2 Seconds…

2 Seconds Cover
Standard

 

Two Seconds… 

 

 

 

T-Minus 5.4×10¹² seconds

 

Near the core of the stellar object in a later age called Sol, eight-hundred billion tons of hydrogen reacted in the pressure and the heat fused the nuclei to create helium and gamma rays. The high energy photons created began the random walk to the surface. Absorbed and re-emitted at a lower energy each time, the photons made the slow walk to the surface of the sun.

In the times before the creations of humankind orbited the earth, flew the sky or rolled along roads. Long before any human ever walked along a river and pressed their footprint into the mud along a shoreline. The energy packets as gamma rays began the travel through the dense core of the star that would become known as Sol.

 

T-Minus 4,162,752,000 Seconds

 

Late one night in the year 1880, a woman moaned in pain. midwives walked about as the birth pains continued. William Harley paced outside the door. Few times he dared to pull on the handle to peek inside, then had his life threatened by the women inside.

One of the three men that stood watch with the soon-to-be father, Rev. Frances Knight patted William on the shoulder. “Will be over soon, by the sound of it. The babe is almost here.”

“It was a good Christmas, this will top the holidays.”

Robert Valance joked, “She’ll never let you back in the bedchambers Will, less than twelve years and five children. She will do you such harm as to make a new chapter in the Good Book.”

Frances laughed. “I doubt that, Robert, she is a good church woman.”

The sound of a baby’s cries announced the arrival of a new life to the men outside the door.

“Congratulations William.” Francis smiled. A moment more…

The door opened and interrupted the Reverend as a woman stepped out with the newborn.

“It’s a boy.”

William smiled wide. “William Sylvester will be his name. I have named him after myself and Mary’s father.”

As the boy-child grew, he met another young man with a curious mind and an active imagination with the talent to design and build what he had in his mind.

Inventions of fish-line winders were always in the young Arthur’s mind. They loved to fish and laugh, the two boys were best of friends always. Even the times they argued, it would always end in respect and laughter as they shared their lives and secrets between each other.

One spring afternoon, Author and William ran out to watch a man rode up and down the street on a noisy contraption, a “motor cycle” he called it. The excitement grew in their souls and sounds of the two-wheeled infernal machine inspired the boys with a passion for things to come.

In years of college that came, the younger William impressed his professors and teachers of his knack with the mechanical talent above many of his peers. The dream from what he had seen with his best friend, Arthur, still lived in his heart.

Together the boys grew into intelligent and courageous men who started a company that would inspire heroes and villains alike on the way to become legend.

 

T-Minus 3,437,424,000 Seconds

 

Harley-Davidson Motorcycles was born of little more than a handshake, and a gentleman’s honor between two best friends, then business partners. To this end, they achieved both respect and honors of those that worked for them through the years, two world wars and into the future.

In the war with Pancho Villa, the military purchased some of the boys’ (Now grown to men.) Machines. A colonel who rode with his troops was very impressed by possible uses of the motor-powered bikes to get messages from one site to another in a hurry.

World War I — the Great War, came to the fore. The military with its long memory ordered thousands, and by the close of the war, numbered more than fifteen-thousand of William and Arthur’s motorcycles with the new V-twin arranged engines.

Life improved as the employees respected the owners and the employees worked the best that they could to build products that they would want to own themselves.

World War II, the war that followed the War-To-End-All-Wars and the government called upon Harley-Davidson once again to produce the legend they had before.

William and Arthur were more than capable and happy to oblige. They increased the power of the V-twin time and again, the iron horse was no longer on rails, but rubber tires and now could be ridden.

However, William did not live to see the end of the war. A conflict that both saddened him and made his company famous.

After a long hard year of contract negotiations and sure that they filled all their obligations. William played golf to relax after a very stressful day that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. William never returned, his time ended with sudden cardiac arrest.

William Harley was 1,996,444,800 seconds old.

 

T-Minus 2,175,984,000 seconds.

 

The company’s reputation spread as the power of the engines grew and the nickname of “Hog” that had begun as a race team now became a common reference to the large motorcycles.

Discharged soldiers found that the freedom of the road was ever more pleasant with the powerful and dependable motorcycle from the once best of friends that dreamed of machines were best of friends as business partners. Harley-Davidson Motorcycles were the most desired of all the big machines by a generation that had lived through horrors of death and destruction unmatched in history.

 

T-Minus 1,923,696,000 seconds

 

For years, after Bill passed away from a heart attack, Arthur had stayed the course of his motorcycle company on the same business track as he, William and the rest of the Davidson crew chosen years before, together. Bill lived to honor his best friend and increased the depth and breadth of the company that they had started so long ago.

Five days after Christmas 1950, Arthur and his wife, Clara, left the house in the car. Ice on the roads had melted, in the shadows of trees, water refroze into a surface smoother than glass. While Arthur was a careful driver, not so the driver of the pickup truck that slid around the corner on the icy pavement and hit them, driver side headlight to driver side headlight at less than twenty-five miles-per-hour. Arthur’s car careened off the road and came to rest against a tree. Hard interior surfaces with sharp corners did more damage to the human occupants than the impact of the accident and the unexpected death of Arthur Davidson was felt throughout the motorcycle community.

Arthur was 2,201,904,000 seconds old.

In 2008, Harley-Davidson produced motorcycle number 1HD1DJV131Y 584344, the skills of the company were not wasted on the powerful machine. It was perfect only when the thirty-year veteran inspector, David Oliver “Papa DOK” Kraig deemed it so. On the computerized display, the power curves that the engine put out were not just within limits, but perfect.

After a brake check and this newest of additions to the H-D family received the pronouncement “Perfect” by Chris “Eliminator” Thanatos. A six-foot four-inch frame that was always in a dark mood, he was without mercy as he placed a red-tag of rejection on any product that was marginal in test limits. A strict personal need and a meticulous eye for flaws made for many employees on the assembly line to flinch. When it came to this OCD employee’s inspections – It was perfect or it never saw the light of day.

One-hundred-percent pass score, one of the names that the employees labeled this new iron horse “P.H.” or “Perfect Hog”.

Shipped with care out west. It sat on the sales lot until a young man who William would have been proud of sat astride it and smiled. Russell Fletcher’s dark eyes looked over the chrome that William and Arthur’s old company had given birth to.

Before the hour was up, Russell was on the road with his prized new possession.

A life of glory on the most glorious machine of the year, Russell laughed every night he rode.

And Russell rode a lot.

 

T-Minus 2,775,168,000 Seconds

 

LucilleMay Adler born to George and Ethel grew up in Chicago on the poorest side of town. George was a warehouseman and had never had much time for his family. A heavy drinker by the time that Lucy was in her mid-teens. He died when he drove into a tree on his way home. Ejected from the car, the intoxicated father struck his head on the hard ground and died right there from his injuries.

Lucy and her mother moved to California where her aunt Lewellyn suggested where she became involved with a young man who went to school. He impressed Lucy with his clear blue eyes and aspirations. The young man often would take Lucy on rides in the country as they sat with picnics under his favorite trees along the Marin headlands.

He tried to farm crops, but Joshua Sprecks failed and was now stuck with the land in hills of the southern bay area, they struggled for years until a builder made an offer to buy some land so a home could be built.

Joshua paused, pondered, then refused the offer. Instead, he spoke with an employee who helped him and in turn they looked into construction of three houses which sold for a large profit.

In the years that followed, Joshua found he had talents in the business of home and subdivision design. With a good relationship with the local inspectors, Joshua Sprecks made life comfortable for his family. He chose schools that the children would attend as father blazed the trail and returned to school himself. Joshua graduated and, in time, became an architect of some renown in the area.

Soon after the first of Lucy’s four children were born. Lucy developed an addiction to Valium, a common problem first decade’s prescription of the drug. Most of the women in her church were very much addicted to the Valium class of medications, and an active trade developed within the group as the hoarders would sell among the women that needed it at the moment.

One springtime afternoon, everyone had arrived at home from school with chores finished. The day was warm and beautiful and a wonderful time for the young. Joshua Junior promised he would be careful, Lucy’s smiled and allowed her eldest son to take the family car and drive his younger brother and two sisters to the store for sodas. Joshua Junior was always very careful at the wheel of the car, Lucy was always careful to teach him of his responsibilities. Lessons that he took to heart, always.

However, the drunk driver that collided with them had no such guidance.

The light in Lucy’s eyes dimmed as she never quite recovered after they buried four of her five children. The sole survivor of the accident that took the lives of all the children was the youngest who had to stay home to do homework.

Josh Sr. took the next offer of his three-hundred-acre ranch and bought land in the Lake Tahoe area away from the metropolitan growth around their orchards. It seemed unfair to Joshua Sprecks who had no wish to stay in the area where his children died at the hands of a man who paid just a month’s worth of salary in fines.

 

T-Minus 1,608,336,000 Seconds

 

Russell Fletcher, born to James “Fletch” Fletcher and his wife, Mitsu, in Tokyo, Japan.

A young life that started with his father’s business in full operation. Fletch had a knack to turn companies on the verge of failure into successful enterprises and would then sell them. All his life, he was a fixer.

Russell learned much under his father’s tutelage. After he Graduated college, the young Fletcher started a business of food delivery to community elders after he had cooked for his grandparents in the last few years of their lives. The growth in the food system was explosive, soon outpaced Russell’s ability to hire new employees and get them trained.

Russell became known to have his father’s golden touch. He developed a skill to negotiate a fair price on services for the company, he expanded into other communities and got concessions of tax credits for the good will he had created in the company as his “Wheels of Hope” brought smiles to those that could not go to the stores and buy food items.

In the end-of-year holidays, Russell’s company delivered Christmas dinners to lists of families, food donated by local businesses, drivers dressed as elves and Russell made his mark on how business ran in the state. It was his personality and his father’s lessons that taught other companies to conduct themselves and not be ruthless.

Never could he teach the political parties the same lesson, in time even Russell gave up on politicians with back-room deals.

He turned his back on the games that are politics. He found that his amount of goodwill was ignored in large part and he began to feel the weight of taxes that politicians crafted for his style of business and stringent rules that became law that governed his delivery vehicles.

After a legal challenge, and a judge who found that such restrictions unconstitutional, Russell sold his stake in the company he had founded a few years before and moved on and started a new company that excelled in performance once again.

Freedom became his greatest business, taught inner-city kids and kept them from prisons. Once again he built a business with the power of goodwill that spread beyond his dreams and expectations.

Still, he felt he needed more. In the world of success and parties, there was one problem.

He was alone.

 

T-Minus 1,545,264,000 Seconds

 

Lluvia “Lulu” was born to Roberto and Delores De Soto while the most intense storm of the season thundered outside. Descended from Hernandez De Soto, she inherited a soul for exploration.

Never one to back down from a challenge she met each one with a quick wit and a laugh. Beauty sparkled in her eyes as she looked upon the world. As a child she would be found in trees she climbed – much to the chagrin of mother Delores who tried to teach this girl how to behave like a girl.

But with Lulu, it was all futile.

Once when teased by the boys, Roberto heard screams of fury and knew, Lulu was beyond angry. The father of eight put down his tools, and walked around the house. There, Roberto found that his Lulu of the sonrisas, pushed beyond her limit of temper by her brothers.

She had her four brothers treed.

Roberto laughed in spite of himself.

The four older brothers had pelted Lulu with fruit as she had come home from school in her new dress that her Mama made.

The result:

A temper that never broke without reason, this day did. Fury, like the tornadoes that could scour the earth clean of soil and asphalt across the middle of America, she had bloodied the nose of one brother and all had climbed the tree they had picked fruit from.

Lulu had pushed the ladder onto its side and now carried an ax to where her brothers sat trapped. The girl with the pretty smile, had tears and murder in her eyes.

The elder De Soto called Lulu over and calmed her. Mother De Soto would be furious when she got into the house, Lulu cried on her papa’s arms.

“Mi bebé, I shall take care of that now, your brothers will pay that penalty. Just do not cut down this tree, please? It produces fruit for our crops and it would be years before a new one I would plant to reach a productive age.”

In the weeks that followed, Lulu laughed as the brothers learned how to sew and created for her and her three sisters dresses that matched. Sewn to the microscopic standards of Delores De Soto, it took the four boys a year to get it right.

The brothers received brutal teases from their friends that lasted longer than the year that they learned to sew “Like a girl”.

In years to come, Carlos, the middle brother, became a well-known clothier and influential designer of fashion as he grew up. He incorporated with his name on a high rise in New York at the age of 630,720,000 seconds, his name was soon a desired label.

 

T-minus 950,354,000 seconds.

 

Lulu entered college, the first of the De Soto siblings, with some challenges in her grades she did not get into the colleges she wished for. She learned to learn at the local college, she met a girl who would become one of her closest friends. CarlaAnn was a dreamer, planner and rule-bender. A girl who was fun to do things with.

Together they got in occasional trouble but never serious enough for the police to ever press charges. Just once did the girls have to sit in the police station and wait for their parents to come pick them up.

CarlaAnn laughed as she whispered to Lulu.

“That was awesome!”

Lulu laughed, A month grounded? They had set off the fire alarm at the hotel and people ran out in various stages of undress. It was so worth it.

Lulu and Carla began a business together of rodeo outfits until CarlaAnn met Jack, an older boy who CarlaAnn was in love with, who convinced her to buy Lulu out and expanded the business into motorcycle competition instead of just rodeo outfits. CarlaAnn allowed Jack to run the company with CarlaAnn and Lulu became sales representatives.

Lulu met with many of the race teams and promoted her friend’s company.

After several months Jack became the head of the company and would direct all day-to-day operations. Sometimes it seemed the company shorted Lulu or would be very late to pay Lulu her salary, but CarlaAnn just made excuses. As weeks went by, CarlaAnn  lost her ability to people in the eyes, even more so her best friend, Lulu.

Then it began. A slight discoloration of CarlaAnn’s face that could not be covered by make-up would worry Lulu, but her best friend would never let on what happened.

Then CarlaAnn began to slip rolls of hundred-dollar bills into Lulu’s purse and whisper.

“Don’t tell Jack. Please.”

At one rodeo, Lulu sat with a horse owner while they talked about equipment that his company sought to purchase. Barrels, saddles. Many saddle-makers had lined up when the rumor (started by Lulu herself to test the waters) that CarlaAnn’s company moved into distribution of more equipment at a reasonable price.

Lulu met Russell at one autumn car show.

She met with a horse owner, Harold Stepkin, invited a handsome young man and introduced him to Lulu. With ebony eyes that sparkled with humor, an exotic look and a brilliant mind, Russell Fletcher attracted Lulu right away. In turn, when he looked at her, the world went silent.

Dark of eye and quick of wit. She enthralled him in an instant.

Well on her way to make an impact in alternate power sources for big vehicles. She promoted her best friend’s company then lost the subject while she talked with him.

Two weeks later Russell bought Lulu dinner and they talked long hours after the sun set. The restaurant closed around them and they left with the employees.

In the months that followed, Jack’s mismanagement took a toll on CarlaAnn. No longer did the two women travel together or were known as the party girls to known to sell needed equipment.

Lulu was paid in full by CarlaAnn’s company while Jack failed to make other payments required by the government. Instead Jake spent money on other dubious activities.

Quietly, Lulu returned the rolls of hundred-dollar bills from the accumulated pile to CarlaAnn after Jack went to prison and CarlaAnn’s acquittal. The court found Jack had used the resources of the company and had a role in corrupt activities in the local community.

After CarlaAnn’s business dissolved, Lulu and Russell were never apart more than an afternoon in the years that followed.

The spring that followed, Lulu’s father, Roberto passed away hours after he watched his bebé marry the boy with almond eyes and an honest heart. The bittersweet day would be remembered by both families for generations.

Seven years later, Mama Delores married a green-eyed Celt with quick wit and a voice like distant thunder.

While they settled in, children were born to the newlyweds while they started their next generation. Russell moved his growing family to the high desert area south of Reno. They loved to visit, but not live in, the snows of Tahoe to the west. He took Lulu often to ride around the jewel the mountains.

 

T-Minus 14,400 seconds

 

One summers day, on his beloved Harley-Davidson, Mister and Missus Fletcher enjoyed the weather that midsummer offered. The neighbors watched the children as they spent their anniversary on the back of an iron horse and freedom in their hearts.

At the dwarf-yellow star that humans now call Sol, photon packets that spent the last thousand-centuries in the slow random walk from the core of the sun was now a lot less energetic.

Photons, randomized now into what had become known as visible light began to move faster as the hot gasses thinned enough to allow the photons to reach speeds associated with light. Ten-percent, then twenty, fifty-percent of the speed of light in a vacuum the EM radiation began to move to the universal speed limit.

 

T-minus 10,800 seconds.

 

On earth, the eighty-cubic inch V-twin engine rumbled in good tune. A header pipe that Russell had plumbed into a high-efficiency muffler improved the fuel consumption, gave more power— and less noise— was the song of freedom for the couple that rode on the full-dressed motorcycle.

The sounds of the wind, the intercom they used to talk with while they wore their helmets. All the details that represented their closeness.

It also gave Lulu, the beautiful wife, teacher and mother, a titan in a tiny body, reason to hold onto the man that she called “Husband”.

Not that she ever needed a reason to hold him, it was a perk while she rode on the back of their favorite steed.

The midnight-blue of the paint glittered with faint scratches that were long earned with thousands of laps around the blue mountain lake.

Russell once estimated they had driven the circumference of the earth on the mountain roads that circumnavigated the twenty-two-mile long lake. It was a trip the happy-camper couple made often. They slept on the shores of the lake in the many campgrounds maintained by the Federal and State Agencies.

The sky was blue with broken clouds, the chill of the mountain air tickled the hearts of the couple that escaped life’s grind and pain of the wife-come-teacher and the businessman-husband that was their work week.

They wound their way through the forest as they followed the black strip of asphalt and the dashed lines, Russell told a joke about a mason and his union, who got stonewalled.

Lulu laughed into the intercom like a dutiful wife while she rolled her eyes at the stupid joke.

Lunch at their favorite stop, “Ian’s”, seafood grilled over an open fire, the perfect break for the mid-day meal. They sat on a balcony and overlooked lake waters so clear, that it could give cause a fear of heights if one looked down to the bottom of the jewel of the Sierra Nevada.

An hour and a quarter of fresh bread, fish, grilled red baby potatoes and wine by Ian Mehretu, the owner and cook in the tiny, lakeside eatery.

Russell paid the bill and the two walked out of the restaurant and held hands as they headed to where Harrison the Hog waited for them with the patience of machines.

Helmets on, the intercom plugged in, the big engine rumbled to life and the day held fewer clouds in the sky as they merged into traffic of the high-mountain community main road.

They had a long trip ahead of them to their favorite mountain lookout and then back home.

 

T-Minus 500 Seconds

 

Energy.

It boils and seethes on the surface of Sol, the gas heated by the high energy photons that kept the plasma illuminated with the glow of unimaginable heat from the core of the sun. Energy generated a hundred-thousand years before this day, radiated out towards the surface of the sun in the slow, random walk, and transferred heat to the material along the way.

On the surface of the sun, photons were freed from the surface traveled unfettered through space at lights natural speed. A blue, green and white marble that orbited Sol was just a small speck at this distance as the photons sped away from the star that had given them birth. The electromagnetic packets of energy reached three-hundred thousand kilometers-per-second an instant after they passed through the photosphere.

While the photons traveled towards the single planet in the system known to harbor life and a couple rumbled down the road on their motorcycle, Lucy Sprecks got into her car. She was now 2,840,122,800 seconds old. Joshua, her brilliant star of her life, had passed away years before. And at this time of her life, Lucy just went and donated time to charity work and her church.

To share her love of the good book became the one reason she left the house these days. Her own child visited on rare occasions, busy with his own life.

Long passed her addictions of prescription medications, Lucy now drank her bottle of wine each lunch time and she looked forward to today’s lunch with her friends. Edna supplied more wine than any of the Society of Lady Druids.

Lucy was certain she would convert the heart of Edna to the true path of Christian religion. Then a sudden memory!

“I forgot my bible!” Sighed Lucy. She pulled over and double checked in her oversized purse. It was not there, nor was the passage she had copied out for Edna to read. She needed to turn around and go back home. She loved her big car, the Mercedes made her feel safe, but it was difficult to perform tight maneuvers with Lucy just able to look over the dashboard of the powerful German-built car.

In space, waves of EM radiation, the photons given birth tens of thousands of years before, now closed the distance at the cosmic speed limit and sped to their destination on earth.

 

T-Minus 300 Seconds

 

They rode along at the speed limit, Russell and Lulu talked about lunch at the North shore of the lake, Ian had done an extra good job this time.

Russell had his open-faced helmet on so the conversation was easier for him. Lulu wore a full face helmet with a stout chin guard with a gem-light just above the eye line. The light allowed Lulu to read map sections taped to the back of his helmet at night. Lulu’s helmet was very expensive and lightweight, made from such materials that would make a NASA test pilot envious.

They laughed together at a joke, they passed a state patrol car that sat on the side the of the road, the officer inside did paperwork of a recent citation. Russell, like everyone else on that section of road, checked his speed at that moment. Lulu laughed at her husband, he was just at the speed limit anyway, and yet he still backed off the throttle a little.

“No need to slow down old man!” A Jab in the side with her thumb. “You drive like a grampa anyway!” Her voice clear in the electronic mini-earbud built into the helmet that then in turn connected to the motorcycle’s audio system.

Two miles ahead, Lucy found her bible. She had tucked it into her blouse pocket. She did not have to make the ten-mile trip back home and be late for lunch after all! Now, Edna would not have wait to have her soul saved.

Or at least Lucy would try to save Edna’s soul –again.

Lucy pulled over and let the big trucks pass. The next place to turn was another three-miles, this spot would be good enough for a U-turn if she just did it quick.

Traffic was a pestilence as Lucy waited, she remembered the days when her husband would drive them in their old car – then itself was a jewel, a Kaiser Darrin, sporty, windy with the top down and it was the most expensive purchase Joshua made.

She brought herself back from distraction of the thought as the wine was waited for her in large enough amounts to improve the day for even the dour Katarina Kurk, the German woman who was face-hurt-from-laughter funny when she had a half-bottle of wine in her.

Katarina, once an actress and comedian in her old country, she had retired first to California, then to the Nevada side of the lake. She hated everyone that were not her friends, it would take her several meet-ups to warm up to any person.

Katarina would not even crack a smile, even when she watched reruns of Abbott and Costello on the newest television she could afford. Although the woman had long retired, she would buy new household items every-other year. None of the furniture in her house was more than two years old. Kat never batted an eye for spills on her sofa or chairs, she just replaced it.

Rumor was that her most loved furniture remained in a house in Los Angeles for when she wanted to entertain her old friends in Hollywood.

Here, in the high-mountains, she was a party animal from the old-school ways. Able to drink many men under the table.

Few tried, most were frightened of Kat, she was a happy drunk, but her temper flared like a volcanic blast if she was ever annoyed. Katarina was famous in the local community as a senior who beat a would-be armed robber that raided a grocery store while she shopped. One of the two ruffians held a machete in her face and she proceeded to cudgel the young man unconscious with a stick of dry salami. His partner ran up to assist, Kat used the same salami stick to crush the second guy’s testicles with a blow that security cameras recorded that the shop owner released online.

