasian female dressed in a flight suit. She held a helmet under her right arm, bridging it against her waist, and seemed to be giving a lecture to the feathered Incan cape in the corner. His first impulse was to run, believing it to be a ghost on some sub-conscious level. But as Ray got closer, he discovered the image must be a holograph beaming up from the center of one of the decorative silver plates laying in the case. He passed his hand through the light source and the woman disappeared then reappeared.
Returning to the breakroom, Ray grabbed the cell phone off the table. “Marita, Marita. There’s something amazing happening here. I must call the curator."
Within the hour, the curator was in the lobby of the museum, along with Marita, who happened to work at the El Heraldo de Mexico Pantala.
Jean-Michel waited patiently beside a display case in Belfast, Ireland. Occasionally he glanced at the contents of the case: stone figurines of starving men and a voluptuous wooden goddess, brought to Europe from Easter Island during the 18th century. He wore the brown long-sleeve shirt and gray woolen vest that was so particular to educators in small Anglo colleges. Although he would have been more comfortable in a light gray suit, he had forced himself to wear blue jeans while he was on holiday. The starched crease in the jeans, going from hem to knees, was probably a direct bi-product of his time spent in the American navy as a translator.
As Jean-Michel leaned in a few inches closer to the top of the showcase, absorbing the difference in the two styles of figures, he could see his bulbous nose reflected in the glass over the case. He smiled at the reflection of his peppered mustache, which reminded him somewhat of the walrus in the children’s poem The Walrus and the Carpenter. His face fairly screamed, “Talk to me, I’m friendly.”
“Amazing, aren’t they”, announced Andrew Ruddell, quickly closing the distance between the doorway and Jean-Michel.
“They are indeed,” he confirmed. “Good to see you again, Andrew.”
“Good to be seen.” Andrew loosened the knot on his red and gray tie.
Jean-Michel refocused on the half-dozen antiquities below the glass in front of him. “I believe the only other museum in the world to have acquired pieces like these is in Boston.”
“ You are exactly right. They were removed from Easter Island in the late-1800s, just as were the Rongo writings.”
“And those panels ended up in Belgium, didn’t they?”
“Correct again. I knew you were the man to call.”
“It was fortunate I was still on this side of The Pond. I received your message in Stockholm and was able to fly right over.”
“Visiting Lucy’s parents, I presume”, asked Andrew, softening slightly.
“Yes”, he sighed, studying his shoes for a moment. “It’s comforting to be with them from time to time.”
“I’m sure it is. How long has she been gone?” They began walking towards the offices as they talked.
“It’s been almost three years.”
“And there’s been no one else in all that time, Jean-Michel?”
“No, no. I just seem to have lost courage, I suppose.”
“Well, having been born a Frenchman, you have an natural advantage. If you don’t find love, love will find you.” They shared a laugh, which eventually simmered into a smile.
Once inside Andrew’s office, behind a closed door, the balding Dean of Linguistics took a deep breath before beginning their discussion.
“It’s about the whole Peruvian thing, Jean-Michel. The Mexican authorities have been trying to keep a damper on the incident, but it’s just too good a story to keep away from the major news networks for long.”
“I’ve heard something about it. I thought it was a rumor. What exactly is going on, Andrew?”
Professor Ruddell crossed his arms and settled in on top of his desk. “Basically, a security guard was on duty two nights ago in the Museo de Franz Mayer, when he received a cell phone call. The particular sequence of tones from the incoming signal must have triggered a communication device inside a pre-Incan disc on display there. My sources are saying a holographic image was produced.”
“I doubt it,” laugh Jean-Michel. “Someone’s trying to pull a hoax, obviously.”
“I certainly agree with you, but there are historians already at the museum who seem to be quiet impressed. If it’s a fraud, it’s a good one.”
“Its claim to authenticity should be easy to disprove, Andrew. It should be just a matter of dating the linguistics.”
“Which is precisely why I called you. They’re having difficulty translating the audio. The best guess the experts have so far is some form of Coptic. I was hoping you could help.”
“Well, I’m familiar with Coptic, of course,” thought Jean-Michel out loud.
“There you are,” said the Dean approvingly. “I’d go myself, of course, if not for classes and all.”
“It won’t take long to debunk this trick. I should be back in the States by the end of the week. I’ll need to purchase tickets…”
“No need, my friend”, interrupted Andrew while picking up a folder from his desk. “I’ve already taken the liberty. All you need do is pack and bag and grab your passport. Your plane leaves in three hours.” He handed the folder to his friend.
“Andrew, good to see you again. I’ll contact you as soon as I actually examine the discs.” Jean-Michel headed out the office door and into the adventure of an autumn’s afternoon.
Eighteen hours later, Jean-Michel was standing on the floor of the Museo de Franz Mayer.
“Andrew Ruddell told us to expect you, Monsieur Dumont,” said a female museum attendant, dressed in the stiff skirted suit inherent of such a position. “Of course we’ll need to see your passport.”
Jean-Michel took note of the silk scarf tucked into her neckline as he handed over his identification. “Very good, Monsieur. My name is Marlene Pitts. I've been instructed to take you up immediately.” She began to lead him from the main gallery towards a private elevator. “We’re keeping the discs upstairs.”
Jean-Michel followed the attendant through the open door, turning as it closed. “We’ve separated the five discs and have been able to activate two more of them.”
“So that’s three of the five, total?”
She nodded. “Is there something unusual about my appearance, Monsieur Dumont? You keep looking at me.”
“Forgive my forwardness, Miss Pitts. It’s your red hair. Is the color natural?”
The lady bristled, then softened. “As a matter of fact, auburn is my natural color. Why do you ask?”
They began walking down the hall towards a small doorway on the left.
“I’ve read that some Pre-Incan mummies are redheaded.”
“Yes, I’ve seen them myself, in fact.” They were almost at the open doorway and she paused, turning to face him. “But my red-haired DNA arrived on this continent only fifty years ago.” They stepped into the laboratory.
Introductions were hurriedly exchanged between the interrupter and a handful of experts from related fields. Monsieur Dumont was introduced to Senor Maleto, the curator, before being directed to a lighted showcase with six stools around it.
“This is the disc we’ve had the most success reactivating,” said the technician behind a computer. “This disc is also the one originally activated by the guard.”
Jean-Michel pulled out a stool and sat at the end of the case that held a silver disc, perhaps twelve inches in diameter, with the raised symbol of a jaguar filling much of the center of the artifact.
The technician entered a sequence on his keyboard, some tones were heard, and then, suddenly, there she was, hovering before their eyes.
The image was eight inches tall, dressed in a white metallic flight suit. A white skullcap covered her hair, and she held her helmet pressed between her left arm and her hip. She began talking in a lecturing tone of voice. Jean-Michel moved in closer so he could see her facial expressions and her lips.
"Can you turn up the audio, please?" instructed the interpreter.
"Absolutely," obeyed Hieme. The room was silent, spellbound.
“I can hear the Coptic overtones,” Jean-Michel told the historian sitting on his right. “But it’s not Coptic.” He stared at her image again. If this was a hoax, it was expertly executed. The image actually seemed to be coming from the disc itself. "I thought this disc originated in Peru, not Egypt."
The curator leaned forward; "It's supposed to have been brought to Mexico City from Tiahunaca by the early Aztecs."
Then the translucent figure did something completely unexpected. She bent over and picked up something that must have been lying at her feet.
“It’s some kind of chart,” said the curator. “She’s holding up some kind of chart.”
Senor Maleto came around to the front of the holograph as the image ran her finger along an edge of one of the bold lines on the sheet.
“Look at these symbols here and here,” whispered Jean-Michel as he used a pencil to point. "They're hieroglyphics. The high stylized form used by the Egyptian priests almost five thousand years ago."
“It’s a map,” exhaled an historian. “She’s showing us a map with hieroglyphics on it."
“I’ve got it!” the interpreter exclaimed. “It’s Hieretic. I’ve seen the writing, but I’ve never actually heard it spoken. It’s a pre-Greek language spoken among the upper classes along the Nile River. Give me a moment to filter the speech patterns, remembering how the individual symbols would sound."
Jean-Michel allowed the words to flow through him as the hovering woman spoke. “The last…um…hairy elephant was killed for fun …four ellipses ago…years...but that’s okay…it would have been dead by now anyway.” Marlene grabbed a pen and began to write down the interpretation. The image was pointing to a spot on the map “killed here…” The image looked down and away. “You see other hairy elephants…trade talks when you come.”
“Get a stenographer from the office in here," someone called out as a man raced out the door.
The image hovering above the table sighed and stopped for a moment. She lay the chart at her feet and then removed her white skullcap. She tussled her short red hair for a moment before it settled neatly into a short bobb.
“Thoth”, she pleaded into empty space, seeming to gaze directly into Jean-Michel’s gray-green eyes, “…if you come while we fly…wait for us, as we have waited for you. Wait for me as I have waited for you. Ava-rei, saying off.”
The image was gone.
The interpreter crashed into the cushion on the back of his chair. He rested for a moment, attempting to regain his composure. "I'm in."
"You don't think it's a fake, then?" asked Marlene.
"From a linguistics point of view, I don't see how it could be. Could we see the disk again, from the beginning?"
"Give me just a moment," said the technician, keying instructions into the computer.
And there she was again, in skullcap and flightsuit, hovering over the display case. Jean-Michel once more began processing the words the vision was speaking.
"It seems to be some form of greeting, " he began to explain before beginning the literal interpretation. "…welcome, survivors…this is for you if you come while we fly…plenty of food…we are finding others…bringing to this city."
"This is where she picks up the map," whispered a historian.
She was pointing to the chart now, circling a space on left side of the sheet. "…where the rock fell from the sky…" She pointed now to a symbol and a dot next to a bold line on the right side. "…raising us far from the coast. The cloud wall fell next…mountains exploding…something about steam."
And then her spoken message about the hairy elephant was repeated, along with the ending.
The assistant rushed back into the lab, breathing heavily. “The office said they could have a professional stenographer here first thing in the morning.” The young man waited for instructions.
“That’s not soon enough,” demanded Jean-Michel, instinctually tightening his left hand into a fist. "We must move on to the next disc as quickly as possible."
The museum’s curator held his arms up to quiet the situation. “Let us take a moment to consider.” He looked around the showcase, at the four people seated there. “I realize we all want to rush forward into this thing, but perhaps it would be best to start fresh in the morning. We can’t be sure how many times these discs can be activated, and these words are far too important to lose due to undo haste. Although they are obviously being recorded, a stenographer would be a fail safe for the interpretation. And, by tomorrow morning, two Peruvian archeologists and an expert in pre-historical mythology and religion should be in attendance.”
Jean-Michel crossed his arms, relaxed, and shrugged. “You’re right, of course, Senor. But let’s be sure to start right after breakfast tomorrow.”
“Excellent, let’s assemble here at nine A.M.”
One by one the small assemblage began to trickle out of the room. Jean-Michel rose from his chair, shaking the stiffness from his hips and knees. The trans-Atlantic flight paired with middle-age was catching up with him. He watched the plate until it had been safely stored in a fireproof cabinet.
That night the Frenchman fell asleep under a blanket of paper made up of the one-hundred-and-thirty symbols of the Hieretic language. Somewhere in his being, he knew he was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.
"It's 73 degrees on this bright Tuesday morning in beautiful downtown Mexico City”, announced the radio clock on Jean-Michel's bedstand. He checked the glowing red digital numbers. It was 7:36. He must have hit the snooze button a few times in his sleep. He decided the staff at the museum had been correct: it would be better starting fresh this morning. He must have been exhausted.
By ten-till-eight, the Frenchman was sitting at a table for six under a white five-foot umbrella in the hotel’s outdoor café. The orange tablecloths and the blue and gold china were friendly reminders of the status of the hotel's guests.
All this affluence was a far cry from his childhood hometown: a small village in France. He wondered briefly what his breakfast table would have looked like if his grandparents hadn't moved the family to the States. His skill with languages had become apparent early, as he interpreted for fellow students of different cultures on playgrounds in New York City. At eighteen, while his classmates were climbing onto ships headed for Korea, his flat feet and his language skills led him into a career as an interpreter for the Navy.
Senor Maleto, a lab member, the stenographer, and the two archeologist from Peru were eagerly greeting the new day with hefty breakfasts in the rose garden cafe'. Marlene was the last to arrive and took the seat beside Jean-Michel. No one spoke about the discs. No one could be certain who was listening in such an open location.
By 9 AM, everyone was at the museum's lab, facing a silver disc embossed with a six-toed lama.
"Are we ready to start?" asked Hieme.
"Ready," echoed the group round-robin.
"Then let's begin." He tapped out instructions on the keypad. Seven tones were heard and a holograph appeared above the table. Before the assemblage stood an eight-inch man with red hair, peppered with gray, dressed in a metallic flightsuit. The image took a deep breath, smiled, and began to speak. Jean-Michel allowed the predominately Egyptian language to pour out of him in English. "Greetings fellow survivors. I am Makei-makei. Since the rain stopped five lunars ago...perhaps months...we search for survivors around us…may not be here, in this warrior city when you arrive…allow this disc to welcome you…sky runners will return.
"Until a few...days ago…trapped inside… food here for all…one hundred and twenty of us…most dead from the shaking and the water…"
The image looked down as if lost in deep thought. He brightened again as he looked to Jean-Michel's right side. "I have with me my Ava-rei." He motioned with his hands for someone out of range to step into the holograph. He was joined by the red-haired young woman as his smile broadened. She nuzzled under his arm and poked the gray-haired man in his abundant belly.
"Makei-makei should tell you it is the day of his birth," the teenager laughed. "Speak how old you are." The man hesitated. "This day he is 637 circles old."
The middle-aged man pretended to be disturbed. "And you are 142 circles, young one", he placed his hands on his hips.
Jean-Michel thought his heart would jump through his chest. "Wait for us to return...we wait for you." As the two began to step out of the holograph, a four-foot box with blinking, lighted hieroglyphics could be seen in the background. And then the image was gone.
The stenographer put his pad and pencil in his lap, and laid his hands flat on the table. "Have they all been like this?" he asked Jean-Michel, clearly mesmerized.
The man behind the computer fielded the question. "This is only the second disc we've interpreted. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say this is an earlier recording than the first because of the age of the girl.”
"Right you are," agreed the Senor Maleto. "The girl in this one could well have been the woman Ava-rei-pua in the jaguar disc."
Marlene leaned into the discussion, "What did she mean 653 circles old?"
The interpreter did what he did best. "The word she is using is basically pre-coptic in nature. I have no reason to doubt she's referring to the orbit of the Earth round the Sun, what we commonly refer to as a year." He drew himself up from his chair and plunged his hands into his pockets. "If I had to decide, I'd say this young woman meant exactly what she seemed to be saying: this man, Makei-makei, is 653 years old."
"But how could that be possible?" insisted the stenographer.
The expert on mythology stepped in at this point. "There was belief, widely held by primitive societies that, at some point in humanity's past, people lived hundreds of years, not just our typical seventy. The Hebrew, Gaelic, Native American, and Egyptian cultures, to name just a few, all believed mankind enjoyed incredible life spans before some kind of disaster befell mankind. After this event, whatever it may have been, people were forced out of the comfort of a hospitable environment and shoved into the world as we know it today."
"Imagine what could have been accomplished if people lived for a thousand years instead of the typical four-score and ten," said Marlene.
"That's right on target," agreed the mythology expert. "In our present world, knowledge is like a stick in a relay race; it's handed off over and over again every sixty years or so. Primitive people believed there was a time when humans could accumulate knowledge for a millennium before being forced to pass it on."
"People, people", interrupted the curator, "we'll have plenty of time to debate the meaning of these holographs after we see them in their entirety. Let us not get ahead of ourselves."
“I favor proceeding to the next disc immediately,” said Marlene.
The curator looked down for a moment, shaking his head in disagreement. “Unfortunately, I have a non-related conference scheduled for two p.m. If I miss it, things might look unusual to too many people.”
"Then let's meet back here at 11 o'clock ma-ana", suggested Marlene. "That will also give Tobias the time he needs to process a basic manuscript of what we just heard."
"Agreed," said the half-dozen scientists and linguists who formed the tight circle around the lighted case. "Eleven A.M. it is."
Immediately after finishing dinner in his room, Jean-Michel keyed an email to Andrew Ruddell on his laptop.
"My old Friend I'm full in
I stand amazed So I'm here for days."
He spent the rest of his strength that evening attempting to verbalize Hieretical symbols.
When he arrived at the lab at 10:30, the Frenchman found the curator behaving anxiously. As the group assembled slowly, taking their seats carefully, Senor Maleto studied everyone who entered.
"Someone's been talking", he leveled at the seated group suddenly. "I realize it's difficult to keep something of this magnitude within these four walls, but it remains paramount we get this translated before the story hits the press." He held up a newspaper. "This is the El Heraldo de Mexico Pantalla. It is this morning's edition. Yesterday, we were two paragraphs on page C12, and today we are three columns on A3."
"It's probably the reporter that the watchman started dating", sighed Marlene. "She's been chomping at the bit for first rights to the manuscript."
"Let us offer her exactly that, if she agrees to hold off further publication for forty-eight hours." The curator placed the newspaper on the countertop behind him. "Marlene, will you see to it she's given our proposal this morning?"
Marlene rose to her feet hesitantly, gathered her purse and put on her blazer. "I'll see to it," she told the group as she left the room.
Senor Maleto waited quietly to hear the sound of Marlene stepping into the elevator. There was the sound of the doors shutting just before the hum of the elevator descending.
"I can't prove it of course", he exhaled, "but I believe it's her. I think she is the leak. I've already given the reporter the heads up on the situation. I just don't want Marlene in here." He relaxed, finally, placing his palms on his knees before leaning against the table surrounding the disc.
"If we focus," said Jean-Michel, "we should be able to finish the translation today."
"Agreed," affirmed the assistant at the computer. "Let's set that as our goal."
"Then let us start the session", said the curator.
Everyone's attention shifted to the silver disc at the center of the table. It was embossed with an etching of an anaconda. Seven tones were heard and an image appeared. Ava-rei floated above the table, seemingly in her late twenties. Her red hair was tinged with grey streaks by her ears. Even with that, thought the Frenchman, she looked perfect. She seemed to him the kind of woman who could witness the destruction of a planet and still stand strong enough to survive and thrive. He was amazed by her resilience and cowered by her authentic beauty. As she spoke, her words poured through him.
"Fellow survivors greetings. If you arrive in this meeting house while we are gone you are welcome. Now that the water has returned to the seas...we begin to search the new coast…boats coming from the west. My mate, Thoth, has seen an island…a mountaintop of the old lands. More of that land might appear." The vision hesitated and looked at her black canvass shoes. "Maybe not. Those of us here find it hard…the way things have become.
"We got an air talk ten lunars...ago from the great red cliff people. They said the ground there…turning to ice…moving north. We tried to answer the air talk but…it was a just a circle call for help.
"Be careful fellow survivors, of the star in the sky. It burns the skin as it floats above us. The star in the sky...the cause of rapid age in our children. Ten babies here with us look older now. We keep them in the caves as much as possible. The red-haired female stopped speaking and kneeled, motioning for someone outside the holograph to join her. A dark-skinned child ran into her arms. "This is Moxami. Only four circles old…but already walking and says words run together. If she keeps going like this…Moxami may die before two hundred circles old. Beware of the star. It hurts children.
"A good thing, now that the cloud wall fell from the sky – there are color arcs which show after small showers. These arcs are like the rock arcs...crystal arcs. Have you seen them?
