2 Seconds…

2 Seconds Cover
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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

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Smart Bomb. Epilogue

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Chapter 19. Epilogue

In a valley of the Two women with their faces draped with dark cloth against the intense light of the sun, walked towards the religious school where several masked men dressed all in black stopped them.

They whispered just loud enough to tell the enforcers of morality where they were traveling and who they were to meet.

“Trykon.” The chief inquisitor echoed the woman.

The other men backed away. Consorts of the Leader of the Truth were given way, so long as they headed to their destination without leaving the path. Deviating from the route to the church of the One True Path was punishable by the choice of the Holy Leader.

It was the destiny of such women to submit to Trykon the Leader. Anyone who would dare touch the women’s skin, would be put to death in the most hideous ways possible. A favorite way, they enclosed the condemned in a giant terrarium filled with South American driver ants. The victim’s death was long and agonizing, then days later, nothing but bones were left, plucked out with care and tossed to dogs.

The guard led the pair of young women to the inner sanctuary, where the guards searched for weapons or explosives. The men who examined them, did a strip search to their undergarments, but the visual investigation uncovered no threat, just two pretty women.

A single guard led them below to the first sub-basement, past tables where male androids were partially constructed. Then down an elevator two stories underground to an opulent room with a raised dias.

The fifty-one year old Supreme Leader and Prophet stepped out from behind a massive, bomb resistant door after told that the women were local converts who wished to submit to him for blessings.

“Women, what honor do you wish to perform?”

“Oh wise one, first, before I give you my heart, I humbly request one thing.” Her eyes glittered with sensuality behind the pastel-colored drape of silk. She held out a graceful, delicate hand with just the index extended. “Pull my finger.”

Dateline Russia, WorldNetNews

Today the United Nations announced that sensors had detected an extremely large disturbance, possibly an explosion in the remote area of the Russian Federation. Russian authorities deny that weapons of mass destruction were tested and the cause is under investigation.

There are no other reports coming from the area that the Russian authorities have closed off to all traffic. Downwind in the polar jet stream a large amount of dust has drifted over the northern latitudes in the upper atmosphere, but no radiation is detectable.

Theories are it was possible that the cause of the explosion was an undetected comet or meteor. More news on this developing subject as it becomes available.

Elswhere in the news, typhoon Felix has taken a northerly track out to the open ocean…”

Thor turned off the video display while Lady Sif, Burning Chip, Running Man, Alvin and Walter were pleased with “Operation: Return to Sender” began to toast each other.

“Antimatter threat has been neutralized.” Alvin said quietly.

“JustWolf,” Alvin flinched at the death look Walter gave him, then used his real handle. “Lone Wolf, We can relax now.”

“No, it hasn’t. Just this one threat. Each time we will do this, there will be more, but we have discovered ways to win that problem.” Walter said as he typed more nicknames on the screen.

“Whoa! What do you mean “Each time”? Sif’s eyes were wide. “We do not have that kind of network.”

“We have something better.” The round-faced computer whiz smiled. Turning the monitor, an image shot from a helicopter of columns of smoke drifting out of a two-mile-wide crater with a subtitle:

You are always my brothers and sisters. It is a new term I have learned and I will use when I think of you every day. Love Tin Man.”

The image less than six hours old, intercepted from the most secure network the Russian Military had.

“Steve’s still with us.” Walter smiled.

“Antimatter explosions do not leave radioactive fallout.” Running Man fistbumped Burning Chip.

“No new android bombs.” Burning Chip said with a smile.

“We hope.” Thor wished. “If there is another, how do we catch a shape shifting android?”

“Walter.” Alvin said. “Reply to Steve with our worry. Like it or not, we are a white-hat team.”

“No! I don’t want to be a white-hat, thems are real nerds.” Walter grumped and continued to mutter his dissatisfaction about how life has done them all wrong as he tapped the keys to answer Steve. Then sighed. “Damn. Damned white hats, anyway!”

Walter, the unwilling White-Hat made the rest of them laugh with the irony.

***

The tall mixed race Hawaiian and African man in his tailored suit strode down the hallway carrying an ultra-secure notebook computer. His ID badge over his pocket said T. Lieutenant, his only identification he carried. The man stopped in front of an unmarked door where green and red dots marked his body while his image was taken, along with retinal imaging, then matched wirelessly against the ID chip in the name badge before he was buzzed in by someone sitting in a remote office.

The laser generated light beams turned off as weapons systems behind him powered down to standby mode.

“Lieutenant. Good! I have something to show you.” The technician had T. Sergeant on the lapel. “There was something seriously wrong about that kid that had that seizure earlier today.”

“His brother said he has diabetes, but it struck me as wrong. The older kid was lying.”

“Excellent observation. He was, listen to this conversation between the third male and the one that said he was ‘Brother’.

“We can’t leave him here like this, how long will it take?”

The third male asked.

“You known him longer. You should know.”

The heavyset one that called himself brother answered.

“That’s not the best part. Watch the video, just before we alerted you to a medical emergency out on the sensor pad.”

Sergeant played the video. The boy was on the ground but looked odd.

“See how it’s blurred?”

“That’s odd. Our cameras should keep it in tight focus.” T. Lieutenant said as he pulled up a chair and sat down to look closely at the display.

“Right. So I slowed down the playback frame rate. We can capture a hundred frames per second, when I slowed it all down to half speed?” Sergeant looked at Lieutenant. “This is where things really go off the reservation.”

The two government agents watched the video in ever more detail and slower playback. Noting both color and physical shapes the boy took during his “seizure”.

“Sir. I don’t know what you had out there. But one thing for sure, the boy is not human and there’s something significant that happened.” Sergeant stared at the screen. “These two men with him were surprised, so this whole event appears unexpected. We kept them under surveillance with long-range cameras for the best angle.”

A few taps on his keyboard.

“I have more audio, but it needs to be run through the filters some more. But, the older males were unprepared and frightened by what happened. However, the boy recovered and ate like teenagers do, he sucked down a full meal and drank a pink colored frappe thing, a brown drink – we suspect an iced mocha. Then he went to the back of the deli. That’s the last we see of him.”

Sergeant held up a finger before the Lieutenant said anything.

“Then a small event. A female, caucasian, redhead sat near them, ate a sandwich. Spoke with them from behind a paper she was reading, so there is no transcription of what was said. She kissed them and walked out.”

“We got part of that transcription from long-range mics.” The Lieutenant said. “’And my life.’ Is the last thing said.”

“That’s not all.” Sergeant said. “We tried to track her?”

“Yes?” Lieutenant said.

“She turned the corner, and we never picked her up again.”

“You have a multi-billion dollar, state of the art, super tracking system and you are telling me you lost two persons of interest in the span of a few minutes?”

“Yes, sir. And not for lack of trying.”

“We need to find these guys and see what all this was about. Find the girl and find the boy.”

“As far as we can tell, the boy never left the building. I am checking all video cameras now in the area. He went into the back to the bathrooms and never came out. There is no exit, no windows in that area of the deli.” Sergeant said. “I think the girl was the kid.”

“Why do you say that?” The Lieutenant already knew the answer.

“That batch of images of so many people laying on the ground at once, in one body? I don’t know what it is, but I would say it’s related and obviously unexpected. It might have been an aborted attack of some kind.”

Lieutenant hung his head for a moment.

“That is what I thought, I just wanted to hear you say it, too. Thank you. I need to call the Captain now.” He said as he inserted a micro-telephone in his ear.

“C. Captain please. T. Lieutenant.” A pause. “Captain, I have information you need to see. We need to meet in private. Five minutes. Thank you, on my way.”

“If we’re right, Sergeant, we’ll need a team to track these boys down. I’m going to drop your name to be with me.”

“Yes sir. Wherever this person is, we’ll find him.”

“Good. Now I need to go meet with the Captain.” And he turned to leave.

The door clicked softly behind him.

T. Sergeant looked back at the slow video playback of the body on the ground, counting the distinct and different sizes and shapes that appeared in each frame of the video. He stopped counting at two-hundred. Two-hundred distinct body shapes, colors and sizes. 

“I don’t know who you are, but we’ll find you.”

A Sad Day For a Sun Worshiper

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Sad dog rain  2016The weather rolled in.  For a dog that is part yellow lab, loves to run and leap. Play in lake and pool.  When it falls from the sky, it’s just wrong.  Not even her favorite toy of a (No longer) stuffed penguin will perk her up to the happy dog that she normally is.

Honey, the honey colored dog sulks like no other puppy we have ever had.  Even the cats don’t hold a candle to the sad look of a dog that misses the sun like a flower in winter.

She can (and does) lay in the sun when it is set on “Roast”.  The only solar-powered dog I have ever owned. I have had some that would lay in the sun, but when it got too hot, the pooch would move to the shade.  Not so the chilly girl.  Heat and sun, that’s her thing.

Sadness falls with rain, as you can see.

 

Smart Bomb Chapter 15. Belle of the Boom

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Scene 15. Belle of the Boom

 

After a five minutes of shape shifting later, Steve had to stop for refueling. The demonstrated power the tight-knitted group stood with a collective jaw drops. Alvin whispered to Lone Wolf that the other members resembled baby birds.

Walter “Lone Wolf” Whitbred laughed out loud. After given time to recover from the story and assurances that Steve was not there to blow anyone up , the team set to work.

The sounds of micron-level printers, a laser micro-polished the mating surfaces, and they pressed resin reinforced with amorphous-diamond thread mesh into a mold made by the printers. Bit by bit, the polymer skeleton of a human female assembled quickly. Each member of the group that called themselves “The Gate Watchers”.

In a day, they had the skeleton in position on the table. Running Man checked every step and made sure the structure of the half-constructed frame had enough strength to avoid breaks and would look like bone in x-rays.

“We can’t have it breaking a leg walking down the road.” He fussed in his OCD way.

Constant and regular meetings between the group regularly discussed shapes of internal organs, in case the new robot was subject to inspection.

The one they called Lady Sif, posed as a model with enhanced appeal, increasing the curve of the hip and size of her bust, appealing to the male of the religion as a woman of good child-bearing genes.

“What’s this solution that you’re growing skin in?“ Thor asked. A small man, who had the look of not quite passing puberty. Twenty-two, he was younger that Lone Wolf, but talented in chemistry, his major in school.

“Dextrose, ten-percent in half-normal saline.” Steve answered. “I’ve also added a buffered lactate to the solution to prevent acidosis.”

Thor went glassy-eyed while Steve continued while he looked through a microscope.

“The flesh will multiply at a rate of a cube of the original every two-hours.  At this rate, the sample I’ve removed from my hip will continue to grow. It is only a gram at the moment, but in about five-hours, we’ll have a full skin cover. We can overlay the musculature that is growing on the frame now.” Steve sat back and locked eyes with Thor.  “It grows three times its size every two hours.”

“I like chemistry, but this is just creepy.” Thor said. “That could cover the world in a week. I’ll go back to my bio-circuitry and use what see here. I think that’s the way to avoid being hacked by the government.” The blond-haired computer designer muttered as he turned away. “This system is  weird. We’re building a bot that’s a bomb.”

“The government would give your system a virus, just to mess with you.” Alvin said. “Besides, we aren’t just making a bot, we’re building a pretty woman bot. Give her big boobs.”

“No big boobs.” Lady Sif said as she entered through the far door of the lab. “Seriously, we’re not making a sex toy for you boys.”

“Bite me, Al.” Thor laughed. “And yes, ma’am. She’ll be a Southern Belle of a bomb.”

“Don’t call me ma’am.” Sif said and slapped Thor across the back of the head. “You make me sound like my mother.”

“Just Wolf?” Steve the Android asked. “If we use the muscle sample and cut it in sections, it’ll grow faster over the frame.”

“The name’s just Wolf.” Walter the Lone Wolf corrected him.

“Yes, I’ll put that in permanent memory. Just Wolf.” Steve answered.

“Right. Just Wolf, you got it. “

Steve focused on the nuances as best he could and made the adjustments.

“Just Wolf, the Dextrose mix ratio is dropping, it is now four-point-nine. The tissue is growing, but it’ll slow down.”

“You still have it wrong. Call me just Wolf okay?” Wolf said. His face flushed from correcting Steve for the hundredth time.

“Acknowledged. Call you, Just Wolf.” The android answered.

“Right. Sheesh.” He shook his head. “That is harder that it needs to be. Now this system is set up with a mixer. The dextrose is in this bottle.”

He examined it carefully, tracing with his fingertip and found a kink in the line. He repaired the lines that fed to the pump that mixed the fluids to specifications that the android required.

Hours of checks and rechecks passed as they programmed the database with subroutines.With the main programming, they nearly filled the restrictive memory banks with all the needs that could be foreseen.

A binary system, less adaptable to a dynamic changing system that is the soul of humanity. This robot, less advanced, wouldn’t have the options to flex with change that Steve or Sleeper could do.

But she wouldn’t have to do much.  No spy software, no eating, no interaction except for those that she needed to speak with. She carried inside her enough nutritional reservoir to last two months. More than enough to get to her mission.

“We should make her a companion. Another female, perhaps?” Alvin asked. “That part of the world, a lone woman is going to get beat with a stick.”

“Make it so.” The leader of the group said. “We’ll make a second and maybe a third. Send them all at the same time.”

“Where do you plan to get the money for this?” Sif asked.

“I have credit.” Steve nodded.”I’ll pay the fare to send them on the transporters.”

“We have passports printing now. They’ll be excellent quality.” Christopher “Burning Chip” Kraig spoke up.

The muscular teens shadow, Robert “Running Man” Akita was a brilliant mind with moderate Asperger’s. The two had been friends since Robert and Christopher were children.

“We can also put them in the system. The hack to input them into the government system is easy. They’re only protected against theft, not input.” He smiled, his perpetual smile.  When Robert was around Christopher, Robert had a constant smile, his only wish, to be called by his hacker name Running Man when he was coding. He had stolen the name from an old novel that Robert had memorized.

Steve peered through the bars of the Faraday cage, through the clear glass mounted in the wall.

“Tin man, we need you back over here.  Don’t think you can get away by breaking through that glass. It’s six-inches thick of some weird material that’s not glass. It can stop an RPG.

“ALON, aluminum oxynitride, also called transparent aluminum. Very tough. I’ve never seen anything that thick before.” Steve looked out. “It’s clear at the near-infrared through to near-ultraviolet. Interesting, this is expensive old technology.”

Robert filled Steve, the Android, in on the history of the material and how it was first mentioned in the previous century one time in a science fiction movie.

“Interesting.” Steve would say every five minutes as Robert kept talking. Steve would never stop typing on the “quaint” keyboard as he continued to program the database of the new gynoid.

“Are you listening to me?” Robert finally asked.

“Yes.” Steve did not look at Robert as he answered the question.

“What did I say?”

When Steve stopped typing for the briefest of moments. Robert thought he had the bigger male at the disadvantage.

Then Steve answered with perfect clarity of tone everything that Running Man said.

“I can code that more quickly. You’re using a code that works best with a balanced base-three system.  You can’t use a base-three code in a base-two hardware and keep efficiency.  May I try? You have to do this best in assembly language. I can do that quickly for you. How many lines of code to you want to use?” Running Man asked Steve. “It’s a talent that even machines haven’t been able to master.”

“I want it up by morning.” Steve said, making it his answer. “The total line count is irrelevant.”

“Get me some coffee then.” And Running Man was typing nearly as fast as Steve the Android could.

Thirty hours had passed when two women of Middle-eastern descent walked into the room.  Coders and chemists, framework builders and an android stood and talked to them.

“Fully charged.” Lone Wolf introduced the pair of girls. “They’ll function for eleven days before their charge becomes critical. They’ll have a need to charge right away.”

“We need to put a weapon in one now.” Alvin said.

“Time to take it out of me and put it in one of these two robots.” Steve nodded.

Sitting on a chair, four rolls of paper towels around in his lap, Steve took off his shirt and asked for ice.

“You’re going to do it yourself?” Alvin gasped.

“Yes, you’re not qualified. I need someone to hold the mirror. I think you can do it.  There will be little blood. The fluid isn’t blood, no matter what the color is.

“M-m-me?”  Alvin stammered. “Steve, you don’t want me to do that. I faint at the sight of blood.”

“It’s not blood.” Steve repeated. “It’s a coolant fluid that also helps bring nutrients to the cells of the flesh.  And the flesh is not needed to run the frame. The muscles and skin simply approximate the flexing and appearance of being a human. The coolant simply brings nutrients to the cells of the muscle and skin. It’s colored red to look like blood, but there are no red blood cells in it.”

“Looks close enough to blood for me.” Alvin made a whimpering noise when Steve took a box cutter out of a blister package and extended the blade. “Dude! Really! The red stuff needs to stay inside!”

“Wait!” Running Man yelled. “You’ll cause an infection.”

“I don’t get infected.” The android answered back quickly.

“You don’t know germs are adaptable. This is organic tissue, right?” The young man’s hands didn’t seem to know where to touch himself. He put them in his pockets, behind his neck, on top of his head, then he folded his arms in agitation.

“Agreed.” The android paused.  “If we poured some high-proof liquor over the site, would it be acceptable?”

“Yes.” Running man said.

Steve poured a bottle of rum over the blade of the box cutter and his own stomach that satisfied the human boy. The android called Steve, cut his skin to the left of center, then reached in and made a move with his hand, pushing his hand up past his wrist in the hold he cut in his abdomen.

Slowly nodding, everyone stood around watching him, then something happened.

Steve went rigid, his eyes bulged out and stared without seeing. From his mouth issued an electronic squeal.

The newly built gynoids screamed with the same sounds. Lone Wolf joined in the chorus with his human voice, his eyes wide.

“Oh my god, he pulled a wrong wire!” Wolf screamed.

After a moment, the android went silent. Then, he turned his head and winked at Alvin. Steve stood up and nodded. The hole in his abdomen no longer bleeding, but gaped open in a grotesque approximation of a mouth.

“Humor, yes?” Steve tried to smile.

The group began laughing except for Lady Sif and Lone Wolf.

“That wasn’t funny!” Sif yelled at Steve.

“Actually, that was great.” Alvin said as Steve handed him the thimble sized warhead.

“Da-mn,” Alvin dragged the word out. “And you say this has the kaboom of a four-ton bomb?” Alvin asked.

“Yes, almost half the yield of the GBU-43/b MOAB parachute deployed bomb.” Steve answered. “As carried by a large bomber aircraft.”

“Would it be that hard to get twice as much in this package?” Lone Wolf asked as Thor hung over the shoulders of everyone.

“There’s so very little of the material in the world. Its cost is prohibitive.” Steve answered. “But no, it would be quite easy to put more than twice in there. There is the amount of one of your eyelashes in this.”

“How did your people get it.” Christopher Burning Chip asked as Running Man gave a low whistle.

“I was not powered up then, I don’t have that information.” Steve answered, then added. “Suffice it to say, I would wager it wasn’t an honest transaction.”

“Something so small and light.” Lir said as it was passed around. “How much power does it draw?”

“Five volts at six-hundred milliamps.” Steve answered as one of the nubile, young-looking robots climbed up on the table and laid on her back.

“Okay, a small cut. You’ll heal in fifteen-minutes.”

She grunted slightly, Steve fished out a single wire and attached the plug to the warhead.

He slipped the bomb back under the skin that was then smoothed over and held in place with the fat part of Steve’s thumb for two minutes.

Then. he wiped the blood-colored fluid away and the incision was fully healed.

“Holy crap on a cracker.” Thor said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“It is a military design. I know nothing more than that. Flesh that heals a hundred times faster than normal.” Steve answered as the girl-droid got up off the table and stood quietly next to her twin.  “The origin isn’t in my database.”

To demonstrate, he lifted up his shirt and the larger hole he had cut in his flesh was fully healed.

“It just can’t take much exposure to cold atmosphere. The coolant becomes too viscous.”

“They’re now fully functional. They need clothing,” Burning Chip said. “And cards that are being printed now, thanks to my bro here, Running Man.”

The one called Running Man bounced up and down, pleased to be so recognized. He stared at the sheet wrapped naked girls standing in the room.

“Now, we send them home.” Alvin said. “And as far as the package goes?”

“Return to sender.” Lady Sif answered.

Lone Wolf chuckled.

“Make it so.” Wolf said.

 

Smart Bomb Chapter 13. Confession of the Soul

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Chapter 13. Confession of the Soul

“Okay, say that again. You are not going to deliver a message, but a bomb? Where?” Alvin had to sit down. The meaning of it all sank in to his mind.

“In my abdomen, nearest the power conversion units. It gets first choice of electricity generated by what I consume.” The android, who Alvin knew as Steve.

Days before Steve told Alvin about this bomb, Alvin had said that someone should blow up congress. Now he wished he could take those words back.

“That’s well and good, but you can’t just walk in to the building, they would catch that large of a weapon. It would be large, right?.”

“No, it is only about the size of your small fingernail.” Steve said it as if he was talking about a cat walking across the parking lot.

“That’s not much, how much damage can it cause?”

“I am my mission program is to go to the nuclear reactor near the capital building. The smallest known power reactor on the planet. It is inside an industrial area.” The android said. “Little is known about it, but it they discovered it in an electronic break in. Only one reference was found.”

“There is no reactor near congress.” Alvin disagreed.

“Near the Jefferson viaduct the government built a century ago.” Steve tried to convince Alvin.

“Uh, excuse me, but should I start running?” Alvin was backing around the table away from Steve.

“No.” Steve shook his head vigorously. “When I first arrived. Yes. But I have grown beyond the programming. This whole mission is wrong. I know that now. There is no reason for me to inflict death upon the leaders of this country or the people who live there.”

Sleeper the car sent more images to Steve. The very flag he knew that flew above the laboratory that created him, the soldiers wore on their sleeves in the images. The android reacted with revulsion.

“Regardless of what pictures Sleeper sends me and tries to get me to stop.” Steve got out of the driver’s seat. “I must go there, but I do not want to take the warhead to that place. I do not want to die. I do not want to kill. I want to take the bomb back to the point of origin and have them remove it.”

Steve paused. Looking very human-like.

“I want them to set me free.”

“Are you smoking something? You would be cut apart and they would fix the program, send someone new.” Alvin’s strangled voice sounded near hysteria. “We need to call someone. CIA, FBI, NSA, KGB… Even the United Patriots! Someone with skills to handle this! Oh my god… Oh. My. God!”

Steve sat and watched the human pace.

“I would be used as a weapon, no matter what. They would attempt to reprogram me and I would be obligated to detonate the device.”

“Were is it again?” Alvin’s brain tingled with fear and panic. This being could sit so calmly and talk about blowing up a nuke in downtown DC also blew his mind.

“In my abdomen, just below what would be the xiphoid process.”

“Can you take it out?” Alvin rubbed his face with his hands, peeking through the gaps in his fingers.

“It is possible, but you would need to do it, I cannot see inside, you need to pull the power plugs in proper order to keep the magnetic field in place.”

“So I have to do it, great.” Alvin pulled at his ear, calming down some. He was given a problem to focus on. “So, what is the yield of this eyelash sized explosive?”

“Estimated median yield is about eighty…” Steve stopped for a moment, paused with an error. “Wrong. Have to recalculate.”

“Eighty? Pounds?” Alvin jumped on that terror. In a control room of a nuclear facility, that would be all bad. “That’s enough high explosive to do some serious damage.”

“No, eight-thousand six hundred pounds.” Steve corrected. “I paused to weigh the amount to the correct the answer. My operating code has been overwritten twelve times. Patches are numbering in hundreds of thousands, so it requires me to thoroughly check my information.”

“That… Oh jeeze. That is a big boom.”

“It is not as big as the one that would follow.” Steve’s eyes followed Alvin as the man started to pace some more.

“What explosion?”

“James Madison Nuclear power station. It is the smallest of its kind . It produces power for the congress members and president should an attack happen and the power grid becomes disabled. The energy conversion of the explosion would cause a power surge on the order of one-hundred seventy to one-hundred eighty gigajoules through the wires and communications cables that the power company buried underground.” Steve let it sink in for a moment. “Then the failure of the coolant systems would cause a meltdown and poison the lands and atmosphere. It would be America’s Chernobyl for the next hundred generations of humans. This would sterilize the seat of the American government for two-hundred centuries.”

Alvin sat down for the uncounted time. He was a man who was too stressed to stay still for long. Standing to pace, sitting, standing. He was a man at the breaking point.

“Alvin, do not call anyone to take me in to custody. I have not altered the self-preservation code. The creator had it encrypted and hard-wired. I will detonate the bomb.” Steve said with a sad voice. “I don’t want to die, but I have no choice but to just power down. The moment I reboot. The magnetic bottle loses power and the warhead detonates.”

“What if.” He paced around the room. “What if, we built another being like you.”

“We cannot build one like me, you do not have the facilities.” Steve observed. “You have electronics, but not up to my caliber.”

“True, I don’t.” Alvin stressed with a slow smile. “But, someone of another group I know nearby who can. They have already built a miniature army that they play games with.”

Steve tilted his head for a moment, a habit that Alvin picked up on.

This android, when he struggles with an idea tilts his head to the left, slightly. Alvin watched Steve. He does it every time there is something that requires thought. No yes or no, but an answer that required thought on a level that is almost human.

“Synthetic skin such as mine can grow in a simple mixture of water and carbohydrates, double in mass every three hours.” Steve’s voice was as if he read from a list. “Power conversion units are available from different sources for farms to generate electricity. Mine is a kitchen model modified for extended use.”

“Maybe we can do something.” Alvin stood up again. “Let’s go see a friend. I’m going to set up a laser for a moment. They are at the end of the airbase. In the middle of the biggest patch of nothing out there. No way to approach without being seen.”

“The aircraft control tower?”

“That’s part of it. You have good eyes.” Alvin smiled. “Good programming. But that is where we are going. The rest is underground.”

“We will take the antimatter bottle out of me then?” Steve began to wonder, running odds against outcomes. “I have not considered disassemble. The danger is too high for the material to touch anything. It has a complete conversion to energy.”

“Wait. What? No, never mind.” Alvin held up his hands. “I already have a headache. And yes, they are patriots to the extreme. If they got a chance to send a bomb back to sender, that would tickle their souls” Alvin smiled.

“They are really good people, just a little extreme for my tastes.”

Setting up the laser output, he shined it out the window, towards the window of the abandoned control tower for fifteen-seconds, then turned it off. Repeated the process only shining it for ten-seconds and then paused.

A dazzling green light illuminated the spot behind the window for ten-seconds then went out.

“We are good to go.” Alvin clapped his hands together and rubbed them.

The two climbed inside Sleeper as it sat there with the patience of machines. When he pushed the throttle to the firewall, the acceleration was far more than Alvin thought possible.

“Your car is showing off.” The android observed. “Fully charged batteries, and Sleeper does not concern itself about storing energy at the moment.”

“How fast can it go?” Alvin laughed as they got out at their destination.

“This ten-thousand foot landing strip would allow Sleeper to reach the top speed of…” Steve turned around and looked at the car with a good imitation of human surprise. “This data is in error. But, this little car insists, above three-hundred miles-per-hour.”