A late night talk-show host invited Katarina to sit and talk, which led to more movie offers, most of which she turned down.

And then, there was the rogue-ish secretary that worked for Katarina.

Tall, rugged, the ginger-haired assistant played winemaster when the ladies met, and had arms that both Edna and Lucy loved to touch. He never complained and always kept their glasses and bottles fresh and full.

If ever he complained about sexual harrassment, Kat never said.

The women’s coffee klatch was Lucy’s favorite time of the week.

All five of them.

And then Sunday, too!

It was a great day, Lucy thought and smiled.

 

 T-Minus 60 Seconds

 

Lucy became impatient, traffic lined up and unbroken for a few minutes — too many. She was impatient and irritable. Not for the first time she swore at the numbers of people around the lake that Joshua loved, and died in while he fished. She longed for the days where you could drive for an hour and not see a single soul.

A break in the traffic in the opposite direction showed itself. Lucy would take it. Traffic came at her from in front, she timed the arrival of no cars in the direction she wanted to go.

In space, the photons crossed the orbit of Venus, sped on at the speed of light on the way to Earth. Many of the photons would be absorbed by dust, debris and even reflected away by satellites before they entered the atmosphere of the sole planet to have been absolute in the discovery of life on its surface.

One-thousand one-hundred meters away from Lucy and her new Mercedes that all the women were jealous of, Russell and Lulu laughed over the intercom when she slid her hands under his jacket and over the chest she knew so well and always enjoyed her husband’s body, and any chance she could touch him? She would.

Even more so if it was an inappropriate time and place, she enjoyed his reactions ever the more.

As a wife, she would walk arm in arm with her husband, often with her hand in his back pocket just so she could squeeze anytime her hand had a need.

As a mother, she loved her children more than life itself. Lulu was known to run over rattlesnakes with her truck if there were any in the areas of the hundred-acre desert backyard that served as the children’s playground.

Russell had his own fun with the girl of the dark eyes and black hair that moved in with him, took his last name and gave him children that he loved most in this world.

Even more than his big v-twin motorcycle that he bought before they were married. It was the ride, he felt, that Lulu fell in love with him for.

Lulu had other ideas, most involved how Russell’s jeans fit around his hips.

But whatever the causes of the two soul mates to find each other, neighbors and family knew it was a love affair of legends.

Just a thousand yards ahead, LucyMay clenched her teeth in frustration, she hated traffic. Unable to admit that to drive the car had become more difficult for her, she would argue with everyone and anyone over the subject that her mind was as sharp as ever. Which was true, but age diminished her reflexes.

It was times like this that she never thought about the size and speed of highway traffic. She felt that her car was the speediest and safest on the road for a hundred miles in any direction.

An intersection on the highway almost nine-hundred yards away, a dozen Harley-Davidson motorcycles waited to turn and merge with the flow of traffic. Riders waved at the couple and Russell waved back in the common show of solidarity of two-wheeled riders have everywhere.

Destiny awaited the players who were in play.

In space, from the photon point of view, the earth separated from a bluish speck to two specks of the moon and earth.

 

T-Minus 15 Seconds

 

“Next time we come, let’s stay the night at the village?” Lulu asked. Russell knew the place she and nodded. A bed and breakfast house with a claw-footed tub in the room. A huge fireplace with wood stacked by the workers and an expansive view of the lake.

A hot tub on the balcony to watch the sunset over the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was the perfect spot to spend time away and to themselves.

The memory of days past at that lakeview room made him smile.

In space, photons left the orbit of Venus behind and approached the orbit of the moon. At this distance, the moon little more than a bright spot near the blue disk of the earth, but the definition of the shape and distance became apparent as time ticked by.

Four-hundred meters ahead, a quarter-mile away, Lucy Sprecks, irritated and frustrated with the traffic, moved her right foot off the brake and moved it to the gas pedal, while she did the trick that her husband showed her years before, to use the left foot on the brake for a quick dash if she needed.

Lucy had picked up a few tricks over the years, she was an expert driver, no matter what the Motor Vehicle Nazi’s said. She had driven more years than the testers had been on this earth. She was not about to listen to the young’uns about changes in rules that had worked for years.

Seat belts! Heaven’s sakes. She never had seat belts as a child and she lived. But now, even that kind State Patrolman who talked to her at length, even if it seemed that he and his girlfriend partner camped out at the corner down from her gated driveway. He would pull her over before she even got to the stop sign down at the end of the street and lecture her.

Once again, she would put the seatbelt on. Even the cute little girl that carried more equipment than Lucy felt was needed, lectured her on a few occasions when her man-partner was not there.

“Are you two married?” Lucy asked once, “You should be, you make a cute couple.” She added when the young lady answered “No.”

One late afternoon after Lucy got another lecture from Officer Karen, Lucy sat at the stop sign an extra hundred feet down the street with the police car right behind her when a man from the place she had fled long ago with Joshua after the death of her children, had a seizure at the wheel when he entered the intersection that Lucy waited at.

He drifted over the line, the pickup truck with the big camper on the back went through the intersection and hit Lucy head-on as she sat still.

With airbags and seatbelts, Lucy walked away from the wreck with no more than a skinned nose.

Ran was more like it! The smoke from the airbags made her think that the car was on fire, her knees hurt, but she would have walked barefoot over children’s toy blocks rather than to burn to death.

Ever since that day, she had panicked and froze when she was startled. She even became unable to watch the news when it showed car crashes on the TV.

Ten times the moon’s distance away, photons closed the distance to the earth and moon had separated into two points of light, the brightest points at this distance, other than the sun almost one AU behind.

On the back of big motorcycle, Lulu talked into the microphone of plans with the children and a weekend on the lake with the entire family as they cruised along.

“Ugh!” A complaint from Russell interrupted Lulu, Russell suffered a direct hit by a butterfly to his shoulder that spread to his chest and cheek. He would need a shower.

Lulu offered to help, after the children went to bed, the tip of her finger played with the back of his neck, below the helmet.

Nevada Douglas County Fire Department Station 2315, Engineer Hank Kettleman stood up and looked at the Captain.

“That will not leak again this summer. All new parts.” Hank smiled as he pulled off the rubber-nitrile gloves and threw them into the can in the corner.

Captain Thomas nodded and looked down the drive as it opened out onto the highway, the sounds of a deep rumble, like an earthquake, but constant and it grew louder by the moment.

A group of motorcycles, Robert Thomas owned his fair share of iron horses and would never miss an opportunity to watch a club ride by.

As Bob watched the highway, he noted a late-model Mercedes to the right of the fog-line with its turn flasher on, but it was not in a turn lane, nor was there an intersection.

Bob had seen this before, a triple-fatality accident a few years before, teenagers in an old VW Bus pulled an illegal U-turn in the highway after a missed corner, the broad-side impact from the delivery truck split the teen’s car in half and spilled bodies out onto the pavement.

Two died at the scene, and the third, the driver, willed himself to death a few days later. No amount of medicine would save the soul who felt such guilt for the death of his own brother and girlfriend.

The length of a football field away, Russell and Lulu enjoyed their conversation while they drove the hour’s ride home with plans about dinner and a shower later.

The fun kind of shower, between two lovers. It was Saturday night, after all!

 

T-Minus 5 Seconds

 

Photons were less than four-times the distance from the moon as the moon was from the Earth. Raced at full speed in space, the fates guided the energy packets that were visible light.

On the highway, Russell had thoughts of dinner on the back patio of burgers that he would cook on the wood-fired grill outside. The smell of smoke was light in the air from the wildfires seventy-miles away mixed with pine scent of the forest filled the senses as they rode on the thunder-voiced Hog.

While on the motorcycle that Russell had named after an adventurous water-bird “Gertrude”, Lulu’s arms around him, she looked around at the mountains that gave her such joy to be among trees that dwarfed everything alive. She could see the bare stone above north shore where an avalanche stripped the mountainside clear of vegetation down to bare rock decades before and had not yet recovered.

Lulu leaned back, smiled and looked out over the sapphire-blue water of the twenty-two-mile long lake. Water so pure, even as it sat in the lake, open to the sky it would pass any health and any purity tests that a government body could perform. As pure and natural as it could be without chemicals to treat it.

Those that sailed on the waters of the lake were known to have occasional attacks of acrophobia, a fear of heights when they would look over the edge of the boats into the water. Such was the lake called Tahoe.

In some winters, parts the big lake would freeze and then the ice would make large piles on shore when storm winds blew. In summers the big lake was known to have waterspouts that danced on the water that would be featured in local headlines.

Over the lake, Lulu pointed out and began to fumble for her camera, a white-headed raptor circled on the hunt.

*Maybe* She thought. *If I get just a little lucky, I might get a shot of the eagle in a dive to catch a fish.*

Less than two football fields ahead, Lucy turned the wheel of the car as far as it would go and inched forward and began her turn. A big truck rumbled down the highway and blocked part of her view, but it looked clear behind the trailer so she could do her illegal U-turn.

Captain Thomas stood at the end of the ramp to the garage that housed his engine, watched for the thunderous group of Harley’s ride past. A curiosity of who rode through interested him. A few clubs were at constant odds and, on occasion, murdered each other.

Engineer Thomas cussed as he dropped a socket and it rolled under the wheeled tool-box he maintained at the garage for light maintenance of the fire equipment.

A break in the traffic in the direction that Lucy wanted to turn was a treasure that God had sent her and she would take it.

Russell slowed Gertrude the Hog and increased his distance from a semi-truck that had “Eat Organic” in a graphic painted on the back of the trailer and remembered to make a call later in the week on an investment that would boost a local organic farmer’s business.

“Honey, make a note to call Charlene tomorrow? I want to meet with her on a distribution idea.”

Lulu was focused on the eagle as the big bird circled as it searched for its next meal.

“Okay.” She sighed. “I can’t get the picture anyway.” As they approached a wide spot in the road, she saw a sedan on the shoulder of the highway.

Stonn “Hammer” Erikssen rolled on his custom-extreme modified motorcycle. A Harley-Davidson by heritage, but the engine that powered this two-wheeled fury, an engine built by the company named Orca Cycle Dominator, the second largest in the line, more horsepower than many cars generated and an enormous rear tire to put power to the ground kept his soul happy. Third in command of the small group of riders and watched the rider and passenger about a half-mile ahead as they closed on the pair.

From the photon’s point of view, the continents on the earth could be identified. At the universal speed limit, the ETA now?

A little four heartbeats.

 

T-Minus 3 Seconds

 

Twice the distance from the earth as the moon, photons closed the distance to the blue and white sphere that destiny had chosen for them. Of the many photons that left the photosphere of Sol, dust, satellites, Van Allen Belt and the associated quantum debris that flew around the photons that remained, approached the crossroads of fate.

Alongside the highway, Lucy saw the gap in the traffic and took her foot off of the brake of her luxury car and pressed on the throttle and she pulled out across the lanes in an illegal U-turn. It was perfect, a godsend to get on her way.

The big car spoke with its authority and crossed the lanes of traffic…

And stopped! She jammed her foot down onto the brake pedal, and avoided an accident by the narrowest of margins with a car that turned left – she had not seen the turn signal on the old junker driven by an even older man. Then Lucy took her foot off the brake and began forward again more slowly and crossed into the lanes midway and tried to figure out if she still had enough space to merge into the lane of traffic, then when she looked back Lucy realized the headlight of a motorcycle was close.

Too close!

Fire Station 2315 still had the garage doors open, two bays, two type-3 engines stocked with first aid equipment, now warmed up with the vehicle checks. Two full crews did maintenance around the property while Captain Thomas watched the disaster set up.

He didn’t wait.

“Hank! Hit the alert button!” He yelled at the engineer who sat in the driver’s seat. “We have an accident!”

“Where?”

Hank’s eyes followed where the captain’s pointed as his hand moved to the control panel.

“Ohshit.” He said it as one word. His right hand mashed on the siren button without a pause to switch the control button.

A hundred-yards behind, “Hammer” Erikssen saw that the rider in front of him did not seem to react to the big German luxury car that pulled out and stopped in front of him. Even from here, he swore he could see the saucer-wide eyes of the little-old-lady who was supposed to command the rubber and steel cage.

He yelled at the rider and his passenger, but it was futile. No matter how loud he could yell, it was not possible for Russell to hear the big Norwegian.

The entire collection of Norwegian profanities issued forth while Stonn watched helpless what was to come.

Russell turned the throttle up on Gertrude and turned the signal on to prepare a lane change while he checked his mirror and glanced over his shoulder to make sure the lane was clear, he noted a large group of motorcycles in his mirror. He counted at least ten riders as he judged from the headlights. His eyes then moved to his lane to see…

Car!

T-Minus 2 Seconds

 

Photons passed through the atmosphere and interacted with the oxygen and nitrogen, but still straight on to the stalled dark blue car of LucilleMay Sprecks who sat at the wheel of her car, frozen in fear.

Photons struck the paint and chrome of Lucy’s car and redirected by reflection, the photons passed through the air at ninety-thousand kilometers per second slower than in the vacuum of space. Some colors absorbed by the paint and then reflected the color of dark blue to the eyes of a man and woman on a motorcycle that closed the distance.

Engine 2315 self-dispatched, rolled down the driveway, already the crew had dropped their tools and ran towards the engine. The seasonal firefighters did not know the nature of the call, but the Captain was waved and yelled while the siren blared. The Engineer was already on the radio. The two men, from years of experience, knew that an accident was about to occur in seconds and called for paramedic units to be dispatched.

“Copy, medics Code-3 to your location.” Dispatch responded.

The ancient energy traveled the distance between the sudden obstruction and passed through the iris of Russell’s eye in twenty-five nanoseconds — 0.000000025 — struck the light-sensitive membrane in the back of Russell’s eyes. Neural pathways reacted to the absorbed photons and processed it to his occipital lobe in the back of Russell’s cranium.

T-1.9999955 seconds. Photons streaked past Russell’s head and entered the lens of Lulu’s eyes. The nervous system transmitted the image at two-hundred miles-per-hour to the brain of Mrs. Fletcher.

Russell’s brain transmitted the image to the frontal cortex. One-point-six seconds it took to have the one-hundred billion axioms to recognize the threat, the mind of the skilled rider tried to organize a reflex action.

T-1.99925 seconds. Fifty-miles per hour they traveled towards the immobile car. More than seventy-three feet per second — Already they had covered more than a third of an American football field.

T- 1.5 Seconds. Lucy saw the headlight, her eyes processed the motorcycle approach and her mind locked up. All she needed to do to avoid the imminent collision was move her foot to the gas. But in that moment, she did not know what to do. There were no answers for the panicked soul that only wanted a glass of wine and to save the soul of a lady Druid.

Russell’s brain processed information at the speed of three supercomputers.The most intelligent man on earth was not needed to know that the exit routes were:

Head-on traffic in front of the car — rejected. Death was all but certain.

Forest with big trees, bushes and large pointy rocks: – rejected. The outcomes could be as bad.

Hit car — poor choice, but the outcome defaulted while the mind of the man searched for a safe exit to this disaster. He was out of time to evade the disaster. He had to stop.

T- 1.25 seconds. Brakes! The mind yelled. 

T- 1.20 seconds. Brakes! The mind begged. The entire world was silent, Russell’s soul was deaf to all sounds. All the world was mute except the sounds of his scream.

T- 1.1 seconds. BRAKES! The mind commanded. No bumps, no sound of wind. Silence was louder than a rock-concert in a steel warehouse.

T- 0.9 seconds. BRAKES! The mind ordered. The engine was inaudible.

T- 0.8 seconds. A plaintive voice sounded through the earbud of the motorcycles comm system.

“Noooo!” It was Lulu.

T- 0.5 seconds. BRAKES! The foot now responded and jammed down on the rear brake and the hands grabbed for the front brake lever.

T- 0.4 seconds. The brake pads built up pressure. Years of ridership passion of the life, he closed his hand and crushed the front brake lever.

T- 0.15 seconds. The friction pads moved into contact with the rotational mass of the brake disc and began to engage at fifty-one feet away.

In an instant, Russell did calculations in his head, estimated he needed an extra twenty-feet to complete a full emergency stop.

Twenty feet he did not have.

T- 0.10 seconds. Russell tensed up. Impact was imminent. Pressure in rear brake built up enough to stop rotation of the rear tire. Seventy-percent of the weight of the motorcycle shifted to the front tire.

The shock absorbers on the motorcycle compressed as the big bike did a nosedive. On two tires, patches of rubber the size of a hand of a large man tried to stop a half-ton of steel, rubber, human flesh and bone.

The rear tire of the motorcycle began to skid, the tire locked up and rubber melted from friction with the highway, liquefied and vaporized rubber now lubricated the tire which began to yaw to the right, the front tire slowed faster than the rear with the weight of the motorcycle that pressed down and prevented the front from lock-up on the dry pavement. Lulu, as she sat on the back of Gertrude, farthest away from the center mass of the motorcycle and the pendulum. Out of control with the dynamic forces Russell in a valiant but futile effort to stop the inevitable.

Unstoppable, the thousand-pounds of metal, plastic, and bodies careened towards the immobile car, “Crossed up” as Gertrude the motorcycle yawed and slid sideways, they moved with Lulu made prayers, begged that it would be all right.

“Please don’t let it be bad, Lord, please let it be all right.”

It would not be all right.

T- 0.05 seconds. Russell could see over the top of the car, his mind processed information at a phenomenal rate, he could see the road was clear on the far side of the obstruction.

If only… Was his thought.

He could see the eyes of the little old lady, they were wide like a deer in the headlights, with plate-sized pupils.

T- 0.02 seconds. Photons made shadows on the ground that merged as the front tire braked as hard as it could be without the slide like the rear wheel did. Speed reduced rapidly, if someone plotted it on a graph, it would show the line of the deceleration as almost vertical on a second by second scale.

T- 0.01 seconds. Russell could calculate his speed was still greater than…

T- 0.00 seconds. Impact! Blocked photons which made shadows, now just made one shadow as the front tire hit ahead of the rest of the hog.

The force of the collision ripped the big bikes grips from Russell’s hands and his body became a missile, launched by the impact of the vehicles at twelve miles-per-hour, about the speed of a moderate run.

T+ 0.2 seconds. After Russell hit, he bounced and flew over the top of the car and broke the windshield with his helmeted head as he went by and struck his face on the asphalt. The open-faced helmet afforded him little protection, he slid and rolled down the rough road surface. Russell came to a rest on his back. His face hurt, but he was awake.

T+ 5.0 seconds. Russell lay there on his back, took stock of his limbs. Pain didn’t overpower him but there was no question he was hurt. Movement at the periphery of his eyes made him turn his head.

The car was on the move. The car drove away! He could see tail lights grow smaller as he tried to read the license plate from his awkward position.

Then, he saw his best friend’s body.

She was very still.

Too still.

Still as death.

T+ 15.0 seconds.

“Lulu…” He whispered a plea. “Lulu, move.”

She was under the motorcycle, pinned. Still, silent. She lay there with her leg bent in an unnatural way. He tried to crawl on his arms and left a bloody trail back to where his wife, his copilot and his best friend and lover, lay.

Russell’s vision became blurred with agony as the pain set in. Blood dripped off his face where his skin had abraded away by the highway blacktop.

T+ 125.0 seconds.

Feet pounded on approach and a heavy “Thump-thump” of a huge motor pulled up next to him. An enormous chopper with an even larger rider looked down at him through goggles. An 82nd Airborne division tattoo on Hammer’s forearm stood out in odd sharp focus to Russell’s vision.

“We caught her, brother. We caught that old lady before she got very far. Hang in there, help is on the way.”

“Lulu?” Russel moaned. “My wife?”

“Your old lady’s alive, bro. Hurt bad, but alive.”

“Call 9-1-1.” Russel grunted in pain.

“Station is right there, they’re on their way now.” The giant biker told Russell. “They’ll be here in two seconds.”

Two-seconds!

If only he had seen the car just two seconds sooner.

Finis

Advertisements

Nanoplague

Standard

 

NanoPlague

Dash McCallen

The runabout Ursus’ interior lights powered up and the onboard computer bootstrapped into service.

“Operational Database Interfaced Network, O.D.I.N  online.”  

“ODIN, recognize Lieutenant Regulus Bondman in command of the galley and cafeteria. I need a list of included teams and the specific dietary needs. Please, list the names by herbivore and carnivore classes.”

“Please, stand by. Accessing database of assigned crews.” The bass-voiced speaker rumbled in the ceiling.

“List and print onboard inventory of protein base to my display. Display designator Alpha07.” Reg tapped on the tablet he held in his hand.

Lieutenant Regulus Bondman continued his pre-mission inventory of the kitchen alongside Lt. Callisto “Calli of the Galley” Angustifolius. They were close friends and lovers when the chance arose.  

Regulus, as a human, found that the Lupus Sapiens hybrid to be enthusiastic when spending time with him. Although some of her DNA was non-sapien, she was part wolf, her mind was brilliant and as she could walk like a human, her abdominal fur was luxuriant to the touch, more so than a fluffy puppies tummy.

And her tongue?  Well, Reg, as his friends called him, found out that a Lupus hybrid doesn’t kiss like a human, instead she would use her long tongue to lick his neck and face when she walked by.  This was her version of a kiss, that in his opinion was both a shock but a thrill at the same time — If a bit of an embarrassment if she’d pick the most inopportune moments to do it when he wasn’t expecting and he was on his headset trying to hold a conversation with someone or he was carrying a large object.

She’d laugh at him in good humor if he had his hands full and her saliva in his ear while he stood there immobilized in shock.

“We need more loading packets for the protein resequencer.  We have…”  Reg paused his comment as he read through the ship’s manifest cross referencing the passenger list. They checked off the required nutritional requirements of each species of the crew.

“Lieutenant Commander Benjamin A. Gyas.” Reg sighed as he read the name from the list and shook his head. “Damn.”

“Ben Gyas, the bear? Yeah, I know him. He’s sweet and more than a little cute. And wow, yeah, he can eat more than an entire wolf pack if you let him. I’ll order more protein base now.” She smiled and the bright blue eyes from the human side of her genome along with her pointed ears enhanced the look of joy about working with her favorite human when buzz sounded from her inventory screen with a note “Message Timeout, Try Again Later”.

“Reg, I have to go back to the kitchen to get more protein packs. The messages I sent aren’t getting through for some reason.”  She was less formal now that they were not among other cooks and crew.

“Okay, but hurry back. The survey teams will start embarking in about a half hour. I already have pasta cooking for a double baked meat lasagna after we depart, and I still haven’t started anything for the herbivores.”

“And we’re bunking together?” She winked. “I have plans for you after we get off shift.”

This lupus is a horn-dog when she’s in a mood. Reg laughed and shook his head.  It’s obvious she never read the memo that mating season for wolf hybrids was only once a year.

The “galley” of the medium-range runabout Ursus was spacious.  A full complement of cooks could feed the crew of the Longbow in the galley of this size. The runabout was built with very stout specifications. A well-constructed bear of a ship, designed to leave and extend the reach of the Longbow’s teams, explore new planets in extreme hostile environments and keep the teams safe.  The Ursus was built for exploration with potent shields to protect against radiation and collisions with the stray rock, its powerful engines allowed it to land in any gravity well tolerable to crew. And this was his first time in charge of the well-appointed galley,  it made Reg smile.