"A good thing also - the lights in the night sky. As a sky runner, I saw them before Day One, when I flew above the cloud wall, but I stand now on the dirt and watch them. Others stand now seeing the lights for the first time.
"There are now 183 here…47 here from the west sea. Broken is one of our power boxes. I use the skyrunner's power boxes to make this spoken word. Thoth has tried to fix, but without good pieces, the power box may be lost. We use the other one for heat at night. If the other power box fails, we may leave our warrior city and go down to the coast.
"Wait for us till we return. We wait for you."
Later that night, as the interpreter lay beneath white, starched sheets and a gold colored cotton bedspread, he smiled thinking of the red-head he had recently met: not Marlene but Ava-rei. She tussled her bobbed hair for him once more before his exhausted body gave into the need to sleep.
Sometime after midnight Jean-Michel dreamed that he was home, walking in a park. There had been a severe drought and the shrubs, the trees, even the grass were brown and dry and dieing. Suddenly he heard the sound of children laughing. Following the noise, he floated to the top of a hill where a dozen children splashed in a fountain. As he watched, he realized Ava was there too, playfully chasing the children into the water that poured joyfully from a bronze pitcher held by a statue of Pan.
No one would ever know, not even the dreamer, but Jean-Michel quietly chuckled in his sleep.
Jean-Michel sat quietly at the bar beside the hotel’s indoor pool. He watched the reflection of ripples in the water as they ran up the red walls only to hit the ceiling and run back down again. Thirty-something couples lounged about in white linen clothing, chuckling at small tables with bright orange tablecloths. “Uno Margaritas, por favor”, the Frenchman told the bartender. He watched the young man shake the iced concoction in front of the three-dozen lighted bottles behind him. The hanging paper lights stood out like small moons against the cave-like ambience of the midday bar.
“May I sit?” asked a friendly feminine voice at his elbow.
Jean-Michel looked up from his light lunch. Of course the voice belonged to Marlene.
“Sit, please”, he invited, motioning to the chair beside him.
“Merci’ Monsieur Dumont,” she responded, smiling while settling in at the bar.
“Thank you for speaking my native tongue”, he smiled back. “I hear it far too infrequently I fear.”
“I spent six months studying art in Paris years ago,” the cheerful woman offered freely. “Ombligo de Brumoso, por favor”, she instructed the bartender.
The interpreter quickly eyed the other hotel guests who were sitting at a safe distance. “Did you catch up with that reporter?”
“I did”, she hesitated “but I got the impression she had already had the proposition presented to her. She listened, but she really wasn’t listening. A person can tell, you know.” The tall fruity drink arrived, complete with paper umbrella, and Jean-Michel instructed the bearer to put it on his tab. “Merci sitot de nouveau”, she smiled.
“In a very short time, secrecy will no longer be an issue,” he told her.
“True, true”, she shrugged while cradling the Fuzzy Navel between her palms.
“We should be able to finish up by tomorrow evening” he lied.
“Aren’t we meeting again this afternoon?”
“Hieme has been having difficulty activating the last two discs.” His body position instinctually became more guarded.
“I’ll call Senor Melato then,” she said beginning to rise, "and see if there will be an afternoon session today.” She reached into her black leather handbag and retrieved her cell phone as she walked towards a door marked ‘Damas’.
The interpreter relaxed as he finished his enchiladas. Pushing the platter forward, he ordered coffee while retrieving a pack of Camel Lights and a Zippo from an inside coat pocket. The cherry on his cigarette had burned half-way down the cylinder by the time the museum assistant returned.
“It seems they’ve had no luck at all activating either disc. They’ll be working through the afternoon trying a variety of tonal combinations,” she told him while reclaiming her seat.
Jean-Michel nodded while rising. “Ma-ana then,” he told the lady while signing the visa receipt with a bar pen.
“Ma-ana”, repeated the redhead cordially.
Twenty minutes later, the interpreter was seated beside the showcase in the lab. Also present were Senor Maleto, the stenographer, the expert in mythology, the two Peruvian archeologists, a historian from Britain, and the computer technician – Heime. Jean-Michel noted the time –1:17 p.m.– and unlatched his watch, setting it beside him on the table.
In the center of the showcase was a silver disc embossed with a fleet of men riding reed boats, surrounded by jumping fish and peaceful waves.
“Are we ready?” asked the museum curator.
“Ready”, answered the half-dozen men and women round-robin. The rat-tapping of the keyboard was heard, followed by seven tones, and then she was there with them, floating above the silver disc. Ava-rei-pua hovered there, eight inches tall, wearing a coat of jaguar fur with thick white material covering her legs. Behind her stood a man whose posture seemed to be protective of this woman. She raised her hand in greeting as she began to speak.
The words poured through the interpreter. “Fellow survivors greetings. We are Ava-rei-pua and Zehuti-thoth once of this frozen mountain city. We leave this record for you to know - we have sailed to a rock – in the west sea. Our second power box – broken – three weeks before. We use power from the sky runner to give this message.”
The man behind her placed his hands on her shoulders as he began to speak. “There are tribes…primitives – no marauders – along the coast land. They came from the middle after the water stopped. We cannot match their lust for blood. I now wear a birdman mask when I walk on the coast. It frightens them at night.”
The man, Thoth, held up a feathered, full-head mask in the shape of a bird’s head. Ava began to talk again.
“After three battles, I am going to the island…the belly of the world. I have with me my brothers, Hotu Matua and Machaa… fifty others.” The woman sighed deeply before proceeding. “Zethu-Thoth will use a skyrunner to look east for fuel and survivors. Then he will return to me. We have a reed boat with three masts... leave as soon as the weather breaks.”
“This will be our last greeting.” Thoth put his hands on his hips. “This new world…harsh indeed. The land is ice below our feet. Our tools become useless. Makei-makei has died of what looks like ageing…only 640 years old. If we survive as a people we must search out warm safe place to plant. The Ava people take with them sweet potatoes and young reeds - out of which their ship is made.” The image of the man stepped beside the smaller red-haired woman and reached into his heavy white flight suit. He pulled out a wooden pendant attached to a leather string. “Ava, I give this as a wish for you, so you may be huge and happy when I return.”
The woman examined the token, turning it in her hands. She placed it over her head, around her neck. It was a wooden pendant resembling a stocky smiling female. She turned back towards the Frenchman seemingly looking directly into his eyes. “Fellow survivors, we have with us the builder of statues here in this mountain city. When we arrive at our new home…this one will build images of rock to show we are there…we are waiting for you.”
As the pair moved out of sight, two kneeling statues with eyes turned skyward could be seen in the background. Another carving could be seen over a stone doorway: a man looking heavenward with tears on his cheeks. And the image was gone.
The small group drew a breath, almost in unison. The curator was the first to speak.
“Unfortunately, we have been unable to activate the fifth disc, the birdman disc. It may have been too badly damaged over the millennia to ever be re-activated. So our work together is regretfully finished. The museum will be releasing full information to the newspapers in the morning. Of course we look forward to reports from each of you. Tomorrow morning before leaving, please pick up transcripts of these tapes from the front desk at the hotel.” Senor Maleto made a slight bow to the experts assembled before him. “Thank you each, once again. I trust your journeys home will be safe and enjoyable.”
As Jean-Michel left the laboratory, he wondered how pleasurable his journey home would ever be. His life was comfortable and intellectually rewarding, but there was a deeper need in some dark corner of his soul. It was a need that could have been fulfilled, perhaps, if he and the lady from the holograph had lived during the same time period. He was slightly amused to find himself envying Zehti-Thoth, who faced rebuilding an entire world, but had the woman Ava-rei-pui at his side.
The next morning, Jean-Michel rose early, showered, dressed, and packed.
He picked up his manuscript at the front desk, and placed it reverently in his carry-on suitcase.
As the Frenchman was walking towards the revolving door to exit the hotel, a group of three middle-aged women caught his ear. He could hear them almost giggling to each other. There were two blondes and one tall red-haired lady with short bobbed hair. It was obvious at first glance that the taller woman was the leader of her small troop. Then she broke away from the threesome, and began to head towards the elevator. She waved to her friends as she called to them: “Wait for me, I’ll be right back. Remember, I waited for you.”
And a middle-aged Frenchman, who hadn’t known love in three years, crossed the lobby floor to ask a perfect stranger if she knew the correct time.
Murder in a Fishbowl
As published in Aphelion Ezine
“When did they discover the body,” Elizabeth Miller shouted at the back of the tall man striding up the stairs ahead of her.
“Just over four hours ago,” answered the police lieutenant. “And the killer was within five feet of the corpse.”
“I’m certain you meant to say ‘the accused’ instead of ‘the killer’, Detective Darcy.”
Elizabeth’s small frame was causing her to run up the stairs, but she did so without much effort. She caught up with him, and they now stood on the Grand patio of Griffin Enterprises. Towering over them was a bronze statue of a man with a robotic dog by his side.
“Did you say she’s already been declared insane?”
The police lieutenant just nodded and smiled. “It wasn’t that difficult to come to the conclusion she was crazy, Doctor. She was discovered cowering in a freight elevator with the body of her boyfriend stuffed into a 1880s safe. And they still haven’t found his head.”
“How do you know it was her boyfriend?”
Detective Darcy looked away for a moment as though irritated by the simplicity of the question. “Murder is always about love or money. As a psychologist you should know that.”
“Well, if she did it, she certainly had a flair for the dramatic.” They began walking towards five revolving doors leading inside the six-story building.
The Lieutenant, a steady man in his mid-thirties, stopped and looked down upon her, as if ready to give her orders. “We need her sane and ready to stand trial by the end of the week. Senator Lampton, the press, and the public are all screaming for a quick resolution to this case.”
She stared up at him defiantly, meeting his courteous but steady gaze. “All this reeks of a rush to justice, Detective Darcy. In spite of what the public, and the press, and Sinister Lampton wants…”
“I’m certain you meant to say ‘Senator Lampton’ doctor…”
“My point is: no matter what anyone wants, each mind takes its own time to heal. If I attempt to accelerate the process to meet some arbitrary schedule, it could push the accused further into her delirium.”
The Lieutenant decided to take a different tack. “This case is just so unusual. The Listeners have never been involved in any kind of scandal. And now there’s this murder, right under their noses, right inside this very building. And two of their best and brightest are involved.”
Doctor Miller started to respond, but the detective held up his hand to stop her momentarily. He touched a small, round device on the rim of his outer ear. Elizabeth noticed the auburn hair around the back of his neck seemed a little unkempt. “I believe they’re ready for us, Doctor. Shall we go inside?” The psychologist entered the revolving glass door first, with Detective Darcy sharing her glass enclosed slice.
Black and silver marbled walls shot upwards from the lobby floor for three stories. The left wall was a 30-foot-high pane of sound proof glass, and an eager crowd of tourists shuffled in front of it. The room behind the glass was commonly referred to as ‘The Fishbowl’.
“Excuse me for a moment, Detective. I haven’t seen this before.” Doctor Miller walked up to the glass wall and peered down upon the twelve people inside. They sat upon crystal-clear chairs, at crystal-clear desks, while talking over head-phones with starships. The only color in the room was incidental, although the holographic starcharts and planetary maps over which their fingertips flew were neon bright. None of the employees paid attention to the bright colors, or the crowd - although they all knew the tourists were always there. The explanation of the employee’s indifference was not the result of a two-way mirror. You see, of course, all twelve employees were blind.
“Who would have thought it,” asked the Detective, stepping up behind Elizabeth, staring over the top of her braided auburn hair.
“Who would have thought what?”
“Well, that the blind would have become so important to the space industry so quickly. One day they’re eking-out a living like the rest of us, and the next day they’re earning millions.”
Dr. Miller shifted slightly. “It wasn’t really an overnight occurrence, Lieutenant. The blind were routinely using condensed speech recordings as early as the mid-twentieth century. They called it ‘double speak’. When starships began sending back audio transmissions condensed due to hyper-light travel, the blind population became an obvious resource.”
“I had no idea you were such an expert on the visually impaired, Doctor.”
“The mini-guide sensors implanted in their fingertips and toes were also a perfect fit with the electronic maps.”
“I understand the fingertips, but the toes?”
“They use their feet to shift the starcharts, like someone playing an ancient pipe organ.”
“Your knowledge is very eclectic, Doctor. I stand impressed.’
“Oh my,” whispered Elizabeth, “look three seats back – there’s a Yangorian.”
“You haven’t seen one before?”
“Well, they’re very secretive, of course – almost like a cult. On their homeworld they’re regarded almost as gods.” He leaned forward a bit. “You see the gem in their forehead, just above where their eyes should be?”
“Yes, I see it.”
“They wear that device to protect their sonar sight. When the first Yangorians immigrated to Earth fifteen years ago, the department had an all day seminar about them. It’s believed that, when the galaxy was seeded with humanoids, their race was placed below ground. Inside the shell of their planet, they were protected, and there were endless caverns, filled with water and food and warmth. Thousands of hot springs provided photosynthesis for plant growth. Eventually, others found their way to the surface, but the Yangorians decided to stay below – and their vision withered away to nothingness.”
“So how did they end up directing space traffic?”
“The above-ground race developed space travel over a century ago, and their below ground cousins proved to be as valuable to them, as the blind are to us.”
“I’ve heard their hearing is also amazing,” said Dr. Miller.
As if on cue, the humanoid raised his face towards the pair and smiled. The absence of eyes couldn’t waylay the feeling that the Yangorian was looking at them. Dr. Miller and Detective Darcy released their breath only after the humanoid turned away and returned to his work.
A thin woman in a modern, yet modest dress appeared at a doorway at the far end of the lobby. She motioned to the pair, inviting them to follow her inside.
“Doctor Miller, Detective Darcy, I’m Mary Griffin. I’ll be your guide.”
“Are you related to the Griffins who own the facility,” asked the detective.
“Why yes, Detective Darcy. I’m one of five brothers and sisters,” she answered politely. “As a blind community, we’re use to things being done a particular way, as our needs apply. This is why Griffin Enterprises opted to keep the accused under house arrest instead of releasing her to a sighted detention facility.” As Mary began leading the pair down a long white hallway, the detective noticed a fragrance he hadn’t smelled since childhood.
“What is that scent, Ms Griffin?”
“No, no, it’s something else. Wait a minute – it’s hand soap, isn’t it?”
The friendly lady in the patterned pleated dress turned away from them, the edges of her mouth beginning to harden a little. “You are absolutely correct, detective. I keep some in my office. It’s physically reassuring somehow to not use the germ zappers occasionally.” Doctor Miller noticed the doorways were unmarked. As they passed by, however, holographic globes jutted out at them, displaying room information.
Elizabeth tried to shift the conversation somewhat. “Yes, it is amazing the way some physical childhood objects can either calm down or ignite an adult. I enjoy actually putting pen to paper, for instance. It’s reassuring somehow and enables me to concentrate.”
Mary giggled nervously, throwing her head back enough that her tightly curled hair bounced about. “You certainly are the expert on that, Doctor. I’ve read some of your papers. It’s amazing how the past can flood into the present. Maybe that’s what happened with…”
“Please, Ms. Griffin,” Elizabeth interrupted, “no proper names. If I’m to successfully re-align this subject, she must be as anonymous as possible – at least at first.”
“Of course, Doctor. I wasn’t thinking,” shrinking away with another forced laugh.
Detective Darcy stepped forward, stalling the trio to a halt. “No harm done, Ms. Griffin. As we say in the business; no blood - no foul. I was noticing in the fishbowl, however, that there were no vacant seats.”
She thought for a moment before answering, taking off her glasses and placing them on top of her head. “We brought down two new Listeners from the third floor. We have a total of eighty Space employees online at all times.”
“It must be very important for Griffin Enterprises to keep up appearances,” observed the Detective.
Mary Griffin retook the lead. “It is indeed. My family has closing this case as our top priority, especially with the annual meeting coming up tonight. Any help that we can do to hasten the end of this mess, will be given immediately.”
“The Annual Meeting? What’s that,” asked Darcy.
“It’s our annual awards program and business meeting. We have trustees and honorees holographing and transporting in from all over this end of the galaxy. It’s sure to be a full house, especially with all this murder business going on.”
“It’s obvious, then, that Dr. Miller and I should be in attendance. It will be an excellent opportunity to study the framework of this organization.”
“I’ll make a note, Detective. Things get a little crazy around here while we’re preparing for the AM – but the dinner starts at 5:30. Chicken, Fish or vegetarian?”
“I’m sorry. What do you mean,” asked Dr. Miller
“We serve only the best food at the meeting. We’ll have dirt grown vegetables and real animal entrees,” replied Mary.
“Real animals? I think I’ll stick with the vegetarian entrée,” said Elizabeth.
“I don’t know,” thought the lieutenant out loud. “I’ll try some meat. Kill me a fish.”
“I’ll relay your wishes to the staff,” said Mary. She ran her hand over a light in the wall and the door swished open. Inside was a small room enclosing a wooden table and two metal chairs. Upon the small table sat a device closely resembling a crystal ball.
“Excellent, Ms. Griffin. It’s exactly what I ordered, except for the second chair.”
“I was hoping I might be allowed to view the re-alignment, Doctor. I’m a huge fan of the process you developed.”
Elizabeth shrugged while answering. “The process is classified, I’m afraid. However, if the Lieutenant would like to view the re-alignment, I’m sure that would be okay.”
Without saying anything, Detective Darcy slid into a seat at the table.
Dr. Miller looked at Mary. “Has the accused been prepped?”
“She is prepped and sedated in the next room.”
“Has the memory implant been tested through this receiver,” asked the doctor, nodding towards the crystal ball.
“Not yet, but I’ll be happy to tell the surgeons you are ready to proceed.”
“Your help has been very much appreciated, Ms. Griffin,” said Elizabeth. “If you’ll also remind Simcha to establish audio between the two rooms.”
Mary left the room quickly, stepping into the make-shift laboratory in the next room. Just yesterday, the room had been an aseptically clean environment, for use as an electrical lab. Now it was empty except for a chair, two surgeons and the accused who reclined quietly while sleeping soundly.
As Mary got closer, it became obvious that the back of her head had been shaved. A section of her skull – about the size of a half-dollar – had been removed, providing clear access to the brain inside. It pulsed along with the heartbeat, through a blood vessel that was clearly in sight. A dozen pebble-sized devices clung to her scalp.
“Is she in pain,” she whispered to a surgeon.
“Not really. The brain has no pain receptors, and the entrance point itself is heavily anesthetized,” said one of the surgeons quietly. “She’s beginning the REM cycle, Dennis,” he told the other surgeon, noting the eye movements under the eyelids.
“Are you getting a signal, Doctor,” asked the surgeon behind the chair.
The soothing voice of Dr. Miller rang into the room. “Got it.”
In the other room, Detective Darcy and Dr. Miller sat facing the crystal ball on the table. Above the glass device hung a foot-tall holographic image.
“This is what she’s dreaming,” whispered the doctor. “Really, it’s the image originating from an implant located in her hippocampus, at the base of the cranium.”
Hands were setting a table. The kitchen table was chrome rimmed with six chairs. The hands went to cupboard and took two plates and two forks, sitting them on the table. In the center of the table appeared a bowlful of ketchup. The hands began scooping out the red liquid, sloshing it onto the white china plates.
“What are you doing,” asked Doctor Miller.
“I’m setting the table for mommy and me, for me and mommy, mommy and me.”
Suddenly the hands stopped, and the sound of birds chirping could be heard in the distance. A woman’s face appeared from out of the darkness. “The lovebirds are fighting again,” it told her harshly.