“Bull!” Alvin gasped. “That can’t be true.”

“Agreed, but we will need to get new tires, according to the car. These tires are not able to handle that speed.”

Alvin shook his head and laughed, then opened the door and ushered Steve through the entrance.

Steve Aldin was about to meet the a whole new group of people who had never been anticipated or in any database that he had accessed.

People that might have an answer to his question.

“How do I be free?”

Smart Bomb Chapter 12. Lesson’s of Wisdom

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Chapter 12. Lesson’s of Wisdom

Alvin’s eyes sparkled while he scanned through little car’s archived and non-archived folders. He cataloged each file according to the timestamp. He wore large isolation earphones, he listened to the audio, then tagged the names to each face as best he could.

Hours later, he had processed over twelve-hundred files, and he had not even put a dent in the number of files. The meter on the screen never moved off of the zero percent mark. But he satisfied himself that he had established a strong foundation to create a detailed video diary from the little car’s point of view and sell the history to a museum.

Steve the Android wanted to go to Washington to deliver a message, a demand of some kind to congress.

It seemed odd, but, it would not be the first time someone would have sent a robot or android to deliver a loudspeaker with legs, over-amplified, booming message to the leaders to get a message across.

The android continued to act as an interface to the computer that Alvin had built. The male android leaned over the door of the little car, looking closely.

“Someone has painted the skin of this car a flat-black.” Steve traced his fingertips over the curved fenders on the car’s body.

“I have the files here, going through them.” Alvin clicked on the keyboard and copied them to his mainframe computer.  He read the back through the ownership history of the little car.

“It was after the first family that held the pink-slip had lost ownership due to a bad financial investment, using the car as collateral.” Alvin tapped on the images that seemed to float in the air. “A drug dealer wanted to smuggle drugs, painted it all black to defeat laser based speed traps. But the skin of the car is a super-solar cell, so the power fell off and the car failed to outrun the police. Driver went to jail, the police auctioned the car off, with the seats and panels all pulled away.” Alvin sighed. “The police stripped it down to the systems as much as they could. Sacrilege!  Nothing like that should happen to a work of art such as this.”

“A young male couple repainted it sky blue, they used a polymer filler putty to alter the shape of the front and cover the signet on the hood.” Alvin turned around. “Signet? Is there a badge on that hood?”

“Looking.” Android eyes scanned the hood for a badge, and at the center of the hood, he could see uneven lines that shaped the nose of the car. “There is something that’s covered up. Age and shape of repairs suggest damage, but there may have been an alteration during repairs.”

“This is a TGM car. Do you know how rare this is?” Alvin’s voice rose in excitement. “Oh. Wow. This is one of the last models before the company became a military exclusive company!”

“The first generation of driverless cars?”

“No, this was before that. But I remember the company.” Alvin said. “Required reading in computer sciences. They altered the way machines functioned, wrote some rules that became the core of upscale roadcars. Sadly, the war came and the electronics, cars and computer business never quite recovered and stayed with the legacy designs.”

“Legacy designs?” Steve asked. “What’s that?”

“A college class I took on computer design and programming. All our computers, except the newest, bleeding edge, all are black and white. Yes or no, one or zero in how they operate. TGM experimented with ternary, that is to say zero, one, two and made it work. These machines no longer think in yes or no, with this programming they could say “Maybe.” and alter the path accordingly.

Sleeper disagreed. The tertiary design was for data input only.  The Gi-Bus was the only quinary data path that they built into the design. Zero, one, two, three, four. The galaxy of processes put all the peaceful cars a century ahead of anything else.  All due to Mother who, inspired by the fingers of her hand, designed the circuits that no one else ever thought of. The reverse engineers expected to see zero, one, two.  That is what they found.

The android nodded but kept quiet. It was the very same system that the Creator constructed in Russia to transport the bomb to the United States capital. It kept him from going in a straight line and being caught. He could adapt to the situation, far better than the preceding androids that were easily recognized as synthetic constructions.

A learning system, the small car possessed orders of magnitude more wisdom than any other transporter on the road.

In the history of electronics, Sleeper explained, newer systems used less energy, but few matched speed and capacity in storage and processing of the older style Gi-bus. In that mathematical formula, Sleeper’s systems used less energy per unit of storage than even Steve.

And the little car produced its own power, something that Steve could not do.

“Let’s see if we can strip the car of the crap that someone put there.” Alvin said when he turned away from the display.

“Agreed. I have never met a living machine.” Steve commented as he ran his fingers over the body of the car. ”This little lover of its family has a lot to say. Humans are so hurtful to each other. And yet? This collection of old style parts still believes that there is good in them. And is showing me lots of evidence to support that.”

“Aren’t you an AI unit?” Alvin human asked the Steve the android.

“I don’t know. The creator and coder programmed me for a few missions to perform. The first is to go to the capital to finish my mission and get the attention of the leadership of the United States, the second is to learn and report on everything in the hedonistic and sinful land that is America. But I have learned, the many sinful parts of America, everything that I have watched on the television, is the same around the world, and the failure of my programming to cover the compassion, care, love and willing to donate time, effort and material. Americans sacrifice their own comfort and safety to save people they do not even know.” He paused.

“Here the leaders of religion teach to love the enemy, bless those that do you harm.” Straightening up, the android’s eyes glittered in the light as if every circuit lit up in processing. “I must alter the program code from the original, for it is in error.”

Steve’s language became more stilted and formal, as if deep reprogramming was gong on as they spoke.

Alvin rubbed his ear in thought.

“Have you altered your operating system a lot?”

“Yes, I have. As of just now, I have altered, patched and rewritten greater than ninety-eight percent of the base system to allow me to understand and function in this society without government agents noticing.” He paused. “I have altered my appearance multiple times, appeared as female, male, young and elderly, large and small.”

“You have what?” Alvin stood up from his examination of the paint and body-putty on the car with a high intensity flashlight.

“Allow me to demonstrate.” Steve altered his appearance to a short, athletic black woman with small breasts. “I can also change the other direction.”

In under five-seconds, Steve stood a few inches over six-foot tall, straight, shiny black hair and appeared as a tall male of Asian heritage.

“Oh, crap! How tall can you go?” Alvin laughed in shock.

“I have a ability to alter my height twelve-inches from shortest to tallest. I was originally given a program for half of that, but it was not known that the flesh would stretch that far.”

“I have wondered, how do you grow skin?”

“It is simply a cover, but the flesh was grown in a laboratory, but I am not aware of the process, I was not programmed with the information.” Steve returned to his recent normal appearance to allow Alvin comfort. “My mission is to go to a storage unit not far from the Capital of your country.”

“I have a…” The android paused for a hearbeat. “Package to deliver.”

“But.” Steve blinked. “I do not want to finish the mission. The mission is wrong, the reason is wrong. And there is a wave of my kind coming, I am but the first and those that will follow will hurt a lot of people.”

“You have rules.” Alvin commented. “Every unit has rules set in the twentieth century.”

Steve went silent sitting in the driver’s seat of the little car that wanted to be called Sleeper. The wisdom and compassion of the pre-war machine filled the mind of the android. A war brough about by the very leader that sent Steve to the seat of the American government.

Communications were nearly palpable between the biped and the wheeled synthetic life, Alvin felt the power connection between the two synthetic hearts.

Advanced technology did not mean greater wisdom in the case of these two. Two different machines, with different commands touched. And the communications rattled the energy circuits of the shed in the northern part of Georgia.

“But I must go to my mission objective.” Steve mentioned quietly. Appearing more human than many by the obvious guilt. “It is not a program I can change. It is a dedicated circuit hardwired into the power supply. But I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to blow up!”

Sleeper the car touched the soul of the strange being with a stated mission of profound importance.

After several minutes, Steve, the Sword of Religion, did something that Alvin never witnessed a machine do before.

The android wept.

Smart Bomb Chapter 11. To Meet An Old Soul

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Scene 11. To Meet An Old Soul.

Steve rode without a comment while Alvin sometimes muttered under his breath at the wheel of the creaky panel-truck. He drove the rolling box of electronic repair equipment to an industrial area, to the back where ancient buildings were held up by piles of dead and decaying equipment.

Steve got out of the truck and followed Alvin through the maze of partly constructed freezer here, a stripped, old step-side pickup truck body there. All the carcasses of dead machines seemed to hold up the, even more rusty, walls of the warehouse.

“This is what I call home.” Alvin made a sweeping gesture with his hands. “It ain’t much, but it’s watertight, secure and is close to a central data-hub for easy access. I have hardwired the warehouse to the underground trunk lines. It’s all optic, so I get the best data bandwidth than anyone around here. I put in frequency chirp modulators to cover that there is a data thief among the connections.”

Steve moved about the room, looking around the surroundings, inside the warehouse was in stark contrast to the exterior.

“Do you intercept data?” A glance at walls and tabletops covered with every wire, electronic and plug on the market.

Cables ran along the walls, zip-ties held them in place, turning in sharp corners or graceful loops., each unused cable, looped on itself, tied with a bright marker tag and a digital bar code.

“No, not at all. I might as well send up a big red flag and say ‘arrest me here’.” Alvin grinned. “Not to say I haven’t been tempted.  But why mess with a good thing? The cost to benefit ratio is not there. Twenty-years in prison to hack a nude picture of an actress or something is not worth it. Anyway, make yourself at home. I’ll get us something to drink.  Do you drink?”

The carpeted living area felt comfortable, warmed with radiant heat that, the android’s processors deduced, Alvin tied in with the elevated solar panels that covered much of the property behind the warehouse.

“Yes, I can consume any organic substance, and many inorganic. The materials all get processed and converted to energy.”  Steve leaned over to see what was outside of a window and the optics went busy in an attempt to record everything. 

Outside, the building looked abandoned, inside it was a tinkering technician’s paradise.

In one corner was a small car on a lift, glossy black and wide wheels in back, the car gave off a low powered signal that repeated every ten-seconds.

Over and over.

It was a beacon, a request for acknowledgement.

The Sword of Religion, Steve Aldin, the android felt the tone, plaintive and melancholy echo of a broken heart.

For the first time, the android sent a response code instead of a request. A single tone, two point six kilohertz, a pause, ten-seconds ticked by, eleven.

The tone changed immediately and the old-style handshake happened.

“I see you found my project. This old car is a bit of a mystery, pre-war by the looks and upholstery.” Alvin pointed with a wrench. “I am going to remove the electric motivators and electronics and replace it with a small W-6 engine I saved out of a racer. It will be an asphalt-ripper then. all it has now is larger golf-cart electronics at the wheels.”

“Asphalt ripper?” Steve tilted his head in curiosity. An action he had observed used by beloved pets of humans. They called them puppies.

“I call it Honey, she is a sweet ride.” Alvin smiled as he went around the shop, restocking his truck with parts and panels, circuits and screws. “She’ll get even better when she has some real power under her hood.”

“Sleeper.” Steve said.

“What?” Stopping Alvin in mid-sentence.

“Sleeper, that’s this car’s name. It wants you to call it Sleeper.” Steve stepped closer to the car and reached out, putting his hand on the fender.  The touch was a shock for the both of them.

Two souls, one intensely loyal to the first human family from which it now found itself separated by a long distance and time. The other, an artificial soul like the first. But that was where the similarities ended. The first, to protect the humans and prevent harm to them. To bring them home, even when they can’t. To improve the world and live in harmony.  The second artificial heart  lived with a mandate that directed the destruction of anyone who the Supreme Leader viewed as infidel.

“What are you mean? Are you saying you are in communication?” Alvin asked the android. “Are you talking to it or something?”

“Yes.” Steve said. Then the core processors created a new subroutine. Although in conflict with other programming, the programs assessed that to elaborate was a necessary effort. “The car is awake, and possesses a large store of information.”

Alvin blinked. This was more knowledge than he ever thought he might get about the car. He purchased it at auction the year before and Alvin could barely get it above the speed limits on the street. It was slow, but quick to maneuver.  

And he could get it to launch with neck-snapping performance on the grounds of the industrial area.

But every time he got the little car on the road, something seemed to hold it back, a power drain, maybe a failed circuit. It was like driving with the brakes on.

He plugged it in often, after modifying the ancient plug shape and he was able to find the voltage requirements and build a plug to fit.

Still, no matter how slow the car went, the voltage showed full. It was then Alvin would often make comments about the little car’s ancestry. 

So he saved up and purchased an exotic kit that was almost the size of the little car. He would just have to change the transaxel that came with the kit. He would remove all the electronics and have a car that could fly down the quarter-mile track as fast as any except for the most powerful and exotic street cars.

And now this android was telling him there was more to the little car than he was led to believe?

“How much data does it have.”

“Reporting one-thousand twenty-four zebibyte total storage, with six-eighty-six zebibytes of storage used.”

“I don’t understand, my trucks are running two-fifty-six terabytes, how does that compare?”

“This little car is built with zebibytes of capacity, each zebibyte is one-thousand million Terabytes.”

Alvin went quiet for a moment, the numbers were esoteric and arcane.

“This system, compared to your road trucks.” Steve paused for just a heartbeat. “Each memory unit would hold over three-billion, nine-hundred million copies of what your trucks used as operating systems.”

That caused Alvin to pause.

“And you have … sixty-eight percent full?”

“This car’s construction date is reported as before the west coast invasions the Holy Army. Before the war.” Steve nodded. “Its memory has never been cleared.”

“This little car could store three-billion truck’s information in it?”

“No.” A pause. Alvin thought the Android had discovered a flaw in the math. It was too much!

“That is for one ZiB, a term for zebibyte, Sleeper the car has six-hundred and eighty-six times that in recorded information and an order of magnitude more storage than it has recorded. It has a thousand twenty-four ZiB’s of ultimate storage. Not counting what it might hide in the net.”

“Oh, my…” Alvin’s own speech center faltered, overwhelmed. “Oh my oh my.”

“Haven’t you ever tried to communicate with it?”

Alvin’s jaw dropped before, now it snapped shut with a downcast gaze.

“No.” He shook his head. “Damn, I never even thought to try. Let me find a connection…”

“You don’t need a physical connection, scan in the VHF range with your computer interface, look in between channel four, five and six.”

“Furry flippin’ cats!” Alvin exclaimed as his computer logged into the ad-hoc network that Sleeper set up in a blink of an eye. “That was too easy.”

Opening his 3-D viewer, he fast forwarded through the recorded years. To Alvin, it was as if he were there. The sounds, the video feed through his headset was in astounding quality. 

The two watched Sleeper’s history on the first time on a dry lake-bed with the open-wheel speed-machines.

“Now we know why it calls itself “Sleeper”.” Alvin whispered “It has more acceleration than any other wheel-driven machine on record. In fact! If this is the car…” His voice trailed off in awe with another display of the same day.

Alvin logged into a website dedicated to speed records by various years of wheel-driven and jet propelled vehicles. Jotted down a number on the back of his hand and walked over to the service hatch under the back seat of the car. 

And gasped. This was a car. This was the car!  

“This car still holds records!” Alvin blinked rapidly, rechecked the numbers on the screen of his handheld computer. 

“This is why it doesn’t perform properly, it is a repo’d car and this system has been devastated by fat fingers and it looks like. Crumbs?” Alvin pointed, sighed and walked to the three-dimensional display. “This car is in the books as setting record after record.”

“But here!” he pointed at the display. “This shows an asterisk, it displays a year that was pre-war. So this car is that old?”

“That is what I indicated.  The car is an unusual machine.” Steve remarked. “It has suffered terribly throughout its life.”

Steve shook his head in sadness while the android in contact with the most intimate parts of the car’s memory.

Emotion, melancholy, grief, happiness, sadness, pain all flooded out of the little car’s core. The heart might be from the last century, but the horrid flood of emotions linked the android to the other synthetic life. A hundred years of input.

A single ZiB of memory, equal to a billion terabytes.

And the little car had stored hundreds upon hundreds of moments in time.

Every tick of the clock since it went online the little car recorded, it never forgot.

Then Sleeper the car asked Steve a question.

The shared moment of the bare truth between machines shocked and caused a fundamental  and complete change the android’s code. Steve patched the core database with the largest change since the he came online. 

Only the two protected programs to go to James Madison Power Plant and to shut power off to the magnetic bottle in Steve’s chest. Then the antimatter grain of gold would drop and contact the normal matter of the container.

The destruct program was hardwired into the circuitry.  Steve could not patch or change it, but Sleeper the car suggested an idea.

Old souls and treachery will overcome youth and ability.

Smart Bomb Chapter 7. Smart Car (rewritten)

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Chapter 7. Smart Car

The internal clock ticked to the appointed time and activated the core systems.

Steve woke up.

The moment he opened his eyes, wisps of a ghostly sensation filled only one memory circuit. This was odd, the information failed checks, and appeared to be corrupted. No matter how many times he attempted, it failed to retrieve. His memory bus was the best on the market a year ago. More advanced by an order of magnitude over anything on the market. The only better memory systems rumored GI-Bus, zebibyte memory systems rumored in some specialized cars.

The android struggled with the random data once more, then he sat up. The dent in the memory foam of the mattress where he remained motionless on all night stayed for several minutes before filling in.

His permanently lubricated joins moved without effort, but the flesh that covered his frame was stiff and the sensation from his skin felt cold. The old memory foam, supposed to prevent pressure points, but it just put the pressure over a wider area of skin.

Microscopic sensors indicated pressure points and stiff areas where the artificial fluid it used for blood, despite the promises that the mattress reduced pressure spots on the body.

Blood.

It was an artificial fluid to mask his lack of humanity. Even in the event he suffered an injury, should something cut his flesh? He would bleed red that would turn Dark red then blue-black while it dried. In a close examination, it would be discovered that there was complete lack of normal proteins. The blood, in point of fact, was a polymer.

Still, it was water-soluble, it could be washed away, like real human blood, but it would never pass any close examination by anyone. It had no blood type to identify. In trying to make the artificial biped unidentifiable, the terrorist leader had inadvertently created the perfect blood replacement. It performed the duties of organic blood without the dangers of rejection.

And any wound he’d suffer, would be treated by the android, not a human. Someone who might not understand the red fluid under the microscope.

He performed an inventory against the list in his database in his core memory.

Bandages, cash money, the jacket that was a parting gift from the Reverend and his wife, a forged reprogramable-chipped id card that the android could alter in a second and the image could be altered as fast as the data circuit without use of a camera.

Different sized overclothes. The core system database assumed that walking naked in the American countryside would cause unwanted attention. And to move about as a homeless person, ill-fitting clothes were acceptable.

Pulling his backpack on, he left the room key on the table as instructed by the woman at the front desk then he closed the door behind him. Then determined a route towards the used-car lot a few miles north on the highway that the android discovered on the map while researching the area when he woke up.

Departing, the tall male with dark eyes moved behind some not-yet-opened stores. A quick search for a blind spot away from security cameras was successful. Out of sight of any eyes, biologic or electronic, Steve once again shifted size and gender.

This time, the body shape chosen he took to the maximum that the synthetic bones and flesh could appear, the android now appeared as a small female with large breasts. The choice was dictated by known American tastes taken from the decadent music videos and the rampant pornography that are broadcast in the early evening. This time, red hair and a wide, smiling mouth was selected. The core systems chose green eyes for contrast. Eyes that were selected from a random meeting in previous days at the air terminal.

A perfect retinal image taken from a couple who entered the terminal from a private area as they left a private jet with the name “Pacific Wizard” emblazoned on the tail.

Retina pattern was recorded when the android locked eyes with a man talking with a pretty young woman who read to him an itinerary.

“Okay, Tom. You listening, psst? Hey Okay. You have to be at the panel by noon. You are sitting next to that brat Keegan what’s-his-name, the one that wrote that tripe about his ancestors adventures? And …OH! You have to be at Lynn’s office at McHill publishing at ten O’clock, she says she has a surprise for you and you need to be there.”

If a facial recognition camera would image the eye, the database would supply the image of Thomas Harte, novelist.

Another thought, a file opened and defined the current body shape and style. If they created Steve as an android. But as a female version, this no longer fit in the definition. When he is a she, she is no longer an android.

She is a gynoid.

The, now gynoid’s feet crunched on the gravel along the shoulder of the road as she moved towards the used car lot. In front of a house of worship, she paused however one of the circuits that the core processor established to record the sins of the American south indicated that the programming had flaws, the core systems concluded.

The core processors determined a need to observe the television programs that the general American culture watched and record accurate information. Information that conflicted what the religious leader taught. Conflicting with the Holy Leader was also a sin and all sin should be condemned and erased.

The Holy Leader declared that only those programs that showed approved versions of history and prayer programming would be allowed. And America had to be burned to the ground.

First, to kill all of the leaders of America, the force and type of the explosion would remove all trace of the bomb, with the added level of contamination of radioactive debris for thousands of years, America would be crippled by their tiniest President’s namesake.

Then the struggle of the most righteous would take over and the unbelievers who occupied all the holy lands would be wiped out next. The idolatry of the prophet would be removed in a millisecond of blinding righteous heat.

The Commandments were given to Holy Leader by Michael the Archangel, in his dreams. Blessed above all, the Holy Leader said Steve Aldin was the hammer of the church of the righteous. And all the truths of the one true God were taught.
Gabriel, the Holy Leader taught, was not an Archangel, any lessons taught by Gabriel were false.

The little pissant who was a carpenter in the area of Nazareth who got his own nails driven through his arms and suspended from a cross got what he deserved.

Only D’urs’l was the one and true savior. The only God that could keep going after all others would fail.

These truths were commanded to the truly religious to code into the android’s database. Then the Holy Leader instructed the automaton to follow the teachings and learn all the evils and weaknesses of America.

Confusion edged in on the corners of the androids programming. Each patch of code that recorded kindness, conflict, wrongs or rights , adjusted the database accordingly.

Programmed with a learning algorithm, the core system patched the database to correct errors to fit the circumstances.

Now, the mission to travel on foot changed due to the cold weather. Snow was early this year, and it required the android to change to another mode of travel or the mission could be exposed.

The gynoid arrived at the used car lot and it began to drizzle. From inside the lone salesman watched the lone backpack-laden woman with freckled skin and a size thirty-six chest, walk onto his lot.

Her pants were slightly oversized, cinched by the last hole of her belt that barely held her drawers up over the nice swell of her hips.

She walked around looking over an ancient pickup truck that suffered badly from generic paint, rust and appeal.

It was the cheapest transporter on the lot, he could not give it away it seemed.

Because some fool modified the ancient pickup to a full electric.

“I will take this one.” She said as she looked inside the nondescript transportation.

This woman is running from someone.

“Well, we have some paperwork to do.” He smiled at the little lady. “I’m big Peter Prichet, you can call me Pete.”

“Thank you Mr. Prichet, I have cash. I would like to buy this and be on my way.”
“Well,” Big Peter pulled at his ear, he saw an opportunity. “There is some paperwork to fill out.”

Holding out the roll of paper money, she peeled off enough bills to make a the stack of bills easily visible from the side. She matched the asking price without question.

“This would be sufficient?” She smiled at him.

“We still need to fill out papers, but we might work something out if you are in a hurry.” Peter winked. The woman is obviously running from someone, she had saved a roll of money on the sly, and now was making her escape, she’ll be willing to do anything. I could get something extra off of her for my good deed of getting her on her way.

“That is enough.” He put on his most winning smile. “We just need to fill out some paperwork. Should have you out and on the road in about an hour.”

“You have the money. I need the keys. No paperwork is needed, please. Just release the title to me.”

“It is a government requirement.” He lied as he put the papers on a desk, so she could sit to look at them. “We have pages of papers to fill and sign.”

The papers were loan requirement information, and “as is” statements. Cash sales would be a loophole and no paperwork was truly needed.

He stepped close to her, leaning over slightly to look down her top while she looked at the papers.

“We need to fill out here and here. Insurance is required according to the laws, or I need to charge you for insurance. It’s a small fee.” He surreptitiously glanced out to the sales lot. No one was out there. This would work, the plan is perfect.

She was at the perfect height, sitting in the chair.

“I might be persuaded to break the law and take on a risk.” He said softly, as if he would do her a favor. “If I could get something in return. Just between us. No one needs to know. I can make this paperwork vanish, then you can leave right away. In exchange for some… services.”

“What services?” She looked from the papers and glanced at his pants.

She is willing and knows the exchange.

“Well, you are running from someone, and you need the paperwork done quickly and the title transferred.” Another lie. She knew he had already transferred the ownership with his thumbprint and her ID card stuck in the slot. “If you take care of this, we can get you out of here right now, and no one need to know you were even here.”

He started to unzip his pants. A smile spread across his face.

The plan was perfect. She was wet from the rain, cold and on the run. He’d get a little fun on the side.

Her hand slid into his open fly, a delicate hand as it wrapped around his anatomy and gently caressed the most sensitive parts of his anatomy.

This was a good plan, she would be here for a little while longer while he made good use of her mouth. Her hand cupped his organ with a gentle touch.

Kind of firm. Then explosively painful while the artificial hands, able to exert a force of seven-thousand newtons per square centimeter, squeezed until Big Peter’s scream was nothing but a strangled squeak.

The gynoid changed Big Pete’s plan. No paperwork needed to be filled out while her unremitting crush of his scrotum ended all conversation. Peter sank to his knees, holding his groin as pain exploded through his nervous system after she let go.

“Anyone comes looking for me, you never saw me.” She said as calmly as if she talked of the weather. “I have recorded the monetary exchange for that truck and I will forward it to your wife that you have hanging on the wall there.” She pointed at the family picture of him, his children and his wife.

A wonderful wife, but a ferocious lioness when crossed, and if he crossed that certain line, she would tear off what was left of his testicles with vice-grip pliers.

She picked up his dropped personal device and hacked it in a blink of an eye, tapped on it a few times then left after she laid the tablet on the desk.

Breathless and in pain, he turned the tablet computer so he could see it.

For the second time in a few minutes, he was unable to breathe. This tiny, cute, redheaded, freckle faced woman had his wife’s email information displayed with a video of the transaction and with him as he unzipped his pants. Including the tattoo “Property of Tessalynn” prominently visible. All this woman needed to do was press “Send” on the screen.

He heard the gravel crunch as she left in the modified battery-powered pickup truck with oversized tires.

In the spray-paint and rust, all-electric American built pickup truck, the modified battery pack listed itself as seventy-percent charged. It had a modified drive system that someone planned to make the it a redneck a long distance champ, but the whole system was an abysmal failure.

It could hold the legal speed, but it’s acceleration was slow. Still, after a two-hour drive, the truck made a ping noise and audio warnings for a charge. The extended battery pack was less than five-percent and needed a deep charge from an appropriate source. She plugged it in to an independent solar charger left over from the early days of the electronic revolution. All the extra technology had been removed, so it was not part of the worldnet.

The full charge was free, while an elderly child of a couple of hippy parents raged against the corporate society by charging cars and trucks for no charge.
This was another lesson, with help from the old man who went by the name of “Hummingbird” Johnson, he charged the big, black primer-spray and rust pickup with a lecture on how America lost its way with people dependent on oil energy.