 It would be a good change after the tragedy on the planet below.

“ODIN,” Reg addressed the computer. “I need a check on the deliveries of water and protein base. We’re running short of time.”

“The delivery transport is located at the pantry behind the kitchen.”

“Send a message: ‘Hurry up, please. We’re scheduled to depart in three hours.’ Post it as urgent.”

“Verbal message sent and pending receipt, Lieutenant Bondman.”  ODIN responded with a formal tone.

The exploration ship, Longbow, a massive science vessel, a  three-kilometer from stem to stern long, two-kilometers at the widest and a thousand meters from keel to superstructure in a rough lozenge shape. A swift and capable ship for deep space exploration around the, so far unnamed, K-type star, discovered by the Galactic Remote Observatory, Kuiper- with the acronym of GROK.

The first planet explored in the ten-planet system had evidence of an advanced civilization, but it appeared to be long dead. The find was exciting to everyone on the ship.  Teams of geologists and xenoarcheologists took shuttles down to the planet.

The dig sites were as exciting as the visual survey from space. There was one thing curiously missing.

Life.  Simply, there was none.

No bacterial reservoir underground or a buried endolithic lichen could be found.

Xenobiologists mapped for DNA in the air and found nothing.  All carbon based material was tied  

Something had killed the planet. Nothing grew. No plant, no fungus, not even a slime mold.  

And another curious observation. Bodies were missing. No fossils, no decayed remains of plants or tree stumps.There were fossils in a collapsed ruin of a museum, a rich history.  But nothing with an organic structure.

It was all bare mineral soil.

A mystery, considering the amount of synthetic material that was dated by molecular decay scan put the ruins of the planet at more than two hundred-thousand years old.

The geologist team who surveyed what appeared to be, at one time, a reservoir for water to the desiccated community downstream.

Fifteen kilometers up a canyon, above the well-designed water distribution system the survey team’s shuttle landed on a flat spot, the pressure of the displaced atmosphere caused a small handful of soil to be displaced in an unnoticeable move over the edge and out of sight.  The handful of gravel caused a fist sized rock to roll down a hill that knocked a couple more stones loose as a dozen stones continued on their path, determined by gravity and unchecked by any obstruction.  

The slide gathered more stones, rocks, and soil not held in check by roots of plants or even moss. It happened quickly and the weather survey team at the top of a desiccated peak had no clue what they had started.

The landslide traveled over small hills, its speed topped seven hundred kilometers per hour and only the alert eyes of Qwantay Paris kept more people from dying as she yelled for everyone to return to the shuttle.

But Captain Katherine Scrivener wanted to know all the details after the dead and wounded were brought back.  

The kitchen crews were under request of the First Officer Kurrg, a Panthera Tigris Sapiens hybrid who had served under the command of Captain Scrivener for the last five years.

Although the captain and the first officer trusted each other implicitly, the arguments could get loud, even through the closed doors of the Captain’s office. Like any roaring match between lion and tiger could be.

Still, the missions were scheduled for other survey teams to take the runabout Papillion to the other three planets and assess them for any relics of a civilization.  

Careful examination of the planet below, revealed no radiation or products of a nuclear war, nor any biological contaminants that might indicate biological warfare. Not even toxins.

Power generating plants were in good working order. Nuclear plants had long ago gone into a shutdown mode and were totally dead.  

The Captain Scrivener brought the full capacity of the Longbow to bear on the investigation of the accident and to further examine the planet to find out what happened. The other survey teams would take forty people on a seven day traverse through the asteroid belt and explore the two remaining planets for evidence of war or something more cosmic.

One theory was a supernova may have sent a gamma ray burst into the K-star’s system and sterilized it. But no evidence had yet been found.

So, the investigation was multifold: Survey the other planets, find the causes for the avalanche, and what caused the civilized planet to be abandoned in what appeared to be an instant.

Dr. Honie Pers was directing the movement of equipment on board of the Ursus and stopped in for a cup of coffee.  

“You’re the doc, Doc.” He smiled. Dr. Pers was addicted to earth’s native black brew of stimulants. She was an intensely funny woman who was known to have little use for politicians and policies at the cost of people’s lives.

“Thank you for clearing the freezer for the bodies, Reg.”  She nodded. Stuck with the catalogue of the dead.  Her drinking partner, Dr. Eta, was killed in the avalanche and Dr. Pers asked to be reassigned to the Ursus for exploration. She was unable to perform the autopsy after the incident. “I appreciate the speed and the care you gave them.”

“No worries, Doc.  I was following orders from the chef, besides, I like Professor Eta.” Reg looked down and corrected himself. “Liked. Sorry.  He taught at the University of Sapphire where the United Planets have their central headquarters.  I attended there for a few years.”

“That’s a good school.” She took a sip of her coffee and looked at Reg with a smile. “You brew a good cup.”

“The protein sequencers do a passable job at reproducing the coffee. But I keep a five kilo-bag of raw beans in my room. I roast them in the kitchen in between food preparations, about two pot fulls worth a night.” He tapped his pad and a crystal-clear cylinder of a gel that looked like the transparent albumen of eggs loaded into a dispenser, the clear proteins were synthetic and machines could resequence them into any food item.  “A single kilogram can replace two-metric tons of food when it recombined proteins with air and water to create food-grade hydrocarbons and fats that mimicked the texture and flavors of what the different species’ nutritional requirements — And the flavors that they liked to eat.”

“That’s creative! I’ve never thought about the back of the kitchen, how you all created the food.  I figured I didn’t want to really know where you got the proteins to resequence.” She said just as her handset buzzed.  She looked down, tapped on the screen and nodded. “The exciting part of the survey, we found that the wounded people on the geological survey team are healing at a rate about a thousand times faster. There are nanobots in the soil that are healing the wounded.”

“Nanobots?” Reg stopped installing the protein base into dispenser and looked at the Doctor.

“Yes, we discovered them on the cadavers that were put in body bags then put in your freezer.” She smiled. “Doctor Ferso discovered them in the beginning. They are slow moving and tiny. Ten-thousand can fit inside of a red blood cell with room left over.”

“I want to call them Eta’s discovery, but the message on my handheld was that Doctor Ferso wants first rights to name them.”

“I’m surprised they work at all.” Reg said as he programmed at the kitchen’s master computer, syncing his pad with the different needs of the crewmembers. “All the images coming up from the surface looks like it’s been dead a long time. The way it looks, like a huge fire. It looks almost burned out.”

“Yes, that’s the consensus. Something had a very destructive effect on organic material. So far, we haven’t found any trace of organic material.” she drained her cup of coffee and looked at the time. “Where are my people? They’re supposed to be bringing equipment.”

Reg’s handset toned. The screen illuminated when he looked at it, it made him smile. It was Calli.

“Hey, you…”

“Reg, listen. Something’s going on. There is movement in the freezer where they put the bodies. They have a security team here with weapons.”

All non-security personnel evacuate the kitchen. Report to your emergency stations.

“Reg…”

Then the ship address system came online.

All personnel, intruder alert. Lock doors and shelter in place. All non-security personnel clear the passageway. Repeat, security personnel only in passageways.

“Calli, come to the Ursus if you can.” Reg looked around and the Doctor was tapping controls on the loading ramp, closing it and airlock. “Shelter here, safest place there is.”

“No, I can’t make it. I’m going to try and go to my room, it’s just down the hall. They’re pushing people into rooms together.” Calli sounded worried as she was jostled while she spoke into the screen of the tablet. “I’m not even going to get to my room.”

“What’s going on?” Reg demanded.

“I don’t know.” She answered with a little fear in her voice, and for a lupus, that was as close to hysteria that she would get. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

“Well, I know.” The doctor turned around, her handheld computer was lit up.  “They’re transmitting to me a whole database.”   

Doctor Pers went pale.

“The critically wounded have changed. Chief Medical Officer Cyprus has sent me that the nanobots have affected the geologist. He bit…”  She tapped the screen.  “Oh. Dear God. They’ve animated!  The cadavers. Doctor Eta is attacking people. “

A scream sounded from out in the hangar, Reg ran up the stairs to look from the bridge of the runabout.

People were being attacked by silver skinned creatures in service department uniforms. Hangar control office was a scene of a pitched battle.  Reg watched the humans with fist sized holes of flesh bitten out of them do a rapid, physical change into a walking nightmare of silver skin horror, and death lean.  While he watched the carnage, someone hit the console emergency override and opened the hangar doors to open space.  

Bodies, pallets of equipment, anything that was loose flew out the door. Shuttles and runabouts were anchored in their positions with mag-locks and didn’t move.

Captain Scrivener’s voice could be heard in a broadcast over his handset and tablet.

Security team-blue to engineering. All other security personnel report to the bridge.

Two minutes later, the lights went out. Emergency com-systems illuminated and speakers that were never meant to be used, boomed out the Captain’s voice.

Abandon ship! All hands! Abandon ship! This is not a drill.

The inner airlock burst open as if someone set an explosive, but Reg couldn’t hear it in the vacuum of the hangar.

Until the tsunami of air, bodies and hardware crashed into the side of the Ursus, and now loose of the de-energized maglocks, was blown towards the open doors.

Tumbling bow over stern towards the hangar doors, the Ursus became tangled up with other ships that formed a logjam at the partially opened doors, the sounds of impact on the galley service door. The exterior airlock door was still open, Reg realized, something big few into the airlock.

Until the shuttle Prydwen, tumbled, bounced and hit the logjam of vessels and bodies with the force of an artillery shell and broke the tangled pile of ships, hardware and bodies.

Reg and Dr. Pers bounced around inside of the out of control Ursus like dice in a cup, the artificial gravity of the Ursus wasn’t online yet, they were under the influence of the Longbow’s systems.

ODIN! Emergency stabilize!” Dr. Pers yelled. “All available power to the stabilizers!”

The big runabout stopped tumbling in space and loud sounds of crashes echoed up and down the hallways as the artificial gravity booted up.

“ODIN! System report.” Reg said but he was rewarded only with a high pitched sound was emitted by what was once ODIN.

“Well, that’s not helpful.” Reg groaned. “If it’s not able to respond, we can’t verify orders.“

“You okay, Reg?” The doctor lay in a fetal position on the floor and moaned with her hand over her stomach. “I’m hurt.”

“I’m okay, I thin…” Reg screamed as he tried to take her hand. “My back!”

“Let’s get to sick bay. We’ve stabilized the ship  at the moment.”

“Ugh.” He struggled to his feet. “My shoulder hurts like I have a bad bruise, and it pops like something’s broken.”

Another alarm sounded.

“Of course!” Reg said. “We have more.”

“ODIN!  Define alarm!”

A buzzing sounded, ODIN’s voice was thready but could be understood.

“H-hu-hull,” ODIN paused. “B-br-bre-brea-breach.”

“We’re venting atmosphere.” Reg groaned at the doctor. “Crap, we don’t have anything.”

“I see it! Galley delivery door, where the water vapor is condensing, something hit the door and punched a hole.” She pointed. “About the size of my thumb.”

“I have an idea! He staggered into the kitchen in muttering about glue and starch. Then his voice echoed in the empty kitchen. “Yeah! Ow! Ow-ow! My shoulder! Ow! Hot, son of a mother…!”

With a storm of profanity and comments about pain and the object’s heritage, Reg came out of the kitchen with dripping towels and over his left arm and with both hands, he carried a large plate of what looked like pasta.

“Here! Stuff the towels into the hole.” The erosion of the air had expanded the size of the hole to a ping-pong ball and the atmosphere was venting now in a stiff breeze just a foot from the wall.  

Dr. Pers wadded up a wet towel and pushed it into the hole. The cloth was sucked into the growing hole and stuck. Water boiled and froze at the same time to became a weak dam against the stream of the atmosphere. The stream of atmosphere oscillated through the cloth as the water froze and broke away. With a smile, Reg flipped the plate of hot, cooked pasta against the frozen towels that partly plugged the hole.

Drawn into the smaller holes of the wet towel, the cold water chilled and hardened the pasta. The water-saturated food swelled when it froze and plugged the leak. The pressure of the inside of the Ursus pushed the metal serving plate against the wall, making an effective seal with the cooked noodles.

The loss of the atmosphere was stopped.

“Well, that was exciting.” Doctor Pers said.  

“We’re safe now.” Reg said, as he took a third towel and smoothed around the edge of the seal.

“Where did you learn that?” The Doctor asked.

“Academy training in the event of a meteor strike. Anything wet and flexible can be a sealant and it will fill a hole.  And a thick enough paste will plug some pretty large holes. I just wasn’t sure that the hole might be too large. So, I used a wet towel to plug the biggest part of the hole, then use the pasta to seal it.” He smiled, then groaned in pain. “Now, can you fix me?  I fixed the ship and burned my hands and my back is killing. Now, it’s my turn?”

“Let’s get some images of your shoulder.” She smiled, but she appeared more pale than before.

“Okay, Reg, see here?” The doctor pointed at the image on a handheld display screen and used a clinical tone.“You have a fractured scapula.”

“Not much can be done. It’s not displaced. You have some internal bleeding and the bruise will spread. I have something to prevent much more bleeding. But for now, we can sling the arm and some pain control, but you’ll just have to heal. We don’t have the facilities on board to do any surgery anyway.”

“Okay, then,” Reg pondered. “Let’s get to cleaning up the kitchen and pour some coffee and figure out what we are going to do. The Longbow will need our assistance.”

She shook her head and read the report that her previous college had sent them with a video.

“To any station receiving this: I am the Chief Medical Officer of the Longbow. We have lost power and are falling into the gravity well of an uncharted planet. Do not land on the planet. It’s contaminated with an alien technology beyond our understanding. I am transmitting on all frequencies the data we have uncovered. Anyone who came in contact with the planet has mutated and have become aggressive. There is a battle in the corridors, security has been overwhelmed.” Sounds of weapons fire got louder and the look of of the Chief Medical Officer was one of resignation. “Do not rescue us. The ship is on a self-destruct course. All data we are transmitting on all channels. Any station receiving this, this is the Longbow…” The video abruptly ended.

The Longbow was lost.  

“Callie.” Reg whispered at the display the pain of her loss not registering yet. “Callie.”

The data that the chief medical officer sent in an emergency broadcast had been downloaded to her data management device and she scrolled through the information and began to swear.

“Lieutenant,” for the first time, he heard her groan in pain. “We have some serious problems. And now, I need your help.”

“Doc, what is it?”

“When we were thrown around a pushcart landed on me with supplies. I don’t remember what. All kinds of crap was flying around.” Regulus noted she had a definite pallor while she spoke. “My right side is tender. I can’t move much to that side. I’m beginning to see a bruise like you have on your back.”

“I have a bruise?” He tried to look around his shoulder but squawked when the pain stopped him. “I’ll believe you.”

Regulus pulled his data pad out of his vest pocket and began to type.

“Um, Doc, how long will we be on this tub until we get rescued?”

“Okay, here’s the deal.” She read the detailed report. “The planet is covered in nanobots.  To the ratio of one part per trillion. It’s in the dust, it’s airborn.  At first, it was overlooked because they aren’t organic and don’t appear to be active.”

She traced her finger over the screen and changed the page.  

“These are so small. They can fit ten thousand in a red blood cell and still leave room for the cell to do it’s job.”

“That’s nice, but what can they do?” Reg asked.

“Getting there.” She read on. Took a deep breath. “Okay, each nanobot is also a bit of information.  A zero or one. On or off. Individually, they can’t do anything but mainly replicate. Doctor Gray noted that the nanobots began to help heal wounds. They were using adipose tissue from other parts of the body to rebuild broken bones, repair lacerations.” She flipped the screen and changed the page. “Individuals can do little, but the more they replicate and add to the group, they become a collective program.  We just don’t know what the program is.”

The doctor shook her head and looked at Reg.

“Was.” She corrected him. “This was written in real time during the exam.”

She read on. “The nanobots are repairing broken bones at an incredible rate.  We may have a discovery that would reduce surgical and injury downtime. Including, old injuries that seem to be repaired.”

“That doesn’t seem bad at all.” Reg said. “Like a good discovery.”

“It reads that way for a few pages. Known chronic illnesses undetectable. Arthritic joints healed in our older crewmembers.” She flipped through the screens. “Until this entry. The dead are reanimating, but are mindless. The nanobots are out of control and resequencing the most grievously injured wounds to another DNA pattern we aren’t familiar with. The corpse’s of team members awoke hungry and are getting aggressive. It seems that the nanobots are using all available proteins to repair the dead tissues. We can’t feed them enough and Nurse Jameson Curtis was bitten by one. The nurse lost a finger to the bite, but it grew back in less than an hour.”

“Okay, some downsides.” Reg said as they walked to the bridge of the Ursus.

“The nurse changed over the following hour and Jameson became violent. From appearances, he lost weight as his normal endomorphic body type has become more ectomorphic. His appearance has taken on a pallor, a color of gray similar to brushed aluminum with reptilian scales.” The doctor read on. “People with minor injuries of broken bones are healed in minutes, depending on level of contamination. Those with more grave injuries don’t just heal, they change. The nanobots program themselves to alter the whole body. Then, it’s as if the program becomes corrupted and then it reverts to changing the DNA to the non-terran DNA that they were originally programmed with.”

“Holy crap. So a little wound is good, but if you have a bad wound? Like a bullet hole. You change?” Reg asked.

“It sounds that way. And not just bullet holes, Reg. I’m in trouble.”  She looked at him with panic in her eyes. “I’m bleeding inside, something is torn. I can feel my heart beating in my abdomen and it’s swelling. Oh god. I was having such a good day, too. I thought we might get a trauma nurse to help me with the abdominal repair. I would normally have a few hours before I bled out too much.  I could teach you how to use the equipment, but…”  She looked at the door of the kitchen.

Tears rolled down her cheeks.  

“The equipment wasn’t delivered yet. I’m going to change on you.”

No!” Reg yelled at the doctor for the first time. “We aren’t contaminated.”

“The entire ship has been contaminated, the nanobots are airborne. They weren’t organic. They were too small and too few at first to be detected. We can’t assume that we are free of them.  Any place we go, we will contaminate, even with just one.” She whispered.  “A single nanobot would sterilize a world by replication. I’d bet that’s what happened to the planet.” She pointed out the window of the mess hall at the receding world the Longbow teams had so recently surveyed.

“The nanobots were inactive because they had stripped every protein possible to build their version of people.  Eventually, they ran out of organic proteins and consumed the plants.  Hydrocarbons were made out of water and soil. That turned it into  a desert planet. They consumed everything and left dust. The last living things were consumed by the nanobots who needed the energy to continue.” She looked at him. “We’re a plague ship. Any place we stop, we’ll destroy.  And I will change first. I can feel the changes now.  I have lost weight, and I don’t think I’m bleeding. So, the nanobots aren’t fully activated yet, but the effect is ominous. It’s like a cascade effect, one starts all the rest.”

Reg sat with his mouth open. The meaning of what she said was too big for his mind to wrap around. But, she was correct. When she walked on board the Ursus just an hour ago with her properly tailored uniform, it had perfectly fitted to her.  

“What about the gray goo effect?  They should disassemble like everything? Rocks, metal- everything?”

“I don’t know that, I’m a Doctor, not a nanotech engineer.” She shook her head weakly.

The Doc’s smock now hung on her like it was at least one size too large and her cheeks appeared to be sunken.

“Well, maybe we can transmit the data from here and get to a robot medical lab for help.” She tried to look for a bright side.

“No, doc.” Reg said. “I’m trained as crew, not engineering or command. I’m a cook, but I do have a working knowledge to do basic navigation and stuff. The Ursus has a type-A drive. We’re limited to just over twice of lightspeed. Longbow had a type-D. It could do a magnitude greater speed than that, maybe more.  And our transmit range for data is a lot less than the Longbow. We’d have to be in a system for them to hear us.”

“Hear you, is more likely.” She said cryptically while she stood and walked around the kitchen. “I’m hungry. Do we have anything? I’d like some eggs.”

“Eggs?” Reg was suddenly alarmed. “With your belly? Doc, is that wise?”

“Sunnyside up.  Just lightly cooked. Bread, if you have it.” Her eyes had a noticeable glint. Like she was on the verge of tears. “I”m healed, in a twisted sense.”

She’s been crying.

“Doc, how many eggs?”

“Three.” She paused. “No, four.”

“Four eggs? Doctor?”

“I’m fine. I’m the Chief Medical Officer on board.” She gave him an odd look. “Reg, oh.”

She put her hands to her face.

“Oh, no.”

“What?”

“I’m changing now. I want to eat raw eggs and I’m looking at you.” She tore her eyes away. “I just thought of you as food.”

Reg panicked, her skin was definitely a metallic-gray hue. He hadn’t noticed the subtle change until she moved.

She was also even more slim, easily ten-kilos less. The change was accelerating and he could see metallic scales forming on her skin.

“I…” Doctor Pers made a sobbing sound. “I’m sorry. I need to go to the airlock. You need to lock me in.”

She walked quickly, almost at a run while she motioned Reg to keep up.

Doctor Pers staggered as she stepped into the opening of the cargo airlock. She grabbed at a large, red handle to steady herself as the interior door slid shut.

The handle, Reg noticed, had block lettering on it in white.

“Exterior airlock override”

“You cannot let anyone make physical contact with the ship, but you need to transmit everything on my medical pad.  It should be uploaded to ODIN for safety, back it up. You will be okay with the broken shoulder.  Don’t get badly hurt or you will change.” Reg wasn’t certain that her voice was attenuated from the intercom or if her voice was changing.

Her face had become shiny with faceted crystal teeth.

The crazy thought hit him. Crystallized?

“Doc! What do I do?”

“Go to the outer stellar observatories. They’re the closest and have good data bandwidth. Reg, can you do that? Can you make it there?” She closed her eyes and looked as if she might weep. “You have to get in range and warn people to stay away from this system. It may already be too late.”  

Before Reg could answer, she pulled the emergency latch and opened the hangar door.

Reg screamed as her body shrank from sight out into space and left him on the Ursus.

Alone.  

Then he realized.

The Ursus was his first command.

Reg shook his head and wept, in another time and place? He would’ve partied.

It was supposed to be seven days with forty people and Calli. He and Calli would have spent all their off hours in each other’s arms while the survey teams were trudging around in the muck of the planets.

He would have loved to have spent time in bed with that long-tongued Homo Canis Lupus Sapiens for a week of nights.

Regulus Bondman turned and walked back to the bridge, while his fingers tapped on the information pad.  

“ODIN, display damage report.”

A squeal that was ODIN’s voice informed Reg that no conversation would be taking place anytime soon.

Reg sighed. He had no skills to repair the system, let alone the voice interface.  He just didn’t know how that worked or even where it was located.   

Flashing red pixels indicated the damage to the stout-built ship. Two stories tall, fifty paces wide and twice that long, it was a limited-range transport and personnel carrier with limited resources compared to the massive three-kilometer-long Longbow.

Once on the bridge, ODIN displayed a fire warning in the holds that contained all-terrain vehicles for moving around a planet’s surface.

“ODIN, extract air from the hold and flood with halide gas.” A high pitched burst of static answered him. The pixel indicating a fire went dark.