The focus turned and the kitchen became a hallway. There were four large men holding college pennants seated against the walls. They blew gently on her face as she went past and then shouted ‘hoo-rah’.
A creature lumbered past, twelve feet tall, and looked at her for a moment. It had the body of a huge poodle, with a tube-like snout that hung to the floor. Its tail wagged but was short and hairless. “An elephant never forgets,” it told the dreamer. “An elephant never forgets,” it repeated before disappearing into the darkness.
By now, the lovebird’s chirping had turned into harsh screeching. The pitch had gotten higher and the chirping was accelerated and chaotic. The dreamer could see the birds clearly now, their claws swiping at each other inside a room-sized metal cage.
“The lovebirds are fighting again!” The dreamer was screaming now, deep inside her fog-like visions. “The lovebirds are fighting again!”
Detective Darcy looked at the doctor while she whispered into a small microphone banded to her wrist. “Dennis, three c.c.s of serotonin, please, followed with 1 c.c. of dopamine.”
Although Elizabeth couldn’t see the injection being performed, the surgeon was injecting the chemicals directly into the exposed blood-vessels. As the chemicals found their target neurons, the electrical signals jumping the synapses changed and the hologram over the table seemed to waver and melt.
The doctor was speaking now in comforting tones, at a conversational volume. “Look again. Look again. The birds are in a tree, building a nest.” As she spoke, the picture changed. Now there was a walnut tree shooting up out of the metal cage. The lovebirds happily flew in and out of their home built of twigs.
“Dennis, the endorphins please, at your discretion,” she whispered into her wrist microphone.
A swing appeared at the base of the tree and, through the dreamer’s eyes, the branches overhead began to sway near and far, near and far.
The hologram faded and was gone as the dreamer slipped happily into a deep sleep.
“Decidedly a good beginning, Dennis,” Doctor Miller said into her wrist. “Let’s schedule the first memory activation in forty-five minutes.” Elizabeth looked at the man across from her. “The technical name for the process is neurological re-alignment, but I like to think of it as dream and memory sweetening. We don’t actually re-invent what the subject remembers, we just modify it.”
“I thought the accused was blind,” said Detective Darcy.
“Ah. The obvious question.”
“I’m an obvious kind of guy,” he smiled.
Elizabeth took a deep breath and smiled back. “Individuals blinded before the age of about five report no visual imagery in dreams as adults. Whereas, those blinded after the age of seven are likely to retain visual images in dreaming. The accused must have been over seven but pre-teen when she lost her sight. The fact that she didn’t understand what an elephant looks like tells us she probably had never seen an elephant, so her mind made one up using forms familiar to her.”
Ms. Griffin knocked and re-entered the small room. Lieutenant Darcy quickly rose to his feet. “I hope your first session went well,” said Mary.
“It did indeed,” answered Elizabeth. “I’m ready to proceed to the second step in a few minutes, in fact.”
Detective Darcy extended his open hand towards Elizabeth. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Doctor. I’d like to sit in on another session, if you don’t mind.”
“I’ll save you a seat,” she told him, interlocking his hand with hers. They held the handshake there, over the crystal ball, for just a moment longer than either of them expected, before releasing it.
“Could you also make a recording of the sessions available to me on my holopod?”
“I certainly will, Lieutenant.”
The door swooshed open and Mary and Lieutenant Darcy stepped into the hall. From outside the door, the lieutenant took one more quick look at Elizabeth, who was making quick notes in a white folder.
“Would you like to see the crime scene, Detective? I can take you there,” said Mary in a chipper tone of voice.
“If you can just point the way, Ms. Griffin, I won’t bother you any further.”
“Oh I don’t mind, Lieutenant.”
“No thanks, Ms. Griffin. Please, just point me in the right direction.”
Mary hesitantly gave way. “All you need do is hold this mini-guide and tell it where you want to go. Sensors inside the wall will cause it to vibrate in the appropriate direction. If you get too far off course, it will cease vibrating completely.
The detective held the small cylinder close to his mouth. “Murder scene,” he told the device. There was no response.
“Freight elevator 2,” Mary said, turning away.
“One more thing, Ms Griffin,” he said, calling her back. “I noticed earlier that you placed your glasses on top of your head. You don’t need them then?”
“Not really, lieutenant. I had my eyes re-focused two years ago. I continue to wear glasses because it helps me feel a certain camaraderie with the people we serve. I’m constantly losing them, I fear.”
Detective Darcy knelt before the huge black safe, awed by the elaborate floral decorations painted on its sides. ‘American Publishing House,’ shone in gold lettering above the opened four-foot doors. There was a tropical scene on the inside, complete with palm trees, a sunset, and dried human blood.
He looked around the crime scene. There were two policepersons, a maintenance man, and a young, slightly balding man standing with his back to him.
“Jim, how was the victim killed exactly.”
The older of the two police-persons stepped forward, pointing to the door of the freight elevator. “It appears that this metal grate came down first, trapping the victim by the neck, with the rest of his body caught outside the cage.”
“Yes, yes, I can see that.”
“Now if you’ll notice the walls, Detective, there are weights and counterweights that raise and lower these two, eight-inch thick, metal plates – causing them to meet in the middle.”
“Step inside, Jim. So I can see how that works exactly.”
The elder policeperson stepped in and pushed a button, holding it while the mechanisms were closing. The yellow grate came down quickly sounding a hollow ‘thud’ as it hit the floor. Then two metal plates began to move inside the walls - one from above the top of the elevator descending, and the other from below moving up. They met in the middle with a formidable pounding sound, closing off the shaft so no one would fall into it.
“I saw you holding the button the whole time, Jim. Is that really necessary?”
“Absolutely. If you don’t, the doors and gates immediately revert to the start of the cycle.” Jim had been pressing a button below the first, and the doors and gate opened.
“So if his body was outside the cage when those metal sheets came together, he must have literally been torn in half. Someone had to actually hold the button down the entire time the victim was being snapped in two…and then stuff it into the safe…and hide the head. Anger that strong sounds like love to me.”
“I can see your point,” said the policeman, opening the elevator door.
“There aren’t any directions on this elevator and the Braille has been filed down. How did you figure out how to run it?”
Jim pointed a finger at the young man still standing in the same spot. “He told me.”
The lieutenant looked over at the only civilian in the area. “Excuse me,” Detective Darcy shouted to the man. “How long has this mountain of metal been riding this elevator?”
“Can I be of service,” asked the young man cordially. As he turned, his obvious blindness caused the lieutenant to pause for a moment.
“I’m Detective Darcy,” he said, introducing himself.
“Do you work in the Fishbowl?”
“Not at all. I’m in Field Services, I fear. I’m still eking out a livelihood down here on the bottom.”
“I certainly take your meaning, sir. Do you know how long the safe has been on this elevator, Michael?”
The employee smiled. “It’s been here for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been with Griffin Inc. for twenty years. I know it was made by Hall’s Safe and Lock in 1872 and originally cost the company $250.”
“I’m surprised the doors weren’t sealed shut. A child could have gotten trapped inside.”
Michael laughed slightly. “Oh, it’s safe enough. The owners installed powerful magnets between the doors and the frame. They repel each other.”
Detective Darcy ran his fingers around the edges. “I don’t see any magnets.”
Michael knelt beside him and began searching for the magnets with his fingertips. “That’s odd. They’ve always been there.”
“This may have been a crime of passion, but it was also pre-meditated,” the detective said under his breath.
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant. What did you say?”
“I was saying…” Then William paused. “How do you know my rank, Mr. McCarty?”
“You must have told me when you introduced yourself,” he stammered.
“Of course, of course,” he answered, backing down. “Where does this elevator go?”
“It goes up into the building a bit – just floors one through three. And it goes…” Michael stopped suddenly.
“Go ahead, Michael. Where else does it go?”
“Well, it goes into the basement, but we don’t use the basement any longer – except for storage.”
Detective Darcy paused for a moment. “I’d like to see the basement, Michael. Could you accompany me there?”
“Of course I could. We all want to help get this thing resolved as quickly as possible. But it’s not a good idea. You’re just wasting your time down there in the dungeon.”
“The dungeon? That’s an odd nickname.”
“That’s what everyone calls it. It’s so quiet and musty,” said Michael, continuing to stand unwavering.
“If you don’t mind pushing the button, Michael. The panel is right in front of you.”
“Well, okay, if you insist, Detective Darcy.”
“I do,” he said.
Michael’s hand found the control panel. The gate crashed shut, the metal plates met, and the cage began to descend.
“How can you tell which buttons to push, Michael?”
“Really, if you push the wrong button, the elevator won’t respond. And if you push the wrong button twice, it’ll make a blaring, honking noise.”
The yellow wire cage came to a halt at the basement and Michael began to open the gates on his left. Detective Darcy looked in the other direction. “I’d like to go the other way, if you don’t mind.”
“Well, if you insist.”
Reluctantly, Michael let the previous mesh gate slam shut and then slowly opened the door and gate beside the detective.
“You’ve been most helpful, Michael. I’d like to poke around a bit by myself, if you don’t mind.” The detective stepped outside.
“That may not be a good idea. Your remote won’t help you down here, because the walls don’t have sensors. You might get lost.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” said Michael, holding down the button to close the yellow mesh door.
“One last question: what is that humming sound?”
“Oh that? It’s the fans,” Michael said as the elevator began to rise. “They keep the boxes cool.”
“Oh, right- the fans,” echoed the Detective, finally assured that he was on the right path.
Doctor Elizabeth Miller sat before a crystal ball making notes in a white binder. “Are we ready to proceed, Dennis,” she asked the air around her.
The surgeons in the next room stood in back of the accused who was continuing to sleep peacefully.
“Simcha and I are ready anytime you are, Doctor.”
“Good, good,” she said, laying the notebook on the empty chair across from her.
“Computer, show me the Subject’s neural map.” An image appeared over the small table’s crystal ball showing the chemical circuits on the surface of her brain. Even at rest, the cortex was glowing with activity. Eight of the highest trafficked neurons clusters glowed brightly, like large lighted cities glowing against the backdrop of a nighttime planet. These memory centers had been charted earlier and pebble-sized voltage regulators had been placed directly over them.
“Neural center eight seems to have been recently accessed, let’s see what’s in there. We’ll start with an activation voltage of 70 millivolts, and build slowly from there.”
The image over the crystal ball changed from a cerebral cortex to an out of focus series of changing shapes and sounds.
“Increase the voltage by 10 millivolts,” she ordered as the image grew sharper.
“Ten more,” she said as the hologram became sharp enough to see boulders and rocks passing by. The dreamer’s feet were running up a hill in the dark. A giant crystal cliff glistened in the distance with the reflected light of a planet’s satellite. “We have it, Dennis,” she whispered.
“Dreamer, where are you,” Elizabeth asked.
“I’m on my homeworld. I need to find a place to hide from my aunt. She’s really angry.” The movements of the rocks became less jarring as the girl slid into a pit on the mountain of stone.
Suddenly there were voices. “That child is as stupid as a pail full of warm, wet snails,” said a harsh female voice.
“And as useless as a bump on a log,” answered a man’s voice. The darkness in the shallow pit became deeper as the dreamer slipped back further into a corner of the crevasse.
“Why are they looking for you, dreamer,” asked Elizabeth.
“Shhh!” insisted the dreamer.
“They can’t hear me,” said Doctor Miller. “Just answer me in your mind.”
“Okay. My aunt was having a Brockaloo party and I ate some of their sweet breads.”
Suddenly there was the sound of footsteps not five feet from the dreamer’s hiding spot.
“I work like a dog to help that girl, and look where it gets me,” said her aunt. “Why I ever agreed to keep her after my sister died is beyond me.”
“You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, Grace. You’re a good-hearted woman, that’s all. If you weren’t my uncle’s daughter, I would have…”
The dreamer shifted nervously in the pit.
“What was that, cousin? Did you hear something?”
Through the girl’s eyes, Dr. Miller could see her look down at her arms and legs. What looked like shiny black stones glistened in the moon’s light, moving up and down her legs.
“Bugs,” the dreamer shouted in her mind as they wriggled on her arms. Her hands began to swipe at the slithering insects, knocking some of them to the pit’s dirt floor.
“Come on, honey, come on out. Your Auntie Grace ain’t mad at you no more.” The voice laughed mockingly. “Like hell I ain’t. I’m gonna beat that child like a swayback mule on a Sunday morning.”
“Spare the rod and spoil the child is what I always say,” said her cousin.
“Right you are Lumas. As right as rain.”
Down in the pit, the dreamer was still swatting off bugs.
Her aunt’s voice cackled through the night air. “It’s as cold as a witch’s tittie out here, Lumas. I say we just leave her out here all night. We’ll come back tomorrow and see what’s left of her.”
“Serves her right cousin. Serves her right.”
“She’ll be as crazy as a bedbug, Lumas.”
“As crazy as a bedbug,” the man echoed. There was the sound of footsteps descending down the rocks. The wind began to pick up and carried with it the sound of moans and screams from somewhere further up the mountain. The monsters lived up there. That’s what people in the village had told her.
The dreamer’s hands began to dig into the pit’s clay walls. The fingernails clawed upwards, one hand at a time. “I’ve got it,” she whispered to herself as her fingers felt the edge of the pit. Then she was sliding backwards, like a tiny mouse trapped in a teacup. The pitbugs were upon her again, crawling up her feet, getting under her clothes. The hands were slapping them off as quickly as they could, but there were too many of them.
In her safe, well light cozy room, Dr. Miller signaled Dennis to begin a precise injection regimen of mood-enhancing chemicals.
“Where are you dreamer,” asked Elizabeth’s voice.
“I’m in here! I’m in the pit!”
“No you’re not,” she hushed. “Take another look.” The scene began to change, shimmering for a moment. “You’re playing Crackers with your friends – a lovely game of hide-and-seek. It’s a sunny day and you’re in back of a tree, hiding and giggling.” As the scene shifted, it became exactly as the Doctor described. The dreamer could see other children looking for her. There was a blonde girl with sunken cheeks, frolicking with a three-foot-tall Meerkat. A dark-eyed boy ran in back of a cottage looking for her, leading around a stuffed squirrel on a string. A girl blurred by a fog also delighted in the game, running among the flowers. Black insects floated by in a non-threatening manner.
“Do you see the stairway, dreamer,” asked Elizabeth in a marshmallow tone of voice.
Out of nowhere, a double marbled stairway appeared at the center of the garden. “I do see it, I do!”
“Climb to the top, dreamer. Climb up the staircase.”
“No, I’ll stay here if you please. Here is fine.”
“It’s better up the stairway, dreamer. Trust me, you’ll see,” said Elizabeth.
Tiny feet began walking then running up one side of the stairway. At the top of the stairway was a patio, upon which sat a pastry cart. The dreamer began to sample the sweet breads, eating as many as she pleased.
The hologram faded. “That’s eleven and a half minutes, Doctor. We’ve set that as our limit.”
“Exactly right, Dennis.”
“Did she decide to climb the staircase, doctor?”
“She did indeed. This was, once again, an excellent session. I’m very impressed by the resiliency of the subject. Let’s allow the subject the rest of the day off.”
“Could I talk you into a late lunch, Dr. Miller? Simcha and I are going to Cunningham’s.”
“You most certainly could. I’ll be with you in five.” Elizabeth returned to working in her notebook.
Detective Darcy saw two of the fans as soon as he turned away from the elevator. There was little light in the ‘dungeon’. A series of thick block windows, each a foot high, were set into concrete where the foundation met the new building. Small hills of neatly stacked boxes rose from floor to ceiling. They were still exactly as their publishers had left them when every blind child routinely began receiving microdots in their fingertips. Twelve steps from the elevator, a six foot fan blasted air into his face.
“That’s one,” he said under his breath.
Seven steps further and a ceiling fan pushed air down from overhead. “Two.” He could hear a third fan in the distance, but couldn’t see it. Overruling his fear of the dim light, the detective walked past cardboard boxes, doors marked ‘Not An Exit’, rows of empty lockers. He passed small pine boxes – two feet by three feet – which looked like infant caskets. In reality, they were merely sturdy boxes used to transport the metal sheets used in decades past to imprint Braille books. Five steps forward and two fans blasted air at him, one at his face and the other rotating on a stand at chest level.
“That’s three and four.” He took a few more steps until he came to an open space in the box towers.
The lieutenant looked around, blinking quickly, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim light. He observed the stone walls, glazed concrete floor, and drop-tiled ceiling. “No clues here,” he mumbled, spinning around slowly. Then he saw something. It glimmered in the dim light. He knelt down, resisting the urge to pick it up. The object was a woman’s black-rimmed glasses. “The lovebirds are fighting again,” he whispered. He tapped the side of his forehead, taking a picture of the scene with a camera embedded in his blue bionically-enhanced eyes.
Something behind him shifted. It was the elevator beginning to descend. A gate clanged open and two metal doors slid up and down.
“Detective,” shouted a man’s voice. “Detective Darcy.” Two sets of footsteps began coming directly towards him as he noticed the mini-guide he was holding begin to vibrate emphatically. He placed the device on a box and slinked away.
As the men came into the open space, the small device began to beep.
Detective Darcy was hiding now, silently moving towards a staircase.
“It’s just his guide,” said Michael McCarty.
“Maybe he left it behind accidentally and then went back upstairs,” said the other man.
“Or perhaps he is still here. Shut off those two fans,” he ordered.
Darcy could hear the click click of two switches being thrown. The fans slowly wound down and stopped. The men were listening now as he held his breath.
“Okay, Tim, throw the fans back on and I’ll get the box. It’s right here next to shipping.” Footsteps coming close, too close. Michael was feeling along the edge of one row. “I’m not finding it,” he said in frustration. “Can you find it?”
“Are you sure it’s still down here, Michael? Maybe she already got it.”
“On, no. She was very clear that she wanted me to bring it up. Someone’s moved it, that’s obvious. Boy, is she going to be angry.”
The detective heard the sound of footsteps moving back towards the elevator, then weights and counterweights being used, as fans resumed their lonely watch. He stood and walked into a bathroom off the main room. He could see soap dispensers over each white ceramic sink. As he began walking quietly up a staircase, he could tell the dust on some of steps had been recently smudged.
The lieutenant dusted himself off and began walking through the building upstairs. He saw Michael McCarty talking with a woman who was obviously agitated. It was Mary. She turned as he walked up.
“Oh, Detective Darcy,” she smiled. “We thought you had gone already.”
“I was just about to, Ms. Griffin.” He held out his dusty hands. “I hope you don’t consider this impolite, but could I use your bathroom to just wash my hands. I’ve been downstairs, you see, and it’s very dirty down there.”
The lady laughed nervously, her tiny feet shifting about inside her high-heeled shoes. “Why of course, Detective. My office is right through this door.”
“Please, continue your conversation. I can find my way,” he told her.
Inside the washroom, lights flooded the mirror over a small dressing table. At the golden sink, the germ zapper hung at the ready. He placed his hands under the facet and felt the warm air run over his hands, blowing away the dirt. He then lifted his arms before the zapper, the old cells hanging in the air for a moment before evaporating. He stepped back. On the sterile, white countertop, he could see make-up and clean towels and hairspray…everything but a bar of soap.
Detective Darcy stood in front of one set of double doors leading into the Grand Marriot’s Ballrooms C & D. “Detective Darcy,” he said and the doors disappeared briefly, allowing him to step inside. The grand room was filled with sixty round tables covered by crisp white tablecloths. He was half an hour early, and the wait staff were busy hovering over the square china plates and crystal water glasses gracing the tabletops. He walked over to a set of windows that allowed a spectacular view of the Louisville Skyline. Being this close to the Ohio River, it was easy to see people walking through the three arboretums spanning the waterway. Each park was named for the bridge it had originally been: the I65, the 2nd Street, and the L & N. Up river, he could see monorail trains entering and exiting tunnels under the river.