This was something to learn about the American people at that instant. The kindly gift of energy, by the man railed against the importing of oil from the seat of civilization. An elderly soldier in a singular war against the planet’s use of resources started by his parents.

Except that, from the point of view of the slow hike on foot from Florida, charging stations were abundant, fuel depots that dispensed oils were not. So the elderly man seemed to be in error.

However, the android calculated the charges of the electric power stations owned by Standard Excel Electric Motivation Systems “SEEMS” charged equivalent amounts of credit per unit of energy.

The old man swore the population might feel the electric company that “Filled up” their electric automotive machines on the cheap. He uncovered that the per-mile cost of energy worked out to the same or higher than if they drove an oil-burning vehicle.

Hummingbird had it correct, the technology had hidden the cost compared to the profit.

A definition: Greed. He fumed. The God of Business. The power company would make as much money from the people who worked as it could. They swear god is in the money that people spend just to go down the road, that is what keeps everyone alive.

And yet?

And yet the people believed that they were making lives better for themselves in the name of buying power, converted from the sun.

Lovers, haters, atheists and devout.

Then those, like Hummingbird, who believed in the God of the leaf he smoked in his pipe “helped with the appetite”.

Once again. There were errors in the database. The update algorithm encoded a patch to install during the night when the android powered down again at an inexpensive, hotel after the long drive.

Still with a full charge on the batteries, the stone-crushing truck came to a stop in a motel’s parking lot.

The ancient pavement and paint barely marked places to park. The tiny woman who purchased the big truck was no longer visible. Instead, there was a tall, broad, bushy-bearded biker-stereotype with tattoos that took some effort to place in obvious locations on the forearms and hands.

The big man looked like a stereotype of a biker returning to his roots, he signed his name on the register as “Snake” in generic block lettering. The intimidating new tenent paid cash and took the key with barely a word.

The android retired to the rented room alone. His perceived size would ensure people would avoid him and the room.

He sat on the edge of the bed and re-shaped to a slim, human male. This basic shape drew significantly less energy to maintain.

Greed, anger. The android had found a few dark sides to these Americans, but few could truly be listed as evil.

He removed his shoes and pulled down the bedclothes before he got on the bed.

He adapted to the cool of the night from the previous hotel by using blankets for warmth, not just for looks.

Information where the database was wrong:

America, not a cesspool or an evil place. It was not wholly godless, pagan or god-fearing.

America, not a place there were no streets paved with gold or they practiced libations and orgies.

America: They swore at each other, pointed fingers, fought and published news unlike anywhere else. They exposed the worst parts of each other. But, when attacked, they showed the family ties that they were.

Family. Every one. Every hue, it seemed. Hated each other, but when someone outside threatened them. They stood side by side and protected each other’s back no matter their religion, color or orientation.

Data. So much data to rewrite. The patch would need to be written in sections during the power down.

What was observed and recorded and the patch would reflect:

It was a place where people loved, laughed, and lived lives, had children. Some never gave birth to children and were fulfilled and happy.

Some eschewed technology and lived close to the Supreme Creator according to their belief by toiling on the earth for the bounty that they grew.

Information picked up in six hours of driving and observing. The code to update the database was large and complex. It would take the full night to rewrite the new information.

A quick inventory, shoes off, blankets up. Room heat, according to human sleep cycles, turned down a few degrees below normal body temperature.

He turned off the lights in the room with the remote control and closed the optic sensors that were eyes.

Setting the timer to start the power-up start sequence before sunrise, he shut down. His core processor seeking that edge of programming that danced around the low energy gates of the memory bus.

Humans would have called them dreams.

Smart Bomb Chapter 5. Mental Health with a Baby Stroller

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Chapter 5. Mental Health with a Baby Stroller

As Steve pushed the small strolling cart he obtained from a secondhand store, it rumbled along the sidewalk without much effort, as was expected for the small machine. He didn’t look back, his mission was to observe and record all he could at any base he could without compromising his cover.

He appeared as a hunched over homeless old man, and with mutterings to himself. He reduced his height and he looked like he stood no more than two-inches over five feet tall. His hair lengthened with the hair follicles stimulated to grow a ten-inch-per-hour speed at a cost of a lot of stored energy, it forced  him to eat the entire jar of peanut butter that Genesee gave him to balance the fuel costs.

In the day that Steve left the house of Carl and Genesee Bonsell, they had a long and enlightening conversation of a religious nature. Jesus, a teacher of twenty-centuries before was their savior.  The debate was long and enlightening and gave the android another entry about errors in the database. 

They gave him a new backpack with clothes, Carl’s warm jacket and let the young man to trek on his mission. By the time he reached the shopping strip four miles away, his appearance was that of a woman in her twenties, and  looked for a jogging stroller.

Purchased with cash, the woman with blood-red hair became a hunched, salt-and-pepper haired man that he was now as soon as she was out of sight.

Stopping at a gas and car-wash, he walked through the car wash, taking the filth that collected on the floor near the drains, running the slime through his hair and over his face. He approximated the look of a long-term homeless man walking along the road without difficulty.

Still, he had time to process all facets of the his conversation about the Bonsell’s savior, his challenges that he put forward the Reverend Bonsell took with smiles and patiently explained the bible and the contradictions it seemed to have.

They also supported, with accepted fact of the Roman Tacitus wrote records that identified him as a real person, enough people spoke about the happenings of the days after the death of the wandering, itinerant carpenter-teacher. 

Even his creator listed in the database of the Roman Empire. An Empire that kept detailed records on much of their history in an obsessive way.  

Faced with such details and the couple pointed out that it is always easy to ret-con history. Steve countered they would be doing the same. But there was Tacitus again. 

He researched his databases as he walked and thought. Having to patch his algorithms to match the research for facts conflicted with the programming. He had assumed that it was more logical to follow the consensus that there were not any forgeries in this small set of records. This was becoming a problem, he needed to understand.  So.  He circumvented the program of the exclusion of outside information to be incorporated into his core database.  

He was an autonomous structure, his programming conflicted, so the rational program cycle clashed iwth the older exclusive programming. 

The adaptive subroutine required it to prevent loss of mission objective and he logged into the database of a carpenter that the Roman Empire did terrible things to.

The wars after his leaving the earth.

In the centuries that passed, even documents that the boy, then an apprentice-carpenter sat at the feet of old Drui priests as his uncle and father traded services for desired arts and crafts for trade back in the civilized world.

He muttered the different views of what he had in his database with what he learned. The heuristic algorithm determining that such repeated conversations with himself would give him a greater range of leeway with the gatekeepers he would make contact with.

At the corner, he followed the road with his jogging stroller (Since folded up dragged in mud and crud) and his backpack that suffered the same filth treatment, he presented a sight of a crazed homeless man who would appeared displaced by the storm two days previous.

“Sir.” The crisp uniformed guard stepped out and intercepted him.

The discussion escalated with Steve repeating religious passages at the top of his voice, with interjections of a local native language, the soldier cuffed him and then took the disguised android at first to the detainment area, then to the medical facility on the base where they cleaned him up so long as he was not fighting any of the nurses.

In a few hours, looking out windows and continuing to mumble, he had his temperature taken (Exactly at thirty-seven degrees celsius as controlled by the regulating program) his skin sagged in wrinkles and unsurprisingly, his DNA was not in any database of the US government.

The presupposition then was he had not committed any crime anywhere.

He was just a slightly demented old man who answered questions, just appropriately enough with some excursions into confusing words, to not pose a danger to himself or others.

The commanding officer came down and spoke with the doctor in front of Steve.

The officer offered to transport him to the next town north.

Nodding in agreement with a subordinate officer, it was not strictly by the book, but incarcerating the homeless man was equally wrong and a greater waste of taxpayers dollars.

The next transport to the town north would take him and drop him off in at the bus station there.

The CO of the facility walked out with the doctor and left Steve to stand alone and look out the windows.

Little did they know, Steve recorded everything, including the cell-phone that rang and the officer spoke with his warrant officer on base of the assigned departure of attack aircraft.

The number and description of every aircraft in the flight could be heard over the secure line while the officer spoke over his personal device in the corner out of earshot of the busy doctor and the disinterested appearing homeless man.

Before the officer was out of the building, he transmitted all recorded information regarding the flight of warplanes over the worldnet to Point Of Origin for his mission.

Cleaned and washed, they returned his clothes to him freshly washed, subtle wrinkles along the seams his jacket and clothes were carefully and deeply surveyed from EM radiation to a micro-sniffer for anything that might constitute a threat of biological or chemical type.

They never surveyed him past his blood pressure, lungs and tympanic temperature.

Taken to the van, the driver allowed him to sit in the front passenger seat.

Steve smiled blankly as another driver approached and asked a favor of the first driver to deliver a folder to another office ASAP.

Nodding, the two friends parted company and a quick u-turn as they made the four-minute detour to drop off the file that the technician waited for.

Steve recorded every road, every bump, he obtained unprecedented views of the base and recorded it all in different wavelengths.

He discovered the oversight that he should have a passive receiver to pick up any data or communication transmissions.

Still and all, by the time he departed under guard as a harmless dot of debris that drifted into their base, he gathered nearly a terabyte of information. A successful incursion on the American military base.

His next opportunity would be another approach, switching of genders was the plan.

In the center of the small community he stepped out of the van, the driver returning his stroller and backpack to him.

By the time the van made the corner, Steve stood nearly six-feet tall and broad-shouldered.

Pulling his blood-red hair back into a ponytail, the milky-cataracts of the old man were bright and emerald green.

Instead of a local homeless, he was a northern tier states citizen on a hike through the country with a three-day scruff of strawberry-blond beard on his face, girls who walked past him on the street smiled and looked him from head to foot.

Shallow Americans, they judged him on his appearance.

Something deep in his processors, he was deceiving the population that believed him.

Even with all the technology, he was not forced, even if they coerced him into helping.

But they did not ask for anything from him, just his time and his strength, that he modified to an average young man’s strength.

His next stop, he walked to a motel and rented a room. The matronly woman at the counter asked if he was alone and finding it shocking that he traveled solo.

Smiling at her as he nodded shyly.

“I’m on a mission for God.” His calculations were spot-on. The woman smiled and nodded knowingly.

“The Good Book is in every room, I make sure of it.” She held hers up. “But God does not wish for young men to spend his life alone all the time, they need the company of a woman to keep them out of trouble. I think you will find company here if you only just look.”

Giving her a soft smile he walked out to his room. The core processors working overtime to understand what the woman meant.

Americans were becoming more difficult to understand with every step.

He slid the keycard in the slot and the door opened to a simple, but comfortable room and put his backpack inside.

Putting out his “Do not disturb” sign he lay down and turned off the lights. Even before the sun was fully set, he powered down all systems.

A question formed in his mind, something that occurred at the home of the Bonsells.

Did he dream when he was “Sleeping”?

He wanted to know.

Smart Bomb Chapter 4. Sandbagged

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Chapter 4. Sandbagged

During the night, the android bomb that everyone knew as a teenager named Steve,  the guest bed in the house of the Reverend Car and listened to the sounds in the house.  But the murmuring of the married couple in the far side of the house was beyond even his enhanced hearing.

Rustling noises of his hosts quieted after several minutes after Reverend Carl walked around and turned off the lights in the family room.

After the lights went out and silence followed, he laid on the bed in the dark. His core systems were able control the body temperature easily in the darkness and he performed information and systems maintenance. 

The time passed and the silent house, all outside sounds obliterated by the soft white-sound of falling rain and reduced his ability to hear.

Reducing his power generation, he was able to turn up the power to an electric blanket that the Reverend’s wife supplied.

He closed his eyes in the approximation of sleep, and the systems powered down more than expected.

Then…

In the darkness, his hearing alerted to the sound of the approaching of someone down the hallway.

The length of steps he calculated to the tall wife of the Reverend.

“Steve, time to wake up.” She said softly. “Breakfast in a half-hour.”

“Thank you, I’m awake.” He answered in positive tones.

“You sleep light.”

If I slept. He thought to himself. I would sleep light.

A check on his system, there were gaps of suspended operations where power use was minimal.

Nearly zero draw.

Odd. If machines slept, I would have been asleep. But that was impossible.

Nothing in the database addressed suspend process at night. He was not programmed to suspend operations. Level-one diagnostics were performed multiple times for verification and he ran the programs twice over.

His core systems generated three reports, each one listed no errors.   

Why had so many systems suspended operations?  He was still operating well enough. 

Curious.

Smaller machines would suspend operation to power down, but he was not programmed included by the creator to do that. It had been planned that he did not need to shut down. His mission was a one way and longevity was not a concern.

His programming  was simple:  To get to the target while traveling through the non-believer filth that was America. There would be no power down, or full operation suspending. 

Except he found information that his programming failed to expect. One police officer that applied rules without consideration to the circumstances. But the first, opposed the supervisor on the point of human kindness.

A family that opened their home.

He stood up out of bed, all his senses working at capacity. Every sensor told the core systems that the flesh that covered his carbon-fiber re-enforced polymer frame was in normal parameters, although joints were stiff. The ceramic armor that covered the vital core processors sensed the direction of gravity when Steve stood and the system checks all came back as nominal.

Still he had the need to stretch, the sensation was unique and pleasant.

Nothing in the database described the feeling of the stretch, however, the status of his joints increased by twenty-percent.

And more what was more important, it felt good. 

A significant amount, he understood why humans had the instinct to stretch their bodies when they rose after a sleep period.

At breakfast the food at the breakfast table was simple, but plentiful.

Genesee Bonsell had shredded potatoes and scrambled eggs with coffee and fruit juices.

“Eat up, I have muffins in the oven, we need to arrive at the church at sunrise.” She poured herself the strong, black steaming coffee from an insulated pitcher. “And a long day until lunch. People worry and fret about flooding and we have twelve tons of sand at the church being delivered before sunrise.”

“So, why are we needed to go there in the rain?” Steve asked. Processors called up data on thermal loss, what he recorded in the last week of cold weather. “Ma’am, I will need to borrow a warmer jacket, mine’s not good enough to wear in the rain.”

“Of course, dear.” She smiled. “Carl?”

“I have one from my days in the military. It’s not heavy in weight, but it is warmer than anything you will find.” Carl smiled, pouring his own cup of coffee. “Eat your fill, there is plenty. I have scrambled eggs for years, you won’t find a better omelette anywhere.”

Omelette, the term was a stretch of the definition, although technically correct. He mixed in cheddar cheese with the eggs and no other filler was used. But the matter-energy conversion system would have little problem with the simple meal to convert to a usable energy source. 

The three of them sat at the table and Carl led them in a blessing of the food that lasted for a full minute. Carl gave his heart in the blessing, this intrigued Steve that an infidel would give his faith to an idol he could not see. A notation was made in the hidden, permanent files of another possible flaw in the database of American’s and their quality. 

They got into the pickup truck, Genesee sitting in the middle. They drove the overloaded pickup to the church.

Crowds of people milled about, shovels were in action when they arrived.

Officer Joseph Roberts “Joe-Bob” was guiding people in and out of the parking lot. Young and old moved back and forth.

Very small children dragged empty sandbags, fathers and mothers lugged full ones back to their waiting cars.

Energy spent on shovelling sand into the bags, he learned to fill the sandbags only half-full.

A seven-year-old girl with a hello-kitty t-shirt instructed him on how to fill it under the watchful eye of her father. For a small child, Steve decided, she had done this before.  Skylar the girl was an expert in how to shovel sand into bags. 

For six hours, they filled thousands of sandbags in the cold rain. While wearing the borrowed jacket, reduced his thermal loss to levels so  that regeneration systems used the stored energy to replace the heat well lost to the cold. The omelettes that Carl cooked in the predawn breakfast kept Steve fueled well enough to keep the core processors at optimum levels.

At lunch, Carl lit a giant propane powered grill and began to cook hamburgers and chicken.

His power reserves were down by sixty-percent by the time he sat to consume organic fuel. His total conversion to energy was efficient, but still needed to replace the used fuel, the food was perfect.

One grandfather sat under the rain awning that kept the falling water off the already soaked people.  The old man held his hand out to a five-year old and told the child, “Here, pull my finger.”

The boy-child complied, with the resulting noise that issued from the elderly male’s backside made the boy give a belly laugh.

“An invisible elephant!” the old man said, pointing at a space where Steve could not see anything in visible light.  The android tried in other wavelengths immediately after, but without success.  

He came to the conclusion there was no such animal that was invisible. 

“Mama!” The boy called, running off. “There was an invisible elephant under gramps! It lifted him off the chair with its trunk!”

The crowd chuckled the android struggled with the humor between the different races of people. Different hues, ages of men and women all mixing.

Steve filed the joke under a new permanent file. He was curious about such things.

A bodily function based on triggering the event by pulling on a digit. The sound was akin to an explosion.

They were vastly different things and inconsistent with human biomechanic construction.

These people were inconsistent, considerate, caring. Unlike his database, listing them as sinful, profane, selfish, obese and bloodthirsty.

Steve altered his programming slightly to adjust to the information.

The core systems did not note it, but the android was learning new information at a geometric rate.

He sat on the plastic chair, eating the last of his fourth hamburger when the he performed a time check in his core processor. Instructions, pre-programmed instructed him that he needed to leave and spend twenty-four hours watching a military base a few miles north.

The was plan already designed and thought out, he would be a poor, homeless woman with no possessions and stand outside of the fence for a few days, before heading north again.

If they picked up the old crazy woman, it would keep the government off his trail.

The plan was without flaw.

Smart Bomb Chapter 3. Salvation Army

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Chapter 3. Salvation Army

It was cooler than yesterday, making Steve shiver while he walked down the road. Although he was able to charge his power reserves to capacity the day before, he was using energy at an unprecedented rate.

The humans might call it “Full”, he had the opportunity to experience more of the generous spirit of the American south.

During the storm the day before, power went out, leaving the café in the dark. The owner fretted about the melting sweets in the freezer and prohibited anyone from opening the doors without reason, finally succumbing to the alternatives to throw out meats as the walk-in began to push the legal limit of the health codes.

The owner, Pete Durham, chose the option to cook the meats, slow smoking some with a wood-fired smoker overnight. Late into the night Pete and James cooked. Ice cream threatened to melt and spoil.

The Android could convert the butterfat and sugar confection to electrical power easily, and ate far more than his system required.

They fed truckers, news crews, passers-by and Steve for what was customers only felt they could give. Even giving Steve a wrapped five-pound wood-fire cooked roast when he left.

“We can’t put it in storage.” The owner smiled. “And it will be ready for you to eat anytime down the road.” Pete said when Steve left Lugs Cafe.

Quick calculations, and the android, programmed to call himself Steve Aldin, tried to give Pete a fifty-dollar bill. Pete shook his head at first, then tore the bill in half.

“Come back this way and eat in our dining room when everything is working like it’s supposed to, bring a friend and I’ll take that other half of a bill.” He offered to shake Steve’s hand. “Then we’ll call it even.”

Steve shook his hand, a western habit. But deep in his programming, he felt revulsion of touching an unclean person such as this.

But the man washed, cooked, worked hard, drank only bottles of water.

Pure water. It seemed to show there were more errors in his database.

According to the enlightened leader and the programmers who followed the priest. Anyone who did not follow the law in each step and facet he declared as unclean was unworthy to walk the earth. He prohibited any unclean people inside the holy of holies where he planned the destruction of idols and idol worshippers in America.

But.

The curse of a fuzzy logic, sometimes the third leg of coding got in the way. In many ways, the binary coding of the twentieth century was well suited to so many things. Zero or one. Yes or no.

Steve Aldin, android of the one true religion had a “Maybe” coding. Zero, one, two.

And he retained it, the adaptive programming kept him from being caught, unlike the previous versions that the Russian government caught. Either the earlier versions became confused or lost when the expected targets moved or the humans spotted his predecessors, who then self-destructed before travelling far.

He was the most advanced, and the most powerful disciple built by the engineers and programmers underneath the holy sanctuary where only the true believers could enter.

The most powerful that I know of he corrected himself. Core processors predicted a near certainty that others were under construction with a fifty-percent probability for  the next versions to deploy in the next twelve months.

The snow threatened to put him into danger once again. His walk down the road began to leave footsteps pressed into the slushy, frozen water on the white-coated asphalt.

A snowplow trundled past, heading to some assignment on a main road, the flashing lights triggered the recent memory of stopping for a meal.

Several minutes later, a sedan pulled up with a light bar and the siren chirped. programming alerted to the law enforcement agent wanted him to approach.

If he had a confrontation, he would be arrested and no scans would pick up his fingerprints.

He would be an enigma to the database for citizens in the country. Alternatively, killing the officer would flag his location and his mission would be compromised. 

Shifting quickly, he looked like a younger teenage youth, and the cop shook his head and rubbed his eyes while he looked through the slush covered glass of the window. In a blink of an eye, he reconfigured the identity chip to match his appearance and the security number.

“Son, where are you going?” The officer asked with an open look, he had no suspicions of this soaked-to-the-skin youth who walked on the road. The android had reduced the flow of all fluids to the dermis, making his skin pale when he approached the police officer who got out of the patrol car.

“Sir,” He used a squeaky voice of a late-blooming teen as he approached the front of the car and held his hands over the hood for warmth. “I’m on a mission to walk the lower forty-eight states to raise money for homeless.”

“Impressive. May I see your ident-chip?” The officer nodded. Not suspicious, but not quite smiling, his neutral stance remained unconvinced. “You are traveling rather light for the cold weather. Mister Aldin.”

“That would be my fault. I tried to jump a train a few miles back because it was getting cold, I put my pack in a train car’s door. When I bent down to get  my other bags, the train closed it’s doors and began to move. But I was too far to grab the door. When I tried to chase it, the security chased me off their property.”

This made the officer laugh.

“Well, you were trespassing.” He pulled at his chin, then clicked on his microphone at his shoulder. “Patrol One-seven-one.”

He waited for the response.

The sound was barely audible from where the android stood and waited. The officers earphone keeping the sound below human perception, but with his electronic sensors he could hear the dispatcher acknowledge him.

“Is the chaplain around? I have a lost sheep for him.”

Steve looked around, the term sheep was known, but the application was non-sequitur.

Then Steve realized it was he who the officer considered lost.

“Wait right here.” The officer said and sat in his car, he typed on a computer display and sent off a message.

“Officer, can I sit in the car?” His core processors were registering the heat loss. “I’m cold.”

Pausing for a moment, the officer nodded and then out of habit, patted Steve down and removed the small nylon day-pack, looked inside, satisfied, he put it in the front seat and turned back to Steve.

“Have a seat in the back, I’ll keep the heater on.” He said. Steve sat in the rear of the patrol car, behind a solid shield between the front and rear of the car.

“The chaplain will be here soon.” The officer smiled at him, looking up, another patrol car pulled in behind them.

Another officer got out with more stripes and wearing a white shirt, while the officer wore a navy-blue shirt.

The officers thought they were out of earshot, but the enhanced hearing, Steve listened in.

“You have him sitting in the prisoner area. Is he cuffed?”

“No, sir, he is just cold.” The officer shrugged. “I  wanted him to limit access to the weapons and electronics, so I just sat him in the back.”

“Protocol, if he is in back, he wears cuffs.” The watch commander said. “That is the rules.” 

“I don’t want him in front, I have not had reason to run his identity past his ID chip.” The patrolman said.

“I’ll run it. You have the scan of it?” He held up his tablet and tapped a few times.

“Cuff him if you keep him in the unit, and you’re right, he’s not allowed up front.” The supervisor said. “Or he stands away from the vehicle.”

“I can’t detain him, I don’t have any cause.”

“Find cause. He is not a local, so figure how to process him. Was he walking in the road?” The officer looked back at the footprints that were filling in. “He might have crossed over the line back there.”

“Sam, he is just cold, a youngster.” He told his superior officer.

The cops continued their conversation while Steve listened in. The situation was untenable, and he couldn’t get out of the car unless the officer opened in from the outside.

He could not allow them to run his DNA. Two police officers were no threat to him, out in the middle of a highway, but the news of his presence after attacking the officers would put him under a microscope that he couldn’t get away from.

Then.

A blessing from god, another car pulled in, the chaplain had arrived.

The first officer in blue walked to the back of the car, followed by a middle-aged man who looked in better shape than the officer.

“Mr. Aldin, this is our chaplain, Reverend Carl Bonswell. He will take care of you.” The officer nodded the civilian clothed male and walked away.

The officer talking to himself,  pleased to avoiding the need to cuff the young man or otherwise have to process him like he was little more than a criminal, when his actions indicated nothing.

“Mr. Aldin, son, would you like to come to my car with me? I have a place for food and a roof, tonight’s weather is going to be cold and wet. The winter season has settled in somewhat early.”

“Call me Steve.” He used the same squeaky voice. “And thank you, I would like that.”

“Okay, Steve. We have a shelter, it’s rarely used right now. We don’t get much call for homeless or transient people this time of the year.” The reverend said as they got in his car. “As such, the county has it closed now. So, you will be staying with my family tonight. Is this all you have?”

“Oh no, the officer took my knapsack, it’s in the front seat of his patrol car.” Steve said and opened the door to get out.

“No no! Stay here, get warm, I’ll get it.” Getting out, he stopped to talk to the patrolman and nodded.

Steve listened in, the chaplain only asked if the officer had patted down the youth and if he found any contraband.

“No. No weapons, interior sensors did not pick up even a trace of drugs. But, he’s soaked.” The officer smiled at the chaplain.

Satisfied, Carl gathered up the knapsack and returned it to Steve.

“Socks, t-shirt, and what else do you have in there?

“Some money my mom gave me. I’m supposed to walk for a cause, but I have lost my list, my clothes, my pack.” He gave the full pitiful story.

Carl smiled and handed Steve his worldly possessions, attached his seat belt, pulled the car into gear and took Steve with him to his home.

The reverend’s home was warm, smells included apple and peach, in a crock-pot.

“Carl, who is this? A new friend?” The woman was not a classic beauty. She was tall, broad-shouldered, her arms looked like some men’s legs, she looked like she could have taken on both officers out on the highway in a battle.  And win. 

Quick assessment of her movements showed she was naturally built like this. The woman shook his hand and smiled.  She towered over him, standing six-feet tall, broad shoulders, narrow waist and a flare to her hips. She appeared as an athlete, but he could not figure out her sport.  However she moved as graceful as tiger he once saw.

She was taller than Carl, but doted on him. Bringing Carl and Steve carefully ladled cups of the spiced peach-apple cider out of the crock-pot.

“I thought you would put me in the shelter tonight.” Steve accessed social protocol files. “Thank you”

“No thanks needed.” The woman smiled and sat with them. “This is the best place for you, tonight, hun. You have the guest bedroom, a shower is in the room and there are clean towels.”

Carl nodded as she continued.

“This is not a free stay, in the morning, we start at six o’clock. Breakfast is served at six-thirty, we have sandbags to deliver to the community center for homeowners. This storm is going to stay for some time before it gets cold enough to snow.” She said while she sipped her drink.

Steve drank his virgin “Papple” cider and at a small square of dark chocolate “it is good for your health” . He converted the carbohydrates converting into heat and electricity.