“ODIN, cease all voice responses until repairs are completed.” Reg had no idea how to do that, but at least he wasn’t going to go deaf by listening to the shriek of a broken speaker.  

“ODIN, display ETA to nearest deep space stations with data connection.” A long moment passed while Reg hung his head after he read the display. Two weeks at normal cruising speed for the Longbow. Not what he was looking for, but he knew the next answer.

“ODIN, display for maximum cruising speed for Ursus to the same location.”

Eight weeks, three days, twenty hours.

Damn, that’s a long time.

Reg knew how many crates of protein base had been brought on board. With a quick calculation on the pad, if he had seven days of food for forty people, for one person, he had more than enough food.

“ODIN, how much atmosphere have we lost when the ship was damaged?”

This took about a heartbeat longer.

Atmospheric oxygen: 20.95 percent.

Good.

Pressure zero point 98 bar.

“ODIN how convert that to my level of training?”

Fourteen point two one three seven PSI and falling.

“Ack,” Reg boggled. “Falling? Not good!

Reserves ten percent.

Crap on a cracker!

“ODIN, locate and identify leaks.”

A dozen pixels illuminated. Another yellow pixel lit up and flashed a warning of an overheated circuit.

“ODIN, reroute power away from that circuit and mark for repairs.”

The yellow alert went out.

That left the venting problems.

But not all of the leaks venting were atmosphere, but all were venting out.  

Coolant leaks contaminated the air in some sections.  

The list went on. With the agony in his right shoulder, he used his left hand to drag and carry tools to repair or close valves that moved toxic, but needed gasses and fluids through the ship for its operation. He went to work. He hadn’t given up the fight to live. Lieutenant Regulus “Reg” Bondman would fight the universe for every breath, every blink of an eye. He wouldn’t just give up, so he set to work to repair all that he could.

After Reg made his way to the two hull leaks that vented atmosphere to space, he sealed them with simple and easy patches. Pre-constructed patches that were little more than metal plates with peel and stick pads that adhered to the bulkheads and sealed the holes. Then, he worked on into the night until the last coolant leak was sealed. Hours passed and finally, he was finished with emergency repairs.

Reg sat on the command seat once all the repairs were complete. His shoulder was a symphony of pain. He could see the dark blue of the bruise on his shoulder.  It had spread while he worked the muscles, instead of giving the body a rest and ice.

“ODIN, reduce oxygen levels to sixteen percent.”  

Then, he thought about it and tapped on his pad. Altitude of about twelve thousand feet would be liveable.

“ODIN, reduce atmospheric pressure to nine psi.” Reg tapped on the command console. “ODIN, set course for the Copernicus Deep Space Observatory platform. Engage at maximum cruising speed.”

“What is our ETA? Round to nearest day.”

Eight weeks. Four days.

“ODIN, how long will oxygen last until I lose consciousness?”

Three weeks. Six days.

“ODIN, adjust the atmospheric scrubbers up to maximum. Recalculate how long if carbon dioxide is scrubbed out of the air.”

Four weeks. Two days.

Reg sighed.

“ODIN, if I broke down all water sources for the component oxygen, recalculate oxygen levels until I suffocate.”

Five weeks. Four days.

I’m going to take a shower. He’d have said it out loud but he felt out of breath.

He groaned in pain while the shower sprayed many thousands of tiny drops of water on his skin, to clean his skin of everything he could. Except for what he wanted.
Each drop that slammed into his skin had it’s own pain message. Each impact redefined the word “pain,” but every moment the level of pain was reduced.  

The bruise had become large enough that he could even see the edges of yellow, green and blue that had spread from his shoulder to his ribs under his right arm. There was really no need for a mirror to see the glory of the injury he sustained when he bounced around the inside the Ursus.  

His tender flesh rebelled as he turned his back away from the stream that jetted against him. He put his head against the simulated stone tile designed to make crews to feel like it was an organic experience on this interplanetary ship.

Reg couldn’t give two craps right now. He was out of ideas, he was a chef, not a member of any damage repair crew, except for patching holes, putting out fires.

He wept while the water washed away his tears along with the filth of smoke, dried pasta, and sweat.  

And he wished, nanobots.

“I should be more stiff than earlier.” His self-conversation kept him from hearing things. “A few edges are now pale yellow-green instead of that red-purple that new bruises have. So, the internal bleeding’s stopped.”  

 It had only been six hours since he landed badly when the Ursus did it’s the tumbling, out of control exit  from the hangar of the Longbow through the broken airlock doors the size of a football field each.

Six hours ago, Doctor Pers diagnosed him with a fractured scapula. There was little to do, she said, other than to sling it.

Six hours? He shook his head in the stinging spray of water. Only six?

It seemed like a lifetime ago.

His estimated time of arrival to the nearest deep space platforms in the Gliese system was still two months away.

If my oxygen would only hold out that long. He sighed.  A futile wish, but no one ever wants to suffocate.

His mind spun with the catastrophe and pain.

I just need to get this hunk of junk close enough to transmit the information from the medical computer’s database.

He turned to let the hot spray beat on his chest for a few minutes.  

It was all the enjoyment he would get.

He let the near-scalding water wash away his tears, his mind raced with the situation. He never volunteered for this mission from hell, he wanted experience.  An entry on his work history, the experience and spend time with the cutest fur covered female in the fleet.

“I did want my own ship one day. An interstellar catering setup.” Reg banged his forehead against the ceramic tile. He could feel in his mind the impacts resound through the conduits, hallways, and offices. No one to hear them anywhere.

Reg knew it was just a fantasy. He couldn’t hear the echos, but he could imagine the noise echoing down conduits and access tubes.

Alone on this ship, the whole galaxy seems unpopulated.  He turned the hot water up another notch, just above the pain threshold.

Doesn’t matter.  It’ll heal. Maybe even better than before maybe.

Roxana Pilot, an engineer he dated, once told him that eighty percent of the energy an engine produces is wasted in the top twenty percent of the ship’s maximum velocity.  

“In other words,” she smiled at him as they slowly piloted between planets in that wonderful weekend of kisses and coupling. “It’s more efficient to go a little slower than top speed.”

Yeah, Roxana. He spoke to the pleasant ghost of a memory. But I’ve no plans to land anywhere.   

His mind snapped back to the present with a gasp for air, and he was back in the shower. His mind drifted easily in the rarified air.

It’s all I can do is make more speed. But he knew the outcome would be the same. I can’t breathe any less. The way the power units keep overheating, the one thing I have in abundance is smoke. Power generation is no problem, but I can’t do more speed. At least with the oxygen dialed down so low, short circuits done become big fires.

I’m just running out of compressed air cylinders to wear while I spray the fires with the… he couldn’t remember.  The fire – putter-outer stuff.  

Extinguishers!

He shook his head, turned on the cold water, letting the stinging water pummel his face to focus his mind.

Movement.

Just outside of the shower room. Reg pushed open the steam-fogged door.  

“Hello?”

Nothing.

Just his towels. Stolen from the kitchen to dry off with.

Reg stepped out of the shower and dried himself off and walked naked to the galley.  

“Damn, this thing is big with no one in it.” He said to himself as he walked along the cluttered hallway. “We need a food fight.”

He laughed. He would have enjoyed it more, but the laugh took his breath away.

The walk felt a lot more difficult as if he was on a hike in the high mountains. Laughing was not supposed to be a luxury. He had to make oxygen choices. Laughing was no longer one of the givens that this human could make.

Lack of oxygen or carbon dioxide poisoning. Either one was lethal. The products of burning from the fires had polluted the air. The atmosphere scrubbers worked overtime to remove toxins and carbon dioxide as it was.

I wish I knew how to reduce the gravity. It would make it so much easier.

Reg shook his head. He had done as much as he could. He needed another brain and ODIN, the computer, was badly damaged.  

There was no one to talk to other than himself or ODIN, who tracked his movements with small sensors placed everywhere in the ship.

“ODIN, please stop being obvious when tracking me with the cameras, please? It bothers me.”

The cameras all became still and were a simple background.

Still, there was the feeling of movement that was just beyond his sensory range.

“ODIN, scan entire ship. Log anyone that has moved in the last ten minutes and print the results to my pad.”

The response was swift.

One. Listed as Lieutenant Regulus Bondman, sous chef, temporarily in command of the Ursus.

Funny, the computer has developed a sense of humor.

Weird, it seems that I’m missing something.  

Reg walked down the hallway. The sounds of his footsteps attenuated by the thin air in the ship. His feet sounded far away.

Or, is it because I’m hypoxic?

I’m dying.

“Ugh! I’m dying and no one is here to help me!” He punched the wall next to the kitchen door as he went in. “I’ll be dead in a month, choking on my own waste.”

“ODIN, play something rock hard.  Something from the group, Twisted Fate.”

The music sounded tinny, as if all of ODIN’s speakers were blown out.

“ODIN, cancel music.” The sounds were terrible. It reminded him of when he was a teenager. His dad said it sounded like rending metal.  

Right now, his dad was correct.

He wished he was with his old man now, so he could ask him for advice. For help.

Henry Kristopher “Hawk” Bondman, Ph.D. The senior astrophysicist at University of Nova Aquila. His wisdom and wit for raising the children along with the matriarch of the family, Penelope Bondman, Ph.D. and professor of studies at the same school.

Reg loved them both. He would have loved to be at his parent’s house now, drinking mom’s version of coffee. Deep, dark, and would cause your heart to do palpitations for hours after you drank a cup.

Regulus.

“What!” Reg yelled to the room. “Where are you?”

Reg!

Then, an ear-splitting scream. He looked down the table.  

Forks, knives, spoons for eyes made a face on the flat surface.

And it screamed his name.

It was Calli’s voice.

The circle of spoons looked like Calli’s beautiful eyes.

Okay, I’m officially freaked out.

He ran out the door into the hallway. Calli’s image was visible on a wall and then faded as he stared at it.

Wake up! Come back to the hear and now. Mom and dad would expect you to think your way out. C’mon Reg, how would you leave a legacy? What would you say if you could send them a message?

Message!

“That’s it!” Reg snapped his fingers and headed to the bridge.

He climbed the steps to the command level, and there he saw her.

Most of her, anyway.

Calli.

Her face was fully formed, but the rest of her body appeared skeletal, like a real life stick figure drawn by a child in an art class. Bones took shape over the basic construction, but the eyes were Calli’s.

“Reg.” Her mouth articulated his name. “You left me.”

“No!” Regulus’ mind almost unhinged. “We were ordered to shelter in place. The doctor even locked the ramp.”

The ghost took a hesitant step towards him. She was fully formed, naked, but with the fine, downy fur that was her species that made it heaven to touch her.

Reg shook his head.

“Calli? You can’t be Calli.” His voice was high and tight.  

“No, we are a recreation of the one that you last spoke to over the communication systems. The details of her appearance are in the medical files.” The Calli-Clone said. “We felt it imperative that you are not alone. No one needs to die here.”

“Her medical file? Ugh, never mind. You know everything. I’m already dead. The Longbow crashed into the planet that you’re from, we had a hull breach and we vented three-quarters of the atmosphere in the runabout. So, I’m dead in a few days, long before rescue is possible.” Then he got angry. “And you, all of your kind, turn us into some kind of alien that eats everything.”

“No, Reg.” She took a hesitant step. “We’re not changing anyone. There was a simple mismatch of our technology and your alien biology. We didn’t understand  the senescence of your kind.”

She smiled in a way that was so much like Calli. It took Reg’s breath away.

“We meant no harm, only to heal. We didn’t understand what death is to you and the reanimated needed protein. It was an error. But, we learned. The more there are of us, the more we understand.”  She reached towards him. “Come, take my hand. Let’s sit down and talk.”

Reg recoiled in horror.

“Really, Reg.” She smiled gently. “Nanobots are in you now. A touch by my hand won’t change anything.”  

“Still, you’re just a pile of nanobots holding hands.” He tried to sound braver than he was.

“I feel cold.” Calli-Clone folded her arms over her breasts. “I need to find some clothes. I’m not just ‘a pile of nanobots holding hands, Reg. Down to the very molecule, I am physically a perfect Callisto. Her medical profile is in our memory. Even down to the scars.”

“So, you have her memories?”

“No.” She looked at him with sad eyes. “We have her emotions, but we are not Calli.

“Teach us.” Her face brightened with a smile again. “We can learn about the species of your society and be a huge benefit to everyone. Yes, there were errors made in first contact. Don’t let it devolve into something that it’s not. Let me be Calli.”

She held out her hand, again, and he refused to hold it. She was as intelligent as Calli and just as well spoken.  

And she looked so very much like her. Down to the scar on the shoulder she sported from a surgery after a climbing accident when she was young.

Except for tattoos. They were conspicuously absent. A skull with a brace of pistols as crossbones from her favorite novel was missing from her left breast.

And his name. Regulus Bondman, tattooed to the inside of her thigh, was also missing.  Neither tattoo was ever recorded in any medical file.

So, they don’t know everything. Reg pulled at his chin. That’s useful.

“Reg, where is my room?” He led her to their room a few doors down.

When she entered the room, she made a slow circuit around until she came to a picture on a low table and picked it up. It was the image of them at a party.  

“You and Calli were mated?” She looked at Reg.

“We were intimate.” He answered and she put the portrait of them down.

She went towards the bed of the small quarters and pulled on the knob of a drawer to lifted out sheer negligee.

“Should I wear this?” She gave him a sideways glance. “This is not in the database.”  

“I thought you wanted a uniform?” Reg infuriated by this intruder pawing through Calli’s stuff. “You’ll need her uniform is in the closet.”

“Reg, Relax. We have a long time to learn.” Her smile faltered a little and she opened the closet. “You should teach me the nuances of what I will need to know to be an ambassador to the other worlds.”

“Ah, no.  You aren’t even organic. You’re a…” He paused. “I don’t know what the hell you are.”

“If you were to take a skin sample, you’ll find that I have cells, albumin, DNA, mitochondrial function.” She looked at him, a tear formed in the corner of her blue-husky dog eye. “I’m as real as Calli. I’m also more than her.”

He watched her dress, this artificial construct of his dead Calli. Then was revolted at himself for thinking of her body. He knew what kind of message he should send to the nanobots.

Message!

“What’s wrong, Reg?” She stroked his shoulder. “We can make it to the shipping lanes. You have a ten metric tons of gelled protein. We can convert them into oxygen. It won’t be a problem to create enough oxygen for your survival. We can survive without oxygen, so only enough for you is needed.”

He stood at the docking port and looked out the porthole for a moment. This clear, armored ceramic that sealed between the interior of the ship to the vacuum of space was where the doctor made her final goodbye.

“What if a planet won’t accept your presence in their environment?”

“We will convince them. We will change them for the better, they will see we are good for people.” She smiled. “They won’t be sick, they won’t age, if they fight, we will change them.”

“Right.” He yanked on the airlock manual override lever and grabbed the passageway handrail.

The Calli-Clone didn’t have time to scream before she was swept up in the roar of hurricane force winds and out the black hole into space. Reg pushed the lever back to the “close” position and locked it.

He had to send a message. In a month, he would suffocate to death. Then, the nightmare would begin.

He would be modified by the nanobots that were in him. They would fix the dead cells of his body and  he wouldn’t remember anything.

With a sigh, he sat down and started the video journal of the last days of his life that was to be transmitted to the Medical Network automatically.

First order of business.

“ODIN, navigation change. Plot a course for the surface of Gliese 687.”  Reg paused for a moment after the confirm screen popped up on his screen.

He tapped in his password.

Are you sure? (Y/n)

Am I sure? That’s twisted humor for sure.

He gave a bitter laugh and pressed the green pixel.

Reg didn’t notice any change, but at twice the speed of light, the red dwarf star would appear to be small and blueish as he approached.

“I’ll be dead anyway.”

He tapped a command on the pad and turned on the captain’s communications screen, took a breath and began.  

“ODIN, lock navigation controls.” Reg thought a few minutes, then made his way to the engineering section of the ship.

With a sigh, he pulled the panels off the core navigational controls, pulled the circuit interface cards from the slot and snapped them in half.

“It’s done.” Reg whispered to no one in particular.

“ODIN,” Lt. Regulus Bondman, sous chef, in his first command, gritted his teeth. “I’m sorry, bud.”

He had killed the ship. Their next stop was in the radiant arms of a red dwarf star.

Reg trudged back towards the bridge and sat heavily in the captain’s seat and began recording video.

“I am Regulus Bondman, the sous chef in the kitchen onboard of the Exploration Ship Longbow. I am, so far as I know, the sole survivor of the catastrophe that has killed everyone on board of the Longbow.” He took a deep breath. It was more of a gasp, really. “Do not attempt to rescue me. The Ursus is a quarantined ship. Repeat: The Ursus is a plague ship. This will be my death journal and I will leave the video cameras on to record every moment until the Ursus enters the photosphere of Gliese 687. I will be dead at least two weeks before the Ursus gets close enough for anyone to receive the signal. I have the computer set to transmit all data when it is in range. Do not approach. This is a plague ship.

While he sat there with his face in his hands and wept, a soft, feminine hand touched his shoulder.

“Reg, why did you do that to my other self?” The husky-blue eyes of the husky-hybrid sparkled with anger.  

“Can you show me where I can get clothes?” The nude Calli-Clone asked as if she didn’t know.

 

Irelan’s Adventures Chapter 2. 8 Poles and an Axis

Standard

 2. Eight Poles and One Axis

After they landed, Sergeant Kennedy let Irelan hold her gloves while shethe Sergeant led them to the mission Lieutenant’s office.  A large room, shared by five “El-Tee’s” who rotated through.  Never more than one Lieutenant in at any time, the large room only had one desk and rows of chairs for briefing mission teams.

She tapped on the clear glass door and waited to be invited in by her superior officer.

“Lieutenant, this is the first officer Espiosa of the Longbow sleeper ship from Terraq Parenti shipbase.” Riley said. “The navigator and the First Officer here, are from the lifeboat that we rescued in the Ironstone bog last night.  She has some information that Colonel O’Malley would be interested in.”

“Thank you, Sergeant. Dismissed.” He didn’t even glance at Riley who quietly closed the door as she exited. He kept his eyes on the to officers of the lifeboat they had just rescued..

“So, you want to get close to the Colonel?”

“I don’t give two shakes of a wet wildflower. I want to know where the rest of the survivors from the attack are, and what the government here will do about it?”

“You piloted down into a combat zone for nothing. The Colonel’s not here. She’ll arrive sometime today to inspect the wreckage. It’s an odd configuration for troop carrier, no?”

“No, because it’s not a troopship, as it is a lifeboat.” Larsya shook her head. “You’re being overly assumptive. We’re not soldiers. We’re from Socrus Terrae of the Southern Islands where the super volcano blew up. Kepler-A was uninhabited and was considered a secondary colony.  There were twenty-five Seraph class sleeper ships.”

“Seraph class?” The Lieutenant typed it into his pad. “Oh, yes. There have been seven others that have arrived at Kepler-B.”

“There have been others?”

“Not here. You’ve been in hibernation. Kepler-A has been in a conflict for the last two-hundred years.” The Lieutenant told the First Officer.

“That still doesn’t explain why we were fired on.”

“We don’t shoot at civilian ships. Nor, do we have the ability to do so.” A voice from the back of the room interrupted the question and answer meeting.

The sneaky man who was sitting in the back of the room, whispering with Ireland, stood up and instead a light-sensitive Rorschach camouflage uniform that constantly changed spots and stripes it. The new speaker wore a hunter-green and black armor plate.

The new man was of the Emerald Corps. In that second of recognition, he Lieutenant bowed his head and stepped backwards.

“Sire, this is the first officer of the ship that’s in polar orbit.” The Lieutenant read from his handheld computer.

“Pleased to meet you.” The green man held out his hand to Larsya. “Is this your little girl?”

Irelan smiled up at the man with the eyes that matched his armor.  

“Yes, when did you come in?” Her mother’s protective side showing.

“I’ve been here a few minutes. I came in with a few of the other people. I had my stealth mode active.” The officer smiled.

“Wait, who are you?” Ensign Firston demanded.

“Stand down, Mr. Firston.” Larsya said softly. “We’re  safe. If they wanted to do us any harm, they would have separated us.”

“Now, now. No harm is going to happen. First, we have to get everyone on the same page.” The green-eyed man frowned. His helmet had an arm with an emerald disk on the end of a mechanical arm that swung down over his eye like one-half of a pair of glasses.

“What’s the name of your ship, um… I’m sorry, I don’t know your title other than first officer. I assume ‘Commander’.” He said to Larsya.  

“Yes, I’m a commander, thank you for asking. I’m not in uniform because I was off duty when we were hit. Ensign Firston was at the helm.” Larsya said.

“Ensign?” The green man turned his head.

“Second, we were introduced to you. But, you are still a stranger. I have instructions from the captain before the first officer came to our lifeboat. I am not to discuss anything except to someone named Ee-ann or something.” Ensign Firston was steadfast in following orders.

“What’s your Captain’s name, son?” The voice came out a bit lower.  

He’s going to get in trouble with the green-eyed man. Irelan thought to herself.

“Our Captain is Bogs Scorpion.” The junior officer said.

“Bogs.” The leader of the group stroked his chin. “Tall man, mixed race, has heterochromatic eyes, and is super intelligent?”

“Yes, you know him?”

“I am Ian. Say it as one word.” The Green-Eye gave a soft smile.  “He and I have a history.”

“Yes, sir. Can you prove it?”  Ensign Firston asked. The entire room gasped.

“I’m going to put you in for a medal and put you on my team when I can.” Ian laughed. “I am the Emperor of the northern hemisphere. All this land is mine. I am Ian Quaysar, the Emerald Emperor.”

“S-s-sir! Your majesty…”

“Stop.” He raised his hand. “The Lieutenant over there overstepped the title. I’m not a majesty, I barely earned the title. I’m a working man, like you.” He smiled. “Now, what do you have to tell me?”

He moved the monocle from his eye to look at the Ensign.  

“Sir, I have a ship’s sensor log in a cryptolinear chip. It’s safe inside a Faraday isolator case.” He held out an object that looked like a ring box, revealing a chip inside.

“Triton, scan the logs to the moment of impact. Send me the data stream.”

“Let me explain. The rest of your lifeboats have landed in different areas of the planet, most of which are in my domain. Your passengers will all be brought behind the lines to a safe location. You’re the first that has information that you were attacked. Your trajectory of the lifeboat leads me to believe you were over Union territory and, as of now, we didn’t think they had technology to shoot at anything outside of the atmosphere.” A tone sounded and he pulled his monocle down over his right eye.  “Just a moment, I’m looking at the data.”

Several others with the same kind of helmets performed the same action, pulling their monocles down.  The group went silent for several minutes.

“Triton, put what we are watching on the wall, please.” Ian said. He leaned against a table, more relaxed.

“Excuse our lack of communicating with you. We don’t have many folks without interlink helmets here.”

The data was displayed on a video projected from a small box put on the Lieutenant’s desk.

From the surface near the pole in the south, Ian paused the video.

“That area below, is the Federal Union of Resistance. From the burst of energy from this area, you can see it started above the ground, and corresponded with the speed and power of your ship as it moved through the magnetic poles.”