“Lieutenant, I thought I’d find you here,” said a soothing female voice.
He didn’t have to look to know it was Elizabeth – but he looked to his right and smiled anyway. “Good of you to join me.”
They began to skirt the outside of the room. “Do you see the cubes the wait-staff are putting by the cups,” asked Dr. Miller. Darcy nodded yes. “The ivory ones will display menu choices of people actually in the room. The silver ones are receivers for holographic guests.”
A spat suddenly broke out between two waiters at a corner table close to where they stood. “You should know better,” the elder one whispered loudly to his subordinate. “You never sit a human with a Yangorian. The Yangor delegation would take it as an insult and refuse to attend.”
The younger man bent forward, removing the silver cube. “But the humans won’t even be here – they’re just images. And we need the extra seats. We planned for 328, and two more were added at the last moment.”
The elder waiter shook his head again furiously.
“Excuse me,” said Detective Darcy approaching the waiters, “but we couldn’t help but overhear.” The lieutenant broke into a wide smile, in an effort to soften tempters. “I believe my ladyfriend and I are the source of your troubles. I’m Detective Darcy and this is Dr. Miller. We certainly wouldn’t mind being at a table by ourselves – perhaps over there in a corner.”
“Thank you for your courtesy and understanding, sir,” said the eldest server, bowing slightly. “My staff will be certain provide you excellent service.”
Dr. Miller and Detective Darcy stepped away. “That was nice of you, Detective,” said the psychologist.
“Why thank you, but I really wanted an unimpeded view of the diners.”
An hour later, 330 guests were seated, conversing politely.
A tall gentleman with a jovial face that seemed to say ‘Talk to me, I’m friendly’ stepped up to the podium. After a measured amount of time, he began tapping a symbolic crystal glass with a silver butterknife. “Ladies, gentlemen, and gender neutrals: welcome warmly to the 197th Annual Meeting of the American Publishing House for the Blind.” The crowd merrily returned his enthusiasm with a round of applause. “My name is Tuck Griffin, and I’ll be your MC for the evening. I’m delighted to report revenues are up – so we can all relax and enjoy this delicious meal set before us.” Taking one step to the right of the podium, he reached down and picked up a six-year-old blind boy who was standing there. The child happily shouted to the crowd – “Let’s eat!” Representatives from a dozen different planetary systems laughed before beginning to do just that.
“Tell me what you see, Detective…” inquired Elizabeth, sipping her soup lightly, “…as a trained observer I mean.”
Darcy studied the room for a moment. “I see the Dom-powells are ingesting only water.” He nodded towards a table of eight.
“They have some food on their plates,” retorted his companion.
“Yes – but they won’t eat it. The Dom-powells are a military race. Over a century ago, they began having processed nutrition packs implanted in their digestive tracts. As they drink water, nutrients are released into their blood, eliminating the need for their troops to carry food supplies.”
“That seems like a drastic step,” said the Doctor.
“It also eliminates any need for latrines, since there’s no solid waste. Very efficient and it makes their troops more difficult to trace.” The detective took a bite of his fish fillet and seemed to enjoy it. “What do you see Doctor…as a trained observer.”
“I see the Yangorians in all their state. Notice the red sashes tied where their eyes would be. They seem to be very proud of what they don’t have.” The lieutenant glanced towards their table where four males were present holographically. A Yangorian woman also physically sat at the table. She wore layered robes which completely concealed her form, but her face was kind and elegant. “I believe the male is the Yangorian we saw in the fishbowl.”
“Have you seen the female before?”
“No I haven’t. But she is stunning, isn’t she. I’ve heard that her name is Lystria.”
“But why the red sashes? Are they afraid they’ll offend us?”
“It’s more likely the Yangorians wear the sashes because they see themselves as perfect, while those of us who have eyes are flawed somehow. The males, at least, seem very satisfied with themselves.”
“Perhaps,” said the detective, taking a sip of his beverage.
“Why do they shimmer like that?”
“Wait a minute – you’ll see.” True to form, the holographic image of one of the Yangorians seemed to blink off for a moment. Darcy gasped. “They’re piggy-backing messages on their holo-signal. It’s not illegal – but it’s more than a little rude.”
Suddenly the female at the table stood up, tore the red sash from her face throwing it onto the table, and rushed out of the room. The males only chuckled slightly while glancing briefly at the humans at other tables.
“I wonder what all that was about,” said Elizabeth.
“I have a feeling I’ll find out, given enough time,” said Darcy, drinking deeply from his wine filled stemware. He turned slightly, motioning to a uniformed officer behind the small table. “Follow that Yangorian woman. I’ll need a full report on her movements first thing in the morning.”
As the couple returned to their entrees, a tall, elderly man at a table close to the podium stood, excused himself, and exited the ballroom discretely.
Lieutenant Darcy floated thirty feet above the summit of Gorilla hill. The Louisville Zoo’s cages lay in ruins on the ground, and hundreds of children swarmed from hillside to hillside, happily playing tag with peaceful, freed animals. Zebras, pumas, snow leopards, and more all frolicked in the sunshine with children decked out in Halloween costumes which were more fantasy than scary.
“Detective Darcy, you need to wake up,” sighed a feminine voice.
He looked towards his left elbow and found Doctor Miller was floating amongst the clouds with him.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he mumbled.
She turned to face him. “You need to rise to consciousness,” she told him, her volume rising.
“I’d rather stay right here…” he began.
“Lieutenant Darcy, wake up!”
The detective sat straight up in bed, shaking a little. A globe of light floated in front of him.
“Lieutenant, I’m sorry to disturb you,” said a man’s voice, “but I find I need your assistance.
He recognized the voice now: it was Private Anheiser, the policeman he had instructed to follow the Yangorian female. Darcy drew the covers up over his chest before touching the ball of light.
“That’s okay, Andrew,” he said as the fuzzy globe became a foot tall holograph of the policeman. “Tell me about it.”
“I’ve been watching Lystria since the dinner, but SkySpy just confirmed that I’m not alone in doing so.”
“Exactly right – someone else is also watching her.”
The detective was racing around his small room now, throwing on his clothes.
Fifteen minutes later, Darcy was walking the last block towards the St. James district at Magnolia and 5th. Originally built as the city’s first suburb during the 1890s, preservation societies had thankfully saved three hundred Victorian mansions from the death grip of ‘progress’.
“I’m here,” he quietly told Andrew while skirting the ring of soft light surrounding a gas lamp.
“I thought maybe I was just paranoid – I’m not use to these flickering period pieces – but SkySpy confirmed there’s a human in a mobile who has been here as long as I have.
“I won’t look now – but where is he?”
“Behind you and two houses up. He’s parked by the fountain, on the other side of the divide.”
“Well, let’s shake the rabbit from its briar patch, shall we?”
The lieutenant drew a deep breath, noticing how crisp the night air seemed to be. “Give me time to alert WinStar and I’ll approach the mobile from the back while you approach him directly.
Five minutes later, Policeman Anheiser crossed the green, heading straight towards the mobile in question. “Don’t be alarmed,” he shouted, “I’m a policeman. I just want to talk with you.”
As he got within five feet, the vehicle thrust three feet into the air, beginning to hover. “I’m a policeman,” he shouted again while displaying his neon globe-badge.
Suddenly the mobile shot away from the curb, bouncing Andrew aside with its tiny force field – only to jerk to a stop just as suddenly.
“Why do they always run,” gasped the Lieutenant as he raced to the mobile’s side. “WinStar, open the door,” he instructed a satellite via his wristband. The door opened and a lanky, elderly gentleman folded out onto the street.
“I apologize for attempting to flee,” he said with an air of open honestly. “I suppose it’s merely instinct.”
“I’m sure you’re right, Mr…”
“Doctor, actually. Doctor Will Evans.” The statesman extended his hand, a handshake ensuing between him and the Lieutenant.
“Is that title a bestowed honor, or are you really a…”
“Oh, no, no, no. I am a medical doctor,” he answered almost jovially. “I’m an obstetrician, specifically.
“If you don’t mind my asking then, Doctor Evans – why would an obstetrician be sitting on a public street till 4 AM?”
The doctor scratched the palm of his hand nervously. “May I see some identification, officer?”
Darcy held out his arm, touched his sleeve, and a ball of light appeared, floating a few inches beyond his palm.
“Thank you, Detective Darcy.” The steady, graying man looked down and away before finding the confidence to even whisper his reply. “I’m guarding one of the aliens.” The brazenness of the response surprised both policemen. “Truly. I’ve been following a Yangorian woman to ensure her safety.”
“Perhaps we should all go upstairs and talk to the lady,” Darcy said as he took the obstetrician’s elbow, nodding at Andrew to lead the way.
Lystria resided in the third floor flat of a home built for a wealthy family of nine. The street façade was that of a 17th century English Countryside house, built of river stone. The sides and back of the building were simple red brick.
Andrew cranked the restored doorbell, knowing full-well the action had set in motion a much more complicated series of technologies than the simple ‘ring ring’ would suggest. “Police,” he told the air above the welcome mat.
A light came on over the door jam, revealing that someone was home and watching the odd trio. “Identify yourselves,” ordered a computer-enhanced voice. “Detective Darcy and First Private Anheiser.” The two policemen held out their palms, presenting their globe-badges to the security device.
“And the third person?” As the policemen broke rank so the third man could be seen, a woman’s startled voice rang out. “Dr. Evans, is that you?”
“Yes, my child, it is I.”
Stepping into the apartment, Darcy asked the obvious question: “Would you mind turning on the lights?”
“Of course, Detective. I tend to forget little niceties like that. Forgive me.”
As the lights came on, Darcy couldn’t help but be impressed at the lavishness of the décor. “Is it all original?”
“If only it were. On Yangor I studied human history and this was my favorite period. These three hundred houses were the central reason I jumped at the chance to be a listener at APH.”
“This is a marvelous stained glass window,” said Dr. Evans while striding across the hardwood floor to look at it more closely. The window was rectangular, at least eight feet high by six feet wide, with a floral motif surrounding three people entering a tomb.
“It’s a reproduction of ‘The Miracle of the Resurrection of Bobby at Rochester.’ The original is in London I’ve heard. I can’t see the colors, of course, but with my sonar sight I can appreciate the difference in the variance of the hues.”
“Is it the purpose of this clear oval in the center to allow light into the room?”
“No, no,” she began to explain with obvious pride. “That piece of lead glass was inlaid so the riverboat captain who built this house could watch the paddleboats on the Ohio.”
“It’s a shame that all you can see now is the apartment building across the street.”
“That’s progress for you,” shrugged Lystria. Turning towards the Lieutenant standing in front of the tile-encrusted fireplace, Lystria began the conversation. “What is this all about, officer.”
Before Darcy could answer, Dr. Evans was upon her, taking her hands in his. “I fear for your safety, my dear child.”
“But why doctor? This building is secure enough, and noone can get through that door without my approval.”
“You are no match for the Vag-gai-nooze,” he whispered hurriedly.
Lystria’s face went pale and Andrew helped her to a high-backed chair in the corner. “How do you know this name, Doctor?”
“Yes, Doctor Evans, why don’t you tell all of us,” insisted the Detective.
The elder gentleman sighed before beginning his explanation. “We humans have been told that citizens from the planet Yangor began coming to our planet just over a decade ago.” He paused, looking into the female’s eyes. “But some of us believe this is simply not the truth.”
Lystria quietly nodded ‘yes’.
With this affirmation, the obstetrician began to pick-up-steam. “I am a member of a small circle of friends, with its origins centered in Scotland. We believe the Yangorians have been checking in on us throughout human history. The Hebrew Scriptures talk of a time when the Nephreum walked the earth. These were giants among men who fathered children who later become the great heroes of old.” He paused, giving the statement a moment to sink in. “Some of these giants had mankind’s best interest at heart. Imhotep, for example, may have been one of these visitors – he’s shown in some etchings with a vale about his eyes. He introduced humanity to astronomy and architecture – hence, those serving him may have founded the Order of which I am a part.
But there were others – as there always are – who chose to hide behind the scenes, pitting one nation against the other, profiting off the wars and misery which resulted. They fashioned themselves as gods. They were taller and stronger than humans, with two hearts – a spare that took over if the first was destroyed. Their sonar sight and their hearing also made them superior – except when a human hid.”
“I’m lost,” said Andrew, “what does hide and seek have to do with it?”
“Let me put it like this: When you were a child, did you ever dream that something huge was chasing you?”
The policemen nodded yes.
“And then you hid behind a chair or a rock – anything that completely covered your shape? This dream is archival – its how to escape a Yangorian assassin because his sonar can’t actually see through objects. What else will a small child do when hiding?”
“Hold their breath,” asked Andrew.
“Right! A Yangorian can hear your heartbeat but he can’t tell the direction its coming from unless he actually hears the breathing.”
“Good to know, Doctor,” said the detective appreciatively. “Good to know.”
Lystria took up the tale now. “This carnage is why laws were passed on Yangor to place distance between Earth humans and ourselves. These laws allowed mankind to grow up. Intermarriage between our groups became looked down upon, but the love between Byron and me was too strong to be bound by these rules.”
“Lystria, as your doctor I can’t tell these men the truth. You must do that. They are here to protect you – as am I.”
She drew a breath, rose from her chair, and turned towards the window. “I’m pregnant,” she sighed as though hopeful but heartbroken at the same time.
“It will be the first human-Yangorian baby in…”
At that moment, the stained glass window exploded inward. Years later Darcy would remember how time seemed to slow to a point where he could see a dozen shards of colored light shoot past Lystria’s form. Given the density of the layers of clothes she wore, she could probably have survived the shards that punctured her face and hands – had it not been for the assassin that followed them into the room.
Before Andrew or Darcy could complete their lunges, the Yangorian male had Lystria in his arms. The brightness of the shards of flying glass were nothing in comparison to the brilliance of the female’s red blood as he drew a knife across her throat.
Years later, the detective would take courage in the thought that Andrew’s sacrifice was not in vain, for his flying body knocked the knife from the assassin’s hand. But a sacrifice he was as the giant in the living room swatted Andrew away as a child might swat a mosquito – propelling him out the hole created by the window’s absence.
Lystria’s body slumped to the floor, falling from her murder’s embrace. He looked around the room but the other humans had disappeared. He listened and heard the loud thumping of their heartbeats. He began systematically overturning the furniture. The wing-backed chair in the corner. The dining room table. The 1920’s buffet.
By the time he got to the couch, Darcy had the knife in his left hand and sprang like a jack-in-the-box, expertly plunging the blade into the soft spot below the giant’s left rib. The assassin only grimaced and then smiled, knowing he had the fly in his web. And then the policeman pulled out the blade only to plunge it into his flesh once, twice, three times, a fourth… On the fifth stab the assassin’s face seemed to turn to stone, his body falling backwards.
The Lieutenant stood over the body, knife in hand, for what seemed like an hour but was only about a minute and a half. “Doctor Evans, are you alright?”
“I’m here, detective,” he answered quietly – crawling from behind a sofa. The doctor was obviously in shock.
“Doctor Evans – Will – we can’t save Lystria, but you can save her baby.”
“Yes, yes you’re right, detective. At least there is that possibility.”
“I’ll see about Andrew, Doctor,” he said firmly – while placing the Yangorian’s bloody knife into the obstetrician’s hands.
Sunday, Nine A.M.
Three officers approached the mountains of boxes in the APH basement with a unified resolve. Detective Darcy led, with the policeman and policewoman following closely.
“Our task is simple: find the needle in a haystack. We’re looking for a box big enough to hide a man’s head. We need to find it before the killers do. Stacie, you take the right. Lawrence, you’re on the left, and I’ll take the center aisle.”
“What do you want us to do if others come down,” asked Lawrence.
“Just hide and observe. Maybe they’ll lead us to it.”
Within five minutes of the time the trio had begun their search, Lieutenant Darcy could hear the counter-weights inside the elevator shaft beginning to fall. He could only hope his assistants were as aware of the elevator’s descent as he was.
“Detective, Detective Darcy,” shouted a man’s voice. Silence. Silence. There was just the whirling of the fans.
“I think he’s still upstairs, Michael.”
“You’re probably right. Let’s just find this blasted thing and get out of here before she goes crazy.”
There were the heavy thumps and thuds of boxes being shifted and moved for the first time in decades. As he listened, he heard something else – something like fingernails on a chalkboard, only muted. The sound was clawing on cardboard, at the end of his stack of boxes. Something inhuman had joined the party. He began crawling towards the noise. It stopped. Whatever it was knew he was down here, invading its territory. Detective Darcy moved closer, closer. The sound was coming from inside a room with the door slightly propped open. A sign on the grey door proclaimed, ‘Every Machine Inside This Room Is Dangerous’. He was on his hands and knees as he peered into the room. The clawing sound had begun again. In the dim light, in the corner, was a box out of place. It was two feet high.
He swallowed his fear, crawling into the room. He could see holes torn in the box, with small brown rats coming and going. On the edges of the holes was a dark, caked liquid. He couldn’t be certain, but odds were good that he had found the victim’s head.
“What was that,” asked Michael.
“What? I didn’t hear anything.”
Darcy shouted “BOO!” and all hell broke loose. The rats scampered, Lawrence and Stacie jumped up, Michael and his cohort began to run towards the sound of the Lieutenant’s voice.
“There he is,” shouted Michael – but their objective was already halfway up the stairs, running at full speed with the box tucked securely under his left arm.
By the time the Detective reached the 1st floor landing, the four people in the basement were dispersing in two directions – each pair running up a separate staircase.
Monday, One P.M.
“Requesting Entry,” said a mechanical female voice.
Elizabeth Miller stopped writing, laying aside her tablet. She cringed for a moment thinking it might be a reporter or a civilian. She was seated at the same small table, complete with crystal ball and extra chain.
“Identify person making request.”
“Detective William Darcy,” said the voice with obvious indifference.
“Entry allowed,” the Doctor acquiesced, smiling slightly for no obvious reason.
The door to her small room slid open and the Detective stepped inside, his six-foot-six frame completely blocking the entrance. He touched the back of his neck nervously and Elizabeth noticed he had trimmed his hair.
“I trust you weren’t already in progress, Dr. Miller,” he said, taking the seat opposite her.
“If I had been, I would have refused entry, Lieutenant. The process is very specific and can’t be interrupted.” She paused for a moment and almost giggled. “The computer called you – William. As in William Darcy?”
“My mother was a huge fan of Jane Austin. I believe the original name in the book was ‘FitzWilliam.”
“Quite so, Detective. I fear that I cannot tease you about that then, Mr. Darcy.”
“And ‘What a shame, for I so dearly love to laugh,” he answered. They both laughed for a moment, remembering for a moment that it felt good to laugh.
“Wow. A man who knows his 19th century novelists. I am impressed.”
“I was hoping I could take you up on your offer to sit in on another session, Doctor.”
“Of course, Lieutenant. We’re about ten minutes out.”
“Is the subject responding well to treatment?”
“She is. In fact, she ate dinner on her own last night.”
“She wasn’t doing that before?”
“No. The first twenty four hours she refused food completely. And then she allowed herself to be fed. Whatever happened on Sunday, she’s allowing herself to heal somewhat.” Dr. Miller looked at him directly. “Are you still certain she’s the killer, Detective?”
He breathed deeply before answering. “I can tell you that I have a gut feeling some of the employees aren’t as helpful as they’d like to appear.”