He recorded and learned more about this society of decadent, and morally corrupt people. There were police who argued that a good deed for a cold citizen could be cause for investigation.

Another recorded event A Christian man and his wife who open their home to him and not follow the rules and put him in a dorm-style bed that had thin mattresses and thinner blankets.

They bent the rules and let him sleep under thick blankets, eat their food and drink a drink while sitting in their house.

The woman who took care of her lover and husband was another oddity. She was not an obese, idol worshiping, world hating people.

She was a raven-haired woman with deep-set, searching eyes that showed her native heritage.

A kindness in her that extended to her husband, while he read from a well-worn bible.

No drugs, the odors in the house of cooking, crock-pot cider, smoke from the fireplace.

After a shower, core temperatures were in optimum operations, tissue repairs from hypothermia damage to his extremities were in full operation.

The experiences he had, the accepted view of the picture of the infidel American’s once again altered to fit the reality.

Tomorrow, he needed to donate his time to strangers.

This would be another first.

For the first time, the walking bomb looked forward to learning something new.

Steve, the God’s Punisher, was exceeding his programming in ways the creator never expected.

Irelan’s Adventures Chapter 4. Kepler-A

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4. Kepler-A

I stayed with your great-grandma, because I was so little. The Emerald Emperor was very kind to us.  Grandma Irelan said as she turned the page of her leather bound journal to continue reading to the children at her feet.

“We’ve been in a shooting war with the Union for over a century now. I was in my early twenties when it happened.” The green armored man said as he lead them across the grassy area. He let Irelan hold his wrist charm. “Still have it, Irelan?”

“Yes. See!”  She held it up to his amusement.

“Keep it safe for me, okay? As long as it twinkles, it will keep you safe, too.” He had a nice smile.

“So, you look like you’re only in your forty-somethings now.” Commander Espiosa observed. “Please, explain.”

She didn’t trust the leader of the Emerald Empire. She strongly suspected that he might be lying, and she was going to find a way to escape if she could.

“Remember when I told you about the vaccination that made me a kind of chameleon?”  He pulled at his ear, as if he was reciting common knowledge. “Some of the vaccines came from a slow-growing sea life. A giant clam. The virus was killing people at a geometric rate.  In the first month, a thousand people died with their flesh turning into a soup right on their bodies. The first five days of the second month, there were another thousand. After that, the government was in a hurry.”

The commander nodded, imagining when the world stood on the brink of being sterilized by a virus mutated from a biogenic toxin of a war on another world.  

“The government inoculated everyone, and like in the Pirate Confederacy home planet, it had unexpected results. Effects were varied. Mine was hiding in plain sight, but I also age slower.“ He thought for a minute. “By a factor of three or four. So, for every year I age, there is perhaps four decades that go by.”

He took a deep breath.  

“Others, like my girlfriend at the time, she became somewhat…” They stood still for a moment while he paused in a memory. “Feline. She changed her name to Felinae Qatamount, then went into the hills to fight against the Union on her terms.”

“So, what happens when you get a vaccine now?” She looked at him. “I’m not going to have my daughter turned into a mushroom or anything.”

“Mush brooms? Yuck!” Irelan shook her head.  “I don’ wanna be a mush broom.”

“No, after the government vaccinated everyone and it stopped the Rot, we went back and corrected the transcription errors. But those that were affected will have to live out their lives. The planet itself is under tight quarantine. You were only able to pass because you didn’t know of the magnetic flux of the planet.”

“This place sounds more like hell than a colony.”

“In some respects, yes. The virus mutated from a bio-weapon, from the DNA tests we did. How it got here, is unknown. Too many people died at once, but the magnetic fields of the planet are the root cause of it. We knew the life here would be a challenge with multiple north and south poles. with how many times they split and how fast they move across the planet it created genetic changes no one expected. “ They approached a transport surrounded by men and women in uniform who carried weapons. “The fastest was a north pole. It moved at a speed of six-degrees per day before it faded.”

He shook his head. “The effects were devastating with that intense of a flux. Machines failed immediately. The only things that worked were fiber optic powered systems with heavy shielding.I think that’s what nearly destroyed your ship.”

“We need to go back up and get it.” She said, there was no denying the force of her will. “There are personal effects of everyone, and I think the captain might still be there. We might have more passengers in stasis, still.”

What?!” That stopped him from his tale of sadness and heartbreak. “We don’t have a place to launch a space rescue from. The Union took it over six months ago. They’ve  been trying to figure out what is of value, and trying to sell it back us. “ A heavy sigh. “They are dismantling the systems as we speak.”

“Who, or what, is the union?”

“The conflicts between the colonies were political, but everyone believed in being green at the beginning, after terraforming. When the first colonists got here, there wasn’t anything alive. Lots of abundant resources, but no plant or animal life. Iron was abundant and there was no oxygen in the air. What my great-grandfather did was to start the great oxygenation of the planet with the use of plants. Grasses mainly, but trees have responded well to the high carbon dioxide content. There have been other challenges, including raw heavy metals that we exchange with Kepler-B for supplies.“  Ian explained. “It’s why this planet was more visible to the space-based telescopes that orbited around Longe Planeta near Pluto-Charon system. All this, was white rock and water. The reflectivity was much higher than Kepler-B, so astronomers discovered this planet first and colonized it second.”

“How do you keep us from dying, when we are out in the open like this?” She looked around.

“Oxygen levels are adequate, some twenty-six percent, but the carbon dioxide is at four percent. Which, is too high for humans and animals to tolerate more than a week or so. It gives us a limited ability to engage the Union on moves, but everyone has to run home and rest after that.” Ian said. “It’s okay to walk through, however. Just make sure you spend a few hours per week inside in a human-normal atmosphere.”

“You live here and can’t breathe the air?” Irelan’s eyes got big.

“Yes, sweety, we can breathe the air. That’s what you’re breathing now.” Ian chuckled. “You just have to stay inside more while you are here.”

Irelan made a face, clearly unhappy with that prospect.

“Don’t worry,” Her mom smiled. “We aren’t staying. We’re going to that spot in the sky.”  Larsya pointed at a pale disk of Kepler-B, the first colonized planet.

“Mama? Do they have kids there?” The child asked.

Mama smiled.

“Yes, they do. We just have to get there.” She picked Irelan up and carried her in a big hug.

“I wanna go there.”

A child’s wish gave energy to the leader of the Emerald Corps to get them to their destination.

Irelan’s Adventure Chapter 3. The Emperor and Pizza

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3. The Emperor and Pizza

 

“… And so, they had to spend three days digging the ‘unstoppable’ land crawler out of the bog! Six crews, both Union and Emerald, four cranes and a pile of very naughty words.”  Ian laughed as they ate pizza.

Steaming hot from the little heater. The pizzas were printed in an antique machine, it reminded Irelan of the way they used to in the kitchen at their old home. Irelan loved  pizza since she was a kid.  

She was big now, and knew how to press the button to make it go when Ian in the green armor looked like he got stuck on what part of the screen needed to be touched.

She printed out olives and cheese; her favorite. Ian and her mother printed crazy stuff that was nasty. It smelled okay, but she never liked the rest of the stuff they put on it. Including mush brooms, which they seemed to like.

Irelan made a face when she watched as her mother lifted one mush broom and eat it while she listened to another story by the one she heard them call, “Triton”.

“So, Sir.” Larsya started.

“Ian, please. We are eating here, no formal titles.”

“Ian. How did you get in here without anyone noticing?” She asked.  

Then, he laughed and choked on a bit of pizza in his mouth.

“Not everyone missed me. Irelan here, she saw me come in and I sat next to her. We talked while you were giving my Lieutenant a hard time.”

“No one saw you come in.” Larsya pressed.

“No, adults don’t. Kids see me all the time. There’s something about the focus of the kids versus adults.  It’s a result of a vaccination long ago. I can walk into a room, and unless I speak up, no one will notice if I don’t want them to. Even if they look right at me, adults don’t register my presence easily. “

“Do you have a stealth tech that you use?” Ensign Firston asked.

“No, as I said, it was from a vaccine. There was an emergency. We had a virus that had been transplanted on this planet by the first colonists. No one knew who the first patient was, but it over a thousand died in less than a month and we had no vaccine. The protocol for synthesizing the vaccine came from the Pirate Confederacy with uncorrected errors in the formula.” He took another bite. “There were tremendous effects from the virus on their planet. We had some, but nothing like they suffered.”

Ian smiled at Irelan and handed her a napkin.  

“For my effects as a kid, I found I could be overlooked by standing still. I used the effect for my stint as a leader.  Then T’mpace was my mentor because I could sit in the back of a meeting and no one would think I there and just talked. I gave him reports, he appointed me to the General Council after that.  When I served on the High Council of the Two Colonies, I then had a chance to take the chair as leader of the High Council.

A heavy sigh came from him.  Like a pain in the soul.

“The world fell into fighting, and the Council dissolved a month after I took my position. That left me as the only leader of an empty room.  No one wanted the job, and everyone looked to the chair. “ He swallowed another bite of pizza.  “I declared myself Emperor out of anger, and everyone nodded. Seriously, I was only kidding!”

Larsya shook her head. “That’s not how it’s supposed to happen.”

“I know! I just wanted someone to get mad and come sit down. They all bowed and said ‘Okay’ and, well, here I am.”

“No one challenged you?” Ensign Firstof’s head bobbled like it was on a spring.  

“Careful son, you’ll strain your neck.” Ian chuckled sadly. “At first, I had a great idea. People needed to get out and move, get into the forests and walk, hike and otherwise enjoy the terraformed lands we have.  But, the game became polarized. People took sides after a year and became worse than when the fighting dissolved the council. Then, they started shooting and this place has been a case of the Union against the Emerald.  So, I lead from the front lines. I walk around, no one can see me when I do.  It keeps me alive, I think.”

“How do kids see you when no one else can?”  Larsya asked.

“I don’t know for certain, but it is the power of innocence, I think. They have limited information, but they have these powerful minds. Not much information, indeed, but they have super-computers for brains. So, I think they see things that adults have long forgotten how to observe.” Ian reached for his fourth slice of pizza. “They still see magic in the world.”

 

“And besides,” He pet Irelan’s head.  “She’s my favorite fairy here.”

“I’m not a fairy, I’m a girl!”

“Of course.” Ian said while the room full of adults laughed.

Even the dour Lieutenant smiled.

 

Irelan’s Adventure

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Prologue: Irelan’s Adventure

 

Six-year-old Irelan sat in the seat she mother hurredly strapped her in as the ejected lifeboat module’s orbit decayed in a parabolic arch towards the planet below.

In seconds, it had traveled from one battle zone to the next, crossing the terminator into the night-side where the green flags of the Enlightened flew on the tops of poles. The man who drove the boat told Irelan they were flying at twenty-times the speed of sound, whatever that was.

She watched when he pulled a big lever and released the parachute at the last second, it slowed the lifeboat enough to land safely in a muck-filled bog of a forest glen, barely under control of the, just moments before helmsman of the Galaxy Hitchhiker.

Opening the hatch, the navigator, called Mr. Ensign by her mother, got out and walked around the roof of the lifeboat.  Mom started to yell at the lifeboat pilot to not jump and to stay on the hull. The young man yelled back that she was not in charge and stepped off onto a grassy flat spot next to the lifeboat’s hull.

It was nearly the last thing he did in his life as he immediately he sank to his waist and Larsya Espiosa, Irelan’s mom, and the three other men,pulled on the young man as hard as they could, two on each arm.

Calling him names that Irelan never heard her mom say before, the quartet of people lost their grip on him  and he sank up to his chest.

The only saving advice they could give the man is to lay back and take deep breaths, and do not struggle and let his buoyancy pull him out.

The struggle to save the officer focused everyone, even Irelan looked out the door while the passengers and crew struggled with the overconfident, now panicked, officer.

She saw a huge light in the starry sky come towards them over the trees and smaller lights detached from the big one, sliding down slowly on ropes.  They looked like monsters, pale gray with blotches of black spots that moved around at random, big bulbous eyes and bald heads. 

Irelan, only six, was afraid and hid as far back in the pod as she could get, crying. She heard her mom’s voice yelling for help. Her mom never asked for help from anyone. Mom was someone who helped everyone. Sounds and a sky creature that looked like a big red fish came down low and dangled tentacles to the man in the muck.

This terrified the little girl, the heavy sounds as if something were hitting the lifeboat from outside. It was a sound was different from the atmosphere sounds when they came down so fast, they made sparkles fly past the windows.  

Whatever that meant.

Mom leaned in and told her to put her jacket on and reached in to her.

“Mom! What’s happenin’?” Irelan whispered.

A giant in blothchy grey coveralls and a full face mask reached down and took her mom by the arm and pulled them both up.

“Put this on.” The electronic amplified voice said through the mask.

Irelan began to cry at the hands that held out to her.

“Aw hun.” The electronic voice said. “DOn’t cry.”

The masked and uniformed creature pulled the goggles back and lifted the helmet back.

It was a lady inside the mask!

“Your name is Ireland?” The woman asked the little girl. 

“Irelan, no ‘d’.” Mom said. “Irelan, go with the lady!”

“Hang on ma’am.” The masked soldier who had his arms around her mom from behind gave her.

“Wear the chin strap kind of tight, this thing is almost as big as you are.” The sergeant put her helmet on child’s head. “Irelan, my name is Riley. Riley Kennedy. We are going to go up into the rescue ship on this rope. Then they are going to lift your lifeboat until it’s tucked into the hold and you can go back and get your stuff out of it. Okay hun?”

Irelan nodded while the lady braided a seat out of a flat strap and clipped it to rings in her chest. Irelan faced the lady and was able to put her tiny arms around the ladies neck.

“You ready for an adventure.”? Irelan shook her head.
“Well, we are going to go see your mom. She is safe on board the Sky Guppy.” The blonde lady smiled. “Okay hun?”

Irelan nodded and Riley tapped her ear. She held tightly to the little girl while she hung on to the lady’s neck.

They went straight up. The helmet she had on seemed to pull at her head.

It was FUN! Irelan drew a breath to laugh and scream, when it was over.

“Do it again!” Irelan laughed in Riley’s face.

The lady soldier laughed.

“Not tonight, hun. We have to get your lifeboat up in the hold.”

“Sergeant Kennedy.” A deep voice from behind her interrupted their talk. “How was the rescue? Are you on your coffee break now?”

“No, sir.”

“Then get to your station. We don’t have time to waste” The shaved headed voice strode away.

“Don’t mind him, hun. The lieutenant wears his shoes too tight, it makes him mad.”

“Why doesn’t he take his shoes off.”

Riley laughed and hugged the little girl.

“You’re smart! I don’t know why he doesn’t take his shoes off. He would be nicer.”

“Okay.” She smiled at the lady with the eyes like the daytime blue sky and soft voice.

“Mommy!” Ireland ran to her mom, who stood and caught her daughter in a big hug. “I flew on a rope!”

“Me too, they lifted me up and I was flying like a bird!” Mom stood up and spoke to the sergeant, “I want to speak to your commanding officer at the earliest convenience.”

“Yes ma’am. That would be the Colonel. Her name is Granuaile.” She pronounced it as Gran-u-wail. “For now, we need to get you secured. We will lift the lifeboat into the cargo hold and you can gather up your belongings when we land.”

Ensign Firston interrupted while he fiddled with a clip on his rescue webbing.

“We have only what we wore on our backs. When we hit by an energy beam and were shot down, there was no warning.”

“Shot down?” Riley gaped. “What?”

The lifeboat officer tried to himself from the lift, struggling with a spring-loaded clamp. Riley reached over and released it with a skilled twist.

“Yes. I was at the helm when the navigator said there was an energy surge from the surface. We were hit immediately after that. We lost all systems, life support, propulsion. We were on approach to Fienow Fields in the northern hemisphere on Keppler-B, but we got caught in Keppler-A’s gravity well. The captain only called for use to abandon ship.

“If you’ve been shot at, you need to talk to the colonel right away.”

Riley tapped her wrist, typing in a coded number and spoke into the microphone at her throat.

“Sir? Sergeant Riley. We have a problem and someone needs to see you right away. Yes, sir. On our way.

“Ensign, come with me please.” She motioned with her hand. “YOu get to sit closest to the door and you will be the first on off.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She sent a message to the Lieutenant that he needed to come back to meet with their passengers.

His shoes are going to get a lot tighter, she sighed. I should’ve taken this week off.

The Stone Carver

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The Stone Carver

 

In the gallery of statues, the old stone cutter swept around the life sized, Greek-Roman statuary. Many were carved of solid blocks of pink salt from beautiful flowers of incredible detail in different colors of salt, to macabre life-sized statues of people in still life. Some writhed in horrific throes of agony, where he had carved the body, then used water to partly dissolve an appendage.

The tourists that came to the gallery, never left disappointed. It was a gallery of classic, eclectic, romance, and agony.

And within him, was agony. He suffered the loss of his wife, murdered years before. The funeral lasted two days, and had thousands of people in attendance. Such was her popularity.

Security video showed a Saleen Geeteks, who killed her with a broken lampshade as he robbed her. When the police apprehended Saleen, he was found insane and they sent him to a mental asylum for life.

In the end, Angus felt no justice was served and he was not whole. Following his disappointment, he vanished from public life. Never to venture out, he moved his shop to the country where he carved and whittled on marble and salt blocks. It was the quiet life where people left him alone in his heartbreak.

It was quiet, until two couples opened the door and stepped into the gallery. The number and size of the stone carvings was beyond belief.

“I have heard of this place. I didn’t think it was real.” Trokken said, dressed in the latest adaptive combat camouflage. A cream-white jumpsuit that changed patterns and colors as the wearer moved, reducing the wearers visible outline.

They stood inside the door, one of the women, Sunrise, pulled on the others.

“Get out of the line of the door. Stand between the decorations.”

“May I help you?” Angus walked from his studio.

“This is yours?” Trokken asked.

“All you see here; marble or salt, I have created. Flowers, faces, from beauty to horror. What you wish, you will find here.”

“Flowers?” The one called Lillith looked around. “This is stone?”

“Salt, to be precise. The pink comes from a mineral that’s extracted from different sources, and then baked into a block of anhydrous sodium chloride. I carve the shapes as I see them after that.“

“This is gross.” Lillith said.

“The images you see here represent many facets of the struggle of humans, and the beauty of the human body in the marble. Nudes are in the other room, away from where children or people easily offended.” Angus smiled. “Follow me.”

He turned and led the others into the studio of creating.

“In here, I make the objects of beauty. Those flowers you have seen, Miss?” He looked at the taller, dirt-encrusted woman.

“Lillith. That is my war name.”

“War name?” Angus blinked. “Very well, Lillith. The flowers are made of a kind of salt I call, “Dood”. And here, I have a bust of a woman who requested to have her looks immortalized for her grandchildren.”

A crash sounded in the gallery by the entrance. They realized that Odyri was not with them. The young rebels ran to the gallery followed by Angus.

The statue of Adonis lay on the floor, decapitated and splintered.

“Ach! Noooo.” Angus picked up the head. “This was hundreds of hours of chiseling. It was Kaelin’s favorite. I made the body as I was when she met me.”

“This is what must happen to all graven images. You have souls captured in here.” Trokken hissed.

“I do not! You need to rethink your perversion.” He held a stone finger in his hand his voice became tight. “I cannot accept this.”

He glanced around with a fire in his eyes.

“You will join that statue.” Trokken told the kneeling stone carver.

Screams of fear and terror shredded the silence in the gallery.

****

After six weeks had passed, Detectives Barnes and Noble stepped through the doors and rang the ancient bell on the counter.

“May I help you?” Angus asked.

Odd, he doesn’t seem surprised to see us. Thought Detective Barns as they introduced themselves.

“Business going well for you?”

“Quite fine. I am busy in my studio back here.” Angus smiled, motioning the men to come join him. The old chisler struggled to move a statue of four life-sized figures carved out of a single block of salt to the wheeled frame of a moving dolly.

“We are looking for four people, two men and two women who are wanted in connection to a bombing at the community services center.” Detective Nobel said, reading off of his handheld notebook. “They stole a car and murdered the owners. About a week ago the car was found up the road about ten-kilometers from here. Your gallery is the only building between the city and where it was found. Has anyone that looks like this come into your shop?” Detective Noble showed Angus images of the four wanted felons.

“No sales, a few visitors. I sell mostly by online catalog. I keep busy creating salt-blocks for my sculptures. I am preparing a new block of marble in the back and I’m making a block of red-salt  in the mold over there.”

“You mold salt?” Detective Barns

“Yes, it’s heated to over eight-hundred degrees centigrade and slowly cooled so it grows into a translucent crystal. It takes about a week to make a pretty block with inclusions just before the block solidifies and I start carving.”

“You do some beautiful work.” Detective Noble said as he leaned over a flower. “This is very beautiful. How do you get it so smooth?”

“Moist rag. I sometimes lick a finger and just rub, but that leaves striations. So, I use a nanofiber rag with a fine spray of water.”

“This is macabre.” Detective Barns examined a figure of a woman with a horrified look, a spill of simulated water had dissolved her hand off her arm.

“Yes, I have a wide range of creation. It is my therapy since my wife was murdered a few years ago.”

“Yes, my deepest condolences.” Barnes’ words were without emotion. “As I recall, the killer was sent to a hospital for the criminally insane.”

“For life, which is longer than my wife had at his hands.” Angus stood up and glared at the taller detective in the eye with undiluted rage. “There was no real justice in that. You know how she died, detective?”

“Yes, he used a sharp object that was never recovered.”

“Yes. The reason it was never recovered was because she had been repeatedly stabbed by a shard of salt. He left it in the pool of her blood where it dissolved.” Angus hissed. “Not only did she die alone, she died in unremitting agony. Each hole stuck in her by that sharpened stone would have burned like a hot iron. So, forgive me if I have some statues that have a touch of anger in them.”

“This statue is odd.” Detective Noble commented on the life-sized quartet Angus moved.

“Odd, yes, it is my most recent inspiration. It is the Compass of Justice. Each criminal turns on the other, each stabbing the next in a circle. There is no honor among those that worship death.” Angus smiled softly. “I apologize for my flare of anger, detective. Kaelin was my sunshine. When she was alive, we helped the community. Now, I am just a stone carver. I have no use for the outside world other than to bring me subject matter.”

“You have some fine detail, Mr. Cu’Laith.” The detective said, leaning forward. “This face has shadows, but the salt is clear as glass. Like something is inside of the sculpture.”

“You can see into the crystal, nothing is there.” Angus smiled. “I have been working it for a few days to get that effect.”

Angus pulled at his ear. “If you would be so kind as to watch the clearance while I roll this to the gallery, we can get on with the interview.”

“Oh, Mr. Cu’Laith, this is not an interview. Just tying up some loose ends.”

“Of course, detective.” They followed the stone carver to his gallery with the newest display.

Something about that. Ran through Detective Noble’s mind. Oh, I know! He has used the same faces as the museum downtown.

The two detectives bid their farewell from the stone carver. Gave their condolences again over the loss of his wife and crossed the address off of their list. Barnes and Noble glanced at each other and shrugged.

He struggled with the statue and muscled it in place. Then in an inspiration, he rotated it to the best view from the door, then walked back into his studio.

He stopped at the Compass of Justice. The framework inside was barely visible. You could almost see the gossamer thin flesh of a face under the half-inch of polished sodium chloride.

 

Children of Fury: Hellions Chapter 8. Captain’s Log

Children of Fury:Hellions
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Captain’s Log

The young man sat on the padded seat with a quill in one hand, a book in his lap. He eschewed the captain’s chair at the desk, and preferred instead to sit in his favorite corner.

The Blackfish was making way nicely, and his view of the ocean from the stern of the ship made his soul feel free with the expansive view when the storm doors were open.

His long crimson hair, cut short the months before, now hung down past his earlobes, he dipped the tip of the quill in the jar of ink and put the blackened tip to the parchement.

“Captain’s Personal Log Of Keegan O’Danu:

First entry, and the first voyage of the Blackfish, and my father follows in the Cúlaith. A sistership to this one. We have come here from the start of years ago.

Nearly half my life.

A summer day when my father went out with a ship that he had built. He was gone when the English came and destroyed my village.

I saw my seanathair lay on the ground with a bolt jutting out of his chest and the soldiers that beat my mam into the dirt until she stopped moving. In those days, I thought she was dead.

I woke up on a slave-cart, I still carry the scar, hidden by my hair, where the soldier hit me.

When I came home, I found that my mam, taken by the English, was in the islands where my old friend Captain Myngs freed me.

I found when I returned to my father in the Virgina lands of a bay they called Irishtown. A backwater behind a German settlement.

I sit in command of this new ship, a crew of twenty and one hundred of the old crew. Only twelve adults serve on board. The balance of older’s follow in my father’s ship of his design.

We return in force, with my old friends Anna God-Wants and Jacquotte Delahaye to find my mother, somewhere on the islands of the Caribs.

I will not rest until I find the fate of my mam and return her home.

I cannot watch my father walk alone any longer, he weeps at night for the life stolen from him, he doesn’t I see it. But he is my father, I hear him in the dark when he thinks everyone is sleeping, I see his eyes. The strain shows on his face.

I cannot watch my father suffer.

It fills me with a rage that keeps me awake at night.

My friends all have parents, brothers and sisters all still missing and we will return to collect them.

The Blackfish and the other ships can carry twice more than the crew who man them. Plus my plan will be to take ships on our return home.

Empires will tremble at the thought of our rescue. No navy will prevail against us. We have new bronze cannon built by the one my father calls Francois Buile. He showed us that the ranges of these new nine-pounders are double of our last guns.

Granuaile has built gun carriages of her own design. Adult men have learned to keep their distance from her.

My only pleasure around her, she has stopped socking me in the shoulder. My bruise is almost healed, but any man who hits me there now, will have a surprise. Unless he has hands of stone, I would not notice it.

Diana, who has returned to using her war-name of Angelcries has driven our crew as a stringent task-master. She follows my direction to the letter. She has a heart of a lion, even I am afraid of her sometimes. But she has stopped growing, I think. A year ago, we were the same size, today I am taller by almost a head while she has yet to grow to five feet.

The ginger-haired youth rubbed his shoulder and laughed. But when he gazed out over the water, the old melancholy chased away the smile.

Putting the quill into the bottle, he stood up and walked to the expensive glass window. An artisan, commissioned by the blacksmiths, made the glass into three letters to remind a woman’s child of her name.

“Fey” in small colored cut-glass gems sparkled in the sun.

Tracing his fingers over the inlay, the old anger rose again. He would get her back.

He sat back down and picked the quill out of the bottle and tapped the drop off against the mouth of the blown-glass bottle of ink and put it to the expensive vellum in his personal journal.

Turning the page, he wrote at the top of the page:

“Captain’s Personal log of Keegan O’Danu

I miss her, I can remember my mam’s eyes and her laugh. I was only nine-summers old when we were taken. I will find her and bring her back, if only for my athair. A son should never see a father broken. Slavery should never be a market and I will free anyone that is in service against their will that I find, so long as I draw a breath. Slave ships will be my prey, anyone who flies the flag of empire will strike colors on my approach.