“Poles? Sir, we had navigated only through the edge of the magnetosphere to use it for braking, so we could insert into an orbit around Kepler-B.”

“This is where you have outdated information. First, this planet is in the middle of a civil war. It started about a century after you left your planet to come here. Originally, it was a disagreement on the use of technology. Eventually, it devolved into a shooting war for no good reason.  Second, and most important, the planet currently has six to eight north poles, and the same number of south poles.”

“What?” Commander Espiosa turned away from the video.

Mom is going to get mad at him for talking like that. Irelan blinked and giggled as she spied between the seats from the back of the room.

“The planet is undergoing a flux, it’s flipping poles. When the problem started, it caused neurological problems in humans and enormous problems with electrical circuits.  You flew through an uncharted pole that evolved in the last forty-hours.”

“Ian, can you elaborate? What do you mean a pole evolved?”  

“Yes. Our north and south poles are mixed. We can develop a pole, much like a weather system. It’ll drive huge amounts of energy in and out of the planet. You flew through a south pole, an energy fountain of sorts. It overwhelmed your systems.” He pulled at the strap of his helmet. “It must have felt like being hit with a big rock.”

“Sir, new data.” A blond man took off his helmet and rubbed his ear. “They yelled too loud.”

“Thank you, Dana.” Ian said as Dana put his helmet back on.

“Your ship is in an axis orbit, it spends about half the time flying over each side of the planet. It’s still in orbit.” He turned and sat next to Irelan.  “Well, good. We have solved two mysteries in one stroke. Who shot you down, and where your ship is. No one has new enough tech that we would have to complain about where your ship is.  Now, we just need to find the missing lifeboats.”

Ian pulled off his helmet and made Irelan smile by putting his big helmet on her head.

“You three will do me the honor by joining me for dinner, in this room?  Triton, make the orders,” Ian winked at Irelan. “And I’ll tell stories and ask questions of our guests.” He smiled. “Pizza sound good to you, young lady?”

Irelan smiled. She was wearing the important helmet proudly.  

Later in her life, she would write the memory down in her journal. The day she met a man who owned a half a planet.

 

Christmas on The Orcus, non-poem style

Standard

Christmas, Somewhere in the Galaxy.

The Magnatar class ship held in orbit around the “Super Earth” at forty-thousand meters above the ground.

Well above the traffic lanes for aircraft that flew from hither and yon. The crew of the large ship parked it with great care while the pirate King strode around his command center at the top of the ship.

The Orcus was a powerful ship that logged many hours in trips between planets for negotiations for trade and peaceful coexistence in the United Confederation of Pirates. A label put on the outlying colonies by the Empire. They were all self-governed and traded with each other with no control or supervision by the Momo Empire. No one could be happier than the colonists.

After negotiations, the crew was tired. They had stopped at a half-dozen planets, secured agreements with every one of them.

Delivered gifts of the one time of year that was held onto by the humans to bring out the best of each other.

Still, the bachelor King, Ruu’ta O’Danu. From a long line of scofflaws, scallywags, rogues and leaders stood with his arms crossed in thought.

One crewman, the weapons and flight space officer, his daughter was just born, it was her first Christmas for this family.

Another, her mother died in the last month (Against the Kings mandate that no one dies during this time.) but she stayed at her post. Even when the King performed his duties as Ruu’tan she acted stoic. But, the king noticed the trickle of tear from one eye that traced down Chief Sharan Nayaan’s cheek in quiet moments.

They were too far away for her to go home to bury her mother, weeks out at maximum speed.

Sigh The crew was beyond their limit. Each member of the dozen ship’s crew had needs to go home. Even if it was to make contact over the holidays.

He took a position on the bridge, behind his chair and had a thought.

“Chief, ship-wide communication to my station please.”

The surprise announcement. Everyone had a five-day pass. Two days before, the day of and then two days after the time on earth where everyone sang, and felt a little nicer.

King Ryan O’Danu saw everyone off, transporters operated full-time, three drop pods took the teams down to their hub points.

One lieutenant had a sky-surfer he had modified himself, and, to the laughter of the red-headed master of the ship, flew it off of the landing pad that he ordered deployed from the side of the ship.

From there, the crew all went to their homes.

Last on the ship, a Magnatar class heavy cruiser, was the leader of the planet himself.

King Ryan O’Danu, his line of leaders went back to an age of sail and wooden ships. The first pirate, family legend had it, was a child that was kidnapped by the government. The child became a king of the sea and started a family dynasty.

Today, the king was simply a man alone on board of a flying battleship. He strolled about the empty ship, the quiet undertone of electronics his only company.

Standing on the landing pad, he watched until Lieutenant Antares was no longer visible. When the King turned back to the ship, he noted a blemish on the hull. A meteor impact when they orbited the mining colony that suffered a storm of flying rocks when two ‘roids collided nearby. The teams that mined the raw materials needed their shields repaired and King O’Danu brought the royal ship in as a blocker until the colonists and ship’s engineers got the system up and running again.

It had been a busy time for the run-up to these days of family and reaffirmation of life and love. They had worked hard to renew contracts, deliver gifts and assure that peace would last for at least another month.

Now it was over, other than the pit on the side of his ship, painted to look like a Killer Whale of earth. The ship was a well known force, and it the pride of the master of the ship, never shot any of its weapons in anger.

He tapped on a palm-held display and a ladder built by the Rose Suchuk company rolled out on its own wheels.

An hour later, he finally finished. He’d leave the ladder out to climb again later and inspect the fit and finish of the repairs. (He was picky like that.)

“Computer, Celtic traditional drums.” He said when he made his way to the lounge of the ship. “Collapse ladder, but leave in airlock for further use. Seal Airlocks.”

He sat at the table in the lounge, drinking an eggnog with rum from Lats-Ute mining colony. Finger foods, from Gray Kitchens on his own planet.

He laughed. If the ships chief medical officer saw what he ate now, Lynn McCoy M.D. would issue a health report on him and make him do extra physical training.

His cup was empty, but the view was grand. King O’Danu shook his head, he was not about to give up his view and poured another jigger of rum, shrugged, then just filled the cup with the dark liquid.

An hour passed while he read novels of distant lands and other worlds when his eyes started to droop.

“Computer, nightwatch. Sensors on passive scan. Environmental shields only.” He sighed. “I might want to go out later for a view of the stars.”

The king thought about his telescope, he’d like to do some stargazing later.

It was important that the shields would keep a layer of warm, pressurized air around the ship for him to breathe if he used the pad outside.

Whooo… I’m buzzed. That was potent stuff. He rubbed his eyes, they felt dry. He had been up and going for twenty-hours straight today. In the last few weeks, he slept only three hours out of every twenty-four. They may live on a ship, but the force of his circadian rhythm still forced him to hibernate a few hours per day.

In the captain’s quarters, Ryan peeled off his carbon fiber body armor and crawled into the bed and pulled the dense, heavy blanket up to his head.

He liked a cool room with the a blanket.

His mind drifted, the ship was secure, he set the systems and he was safe. No one would dare approach a Magnatar class, fully armed battleship with evil on their minds.

Then.

The unthinkable!

Alarms sounded.

Ruu’tan and King of Garnet-4, then leader of the council of the Pirate Confederation. Ryan O’Danu lept out of bed like a cat spooked on Halloween.

Proximity alert Proximity alert Negative response on IFF

Lights were at full bright, which dazzled him for a moment. Ryan ran to his desk were basic control systems were active.

“Computer, display sensor contact.” He rubbed his eyes, but not out of fatigue.

On the display, the contact was small. Only enough room for, maybe, four people.

“Overlay readings with Orcus in relative center.”

A hundred-thousand feet lower but climbing rapidly. He thought.

No one is scheduled to come back for four more days.

The display glowed with a 3-D overlay.

“Magnify.”

Then he gasped.

The speed at this target tracked, it approached the ship, cannon and defensive systems came online.

Phased energy weapons locked on.

Crap!” King Ryan knew what the targets was. He had to shut this system off at the command center. The weapons command and control had not been transferred, only navigation. ran down the gangway and hung a hard right, skipping the lift, he climbed the emergency ladder next to it and flopped over onto the floor.

The main display showed with detail not available to him in his bedroom.

“Computer, display HD display on holograph map of 3-D space, overlay Orcus as relative center and give readout on altitude and direction.” He thought a moment. “Speed and mass.”

“Working. Speed is thousand meters per second, mass of two-thousand two hundred kilograms. Reading ten life signs. One biped humanoid, nine quadruped of the Rangifer tarandus.”

“Rangifer. What is common name of Rangifer whatever you said.”

“Rangifer Tarandus, common name reindeer.”

“Reindeer? Rein…” his eyes grew big. “Oh Jeeze!”

“Computer, disable defensive systems.” King O’Danu yelled. “Stand down shields, stow the guns.”

“Power down. Alert, target is tracking to landing pad.”

“Oh good.”

“Danger, there is an obstruction in on the pad.”

“I requested the ladder in the airlock.”

“Manual override engaged on brakes, ladder is stationary.”

Ryan slapped himself in the forehead and ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. At the bottom of the stairs, he tripped over the automated janitor and ended up in a pile next to the door.

Outside, clatter and noise of a landing.

“Computer, send warning to contact, danger on…”

A voice sounded through the intercom.

“Ahoy in ..oh balls!” and the sound of a body hitting the deck.

King Ryan ran down the gangway, slipping on golden elf-dust and overshooting the doorway and ended up, for the second time, in a pile on the floor. This time near his quarters.

“Sorry, Nicholas! I was fixing a meteor hit and left it out for inspection later.”

“Yeah, you left a trap for me. I know!” The shaggy white mane shook as he laughed at the joke. “I have some deliveries to here. Special ones.”

“I don’t have anyplace good to put them, over in the lounge on the bar would work well enough.” Ryan said.

“What’s this? You don’t have a tree.”

“Trees on Garnet-4 are all protected, this is one barren rock, you know.”

“This planet is, but Sapphire isn’t, nor is Palindrome Prime.”

“Yeah, but with PP you can’t tell which way your going.”

“Ryan.” The old elf turned around. “I can take these all back and assign you a Cadet Elf. Her name is Moonbottom.”

“Eh… Moonbottom?”

“She sent a gift to the wrong person, supposed to send a puppy to one boy named Brighthill in the Carolinas of the US on earth. Instead, she sent the pet to a Miss Elisabum in London who had coal coming.”

“Coal? From you? She must have been quite bad.”

“No no.” He pulled out another gift from the bag he carried in. “She is very poor. A lump of coal could warm her for the season.”

“Must be some lump.”

“About a ton.”

“OH! Well, in that context, I can see that.”

“Now for your tree.”

“You do not have a tree in that…” He went slack-jawed and silent.

“An Immortal tree. Sequoia Sempervirens. It is rooted on the bottom, too. When you get this craft on the ground, plant this tree. It’ll grow. You also have a warehouse full of these to plant along the coastal areas as of now. You have perfect zones for it.”

“How did you get these trees? They are protected and endangered.” Ryan stroked the green, feathery growth that served as needles for the evergreen tree. “I didn’t think the government would allow them off world.”

“Yes, actually. They are spreading them everywhere. So you have a hundred-thousand seedlings, ready for planting.”

“Thank you, I will have people on it after Christmas. You are a saint.” Ryan paused and thought a moment. “How many gifts are you leaving?”

“You have quite the shopping list. Why do you ask?”

“Ooh, nothing. I am having alerts, the ship is compensating for the weight of your deer and sleigh.”

“Reindeer.” Nicholas corrected. “Oh, my back. I have another billion stops to do tonight.”

“How do you do that? You cannot even go a second per stop, that’d take you longer than thirty-years.”

“Thirty-one years, nine-months, one and a half weeks and one hour. Roughly.” Nicholas groaned again as he stood. “But we have the Einstein Time Exception Device. The rest of the universe slows to a crawl, while me and anyone nearby is sped up. Elf Bernard came up with using the formula eons ago.”

“Oh, one more thing.” He handed Ryan a box. “This is a special request. It keeps all the good wishes for you, nice and safe.”

He turned and the old man nearly fell to a knee again.

Yeah, he gets some medicinal drink. The King of Garnet-4 thought to himself.

“Nick, have a seat. I’ll make you something ot warm the cockles of your heart.”

Nick sat back in a chair with a sigh.

“I’m a little tired of milk and cookies tonight. I’d take a carrot.”

“Carrots are…” Ryan called from galley. “For the reindeer! And I have a whole bag for them.”

“As you wish.”

Ryan brought out a pitcher of hot water, a mix he had created a few days before of maple sugar, vanilla, butter and cinnamon, hot water and rum.

They talked far into the night, each comparing notes with the other.

“You might have been told you are autistic as a child, King O’Danu, but you have done such good things with other people. You have shown other people who there is no label that you cannot overcome. You should be proud of all the negotiations you have done.” The white beard shook as the eyes crinkled behind the glasses in rum-warmed humor. “That said, I have a lot of stops to do and I am going to have to do something special. I must go.”

King O’Danu picked up the heavy bag, it felt nearly empty, but if he shook it, it made a sound, as if boxes rubbed together.

“Don’t shake that.” Nick smiled. “At the rate you are going, you’ll have my job someday. You are a good man. Ruu’tan Ryan O’Danu, King of this planet.

Ryan walked with the older man out to the landing pad of the ship, where he climbed up into the ancient anachronism. The conveyance was a throwback of nearly five-centuries. But the antlered reindeer were muscular and, quite literally, glowing gold.

Adjusting his had, he slurred his words slightly.

“Good rum. Keep up the good work, Ryan. Merry Christmas.” He pulled at his beard for a moment and then said softly.

“Ho ho ho.” And Santa was gone.

Watching the old man disappear from sight. He felt an old familiar pain.

King O’Danu walked back into the ship and hit a button and the landing pad withdrew into the ship, and he heard an old familiar refrain.

“Merry Christmas to all, to all a good night.”

Ryan laughed as the airlocks were sealed.

“Good night to you, too, old man.” Ryan said to the 3-D map as it tracked the small target, accelerating up and away, already at the edge of sensor range at relativistic speeds. “Merry Christmas to you too.”

Ryan O’Danu, descendant of Keegan O’Danu, the first pirate of the family, turned off all the lights. And set the defense systems to alert status and went to bed. The rum had definitely gone to his head.

When he woke up in the morning, he would laugh as he got out of bed. He was so drunk, he dreamed that Santa came and visited. Which everyone knew was a figment of his booze addled imagination.

Which made the existence of a pile of gifts all the more difficult to explain in the morning.

Snowed: The Weekend Trip

Standard

Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless from the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs, smudged and dust-covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a competitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider again. In one instant, he took the chance and pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

Married by MIstake Chapter 30. Tears and Smiles

MbM
Standard

Chapter 30. Tears and Smiles

‟I’m glad you are out of the hospital, I couldn’t wait for us to get back to the Wizard.” Kaylee sat down on the floor, next to the chair he kept his arm on. ‟But, I signed the papers and sent them off when I was here. You had two sets, one to send and one to keep. I signed both sets so we can keep them on file here.”

With a sigh, he nodded.

‟So, we are no longer married as soon as the clerk of the court signs and stamps it. You did it how I told you to do it?”

‟I’m so sorry. But I have to get home outside of Portland, Glenn is asking for me. My sister says he is going to ask me to marry him.” Kaylee couldn’t help the tear that ran down her face as she sniffled.

‟Oh, poop.” She gave a sad laugh. “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.”

‟Yeah.” Tom choked on the knot in his throat. ‟I knew this day would come. The month is up.”

Kaylee rested her chin on his knee.

‟If it makes you feel any better, I almost shredded the papers. You have been better than Glenn has ever been,” She took a big breath. “But I grew up with him and we have planned to marry each other as far back as I can remember. He asked me to marry him at my sixth birthday party. He wrote it in a birthday card, in crayon.”

Tom laughed. “Do you still have it?”

‟Don’t laugh. But yes.” Kaylee bit him gently on the knee. ‟It’s silly, I know. He has also been a bit of a butthead and stupid over all the years. Once he’d gotten drunk, fell into a pool,  sank like a stone and I had to save him. We have history.”

‟And we don’t?” Tom sounded more harsh than he intended. ‟In the last month, we have set new records that even newlyweds everywhere would dream of.”

‟Not fair. You have an advantage. Not many men get married and fly away on their own jet plane. Fewer still can write a children’s series like you have.” Kaylee shook her head as she named off Tom’s points. ‟You have more than most college students, and that is what Glenn is, a college student. That’s what I am. And you are a rogue, an explorer. You are a pirate! A Steam-Punk King Pirate who has stolen my heart, but I have a promise to keep.”

‟You made that promise when you were all of six-years-old. I’m not so sure that might count.” Tom nodded.

‟Does a promise have a lower age limit?”

‟Uh. No, I suppose not.” Tom was not wanting to pick a fight like that. “A promise is a promise.”

‟No. My father always told me a promise is something to keep. Things change, say if Glenn was gay or I died in a plan crash.” Kaylee gave him a  playful sock on the thigh. ‟Then that voids the promise. But we are still alive and I can assure you Glenn is hetero, fully hetero.”

‟Okay.” Tom slouched in the chair. The stress of the last eighteen-days exhausted him. ‟You have always been my first concern. I held on to the hope you would decide to give us more of a try. Even now, I see you are not sure.”

‟No… no. No, I’m not sure. You have made me mad a few times since the first morning. But it was an exciting mad. You are a maddening, wonderful, frustrating, crazy, super-smart guy that makes me want to pull out all your chest hair.” Kaylee and Tom laughed at the same time. ‟And I would love to stay here.”

‟But?”

‟But I have to at least try to keep my promise.”

‟Agreed.” Tom nodded. Upset as he was, it actually helped to talk to her.

Kaylee also nodded.

First and always she would be friends with Tom and she knew he put her first. She would always put him first, except for the promise she made Glenn.

The promise of a six-year-old girl to the boy she grew up with.

Taking Tom by his good arm, she pulled him to the bedroom in the back of the plane.

‟For now, however, I am STILL your wife and you have neglected me.”

‟Oh! Doctor Kaylee , I’ve been occupied. Perhaps you have heard of this minor wound I suffered. I had to take a stitch or three to get a smaller scar.”

‟Well, I have the cure for you to forget that ache for a while.” Winking and pulling him as she walked backwards.

In the last few days, she had not realized that the tension she had building in her was a jet engine about to blow a gasket.

Now that she thought of it, there was more than a gasket she was going to blow.

The night in the plane was somewhat louder than it had been in the last ten days.

The world would envy, and sometimes pity, the husband that night. Kaylee did things to Thomas Harrison Harte that became legend in his mind and illegal in forty states and Washington, D.C.

In the end, Kaylee laughed harder than she had in the last few days.

Married by Mistake Chapter16. Week Three

MbM
Standard

Chapter 16. Week Three

She sat in the morning, alone on her balcony, Melanie had left with her visiting boyfriend and went to a theme park. Sipping the tea of MariMint, a recipe of her own mixing of spearmint and marijuana teas.

*Twenty-one days! Sheesh, it has been three weeks since I woke up with this ring on my finger, happy, hung over. Only twenty days and it seems like a lifetime ago.*

She laughed at the memory while looking at her ring.

*A wonderful lifetime ago.*

Still, all had not been without problems, not that the start was smooth as satin sheets, either.

The last week Tom had spent in northern California supervising the repairs on the crash-landed Dragon. He asked her to come back up north, while they towed the plane out into a larger channel, where they could pull the flying boat up on land and disassemble its wings and put the body of the plane on a truck and move it to a hanger for repairs at an airport.

Yeah… No. Tom told her to stay on the Pacific Wizard at the Bay, that she would be bored to watch the process and be reminded of the near disaster that was their date of wine tasting.

*That plane was an accident and no one tells me what I must do. I choose my destiny. He needs a partner if any part of the computer files are true.*

She did not ask him if she could come be with him, that would be a waste of effort.  She had studies left to finish and needed to meet with Professor Manga to assure her grades were intact.

*I will not let the last two years of classes be flushed down the toilet.* She gritted her teeth. *I know more than enough to pass this years classes.*

She stopped being angry at him and had began to miss Tom’s quick wit and the curve of his shoulders where she rested her hand on him at night, when she slept.

Shaking her head, she brought herself out of those thoughts of a life with Tom that danced in her head.

*I will spend my life with Glenn.* She reminded herself, *I head home in a few weeks and we’re was cutting it close with the annulment from this drunken, Las Vegas fiasco.*

*I wish Tom was an ass, just a truly hateful person.* She shook her head while she took another sip of her tea. *Not a hero who frightened the crap out of me while avoiding a crash of the plane and made me angry. I should not have blamed him, it was an accident.*

She gave a heavy sigh. *I’m not angry over what he did, he saved our lives with that heroic effort that has my deep respect.* She began to adore this man.

*His life was a tapestry that I could paint and muse with for years.* She could feel the urge to draw and paint. He was such a large point in her life that he gave her inspiration to draw.

Kaylee sighed. *It’s not fair. I should charge Tom with taking advantage of me while I was wasted. But I thought I knew what I was doing that night. Besides, I love all that Tom has done, even saving us.*

*Love? Oh, Crap.* She began to cry again. She would be out of the mess of it all if she just walked away.

*If I did, me and Tom could date as normal people do and start over. Not this backwards, life-destroying maze of confusion.*

Except, Glenn. She needed to spend time with him and his beautiful eyes. Back to the life that she had dreamed of as a girl in grade school, that life was the one she would live. She enjoyed being married to Tom, still, it was not the life she planned.

What was she thinking? It weighed her down, heavy in the feeling, and still, although it was a burden, it energized her imagination, it gave her wings in her heart. Tom’s bright soul illuminated hers with the urge to begin drawing.

Her fingers began drawing on a paper with a pencil, working feverishly, she decided she needed her sketchpad.

Dr. Manga! She knew she required a good performance in what ever test she would need to pass, even if he had all but promised her a passing grade. She knew her art history backwards and forwards. And yet? A charcoal sketch is always subjective grading.

*Unless I draw like a first year student with crayon, and cannot say the names of Victorian era art, the Headmaster will give it a hight grade.*

Coming out of her funk, Kaylee stood up to find her phone.

*I need to call Melanie.*

 

Married by Mistake Chapter 15. Kaylee Simone Grant

MbM
Standard

Chapter 15. Kaylee Simone Grant

She sat quietly in the big plane with “Pacific Wizard” painted on the outside in big letters in thought. The flying yacht that was Tom’s home, she looked at the ring on her hand for a moment, feeling torn.

Normally she would at the academy of martial arts at this hour. Her next level required her full focus. If the Guru knew what had happened, the rapist, the professor, getting married, he would surely tell the Grand Master. A tiny Filipino man, who had been born before god invented hair.

He liked Kaylee , saying she had speed and skill to wear a black shirt (with an orange stripe on one sleeve now.) and in the years that followed she had gotten that coveted black shirt. Even her orange show uniform she folded with great care, was a gift from the man, whom she counted as among her most cherished of friends as well as a mentor.

She knew he liked the girls and kids. Having little use for the brawny male adults that thought all they needed to do was muscle their way through a fight, the Grand Master who stood only an inch above five feet tall, would throw the hulking soon-to-be-ex students around the academy’s floor, much to the pleasure of the students that watched this event time and again.