“As a physiologist, I have very much the same impression.”
A man’s voice interrupted. “Dr. Miller, we’ll be ready in about two minutes.”
“Thank you, Dennis. Keep me appraised.” She looked at the man across the table. “We’ll be delving into another memory today.”
“Yes. I replayed both the dream and the memory from Saturday.”
“We have no idea what we’ll be privy to. Both good experiences and bad have equal value on a neural map. So we’ll have to wait and see.”
“Will she get to the point where we can see the actual killing?”
“It’s doubtful, I’m afraid. It depends upon her inner strength – her foundation, if you will.”
“Here we go, Doctor,” said Dennis.
The globe on the table began to glow as a hologram formed over it. There were blurry shapes and forms that seemed to be moving around the dreamer. “Can we get this image any clearer, Dennis?”
“I can increase the wattage to 80 milivolts, but I’d hesitate going any higher.” The image grew a little brighter, but the forms were still as blurred.
“Back it down to 70, and ask Simcha to increase the audio, please.” She whispered to William, “this is obviously after she went blind.”
There were men and women talking now. “Desperate times call for desperate measures and all that…”said a male voice trailing off at the end.
“If only the rains had come, Simon. The crops are dieing in the field. The livestock are refusing to eat the stubble left behind.”
“Better for one child to…well, you know…than the whole town starve.”
There was a cry of pain, and the forms crowded around the subject. “She’s having another contraction. Come one, sweetheart, you’ve got to push or the baby will die inside you.”
“The focus went to black. “I’d rather the baby die inside me than allow you psychos to have it.”
“Desperate times, my child…” began a man’s voice again.
“Yes, I know,” the dreamer screamed, “desperate measures.”
“Push, love, push,” comforted a female voice.
The dreamer’s voice began crying and pushing at the same time.
“I can see the crown of the head,” said a man’s voice. “Good job…now just one more push…”
“One more push, and it’s over with,” begged the female’s voice again.
A baby’s cry filled Dr. Miller’s small room.
“It’s a boy,” proclaimed a man to the applause of the small crowd. Scordia will be pleased. The firstborn son of a blind girl…He will honor our sacrifice.”
A man whispered nearby. “Give her something, Andrew. Something to knock her out.”
“I can’t. She’s lost too much blood already. She’s just going to have to endure it. What you can’t change – ya gotta live through.”
“Give me my baby,” she shouted only to be drowned out by a rising chanting.
“Scordia will be pleased,” shouted one voice. Another voice was repeating, “Our god be praised.” A third chanted, “Bless your followers with rain. Bless your faithful with abundant life.”
The baby’s crying grew fainter and fainter as if being carried away.
“Give me my baby back,” sobbed the dreamer.
Dr. Miller sat back in terror as the hologram dimmed and the sounds slipped into quiet sobs.
“Dr. Miller, are you okay,” whispered Detective Darcy, leaning forward.
“Who’s there? Who’s there,” asked the dreamer.
Dr. Miller took a deep breath. “I am. I am here with you.”
“Make them bring back my baby.”
Elizabeth pushed a button her wristband to inform the surgeons to begin a controlled influx of chemicals. “They haven’t taken your baby. It was some other girl’s baby. You were walking down a path and came upon a girl giving birth.”
The colors on the hologram began to brighten.
“Oh, yes…you’re right. I remember now. I was walking to the village when I heard a girl giving birth. And there were people all around her.”
“That’s right. There were people there who loved her and were helping her,” said Elizabeth softly. “And when the baby was born, they took him away to wash him, and dress him, and put him into a crib.”
The hologram was bright now, with colors resembling clouds floating past. “What was I so upset about,” asked the dreamer. “I’ve forgotten by now.”
“I’ve forgotten also,” said Dr. Miller. The hologram shimmered and faded, and was gone.
“Dennis and Simcha, another good session,” said Dr. Miller loudly.
“We are on a roll,” answered Simcha.
“Let’s set another session for 3 PM,” instructed Elizabeth.
“I wonder if it helped.”
“If what helped,” asked Dr. Miller.
“The rain – I’m just curious if it came,” said the Detective.
Elizabeth’s hands flew over her holo-pad. “According to the records available – the planet Kimgee did have a drought around the time the subject was 16. The rains eventually came, however, flooding the towns around the Great Crystal Cliff in particular.”
“Perhaps they should have been building reservoirs instead of wasting time sacrificing children.” Detective Darcy stood and began to leave, albeit reluctantly.
“I was hoping,” began Elizabeth, “that I could watch you at work sometime. Obviously, you’ve observed me.”
“I’d like that very much,” William smiled. “I’ll be going over some recordings tomorrow morning. They’ve set me up in a room just down the hall.”
“How will I find you?”
“I picked up a new mini-guide, and you can use it, if you’d like. I know the way.” As he handed it to her, Elizabeth could feel the tips of his fingers glance off the palm of her hand. “Just speak to it and it’ll guide you. Ask for William Darcy.”
Tuesday 9 AM
“Entrance requested” said the feminine mechanical voice.
“Identify,” ordered Lieutenant Darcy.
“Dr. Elizabeth Miller.”
“Really,” said the Detective, beginning to snicker slightly. “Entrance granted.”
The door came open and Detective Darcy was still chuckling a bit. “Miss Elizabeth. How good of you to come.”
Dr. Miller smiled and began to chuckle as well. “I thought I had told you my first name, Mr. Darcy. How did you find out?”
“I’m a detective – remember?” He pointed to the door. “I’m lying. The computer told me when you requested entry.”
Dr. Miller sat in a chair beside Lieutenant Darcy. “What are we looking at,” she asked, motioning towards a flat image hovering over a table, perhaps five feet by four feet.
“I’m having Sky Spy review its recordings of the last two weeks.” On the image, the five rooftops of Griffin Enterprises stayed constant as people scrambled in and out in fast forward.
“Are you searching for the accused?”
“As a secondary program, yes. I’m really watching the victim.” They waited for a moment and a white dot appeared with the label V1. It exited the dormitory, went up the stairs of the Main Building, and disappeared inside.
“That was the victim going to work on Wednesday morning at 9:30.”
“How does Sky Spy identify people, detective? All I see is the top of people’s heads.”
“That is exactly what the program uses, in fact. It measures hair density to identify people.”
“Well, first it eliminates most people by hair color – blonde, brunette, or redhead – then it takes into account the shape of the hairline – obviously eliminating men who are balding.” The pair watched the image as the white dot V1 exited the Main Building and entered the activities building. The detective touched a virtual box on the hologram in the lower right hand corner. A counter in the corner turned over to ‘three’. “From there it counts the number of hairs on an individual’s scalp and measures the distance between the hair follicles.”
“And all of this happens from two miles in space,” Elizabeth whispered in awe. “He knows the number of hairs on your head…”
“Yeah, God and Sky Spy. It’s useful in establishing patterns.” He glanced at Elizabeth briefly before returning his full attention to the screen. He seemed content to know she was there, beside him. “SS: search for any individuals entering building three multiple times within fifteen minutes of the victim designated V1.”
“Two subjects found meeting the search parameters.”
“List and Label as secondary programs,” said the detective.
“Michael McCarty - two times, human …and Female Yangorian Lystria…three times.”
“Mark female Yangorian Lystria as a secondary subject.”
“Secondary subject 4 labeled and tracked.”
People could be seen coming and going. Evening, night, morning. Elizabeth pointed as dots and people ran up and down the stairs. “Who are the other secondary subjects, detective?”
“Well, there’s Mary Griffin, she’s S2 – she just seems nervous about the ongoing investigation. And there’s Michael McCarty – her ‘familiar’ for want of a better word. He’s S3.”
“And who’s S1, detective. If you don’t mind me asking,” asked Elizabeth.
William looked away from the screen and drew a deep breath. “The other labeled subject is at a remote location,” he informed her, quietly. “Here we go again. Friday morning – people coming to work, 7 AM, 8 AM, 8:30 – there’s the victim – right on time. Out the dorm.” They watched the white dot V1 as it descended the steps and got halfway up the stairs leading to the Main Building before turning moving the bottom of the screen. “He’s headed towards the gardens. Focus at 30 feet.” Four seconds passed before the dot V1 intersected with blue dot S4.”
“The victim and the female Yangorian are standing in the gardens together,” said Dr. Miller.
“Focus at six feet above, SS, remove dots and reproduce original picture.” Now the lieutenant and the doctor could see the couple as if floating six feet above them.
“They’re talking together. They’re a couple,” said Elizabeth.
“How can you be so sure?”
“By the distance between them and the way they hold their hands behind their backs – as though having them in front would produce too great a temptation to touch each other. And by the way they sway – it’s all part of a subconscious, evolutionary mating dance. It’s unmistakable if you’ve studied people enough.”
“Secondary subject S2 approaching V1 and S4,” said the hologram.
“Expand Range until S2 shows,” ordered Detective Darcy.
The focus floated upwards a few feet until Mary Griffin could be seen standing within earshot of the pair.
Dr. Miller leaned forward. “They don’t know she’s there listening. Lystria has her back to Mary and Byron can’t see her. She’s hiding in plain sight.”
The unlikely trio stood in the garden for a full five minutes until the victim and the Yangorian walked away in opposite directions. Mary finally left after the two were inside different buildings.
“Mary is far too curious just to be an indifferent subject,” said the detective. Sky Spy was continuing forward as days and nights were run through from a god’s eye view above Griffin Enterprises. The victim and the female Yangorian continued to enter the same buildings from different directions at the same time. Friday night, the victim dot and the Mary Griffin dot met in the garden.”
Evening, night, morning. “Here comes Saturday,” said Lieutenant Darcy. “Eight AM, 8:30, 9 o’clock.” By 9:30 all three dots (the accused, the Mary dot, and the victim) were all inside the main building. The outside of the building seemed oddly serene as a murder was happening deep within its bowels.
“I want to listen to the dream holo again,” said William as an aside. The images before them continued playing.
Suddenly Elizabeth pointed to the picture. “Oh, look, that’s you…” and she stopped mid-sentence. William was striding up the stairs followed by a blue dot labeled S1.
William fidgeted with his holopad. “End program Sky Spy,” he stammered. The image immediately went blank.
“I apologize,” said William.
“Am I a suspect?”
“Not at all, Dr. Miller,” he told her without facing her. “I use multi-billion dollar systems to watch smart, beautiful women.”
“It’s not a problem,” she whispered touching his sleeve for a moment. “Thanks for the compliment. Now let’s see the dream sequence again.”
William relaxed and pressed a button on the table. The pair now saw and heard the plates being placed on the table, the walk through the fans, and the bird’s fierce fighting.
“Entrance requested,” said the computer.
“Identify,” said William, turning off the holopad.
“Yakasium of Yangor,” announced the computer.
“He’s the male we saw in the fishbowl,” Elizabeth wrote on a notepad.
“Entrance granted,” said William.
The door slid open and the Yangorian stepped through, being a whole six inches taller even than William. He was magnificent, an ideal of masculine beauty even without eyes.
“I heard an argument going on in here,” he said. “I thought two humans were getting ready to kill each other.
“You heard it? Through the walls,” asked Elizabeth.
“Of course I did,” said the Yangorian, crossing his arms.
“It wasn’t people, it was just a recording. It was just two birds chirping…”
Dr. Miller stopped him. “Can you interpret what was being said?”
“I can make out most of it. It’s very speeded up.”
Detective Darcy gave the order to replay the hologram, slowing the audio, and the Yangorian began to translate.
“You’re seeing someone else, I know you are…All you care about is your endorphin chip…You must end it with that girl – that thing…I won’t do it, I’m leaving you…Don’t turn your back to me or I’ll - I’ll kill you where you stand…”
The hologram ended.
If the Yangorian had eyes, the humans before him would have seen them fill with distain. “It seems obvious what happened, Lieutenant…even obvious for a human.”
Elizabeth stiffened at the remark.
“Do you believe you are the only beings who look down on others,” asked the Yangorian proudly. “I don’t believe in wasting time on civility with inferiors. I’ll leave now.”
He exited quickly, leaving Elizabeth and William holding their breaths once again. “I believe we have a new secondary program,” said William quietly.
Tuesday 9:30 P.M.
Like the majority of important structures built after 2015, Griffin Inc had a flat, grass rooftop. To state it clearly, it was a garden minus the trees, with flower beds and vegetable patches precisely positioned between small fountains and artificial streams. The turf of the design insulated the top floors of the building, while the plants shoved oxygen back into the Louisville atmosphere. It was environmentally friendly. It was also a nice place to just sit on a bench, or host a wedding, or have a memorial service.
Darcy was currently involved in the last endeavor, along with three dozen others.
“Doctor Evans”, he said quietly to the tall, elderly gentleman standing about ten feet from the chairs in the center of the garden.
“Detective Darcy,” he answered without turning his head towards the speaker. They now stood shoulder to shoulder, facing opposite directions. The two were far enough from the rest of the group that others were left to assume they were quietly using their communicators to talk with people not on site. This assumption was helped along by the dim light of the night service. There were only the candles alongside the small streams to give off a soft glow.
“Was there any trouble glazing over the subject’s end?”
“Not at all, my friend. The Order to which I belong has been tidying things up for 3000 years. Cremation of the vessel is, of course, the obvious first step, followed by an accidental death report. Have you made any discoveries about Bryon’s killer?”
“Not yet, but it’s still early in the investigation.”
The good doctor stopped for a moment, obviously restraining himself from patting his companion on the back. “Don’t give up, my friend. Don’t quit until you find the truth…for her sake.”
Darcy touched his right ear, turned slowly, and said something about the weather. Doctor Evans stepped away, rejoining the seated group.
“It certainly is a beautiful evening,” observed the detective as he approached Elizabeth Miller. “May I,” he asked motioning to the seat beside her.
“Of course,” she answered from behind a slight veil that swept casually across her face. She was dressed in a traditional black dress, the hem of which fell just below her knee. “I thought you’d be here.”
“Yes, with two deaths in one week, even if the last one was accidental, I felt obliged to attend.”
“It’s nice that you cared enough to come,” she said softly.
“Actually, I’m eager to see who else shows up. If you want to find a man’s killer, just look into the faces at his funeral.” The detective drew a deep breath, crossed his arms, and looked heavenward. “The stars certainly are ablaze tonight.”
“The viewing of the stars are necessary for the Yangorian ceremony,” Elizabeth told him. “I’ve never actually seen a service, but that’s what I’ve read.”
“Once again, Doctor, your knowledge is very eclectic. Even through the veil, Darcy could see the hint of a shy smile. He was also encouraged slightly by the way she shifted in her chair.
“Who do you see, detective – since you’re certain the killer is here?”
“Well, I see you, Doctor Miller – but I’ll give you a free pass.” The chairs were arranged in three circles, radiating from an orb in the center. Darcy looked around quickly, but discretely, before allowing his gaze to rest again on Elizabeth. “I see Tuck and his wife…I see Mary Griffin and Michael McCarty…I see the Yangorian delegation, perhaps a dozen of them, in white robes and red eye sashes.
In the center of the circle, a Yangorian elder rose to her feet. “I invite you to stand with me, facing Lystria’s homeworld – the blessed planet of Yangor.” The leader turned and raised his arm, his hand pointing towards a star in the Pegasus constellation.
The group rose solemnly, turning their backs on the brightness of the Milky Way.
“Lystria of Yangor, reveal yourself and join us,” shouted the cleric, cupping her hands around her mouth. The crowd waited a moment respectfully.
Now Jody was making an announcement over the intercom. “Lystria of Yangor, please report to the roof of the main building.” Thirty seconds passed in complete silence before Mrs. Tuck Griffin coughed softly into her white glove.
And then, from the four corners of the Publishing House property, the theme welled up sounding like a combination of human voices and the blowing of conch shells. “Lystria of Yangor, reveal yourself and join us.” Ten seconds passed in respectful meditation before the cleric opened her mouth to continue.
Suddenly a wind was upon them, ripping over the garden wall, tearing blooms from delicate stalks as it raced towards those gathered on the rooftop. Women tended the hems of their skirts and men held up an arm to protect their face, but Inspector Darcy couldn’t look away and it roared into the heart of the Yangorian delegation. In spite of his size, the detective saw the Yangorian male from the fishbowl take a step backwards, as if shoved by the pedals and leaves that shot up from the garden into the sky. The commotion disappeared as quickly as it had come.
All eyes turned to the center of the circles. The elder regained her composure and resumed the ceremony without commit. “I invite you to turn with me towards the blaze of the Milky Way, towards the new worlds enveloped therein.” She caressed the glass orb in front of her and it began to glow, rising off its pedestal. “This ball of light contains the ashes of our friend. We release her now into the life of young stars exploding from the center of our galaxy.” The orb was shining now like a small sun, as it continued to rise. “We release you now to find your new life, new pain, and new joy.” Suddenly the globe of light shot into the atmosphere, it seemingly paused momentarily to choose a direction while over the Ohio, finally disappearing into the night sky over the Knobs of Southern Indiana.
“That’s a sight I won’t soon forget,” whispered Elizabeth to the Inspector as they began to collect their jackets from their chairs.
Wednesday 11 AM
“The boys brought this up,” said the lab technician while thumping the side of a 2-by-2 foot box.
“What’s in it,” asked William.
“Ah- the obvious question.”
“I’m an obvious kind of guy.”
“It’s an illegal device used to modify the amount of Endorphins flowing from a bio-chip.”
“Can I open it,” asked the detective.
“You can look down at it, if you’d like,” said the tech while handing the lieutenant a pair of gloves. Inside the box was a glowing array of switches and neon tubes. “Bio-chips planted within the penal gland slowly sift a specified amount of endorphins into the cranial cavity. The process is used to modify the moods of people diagnosed with depression.”
Detective Darcy stepped away from the thing in the box and pulled up a wooden stool. “And people use this machine to do what, specifically?”
“This device allows the chip to put out more dorfs than prescribed. Someone was probably using the machine in the basement of Griffin Inc, away from the prying eyes of cameras on the main floors. The result of abusing dorfs, is usually death.”
“How does that happen?”
“It’s a fast process, really. The penal gland begins to shrink from overuse, and eventually fails. The abuser often commits suicide. It’s hard to know how many lives this machine has already claimed.”
“Tell me about the other box,” said the detective, pointing to the freezers.
The two men walked the ten steps to four dozen metal doors embedded in a metal wall. “DNA confirms the head matches the corpse in the elevator.” The tech pulled open a small door, behind which sat a frozen head inside a glass cube.
“How was it severed,” asked William, looking over the ice-encrusted head of a Caucasian male in his mid-twenties.
“Well, it wasn’t chopped off, or sliced off, or sawed off…”
“Get on with it, Ernie. I haven’t had lunch yet.”
“It seems to have just popped off. A blunt metal object, two inches thick, chocked him until all the tissues and blood vessels and spinal cartilage was crushed – and the head simply popped off.”
“Was it the fatal wound?”
“Oh yeah. When your head pops off you’re pretty much dead,” said the tech while snickering a little.
“Ernie – please – my lunch, remember.”
“Okay, okay. He was alive before that happened.”
“What's wrong with the eyes? Is that just a refraction of the ice cube?”
“Oh, no, that's not an illusion. His eyes are gone. Someone gouged them out – probably after the victim was dead. Find the eyes – find your murderer.” The tech pushed the head back into its small frozen tomb.
“Thanks, Ernie, enjoy the rest of your day.” The detective began ascending the three stairs leading out the morgue door.
“I will,” answered Ernie happily, returning merrily to dissecting some corpse’s thigh.