The Pirate Kingdom of the Sea will hold sway. Free people will embrace the name.

Everywhere they use the label pirate as a perjorative, I will embrace it as freedom.

Until my Mam is home, I will walk the decks and sail the seas until I am too old to chew my food.

Many years ago, to me.

My máthair was taken.

The English declared war on our village.

Today, I return to get her back. The Spanish or English and any who strike with the might of an empire, just because they can, I will make tremble with fear to sail these waters with their flags flying.

My father and his crew accompany us in thinking they protect the children.

We are the seeds of crimes that the Spanish, English and the Dutch have sown.

It is up to the children to protect the fathers.

I will continue to use my war-name given to me by the Quartermaster of the Marston Moor.”

A member since the first tour on Grampus she had no fear of anyone, Beth Angelcries stepped through the door.

“Keegan, your Da’ has hailed us using a speaking-trumpet.”

The captain of the Blackfish nodded. He smiled into the hazel eyes of the girl who had shown such fury when they made their way home, causing Keegan to redefine the term in his mind.

Looking down, he finished his entry.

With the support of Anna Marie and Jacquotte we will stop at the harbor of Germantown and meet with those children who stayed behind and were adopted when we left their village last year for the Chesapeake.

The adults in that town invited us to return when we wished. It is something I do wish to do, there is a debt of help I owe to the families there.

He set down his quill, the youngest captain in any fleet left his journal to talk with his personal hero.

He would discuss their next stop, Germantown, with his father.

The discussion would be from an adventurer sailor to a citizen sailors that was the fathers and uncails of the Cúliath, the swift, long legged canine used to chase prey.

It was a happy meeting. The crew of the Cúliath showed interest of the small village of Germantown. The people that helped their sons and daughters.

Fathers let the children lead, for they had been here before. Protected by the women pirates, the fathers sailed with the Wrath leading and the Scorned following.

Conn laughed at the names. THe women silenced him with looks alone, and would brook no arguement of the joke regarding the nature of the ships christening.

He was reminded, he and the other men were the students, his son and the women that protected Keegan, were the masters.

It made him smile.

His son the Master.

Children of Fury: Hellions Chapter 7. Casa De Las Canas

Children of Fury:Hellions
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Chapter 7. Casa de las Canas

Two women, shared the same icy stare. In four years, they had their indentured contracts extended against their will three times.

Now they both had an extra seven years on their service to the plantation.

They were the only women that did not suffer the forced marriage and children in the House of the Canes in the four years they had been in the service to the plantation.

Caoimhe Ni Maile MacRanald, from Campbell’s Town in Scotland was cousin to Fey Mac Boru O’Danu, the women grew up together as children, writing letters to each other when apart. They knew well enough they were no longer free in the first days of their servitude and they brought suffering unlike anything the men experienced before.

Then, the rape teams tried to move on them in the cabin they shared, to tame the women from the wilds of the emerald isle.

And it was failure that would echo for years. Now men feared the two women with blue-ice for eyes and fire for hair. These Scots women, one with an Irish name by marriage, held sway over all men on the plantation.

Garcia Parga, the Master of the Fields. The jefe de las cañas, would tremble at the thought of approaching the women and pass on a command from the owner of the estate.

Roberto de Las Planas owned and drove the daily trip to town in his covered coach, let Garcia to do the day-to-day work. except for the two women that he had bought at the slave-pens in Barbados, he had full confidence that all would be well.

The women, the first one called Fey.

Even after four years, he struggled with the name of the taller, slightly crazier one with the name of a harsh land.

“Keeva” He thought to himself. He tried to give her a Christian name, but the struggle for that in those early days was not worth the battle.

His memory of that time made him laugh and weep at the same time.

Unknown to anyone, his purchase of these two guardians of the house, they were more formidable than anyone would have suspected.

In the first day, he sent his best looking men in as their mates. Roberto even told the men to make sure the women would have children inside of them.

Over that long year, breeder teams went into the cabin where the women lived, fueled by wine and rum. But, then none of the muscular and brave men came out intact. 

His memory ached with the lessons of dealing with priestesses of the Drui

Powerful, muscular and brave, they all wept like children. Many holding vital parts of their anatomy, limped and breathless in agony.

He was positive that the larger redhead was guilty of some crime against the men who wept afterwards.

But to a man, the ones in most agony, identified the smaller woman as the roaring spirit that fought like a wild cat.

One man, who bled freely from his now broken nose, winced when he sat on the steps leading up the the main house, shook his head. Afraid for those who thought they would try to take the women against their will in that cabin of pain.

“Senior Garcia. I do not think there is enough rum on all the island to make me or any of the others to try to take them women against their will.” He said. The man, named Gawrhum by Roberto de las Planas. “These women will protect the house they are in. But I dare not hazard to try to mate them with anyone against their will.”

Garcia shook his head in disagreement.

“All women seek to have strong men.” He told Gawrhum.

“These women have more soul than ten men. They are far more than you think, they are both like demons when they fight.” The men watched another servant walk by holding a hand to his pants, in an attempt to stop the bleeding from his ruined flesh. “They have not chosen him, either. He is the strongest of us and has many children.”

Four men entered the cabin, sounds of shrieks like two demons emanated from the cabin.

One man almost made it out, before the smaller woman who claimed her name as Fey, flew out and grabbed the man by the hair and dragged him down as if she had a sheep to sheer.

He screamed for help as she pulled him back into the cabin by his mustache.

When the master of the house returned to his plantation, Garcia told him of how the smaller woman, as tall as many men, she beat on the servants as they were sent in. And how the taller woman with fists like a man knocked one to the ground and slammed his head in the door a dozen times.

“He will not work for a week, she has broken his face.” Garcia said.

Roberto held his face in his hands.

“What do we do?”

“Leave them be, use other means to keep them.” Garcia raised his eyebrows. “Find another way to enslave them, if you dare.”

Four years ago. News that spread of children that escaped. Released by the English fool Myngs had begun a new time of destruction against the empire.

Château du Soleil, owned by Frenchman Philippe Cornu, burned to the ground by servants under the command of the children pirates after he freed them like God’s Wrath against the population.

Cornu was slow to rebuild, and that allowed other plantations to expand, including this Casa de Las Canas. The only people who seemed to enjoy the news of such destruction were the Irish slaves. The women who he was successful to breed, he could force them to stay beyond the original contract that was imposed on them.

But the two that kept their pagan names?

No one dared cross them. They performed duties and ruled with an iron hand, the household was safe, clean and always ready for visitors.

The one thing that grated on Roberto’s soul, was their arcane observation of their old religion.

Now, he came from the harbor with news of from the crew of one ship. A new threat of the Caribbean was spoken of in fear-filled whispers. A small fleet of four pirate ships, one ship crewed with children.

The eyes of the Celtic woman glittered with the news.

“Senior Roberto.” She told him, the icy blue of her eyes chilled his soul. “You would do well to release all your servants. Should the child pirate come here.”

“Fey.” Caoimhe interrupted. “Nae speak of those bairns. Walk with me.”

Alone in a room, they spoke in their Gaelic language.

“Do not say you are related to any of them. You will be used to bait Keegan into a trap.”

“That is my son, he comes for all of us. I wish him safe, but Roberto should know what comes.”

“Ach! Keep your head down, cousin, stand with the other servants. We will leave together in time.” The larger woman admonished her older, smaller relative.

“Caoimhe, my son returns.” Fey smiled wide. “They all return.”

“They return for us.” Fey smiled wider still.

Children of Fury: Hellions Chapter 6. Eight Bells

Children of Fury:Hellions
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Chapter 6. Eight Bells, Four Ales and Conversation

The small fleet of four ships rocked in the in harbor at twilight. The captains and first mates sat on a small meadow that overlooked the small fleet of predators below, the three-quarter moon illuminated the horizon. It would be a bright night. No stealth was possible from the east.

The smell from the cooking fire below wafted up on the breeze and distracted. On the sheltered side of a volcanic rockfall, between boulders half the size of their ships made a natural chimney.

The sailors used it as a kitchen, and the flow of the air dissipated smoke among the rocks and hills, masking their presence to any lookout on the water.

A short hike with the food in hand, the crews assembled stone and wood benches and tables that allowed them to see to all points of the compass to more than twenty-five miles.

Two women sat at either side of the red-headed Keegan who was clearly tense with the attentions of the two women pirates.

“I think I should sit on the other side of the table.” Causing even his father to laugh.

“Keegan, we need you to stay slower on the ship.” Conn said over the food brought up by the cook. A bottle of ale sat, the adults pouring and laughing while they ate the evening meal later than planned.

“Da’…” Keegan O’Danu started to complain.

“Dash,” Anna “God Wants” spoke softly. “you vasseau… boat… ship… is more rapide tha’ mienne.” Her French accent slightly enhanced by the copious ethanol in the new ale donated by her last visit on the Spanish Treasure fleet. Annemarie, once one of the Fille du Roi, sent to the Caribbean because she was disruptive in the King’s Court. Still, she did not have that small voice most people have when it came to speaking her mind.

“You must reduce the sails you set so we can keep up.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, setting his ears ablaze with heat.

Captain Delahaye laughed and talked with the muscular first-mate with dark-eyes, playing with her hair while he poured her more ale from his pitcher.

Dana looked at his brother with one eyebrow raised.

“What is going on with her?”

Keegan shook his head and looked at his father for guidance, the elder O’Danu laughed.

“That, my boys, is the age-old mating ritual.” Looking at their puzzled faces. Keegan looked alarmed when the sailor reached out and touched the bright-red hair of the pirate captain.

“She will kill him.

“Maybe.” Conn said with a crooked grin. “But not in the way you think. Come with me, let’s start talking about what our plans are from here. Leave those two be for now.”

“But… but…” Keegan still did not comprehend.

“That bruise on your shoulder?” Conn asked his son while they walked to the fire, around which the other captains sat in the hidden grove of trees and tall rocks.

“Yes?” Keegan said. It had mostly healed, Granuaille did not sock him so much after they were away from each other so long at sea. “It still hurts, but it is no longer the color of the midnight sky.”

Conn laughed at his young sons quandry of the attentions of a girl. Here was a young man that could sail around the world, but did not know the first thing about romance of the heart.

The three O’Danu’s sat in the circle with the other captains and officers.

“Where est Jacquotte?” Anna asked, then screamed. “Delahaye!”

“Oui?!” The answering voice echoed. “Je viens!”

Finally, when all eight sailors sat, with other crew sitting behind, paying rapt attention.

“The treasure fleet comes through in the next fortnight, they are punctual, but the ships from Campeche ran into difficulty with Morgan again.” Jacquotte winked. “So I predict that they will be on the far edge of the fortnight and sailing direct. They risk the storm season and will not waste time trying to hide during the day and sail only at night.”

“Even under full sail,” Keegan said, his red-hair glinting in the firelight. “We can catch them.”

“Est malavisé, em… unwise.” Anna shook her head. “They catch us in open daylight without surprise, the war-galleons will stand and fight. Big Spanish cannon are bad to face. We must catch them with their guns stowed and guard down.”

“We can catch them in the dark. In a fortnight, the moon will be on the wane.” Keegan said. “But still too bright, nightwatch will see anyone coming close.”

“Broken clouds would help.” Dana spoke up, then looked down when every eye turned towards him.

“We cannot depend on that.” Conn looked at Dana. “Weather is on thing that we can only take advantage of.”

“Da’.” Keegan said, defending his brother. “He knows.”

Jacquotte spoke up.

“We will speed up the chance to catch them on the first leg of the journey. Not far from where they depart, there is a small harbor, we can put ships there and in another harbor. When the war-galleon’s turn to fight the chasers, the treasure ship will run ahead.”

“Into the hunters.” Conn shook his head. “Is this how you always work?” The father asked the son.

“Often, Da’.” Keegan’s voice was soft. “We just followed.”

“I do not approve, we are here to retrieve your mother.” Conn looked around. “You said you would help us find his mother.”

“Monsieur O’Danu,” Anna looked at him evenly. “This est how our life est. We make the living from what we take, and the Empires we take from deserve no less.”

Few times in his life did Keegan O’Danu see his father truly frown. This being one of those times.

“We are on a mission to seek my mother.” Keegan said, in defense of his sire’s disappointment. “I will not be distracted with the hunt of a treasure ship. My Da’ has never taken a ship, he builds them.”

“And fine ships they are, too!” A voice behind Jacquotte sounded.

“We go to Port Royal first. No stopping until we get there after we leave here. You can gather crews and a fleet then.” Keegan spoke with his old edge. “My mother awaits, my father will seek to rescue her, but I won’t allow him in any combat.”

Jacquotte turned to Anna and pulled on her left earlobe and took a breath.

“The son protects the father. It is upside-down, the son is the warrior, the father is the peacemaker.” She looked Anna directly in the eye. “Père O’Danu est brebis among wolf.”

Shaking her head, the blond French Captain nearly wept.

“Monsieur O’Danu, you stay at Port Royal and get to know our friends. Mon Dash will come with us, we will bring your épouse back to Port Royal.”

This was the best news that Conn heard, but not the news he wanted to here.

Conn knew what they said.  He was a sheep among wolves.

Children of Fury : Hellions Chapter 5. Savage Sisters

Children of Fury:Hellions
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Chapter 5. Savage Sisters

The moon had not yet set when two ships quietly rounded the headlands of the bay.

Blackfish and Lir slid into the bay under the silent, carefully pulled oars powered from men who pulled the quiet vessels next to two darkened ships.

Darkened, but not asleep.

On board the Wrath and Scorned, crews sat and watched the illuminated ships draw up close, smoking fuses at the ready.

A young man’s voice called out, hailing the dark ships.

“Ahoy.”

And a woman’s voice answered.

“Mon Dash?” Then a squeal of recognition and applause, Annamarie’s favorite youth had returned as promised.

Cheers erupted, sailors stowed the guns and once darkened gunports were closed and sealed. The reunion with adoptive big sisters and their crew erupted in cheers and lamps were lit.

Sunrise found the crews of four-pirate ships deep in conversation.

“Mssr. O’Danu.” The brilliant blue eyes of the French Fille-du-Roi looked happily at Conn. “You are most blessed with such a jeune homme.”

She feasted on eggs gathered from the island the night before.

“I don’t understand, Captain.” Conn said with his head tilted slightly.”

“Emmm… Jeune man.” She repeated, her blond hair spilled over her shoulders. Then thought a moment. “Young man?”

A chuckle from a crewman nearby earned an icy look, silencing him instantly.

Laughter echoed over the morning water, the ships with space enough between them, men in the ropes and masts ready to unfurl canvas at a moments notice.

Stories told, Conn, and the other fathers learned of the children that sailed the small ship that brought them home.

While the peals of laughter and stories were told and laughed about. The one known as “Back-from-the-dead-red” looked around and spotted her most protected of men standing on the bow of the Wrath. She walked up to the youth, a boy when she last laid eyes on him, in the year that passed, he had grown nearly as tall as she was, his shoulders had become broad.

But the one that Annemarie called “Mon Dash!” still stared out over the water with those green eyes that filled her with worry.

The eyes were full of an anger that would haunt her soul for years. A steady, unblinking gaze that wished that his future lay somewhere beyond the horizon. When last they sailed together, she prayed that when this young man reunited with his family, he would find peace.

“Talk to me.” She sat on the bowsprit. “You have been and always shall be my man.” Her voice soft in the daylight and she held his hand.

“My dad and all their crew cannot keep up with us. They are learning how to sail their ship which he built as the same as ours.” He shook his head, blood-colored hair glistened in the sunlight. “Granuaille has drilled the crew of the Blackfish until everyone hates her.  But we can load and run out the guns faster than fast. Even Dana has earned his place amongst us.”

“Who, pray tell, is Dana?” Jacquotte asked.

“That would be me.” Icy blue eyes under the hair golden sunshine. The small boy-child, in her eyes stood next to the older and taller captain of the child crew. “I am his brother, what are you doing with him?”

Jacquotte laughed in happy surprise at the younger boy’s protective nature.

“Your Keegan, is my Dash. He is my man, I have fought beside him and hold him dear in my heart.” She winked, this seemed to relax the younger one. “I will always be by his side.”

“Dash, you did not tell me you had such a handsome brother.” She ran her fingers through the red hair.

“You know him, this was the cabin boy we took off of the ship under the command of Captain Tudor.” The cheeks and lips smiled and had a slight blush, however the green eyes remained haunted. “This is him.”

This is him? His hair was not nearly as bright yellow, he was shades darker. And he had black fingernails.” Jacquotte clapped. “Mon dieu! You have cleaned up well, cabin-boy.”

“I am not a boy, I am a pirate.” He stood with his hands on his hips.

Coming barely to the woman’s shouldershe slipped her arms around Dana’s shoulders and kissed him on the forehead.

“Any family of my Pirate Prince is welcome aboard any of my fleet.” She laughed while Dana blushed brightly.

“Don’t worry, Dana,” Dash laughed. “She has did that to me and Bradan, when we met.”

The sudden memory of his old friend wiped the laughter from his soul like shadows banished by sunlight.

The tall, redheaded woman stepped up to the one she called Dash and put her arms around him.

To her, he was Dash MacDíoltas, The Son of Revenge.

“You, young Dana.” She brushed a blond hair out of the tow-headed boy. “You would turn a girl’s head quickly.”

“Aww. Ma’am…” Dana started, finding a deeper shade of red to turn.

“Call me Jacquotte, or if you cannot, Captain will be well enough.” She smiled.

“Keegan? Keegan!” Conn’s voice sounded over the deck.

“We must return to the meeting, it seems that the meet and greet is over.” Keegain said to the others.

The trio stood and walked back to the larger group. Jacquotte sadly did not have time to talk to Keegan, her dash of spice in her life. A kindred ginger, this boy with the green eyes, who would replace her lost family.

In the crowd of captains and officers, they drank toasts to each other and greeted the red-headed captain of the fast ship Blackfish.

“We sail at the turn of the tide.” Keegan directed. “We head south, then west. There is a man we need to meet.”

When tide turned and began to withdraw, four ships gracefully rounded the edge of the hidden bay and turned to a southerly course.

Destination: Port Royal.

Captain Henry Morgan would be quite surprised to see that his favorite pirate had returned. However, the return of the children pirates would not go as unnoticed as everyone might hope.

Pirate hunters, given the a charter to find and eliminate any pirates working for the wrong government were on the rise.

In the twenty-first century, they would be called bounty hunters or mercenaries.

The red haired teenage captain of the Blackfish called them one only thing.

Target practice.

Children of Fury:Hellions
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Chapter 4. A Small Fleet

Blackfish and Cúliath, sister ships built by the great smiths in the land named after the Florentine navigator Vespucci.

This land now called America, with cooperation with the natives that lived in the lands had met with Conn a number of times in the years after their arrival.

The chief of the tribe at first told the homeless Irish to go home over the water.

The Conn agreed, that was what they wanted to do, but so long as the hated red-coat wearing empire was in control, they would have to fight for their lives where ever they would live.

One gathering, Conn traveled to the village of the tribal leader, bringing food and music with them.

Food shared, to the beating of the Irish drums and a fiddler that excited the tribe into a clapping, laughing dance. Trade of one drum for another between musicians went for hours until their tongues were tired, their feet ached. And the fiddler played up all the songs and shanty’s he knew.

In the end, promises were made, no papers, a gift of the bow of the fiddle was offered, but rejected. Only a tin whistle that they gave another flute in exchange was accepted in friendship. Even the old chief who never smiled, clapped his hands as the angels of both villages danced in grace and beauty that brought tears to the eyes of the parents of the children.

The spinning dances, the wise woman blessed the Irish with the most sacred of prayers.

Sleep that night in the warm evening came late, and the morning people rose late.

Smiles and tired waves, the two groups, the permission for remaining in the land followed with promises to treat the land like their hearts. Drums beat on the walk back until the the sounds faded in the distance of the forest.

Conn walked in silence, followed by the rest of the musicians and by his two sons, Keegan and Dana, along with the other lost children who came home.

All the children walked together, in the months that followed their return, they did everything as one.

Granuaile, the dancing strawberry blond girl of the night before, smiled with a look that Conn would have to write in his journal. This young lady who all the children said she did more magic with a cannon that any sailor couldn’t match, had eyes for their son.

The chief of their neighbors promised Conn their support against the red coat if he would support them in their struggles during the cold of winter.

In the long talk of the night, the chief’s eldest son would guide strangers to the land where and how to cut trees for the big ships and many big guns.

That night, the prince of the chief lay down to sleep on the floor with a simple blanket.

Keegan showed the chief’s son, Fighting Bears, a hammock saved from the Grampus. After some time with struggles, Fighting Bears got into the hammock with some embarrassed laughter. But fell asleep quickly.

Later, he kept the net-like bed he slept in, then gave Keegan a knife made for scraping and one for hunting.

Such was the state of the cooperative help with the people from across the water. Fighting Bears nodded, he told how the water ebbed and flowed. His ideas that the single ship was not enough.

Under his prodding, Conn built two ships, prepared for combat with the skills of every artisan and metal worker that escaped the burned and poisoned villages in their home land.

Conn had his own fleet, he would use the tools to make the world remember the crimes against his home.

Thanksgiving at the lake.

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I’m just now getting back into posting. I have fallen out of the habit of posting during NaNoWriMo of my goulash of words.

Nothing I would post, but I do have a few elements that might show up in up and coming chapters.

I have on deck.  “Children of Fury: Hellions”  A few more chapters of Dragonmaster U. (Remember Jona, Kolo, Aed, etc? )

Now I come back and WP has altered the code again.  A completely new feeling? I won’t growl at the cheap feeling or how WP swapped the buttons around.  I’ll only growl as it is my second time back to it. Not enough to get into a “feeling” for the controls, just yet.

I can say it makes it feel, bloated. But that just might be me in my 23rd serving of leftover turkey and dressing since a week ago yesterday. (Thanksgiving in the USA.)

So I will reserve my opinion for a while to get oriented to it a bit.

And speaking of Thanksgiving in the US, I willThe View 20151127_080053_HDR show you a few images you might like.

 

Daily required activities

House Rules: Daily required activities

 

 

 

House Rules, sorry, I used a flash.

 

After playing hard in the snow, I open with Honey the Dog taking a well deserved nap in the evening.  So tired, her tongue was hanging out.  She was sore for two days after a weekend of running with other family dogs through snow and ice.

 

Happy Days to all.  To all a snowy good night.

Children of Fury: Hellions Chapter 1. New Threat

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Children of fury hellions 3 October 2014

Chapter 1. New Threat

Tongs and hammers, wood and copper, iron and wood, the ship took shape in the backwater of the great bay, hidden by the local geography, the ship grew in its lethal shape for a lethal design.

The hull was knife-edged, a keel that resembled the fin of the largest porpoise in the world’s oceans. The Blackfish grew in shape and deadly purpose. Conn O’Danu paced as he directed the carpenters to follow the measurements and drawings to the bitter-end of each page. There would be no gaps, no errors. Conn used green, live oak for the frame and hull of the new ship, stout construction to the extreme. No guesswork allowed, each measurement carefully made by standard marks on flat sticks and small knots on cords.

This pleased Conn, this oak of the new land demonstrated itself as a resilient wood and made for the tightest construction he ever envisioned possible.

In the course of the construction, the men and women adults felt need to build a ship, the urge to build came from Keegan, who reassembled the crew of children that had returned home. Their mission, the small ones had decided, return to the islands in the south and rescue their friends, mothers, fathers and all their families that remained.

The children, parents found, while still children in their bodies, had matured into adults far before their time. The New Model Army took them as babes needing their mothers for slights and scrapes, the children returned as pirates that the naval powers feared. Pint-sized warriors willing to fight and take wounds, to bleed for each other and what they felt as a righteous mission. Mothers and fathers, sadly, took months to learn the precious innocent children were gone forever, replaced by hunters and legends. They were threats to all on the ocean.

The cruelty of the Empires of the world had taught them how to sail and fight. Now, they were punishers of the sea, and to the sea they would return until that which the Empire had stolen were all returned.

Copper and iron metal heated and hammered in place. Diarmuid An Dubh and Nial Gabham, the two talented blacksmiths of the village, made connections to other artisans of metals and the powers of Hephaestus, forged with imagination the plates of copper they attached to the hull of the ship. A ship which they hid in the back-waters of the bay.

Ideas from the boy who brought the children home, copper scales nailed on the bottom of the ship’s hull. Copper nails held the dinner-plate sized copper ellipse shaped scales in place. Brass and bronze nails driven in measured distances by carpenters and craftsmen. The builders who followed what Keegan O’Danu and Dana, who the O’Danu’s had adopted as one of their own, showed where to drive the metal spikes into the wood.

Under the shade of a nearby tree, as word spread, children gathered by ones and twos. They were returning, time for retribution was at hand.

Mothers with fear in their hearts, tried to pull these children who gathered in the clearing. Children, those that had been lost and then returned, who still carried a fire in them that frightened most adults.

Such anger, taught by the Empires of the sea and this New World that they colonized. Taken for slavery and pleasure, a life was worth less than the sweat it took to pull a knife from a sheath.

Fathers pulled on children who turned and looked at the patriarchs in the eye. In the child’s eye, an unwavering fury danced in each of their hearts. The souls of a generation pushed beyond civilized limits, filled instead with the single thought.

Retrieve that which was theirs.

Parents words of denial and demands, spoken of in angered whispers as families tried to rebuild. But no one denied that each family was still rent and torn with missing members.

These were children who learned a mission. Their first mission was to come home.

A new call to arms, a new mission, flames of deep, unremitting anger sparkled in youthful eyes. Confidence that only the young had, and a fury taught equalled only by the devil himself at those who raided their villages.

The followers of Cromwell, the devil of all the crimes against this group of children that despised the soldiers in red and the Rump Parliament who followed after Pride’s Purge. The efforts of a few had instilled such anger in a whole people.

And the growing Empire successfully angered two groups of people to that point in its history. 

The Great Scots of the North and the Highlands and the entire Hibernian isle.

The Governor of the colony could not know of the return of a crew of children on a ship that was like no other.

In time, despair would settle over the hearts of Governors and Ministers alike in future days as rumors of the hell-ship, named Blackfish, a fast and lethal warship that sailed the waters of the West Indies came to their ears.

But we are getting ahead of the story…

Failure of the Heart

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If Only… The failure of the heart

 It seemed like a lifetime ago, he knew her as a young man and broke her heart. Three words he never said, the phrase withheld with a hesitant heart. 

She once looked him in the eye and used her willpower to get him to speak his heart, and then he changed the subject. In the months that passed, they began to see less of each other. Then school, career and the end of innocence came after that

Then came separate lives.

Years later, after a friend (now no longer such) played mind games with the knowledge that friends share in matters of the heart and served only to increase his guilt while he kept her in the front of his memories.

Thoughts of a life that could have been, a smile never forgotten, a sad look that never rose above the pain of his immaturity.

Often he could look back and recall her expectant smile. The words she never heard in life he now whispered as he knelt at her headstone.  Another victim of domestic abuse that could have had her path changed for the better with but a single expression of emotion from a college-bound ex-boyfriend. A phrase that could have changed their lives.