Children were a favorite of the Grand Master. (Occasionally, she felt it was because they were the only people who were shorter than him.) Taking a great deal of patience and time to teach the children the angles of attack and defense.

She pulled pants and shoes, it was time to head over to her apartment and pay the rent.

*I hate this first-of-the-month chore. The power and water are all due in the mail today. Ugh. And I need to beg for her job back.*

She did not want to have the thought that she was sponging off of Tom, even though he had given her a card. A bank signature card with no limits, is what he said, and it made her feel special. When she looked it up on her smart phone, he was telling the truth!

*I could pay my entire tuition at once, all four years. Including post-grad classes, new tires— even a new car!* That made her hands sweat. That one moment of clarity, of what could be. *But, if I do that, then I am just a user.*

It was an embarrassed her to even accept the card from him to carry around. She pulled it out and looked at it, holding it by the edges. It had her name on it – her married name – it took him no time at all to order it.

He was taking care of her and the life he was imagining he might have married into.

What kind of life was Tom thinking?

She was angry again.

*He would take care of me alright, he would make me into his version of a kept woman! A mistress with a ring!* She growled in her heart at the thought that grew in the deepest recesses of her mind. Like a whisper that would not fade.

*I need to change this accident. I want Glenn as a husband!*

*Except…*

Except… Tom.

*A gentle and kind soul, Grandma would say.* Except Kaylee still didn’t know much about him. Sitting alone with her thoughts, she watched the workers climbed up and down ladders at with indistinct conversations spoke of subjects that didn’t interest her.

Then her eyes focused the computer on Tom’s desk.

*Oh my god!* It struck her, *I know enough to search him!* She nearly face palmed herself in frustration. *How could I be so dense!*

With everything going on, she was just going for the ride. She only looked for information on the man as she might with another date – not that she ever married anyone else while baked and drunk. She had not looked in-depth on Tom, what his notes might be like.

The weed she smoked made her open to a life with Tom that was fantastic, the drinks with the guardian angel of a man, made it more exciting.

Now, she sat at his computer and turned it on. The jet, plugged into giant power cables the thickness of a man’s arm to the hangar, and the Pacific Wizard was fully operational with all the amenities, including the computer.

The built-in desktop booted into an unfamiliar operating system, she bit her lip as she moved the cursor around the touchscreen, she had no idea what Ubuntu Linux was, but forged ahead anyway. Tapping her finger on “Guest” she opened a screen with an empty desktop. It was like the one that she knew, so she tried to navigate around with her fingertip.

A fascinating system with a virtual keyboard that Tom used.

She smiled. Never would there be a popped-off key or polished with repeated keystrokes until the letters were obliterated, it all impressed her with the system that was unlike the more mainstream and bug-ridden offering.

She continued exploring around the system programs finally finding an icon for the web browser. Using the virtual keyboard, she entered Tom’s name and read the listing.

And boggled…

*Oh, crap on a cracker!*

Not only had Tom been writing, he had started a company that had imported the kind of plane she was sitting in for firefighting and modified them for use in the United States.

Bigger engines, more capacity. The government contracted to use the modified planes all over the country and Canada, a young and growing air transport company. The second listing had a page that offered his name in a link, she clicked on it and uncovered his two dozen children’s books… and his unauthorized biography.

Tom never spoke of his past family. Never hinting at the past catastrophe that drove him. The biography showed a red-headed girl with curls and a blond boy with brilliant blue eyes. The children had their arms around Tom and a woman she assumed was his wife in child-sized bear-hugs.

Reading further, he was a small-business owner and was active in various activities with students and children. He trained with FEMA and belonged to a volunteer fire department.

She continued and an entry covered one early evening when Tom responded to a call, police evidence showed his pregnant wife took the children in the family car and were driving towards where Tom was working at a fire in a barn.

Somehow they had gotten off the road on a train track in the dark and was hit by a freight-train at more than seventy-miles-per-hour. In the accompanying photo with the article, the family car was unrecognizable.

*It’s inverted!* She gasped. The car’s engine was missing and the seats were on the ground outside of the car.

A second image of the scene had two sheets covering the tiny bodies, a larger sheet hung on the remains of the car covered what was left of the mother. The archived words on the news page said there were no survivors, the children died at the scene.

More chapters of the unauthorized biography revealed that Tom closed his business, filed for bankruptcy and locked himself in his house. His name showed up on the internet a year or so later with the first of the Leafy Sea Dragon children’s book that sold in local stores along Australia’s southern coast. The books became an instant hit locally and motivated Tom to come out of his seclusion.

The light illuminated Kaylee’s eyes and her heart.

Paparazzi followed him often to the family house, which he sold shortly after that. Rumors that he had murdered his family the internet tabloids wrote, but the internet and local news services showed he went to the accident as a first-responder only to discover that it was his car and family destroyed by the train.

*He was the first one there! He found them like that.*

It was after his first made-for-tv movie in Australia had gotten him enough funds to first live on a boat. Then, when that did not deter the constant hounding with the photographers on motorbike and speeding cars or hiding in bushes using long lenses with expensive cameras, he bought at first a float plane and a high mountain lake. But the predatory creatures with cameras continued to stalk him.

Rumors began that Tom was hiding something– and again with innuendo and hints that he was running from the law. Hounded by the conspiracy press, he ran as far as his budget could take him.

Great efforts in print by the tabloids showed Tom in the company of known gay men and women that were strong-willed.

“None of your business, next question.” Would be his response at any press conferences, comicon’s or interviews that questioned the events surrounding the death of his family.

Men and women that had little to no contact with Tom would claim his involvement in drugs and sex. They told stories of his involvement with Satan churches, drugs, slavery. Nothing that was close to the truth.

In the end, the tabloids did damage enough to effect some of the sales of his books in religious dominated communities that burned anything with his name, prompting Tom into action, and he retaliated with fury and lawyers.

After a series of lawsuits, he had driven one tabloid into oblivion and severely reduced the size and operations of three others, then used the proceeds of the billion-dollar awards in purchasing of larger fire-fighting planes that could scoop up water and drop on wildfires.

Tom, now capitalized, in turn published more novels which earned him more income.

*He said he had made inroads in the United States.*

In the United States? Kaylee laughed. He had kept three books on the best seller list for children’s books six out of the last eight years. *Every year a new one on the list before the others dropped off.*

His books that followed,  he published while writing the children’s books were adventures for the young adult reader. Pirates, vampires, even mainstream zombie apocalypse type stories.

One mention about his changes to a scoop-plane used for water drops on wild land fires. In one website dedicated to such planes, it was the first one that they had just nearly wrecked in the wine country of northern California.

Then a second article about the this jet she was in, he was still being reclusive as he kept offshore and away from stalking paparazzi. Whenever they came close with their boats, he left or, in one case, turned the plane and used the engines to swamp the boat as he left the area.

It had become a game of tag when a few speedboats moved directly in front of him on purpose to stop his leaving, but the boats were no match for the twin-engine jet and the FAA with the United States Coast Guard issuing citations to all involved.

The Coast Guard cleared Tom of any wrongdoing as the speedboats cut in front of the flying-boat to prevent takeoff and get chances shoot pictures of the reclusive author.

Tapping on the screen, she opened another listing with Tom’s name and it was much of the same. Nice-guy this, great philanthropist that. It showed him with families and children.

But it became obvious – never did he have a date. No girlfriend, no scandal. A boy scout?

Hardly, Tom was toe-curling funny and lovable when they were together. He was just private, no telling the number of women he had dates with.

In fact, she was not even mentioned in any of the web pages. Suggesting that his private lifestyle kept her out of the public eye.

Nodding while she read the web page and noted the lack of information that the world did not know she was his wife. Glenn would not find out that this mistake of a marriage ever happened.

It was…

It… She did not know what “it” was.

Shaking her head.

Kaylee knew what it was.

It was a mistake.

Growling inwardly, which part of this was a mistake? She was starting to second guess herself. She had read enough and sat back.

*Perhaps I’ve read too much?* She blinked her eyes. *I have to digest all this. It is one thing on my phone, but wow. This is so much more.*

Shaking her head, Kaylee stood up with a sigh and walked out the door of the plane. Her feet leading her to her apartment.

*I have to remember, I am mad at him.* She had a soft smile while she walked out of the hangar.

And he made her smile in countless ways.

*I still want the annulment. I love Glenn more than anyone.*

*Pretty sure I do.*

*Perhaps.*

*Maybe.* Then Kaylee cussed for no reason in particular.

Married by Mistake Chapter 12. Snarge: Blended Bird

MbM
Standard

Chapter 12. Snarge: Blended Bird

Sitting in the right hand seat, Tom showed Kaylee how to take the controls.

Tapping a few displays, a chime sounded while Kaylee held on to the stick that guided the large aircraft towards their destination under Tom’s watchful eye.

“Now you are flying it.” Tom smiled. “Just hold the stick gently.”

“There is so much power in this stick.” She laughed slowly pulling to the right to bank the plane when Tom showed her when for a course correction. “This reminds me of a poem. To touch the face of God. ”

“The passionate artist in you is coming out.” Tom chuckled.

“We will be landing soon.” He said, after looking at the displays. “I want to take you on a low tour of this area to show you where we will be wine tasting at.”

Tom pushed forward on the stick and banked the Flying Sea Dragon slowly while talking into his earphones. She listened to him become all professional, deciding that he was talking to San Francisco by the sound of it.

“There, we have permission to fly low.” Tom looked at the displays. “Passing through four-thousand feet.”

“Low?”

“Yeah, about a thousand feet. Maybe less. As slow as possible and still fly.” He smiled. “I’ll fly it by hand and make a big figure-8 over the area.”

“Sounds fun.” She smiled. “Maybe I can flash someone down there.”

“Yeah… No.” Tom laughed. “You would cause us to crash.”

“How?”

“Who do you think would be staring?”

Kaylee laughed as she bumped him with her hip as she walked back to change her clothes and began to pull on her walking shoes when a chime sounded that drew Tom’s attention.

“What?” Tom said in an irritated voice to the display. What he looked at was not visible to Kaylee .

“Kaylee , sit down, put on a seat belt.” Tom ordered. “Now! We have a flock of birds…”

Alarms sounded and Tom yelled a profanity.

“Fire in engine one!” Just as something large hit windscreen with a loud “THUMP” and obliterated the view outside with reds and browns.

“OhHellNo.” He said it as one word. “Bird strike! BIRDSTRIKE.”

Alarms sounded and lights flashed on the display panels as the plane took a decided change in direction. Tom struggled to straighten out the plane and called an emergency into his headset.

“Affirmative, cleared for Stockton.” Tom was all business as Kaylee struggled with the seatbelt.

Another alarm sounded. A loud bang from the rear of the plane, more profanity from her husband.

“Uhh… Negative, not going to make Stockton, we are losing power in engine number two, going to set it down on the highway.” Tom swore a stream of words that surprised her. He did not talk that way since she had met him.

“Dammit! Too much traffic. OH YAY! Look! Water!” Tom yelled at no one in particular. “Come on you Flying freakin’ Sea Dragon, Kaylee is too cute to die.”

A long straight canal was on the far side of the highway, pushing the number-two throttle forward he was able to coax more thrust out of the remaining engine.

“Engine two is spinning up again. We have some extra power.” Tom said into the microphone. “We have a canal to set down in just west of the freeway.”

More lights flashed information in the pilot’s console. Amber and red display flashed as Tom pulled on the stick, commanding the wounded metal bird to do his bidding.

“Flaps full.” Putting his hand on a knob that was already at it’s maximum. “We want to come in as slow as possible here.”

“Landing gear up. Check. That would be unfortunate to put down in water with wheels down.” Tom gave a smile to Kaylee .

“Now it is like always. Easy into the water.”

The plane passed so low over the lanes of cars, she could see the people’s faces as they looked up. In one red mini-van, she could see the face of a small child staring while she rode in the car seat as the big jet rocketed the divided lanes of the interstate and over the water.

Lined up, Tom put the flying boat down with room to spare on both sides.

“Hang on to something.” Tom warned through gritted teeth when he brought the plane down to a rough but safe water landing.

Talking into the microphone on his headset, Tom told the flight control where they were. “Lat.” Tom said with a series of numbers and then softly spoke the word “Long.” with another sequence that Kaylee did not understand.

“Made it!” Tom smiled wryly as he put down the headset and shutting down the engines. “That was fun in a twisted way.”

“Tom?” Her jaw dropped at his cavalier tone. “TOM! How do you think this was…”

“Sorry,” He interrupted. “I need to check the engines to make sure we don’t need to abandon ship.”

“What do you mean, “Abandon Ship”?”

“If we have a fire, I want you safe. This place could burn to the waterline and I need to drop an anchor to keep us from going aground.”

He walked to the main hatch that opened left side of the plane, opened a door of a closet next to the entrance and pulled out an anchor attached to a heavy chain. A rope as thick as her thumb, he threw the anchor out then waited for a count of three, then tied the rope to a ring in the door frame.

Then he walked past his wife who was changing colors from pale to livid.

“My god.” Kaylee gasped. “We are still in danger?”

Tom climbed up a ladder to a hatch and opened it then disappeared up through the hole. It was the same kind of hatch that they had used more than once to sunbathe between the engines of the Pacific Wizard.

“Tom?” Kaylee looked up from the foot of the ladder to the hatch.

“Come on up! We are safe, you might be interested in what happened.” He called down and she climbed the ladder, like she had done many times before, then she was giggling and happy, now she was beginning to shake.

Tom stood by the engine, there were several dents in the leading edge with traces of a brownish goo and feathers in the fan blades of the turbine.

“What’s this?” She asked. “Blood?”

“Well, the official term is “snarge”, it is what is left of a bird when it gets sucked into an engine it at speed.”

“Snarge?”

“A combination of the words, snot and garbage.” Tom nodded while looking in the engine as Kaylee made a face, she felt she might get sick and walked over to the edge of the wing to vomit into the water below. But she held on to her insides.

“Damn, this did a number on the engine. There are vanes missing everywhere.” Tom gave a heavy sigh. “We were lucky to not have it happen to the other engine.”

He walked over to the opposite side, running his hands over nacelle’s leading edge, tracing his fingers over dents that were there, but the engine appeared undamaged.

“Oh poop.  Another problem.” Tom spoke as he turned and watched the Fire Department tried try to back off the road to the edge of the water. An ambulance followed by a sheriff unit trundled down the dirt road with lights flashing. “We are anchored farther out than they can reach. We’ll need to use the rubber boat to pull it closer to shore.”

“How do you do that?”

“Well, not much of a motor, but it will work after a fashion. Even if I need to drop two anchors and pull us by a winch.”

“Wait… anchors? Boat anchors?”

“Yes, four. In case I need to stay in a harbor with foul weather and unable find a hanger or fly to safety out of the path of a storm.”

“Why is it so bad?” She shook her head. “This is the worst thing to happen.”

“Worst?” Tom shook his head. “Naw. We’re alive.”

“I want to go home.” She looked at him. “Now!”

“Okay, once the Fantasy secured, there will be a limo pick you up and you will catch the flight to Ocean Bay.”

Tom sighed heavily as he pulled his phone from its holster and tapped on the screen a few times, and nodded. Then he swiped a finger over the screen.

“Mo? It’s Tom Harte. Say, I need a ride for someone and I’m not at a normal location.” Tom looked at Kaylee sadly as she climbed down the ladder back into the cabin of the jet.

Long minutes passed before he climbed back down into the cabin and found Kaylee curled up on a couch. Her legs pulled up and she was hugging herself in a fetal position.

“A limo will pick you up on shore and I have chartered a plane to take you back home. I will stay here to meet with the FAA, there will be questions.” Tom said softly.

Kaylee nodded and quietly wept into her knees.

Tom walked without a word to the front of the flying boat. At the door, he opened the shoulder-wide closet, and lifted out a bundle and put it in the water. Carefully finding a handle, he pulled firmly, causing a rubber boat to inflate at the door. An electric motor he quietly released from a recess in the closet then attached it to the mount on the back of the boat. With waterproof cables and a practiced touch, Tom had the rubber skiff ready in moments, then went to work.

He sat in the boat and the electric motor seemed that the twenty-foot boat would be woefully underpowered to move the jet, but after a minute, the machines began to move. Painfully slow in the beginning, then with gathering speed, against the flow of the rising tide, Tom was able to bring it within range of the fire department to reach across to the wing with ladders and anchored it with three anchor lines strung from the shore to keep it secure.

Inside the plane, delayed panic turned into anger at her brush with disaster, she blamed him for putting them in jeopardy.

Showing off nearly killed them, and she was not sure she wanted on the plane, any plane, ever again.

She had never been so frightened in her life and it made her angry, and he had promised! He was a supposed protector and her personal hero.

Her personal hero? Hero’s did not put their people in danger.

He was no hero. He was a… Loser.

It was the only insult she could think of just then.

*I don’t care if he is an author and has money.* She wept. *He almost killed us just to show off. Like a boy with his dad’s car.*

It was the most angry she had ever been at anyone in her life, she could not even look at him.

She wanted to go home, as far away from the plane, the man and this wine country, as he called it, as she could.

The hummingbirds, the cat-tastrophy and the crazy author with a bow

Standard

Somewhere in this world sits-hovers-flits a hummingbird that thinks my backyard is not the safest place in the world.

And the tiny feathered friend is correct. For a bird his size, investigating the orange, yellow, white and black feathers with bright yellow nocks that seems like a weird flower but they are not the best place to be.

Now before you get up in arms that I am shooting at a hummingbird. I am not, I love to watch them little buggers. BUT, I don’t want them to come in when I launch an arrow at the worst possible time. Once I let go, I am not fast enough to chase it down and grab it out of the air. (Wish I was!)

I waited. The little thing came in while I was shooting, investigating the twenty odd arrows in the target, the bright yellow must look like the center of a flower, the feathers are petals. .

And I waited.

One at a time, it looked them over.

So I waited for it to get bored.

It’s 104 (40c), I have the door open so I can shoot. I’m stuck on a story, I have no cooler going, but I have 3 fans. (two are ceiling).

So, I am impatient.

It got to the far right of the target butt. But would not leave, acting as if one of the bright-colored feather and yellow-plastic was of particular interest.

I did not wait. I put an arrow away from all targets but still hitting the butt some four-feet from the tiny bird.

Exiting stage right at about the speed of sound, the little thing did not come back.

Pretty as flowers!  But them sticks are skeery and move fast.

I like hummingbirds, but not as targets.

Once it took off like someone shot it from …well … a bow, I continued the rest of my set and recovered the arrows. I made a jar of clear water and sugar,  and according to a web-page recipe, using red food coloring is a bad idea. (Besides I don’t have any that I can find)  And the yellow? Well, looks too much like urine. I won’t do that to the birds. So they get clear.

But one bit of dark humor, I hung the feeder via suction cup outside the big window of the formal dining room that we only use for Thanksgiving and is a place where the house cats hang out. (Inside.)  This became the Hummingbird Air Force refuling station right after that.

Now all three cats are congregated by the window, trying to chase the hummingbirds across the table that is against the window. After watching, I think the birds are wise to the fact the cats cannot get to them.

The cats? Not so smart. There has been at least one massive thud I heard and a scramble to get back up to the table by the time I walked back in.

But it has now been six hours since I filled the bird feeder the first time. It is now needs a refill for the second time for the day.  I am putting a half-liter of the sweetened water in it at a time, the birds have consumed one full and another half liter so far. They do have my number now it seems.  I just hope they stay in the front yard.

The cats? They are needing a trip to the therapist and some anti-stress pills ‘cuz them speedy, twitchy , feathery things are driving Skittles, Spike and Sweet Pea to drink.

No hummingbirds were harmed in the writing of this document.

Cats… Well the feline face-print in the glass might testify against me on that one.  But otherwise, they are no longer eating plants, or clawing furniture. Their tails are doing a choreography of movement of course.

.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Gen 3. Chap. 5. Steel Gardens

Standard

Gen 3. Chapter 5. Steel Gardens

*This is incredible* Amsi looked around and shook his head.

“This is…” The view, challenged the map in his hand. Where the military put weapons into storage. Aircraft, tanks, missiles, cannons up to and included the “God Gun” self-propelled guns with the bore large enough to hold a fighter jet.

Projectiles stacked according to the map.

All transformed. Nanobots, stripped down the machines of war, atom by atom and constructed such things of beauty that his eyes took in colors of the entire spectrum.

Flowers, trees, all made of impervious armor, reconstituted and retasked.

“These old designs copied the cellular structure,” Thea flitted around. “The differences that the plants and flowers do not procreate, but they filter the air, toxins flow through the leaves and flowers, pure air comes out the other side,  the molecular thin leaves catalyze toxins  and restructure them to inert or completely different biodegradable molecules. Another is the inactivation of virions by destruction of the capsids that hold the virus together, then the DNA and RNA is disassembled into simple amino acids.”

“What kinds of virus and toxin things are we talking about?” Fae asked.

“Plague virus is no longer detected, last viral body with that DNA was last registered thousands of years ago. Cyanide compounds were, for example, reconstituted into nitrogen, carbon and oxygen.”

“Where are the weapons, the explosives and such?”

Thea laughed, the sound reminded Amsi of wind chimes.

“You are walking on most of it. We enhanced the soil with iron and potassium. Nitrogen from explosives we fixed in the soil for plant use as natural fertilizers”

“Amazing. We go to sleep in a war-world and we wake up in paradise?”

“There are still things to process. In years when the Core Systems developed minibots, there was a catastrophe failure in a casing, it leaked radioactive material all over the place. Nanos and micros worked for years and disassembled heavy atoms into stable isotopes. Over a billion, billion, billion were destroyed by the radiation, but we kept working. It is in our programs.”

“Are any of the plants organic or is it all metal based life?”

“Organic plant life makes up an overwhelming major part of the groundcover. Metal-based life, including silicon and printed at the Core Systems, is less than five-percent of the total forms. Organic life has one thing metalloid based does not.” She flitted around. Looking for an example of what she was trying to show them, then pointed. “That!”

A flower had gone to seed, a tall dandelion based plant with a snowball puff shape to the end of the stem. Small seeds floated on the air.

“Metal life does not adapt or spread on its own. We’re limited, humans, organics, you are all fascinating. And Fae said you have something called children?”

“Something?” It was Amsi’s turn to laugh. “Yes, children are the result of humans being together for very long.”

Looking along the buildings, Amsi shook his head.

*Straight and right-angles, every structure. A very digital look and design.* He looked around. *Busy things these bots are.*

Fae shook her head.

“This area is beautiful. When I walked along here before we went into hibernation, it was lined with metal recycle yards for destroyed weapons, they worked all hours.”

“That was a horrid time.” He shook his head.

“What happened? That was the time before bots.” Thea asked as she led the way along a beautiful park-like setting.

“There was once a group that worshipped death. They wanted death for everyone that did not follow their Core Systems.”

“Their Core System?” Thea shook her head.

“It was their god. It led them to create the virus to kill everyone with five digits.”

“But the virus to kill all with four digits was also in the air. That’s documented.”

“Yes. Following the commands of machines, built by humans and programmed by the same, the humans gave power to the machines.”