Dr. Miller sat in the empty cafeteria, within the activities building of Griffin Inc. She listened to the slowed audio recording of the accused’s dream sequence. “You’re seeing someone else, I know you are…All you care about is your Endorphin chip…You must end it with that girl, that thing…I won’t do it, I’m leaving you, Mary…” After replaying the session for the fifth time, the words were finally beginning to make sense. “Well then, fine, lover – I give up. There’ll come a time when you’ll want me back and I’ll be with someone new. You just wait and see. I wash my hands of the whole train wreck” Footsteps were walking away. There was a soft sound in the background now. It was water running.
Elizabeth took another slurp from her cup of java, waiting for the final curse preceding the fatal blow. Waiting. Waiting. “Computer, please advance to the end of this section One-E please.”
“That section is complete,” said the computer methodically.
“It can’t be.”
“Section One-E complete,” the computer repeated without any trace of emotion.
Elizabeth grabbed her holo-pad and ran out the door.
Detective Darcy sat in his office at the police station. On the table in front of him, his holopad replayed the parts of the past two weeks involving the primary and secondary subjects. He watched as Mary, the Accused, Byron, Michael and Yakasium went about their lives like rats aboard a ship. Their daily routines ebbed and flowed without much change – until the Thursday night before the murder.
“Slow down to real-time speed,” instructed William as the holopad showed the lovers in the garden. Mary could be seen with her back turned to them. “Okay now – so Mary is a dorfhead, but that doesn’t make her a murderer. What am I missing? What is it?”
The focus was hanging about forty feet above the odd trio. “Expand radius of focus, Sky Spy.” The view began to widen, as if the viewer was floating upward.
Suddenly a dot appeared next to the main building. “S6” seethed Detective Darcy. “We got him! All I need to do now is put Yakasium in the basement at the time of the murder!”
“Lieutenant Darcy,” said a small, feminine voice. Elizabeth Miller stood in the doorway. Her tiny frame seemed out of sink with the busy people surrounding her.
“Elizabeth,” he said, jumping to his feet with surprise.
“I hope I’m not intruding, but…”
“Please, it’s a pleasure to have you here.” He pulled out a chair beside his desk and motioned for her to sit down.
“I needed to tell you something about the case,” she began.
“I was listening to the lovebird’s quarrel in the dream sequence. I slowed it down, of course…”
“ …and the Yangorian wasn’t quite…well, I believe he altered his interpretation to fit his own agenda.”
“You mean he lied about it.”
Dr. Miller breathed a sigh of relief. “I wasn’t sure you’d agree with me so quickly.”
“By now I honestly believe she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is she doing better?”
“Oh yes. I believe Herron is well enough to where – if I was in the room – you could interview her.”
“Excellent.” Detective Darcy pointed towards a wall in his office. “I was going to go over the images on the main floor, right before the murder. You’re welcome to stay, if you’d like.”
“I'm surprised you haven't done that before now.”
“I finally received the visuals from Griffin Inc. Private Lawrence had to pry them out of Mary's clutching fingers.”
“I heard she resigned. Maybe now she can get the help she needs.”
“I’m sure she will – at some cushy spa by the ocean frequented by the wealthy,” he replied mockingly. “Computer, search and play second floor exits, Saturday September 20th, 2 PM.” The wall seemed to dematerialize as people walked within five feet of the staircases. “Include elevator,” instructed William. A fifth and sixth scene appeared on the wall. He pointed to the image in the middle. “Here we go. There’s Mary going down into the basement, probably to dorf-up.” Three minutes passing. “That’s Bryon, the victim, heading into the basement.” Seven minutes passing. “Herron, the accused – that’s her name, Elizabeth – opens the elevator door, steps inside, shuts the door, descends.”
The pair sat entranced by the events being played out in front of them.
“Freeze frame,” shouted William, slamming his palms onto the table. “There he is!”
In the stairwell stood the Yangorian, carrying a small satchel. He turned as if checking behind him. He began his descent. One minute, two.
Dr. Miller pointed to the middle image again. “There’s Mary. She’s rubbing her hands against her dress.”
“Computer, tighten focus on E7 and freeze frame.” Her hands enlarge to fill the entire screen. “Analyze liquid on hands.”
“Perspiration, water, hand-soap,” answered the computer dryly.
“That explains the sound of running water I heard in Herron’s dream.”
“Mary’s not our murderer. Computer, continue. Let’s see who comes up next.” Five minutes, seven, ten, fifteen.
The Yangorian appeared at the top of the stairs.
“Something’s different,” said Elizabeth, leaning forward.
“Computer – side by side point of entry and point of exit.” Now it was perfectly clear – even to a human: he had changed his clothes.
“He must have brought the clothes with him. Once again, that is premeditation,” said Dr. Miller smiling.
“He has already left the campus,” said the receptionist. “Something about a death in the family.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me,” answered Elizabeth.
“He must have sensed we were getting too close. He’ll be on a flight back to Yangore within the hour – and they don’t extradite their own.”
“I’ll bet I know someone who will eagerly help us catch him,” smiled Elizabeth. “All I need do is ask her.”
“Private Stacy – toss his room. I want the eyes he gouged from the victim’s face.”
Herron sat in the fishbowl with William, Elizabeth, Jim and Dennis surrounding her. Over the desk in front of her, hung a neon Earth, surrounded by brightly glowing starships. Night and day silently chased each other over the surface of the planet. “Eliminate virtual commercial flights,” she instructed. Two-thirds of the starships disappeared. “Eliminate virtual flights holding more than five passengers.” All but eight neon flights disappeared. “Eliminate all flights outside of a one hundred mile radius of Louisington, Kentucky. One neon blue dot hovered above the globe. Herron’s thumb pressed on it, seemingly trapping it within the planet’s atmosphere.
“I’ll hold him while you go get him,” whispered Herron to William, but he didn’t hear her. The men had already raced out the door.
Elizabeth drew a deep breath. “I’m still here.”
The blind woman remained at her station, holding the spaceship under her thumb. “I want to thank you for bringing me out of my delirium, Doctor Miller.”
“I need to explain something to you, Herron. The memories I’ve implanted in your mind will only hold up your sanity briefly. I’m afraid your rediscovered stability is only temporary.”
“You mean I’ll be crazy again soon?”
“Unfortunately, the mind is like a tree: the roots must be strong and deep in order for it to stand on its own. All I was able to do was to prop your mind up long enough to help us catch this fiend.”
Herron shook her head in understanding. “How long do I have?”
“Perhaps a week, perhaps more. But I have no doubt, you’ll eventually recover completely. Any woman capable of walking out of the hills of Kimgee, and making a life for herself, certainly has my admiration.”
“Thank you,” whispered Herron sadly. The neon light below her thumb blinked out. “There, they have him. I’ll have to tell my son about this adventure…wait a minute, I don’t have a son, do I.”
“I’m here for you, Herron,” said the doctor, touching her hand.
Friday 3 PM
The Yangorian male remained seated and unshaken under the bright lights of the interrogation room. Elizabeth’s holograph was seated behind Darcy, while the Chief Inspector was dead center. Both were capable of interacting with the detective and his prisoner. A uniformed officer guarded the interrogation from a corner.
Detective Darcy stood behind him with arms crossed. “I have proof you committed this murder. You had opportunity and access…Herron will testify that it was you who killed Bryon in front of her. And I have this...a pair of eyes in a bottle – found in your room.”
“You only found one bottle” he asked, snickering.
“Duly noted,” said the Chief Inspector’s holographic image.
“Herron? Was that the name of the female huddled in the corner of the cage, shaking like a freezing rat? I listened with pleasure as the male’s body snapped in half. And when I saw the human’s head had popped off and landed in her lap, I laughed before taking it out of her hands.”
William fought against his instinct to show emotion. “The only thing I don’t understand is the motive.” He halted suddenly, looking at the alien before him. Yakasium was taller than most humans by a full foot. His physique and intelligence was so far above a human’s – more like a Greek god than a flesh and blood individual. “I’m just a stupid human, Yakasium. I’ll never figure this out. Could you please enlighten me?”
The Yangorian seemed to puff up, as if getting ready to hold court.
“Certainly. I’ll be glad to help. I followed Lystria to your disgusting little world because she was my chosen one.”
“You were married then,” asked Elizabeth.
“Of course not. When a Yangorian male chooses his mate – he doesn’t gravel, asking for her attention. He demands it.” Yakasium drew a deep breath, as though a thought had knocked the wind out of him. “When I arrived, she turned me aside.” Silence. Silence. “I could have overcome this setback – but for the object of her affections: a human. A human and a Yangorian have never married – and they never will.” He sat as if lost in sadness, then boosted himself back into the limelight. “Who chooses an insect over a god!”
Lieutenant Darcy encouraged him to continue. “Tell us why you count yourself among the gods, so that we might learn.”
Now Yakasium was the lecturer. “Humans believe our planet discovered space travel just two hundred of your cycles ago. This is not the truth. Your race believes that we lost our sight because we lived too long below ground. This is not the truth. Have you heard that looking into a starship’s ion trail will blind you?”
“Yes I have,” said Darcy.
“We were the ones who learned that first, the Yangorians. We knew it a million years before we whispered it into your ears. Embedded within our collective subconscious is the memory of the day we sent a thousand ships into the stars to seed the galaxy with humanoids. If only I could have been there to see them blast into glory. But those who controlled the starships, eventually lost their sight - so they wrapped their eyes to show their pride in themselves. Eventually, they moved into the caverns and developed other senses, never forgetting their glory. Have you heard of Scordia?”
“I have,” said Doctor Miller.
“He was my great-grand-uncle.” He stopped for a moment, as if using his sonar sense to explore the faces of his small audience. “Lystria was about to disgrace our planet, by lowering herself to wallow around with a human. I would not allow that to happen. I would kill that human again, if I had the opportunity.”
“Aren’t you afraid of prison, Yakasium? How can you speak so freely,” asked William.
“We live for 1000 of your years. When you convict me, I will hibernate for the decade or two that I am under your control. What is twenty years in the face of a millennia? What is a millennia in the summer of a sun?”
“Ah, I see that you are a philosopher, sir. Perhaps you are aware of one of our poets who said: To sleep – to sleep: perchance to dream. Ay- there’s the rub.” William looked at his police captain, who nodded back from behind a glass wall. They had his confession. “Take him away,” William said to the officers waiting nearby.
Dr. Miller and Detective Darcy stepped into the mild sunshine of an autumn afternoon. “I was hoping you’d accompany me home, Miss Elizabeth? I – I have a new puppy you might be interested in seeing.”
“Is that true? Male or female?”
“Definitely female, and raising a racket at all hours of the night.”
Elizabeth thought for a moment. “What’s her name?”
“Lystria – named after her mother.” The doctor stopped waking.
William Darcy took her elbow, gently moving her forward.
“I’d love to see your new puppy, Mr. Darcy,” she answered, nodding yes. “So you were right about the motive, after all. The murder was all about love gone wrong.”
“I’d have to say the real motive was prejudice – the unjustified belief that one person is better than another by divine right.”
“If you prick us, do we not bleed,” quoted Elizabeth.
“And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge”.
As they walked into the city swaying, talking, and laughing, they passed six concrete columns that had once supported an overpass of some long forgotten expressway. Spread over the faces of the six columns, someone probably long dead had painted in red:
We Famly Stop Black Brown White
As published in Alien Skin ezine Dec/Jan 2006
Sudafell and her father sat in the common area of their home, facing the holographic viewing cube. The five-bedroom house at 1437 S. 3rd Street hung there in midair.
“That piece of property should have been ours by divine right,” Louie Monroe said, punching his right fist into his left palm for emphasis. “It’s been in our family for nine centuries! We have maintained it, keeping it historically viable for almost a millennium!”
“I know you’re right, papa,” comforted Sudafell, “but the bidding on these real estate parcels has been so intense. It would be almost impossible to get a slice of the Earth at this point. You know that.” She rose slightly, putting her arms around Louie’s shoulders.
“I just wish the authorities would contact us and tell us we got it. I hate all this suspense.”
Sudafell squinted slightly as the image on the cube broadened. They could see the entire neighborhood now, or what was left of it. Three huge crafts hovered over the block, proceeding methodically, dematerializing the Earth one acre at a time.
“Ours is next, Sudafell. I guess I didn’t bid high enough or they would have contacted us by now. I should have sent a higher offer.” Louie buried his gray, stubbled face in his hands. “I can’t bear to watch.” The house next door, 1432 S. 3rd Street disappeared, being replaced by a square hole. “Maybe if the registrar could have waited a few more days, then I could have come up the money.”
“They couldn’t wait, papa. The moon will be in final decay in three days. By that time, all of this moving business has to be finished. There are still a handful of human beings on the surface, overseeing the completion of the project. Their safety has to be of the utmost importance.”
A craft was directly over the Monroe estate now. Louie could see clearly the two Bartlett pear trees out front, the gas light, the columned porch. The image grew bright and disappeared.
“I should have bid more, Sudafell. I’m just always so careful with my resources.”
Sudafell rose from her chair and walked to a glass well. She smiled. “Papa, don’t be depressed. Come see, come see!”
“Just give me a moment to recoup, sweetheart."
“No papa, come see, come see.” The young woman motioned happily to him.
Louie drew himself up and went to her side. Outside the glass wall, there on the surface of Cadbium 3, stood the Earth house, not even two hundred meters away.
The loving daughter giggled. “We bought it for you, papa: Charles and I. Happy birthday!”
Louie felt lighter than he had in six hundred years. After kissing his descendant, he found himself running towards the mansion. It was exactly as he remembered: one moment he was kicking up the blue dust of a moon in the Horse Nebula, and the next he was knee high in green grass and dandelions. He was climbing the concrete stairs, jumping onto the brick-lined porch. He pulled a metal chair away from the front of the house and seated himself happily. Even the purple glow of an alien star didn’t seem so unusual now. He was finally home.
“It’s exactly as they promised,” his daughter told him while happily sitting on the steps. “The company transported every atom, every ohm of electricity, every molecule of atmosphere. The surface dirt is guaranteed to go to a depth of sixty feet. We own every worm, every clot of dirt, every ounce of H20, every drop of chlorophyll in the leaves.”
“Thank you, my sweetest heart. It is amazing.” He closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply. “She and I lived here, you know. Nine hundred years ago.”
“Celest, your first wife.”
“Yes, yes. We would sit on this very porch at night and watch people pass by on the street, taking in the night air. I still miss her, everyday.”
“Was there never anyone else, papa?”
“Never. Not like her, not in all that time. There were other wives, of course. Eventually, I could have children without a mate, which is how you were born.” He smiled at her again. “But there was never anyone, in all those years, who took her place in here..,” he pointed to his chest.
“She must have been very special.”
“She looked very much like you, in fact. I suppose that’s why you’re my favorite. After Celest disappeared, I lost the courage to truly love again.”
A quiet buzzer vibrated inside of Louie’s arm.
“That’s odd. What would the Fledglors want this late in the season?” Louie began to stand. “Well, we had better find out. We don’t want to insult the indigenous lifeforms by seeming to be indifferent.”
“Papa, I left the sensors in the common area. We’ll have to go back.”
Outside their 30th century home, Louie and Sudafell placed the sensor helmets over their heads. Now they could see the few dozen Fledglors floating in the space between the glass wall and the old house.
“Fellow Cadbiums, I am surprised and delighted by your visit,” began the elder statesman. “How may I be of service to my neighbors?”
One of the electronic entities moved forward, separating itself from the others. “My neighbor, we are surprised you have brought a new entity into our shared environment without alerting us first.”
The Earth people looked at each other with puzzlement. Then Sudafell smiled. “You must mean the house, my friends. This is merely an object my companion and I bought. It has no life of itself.”
“We are not without intelligence, Louie and Sudafell. We are not surprised by the artificial habitat, but we are surprised by the entity who stands there now, before our very eyes.”
The entire assembly turned towards the brick home. Louie saw her now, standing there, waiting for him.
“It’s her. It’s my wife. It’s her…ghost.” He was running towards her: across the blue sand; through the grass; pounding up the concrete stairs.
He stopped dead at the edge of the porch. “My love. It is you.”
“Yes, Louie, it is I.” He could see her through the visor, inching ever closer to him. “I have been confined to this house since you left me here, so long ago.”
“I never loved again, Celest. My heart kept it’s promise to love only you, forever.” He could see her long red hair now, her frail arms, her deep eyes and her lips. He fell to his knees in front of her as the hem of her dress faded through his fingertips.
“Where am I, Louie?”
“This is a moon in the Horse Nebula, my love.”
“And who are these beings?”
“They are the Fledglors. These are the electronic lifeforms whom originally settled this world.”
Celest gazed at the small crowd and smiled. “They are like me, Louie. At last I shall have others to talk with.” She began to float towards the welcoming crowd.
“Celest, my love. Come back to me. Don’t leave me again,” begged the man made of flesh and blood, following the spirit past the green boundary.
“I’ll be here, among my new friends, if you want to visit me.”
“But Celest, I have loved no one but you for nine hundred years.”
She turned one last time to look upon Louie’s bent and crying figure. “I suppose that is penance enough. I forgive you for killing me.” Celest vanished into the atmosphere of a small moon, circling an unimportant star, within the Horse Nebula.
By Michele Dutcher June 1, 2006
A Pocket Filled of Posies
As published in Aphelion Ezine
“45,000 – What’s going on down there?” Max tapped the side of his skull again to make certain the communicator buried in his ear was working properly. He instinctively looked downwards, all the while knowing a person could never see as far as Doc's platform. His eyes followed the orange ziptubes that ran between the platforms, parallel to the Space Elevator's 100,000 kilometer micro-cables. “Level two, you awake? Doc –What’s happening?"
"Yes, we are here, Maxus. We are here." Doc couldn't hide the worry in his voice. He automatically looked upwards towards the asteroid at 100,000 kilometers anchoring the primary cables between Earth's surface and the vast vacuum of space.
"We just got a bag with red ice all over it," said Max.
“Were you possible to pull it out?”
“Negative on that. It went past too fast. Why didn’t you tell us it was heading our way?”
“We have problem, platform three," answered the deep Slavic voice. "It is Lexon. She be sick.”
“Sick? Well, she just got back from furlough, so she probably partied too hard. That-a girl, Lexon.”
“No, Max, not good. She runs fever.”
“Wasn’t her blood washed before she came back up?”
“She was decontaminated. Perhaps is something new,” said Doc.
"You mean a new virus,” asked Max.
"Yes. Just what mankind is needing...one more brush with extinction”.
"Come on, Doc. Don't be so dramatic. Is Lexon okay?"
“I sedate her. She be sleeping now." Maxus could hear Doc take a deep breath. "She just began this vomit. She is facing cable, and then gets sick." His voice stopped for a moment. "As soon as Lexon was knocked out, I contact Luna... regulations and all that.”
Max stooped down and nudged Jack to wake him up. He had been floating about two feet off the bottom of the five-meter cube. “There’s something going on with Lexon,” he said quietly as Jack sat up, looking around. Max motioned for Jack to activate his communicator.
“Say again,” asked platform two.
“Nothing. I was telling Jack about Lexon, waking him up,” answered Max.
“Roger that, platform three.” The voice ended for a moment, but Maxus knew platform two hadn’t clicked off.
“You should have contacted us first,” said Max, a bit irritated.
“Is Golden Rule,” said Doc.
“Yeah, we know,” snorted Jack. “Whoever holds the gold, makes the rules. Did Luna answer back?”
“I tell them, but I get no response," said Doc with almost a sigh.