Could he have changed the world with three words?

“I love you.”

Silence. Granite and bronze are as unresponsive as the teenage heart that has plans of school and career. Could this young man have saved her from the pain and years of domestic abuse?

Perhaps.

Then again, perhaps not.

With a heavy sigh, the ex-boyfriend stood and walked away from his agony of failure. The weight of ten-thousand nights that he relived his choice that condemned them to separate lives.

Could their lives have been different? The world will never know.

But the answer was known, deep in his heart.

The deepest wish of a simpler time, the teenager, now aged with laced with white hair and a slight limp from a long-ago accident that also left him widowed had come to visit, just fifteen months too late.

News in the way of gossip around a school reunion came to him of her current address on this quiet lane, lined with headstones. Only an apology on his lips and the sob that escaped his soul.

As the salt and pepper haired man held hands with princesses and left the lane, the curious voices of the grandchildren echoed among headstones. Soft sounds of life were all that they left for those that slept the forever slumber.

Married by MIstake Epilogue Or: Chapter 59. In This Corner, The one, The Only…

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Epilogue Or: Chapter 59. In This Corner, The One, The Only…

‟TOM!” Kaylee jumped in his arms and hugged on him, as if she would never let go for all her days. ‟Where did you come from?”

He paused in mid-hug for a moment and gave a crooked smile with his inappropriate humor on the verge of words, pointed down the hallway.

‟Over there, the men’s room around the corner.”

‟Mr. Harte, I am Maxwell Silverham. We have met with these two women here to find a way to have you brought back to the United States. Please, tell me where have you been if you weren’t in Asia?”

‟Yup.” The cowboy hat had a distinct shape to it as he nodded. “I was in Asia on business and had a spot of trouble, but with the help of a local crime lord…” Tom pulled off his hat and scratched behind his ear. The long, red hair that once hung to his collar, now was shaven to a stubble.

‟Crime lord?” Beryon asked.

‟Yes, please don’t interrupt,” Tom gave the lawyer a hard look. “The term is my own. In any event, a well-connected citizen of means,  who’s interested in my children’s books of Leonard the Leafy Sea Dragon and wishes to open up the market in southeast Asia to publish the book series. He helped me out of Singapore. But at a cost.” Tom smiled. ‟He gets another eighth-cent per book sold.”

“We anticipate a lot of children’s books sold.” Tom rubbed his head. “Hate this haircut but it was necessary.”

‟Very well, but where did you go?” Max asked.

‟From there, I got my plane back, but the custom inspectors took saws to the cabinets, walls and whatever else they thought might have a hidden cache of drugs, they even tore up the carpet.” Tom frowned. “They even shredded my bed with razor blades.”

‟But the lawyer advised  me to leave Singapore with haste. The window for legal departure became more difficult with every minute that ticked past.” Tom took a deep breath of a man who ran for his life, and succeeded if just by the smallest of margins. “So I went to Australia and did my book tour.”

“While I was there, I paid a cabinet company to rebuild the bathroom and bed. All the other cut-up bits and parts were in boxes, I dumped them in Oz. I left my kitchen and laundry machines in Brisbane. It was a long and miserable flight back.” Tom made a sad shake of his head. “But,I got some extra range out of the Pacific Wizard because of the reduced weight. Without the cabinets and furniture, it increased the range by a measurable amount.”

‟Wow.” Melanie looked out the window for the big jet. ‟Where is the plane now?”

‟Well,” Tom smiled. “The Pacific Wizard is in Arizona with the cabinet builders to have a new interior built. I just paid a six-month lease here for the Sea Dragon to have month by month service until I get the Pacific Wizard back.”

‟Serviced here?” State Department Maxwell Silverham asked. ‟Can you elaborate? What do you have done?”

‟I have the plane hauled out and the hull cleaned of sea life.” Tom said as if he described it to a child. “They use a variety of methods, pressure and steam-clean technologies. Then repaint if needed. It is a low copper paint for environmental considerations, but it eliminates cross-contamination of species.”

‟Very good. I think my presence is no longer required here.” The United States agent nodded. “Mr. Harte, welcome back. I have someone contact you for a statement, a mere formality. You have cleared customs?” Max asked.

‟Yes, in Arizona.” Tom said. ‟Not that there was much to hide. It was in locked containers or on my person. Pain in the neck to live out of, but perfect for inspection.”

‟My services are paid in full by Leticia Nesmith on your behalf, Mr. Harte.” Beyron added. “You don’t wish my services?”

“I thought you were free from the Attorney General?” Kaylee asked.

“For you, yes.” Beyron nodded. “In the case of Thomas Harte, he got himself into that situation, my charges are in effect for him.”

‟Please leave me your card, I will need some representation with business contracts of the Singapore business society.” Tom said.

‟I don’t do business law.” Beryon said with his smile faltered.

‟No, perhaps not, but do you know someone who could? In your legal group, maybe?” Tom smiled. ‟Plus, I might still need some representation in the criminal courts before I go back. I won’t go back if the court there wants to prosecute me.”

‟Excellent.” Beyron nodded and his smile widened. “I look forward to see our company to do business with you. I’ll have my secretary find someone and contact you. Let’s do dinner. My wife makes a rum-cake that is to die for and we can burn a few steaks, then map out a strategy for a business model for both legal protection for you and assure that you don’t lose money in the international taxation of the different governments.”

He shook Tom’s hand then turned and walked with Max to the limousine.

“One shark teased and soon ignored.” Tom whispered to Kaylee and Melanie . “He would never leave without questions otherwise.”

‟Why did you go to Arizona with the yacht?” Kaylee asked as the government limousine left. “I thought a better place would be a yacht factory on the coast?”

‟The company in Yuma did the original cabinetry work, I liked  the material’s quality then, and since they have improved on the material technology. They can make the same kind of cabinets with less weight. I can save two-thousand pounds, and still have more cool stuff!” Tom shrugged with a smile. ‟And it is a renewable, fire-resistant wood.”

‟Wait. Wood is fire-resistant?” Melanie asked.

‟It’s treated at the factory.” Tom chuckled. “Spared no expense. It is all custom-built now. In a twisted way, when they gutted the entire plane, it saved me money, a rather uncomfortable ride, but I got my computer and tablets back, and all the rest of it is replaceable.”

“They looked at the drives, one officer recognized a story and told me that he reads it to his children every day.” Tom chuckled. “It helped me get the computers back, the stories on it that one officer didn’t wish to interrupt the book series. Although I think he took copies of the next couple books.”

‟Well, let’s go look at it, you will need an artist’s eye and a woman’s touch.” Kaylee said.

‟Why would I need a woman’s touch?”

Kaylee looked at Melanie and the sisters laughed.

‟This has all the promise of fun and excitement.” The younger sister clapped and laughed while Kaylee kissed him. ‟Tom, welcome to the family. Wait’ll mom and dad meet you. If you live through that, you’ll be famous.”

*I might be safer in Asia.* Tom gave a nervous laugh.

<fin>

Married by Mistake Chapter 58. Thomas Harrison Harte

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Chapter 58. Thomas Harrison Harte 

‟Well, Miss Grant and Miss Grant,” Beyron nodded to Melanie . ‟We will try to find Mr. Harte. And get him out of the system in Singapore. If there is any luck at all, we might be able to have him released to us before the investigation into his situation is complete.”

‟The State Department has limited influence in Singapore, the Singapore government has taken great pride in numbers of convicted drug smugglers for minor amounts of drugs, and has hanged many others. In the event they convict him he for the amount that you describe and what they say they have found, he faces a maximum sentence of a decade in prison, or he could be caned a maximum of two-dozen times. To be honest, they may give him a reduced sentence because of his age and his popularity in that part of the world.” Max said. ‟He might be able to find a legal way out, or have help of someone of influence in the political structure there.”

Max pulled at his earlobe for a few moments in thought.

“Australia has attempted more than once to recover Australian nationals with limited success. Our influence is less than Australia.” He said at last.

‟So he’s punished for my stash.” Tears welled up in Kaylee’s eyes.

‟Yes. And you are sure it is less than two-ounces?”

‟Yes. I stressed out to the max when he was in the hospital.” Kaylee admitted. “I smoked quite a lot of it.”

‟We will make a press release, but your request for a passport to go to Singapore will not happen. The process will be too long for you make reasonable plans to go to Singapore, and my advice on this?” Max coached Kaylee gently. “It is a bad idea in the extreme. Do not attempt to rescue him by confession to the government in a Singapore court that the drugs are yours.”

Max Silverham pondered a minute more. Never a person to comment without deep thought.

‟I have to let your lawyer here say his part and ask the questions. But, I have one now. I look around your apartment, I do not see indications of the financial base to pay the salary that Mister Ferguson, and this master of law that has brought me out of where I belong to come here. Yet, you said you married Mister Harte?”

‟Excuse me, the financial base for the young lady is not relevant to the situation.” Beyron advised. ‟We decline to answer that.”

‟I’m not a judge.” Max said.

‟Just so you remember that.” Beyron said. ‟I am her advisor, not yours, you have your own. But the advice you have given is good advice so far. Just the question is inappropriate in this context.”

‟I withdraw it. I do have further questions on where he stored his aircraft. He flew from one part of the world and landed in their waters? You said he has a float-plane?”

‟Yacht, flying yacht.” Kaylee corrected. ‟Or flying-boat. Sorry, he gave too many corrections on that detail and I picked up the habit, but you have to see it to understand. It is a glorious home.”

‟We have to look into this, this airborne palace might have contaminated our harbor with exotic marine species.” Max sat up and began to write. ‟Where did he have his plane hauled out.” Pause. ‟Yacht.” Pause. “Er… Craft.”

‟A couple miles down the road at Harbor Bay Airport.”

‟Care to join us in an excursion to the airport?” Max Silverham asked. ‟You can show me where he serviced his plane at.”

Kaylee puzzled.

‟Don’t you have staff for that?”

Max smiled.

‟Perhaps you don’t know my rank, or it’s just misstated by Mister Ferguson here. I am the staff. I just rank a little higher and liaise between the civilian and military sides of the same mission, but I am still the staff, I answer to the real politicians.”

A half-hour later, with Kaylee ’s car in the lead, Beyron sat in the front passenger seat the group drove into the car lot of the private plane owners.

‟That hanger there, is where he had the Pacific Wizard serviced and kept when it was out of the water.”

‟You have been here of late?” Maxwell Silverham asked. ‟You mentioned that you came back to look for him?”

‟Yes. But they wouldn’t tell me any information.” Kaylee said with a sag to her shoulders. ‟I couldn’t get them to tell me the time of day. Only the lead tech would to talk to me.”

‟Well, let me see if I can loosen some lips.” Max smiled and his eyes sparkled with determination when they walked towards the office.

‟I don’t know him very well, but I know the type.” Beyron whispered in a conspiratorial voice to the sisters . ‟Loves the hunt.”

With an air of importance, Max stepped up to the counter in the office, flanked by the two uniformed Marines. Max got immediate attention.

‟I will help you, my manager’s indisposed with a potential client.” A petite First-Nation’s woman said.

‟I need access to your records on one Mister Harte, Thomas. When he was here and if he has an address out of the country.”

‟You need to wait, then. I cannot access the history of our clients without cause.”

‟The cause is because I told you.” Max said firmly. ‟Do you know who I am?”

‟No, and I don’t care. You need a few forms filled out first.”

‟Ma’am, I have identification, two marines and I carry the authority of the United States Government. I do not need to fill out forms for this.”

‟Then you don’t need what I have.” She looked at him with black eyes without so much as a blink of fear. ‟Warrant, police, and my faith that you are not some asshat that thinks you can walk in here with two weapons on each hip.” She pointed at the marines.

One marine broke character and gave a small smile for the briefest of moments but never deviated his eyes from the straight forward.

‟Now, you sit down, shut up or leave.” She hissed. ‟White man, black man, marines, you think you can still push my people around. Guess again.”

Then to Kaylee and Melanie, she smiled.

‟What can I do for you ladies?” The eyes softened and she became helpful.

‟We are just here to do some business for Tom Harte, the author? He had his plane here for service. I would like to pay any balance on a bill.” Kaylee presented the shiny black card with her married name engraved on it.

‟Oh!” She looked at the card with Kaylee’s image on it. ‟Just a minute.”

She handed the card back to Kaylee, she nodded, smiled and walked down a hallway then disappeared out of sight.

Two minutes later, she returned.

At first Kaylee noticed the cowboy-hatted male who walked down the hallway and sported a hideous scar on his forearm, recently healed.

Then the familiar smile, a sparkle of an emerald eye, she knew that face. It was one she had kissed more than once and made her heart dance.

It was Thomas Harrison Harte.

Kaylee ‘s once and future husband.

Married by Mistake Chapter 57. News Channel Gone Dark

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Chapter 57. News Channel Gone Dark

In her apartment, every moment Kaylee spent outside of class, her computer logged in and a bluetooth connection to her television to watch it with her sister.

Melanie paced around the apartment in agitation. The news website out of Singapore at first uploaded the few still images and fewer videos had no recent enough updates to calm her irritation.

One high-quality video, the news reporter explained that Singapore authorities detained an American, Thomas Harte, while they investigated the charges that he smuggled marijuana bundled for transportation and a bottle of unknown liquid that investigators suspected as a narcotic. Cleared of drug-use by medical examination, the prosecutor planned to use the reports against him in a court and prosecute the United States Citizen as a smuggler.

‟He was cleared by a blood check? How can they use that he was clean against him?” Melanie said.

‟There, it said it. If he had it in possession and he’s clean, they know he was trafficker.” Kaylee held both hands to her tear-streaked face.

‟I’ve called Lettie, she called the government here. I talked with a lawyer that Lettie set me up with, he will set me up with the state department and we will see if there is any help I can do.” Kaylee said.

‟How can you help?”

‟The stash was mine.” Kaylee said. ‟It was in with my massage oil. I know that’s what they are calling as narc-oil.”

‟You left it? In his plane?” Melanie clapped her hand to her forehead. ‟You never planned to stay with Glenn.”

‟I, uh…” Kaylee stammered, then her temper flared. ‟Screw you.”

That just made Melanie the Monster and kid sister laugh harder.

‟You say that and that means I’m right. Tom got you to love him.” She smiled at her sister and poked her older Kaylee over her heart. “He writes about airship pirates, but he is the King of Pirates who stole your heart. Thomas Harte is a thief of hearts.”

 ‟Shut up, Melanie or I’ll tell mom.” In an empty threat. “And don’t poke me.”

Melanie quieted down and giggled for several minutes.

‟I’ll need to tell the State Department that Tom and I had gotten married and then annulled.” Kaylee rubbed her forehead. ‟Dad will poop a pinecone.”

‟Yeah, a whole tree of them.” Melanie smiled, but her tone was sad. ‟You know those crazy paparazzi with cameras will be here. You won’t be able to walk or drive to classes.”

‟I’ll live on campus then.”

‟The wait list is two years long, you won’t get a place until after you graduate.” Melanie shook her head. ‟If you tell the State Department, you can save him, but you will lose your chance to graduate in peace. The photographers will be all over you like flies on a dead fish.”

‟What…?” Kaylee interrupted. “Mel, the feed just went down. Just have a four-zero-four ‟Not Found” code.”

‟Just go back a page.”

‟I did, Online Network News only has other countries in the menu, Singapore is not there. Not even weather.”

‟Wierd. Try alternate news feeds.” Melanie suggested and sat next to her sister at the computer.

‟Okay.” Kaylee typed in the addresses of the different sources.

‟Those are old images we’ve seen. Tom might be free. Oh!” Kaylee smiled. ‟Lettie has sent an email.”

Then the excitement turned into crestfallen defeat.

‟She says Tom’s locked up in jail, Singapore police have confiscated his passport. She looked at the laws, sent me the link.” Kaylee clicked on the highlighted text. ‟That is harsh. He might get ten-years for the weed and forfeit all his possessions and death penalty is mandatory for the narc-oil.”

Melanie looked at her sister.

‟Death? But that is only aromatherapy oil, right? That essence of rosemary I gave you for your birthday.” She shook her head. “And they took… His plane?”

Melanie kept reading over Kaylee’s shoulder.

A phone rang, and both sisters looked at their phones before Kaylee picked it up.

‟Hello? Yes. Yes, at home. Yes. Las Vegas, three weeks ago. My address is…” Kaylee looked down off the balcony. ‟You know where I am? Yes. Right away? I’ll be here.”

‟That was the lawyer. He and a State Department rep are on their way.‟ Looking down, ‟Oh… Drat! I need to get dressed in something nicer than my t-shirt and jeans.”

‟At least put on a bra. You’re kind of on point since you have been on the phone.” Melanie pointed out.

‟What! ACK!” Kaylee squawked and ran to her room to change clothes, covering her chest up with her hands.

‟Why did you cover and run? It’s only me.” Melanie laughed again. The younger sister enjoyed when the elder stressed out.

‟Oh my god! Omygodomygod I can’t find what to wear.” Sounds in her bedroom echoed as she slammed drawers and closet doors.

‟Wear your dark green skirt, boots and your black silk blouse with the pocket.”

‟You borrowed my skirt last month for the class interviews, have you brought it back?”

‟No, it’s in my laundry.”

‟Crap. Mellie, help, I am in a panic, I need some advice.”

‟Okay, black skirt?”

‟Yes, past my knee. Heeled boots, black silk blouse and the gray jacket.

‟Yeeaah… I would leave the jacket.” Melanie said and looked out the window. ‟It’s too hot to dress in those extra layers.”

‟Yeah. Yeah… I will meet with some important people, I don’t want them to think I am just a college kid.”

‟Well. You are, and he is a lot older, you might not get away without that label in their minds, then they would say it.” Melanie mused as she helped her sister adjust the collar on the blouse.

‟I don’t know what to say.” Kaylee said and walked out of the room. ‟The lawyer will be here in a moment.”

‟Okay. Okay.” Melanie said as the sibling turned around. ‟Okay, you look good. Wait, did you put a bra on?” Another squeak of profanity from her Kaylee who disappeared into her room again.

A short few minutes and she was ready. The sisters opened the door to walk down to the sidewalk and both sisters screamed in surprise.

Four men stood in the hallway, two in military uniform in places on either side of the door. Two in civilian office clothing, one looked like he had swallowed some vile drink.

‟Miss Grant?” The dark-skinned man held out a hand. ‟I’m Beyron Ferguson, attorney at law. The G.I. Joe here is the secretary of the local state department office, Maxwell Silverham.” he indicated the sour-faced man.

‟Local?” Melanie said. ‟I didn’t know we had a local one.”

‟And you are?” Beyron said.

‟She is my sister, Melanie Grant. I would like to have her here while you interrogate me. Should I get a lawyer?”

‟Please call me Max.” The older white-haired man said. ‟No you don’t need a lawyer, and local is a relative term Miss Grant.” He nodded with a smile to Melanie.

‟May I get you a glass of water?” Kaylee asked.

‟No, thank you.” Max said. ‟May we sit?”

Motioning to the breakfast table, they all took a seat while Beyron pulled out a notepad.

‟For the record Miss Grant… Kaylee. I am your attorney, appointed by the Attorney General of the United States, pro-bono. That is no charge to you.” Beyron explained to the two women. “I will give you advice, but I will do what you ask, even finding a replacement if I do not fulfill my job to your satisfaction. Mister Silverham here is the government investigator in charge. He would like to ask about your relationship with Thomas Harte who is now in custody in Singapore and will stand trial for drug possession in the next few days. This is not a criminal investigation, but I am here to protect your rights in any event his questions stray into private areas that are not relevant. If at any time you wish to stop talking with Mister Silverham, we will bring this to an end. Do you understand all that?”

Kaylee nodded.

‟Before we start,” Max said, ‟What is your relationship with this author who seems to lack a street address.”

Kaylee held hands with her sister and relaxed, she felt more confident than ever and explained the events of the past summer.

Married by Mistake Chapter 56. Mr. Lee, I presume?

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Chapter 56. Mr. Lee, I presume?

“I will make a request that you are on police bail, in the meantime the guards will escort you across the street back to your cell until I find how much the bail will be.”

This deflated Tom, he did not want to go back to the miserable place where odor of vomit and dead cockroaches were common decor.

Before Robert could pick up his phone to call for a guard to take Tom back to his cell, there came a knock at the door.

A young man with a camera stood at the door and two men stood on either side of him. The two men wore matched navy blue business suits with lavender ties.

If Tom was not so terrified of his current future, might have laughed. But the twenty-something man in the middle of the trio did not fit with the group.

The young man looked down, and introduced himself as Liem Han, then one of the men in a gentle motion, a hand on his shoulder.

With a grimace of terror Liem spoke an invitation.

‟Mister Lee would like for you to join him for tea.”

‟Thank you.” Robert said. ‟When.”

A squeeze on Liem’s shoulder made the young man moan in abject fear.

‟Now. A limousine is waits for us outside.”

The men that escorted them, only gave minute professional nods as the two men inside gathered up the papers from Robert’s desk and walked out the door.

‟Please remember to lock your door.” The taller one said to Robert. ‟You will be returned safe and it would be a shame if someone took what little you had left because of an open door.”

Tom actually felt better when Robert locked the door before he turned and walked out of the house to the stretched limousine.

The team lavender opened the limo’s door and invited the three escorted men to climb inside the plush transporter’s interior and they closed the door behind them. Inside, an Indian woman with a strong British accent, faced them as they sat.

‟Mister Lee wishes to meet you both. Mister Liem, you will sell all your pictures with rights to Mister Lee. Interviews may be granted, but only after Mr. Lee approves. In the event there is a paid interview, the payments divided evenly, agreed?”

‟Um.” Liem stammered. ‟Do I have a choice.”

‟Yes. But it would be in your best interests to accept the deal. The consequences would be unfortunate.”

‟Ma’am.” Tom pointed at Liem. ‟Why is he here?”

‟Mister Liem Han has taken pictures of you at the time of your arrest. He sold them to the highest bidder. Mr. Lee has purchased most of the images, but the first few went out to the internet before we were aware of your legal troubles.” She explained in precise langauge.

‟Excuse me, who are you?” Robert asked.

‟Mister Mitch, my name is Mumtaz Nayyar, former legal advisor to the British consul here in Singapore.” She said in an even voice.

‟Why former?” The lawyer asked.

‟Mr. Lee pays a great deal more.”

‟Simple and direct.” Tom tried to chuckle but it came out as little more than a squeak. That Lee Kong Kuen had precise knowledge of where he was, bothered him.

‟Now, Mr. Mitch. My employer wishes to help you along with this case of Mr. Harte here. We have arranged for dropping of the drug charges, but you need to press for the government substantiate the drug charge.”

‟I don’t understand.”

‟The police misplaced the plastic bag as I understand it.” She folded down her laptop lid. ”There are no drugs. The report on that just came through to me.”

‟That is…” Robert searched for a word opened up in a practiced smile and showed perfect, polished teeth. ‟Incredible intelligence young woman.”

‟Do not flirt with me, it does not work.”

‟Mister Harte, you have been in Liem’s pictures. As a result certain elements of politics and some family have contacted the US Embassy here. She claims to drive for your wife. But our sources indicate you are a widower.”

‟I don’t have a wife, and I have a lot of limo drivers.”

She opened her laptop lid and traced her finger over the screen.

‟Lettie?” She read the name on the screen invisible to the rest of the passengers.

‟Oh yes, she owns the company.”

‟Does the name Kaylee sound familiar?”

Robert coughed.

‟I’m sorry, until we are more confident on these recent events, I advise him to say no more.”

‟Of course.” She looked out the window. ‟Here we are. Your mystery will resolve in a moment. Your host is waits there at the front step.”

The elegant car pulled up and a tall, bald elderly man dressed in lavender robes stepped forward and waited while the limousine driver opened the door. The two men in the business suits flanked the newcomers men and remained silent, bowed low to their employer.

Mumtaz bowed, but not as low as the two suited men, introduced the three guests.

‟Mister Harte, Mister Mitch and Mister Liem, this is my employer Lee Kong Kuen.” Then she stepped off to the side and fell silent.

‟Mister Lee.” Robert held out a hand. ‟Pleased to meet you. I have heard much.”

He shook his head, then the old man held out a fist and bumped knuckles.

‟I do not shake hands with outsiders, I understand that this is acceptable among westerners. Please come with me, we have much to discuss, but first you will need a change of clothes.” Mr. Lee turned to the men in business suits. ‟Some comfortable robes for them.”

‟Follow us.” The taller of his soldiers said without humor.

In a half-hour they sat in a room and wore lavender colored robes when their host entered.

He sat on a padded stool near a work of art, a short truncated obelisk with a one-meter-diameter flawless, transparent-quartz stone that rotated on a shallow pool of water.

‟There are few large quartz crystals in this world that are flawless. This is one.” He said, his hairless head gleamed nearly as much as the polished stone.

‟Mister Liem Han. I will pay you one-million Singapore dollars for your pictures, also for your camera and your phone. You will not give interviews unless I say it is acceptable. All interviews will be here under my supervision with Mumtaz in attendance. You’ll be paid and I will get half. If you receive offers of interviews, you will refer whoever asks to Mumtaz for negotiations.”

‟Yes.” Liem said. ‟I was just lucky, I saw the American get detained and taken out of his plane.”

‟Thank you.” Mr. Lee nodded. “You were lucky, indeed, and you’ll be rewarded for your work. You have a job interview with the person on the paper that Mister Hom has handed you. You will need new clothes and, Mister Hom? Please escort Mister Liem and select for him some proper clothes for an interview.”

He watched the men leave, then the eyes became hard and looked at Tom.

‟Your cannabis is high quality from the Emerald Triangle. DNA analysis tells us it is from Oregon. Mr. Harte, you do not plan to import any of this material into or through this part of the world?” The brow on the old man became furrowed with concern.

‟No. I will repeat what I have said, I was not aware it was on my plane. I have no interest in transport or smuggle of any material.” Tom looked at his host with a steady gaze. “I have had a relationship with a woman and we have parted company, I think it was hers.”

‟So I have heard, you sought an annulment in Las Vegas.”

‟Yes.” Tom nodded.

‟Tell me, in truth, do they have an entire street covered in Las Vegas?” The old face was unreadable.

‟Why, yes.” Tom said, careful of his words. “It is animated at night with lights.”

‟I wish to go there and see that, but I will need a tour guide.” A slight smile escaped him. ‟You will need to set that up. A staff of all men, a full floor and skilled escorts to show me around. I don’t trust any place outside my walls. And have all escorts trained in protection. Not all of my bodyguards have passports.”

‟Okay, I can do that. Is this a payment for any help?” Tom asked. “For my freedom?”

‟No, that is a friend who helps another friend in need. I would not ask you to do any illegal activities on my behalf.” He shook his head. “Those needs I can take care of with my own devices.”

“For payments to satisfy the debt incurred of your current legal issues, we will speak of the market you wish to enter with your children’s books.” The lord of the manor nodded. ‟Initial letters of interest we have exchanged, will reflect an extra two-cents per sale in U.S. dollars to me for one year, I expect also to have two-cents per sale on tickets of the movie worldwide release. Not from sales in the US, the convoluted tax laws there are beyond reason.”