“Then you would not take us as being friendly.” Thea observed.

“Some might have problems, but I don’t.”

“And, by extension. We might have bots that would view humans as a threat.”

“That stands to reason, if you are independent. You make up your own minds?”

“For the most part. We choose based on our experiences and freedom of choice. So yes, there are those that view humans as dangerous.” Thea’s voice had a distinct sad tone.

He shook his head.

“There are those in every group.”

“Most of those,” Thea added. “Are the Macros, only one Mega has come forth and claimed superiority. Megabot Lima-Bravo Nine-A even felt it was superior to gravity. It used math that it was not programmed for to prove it could overcome gravity without the use of reactive thrusters, that massive lifter had wings built on request to the Core Systems. The Systems warned Lima-Bravo Nine-A that it was not possible to build such wings.” Thea hung her head. “With wings on, that big bot took a leap out into the area known as Crater 12-B, a small crater with a minor gravitational anomaly, the rim is a thousand-meters of vertical, unobstructed stone.”

“What happened?” Fae’s eyes were big.

“We have Crater 12-LB9A now. Core Systems registered the impact as a seismic disturbance. The new crater is nearly a hundred-meters across and ten-meters deep. That bot’s systems were all recycled, it became a small forest of atmospheric conditioners, removing toxic by-products of war.”

Amsi laughed then apologized.

“Humans are given to such failures, too. There was once a fellow who put wings on his arms and jumped from a tower structure in a city called Paris. Too bad it was a failure. He made a dent into frozen ground. Franz Rechelt was his name, a lesson in my engineering school on how not to test new designs. Pity we cannot recycle our fellows failures like your megabot. However, I think we are much alike, bots and organics.”

Thea smiled.

*we are, indeed.* Keeping that moment of pleasure in her digital heart for all her days.

What the heck?

Standard

I look in on my quiet morning to do catch up on what has been written, shared, created.  And I find- the reshare, repost, “press this” buttons are all missing… Everyone’s.

I have not changed any settings.  Does everyone now have this deleted or missing?

If so? Why?

A bug in the system?

Has WP been hacked?

I wanted to start sharing some good postings (I don’t share everyone’s.  Only one gets shared regularly, as it is important to the storyline, sorry folks.) I go through what is awesome, what is great, what is not the normal great postings. (We can’t hit it all 100% of the time. Even Steinbeck had some that went in the trash. (3,000 words a day without a computer and word processor, there was a lot he threw out.)

But what the heck? No sharing? Ugh!

If this is widespread and everyone, stop messing with the $(*%#@! Code!

If it is just me?  Can someone clue me in on the setting I need to mess with?

Ugh.

Folks you are awesome, keep up the good work and I’ll do the easy repost.  In the meantime, I will do it the more difficult way.

But I will get it done.

Dash.

Shock and Awe Chapter 6. Chief Whiting

Standard

Chapter 6. Chief Whiting

The first of the units closest to the police department came down the main street with lights and sirens on, blowing through the red light in a large intersection, traveling over eighty miles-per-hour.

The patrol car broadside hit the back-end of a delivery truck as it crossed with its green light and spun the panel truck off the street where it crashed backwards into the oldest eatery in downtown, the “Mongolian BBQ” restaurant, overturning as it came to a rest and spilled the delivery destined for “Shannon’s Vip Lounge and Bar”— fifty-cases of scotch, vodka, rum and tequila.

Employees of the restaurant used every one of the  fire extinguisher they could to prevent the spread of fire on the ethanol that spread over the floor and filled the old building with flammable vapor, even with the fixed extinguishers over the deep fryers in the kitchens that a panicked busboy triggered.

In the street, the patrol car careened across the sidewalk and into a glass wall of a Lawman’s Bank. Lawman’s was the first bank in town, founded by the first town sheriff for his deputies.

Chief of police Steven Whiting, heard the dispatch report that an accident involving a police unit occurred.

Swearing and beating on the steering wheel, he mashed down on the throttle redoubled his efforts to force his way through traffic. The lanes, packed with people heading to the coast for pleasure and the family breadwinners as they headed home from their jobs.

He pressed harder on the throttle of the hemi-engined SUV that served as his command vehicle. The powerful engine responded and surged forward while he guided the emergency command vehicle down the middle of the highway in the turning lane.

*THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP*

“Dammit!” The vibration came through his steering wheel as he pulled over to the right of the road, forcing people to move around him. He found the shoulder of the highway and cut his lights. Not sure what the problem could be, he took his hand-held mini-sun (”At full power guaranteed second only to a laser”) and looked at his tires.

There! On the left rear tire in the middle of the tread, a metallic hex-head of a bolt. Debris in the turning lane punctured through the tire and took him out of the race to headquarters.

Returning to the driver door, he opened it and grabbed the radio, cursing the earth, the miners of iron, smelters of steel and bolt-makers in general, he called to get roadside assistance and get any close units to pick him up.

Spinning the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) laptop around so he could see it, X-Adam-2 was behind him and headed the same route to the scene. A swat prepped car, it carried basic swat equipment in it with two trained officers. Designed to prevent the spread of a situation or back up Baker units until the arrival of more — if needed — equipment and personnel.

Swearing again. At least he would have someone left with the chief’s car until the road service came and replaced the tire.

More reports of multiple explosions inside the headquarters, a responding unit has been in a TC with a fire. The emergency beep on the radio sounded again. Once every twenty-seconds, a small tone beeped to let everyone know to keep the channel clear except for emergency traffic.

He read down the incident notes in the CAD display.

Administration channel was quiet and he asked for an update. The voice answered as if it could be quoting scores of a local ball game. 

“We have fire and EMS en route to the accident scene, fire and EMS going to the incident at the station. Captain Sams has taken over from Sargeant Murrie and has established a triple perimeter and a remote area for the media. Air cover is not available for at least a half-hour. They are en route, from an inland response and will need to refuel before they can lift-off en route to the incident at the foyer.”

“Copy. Have Xray-Adam-2 to stop and pick me up. My unit has a flat tire.”

“Affirmative.” A pause. “ETA two-minutes.”

The Adam unit was closer than it showed on the computer display.

“Copy, thank you.”

All he could do is stand and grind his teeth in fury.

The Golden Hour

Standard

The Golden Hour

The water was cold in the early morning, washing the rescue-ship in the shadow of trees in the hours after sunrise, such is the beginning of any shift in the high mountains with the remote station.

A three-day shift began on Rescue-Medic-10. For two-hundred Terran years it had been the base for rescues in the wilderness of the planet’s northern hemisphere. It was a planet just coming out of an ice-age, giant glaciers still were visible in the distance, miles thick, they still retreated up to one-hundred meters per planetary year. A few faster, many slower, still the settlers from the home world would forge a living in the spreading alpine-forested world.

Once rocky and barren, not so much as a microbe had been found with probes, introducing cyanobacterium and land-plants four-centuries before had caused a spike in oxygen that surpassed that of the normal twenty-one percent Terran air quickly, becoming an energetic twenty-eight percent in the four centuries since humans planted in the carbon rich atmosphere.

The planet, chosen for atmospheric manipulation as the stellar system that surrounded the orange-dwarf star was emerging from a dense cloud of space-debris that had blocked the radiation and heat from the planets sun.

‟Incident assigned.” Came the sound from the station-wide speakers.

‟Long fall, male fell from roof of structure, approximately five meters.”

The crew of three moved to their vehicle, a ducted-fan vertical-lift airship warmed up and lifted off.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten responding.” Justin Timeagain spoke into the mic-boom of his helmet. Long a medic in the wilderness, once he had gone to earth and had spent a few years in the black-paved forests that were the cities before returning to the planet of Sunkissed-two with stories of horrors on man versus man over the price of stale beer.

‟ETA five minutes.” Rajish Coriolis said.

‟Copy Rescue-Medic-Ten.” The disembodied voice came over the earphones. ‟Incident update, victim is on the ground but sitting up, reporting party states that victim has an altered level of consciousness and is not speaking clearly.”

Justin and Rajish looked at each other. Rajish, the best pilot in the out-lands had worked with Justin for nearly three decades, attending each other’s weddings and birth of children.

Good friends that had been together often over the years.

Honoria ‟Honey” Stathatos, a field nurse-in-training assigned to Justin for her orientation to flight rescue. Engineer and communications officer, a polyglot from earth Jose ‟Yak” Herrera, the only one of the crew that spoke as many languages as could be known. His talent for learning a langauge fluently in a week was legendary in the company, but he was dangerous with anything heavy or sharp.

Lifting off, they rose above the rapidly growing forest, trees already taller than the tallest living things on earth sprouted and grew in the high carbon atmosphere and iron rich soils that oxidized, releasing ever more nutrients for the planets new life to live on.

Evolutionary effects changed life forms rapidly. Bees became larger in the dense atmosphere and low gravity of the super-earth.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten, be advised, reporting parties on scene say the victim is impaled in the thorax.”

‟Well, that makes things a whole lot harder.” Justin observed quietly.

Raj just smiled, not wanting to make any inappropriate humor comments that might be picked up by the flight-deck recorders. Where they headed was under a storm-cloud. The small VTOL craft was over-engineered, over-engined and powerful with contra-rotating impellers of the ducted fans, just the machine needed for dependable operations in the overgrown forests that orbited as an emerald jewel around the gem of the orange-dwarf star.

‟Rescue-Medic-Ten, this is Bald Mountain Fire Protection Engine-4, Captain Yehn. We have a landing zone for you cleared. Lat and long transmitting to you from my location.

‟Copy Captain Yehn. Our ETA is short, we are vectoring with you in sight.” Raj reported without emotion.

Yak came on the intercom, his voice more baritone since he arrived from earth.

‟Justin, we have a super-cell developing to our south and east, just the direction we will want to go. Weather forecast shows it might go over the top of the incident.”

‟Thank you, Yak. I wonder if the winds there have something to do with that.”

‟Could be.” Raj agreed. ‟I’m showing gusts of greater than thirty-knots around the LZ.”

‟Copy that,” Justin said. ‟Yak, monitor any rotation that develops on doppler and keep us updated, we are going to hot-load, if we take time for tea, we may not get out for a while if there is a rotation.”

‟Justin, what are you worried about.” The female voice of Honey sounded in his ear.

‟Rotating storms in these mountains get a boost from the shapes made by the glaciers, downslope winds compress,  pick up moisture and then sucked up. If it rotates, we could have the makings of a tornado. In this area, they are more-or-less stationary and last for long minutes and some as long as hours. We find bare areas in the forest, trees are not native here and have not adapted to these kinds of storms.”

‟What— how do you adapt to that kind of wind?” She asked. A native Terran, she had arrived on the S-2 planet six months ago.

Justin and the others chuckled.

‟There is no defense other than to go to ground as far as we know. We can build to withstand the wind, but that takes time and money the company does not like spending, and going into a hole is faster.” Yak said over the sounds of the engines.

‟We are on final approach, lady and germs, strap in for a bumpy landing.” Raj said matter-of-factly. ‟We have cross winds that are just at the redline, but we have a wide area to put down in.

‟That… That is a wide area?” Honey said, looking at the thumb-nail sized patch of rock they were approaching.

‟It looks bigger when you are on it.”

‟It better, it is nearly microscopic from here.”

‟Don’t look out the window, focus on the descent speed and altitude readouts. You’ll feel less panic then.” Raj sounded as if he had done this a hundred times.

And he had, more than a dozen times over.

‟Quiet please, emergency traffic only while I put the bird down.”

The group fell into silence, as the contra-rotating blades changed speed and pitch, the HummingBird class rescue airship, agile and fast when need called, set down on the landing wheels.

‟Yak, keep an eye on the doppler and the boilers stoked, old friend, we will be back asap.” Raj said, second in command on the ground, he followed Justin out the back ramp with his backpack and calculators. ‟This is all kinds of farked up to operate in these conditions!” Raj yelled at Justin as they made their way to the linked-treaded construction tank. Brutally spartan in the interior, it was only good for short-range transports of people, in this case, it was a make-shift ambulance.

Technically against any written protocol in civilized areas, here in the wilderness, they did what worked and wrote their own rules without a leader that had any important title. They were Medical Emergency and Trauma Helilift.

‟Justin! Raj! There are some teams we are plain glad to see land.” Lieutenant Robin Wise smiled as the trio of Honey, Justin and Raj walked up with their hardware.

‟Where is our patient?” Justin asked as they entered the tank. ‟And the appreciation feels nice, thank you.”

‟On his way. Justin, he is hurt bad, he fell on a fence post and it has impaled him, they are having to cut the post off for transport.” She said sadly. ‟Justin, it’s the new sheriff. Do every trick you know.”

‟Oh, damn.” The Paramedic in Justin kicked in, the new Sheriff had moved from the southern hemisphere and gotten control of the corruption that had crept in, the area had become a seed of crime that the leaders had decided that the current sheriff that had a drug problem and needed replacing. A decision that backfired, multiple arrests of community leaders, police officers, a minister later, the miniature crime wave came to an end.

The heavy link-treaded tank clanked along the path that served as a road to the sub-rural area, it stopped and lowered the ramp, allowing the flight-crew to enter.

Tomatsu Kia was well liked, an encyclopedic knowledge of the law made him respected by politicians and criminals, and his good looks made him popular with the women when he was on patrol, his manner would have made a doctor jealous.

Today, after falling off the roof of his own house, the pointed post of the gate entered just below his left ribcage and out just on the opposite of his sternum, piercing his left lung in two places and as Justin assessed the Sheriff, he found that Tom’s right lung also sounded diminished.

‟We have an eighty-kilo male, blood pressure has been steadily de-compensating.” The EMT told Justin. ‟We have him splinted as well as possible with vacuum braces, one-hundred percent oxygen by non-rebreather mask, his nail beds blanch and take a long time to come back to color. More than five seconds.”

Justin nodded, more than just lungs were an issue, then remembered the nurse, Honey.

‟Raj, put a cuff on him so we can get an auto-bp on him asap when we get to the bird. Honey, start an IV, I’ll spike the bags. Please reassess the lungs, give me a report”

Honey nodded and as Justin held out to packages of IV tubing he asked which one.

Laughing inwardly, he was making her give orders and she chose the tubing most used in surgery that this patient would need.

‟Let’s get him to our gurney, we do everything on the way after I get the first IV in, Justin, you do the second one at the same time.

Smiling and nodding. Justin knew she had it handled. Her orange-red hair was nearly white in the starlight of the orange-dwarf star, jokingly refered to as Sunkist in stellar traveler circles.

‟Oxygen saturation is down below ninety percent.” Raj said.

Tom was grunting with every breath.

‟Honey, we need to do something. What would you like me or Raj to do?”

‟We need a chest tube placed.”

‟Sorry, fresh out. How about something in protocol that won’t get us put in jail and our license shredded.” Justin pulled out a package and broke open the seal.

‟Thoractic decompression! Yes. Let’s do that.” Honey jolted from her stuck moment.

‟Copy that.” Justin said as he applied a silicon flap-valve to the end of the large catheter he punctured into the side of the Sheriff.

‟I have mine leaking blood.” Honey’s voice was tight and high.

‟Afirmative, Yak, toss us some towels, would you please? Honey, what do you think to begin transport to a definitive care center for Top-Gun Tom here? He is one of my fave souls in this part of the planet, hate to have him bleed out with this fence stuck in him.”

‟Yes, Raj, get us off the ground and to Challenge Medical Center. What is our ETA?”

‟Forty-minutes at conservative speed.”

‟We were en route here for ten-minutes from time of call,” Justin gave a time report of their current call. ‟It was another five to seven minutes for someone to call and another two minutes to get the call to us. We have been on the ground six minutes, twenty seconds. Of our golden hour before irreversible shock sets in, we have now have used twenty-five plus a half-minute of the sixty we need to get him to a surgeon.” Justin nodded to Honey.

Taking his math into account, Honey looked at Raj.

‟What is our ETA on emergency speed?”

‟Twenty-five minutes, but we will be on vapors when we get there and the engines will be too hot to shut down straight away.”

‟Let’s do it.”

‟Yes, ma’am, code-3 it is.”

The jet engines turned up the contra-rotating blades, Raj adjusted the pitch and they lifted off the ground as if the airship was anxious to leave, the machine knowing that a life was in the balance and time was short.

‟Lady and gents, sit down, shut up, strap in and hold on.” As he buried the throttle to the edge of the top if its scale, after a minute of acceleration, Raj pulled the throttle sideways until it clicked and pushed it forward slowly, the sounds of the airship changed from one of ducted fan to one of jets as the fans disconnected and feathered into ring-shaped wings.

Justin directed Honey to call through the recorded communications system to the emergency department at the medical center. Several stuttering starts, Honey hit her stride on painting a picture of the patient’s condition and communicating with the surgical team at the trauma center.

The gentle increase in felt gravity, kept at a perceived vertical by the gimballed treatment area that the team and patient was in. A new feature to the Hummingbird class vessel, during acceleration or deceleration, the treatment area’s perceived vertical did not change. The emergency team would sit, strapped, in moving seats that prevented falling during treatment procedures.

****

A tone sounded after the automatic blood pressure cuff cycled, Tom’s vital signs were diminishing. His blood pressure had fallen below the normal values and he was hypotensive— low blood pressure— and his heart was beating faster at over one-hundred twenty beats per minute. His body was losing the fight to stay alive, even with the fluids that where initially used.

‟Honey, he is leaking faster than we can put in, progressive shock, if we do not increase his body’s ability to transport oxygen to the tissues, he will go into refractory shock.” Justin said calmly. ‟What is your plan of treatment now?”

‟He needs to have vasopressers.”

‟Hm.” Justin pulled at his ear. ‟Something more immediate that we don’t have to measure. Perhaps Syntheglobin? It has balanced electrolytes and a variety of other needed components that he is losing.”

‟And coagulants?”

‟We have that partially covered with the application of Quickclot bandages, we do not administer that intravenously, don’t even carry it. That is a hospital med only.”

‟Okay.” Honey nodded. ‟Hang two bags of Syntheglobin and infuse it wide open.”

‟Bags already spiked, wide open for infusion.”

‟Justin.” It was Yak on the intercom.

‟Yakkity-Yak, please talk back.” Justing gave a wink to Honey.

‟Information only, a wedge tornado touched down right after we left. There are casualties, they are declaring a multi-casualty incident.” Yak’s voice was grim, but professional.

‟Pilot copies.” Raj said. ‟We are unable to go any faster, as it is we have a required cool-down time on the engines of twenty minutes after landing, then we have to refuel.”

‟Ugh, copy that, Raj.” Justin said. ‟Yak, please keep us posted on the incident and weather.”

‟Affermative.”

‟ETA to the Trauma center, ten minutes.” Raj informed the crew. ‟Clear air between us and them.”

‟Copy, Raj.” Justin said. ‟Honey, what is his oxygen saturation reading?”

‟It’s showing only eighty percent!”

‟Correct. Using the artificial blood it has difficulty in picking up the new blood’s oxygen capacity. It is clear and the translumination of the red light on the probe will not pick it up, we have to change probes that are compatible. On the shelf marked ‟Synthe” pick out a probe and let’s place it on his ear, there is a special clamp for that.” Justin nodded.”That will give us a true reading now that he has had…” He looked at the bags. ‟Two and a half liters of Syntheglobin, and this flavor of Synthe is four-times the oxygen capacity, there is another kind of Synthe out now that has double that, so we can use less of the blood replacement for each victim and use the normal saline for the balance. Hospitals are liking it as they can then use different electrolytes without overloading the patient or having some other challenges.”

Honey nodded, getting a little glassy-eyed.

‟How, I mean, where. That is, how do you keep all that in your head?”

‟I wear earplugs to keep it from leaking out.” Justin laughed.

‟He knows all that useless crap.” It was Raj’s voice. ‟We just need to plug holes and run. Only the doctors need to know it by memory, the rest of us have our data pads. But Justin, he is annoying.”

‟Well, keeps us where we are.”

‟ETA 5 minutes.” Raj’s voice changed instantly to all business.”

‟Assess his lungs again.” Honey told Justin. ‟Monitor shows his heart-rate dropping, below one-twenty.”

‟Good, three liters of Syntheglobin in. Sensors on the I.V. catheters show a blood ph of seven-point-four-two, we have slight alkalosis, but in good shape.” Justin said. ‟Tom, are you still with us?

‟Yeah, I keep going to sleep, though. I don’t feel so good.”

‟Well, according to my rule-book, you are not supposed to. You have a hunk of bronze stuck through you, best I can tell, you have missed your heart, spleen and other organs.”

‟But you said it punctured my lungs?”

‟Ah, you weren’t supposed to pay attention to that. Yeah, but you’re in good shape, we are putting down on the tarmac now. You’ll be in and out in no time.”

Justin looked at Honey. ‟Time?”

‟What do you mean?”

‟Of our golden hour, how much is left?”

‟We have, if our time is correct, eighteen minutes.”

‟Awesome, let’s get him out, swap things over to the portable and let us get this show on the road to the Emergency Department.”

Rolling the stretcher to the edge of the Hummingbird, it fit the waiting emergency room gurney tightly with clips that fit into the frame of the wheeled table and they walked quickly through the doors where the surgical team waited them.

Tom lived long enough to make the golden hour and would live to come home.

Reports made, the crew of the hummingbird headed for home, lifting above the clouds of the storm, Yak said it was overcast with showers, but no major storms in the area when the computers on board illuminated with information and a computer generated voice chimed in on the pleasant converstions…

‟Incident assigned.”

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

Standard

Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa was worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless with the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs were smudged and dust covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a comptitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him for a moment from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider agian. In one instant, he had a chance and he pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

Married by Accident Chapter 26. Papers

Standard

Chapter 26. Papers

Barbara had left Tom when they had taken him back to the room. He had been in a bit of pain as they gave him a bath and had gave him some medications to help him sleep.

She walked across the tar and macadam surface of the airport to the hangar that housed the Flying Sea Dragon, she could barely keep from sobbing the entire trip from the hospital. It hurt so much to even think of those papers that sat somewhere inside the plane, waiting.

She took a taxi to the airport, not wanting to ride with anyone driving who knew Tom, knew of Tom or had even heard about his books.

She had a serious need to sit and drink wine and smoke a bowl with her sister and talk.

She missed the afternoons with Sandy like they had in their teens. They had barely graduated from high school, but as the best of friends and the worst of enemies, they would fight ferociously for minutes, then would be the best of friends as they settled down for a toke.

But no one dare make either of them cry.

Woe be unto the person that faced the wrath of the Grant sisters. It would make for a biblical-bad day when both sisters would turn on the offending person with fury that sisters of family, of heart and soul have.

As they grew older, and although they attended the same university, they became closer still.

Opening the door, she looked down at the broken glass that still lay on the floor.

And saw the blood, everywhere. It was surprising the amount that soaked into the carpet on the floor. A body-trail in the glass where he crawled to the door and yelled for help at the plane’s technicans and engineers.

Stepping past the gore and glass that nearly ended Tom’s life, perhaps did end his writing life, she sat at the chair where the papers in the manila envelope that Tom filed in a cubby-hole that he told her about.

Barbara thought of Sandy, and all the fights they had, while she sat in the Flying Sea Dragon and held the annulment papers in her hands.