"In the twenty years I’ve worked on the space elevator, I’ve never had them answer," said Max. "They think they're too good to talk to Earth people like us. Officially, they haven’t answered in a century – credits just keep showing up in bank accounts to pay for the bags of H2O we send up there.” Max could hear the cable ka-chunk, as one hundred kilometers above him, the whip sent another ten- ton package into space. “I’ll clean up the cable, level two, if you’ll go over the climber before sending it back down to Baseship. Over.”
“Will do, Max. I tell you if any change with Lexon. Over.” The two men on level three tapped the scalp over their right ears twice.
Jack stood up, looking through the glass on the bottom of their glass cube. Their platform hung 94,900 kilometers above the mouth of the Amazon River. Two centuries ago, before mankind started sending water to the moon to fill up the Aiken Basin, the mighty river below his feet had held sixty-six percent of the Earth's fresh water. By now, the river had been depleted to only forty percent. Below him, Max could see the lights from the cities of Macapa, Belem, and Sao Luis. It was six hours before daybreak on the Eastern Coast of South America and the cities shone like diamonds on a black velvet sheet. Further inland, the cities of Manaus and Boa Vista were also ablaze.
Maxus floated down into a corner, trying to breathe deeply. “Doc said she might have picked up something down there – on the Floor.”
“But we’re all decontaminated before we’re sent back up. Our blood is cleaned on the base-ship.”
“Maybe it’s something new, at least that’s what Doc said.” Max unzipped a pocket and took out a tube. “I’m going to zone out for a few hours, Jack. Can you watch the cable for awhile?”
“Sure. It’s been almost two weeks since we had to laser any major space garbage. I think I can handle it. I’ll clean the cable, too. It’ll give me something to do.” Jack walked over to a seat floating three feet from the cube’s bottom, and began to tell the computer to send a vapor into the green tube protecting the Ella’s cables, to begin the sanitation process.
Max air-injected himself and closed his eyes. He pushed off his magnetized shoes and was soon floating serenely in a fetal position in a corner of the cube.
“Max, Max, wake up. I can’t raise 45,000.”
“What’s happening?” Max’s voice faltered for a moment as Jack continued to shake him.
“Platform two. I can’t get Doc to answer back.”
“Your line is probably just breaking up.” He tapped his skull. “Doc? Answer back, Demetrius!” Maxus thumped his ear with his palm. The only sound was the zipping of a climber loaded with water racing towards the top of the elevator. “How long was I out?”
“About four hours. I let you sleep because…well, I know how you feel about Lexon.”
“Have you tried raising level one and Baseship?”
“I got hold of Taber and Perry at 840, and Baseship is still there - but it has isolated itself from landside. Do you think we should take a ziptube down to level two to check on Doc?”
“No.” Max’s tone was simple and resolute. “If they’re okay they’ll contact us. If not – we’ll consider them under quarantine."
There was a slight buzzing inside both men’s audio-canals. Both men tapped their skulls.
"Level three, level three. Max and Jack, I have bad news."
"Go ahead, Doc.”
“I am at Midway. I brought Lexon up here, hoping to use some of the medical equipment to help her. But she ...well, she die right away.”
“Shit, Doc, she’s dead?”
“Yes. I try to make vaccine now from virus in her blood…while virus is still active.”
“Okay, Doc. We’ll contact level one and call a meeting at Midway,” Jack said, still reeling. “They’ll need four hours to get up there anyways.”
“I will sanitize air after I be finished,” reassured Doc, clicking off.
“Shit,” repeated Max, tightening his fists. “Just ten hours ago Lexon was okay enough to come back up – and now she’s dead. What the hell is this thing that can kill a person inside of one day?”
Jack stood looking through the bottom of the transparent cube at the Earth beneath his feet.
“What are you looking at Jack? I’m talking to you about Lexon!”
“Boa Vista, Max. Where did it go,” asked Jack. They both were searching the surface of the planet now.
“You’re right. It should be right there.” Max pointed downward. “It’s just gone – simply vanished!”
“Oh, it’s still there, Max. It’s just in the dark now and without any power. A million and a half people without any protection in the darkness of the night.”
“But how could the power just go out?”
“It’s the fusion reactors. If someone isn’t sitting at a particular desk at a particular time to punch in a sequence of numbers, the fusion reactors shut down…it’s a safety feature.”
“But why weren’t the people sitting there, Jack? What happened to them?”
“The same thing that happened to Lexon, Max. The same thing that might happen to us.”
At fifty-six thousand feet, the sliver of light on the Eastern horizon of Earth formed a perfect crescent, ushering in another day. The Eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean was warming up to a sapphire color as the sunlight began to race across its surface. Four desperate men were assembled in the large glass meeting room at Midway platform.
Max was the last to enter the ziptubes because he hated the ride. The ziptubes were only wide enough for one man in a spacesuit, and gave a person a constant feeling of falling. There were four positive magnetized strips on the transparent interior walls of the tubes. These repelled the negative layer on the spacesuit, keeping the man inside safely away from the walls. Small rockets in the suit shot the traveler up or down through the weightless vacuum. Being able to ride the ziptubes was a basic skill for the Ella's maintenance crews, and many employment candidates were ruled because they couldn't tolerate the enclosure.
As Max jumped into the ziptube, he selected one star in the Celestine Sphere to focus on. He knew it really wasn't a star, that it was actually the planet Venus reflecting the glory of the Sun. Somewhere inside himself, he decided to rename this bright light 'Lexon', at least for the trip downwards. He wasn't aware of it then, but he would call it Lexon from that moment until he no longer saw stars in the sky.
Max walked through Midway's door into the large, translucent room at 55,000 kilometers, pealing off the zipsuit as though disgusted with it. Doc grabbed his arm briefly, shooting him in the neck with an air-inoculator. The newcomer walked up to Lexon's spacesuit, which floated in the center of the room. He knew it held Lexon’s body. All five men stood quietly for a moment.
"Was it difficult to isolate the virus," Max asked backing away from the spacesuit.
"Was not hard…was easy,” he answered proudly. “I be mee-cro-biologist. Is why they call me 'Doc'.”
A quick grin passed over Max’s face in spite of the circumstances. Demetrius was as arrogant as ever, in a jovial sort of way. He began walking towards a machine in the transparent wall. "Coffee," he ordered and a green fluid in a beige cup appeared. "What's happening on the floor," he asked his co-workers.
“We haven’t heard from Baseship in three hours,” Perry began. “But H2O is still coming up the Ella."
“There’s some kind of virus or influenza down there."
"Well, which is worse, Doc? - a new virus or a new flu," asked Jack.
"Is all worse - Virus or influenza or infection. Until mankind develops immunity to any bodily threat - is all worse."
"The broadcasts are telling people to stay indoors until it passes,” added Taber from 840 kilometers. “They think it originated in the Philippines a little over a week ago.”
“That would explain Boa Vista losing power first. They were the nearest to the point of origin.”
“Why haven’t we been affected," asked Max, all the men turning towards Doc.
“Maybe it’s no direct contact with the virus,” said Jack thinking out loud.
"But Doc had direct contact with Lexon," said Taber.
“Maybe it be the fact that we are weightless,” replied Doc. He stopped for a moment, looking at the Earth below his feet. "Maybe this virus turns a man's immune system against him, clogging his veins with T-cells until no room left for oxygen and red blood cells."
"Okay, but what does that have to do with us being weightless?"
"When we be weightless, our immune system is suppressed, which is why they wash our blood before we come up. We survive just by chance...by being in right place at right time – hanging here in Heaven.”
Jack seemed to be searching the surface of the Earth below his feet. “Wait a minute. Where’s Sao Luis?” All five men stood searching the blackness. The sun had risen on Macapa, but the other cities were still in darkness. Only two diamonds remained on the black velvet blanket.
“No one goes on furlough,” stated Maxus.
“Agreed,” echoed the four men surrounding him
“We need to assume that Baseship is out of commission.”
Taber stepped into the center of the circle of men. "I think we need to say a few words over Lexon before we even begin to think about the future."
“Of course you’re right,” said Perry. They surrounded the spacesuit, with hands folded in front of them. They all noticed through her spacesuit's visor that her head was wrapped in a white cloth. Deep red stains had filtered through the cloth around her nose and ears. “Who’s first,” he asked, all eyes turning towards Maxus.
“As you know, I had special feelings for Lexon. I won’t deny it, I can’t deny it. Lexon was a friend to all of us. I’m glad she died quickly and while on duty. It is how she would have wanted it.”
Jack was next. He sighed deeply before saying simply, “She’ll be missed.”
Taber took a step forward. “K.G. is quoted as saying, ‘Of life’s two chief prizes, beauty and truth, I found the first in a loving heart and the second in a laborer’s hand.’ But I tell you, I found both of these in the person of Lexon Abrams. She possessed a good heart and a strong arm. Our lives are less because of her passing.”
Doc stepped forward. "I will speak to the future. I know that as we stand before this woman we cared about, we may be discouraged. But when I look upon the surface of this world I know that right now, on the Floor, there will be survivors. Maybe will be one person in 500,000 people. Soon, they will begin to gather together things they believe will help them survive...maybe knife, maybe food. Soon they begin walking out of the cities below our feet. They walk past the devastation and death, walking further away from the bodies of friends and loved ones, into countryside. Some of these castaways might survive first desperate winter or first impossible summer. Many will not. But if they do survive, over impossible odds, then in one year – perhaps even less - they will begin to wake up with only one thought in their minds. The thought will be this: ‘Today I will meet someone...I will meet someone and we will talk, we have conversation.’
And this, my friends is where we be lucky. We be lucky because we have each other. I look into your face, Jack...and your face, Max...and your face, Perry...and your face, Taber. And I know: whatever needs be done, this we will do. We can do all this, because we be the lucky ones...we have each other to depend upon."
Doc stepped away from the spacesuit, backing towards the middle of the room.
“What do you plan to do with the body,” asked Max, moving to Doc’s side.
“Attach the spacesuit to the cable and whip her towards the center of the Sun. That way, the body will burn up completely with no risk of further contamination.”
“Good plan, Doc. Lexon would have wanted that. A journey into the Sun. Yes, she would have liked it.”
Perry walked over to them. “What’s our next step?”
“We have six months of supplies in this room,” said Jack. “I have family in Macapa. I say we wait here and see if they beat this thing. As long as there are broadcasts coming up from the floor, there’s a chance that things will get back to normal.”
“Let’s contact the moon,” suggested Taber. “As a backup plan. Just in case.”
Maxus snorted with spite. “We’ve been shooting bags towards them for two hundred and fifty years. We’ve given them our world’s best resources in exchange for money - and they won’t even talk with us.”
“They would if we cut their umbilical cord,” seethed Perry from level one.
“Those rich fucks are set up by now,” spewed Jack. “I hear they’ve filled the Aiken Basin with our water. They have a million people living on its coastline.”
Maxus slammed his fist onto a table. “Then there should be ample room for five more men, if it comes to that. I say stop throwing them supplies and they’ll have to talk to us.”
“I’ll key in the computer commands for the base,” said Jack.
“Everyone stay away from the cable. No one goes back to their platforms. We’ll just set the space garbage guns on auto, and sit here, in this room for a week. Let’s let time tell us what to do next.”
Five men existing in a glass cube, watching helplessly as their world goes to sleep. After four days all Floor transmissions went dead. After six, there were no diamonds remaining in the night.
“Maxus! Doc! Wake up! Luna’s calling.”
Max crawled out of the strap cocoon he was sleeping in and plunged his feet into his magnetized shoes.
“People of the Ella … People of the Ella,” commanded a shrill voice coming from the transmitter.
“Ready?” asked Maxus softly, looking at the men around him. He slid his palm over a colored spot on the wall. “We are here, Luna.”
A hologram appeared, hovering over the base of the transmitter. The creature before them was most certainly human, but two and a half centuries of reduced gravity had radically changed the way she looked. She was frail and tall, her appearance closer to a preying mantis than a human.
“Representative of Luna, we are honored.”
“We have taken notice of the absence of materials coming from your Ella.”
“The five of us gathered here need to talk with you,” said Maxus.
“We know of the death affecting your world. Your night sky is growing ever darker and our transmitters are growing ever quieter. This, however, has very little to do with us.”
“This outbreak, this plague on the surface is severe, but the five men you see before you are unaffected.”
The lady of the moon could be seen conferring with others around her. “We do not believe you are unaffected, men of Earth.”
Max began to anger, but tried to hide his rising emotions. “The five of us ask that you reconsider and allow us to find sanctuary in your cities.”
“Out of the question.” There was silence on both ends. “We, the people of the smaller double planet, have decided to discontinue our use of the Ella. Our cities are full, brimming with life and food. Our canals and seas are deep and full of fresh water.” The lady of the moon brought a cloth to her mouth and sneezed before regaining her formality. As her hand fell behind her, she finished her statement.
“Any further parcels flung towards Luna will be considered an act of war.” The transmission ended abruptly.
Taber quoted without emotion: “K.G. tells us: How gravely the glutton counsels the famished to bear the pangs of hunger.”
Jack turned towards the cable and noticed the absence of the sound of spiders being hauled. As promised, Luna had already stopped the pick-up unit at the Baseship. He went to the food provider and ordered a mixed drink. The other men, except Doc, followed suit.
Perry, Taber, and Jack then began to discuss the transmission among themselves.
Max began to re-play the transmission over and over. “I say we give it twelve days and then climb to the moon.” He walked around the recorded three-dimensional hologram one more time.
“What are you looking for,” asked Doc, noticing that Max was watching the moon woman’s hands.
“Just looking,” answered Max smiling. “Haven’t seen a moon girl before.”
"She probably wouldn't date you either," Doc joked.
"Yeah, chicks hate me. There’s a whole Galaxy of women out there waiting to reject me." He stood up, turned to the group, and crossed his arms before speaking. “I figure there are five billion people on the Floor. That’s enough to keep this virus alive for years. It’s the whole China equation – if you march thirty people off a cliff in China every minute, you'll never run out of people because there are so many being born to take their place. We have a four month supply of food so we can’t sit here forever. That leaves going up. Maybe in ten or fifteen years, after this disease has run its course, we’ll come back.”
“Makes sense,” replied Perry. “But what kind of defenses does Luna have. You heard what they said about 'any further parcels'."
“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we. As far as our defenses, we can dismantle the lasers we use to zap the space trash. When we get on the surface, those lasers can be used as weapons, if needed.”
“That’s a mighty big ‘if’,” noted Doc.
“Well I’m not spending the next four months sitting in this cube waiting to die.”
“Okay, we don’t have rocket ships, so how do we get there,” asked Jack.
“If you’ll slip into your zipsuits, I’ll show you.” The men did as instructed before Max walked over to a door at the back of the cube. “As you well know, a century ago this elevator was not only used to haul freight to the moon, it also hauled people.” He dramatically slid his hand over a rectangle on the wall and a door opened leading to another room. The five men entered and were amazed to find antique computers and lasers and two large spider pods floating towards the back of the small warehouse. There was enough seating inside each pod for six people. “These were used before Luna closed the doors to tourism. If we put them on the cable, they should still be operable.”
The other men looked inside the capsules. “Does it have any inertial guidance?” asked Jack.
“All we need to do is get close. This elevator is programmed to throw us directly into the Aiken Basin. The bags of H2O that we’ve been sending explode and disintegrate on impact, but we’ll swim to shore, taking our lasers with us.”
“We could whip around the back of the moon and catch Luna from the dark side,” said Taber.
“That’s what I was thinking,” agreed Maxus. “There should be some fuel left in these babies too, in case we need to fire the thrusters briefly.”
“Sounds as if you’ve thought this all out, Max,” said Jack.
“That’s what I.Q. is my friends,” said Max, taking a small bow. “It’s the ability to survive no matter what the circumstances by making use of all aspects of your environment.”
“Show-off,” mumbled Jack good-hearted as they re-entered the front of the platform, leaving the pods behind them.
“Taber and I will retrieve the lasers from the platforms. I just hope we don’t have to use them,” said Jack, nodding to rest of the group while jumping into a ziptube.
Twelve days later, five men sat in two pods, five kilometers from the top of the Ella. Once through Luna’s force field, maybe these survivors could state their case to their distant moon cousins. After all, they were all homo-sapiens when small genetic differences were put aside.
Doc and Jack clung tightly to their lasers in one cushioned capsule. Max, on the other hand, had his weapon safely stowed under his seat. He was sitting in the viewer section of his pod, along with Perry and Taber. Max seemed to be lost in thought, but he was actually saying his quiet goodbyes to his home-world and the stars around him. He quickly searched the deep-purple surrounding him and found his very own star, Lexon, beaming at him, as though welcoming him into the galaxy.
“We’ll be back when it’s over,” said Perry, trying to break the silence. “If everything isn’t dead by then.”
“K.G. has told us: ‘The butterfly will continue to hover over the field and the dewdrops will still glitter upon the grass when the pyramids of Egypt are leveled and the skyscrapers of New York are no more.’”
Max smiled re-assuredly and looked up at the asteroid above him that kept the Ella anchored between heaven and Earth. Long after they had escaped the planet, this satellite would be held in geosynchronous orbit. Light was blazing behind the planet under his feet now, forming a perfect corolla around its edges. It floated against a black vacuum dusted with an infinite number of shining grains of crystal.
Perry watched as Max caught his breath. They felt the pod jump onto the whip, followed by a moment of gravity as the pods accelerated towards the moon.
Over the next sixty-six hours, the five Earthmen would have plenty of time to become acquainted with every crater of their new home. The men moved about the spacecraft using their fingertips to propel them. They studied holographs overlaid with maps when they weren’t worrying about their welcome.
After eighteen hours into the trip, the Earth was the size of a baseball held at arm’s length. After two days it was a sliver in the darkness, and a new world was racing towards them.
On day three, as they slipped behind the lunar horizon, Earth was suddenly out of sight and their mission became more ominous. Their lives were under the control of lunar gravity, which bent their path even further.
“What’s your angle of descent,” radioed Jack, his pod following Max’s.
“Lunar injection angle at forty-five degrees,” Max read off the instrument panel. “We’ll have to make some corrections manually.”
“You figure we’ll have enough fuel in these old globes?”
“I checked them out five times, Jack. We should have enough for a two-minute burn.”
“And then what, Max?”
“Well, if we can’t get on course by then, Luna will see us and blast us out of the air.” There was silence on the other end of the communications link. “On my mark, Jack, fire your thrusters – three, two, one… mark.”
Both sets of thrusters burst on, flames against the blackness of the Lunar surface. “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this,” mused Jack as we watched the burn in front of him.
“We’re due for lunar daybreak in sixty seconds,” said Max. “Hold, hold, hold...throttle back, Jack! Throttle back!”
Daybreak was upon them, the light of the Sun reflecting off the craters and boulders two-hundred meters below them.
“I can see the Basin, Max,” yelled Jack.
“Just ride it out, Jack” he answered. “God’s speed my friend.”
Their stellar lifeboats sifted noiselessly through the force field enveloping the moon city. Even the plunge into the water in the Aiken Basin was not as much of a shock as it was a feeling of being swallowed, then falling upwards.
Eventually, the castaways pulled their way up and over the edge of the water-filled canyon, leaving their zipsuits on the shore. Instinctually, the men’s hands occasionally ran over the barrels of the weapons they carried on their backs. The temperature under the force field was as mild as humans could make it – a perfect seventy-six degrees.
The edge of the glimmering city was no more than fifty meters from the emptiness of the pit. Max pulled his laser over his head, allowing it to lead the way towards the windows of a large building. They could hear machinery working away inside the complex. Max motioned for Taber and Jack and to lag behind, while he, Perry, and Doc did the obvious – they walked through the door, ready for a showdown.