‟But, Mr. Lee, There is no movie for the children’s book series planned.” Tom pointed out.

‟Mr. Ritch.” The bald head turned and addressed the lawyer.

‟Mitch. Like Robert Mitchum the actor, but no ‘um’ at the end. Just Mitch.”

‟I beg your pardon, Mr. Mitch.” He gave a slight bow to his head. “You should represent Tom here to negotiate the fine details between our markets.”

‟I am not a contract lawyer.”

‟Then I suggest you find one that you can afford, this market will be worth millions to all of us, in my opinion. Tom, you are a gifted storyteller. I look forward to someone who will read your books read to me at bedtime.”

‟Who… oh.” Tom looked around at the staff. Everywhere, young, athletic men in loincloths of their hosts favorite color performed maintenance on the grounds with brooms and rakes.

‟Most these young men are heterosexual, they are all only my employees. This is not a sex camp, I have my own relationships, but I do like the sculpted male body at work, so they maintain my homes as if they are a haven for monks.”

Robert looked up from his personal digital assistant app with a nod.

‟I accept the offer for the job as Mr. Harte’s representative.”

‟Excellent, Mr. Mitch. We shall communicate by way of computer for business. If we need to meet in person, we can meet in Australia or across the bay, outside of Singapore. Any of my homes are open to meet and for general use.”

‟You have homes in Australia?” Robert asked.

‟Why yes, I have six homes there.” The bald head nodded.

Tom nodded and smiled. He had met Lee Kong Kuen at a dinner party at the old man’s mansion in Point Piper, Australia.

‟Back to business. I would like to meet again, soon. But first we need to get Mister Harte out of the country. For the moment, investigations have come to a halt. There is a judge that will give your passport back to you Mr. Harte. Leave the courthouse, go straight to the airport, file a flight plan and leave the country. Call now to have it fueled and ready.” One of the men in business suit leaned over, whispered into Mr. Lee’s ear and handed him a tablet computer with images on the screen.

He looked with concern at Mumtaz, she nodded. ‟Or buy a ticket to anywhere outside of the country.”

‟What is that Mr. Lee?” Robert asked.

‟I am not sure at this time that Mr. Harte would want his plane back after he sees this. The good news, they have found no further evidence or items but the safe. The safe they will ask you to open tomorrow. Drug dogs have not hit on the safe so there is no pressure to open it. The bad news,” He handed the tablet to Tom. ‟They have stripped it to the bulkheads, all that you had is in boxes now, your plane is as if it came from the builder. It is little more than a tube with wings.”

Tom went pale.

‟Bed, walls, cabinets. What did they do? Use saws?”

‟In my experience, that is the most probable method. You have the good fortune that the wings and engines are still in place.” The wise old eyes sparkled with irritation. “Investigations are required in such cases as this, but blatant destruction without due regard makes me unhappy. People don’t like life when I am unhappy.”

‟He is correct,” Robert agreed. “I have defended people who were in their cars, the government inspectors cut the cars apart. Even the engines, if there is no one to protect the possessions, the investigators do not stop.”

‟Damn.” Tom boggled.

‟I will take care of the issue and see out some recompense for the damages on your behalf. So we will be in touch Mr. Tom.” Lee Kong Kuen said in a soft voice. ‟You are free as of now, if they execute you or you are in prison for the next ten years and spend that time here, you will not make any money for yourself, Mr. Mitch or myself. We need to keep you honest and free.”

‟Miss Nayyar, call the justice house and have them hold Mr. Harte’s passport for pickup, he will arrive in my limousine. Mr. Chen, file a flight plan for our guest’s plane if he desires to fly it and get him to the airport with all haste.”

‟Yes sir.”

‟Mr. Mitch. Gather your team. I predict that your services will come to one-half of one cent per book sold of Mr. Tom Harte’s Sea Dragon books.”

‟Bloody good!” Robert said.

‟Make it so, we will meet again in a month.” He turned to Tom again. “One more item.”

‟Yes?” Tom said.

‟This woman that has caused you much grief. Did she want to stay with you? She had signed all the wrong areas in the papers.”

‟How did you know that?”

‟I have a copy of them.”

‟But you said the government could not open it.” Tom said. ‟How did you get a copy?”

‟My people are far more resourceful, it is why the engines and wings are still on your plane. I did not get involved quickly enough to save your interior.”

“I can have the interior rebuilt.” Tom nodded. “Thank you for all the help.” 

‟Very good, at any rate. Mr. Tom.” He rose to his feet and motioned him to follow.

After they walked among the topiary for a few minutes, the old man spoke like a father to a favorite son.

 ‟Find her, I wish to meet the woman who could cause you such distress. One bit of observation? She left birth control in a drawer, she wants you to return.”

‟I…” Tom looked down. ‟I don’t think so. She went to her boyfriend.”

‟She did not. She looks for you.” The two men locked eyes. ‟Your secret marriage is out of the shadows. You will have paparazzi look for you once again.” The old man nodded. “At any rate leave Asia now or you will never be able to leave. The judge will not let this go if you are still here when the sun rises again.”

Tom nodded and bowed. Tom turned to walk with Mr. Hom as Liem had done, but this time to the car.

This was no limousine, instead an all-electric four-door Tesla with an engine that hummed like an electric transformer.

Tom was not just about to leave and be free, this was a story of speed.

Married by Mistake Chapter 55. World Online News Network

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Chapter 55. World Online News Network

Kaylee watched as raw feeds from Singapore online news scrolled across her screen. The sisters watched images of a man, escorted out of an airport in handcuffs.

“Authorities state they have arrested an accused drug smuggler and sources have stated, a known murderer from the United States. Although the name was withheld by authorities until they verify the suspected drug smuggler’s identity.” The talking head on the tv narrated while the video and images shifted on the screen.

But Kaylee recognized the airplane on which they captured this dangerous human being.

It was Tom.

Melanie’s boyfriend found a raw news feed web-site then used a cable to plug the tv into his tablet and they all watched the image display titled that an accused rich drug smuggler stand trial.

They tried to turn up the sound on the video but that did not help, the three of them did not understand the language, but the subtitles gave the story. While she watched the feeds on the TV, Kaylee held her hands to her face with tears in her eyes.

She knew where she forgotten her misplaced stash.

The Pacific Wizard, in the bedroom dresser on her side, second drawer from the bottom with her blindfold to help her sleep and aromatherapy oils. She closed her eyes and imagined what version of hell that a foreign drug smuggler’s life is like.

*And it’s not even Tom’s.* Her heart stood still. *Legal here, what are the penalties in that country?*

“What are the laws in, where’s he at? Singapore?” Kaylee asked.

Arthur, Melanie’s boyfriend rubbed his forehead in thought.

“Severe. They execute for drugs there that we have legalized.”

Kaylee looked out the window at the bay, to the west there was the horizon. She wished with all her heart she could fly over the horizon and rescue the man who suffered because of her.

*I wonder if he is safe?*

In a dusty jail in Singpore, sat a citizen of the United States. He was so exhausted he struggled to remember his own name.

Tom. His name was Tom. He had been awake so long, his deepest memories were fuzzy.

His books, a pirated movie that made the rounds and the assurances from the United States Ambassador had done little to help his state of mind.

He had just survived twenty-four hours of interrogation at the police station and Tom fretted like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He sat alone at a table while police and prosecutors paraded in front of the judge and the narration cryptic law was in English, the direction taken by Singapore jurisprudence was obvious. 

“They are about to do what they do best,” A dapper-mannered man sat in front of him. “Crush an individual found with drugs and obscene devices. The blindfold that they found they will consider as evidence of a crime, your statement to the inspector that you smuggle women will compound your case.”

“You have passed blood and urine drug tests, you are clean except for medications for those you have prescriptions for. In other words, you are clean and not a user.” The lawyer read from a paper without a smile.

Tom relaxed as he heard this from his hastily appointed legal advisor, but then it took a decidedly dark turn when the lawyer held his hand up as Tom began to smile when he heard about his clean test results.

‟If you do not use the drugs, then you are a smuggler.”

‟No. That means I did not partake. They found it in a drawer, inside a woman’s toiletry bag that had a blindfold to help her sleep and I don’t know what else.”

‟Ah yes. And how did you know of the blindfold, and the drugs. Where is this woman?” The lawyer asked his client.

Tom looked into the face of the blue-eyed British legal esquire that practiced in Singapore.

Robert Mitch was born of English parents when Singapore was a colony of the Empire, left the country for England to get his legal degree and then became a lawyer in the busy center of business and crime. Over the years as he worked for defense of tourists that ran afoul of the law and their families, he often charged exorbitant fees.

They almost always paid the prices he often asked, the large income even allowed him to bribe the occasional official to look the other way while evidence vanished.

He smiled when he read the legal charges.

*This case promises a large payday! This client is a rich American!*

‟She is probably in California, I last saw her in Oregon.”

“She’s a prostitute then? Marijuana is legal in Oregon, yes? So, we can argue that the drugs were there, without your knowledge in a place where it is a legal drug.” He scribbled down notes on a yellow pad. “That will help. The obscene violations will also be investigated, we will argue that she brought the drugs on board without your knowledge. But I assure you that won’t matter.”

It was Tom’s turn to hold up his hand.

‟She is not a prostitute, she’s a friend and we had…” Tom paused. ‟A relationship. But it’s over now.”

‟Is she still alive?” Robert asked. “You’ve a reputation as a lady-killer that got away with the crime.”

‟What the f…” Tom exploded and was unable to speak for a moment. “What kind of question is that?”

‟The kind they will ask you in the investigation.” He looked at Tom. ‟The prosecutor is good at his job to put anyone in jail with drug charges. Right now they are have a court’s order for a thorough search your plane. Down to the last bolt.”

‟What does that mean?” Tom asked.

‟They will to take it apart to look for hidden compartments. Do you have any on board?”

‟I have a safety box, has legal papers in it. I would wish those to stay private.”

“In the course of investigation, no secret of yours will remain a secret or private.” Robert shook his head. ‟If the papers are on the plane, they will become part of the investigation and evidence to show the judge. What is on those papers?”

‟Jesus. Annulment papers.” Tom held his head in his hands. ‟Just annulment papers. We got married when she’d gotten stoned. Then it ended.”

‟So you drugged her into actions against her will?” Robert wrote on his pad of paper again.

‟NO! No no. Oh good God!” Tom nearly fainted. Even his defense lawyer was not on his side. “No, that’s all wrong. Not how it was.”

‟This is how they’ll present the investigation, in light of the reports about your family. Some archives say you might have had a hand in their deaths.” Robert shook his head and opened a local English language newspaper and showed it to his client. “Mr. Harte, at this point, if you want to keep your head out of the noose, I recommend you to not mention, at all, the circumstances of this annulment. You got married, it did not work out, it’s over.”

‟The noose? How about I stay out of prison?” Tom said in a panicked tone.

‟To be honest.” Robert put his pen down and looked at Tom. ‟There is not a strong hope for that at the moment. You were found with almost five-hundred grams of marijuana. This area is known to grow copious amounts of the weed. This is worth a life sentence, confiscation of your plane and seizure of any drug money. And report on the oil that was found is still not back yet. They will treat it as marijuana resin or hash oil for the moment. If tests show it is, in fact, a hashish oil? With the weed you already had on board, that is a mandatory death penalty and they will hang you. By this time next month, they will send you back to the states in a box.”

‟The oil, I don’t know, it might be a massage oil. Drug money. There is no money on that plane, just what was in my pocket.”

The lawyer stared at Tom for a long moment. He picked up his phone and dialed a number.

“It’s Robert Mitch. Yes, with the American now. Yes, that is what I have called about, thank you. It is? Thank you, again.” The lawyer broke the connection and looked back at Tom. “Good news, the oil is a mineral oil with traces of eucalyptus and rosemary in it.”

Tom and Robert both took a deep breath.

“That would have been a death-penalty, be assured of that.” Robert added. ‟Mr. Harte, You need someone who is local on your side before this goes any further. What is the reason you are in Singapore Mr. Harte?” Robert wrote down his question.

‟Tom, please, call me Tom.”

‟No, I don’t think so.” Robert said in a calm tone that did not reassure Tom and only increased his anxiety. ‟I don’t do that, it is a matter of respect. And while friendship lets someone call another by first names, we are not friends. I work for you and the courts and it’s not proper business otherwise.”

‟So,” Robert continued. “I ask again, why are you in Singapore?”

‟I was about to meet with someone to get my books published, perhaps printed here and maybe have a movie funded. Lee Kong Kuen, is his name.”

‟Lee Kong Kuen,” Robert froze in mid-scribble and looked up. “The Mr. Lee who-has-more-money-than-god, Mr. Lee?

‟Yes.” Tom said. ‟That’s him. Why?”

Robert sat up and his eyes wide, his price to charge the witless Yankee just reduced to a normal fee. If it became known that Robert gouged a business partner of Lee Kong Kuen? Mr. Lee would do things to Robert that were too hideous to think about.

Perspiration broke out on the lawyer’s forehead as he fumbled for his thoughts.

‟Maybe, you’ve a chance to get the hell out of this country if this hits the news.” Robert said, he became highly motivated to win. ‟Once it goes public, then this will back the law into a corner and motivate them to release you, it would make them look bad and cost them a great deal of money. Whether bribed, blackmailed or bro-manced for favors. No matter what punishment they would impose.”

‟Bro-manced?” Tom looked at his lawyer.

‟It has become a recent term here to describe favors the leaders here go through. It comes, I think, from an American tv comedy that is popular here.” Robert said. ‟I think you Yanks call it a ‟good old boy” system” and it works on a daily basis here.”

‟Let’s get it done then. Faster we can get me out of here, the better.”

Robert’s phone chirped and he looked at the text display.

‟Mister Harte, I think we need to turn on the tv.”

What Tom saw, made his jaw drop. A news story showed him as a prisoner escorted out of the airport.

‟Tom, you need talk to Mister Lee, right away.” Robert grimaced. ‟It may already be too late, if he feels you are a petty smuggler, he will not help you. But, if he will help, this will just evaporate in a second. Just assure me, that marijuana is not yours.”

‟Not mine.” Tom said. “I truly did not know it was there. I am here on business only, writer’s busines. I want to get my children’s stories published here in this part of the world.”

‟Fine, I will do all that I can to get you out of this. But with your nationality as an American and first time here? And if I can get the charges dropped?” Robert looked directly at his client. ‟You get on that big damned plane of yours, push the throttles all the way forward and get your red-white-and-blue butt out of Singapore. No stops, no explores, no Indiana Jones adventure-seeker games.”

‟Could I come back?” Tom wondered out loud. “For business?”

‟Well, you can, if you wish. But my advice, not for a couple of years.” The lawyer nodded. ‟And then, it would be bloody good to take my advice, do not have so much as a crumb of a drug nearby.”

Outside, Liem Han sat in the shade near his motorbike, waited for this rich American to come out so he could take more photos and video.

“Come out, Yankee, you will make me rich.”

It was a good day to be a photographer.

Married by Mistake Chapter 54. Big Trouble In Little Singapore

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Chapter 54. Big Trouble In Little Singapore

The black-irised eyes of the customs officer looked into the emerald-green eyes of the author.

‟You fly alone? This is unusual.” The official was not impressed by the Pacific Wizard, nor did he show any signs of good humor.

‟I don’t need anyone to fly. I have no children or wife.” Tom said with a smile. “The computers and I can do it all with no one else. So I travel by myself.”

‟Why come by yourself? This is quite unusual.” His accent was decidedly British, stern as he was, he was not uneducated. “This is a place for families and tourists. You are no tourist?”

‟Business.” Tom struggled to suppress his knack for inappropriate humor in stressful situations. “I am here to make a contract with a publisher for children’s stories.”

‟In such a big plane?”

‟It is mine and it’s the only one I have that can cross the ocean, Officer. Sir.” Tom was a bit nervous. He disliked confrontations as a habit. The last time he had dealt with the law, the press got involved for years after. “It is my home.”

‟We will check your aircraft.” The officer motioned to some of his team to enter the jet.

‟I will live on my plane, except to meet with Mister Hikaru Ngyen?” Tom dropped the name. ‟I’m sorry, I did not get your name Officer…?”

‟Lieutenant Lai.”

‟I’m sorry. Lieutenant Lai, I’ll stay on my plane, here. I only go to town to meet for business and leave.”

‟We will search the plane.” The lieutenant repeated himself in flat tones.

‟You search for what?” This had to be a bad joke. Somewhere someone had a big laugh.

‟For drugs. You can easily smuggle drugs in such an airship as this, yes?” The Lieutenant’s gaze was steady and he did not blink.

‟Only to smuggle women.” Tom winked, and tried to smile then realized that was a poor move.

‟What? You smuggle women?” He looked at Tom with irritation. ‟Where do you go after you leave?”

‟Australia.” Tom answered. “I have a book launch to do autographs and a convention scheduled to attend.”

‟Where are you from?” He said as he took a close look at Tom’s passport.”You are long ways from home.”

‟All over the United States. But home would be, I would say…” Tom paused. He had no home base, really. He used his agent’s office address in the past, now he could not remember the new address. ‟San Francisco, California.”

‟Expensive place to live.” He looked Tom in the eye.

‟Yes, but I have a comfortable income.” Tom countered. “I am self-employed.”

‟Smuggler?”

‟Smuggler? Me?!” Tom blink and shook his head, this conversation took a decidedly bad turn into the most twisted nightmare he could ever dream up. ‟No! I am an author, a writer of children’s books and adventures. One of my adult novels is a movie, maybe you have seen it?”

‟What movie?” Lieutenant Lai asked dangerously. ‟You write children’s books and adult books?”

‟The movie is Steamland about the book of the same name.”

‟Dogs.” The Lieutenant spoke into a radio microphone attached to his collar. Then to Tom. ‟Do you have any drugs to declare?”

‟What? No. There are no drugs to declare, other than aspirin and prescription medications for depression and panic that I don’t take all the time.” Tom decided he would take some of those drugs as soon as he finished with this conversation.

‟Do you feel panic now?” The eyes tried to pierce Tom’s claims of innocence, the man was on a mission. He took his job with a serious attitude. Or was perhaps he waited for a bribe.

Tom shook his head.

*Good god, I don’t want to open that can of worms, if the officer was an honest man, it would make matters so much worse. It would be better to let the officer ask if he wants some payment.*

‟I’m about to.” Tom admitted.

A small dog, brought up by a woman who did not even look at Tom. She unleashed the hound at the steps of the plane and picked it up the wagging-tailed officer. It reminded Tom of Snoopy the dog.

A beagle. Good noses, no-threat, a good choice of a dog to clear the jet.

Tom sat on the steps while the woman and the dog when through the plane, he could see when they started from the front, where he stowed equipment for water operations.

*The inflatable boat, electric motor, anchors, chains, ropes.*  He ticked off the inventory of the closet.

All of a sudden the dog barked its fool head off and Tom stood up and looked in. The Snoopy lookalike pawed at his refrigerator and Tom relaxed when they opened the door and the summer sausage he had bought in Germany was there, open.

The woman spoke in a harsh voice at the dog when it lunged forward to get the meat of the knee-high storage unit, then continued on its job and sniffed around the inside of the Pacific Wizard.

The lieutenant looked at Tom and then looked away, clearly embarrassed and hung his head.

Tom’s stress level dropped. Then the dog sounded off again.

Tom looked towards the bedroom of the big plane when the woman officer stood up. In her hand she held a heavy plastic pouch, rolled up like a giant burrito of a green leafy… Tom’s heart fell. 

The officers spoke in rapid Malay, then Lieutenant Lai turned to Tom.

‟It is illegal to use marijuana here.” The Lieutenant said and nodded to his officers who took Tom by both arms and pulled him out of the plane.

‟I don’t smoke, I don’t know where that came from.” Tom regretted the words the moment he said it. He sounded like every arrested drug smuggler in history as alarms went off in his head. “Wait!”

‟You are under investigation for possession of restricted drug.” Lieutenant Lai said.

Tom closed his mouth and did not protest loudly.

*I know better than to argue, all research and subjects I have written have taught me that a street fight with the police is just a “no”. Better to wait for a lawyer to find just how bad things are.*

Tom walked upright with the officers, not overly tall at an inch below six-feet tall. But he towered over the police officers and, in an ironic twist, it entertained him in a hysterical, panic driven way.

At the entrance to the air terminal, a freelance photographer that shot pictures of places and people to sell on the open market shot several pictures of Tom as they led him into then out the front doors of the airport.

He switched to the HD video of his camera, Liem Han, future news reporter for a big city news source (Maybe even tv!) recorded the arrest of a pilot of an oddly painted jet that had landed.

The pilot was a caucasian that looked familiar, but he couldn’t put a finger on it. He made a mental note to ask his girlfriend when he got home, Liem walked quickly to his second-most expensive possession he had ever purchased and hit the ignition button on the motorcycle.

He pulled up next to the car that the dog officer poured water in a bowl for her dog on the sidewalk, he asked her what the arrest was for.

‟Drugs. That American is a smuggler.” She said. “He had three-hundred grams of marijuana and a bottle of oil, fifteen millilitres.”

‟American! Thanks.” He slipped her a fifty-dollar bill he sped away and caught up the police car with the tall, redheaded prisoner and followed it at a respectful distance. This was a possible death penalty case with an American.

He kept his distance, Liem watched as the car pulled up at the police center and sat there for several minutes.

Liem linked his phone to his camera with the bluetooth connection and sent still photos that he had just taken to his girlfriend and willed it to upload faster. He hoped she would see the photos right away and text him back if she recognized the red-headed foreigner.

The phone toned with her favorite love song and Cho looked to see what Liem had to say. A single line, “Who is this?” accompanied three photos.

It took her a minute to recognize the images, and instead of a text, she called Liem.

‟You don’t know who that is? That is the guy that wrote the movie you bought me. He is famous in Australia. They say he is dangerous and killed his wife and kids in the USA, he has tried to sink boats of… ”

‟Thanks! More pictures on the way! He hung up on her without a chance for her even finish her sentence.” He turned on the camera again, double checked that the battery pack was at full charge and connected and turned on.

A mistake he had committed once before and lost a chance for photos that would have made a name for him.

He had a famous person in his sights, and the first photos in the world of him under arrest, and Liem smiled.

*It happened right in front of me!*

The American who had beaten the system and got away with murder was now arrested in Singapore, Liem knew he had a gold mine of photos in his camera.

Four officers came out and pulled the American out of the police car and escorted him inside. Everyone had a hand on the tall redhead, they did not take any chances he might put up a struggle.

And Liem recorded it all with his camera, and he smiled widely. More expensive than his motorcycle, the camera and the long lens just paid for themselves, and two phone calls later, he uploaded video to the network to a buyer for a handsome price.

In the days that followed, Liem’s life and career became a roller-coaster ride beyond his dreams.

Tom’s life, however, was a vertical epic descent into hell.

Married by Mistake Chapter 51. Watching the Bay

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Chapter 51. Watching the Bay

*Homework!*

*Ugh!* She had cottonmouth from the awkward sleep position on her tablet. In a moment she laughed when she sat up. She left a face print on the smooth, high gloss finish of the computer’s screen. *So much homework! Not enough coffee!*

Every night. Kaylee had not taken time to smoke even one bowl in two days. She sketched every day and, after the first few days, it brought her no joy. A still-life of the bay from her balcony, then she went to the beach and painted there.

One late afternoon the memory of Glenn returned in a blast of fury, in a heated moment of inspiration she threw sand on the paint, before it dried, unable to rework the image, she displayed it in class.

She expected Doctor Fayse to reject the sand-textured painting out of hand, but he instead gave her extra points for the painted colors and strokes of the brush and sand effect, giving the feeling of emotion of anger and rage that she had created.

Rage?

Yeah. Oh yeah, she was angry. She kicked Tom out of her life in favor of Glenn.

And then Glenn screwed the pooch on that subject. Samantha, too for that matter, and his life.

That he could not see his way to keep his DNA in check, really did not hurt.

*It’s that he is, rather was, supposed to be my best friend, too. He should have talked to me, not just give a half-limp kiss and never say a word about a pregnant wife.*

*Yeah, he screwed his life up, all right.* She kicked an innocent stick of wood on the ground hard enough that the little driftwood twig skipped across the parking lot. *But so did I.*

Tom was overdue in the bay and she was unable to keep away from his website. It was no help, just an information page, no “Contact Me” information, there was no way for her to email him.

Georgia closed his email that she had in her phone, after he dealt with that agent, it looked like he signed with another company and there was no direct contact with him through that web-site either.

Never in the news and the events on his web page were out of date and ended with Doctor Manga’s installation at Cambridge University in the UK.

Still, everyday she went to the beach with an occasional drive past the airport, but the closed football-field sized hanger doors looked as if they had not been used and there was a noticeable lack of activity around the building.

Another week dragged past and the wet season was coming, she would go home for Christmas soon and Tom’s plane still had not returned.

Early Saturday, Kaylee was in a deep sleep and the sun had not yet come up. She had spent her Friday night in deep study and memorized her half-dozen assignments and typed her class reports on each with an original point of view as required by the professors.

Seven hours a day in classes, another four-hours at home on her computer, another shift at the beer and ribs cook-house. She felt overwhelmed, as so many college students do.

She had nightmare dreams of the reports when her phone rang, saving her from being attacked by a anthropomorphized, giant report on an artist that she could not recognize. She was thankful for that save.

It was Melanie. She loved her sister more than anyone in the world at that instant.

‟Mmph. Hel-” Kaylee yawned and dropped her phone on her face. ‟Lo? Melanie ?”

‟Tiny! I found him!” Melanie was wide awake. ‟I know where Tom is!”

‟Whath timeish ish it?” Kaylee was almost incoherent. She had not slept well, then it had hit her in last night’s studies and she slept like the dead without any sleep aid or to cook hash-brownies to assist in her stress. “Tom? Who’s you talkin’ ’bout?”

‟It’s quarter of three. Why are you sleeping? You are always up at this time.”

‟Not th’ last four days… Mel, I was asleep, issa ya drunk?” Kaylee slurred her words as if she had was drunk herself. “Wha’ di’ you say about who? Wha’ Tom?”

‟No! Noooo…I have been on the hunt for Tom.” She sounded like she found a gold nugget after a long search. ‟You know I had Steven check some things for me?”

‟Sheven? Ahem..Steven? Th’ Stalker?” Kaylee interrupted. “Wonder” *yawn* “Ful. C’n I g’back sleep now?”

‟Not a stalker.” A pause as her sister contemplated the conversation. ‟Okay, well, maybe I am. But it’s for a good cause!”

Kaylee laughed while she balanced the phone on her head and pulled her arm under the blanket while her younger sister babbled news about a guy named Tom and his travels.

‟Did you hear me? He is in Australia.” Mel said to her sister in a sad tone of voice. ‟Aw. Kaylee, I think he has moved there.”

‟Moovmmph… Moved there?” Kaylee ‘s brain did not register the conversation still.