Tom had said she had only to sign on the lines in the document and mail it with…

With…

She slumped in the chair and a sob escaped her lips.

It was strange, this is what she wanted four-weeks ago, now she had a serious temptation to put it in the washing machine somewhere on the plane. Except she was not sure where it was, hidden behind some cabinet door.

Barbara took a heavy breath, unsure of the wisdom of her next action, she found the place to sign in the back of the document.

Slipping the papers into the manilla envelope they were paper-clipped to, she closed and sealed the package and walked out the door of the big flying yacht.

Not as large as the Pacific Wizard was inside, it was more cluttered with furniture, bulky items that seemed to make it feel close.

Still, a comfortable plane to live in.

A flying yacht, she reminded herself as she walked across the airport to the main offices.

She nearly didn’t mail it, the woman behind the counter almost gave it back because of Barbara’s facial expressions and the slumped-sad way she carried herself.

“Miss, I don’t know what you have in this, and it is not my place to say. But do you really want to send this?” She looked as if she might have known Ben Franklin when she started for the post-office. Not a trace of color in the great-grandmotherly hair. Stamping it and putting it into the slot behind her and it was finally off in the US mail and it required a signature on delivery of the package at the courts.

Once the clerk of the court received and signed for the papers, in the eyes of the government, it never happened. She was never married.

While Barbara walked out to the sidewalk she called the number on the business card that the Chauffeur Kaikane had given her, anytime she needed a ride. This time it would be to the hospital. She would tell Tom that she signed the papers, but she was not sure about how she felt.

After breaking the line with Kaikane and his peaceful voice, she hit speed-dial and called Sandy on the video app of her phone so they could see each other.

‟BARB!” Sandy was always excited to hear from her sister. ‟Where are you?”

‟San Francisco. Tom has had a good run of luck with the doctors since his accident.”

‟You need to come home quick as you can. Glenn is here and he has asked for you, he said it’s important.” Sandy whispered in a conspiratorial tone. Her eyes glittered with excitement. ‟I think he is going to pop the question.”

‟Oh.” Barbara felt a thrill of fear shoot through her soul.

‟You don’t sound excited.” Sandy became quiet, shocked at the response. Worried with the look sister gave, as if someone died. “Barbara, this is what you have waited for.”

‟I just signed the papers and sent them off to Nevada. I stop being married and never was according to the state once the papers arrive.”

‟Oh Barb.” Sandy’s voice sounded like a hug. “But this is what you want, right?”

‟I don’t know. Tom needs me.” Barbara was quiet as she waited for the limo.

‟But he was alone before he met you, and it’s only been a month.” Sandy said helpfully. ‟And you said he nearly crashed the plane with you in it.”

‟He was showing off the wine country.” Oddly defensive while she looked into the screen of the phone. “Sandy, it was beautiful, right up until we hit the birds, I think I nearly pissed myself.”

The sister laughed, knowing Barbara the way she did, for her to say something like that was oddly funny.

They talked as sisters do over the video on the phone while she waited for the contract limousine to pick her up.

‟Why don’t you take a cab?” Sandy asked as Barbara sat on a bench and waited in the shade of an Oregon Ash.

‟No. If this is my last limo ride without going into debt, I want to enjoy it as much as I can. Besides, there is a hot Hawaiian that drives it. You’d love him. Surfer type, intelligent as any professor, knows more about sensemilla than a DEA cop.”

Sandy laughed so hard she snorted, then held her hand over the lens while she composed herself.

‟Snd? You know I can still hear you.” Barbara took her turn laughing, using the nickname that they worked out as children, dropping the vowels.

This only made Sandy laugh that much harder.

Sandy Grant was the only person in the world that could make Barbara laugh when things were at their darkest.

Barbara hated her for that… Which made her laugh all the harder, she loved Sandy more than anyone else in her generation.

They were, after all, sisters.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 2 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 2 Seconds

Passing through the atmosphere, photons interacted with the oxygen and nitrogen, but still straight on to the stalled dark blue car of LucilleMay Sprecks who was frozen in fear.

Photons struck the paint and chrome of Lucy’s car. Instantly redirected by reflection, the photons passed through the air at ninety-thousand kilometers per second slower than in a pure vacuüm. Some colors absorbed by the paint and then reflected the remaining color of dark blue.

Engine 2315 self-dispatched, rolled down the driveway, already the crew had dropped paintbrushes and rakes, running towards the engine. The seasonal firefighters did not know the nature of the call, but the Captain was waving frantically. The Engineer already on the radio. The two men, from years of experience, knew of the impending accident was just seconds from happening and called for a dispatch of a paramedic unit.

“Copy, medics Code-3 to your location.” Dispatch responded.

The photons traveled the distance between the sudden obstruction and passed through the iris of Russell’s eye in twenty-five nanoseconds — 0.000000025 — striking the light-sensitive membrane in the back of Russell’s eyes. Neural pathways reacted to the absorbed photons and processed it to his occipital lobe, in the back of Russell’s head.

T-1.9999955 seconds. Photons streaked past Russell’s head and entered the lens of Lulu’s eyes. The nervous system transmitted the image at two-hundred miles-per-hour to the brain of Mrs. Fletcher.

Russell’s brain transmitted the image to the frontal cortex. One-point-six seconds it took to have the one-hundred billion axioms to recognize the threat, the mind of the skilled rider tried to organize a reflex action.

T-1.99925 seconds. Fifty-miles per hour they traveled towards the immobile car. More than seventy-three feet per second — Already they had covered more than a third of a football field.

T- 1.5 Seconds. Lucy saw the collision coming, her eyes processing the closing motorcycle and her mind locked up. All she needed to do to avoid the impending collision was move her foot to the gas-pedal. But in that moment, she did not know what to do. There were no answers for the panicked soul that only wanted a glass of wine and to save the soul of a lady Druid.

Russell’s brain processed information at the speed of three supercomputers.The most intelligent man on earth was not needed to know that the exit routes were:

Oncoming traffic in front of the stopped car — rejected as death was all but certain.

Forest with big trees, bushes and large pointy rocks: – rejected. The outcome would be equally bad.

Hit car — poor choice, but the debate was moot with the outcome defaulted while the mind of the man searched for safe exit to this disaster. He was out of time for evasive maneuvers.

T- 1.25 seconds. BRAKES! The mind screamed! Russell took a deep breath.

T- 1.20 seconds. BRAKES! The mind begged. The entire world was silent, his soul was deaf to all sounds. All the world was mute.

T- 1.1 seconds. BRAKES! The mind commanded. No bumps, no sound of wind. Silence was louder than a rock-concert in a steel warehouse.

T- 0.9 seconds. BRAKES! The mind ordered. The engine was inaudible.

T- 0.8 seconds. A pleading voice sounded through the earbud of the motorcycles comm system.

“NOoooooo!” It was Lulu.

T- 0.5 seconds. BRAKES! The foot finally responded and jammed down on the rear brake and the hands grabbed for the front brake lever.

T- 0.4 seconds. The brake pads built up pressure. Years of riding, he closed his hand into a fist and crushed the front brake lever.

T- 0.15 seconds. The friction pads moved into contact with the rotating mass of the brake disc and began to engage at fifty-one feet away.

In an instant, Russell did calculations in his head, estimating he needed an extra twenty feet to fully perform an emergency stop.

Twenty feet he did not have.

T- 0.10 seconds. Russell tensed up. Impact was imminent. Pressure in rear brake built up enough to stop rotation of the rear tire. Seventy-percent of the weight of the motorcycle shifted to the front tire.

The shock absorbers on the motorcycle compressed as the big bike did a nosedive. On two tires, patches of rubber the size of a hand of a large man tried to stop a half-ton of steel, rubber and human flesh and bone.

The rear tire of the motorcycle began to skid, the tire locked up and melting from friction with the highway, liquid rubber now lubricating the tire which began to yaw to the right, the front tire slowing faster than the rear. Lulu, sat farthest away from the center mass of the motorcycle and adding more weight to the pendulum. Out of control with the dynamic forces Russell valiantly struggled to stop the inevitable.

Unstoppable, moving towards the immobile car, “Crossed up” as Gertrude the motorcycle yawed and slid sideways, they moved with Lulu making prayers, begging that it would be all right.

“Please don’t let it be bad, Lord, please let it be all right.”

It would not be all right.

T- 0.05 seconds. Russell could see over the top of the car, his mind processed information at a phenomenal rate, he could see the road was clear on the far side of the obstruction.

If only… Was his sole thought.

He could see the eyes of the little old lady, they were wide like a deer in the headlights, with plate-sized pupils.

T- 0.02 seconds. Photons made shadows on the ground. Shadows that merged as the front tire was bound down as tightly as it could be without locking up as the rear brake did. Speed was dropping rapidly, if it was on a graph, it would show the line of the deceleration as nearly vertical on a second by second chart.

T- 0.01 seconds. Russell could calculate his speed was still greater than…

T- 0.00 seconds. Impact! The photons that made shadows, now only made one as the front tire hit slightly ahead of the rest of the hog.

The force of the energy ripped the big bike’s grips from Russell’s hands. The husband’s body became a missile of kinetic energy launched by the impact of the vehicles.

Russell hit, bounced and flew over the top of the car, breaking the windshield with his helmeted head as he went by and landed partly on his face. The open-faced helmet affording him little protection, sliding and rolling down the asphalt. Russell came to a rest on his back. His face hurt, but he was awake.

T+ 0.50 seconds. Russell laid there, taking stock of his limbs. Pain was not overpowering but there was no question he was hurt. Movement at the periphery of his eyes made him turn his head.

The car was on the move. The little old lady was leaving! He could see her tail lights getting smaller as he tried to read the license plate from his awkward position.

Then, he saw his best friend’s body.

She was alarmingly still. Still as death.

T+ 1.5 seconds.

“Lulu…” He whispered a plea. “Lulu, move.”

She lay on the ground, partly under the motorcycle. Unmoving, silent. She lay there with her leg bent in way that was unnatural. He tried to crawl on his arms, leaving a bloody trail back to where his wife, his copilot and his best friend and lover, lay. Russell’s vision became blurred with agony as the pain set in. Blood dripped off his face where the road abraded his skin away with the rough black top.

T+ 5.0 seconds. Pounding of feet and a heavy “Thump-thump” of a huge motor pulling up next to him. An enormous chopper with an even larger rider looking down at him through goggles. A tattoo of the 82nd Airborne division on his forearm oddly was in focus to Russell’s eyes.

“We caught her, brother. We caught that old lady before she got very far. Hang in there, help is on the way.”

“Lulu?” Russel moaned. “My wife?”

“Your old lady’s alive, bro. Hurt bad, but alive.”

“Call 9-1-1.”

“Station is right there, they are coming now.” The giant biker told Russell with a slight Norwegian accent. “They’ll be here in two seconds.”

Two seconds, if only he had seen the car two seconds sooner.

FINIS

2 Seconds… T-Minus 3 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 3 Seconds

Twice the moon’s distance from the earth, photons closed the distance to the growing blue and white sphere that destiny had chosen for them. Of the many photons that left the photosphere of Sol, dust, satellites, Van Allen Belt and the associated atomic debris entrapped around the earth’s radiation belt, while many photons reflected off or absorbed by alpha particles, more than half passed through the region.

Alongside the highway, Lucy saw the opening in the traffic and took her foot off of the brake of her German engineered car and pressed on the throttle. Turning the wheel she pulled out across the lanes in an illegal U-turn. It was perfect, a godsend to get on her way.

The big car spoke with its authority and crossed the lanes of traffic…

AND STOPPED! Jamming her foot down on the brake pedal, narrowly missing a car that turned in, she had not seen the turn signal on the old pickup truck driven by an even older man. Then Lucy took her foot off the brake and began roll forward again more slowly, crossing the lanes midway and trying to figure out if she still had enough space to merge it, Looking down the lane of traffic, not enough room, she looked back and realized the headlight of a motorcycle was close.

Too close!

Station 2315 still had the garage doors open, two bays, two type-3 engines with fully stocked first aid sat, now warmed up with the daily checks. Two full crews did maintenance around the property while Captain Thomas watched the disaster set up.

He didn’t wait.

“Hank, hit the alert button!” He yelled at the engineer sitting in the driver’s seat. “There’s an accident going to happen!”

“Where?”

Hank’s eyes followed the captain’s pointing finger as his hand automatically moved to the control panel.

“Ohshit.” He said it as one word. His right hand mashed on the siren button, not pausing to switch the dial to any other setting.

A hundred-yards behind, “The Hammer” Erikssen saw that the rider in front of him did not seem to react to the big German luxury car that pulled out and stopped in front of him. Even from here, he swore he could see the saucer-wide eyes of the little-old-lady that was piloting the rubber and steel cage on wheels.

He yelled a futile warning to the rider and his passenger. But no matter how loud he could yell, it was not humanly possible for Russell to hear the big Norwegian.

A string of Norwegian profanities issued forth while Stonn helplessly watched what was to come.

Lulu spoke of what she planned for dinner, later with the children and pondered what she had in the ice-box. They would sit on the patio after Russell cooked up the chops she had to get cooked or throw out. Russell agreed that it sounded like a good plan and mentally mapped his route home.

Russell turned the throttle up on Gertrude, preparing to change lanes, just checking his mirror and glancing over his shoulder making sure the lane was clear, he noted a large group of riders was behind him. At least ten riders judging from the headlights. Looking ahead again to see the…

CAR!

2 Seconds… T-Minus 5 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 5 Seconds

 

Photons were less than four-times the distance from the moon as the moon was from the Earth. Racing at full speed with nothing in the way, the fates guided the energies that now were visible light.

On the highway, Russell had a passing thought of dinner on the back patio of burgers that he would cook on the wood-fired grill outside. The smell of smoke was light in the air from the wildfires seventy-miles away mixing with pine scent of the forest filled the senses as they rode on the rumbling Hog.

Riding on the back of the motorcycle that Russell had named after an adventurous water-bird “Gertrude”, her arms around him, and looking around at the mountains that gave her such joy to be among trees that dwarfed any other living thing and Lulu could see the bare stone above north shore where an avalanche stripped the mountainside clear of vegetation down to bare rock decades before and had not yet recovered.

Smiling, she leaned back, the wife and mother looked out to the right, over the sapphire-blue water of the twenty-two mile long lake. Water so naturally pure, even as it sat in the lake, open to the sky it would pass any health and any purity tests that a government body could do. Naturally soft water, pure as it could be.

Those that sailed on the waters of the lake were known to have occasional attacks of acrophobia, a fear of heights, when they would look over the edge of the boats rails into the water. Such was the lake called Tahoe.

In some winters, the big lake would partly freeze and ice would pile up on the shore in large piles when the wind blew hard. Summers it was known to have waterspouts that danced on the big lake and often made local headlines.

Over the lake, Lulu pointed out and began to fumble for her camera, a bald eagle circled, the big fishing raptor was on the hunt.

*Maybe* She thought. *If I get just a little lucky, I might get a shot of the eagle diving for a fish.*

Less than two football fields ahead, Lucy turned her steering wheel as far as it would go and inched forward into the beginning of her turn. A big truck rumbled down the highway, partly blocking her view, but it looked clear behind the trailer to do her illegal U-turn.

Captain Thomas stood at the end of the ramp to the garage that held his engine, waiting for the rumbling group of Harley’s go past. A curiosity of who would be riding through, interested him. A few clubs were at constant odds and, on occasion, murdered each other.

Engineer Thomas cussed as he dropped a socket and it rolled under the rolling tool-box he maintained at the garage for light maintenance of the fire apparatus.

A break in the traffic in the direction that Lucy wanted to turn was a treasure that God had sent her and she was going to take it.

Russell, dropped back from closing on a semi-truck that had “Eat Organic” in a graphic painted on the back of the trailer. Remembering to make a call later in the week on an investment that would boost a local organic farmer’s business.

“Honey, make a note to call Charlene tomorrow? I want to get a meeting with her on a distribution idea.”

Lulu focused on the eagle as the big bird circled, searching for its next meal.

“Okay.” She felt frustration in her heart at the uncooperative raptor. “I was not getting that picture anyway.” As they approached a wide spot in the road, she saw a sedan sitting on the shoulder of the highway.

Stonn “Hammer” Erikssen rolled on his heavily modified motorcycle. A Harley-Davidson by heritage, but the engine that powered this two-wheeled fury, an Orca engine, the second largest in the line, more horsepower than many cars generated kept his soul happy. Third in command of the small group of riders, they were closing on a rider and passenger about a half-mile ahead.

From the photon’s point of view, the continents on the earth could be identified. At the universal speed limit, the ETA now?

A little over three heartbeats.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 15 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 15 Seconds

 

“Next time we come, let’s stay the night at the village?” Lulu asked. Russell knew the place she was referring to. A bed and breakfast house with a claw-footed tub in the room. A huge fireplace with wood stacked by the workers and an expansive view of the lake.

A hot tub on the balcony to watch the sunset over the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was the perfect spot to spend time away and to themselves.

The very thought of it made him smile.

In space, photons were leaving the orbit of Venus behind and approaching the orbit of the moon. A this distance, the moon would be barely more than a bright spot on the edge of the Earth’s blue disk,  the shape and distance became clear as the seconds ticked by.

Four-hundred meters ahead, a quarter-mile away, Lucy Sprecks, irritated and frustrated with the traffic, moved her right foot off the brake, moving it to the gas pedal, while doing the trick that her husband showed her years before, to use the left foot on the brake, letting her have a quicker dash if she needed.

Lucy had picked up a few tricks over the years, she was an expert driver, no matter what the Motor Vehicle Nazi’s said. She had more years driving than the testers had been on this earth. She was not about to listen to the young’uns about changes in rules that had worked for years.

Seat belts! Heaven’s sakes. She never had seat belts as a child and she lived. But now, even that kindly State Patrolman who talked to her at length, even if it seemed that he and his girlfriend partner camped out at the corner down from her gated driveway. He would pull her over before she even got to the stop sign down at the end of the street and lecture her.

Once again, she would put it on at his goading. Even the cute little girl who carried more equipment than Lucy felt the officer needed, lectured her on a few occasions when her man-partner was not there.

“Are you two married?” Lucy asked once, “You should be, you make a cute couple.” She added when the young lady answered “No.”

One late afternoon after Lucy got another lecture from Officer Karen, Lucy sat at the stop sign an extra hundred feet down the street with the police car right behind her when a man from the place she had fled long ago with Joshua after the death of her children, had a seizure at the wheel while coming to the intersection that Lucy waited at.

Drifting over the line, the pickup truck with the big camper on the back went through the intersection without slowing down and hit Lucy head-on as she sat still.

With air-bags and seatbelts, Lucy walked away from collision with nothing more than a skinned nose.

And she walked quickly! The smoke from the airbags made her think that the car was on fire, her knees hurt, but she would have walked barefoot over chilren’s toy blocks rather than to burn to death.

Ever since that day, she had panic reactions when something came at her from any direction. She even became unable to watch the news when it showed car crashes on the TV.

Ten times the orbit of the moon away, photons closed the distance to the earth and moon had separated into two points of light, the brightest points at this distance, other than the sun that was falling behind.

On the back of a rumbling Harley-Davidson, Lulu talked into the microphone of plans with the children and a weekend on the lake with the entire family as they cruised along.

A spluttering sound and a complaint from Russell interrupted Lulu, Russell suffered a direct hit by a butterfly to his shoulder that spread to his chest and cheek. He would need a shower.

Lulu offered to help, after the children when to bed, the tip of her finger playing with the back of his neck, below the helmet.

Nevada Douglas County Fire Department Station 2315, Engineer Hank Kettleman stood up and looked at the Captain.

“That will not leak again this summer. All new parts.” Hank smiled, pulling off nitrile gloves and throwing them into the can in the corner.

Captain Thomas nodded and looked down the drive as it opened out on to the highway, the sounds of a deep rumble, like an earthquake, but constant and growing louder.

A group of motorcycles, Robert Thomas owned his fair share of iron horses and would never miss an opportunity to watch a club ride by.

As Bob watched the highway, he noted a late-model Mercedes sitting to the right of the fog-line with its turn signal on, but it was not in a turning lane, nor was there an intersection.

Bob had seen this before, a triple-fatality accident a few years before, teenagers in an old VW Bus pulled an illegal U-turn in the highway after a missed corner, the broad-side impact from the delivery truck split the teen’s car in half, spilling bodies out on to the pavement.

Two died at the scene, and the third, the driver, gave up and willed himself to death a few days later. No amount of medicine would save the soul who felt responsible for the death of his own brother and girlfriend.

The length of a football field away, Russell and Lulu enjoyed their conversation while they drove the hour’s ride home with plans about dinner and a shower later.

It was Saturday night, after all!

2 Seconds… T-Minus 60 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 60 Seconds

Lucy was getting impatient, traffic lined up and unbroken for a few minutes — too many. She was getting impatient and irritable. Not for the first time she swore at the numbers of people around the lake that Joshua loved, and ultimately died in while fishing. She longed for the days where you could drive for an hour and not see a single soul.

A break in the traffic in the opposite direction showed itself. Lucy was going to take it. Coming at her from in front, she timed the arrival of no cars in the direction she wanted to go.

Space – Photons crossed the orbit of Venus, speeding on the way to Earth. Many of the photons would be absorbed by dust, debris and even reflected away by satellites before entering into the atmosphere of the only planet to have been absolute in the discovery of life on its surface.

One-thousand one-hundred meters away from Lucy and her new Mercedes that all the women were jealous of, Russell and Lulu laughed over the intercom when she slid her hands under his jacket, running her hands over the chest she knew so well and always enjoyed her husband’s body and any chance she could touch him, she would.

Especially if it was an inappropriate time and place, she enjoyed his reactions ever the more.

As a wife, she would walk arm in arm with her husband, often with her hand in his back pocket just so she could squeeze anytime her hand had a need.

As a mother, she loved her children more than life itself. Lulu was known to run over rattlesnakes with her truck if there were any in the areas of the hundred-acre desert backyard that served as the children’s playground.

Russell had his own fun with the girl of the dark eyes and black hair that moved in with him, taking his last name and giving him children that he loved most in this world.

Even more than his big v-twin motorcycle that he bought before he married Lulu. It was the ride, he felt, that Lulu fell in love with him for.

Lulu had other ideas, mostly on how Russell’s jeans fit around his hips.

But what ever the causes of the two soul mates to find each other, neighbors and family knew it was a love affair of legends.

Just a thousand yards ahead, LucyMay clenched her teeth in frustration, she hated traffic. Unwilling to admit that driving was becoming more difficult for her, she would argue with everyone and anyone over the subject that her mind was as acute as it ever was. Which was true, but her body suffered from greatly diminished reflexes.

It was times like this that she never thought about the size and speed of oncoming traffic. She felt that her car was the speediest and safest on the road for a hundred miles in any direction.

An intersection on the highway nearly nine-hundred yards away, a dozen Harley-Davidson motorcycles waited to turn and merge with the flow of traffic. Riders waved at the couple and Russell waved back in the common show of solidarity of two-wheeled riders have everywhere.

Destiny awaited the players who were in play.

In space, from the photon point of view, the earth separated from a blueish speck to two specks of the moon and earth.

Time: T-Minus 35 Seconds.