“What’s that slime all over the windows,” asked Perry, nodding towards the walls.
“It be death,” answered Doc stoically. Then he turned towards the center of the city. “Can you smell it? That sweet smell,” he asked.
“Guys, get in here, we’re heading into the heart of Luna,” ordered Maxus to those still waiting outside.
One hundred meters inside the buildings, in a courtyard lay open to the sky. The bodies of five-dozen charred Lunarites were neatly stacked into the shape of a giant bonfire.
“That’s what I was smelling. They must have covered the bodies first with a perfumed accelerant, to burst them into flame, while disguising the stink of the disease,” said Doc. “A pocket filled with posies. You saw this ooze on Luna lady’s handkerchief, didn’t you, Max.”
“Yes. I wasn’t waiting twelve days in the hope Earth might recover. I waited twelve days knowing the Moon Colonies were dieing.”
“Lexon beat us here, my friends,” sighed Doc. “The red ice we saw on the bags must have provided a decent enough environment to support the virus during space travel. Then it found a warm, cozy home inside the waters of this dark, Lunar basin, multiplying quickly until the monster was called forth from the pit by a thirsty Lunarite."
"So, why are these machines still running if everyone's dead?"
Nick stepped up, pointing to the roof. "Solar power. Luna was placed here, at the South Pole, because of its gift of sunlight every day. I think we'll find dark houses scattered throughout the complex where it's possible to sleep."
"Sleep sounds great," said Doc, "I make prescription for us all to take turns, sleeping in shifts before we go further into the city. We have a long road ahead of us, just cleaning up after those who built this world."
And then something moved inside the pile of bodies, throwing a charred ribcage to the floor. Five men whipped their lasers in front of them in unison.
"Come on out," shouted Max towards the blackened bones. "We know you're in there."
The fragile, pink, bony fingers of a hand peaked out over a skull at the top of the pile. A few femurs clanked onto the floor at their feet. And then a face appeared - the frightened face of a boy, maybe five or six years old. It wore the despondent expression of a child who couldn't reason away the feeling that he too should be dead and burned.
"Why are you here," the child's voice asked inside the Earthmen's heads. "Are you demons come to haunt me now that I have no family to protect me?"
"Mental telepathy," whispered Taber out loud. "Amazing."
In unison, the men lowered their lasers, letting them drop to the ground, overwhelmed with the miracle before them.
Later that month, while carrying out bodies to be burned, Doc discovered a laboratory. "This be wonderful," he explained those around him. "Is reproduction lab, for making of children. The six of us can decide to begin again the human race, or we can stop it with us."
Nick raised his hand quickly. "I vote for putting this stuff into full gear pronto. The only woman I've seen in eight months was that Luna hologram."
"I'm with you," laughed Taber and Max. "Start her up."
"Well, there is bad news about that, and worse news," lectured Doc. "In sixteen years we will have women." He held up an index finger indicating ‘one’.
"I'm willing to wait..." said Nick shrugging.
Doc held up the second finger. "...and they will all be our daughters." Doc began to hand out vials while pointing towards doors in the hall. Then he held up both hands to halt everyone for a moment. Dimeitri turned to Vashi, the Luna boy they had discovered in the pile. "I have found something else, Vashi." He opened the door to a room just past the entrance, allowing the child to go in first. There were bottles on the walls, thousands of them.
"What are they, Doc," he thought towards Dimeitri. All the men were inside the room by now, looking up at the rows of pink glass.
"They are embryos, Vashi. Moon children waiting to be born, if you so desire."
“If existence would not have been better than non-existence, there would have been no being,” quoted Taber.
“Kilhil Gibran again,” asked Perry. Taber nodded yes.
"I so desire," spoke Vashi, for the first time actually using his vocal cords to communicate instead of just his mind.
Fortunately, the first incubated batch of moon humans produced a near equal number of boys to girls: 1067 males to 983 females. The first embryos to be brought forth totaled around one hundred.
The five fathers would have their hands full assisting the automated child-rearing robots.
Thirteen months later, Maxus was air-gliding through an indifferent alley between two non-descript buildings in the abandoned section of Luna when he was something move. It seemed to be merely a whiff of smoke or a puff a dust, but he slowed down and dismounted, just in case. As he turned the corner on foot, there she was, strolling softly while humming quietly to herself.
The noise of Max's shoes hitting the ground made the woman turn to face him. Her form was hunched forward enough for Max to know she was closer to the end of her life than to the beginning.
"Hello," he began with a stifled whisper, as though throwing the word down an infinite corridor.
Her wrinkled, heavy eyelids studied him head to foot for a moment. She shook her head sadly. If Taber would him been there to see her, he would have quoted Kalhil Gibran as saying, “The strong grows in solitude where the weak withers away."
And within that one moment, that one exchange of glances, Max knew she would have no place in this brave new world.
Even before the death of her civilization, she had moved through these streets unnoticed and unseen. Her elderly body had allowed her to walk stealthily among her own people, through their loud crowds, so she had learned long ago to be content to be only with her own thoughts. “Rememberance is a tripping stone in the path of Hope,” Gibran might have reminded her. Each day she would wash, dress, and feed herself. In the evenings she would watch a hologram from her youth or ask a Biblio for new information on a variety of subjects.
She would continue to do those things now, using a very small portion of the unlimited energy of the Sun. Eventually she would die in her a very small room of her very small house, alone and in peace.
Max stopped himself from following her into the shadows.
During the next two decades, the descendents of mankind would hear rumors about a woman living in the abandoned section of Luna. Eventually, their numbers would encroach upon her solitude, but she would die before they actually found her, which was okay - she belonged to the past instead of the future.
Later that day -the day of his chance meeting with the moon lady - Maxus was traveling home when his glider's gyroscope failed and he crashed into the side of a Starbuck's dispenser. He died instantly and was found the next day by Vashi, using a locater inside of Max's shoes. Oftentimes, death makes no excuses for whom it chooses, allowing the elderly to outlive the young and productive.
"Now children, let's remember to put the date on the top of your papers before you place them on my desk," instructed the tall, fragile teacher. She pointed to a series of numbers and letters hovering behind her. "Maxtember the 25th, 427," she reminded her eight-year-old students. All of them checked their papers, making corrections as necessary. The children’s linage could have easily been traced back to the six fathers, but it seemed a superficial detail by now. A bell rang loudly and the students raced to her desk, pushing papers into a pile before running out the back door.
Mrs. Harper grabbed one of the girls by the arm, gently easing her beside the desk. "Laurie, would you like to wear the red scarf today during recess?"
"Oh yes, Mrs. Harper, very much!"
The teacher leaned forward, tying a red cloth around the child's neck. Stepping outside, the teacher led the girl into the middle of a circle formed by other students. Five boys ran into the center a formed a line by joining hands. The girl grabbed the hand of the boy at the end of the line, as the six children began to rotate within the circle.
"Watch your nose, Watch your ears,
When the red ice does appear.
Whip about, whip about...Run With FEAR!"
The children squealed with laughter as the girl was launched into the circle, touching as many classmates as she could catch.
And the children of men played in eternal sunlight on the smaller sphere of a double planet called Luna…as a small light began to shine on the planet once called Earth.
As Published in Aphelion ezine
“I need to remember to live farther away from the stockyards next time,” said the entity in the mansuit to the satyr sitting beside him. The human was maybe forty sol-years old, and wore a beige, cloth jacket. He was heavy in a sturdy, muscled kind of way – the kind of man who would gladly accept a duel of arm wrestling.
The satyr, on the other hand, seemed to be a little older and a whole lot frailer. His top human half was graying although attractive, and his equine bottom half wasn’t as muscled as it had been several centuries ago. He sat comfortably on the floor with his hoofed legs passing through the counter’s oak façade’.
“Go ahead, Kriss, tell me all about it.” The satyr was certain the man would ramble on and on whether he wanted him to or not. But they were friends, and the Miller Time - Miller Lite sign hanging over the pair seemed to unite them, bathing the human in a bright neon glow.”
“I was riding on public transit…”
“I think it’s called a bus…”
“…when I saw a pig being taken to slaughter. It looked right at me through the slats on a truck, we were eye to eye. It had the same wild and dazed look that some humans had on Wiessem 3 last time I visited there. I think any animal gets that blank stare as they’re being led away to be eaten.” Kriss waited for the satyr to say something reassuring.
“And there-in lies the moral of your sad tale: always be at the top of the food chain, no matter what planet you slide into.”
Kriss snorted a little before chugging the last of his White Russian. “You are such a cynic, Shaeler.”
“Au contraire, my old friend. I am a realist.” The human-half of the beast bowed just a little, as if introducing himself.
Kriss looked at the bartender, who seemed to be keeping his distance at the far end of the bar. “And a fine realist you are, too. Let me buy you a beverage.” He began to hold up two fingers, but Shaeler stopped him.
“Remember, I am un-embodied at this moment.” His image blinked off and on as if to impress this point.
Kriss skimmed his palm over the top of his spiked haircut. “Just one White Russian down here,” he shouted over the heads of the three other patrons in the Tavern. The barkeep looked at him for a moment, not moving. He said something out of the corner of his mouth to another customer. Kriss picked a ten off the top of the stack of bills lying in front of him and he received his drink. After a quick slurp, Kriss launched a statement towards his friend. “You talk about humans as if they were the top of the food chain on Earth.”
“They believe they are,” answered Shaeler, stroking one of his horse-like ears. “It enables them to sleep at night.”
The human snickered. “But how do they explain people disappearing from the back of injury transports?”
“Yeah, those. It has to be alarming to have a guy in front of you getting ready to die, and then he’s just gone, tooth and nail.”
“Well - number one, you need to do better research before you slide into a planet, but, beyond that…the authorities code it DOA – dead on arrival – and after juggling some papers, they hand the family some wood ashes. The humans left behind usually seem satisfied with the ashes.” The odd pair snickered together, laughing loudly though briefly. “I guess the way the Quintrass take their victims could be confusing because it all happens so quickly. The Quintrass stop time for a moment before harvesting their dying food.”
“Hey! I’m a in a human body this time. Don’t call me food.”
“You’re far too sensitive my friend. Soon you won’t even be attached to this body. And the Quintrass do it all in the twinkling of an eye.”
“That ‘twinkling of an eye’ thing; did you say it first? These Earthlings have that phrase in some religious book or another.”
“Really? Humph. Maybe they copied it from my visit a few millennia ago. I always picture myself as being quotable.” The satyr swished his tail and it would have made a thump thash sound, had he actually been in the room. “When does the event you came to see occur, Kriss?”
“The storm happened tomorrow at midday. I can’t wait to see it.”
“I don’t understand why you continue to put yourself in harm’s way.”
“It’s the thrill of the elements on your face. It’s the way an environment can explode and reclaim its power – whether it’s a thunderstorm on Sol 3 or an ion storm in the Horseshoe Nebula. And when the creatures I inhabit are finally face-to-face with their mortality – it’s an awe inspiring event, no matter if the beings are made of crystal, or silicon, or meat like this one.”
“Will you need me to help you phase out, or do you want to try it alone this time?”
The human didn't even need the twinkling of an eye to decide. “I'm going to do it myself this time.”
“Good for you,” said his friend, slapping him on the back, though his arm went right through him. “That's the difference between being a rider and remaining a slider: actually concentrating enough to pass from one dimension into another. That way you’re in charge.”
As Kriss left the Tavern that night, a few hours before the dew fell, he was surprised there was only one moon in the navy-blue sky. “That's right; I’m on Earth – only one satellite and one sun.” He began to slide away, just thinking about his homeworld, but he drew himself back when he felt the buildings begin to phase and walked on contentedly towards his rented rooms.
Monday 8 AM
A table-tent at D'Nallys on 3rd Street advertised a bacon and sausage breakfast, but Kriss still couldn't shake his aversion to dead pig. “I'll take a small stack of pancakes and a coffee,” he told the plump waitress, handing her the menu. He was pleased with himself. He had ordered food successfully, without even indicating there was a woman sitting in the booth across from him.
“Is my look pleasing to you,” she asked, winking.
“I don't know,” he whispered.
She took off her blouse and then unsnapped her bra, laying it on the table by the salt shaker. Her firm, full breasts bounced playfully before they settled into place.
Kriss shrugged unimpressed.
The light-shape across from him twinkled, phased-out, and reformed in the shape of beautiful young male, nude from the waist up. Kriss was strangely stirred. “That’s hilarious,” he chuckled. “As a human - I'm gay.”
The light-form began to shift again, subsiding into the familiar body of the satyr. “That's not funny my friend, but I heard a joke that is - while I was on Azoviton 6.”
“Which planet is that?”
“You know Kriss, it’s the artificial intelligence planet in the outer arc of Coma Berenices.”
“Oh yeah, right, I know where that is.” Kriss rolled his eyes. “Go ahead and tell your joke. I know I can't stop you.”
“It seems there were these two automated lifeforms talking. One was an Artificial Intelligence and the other was a toaster. The AI says, 'Life is so complicated, always searching for some meaning, some reason for being.' And the toaster says: 'Bread please.'”
The person in the human body laughed shamelessly while gobbling down the flapjacks set in front of him. Eventually he looked across the table at his friend. “I saw a statue of you at the public library at 4th and York.”
“Nice to know they still remember.”
“Really, it was just a bust – but it had your curly beard and horse ears and that devilish look of yours.”
“I'll try to take a look before I phase out.”
“It's over the double stair-case on the west side. I couldn't believe it when I looked up and there you were. It was re-assuring on some level.”
“You know it's rough down here: Earth, this time period, this city. Watch out for hooligans – even though you're just on an excursion.”
“Thanks mom, but that's why I waited for this body type.” Kriss puffed himself up. “It's 195 lbs of pure muscle. I'm built like a tank.”
“What’s a tank?”
“It was just a phrase left in this body’s brain cells. It must be big and tough.”
“Just be careful my friend.” The satyr looked concerned before softening a bit.
There was an unwatched 19 inch television sitting on a corner table. It was tuned into the weather more by neglect than design. “The storm that produced rains, mudslides, and flooding along the West Coast has roared into the Rockies, leaving up to 18” of snow in its path.”
Kriss looked at the screen. There was a bright green blob over Iowa and Missouri with pretty pockets of red and orange. He smiled when a future map of the United States was shown and a dot labeled 'Louisville, Kentucky' was at the base of a huge yellow line.
“It won't be long now,” he sighed as the satyr rose to his full height of nine feet, and walked through a wall, disappearing into the atmosphere surrounding the small diner.
The 2nd Street Bridge had been built in 1929 to span the distance between Louisville Kentucky and its Southern Indiana suburbs at a cost of 4.2 million dollars. It was opened on Halloween 1929, two days after Black Tuesday began the Great Depression. One could only imagine the number of residents who looked spitefully at the expanse, thinking of all the meals that could have been bought with its multi-million dollar pricetag.
Many things had been thrown off the bad news bridge since then: Bill Murray had tossed a set of keys from its pedestrian walkway in the movie “Stripes”. Mohammed Ali had thrown the gold medal he won in the 1960s Summer Olympics into the Ohio River below. Many a wayward lover had thrown their bodies over the side in a last desperate effort to ease the pains of love refused.
If the being inhabiting Kriss Troxell’s body had been born in Kentuckiana, he would have known some of this. If he had been born on Earth he might have known some of it. As it was, he knew nothing about its history as he doggedly trudged up the western walkway, heading towards the exact middle of the bridge. In a gray and black backpack, Kriss carried all the gear necessary for a slider’s complete stormchasing experience. He smiled as he noticed the sky beginning to cloud over. Stopping in front of a v-shaped set of baby-shit-green metal beams, he unpacked a ten-foot-long rope and tied it around his ankles and then around the beams. Thus being anchored, he unpacked a battery powered short wave receiving device, and placed it on the concrete beside him.
He clicked it on. “Reports are now coming in: two more tornadoes have touched down outside of Tell City, Indiana. At least six people are known dead. The tornado watch has been extended into Meade and Jefferson Counties until 9 PM.”
Kriss could feel his excitement rising. He tightened a rope around his thighs, further binding him to the metal behind him. The wind began to pick up, its whine became a dull roar and its gusts became blasts of air that pushed him backwards. As the wind blew across the river’s surface, it whipped the water into six-inch peaks that raced upstream in chaotic rows.
A car raced past and blew its horn at him. It was the first vehicle he had seen in ten minutes.
“Funnel clouds have been spotted over Clark and Floyd Counties,” squawked the radio. “Residents are urged not to evacuate. You are advised to seek cover at once.”
There was a boom – boom – boom now, echoing down the corridor of the river valley. The shrubs and trees on the north and south banks of the river were bending under the force of the brewing storm.
Suddenly it was upon him. What had begun as a hard rain was now icy pellets that dug their way into his skin. A shock of lightning cut through the sky, dividing itself into five forks as it descended. The blast of thunder that followed made him deaf momentarily so he missed the police siren as a cruiser pulled up behind him. A spotlight from the patrol car, however, drew his attention away from the storm.
“Stay where you are. We will assist you,” blared a policeman using a foghorn.
Kriss held up a set of handcuffs and shook them at the men in the vehicle before cuffing his wrists to the four-foot-high railing in front of him.
The atmosphere around the bridge crackled before another white hot lightning strike tore the sky into four parts. “That motherfucker’s crazy,” shouted the cop from the passenger side. When Kriss looked up again, the car was gone, its tail lights disappearing quickly into the freezing deluge.
“Are you ready to leave yet,” asked a familiar voice beside him.
“Shaelar. I’m glad you’re here. But not yet amigo. Not yet.”
“Do you want me to take you when its time, Kriss?”
“No, let me do it. A rider, not a slider – that’s what I want to become.”
During the continuous lightning show, Kriss could see the water level beginning to drop in the Ohio. He knew the Three Sisters were coming now. His backpack and radio blew away. Part of a white picket fence flew past him before hitting a beam and shattering into enough stakes to impale a small army of vampires.
Kriss could see the funnels now: the Three Sisters dancing back and forth across the Ohio River basin. The sky behind their black silhouettes crackled with bolts of electricity that flashed teal and purple and red. Their tiny feet burst with light as they flattened power stations and houses.
A truck slid past with sparks flying from its roof, bouncing off the beams of the bridge like a silver ball in a pinball machine.
“You just tell me if you need any help,” coaxed the satyr.
“Just long enough to feel the earth move…”
And then, as if on cue, the bridge began to vibrate violently. He could feel the fluids in his body being thrown from head to foot, like a baby playing with a rattle. Even through the sheets of falling ice, Kriss could see the top of the 59-story Museum Plaza building hop twice before beginning to sway. Whether it was one of the tornadoes or the earthquake that ripped six buildings from their foundations would never be known – not even to Kriss Troxell. A stray limb from a dismembered tree riding the rapids below shot upwards thirty-six feet, instantly separating his head from his torso.
Two days later, Shaeler sat with four female fauns at a discothèque on Rumina 4. “Shots of absinth for all my lovely ladies,” he ordered. As the drinks were delivered, he looked down the row and noticed a pig waddling towards him on all fours.
“Kriss Troxell, you old dog, I hope you’re bound for Wiessem 3.”
The pig looked up at the half-man/half-horse and smiled, as much as a pig can smile. “I am indeed,” he squealed happily.
“Uno Margarita, por favor,” he shouted to the barkeep before looking back upon his friend.
“Top of the food chain, Kriss. Top of the food chain.”
The pig put two front hoofs on the satyr’s hairy thigh as the satyr began pouring the frozen liquor down his friend’s throat.
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