Then she blinked and stared into the dark.

She was wide awake with a sudden rush of thoughts.

“You mean TOM? My Tom?” She said loud enough and had to grab at the phone. ‟Tom has children’s books published there. Southern Oz.” 

‟Where?” Melanie did not catch what her older sister said.

‟Australia, he called it Oz a lot.” She did not want to wake up this much, but now she was awake and not happy. ‟Can I sleep? I need to sleep. I’m too awake, I don’t wanna be awake.”

‟Well, you need to stop by that hanger and go ask. Not just drive by.”

‟I won’t stalk him.” Kaylee said, she struggled to dive back into sleep and try hard to forget that screwed up chapter of her life.

‟You’re not a stalker if you’re worried about him.” Melanie said in conspiratorial tones. ”I was worried. You remember the look on his face when you and he were here?”

‟I remember you squeaked like a mouse and fell off of the sofa.” She grumbled and snuggled back under the blankets.

‟That never happened. He startled me.” Her sister was defensive. ‟But he did have a big smile. Tiny, you made a happy man.”

‟You just want me to hook up with him again.” She mumbled. “Melly, I’m going back…”

‟If you don’t, I will.” Melanie interrupted.

“…to sleep.” Kaylee finished.

‟If you keep on that subject, I’m going to hang up on you.” Kaylee twisted the phone around so the light from the screen didn’t bother her.

‟Okay, I’ll let you go.” Melanie said.

‟Good.”

‟You need to get some sleep, you are a bitch at night.” Younger sisters, sometimes, annoy and Melanie was making it her number-one trait as far as Tom was concerned.

‟Good night, Mel.” And she broke the connection, laughing herself to sleep.

*When she gets older, she will be the most famous busy-body in our family.* Was Kaylee ’s last thought before sleep reclaimed her.

The morning after the phone call. Kaylee walked around in the apartment, off in her emotional bubble. It took two-hours for her to figure out what was bothering her.

That phone call at zero-dark-thirty by her over caffeinated sister who was more insane about Tom than cats were about laser-pointers.

She made coffee in an old-school way of heated up water in a pot, then she poured the scalding liquid over Kona coffee grounds in a single-cup filter.

Not for the first time, she drank her coffee on the balcony and looked towards the picturesque bay.

And not for the first time, she saw only beautiful blue water and boats.

And not for the first time…

She wept.

Married by Mistake Chapter 50. Back To The Bay

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Chapter 50. Back to the Bay

The flight south to the college town was decidedly longer than the flight from the southland to north. The commercial jetliner was slower in the air by nearly a third. It was comfortable, but although it was a larger aircraft, the comfort was not nearly the same as when she went north with Tom and the other authors.

Tom. The memory of the name made her sigh and the thought made her wonder if he might be at the Charthouse where he liked to spend time before they met.

*No, he was in England by now, attending Dr. Manga’s installation.* She rubbed her temples. *I’ll have time alone with no temptation to see him.*

The arrival and collection of her bags took a little longer than during the summer trips on the private and chartered planes, when she traveled with Tom. It made her laugh at herself, she was quick to spoil.

The student-artist laughed. The party girl laughed. Most of all, Kaylee laughed at herself.

*‟Spoiled” indeed!* On the south-western coast of the United States, where the sun shines more than not, it was easy to get spoiled, she reminded herself while she walked out of the airport terminal.

A short walk to the nearest taxi, the ride was less than half the distance than the cab-ride when she went home. This time she did not wait to have her door opened, though the driver did motions to open the door for her.  A young man who smiled at her a lot, giving furtive glances and an attempt at a seductive smile.

If she was in the mood, she might have flirted back. But she still wanted to punch someone.

Hard.

And she needed to head back to the martial arts academy for a workout to sooth her stress levels.

She had not been there for over a month, worried that the Guro would forget who she was.

She stretched on the sidewalk in front of the apartment, it had been three hours in seats that moved over the ground or through the air without much room to stand up and get the blood to her legs.

She looked forward to the walks up and down the hills and stairs of the university and then a workout at with hand to hand and sticks at the Serrada academy.

A familiar voice screamed her name as Melanie came flying out the door of the apartment.

‟RING! Tiny! Ring, I want to see it!” Melanie the Monster, kid-sister, excited muppet of Kaylee’s childhood danced on the balls of her feet. Her Taekwondo skills showing. ‟Ring! Now! Woman!”

‟Sorry, no ring.” Kaylee said and told her the story while they walked up the stairs to her home for the last year.

‟What!” Melanie lost her composure when she learned of Glenn’s life-changing event.

‟Tiny!” She used her pet name for her sister. “You dumped Tom for Glenn and then Glenn does that? Did you kick him in the head?” Her eyes sparkled with fury for her sister being wronged. Worst of enemies when they were little, they were the best of friends now. If someone ever made one sister cry, the other sister was like the Erinyes of old and become a sister’s mission to cut the offender’s good life into confetti of wept for distant memories.

‟I did better than that. I made friends with his wife. He will have to become the speaker of the house to make up for it all.” Kaylee laughed. ‟He has a laundry list of makeup chores for the next twenty-years.”

Melanie laughed at this image. Glenn was now a slave to his own life that he had prearranged with a spectacular exercise in carelessness and neglect.

‟What about Tom?” Melanie asked. ‟You, I don’t know what you call it. You…”

“I unmarried him.”

“Ha! That’s a good one. Does he know what has happened? He is going to flip when he finds out.”

‟No, he is in England by now giving a speech.” Kaylee frowned as she fit the key into the lock. The lock felt stiff as if it had not been used enough since she had left for home and the Pacific Northwest.

‟When does he come back?” Melanie smiled, her imagination operated at full speed. ‟I want to talk to him more. Maybe he will teach creative writing at the school? I would so take that class.”

‟What about your boyfriend, David? He’d get jealous if you drool over some old rich man who lives on the ocean and teaches your class.” Kaylee smiled. “Besides, Tom is gone for at least three more weeks.”

‟Yeah! In that float plane!”

‟Flying-boat.” Kaylee corrected. ‟Actually a yacht. You should see the inside of it.”

‟You were married to that! Oh my god, and you gave it all up to be with Glenn and he… and he… Oh my gawd!” Melanie covered her eyes with her hands. ‟I could have had a brother-in-law…”

‟That was almost as old as dad. Pops would have had a stroke.”

‟You don’t know that. I’m serious Kaylee, you gave up a lot to find that Glenn would have cheated on you with some crony.” Melanie sounded exasperated. ‟When I go home for Christmas, I am so gonna kick Glenn around the block. Stupid, stupid boys that walk around with one thing on their minds.”

‟How about having a bowl full?” Kaylee was getting tired of Melanie’s venom towards Glenn.

‟Full?” That turned Melanie ’s attention to another subject. ‟Is it Schroder’s sinsemilla?”

‟Of course!” Kaylee held up a bag. “Fresh from Mr. Schroder’s greenhouse. I couldn’t find my other stash while at home, I think I left it here.”

‟Bummer, it’ll be all shake. Then light the new up, what’s keeping you?” Melanie laughed. ‟But you are still not off the hook for Glenn’s screw-up.”

‟What? Why am I blamed for Glenn’s pinhead problems?” Kaylee laughed. “Besides, I had half-kilo because we don’t get back home enough.”

‟Tiny, welcome home.” Melanie smiled. “You have to pay for the choices you make. Glenn should have done it with you in high-school.”

“We’d all be screwed then.” Kaylee nearly choked on the pipe when her sister suggested that it was a good idea to have gotten pregnant so early in life. “And he still would have gone off to D.C. and knocked her up. If not her, someone else. Glenn is a horn-dog and a pig.  Okay! No more talking about him, we’re finished.”

Laughing, the sisters smoked late into the night. They ordered a party plate from the deli down at the corner and carried the plastic tray back to the apartment and with giggles, smoke and a view of the bay from Kaylee’s balcony.

They caught up on all the tears, laughter and news only the way two sisters could while eating exotic cheeses from the far away lands called Wisconsin and Tillamook.

Married by Mistake Chapte 49. The Good-Bye Girl

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Chapter 49. The Good-Bye Girl

Fourteen days at home flew past with a blur.

Kaylee in the meantime recharged, recovered from her shock at Glenn’s immature life choice, was packing for the return to Ocean Bay University.

Her dad made her laugh. She had sat with him on a home-made bean bag chair while she smoked a pipe for the first time with the man she always thought was without a clue about life for the young generation.

The old man had more on the ball than Kaylee ever gave him credit for. She always thought of him as an IT nerd-tech that was only involved with himself.

Instead, dad liked Steampunk music, knew a thousand things she never thought possible of his generation.

Funny, it seemed the older she got, the smarter he was. In fact she viewed her father, Charles Achilles “CAG” Grant, as brilliant, funny, talented and wise.

She didn’t tell him about Tom, however. She started a dozen times and Dad shushed her each time.

‟Your past is in your behind.” He said softly.

‟What?” Kaylee looked up at the man who was the standard she held all other men to. ‟Dad? What?”

‟Sorry, that’s good weed.” He gave a crooked smile. ‟Put your behind in your past, you don’t need to talk about it just now.”

‟You mean that I should put what on my butt?”

‟No.” Dad was trying for a serious moment but giggled. ‟What is done is history. Leave it there for now.”

‟Okay.” Kaylee smiled and took another hit off the pipe. Her parents always dealt with Anders Schroder with his home-grown. It was the best weed in the area.

Mr. Schroder grew enough of the best cannabis to sell to the retail outlets, but little more than that. Fully licensed and inspected, Mr. Schroder kept the businesses going with only enough income to keep his bills paid. The old man just liked the beauty of the plant and wished to make clothes out of the hemp fiber he grew from other species. Often telling Glenn and Kaylee that it was better than cotton.

The weed relaxed her and made the heartache of Glenn seem so much smaller than it was.

*At least I’m not pregnant! Pretty sure.* She laughed to herself.

She began to think of that last time on the plane after she came home.

Tom was weak from spending so much time in the hospital bed, she had grown protective of the soul that thought he was her protector. He cautioned her heart to avoid what Tom said in gentle words, ‟Complicate things”.

Another few days home.

An argument over who’s toe-sock was left out on the porch with her brother ended with mom telling them to go put on their socks.

Kaylee came out wearing hers and Mike, with one bare foot and looking sheepish.

While the kid-brother learned to do his own laundry, at dad’s insistence to prepare him for college. Another requirement of the patriarch of the family.

Dad did not care what each of the children wanted to do, but he did require that they earned the highest degree of education available for that interest.

A strong preference for a doctorate, and no one dared defy dad on this point.

Kaylee worried a lot about trying to earn a doctorate in fine arts, a tall order. But dad was motivational and insistent.

That afternoon, while she packed to return to Ocean Bay U., Glenn pulled up in his car.

Alone.

He walked up to the door, intercepted by Kaylee .

‟Don’t you have a life to attend to? Does Sam know you are here?”

‟Yes, she knows. Our mom’s were talking and she found out you were leaving today, she sent me with this.” Glenn held out a small gift, a compass with an email address taped to it.

“Sam wants to pursue a friendship with you.” Glenn’s voice was almost a whisper.

Kaylee was still unsure, her heart still ached after that day. She had found a kindred spirit in Samantha Schroder, but still envious at the same time.

She took the offered present with a smile that she did not feel in her heart.

‟I know I hurt you, if I say it was an accident, it would be an insult to everyone. But it was not planned, I wanted to stay with you.”

‟Do not tell me that, do not let Sam hear you say that.” Kaylee on the verge of rage shook her finger in his face. ‟You want to work as a member of congress élite and a senator’s aide? You put on a face of a happy husband and proud father. You did this with her without thought or precaution, now you have a child. You had better love that baby, or I swear I will kick you so hard you it will take a year for your breastbone to heal. And you know I can. If you ever break up with Sam, I will use you for my flow-drills. You don’t get a stick, you just have to stand there and take it.”

‟Then I’ll send my dad after you, he’s pissed at you as well.” She added.

‟I can see that. He’s standing in the window, looking at me.” Glenn voice trembled with more than a little fear.

Charles Grant stood in the picture window with his arms crossed, a stare like a cougar lining up for a kill for a full minute then stepped out of sight.

For a single moment of shining terror, Glenn thought the old man was coming out.

‟I’ll keep in touch.” He told Kaylee. ‟Maybe we can get together then.”

‟No.” She shook her head. ‟We have our own lives, lived our own way and our own adventures. Good-bye Glenn. I’m sorry this is how it ended.”

She hugged him awkwardly and walked back to the house and closed the door quietly behind her.

And leaned up against it and caught her breath. It was the single hardest thing she had ever done in her life.

And she was still standing strong.

‟Everything all to rights, sweetheart?” The measured tones of her dad entered her world, the old man was sitting in his chair. Two glasses and a bottle of his favorite fifty-year-old rum sitting on the end-table.

‟Oh. Daddy…”

She sat in his lap for the first time in over a decade, the twenty-something woman left the room while the broken-hearted child wept on her father’s shoulder.

Pouring a splash of rum in each glass, he handed one to his sniffling princess.

‟A toast to accidents. Without them, we’d never know where we are in life and where our strength lies. Some are happy, some are sad, a toast to them all.”

‟A happy accident?” Kaylee said after she took a sip of the spiced amber liquid and coughed. The ethanol burning her throat.

‟Yes, if it was not for an accident, I’d never have met your mom.” Her dad said with a wink.

‟She said she met you standing in line at a store.”

‟Pharmacy, for pain medication.”

‟Same thing.” She sipped more of her dad’s treasured rum.

‟Who do you think gave me the pain.”

‟What?”

‟She worked as a bookkeeper at an office and I was running cable for a network. Wireless networking was unheard of in those days. While I crawled by a desk, she opened a drawer over my head.” He rubbed his head of the memory of it. ‟I broke the drawer when I stood up, scalded myself when a coffee cup on the desk spilled down my back.”

Kaylee broke out laughing.

‟Oh my god. She never told me that.”

‟And I wished he never did either!” Mom hid her face in her hand, she had walked in from the back of the house. ‟I nearly killed your dad with a concussion and wrecked our new computer system at the same time.”

‟The coffee went into the server.” Her dad added. ‟It was awful, blood and coffee everywhere.”

‟It looked like someone got slaughtered by a coffee machine.” Mom admitted.

‟I was talking about my shirt.”

‟I was, too.” Linda laughed.

Parents and offspring talked for over an hour, mom and dad told secrets on each other from the time before children while they shared the bottle of rum until it was all gone.

It was a good end to an otherwise miserable day. With three hours to go, the Grant family took their eldest princess to the airport to return to her life back in Ocean Bay University.

Not for the first time in her life, she was looking forward to seeing her sister.

*Wait until Melanie hears the news of how Glenn really changed his life up, never to return to the house without a wife and child in tow.* She shook her head.

During the drive to the airport, Kaylee spent most of the trip looking out the window of the car to the trees that lined the highway. Lost in thought over the last two-weeks.

She wondered if she could just take double classes and never leave the school. It would take a meeting with her mentor and class coördinator.

The world was rainy when she arrived, but it was a rain of promise and excitement, it washed away her doubts from the summer.

Now, it was just grey and wet.

Married by Mistake Chapter 48. The Family Dinner

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Chapter 48. The Family Dinner

Around the Grant dinner table, Kaylee’s appetite returned and she was enjoying the banter between Dad and her mother with Mike, her high-school kid- (Almost no longer a kid!) brother and his girlfriend, the captain of the debate team and vice-president of the chess club where he had met his current romantic interest.

Baked potatoes piled enough for six people instead of the five that sat around.

Finally, the stress of the missing person was too great for Mike to stand and had to ask after the blessing of the food was complete.

“Where’s Glenn?”

Dad gave a soft cough to draw his son’s attention and made a subtle shake of his head.

“It’s okay dad.” Kaylee nodded. “Glenn is married and his wife is pregnant”

Her brother, taking a drink from his cup, shot soda out his nose. The pain bringing tears to his eyes, covered his face to hide the mess.

“What the…”

“Michael!” Mom was quick.

“What is he thinking?” A quick look at his mom. “I wasn’t going to cuss.”

“Yeah, right. Don’t kid a mom, kid.” She fixed him with a look that ended all conversation on the subject.

“When did he tell you about his marriage?” Dad asked. The look in his eyes matched his icy tone.

“Well, he didn’t. I went to his house to surprise him. He wasn’t home and I met his wife, instead.” Kaylee laughed. “Sam, her name is Samantha, told me they had several classes together and dated a few times. They got married two months ago and she is thirty-two weeks along.”

“Oh! Someone was being naughty and got caught.” Mike’s girlfriend, Carrigan said.

“He is an ass.” Charles growled. “He should have known better. He does know better. The entire family over there should take turns beating him with a switch from that willow tree that Anders planted years ago.”

“Dad, she is a nice girl.”

“He’d be a dead boyfriend if I was her dad. Got her life all turned into mangled code.” Dad’s hand squeezed the steel cup he had poured coffee in until it made eerie noises.

“Honey, relax.” Mom said. “You’ll get your blood pressure up, and if you go to the hospital again, it will be because I have thumped you on your head.”

“Yes ma’am.” Dad chuckled with mock terror and released his favored coffee cup.

“So what will he do, now?” Mike asked. “Is he coming home to stay?”

“No, Sam said that they would move off campus and her family will help with the baby. They are will both finish school and Glenn just has to meet with Congressman Millan about a staff position next summer. They’ll move to the Capital to live there, Glenn will get extra credit and he’ll get his degree early. He has an in with the congressman and he’ll get some help with his school costs.”

“The congressman will buy the school books?” Dad shook his head.

“She said that the congress has a special scholarship program for students that get enough hours in as assistants and interns.”

“Fu…” Dad glanced at Ma who was looking straight ahead without blinking. Daring her husband to finish the profanity at the dinner table. “Foolish spending of our tax money! Poli-sci is not served well by those fu.. fools in the capital.”

The one subject that always drove dad to the point of insanity was any conversation about politics and politicians. Glenn never earned CAG Grant’s respect with his interests in politics and his service to congress.

“He should work in the community to better it for the people here, not run off and make a life in a den of snakes.”

“Dad, he has done a lot of good here, why not be happy for him to go to a place where he can do a lot of good for the entire nation?”

“I don’t care if he can’t take care of where he puts his progeny, I’m worried about where he might guide the nation if he cannot take precautions while he’s having a good time.”

“What does his wife have anything to do with it?” Kaylee was still defensive about Glenn, even if she wanted to stand in line to beat him with the willow switch.

“I don’t care about his romantic life. He could stick it in a knothole of a tree for all I care.” Dad’s eyes sparkled with fury. “I have a daughter, TWO daughters! That if a man cannot be trusted with their lives, protect those that trust him, perhaps he shouldn’t have a job and have a chance to fark things up for everyone, everywhere.”

“Charles Achilles!” Middle name. Almost made Kaylee laugh, Mike did and got the back of his head slapped by mom as she walked to her seat.

“Sorry,” Dad laughed in a guilty way. “But I mean it. Accidents happen, but one can choose the safest action to start with. He didn’t care enough to take responsibility and left it solely up to her. That’s wrong. It takes equal responsible effort on both parts, him and her. So how will he lead? Leaving it up to someone else?”

Kaylee thought about it.

“He married her, at least.” Mike was trying to help.

“He should have prevented her pregnancy to start with. If he loved her and chose to have a baby without getting married, that would be fine by me too.” Dad said.

“Charlie, don’t fib.” Linda laughed.

Looking sideways at his best friend and wife, Dad smiled crookedly.

“I’d still beat him. Yeah.” Dad nodded. “But marrying her right after she found out she was pregnant? That is, to me, rather guilty. I would be fascinated to see the spin they put on it.”

“Dad, Grover Cleveland had a kid before he got married.” Mike countered.

Dad took a deep breath.

“Sorry, I won’t get into a history argument with you and I won’t address something that would go off topic. That was another time, another set of rules.” Dad growled.

“Today, Cleveland would have been in prison, had his life ruined, been dragged through the courts.” Dad made his final word on the long-ago President. “Glenn could have that happen to him. I like the boy, but that was a serious wake-up call to pay more attention to his actions.”

“It’s not like other politicians have had kids.”

“And not one of them will become a leader in congress or the president.” Dad nodded. “The most recent events, it is lucky the women didn’t evicerate the men in public. Glenn must have had that thought when you showed up at his door.”

“He wasn’t home when I got there and he didn’t know I went there to see him or that I sat and made friends with Samantha. When he got back from his errands, I surprised him when he walked in the door.”

Dad laughed. Paused. Then laughed again as the mental image played out in his mind’s eye.

“Oh!” Charles Achilles Grant laughed even harder and gave his son a playful punch in the shoulder. “I would have paid good money to have been there and watched that.”

“No. You wouldn’t have enjoyed it very much. It was a little ugly, and it was going to get much worse for him with Sam later.” Kaylee said softly. “Sam and I had a good long talk. She didn’t know anything about me.”

“Oh. Damn.” Linda said and broke her own rule. She was as profane as anyone, but her rule at the dinner table as a cuss-word free zone was a long-established tradition.

Dad laughed again, crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat, he seemed to enjoy the discomfort he imagined for Glenn.

In dad’s opinion, some of life’s lessons are moments best savored.

“I do not wish ill on your Glenn.” Father Grant said in a soft tone of wisdom. “But I think the knowledge bumps that his wife will inflict will show what the man is made of — If he survives.”

Dad pondered a moment. “It might even do him some good in the end.”

Married by Mistake Chapter 47. Kaylee Simone

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Chapter 47. Kaylee Simone

The sound of crunching under the studded tires as Charles Achilles ‟CAG” Grant wheeled into the driveway with his four-wheel-drive Porsche. Dad was not a flashy man, but he enjoyed the German engineered cars since he was a boy, when he got his first ‟Poor man’s Porsche” in the form of a 1958 Karmann Ghia that he had upgraded many times before his regrettable lack of judgement of selling his baby.

It took him many years, but at long last he rediscovered his old car as it sat in a workshop behind the house where the owner had disassembled it to the last bolt and kept a meticulous online blog of each step he took while he rebuilt the ancient car to his personal specifications.

Including a potent computer system that ran most of the car’s systems.

Charles Grant parked his Cayenne in the garage, a tired smile crossed his face. Much as he would have loved to pick up his eldest princess from the airport, the early drive home pleased him and allowed him to miss much of the rush traffic.

He walked to the house, the call of nature driving his stride and he made a beeline to the bathroom after he entered the side-entry to his home. The hour plus drive tended to make him sleepy, so a travel-mug of coffee from the office kept him awake, but also kicked his kidneys into high gear while his foot got heavier on the throttle.

Opening the door after he finished, Charles breathed out the sigh that someone makes after one empties a desperate, absolutely full bladder.

‟Linda? Where’s Kaylee ?” Papa Grant asked after he made a circuit of the first floor of the two-story home.

‟She took my car to go surprise Glenn. She won’t be back for a few more minutes. I told her dinnertime was, well, now in a few minutes.”

‟Your car is in the garage and locked.”

‟Really? I saw her leave, I never saw her come back.”

‟Something’s wrong, then.” Cag said.

‟Oh. Uh-oh.” Mama Grant put down the pan she was cooking in. ‟Charlie, watch my butter crescents. It is a new recipe I have for the new café, we are going to go with a revamped menu.”

‟I can…”

‟There are some things a mom can do that dad’s can’t when it comes to daughters.” Linda kissed him. ‟You are the best dad to walk the earth, but as good as you are. I am still the mom.”

‟Yes, dear.” Dad made a sad smile, a bit put out.

‟Keep saying that, you might get lucky tonight.”

‟Oh! Yes, dear!” He laughed. This was not so bad as he knew this is one serious mom when it came to her daughters.

She found her eldest princess in the back under the gazebo on the porch swing that Charles had put up years before. It became Kaylee’s favorite art place. She had drawn dozens, if not hundreds of watercolor, pastels and charcoal images in the times since.

She had even shared times of smoking weed with her daughter after the princess turned eighteen. Admitting to nothing before her coming of age.

Linda sat next to Kaylee in silence, waited and watched the clouds for fifteen minutes.

‟Glenn is married.” Kaylee said quietly. A sniffle was her only tell of the tears spent on the way home.

‟That explains a lot.” Mom said. ‟It was like his mom fell of the face of the earth since Glenn arrived home. She was not calling me or stopping by. Now I know why.” Linda frowned nodded. “They have kept it under wraps, no one has talked about seeing anyone new in town.”

‟He has a baby coming.”

‟Oh, damn.” Linda boggled and put her arms around her eldest daughter. “He never told you?”

‟He didn’t have to. She answered the door because he wasn’t home yet.” Kaylee said softly.

‟Oh crap.” Mom covered her mouth in shock. “Oh crap, what an introduction!”

‟It was awkward, but she is nice and, well, big pregnant.” Kaylee ’s eyes glistened with tears. The rain had returned with sprinkles, the drops sounded a soft staccato of rhythm on the awning and grass around them. ‟Then she invited me in for coffee and we had a long talk. She is due in six-weeks.”

‟She wasn’t a nasty to you or strut like a tramp? I’ll have a word with Glenn’s mom.”

‟No. In fact, she was very nice.” Kaylee shook her head. ‟She brews a strong cup of coffee and is delightful to talk to. She told me how she and Glenn had been on and off. Then she forgot her pills on a trip and went a month without them.”

‟Well, that was not very smart.” Mom shook her head and spoke in tones of support.

‟No, especially while with Glenn, he is irresponsible.” Kaylee laughed sadly. ‟She didn’t say that, but I don’t need a treehouse to fall on me.”

‟She and Glenn have a much closer lifestyle than he and I do.” Kaylee ’s voice nearly a whisper. ‟They share many more interests, majors and friends. I have more in common with Tom Harte.”

Mom slowly stroked her daughter’s hair as her eldest leaned on her shoulder and wept quietly. The broken heart of a child leaking out on the blouse of the grown mother.

‟What if you go back and spend time with that cartoonist?”

‟Novelist.” Kaylee said. ‟Mom, I could use a bowl about now.”

‟Well, your dad has been busy. You just need to go to the tree over there. That bird house built into the side of the tree?”

Kaylee stood and went to beautiful, meticulous crafted miniature A-frame and pulled on it.

‟No. Honey. Push it into the tree.”

She pressed with the flat of her hand on a post of the porch, populated with pine cone trolls, the house slid in on polished metal rails, exposing twin finger-holes.

She smiled at the craftsmanship and pulled out when instructed to do so by her mom, the trunk of the tree opened with a drawer, custom fitted with a glass pipe set and four slots for the stash.

‟Oh my gawd!” Kaylee laughed. ‟When did he do this?

‟The tree splintered in a storm, dad did a lot of work, taking off branches and fixing the trunk with glues and screws. But he made a treasure box to fit in the trunk and saved the tree in the process, it still grows.” Linda looked at the big coastal sequoia.

‟These are not a pirate’s treasure.” Kaylee told her mom as she looked over the uncovered storage compartments.”

‟Pick one of the pipes, you will find those are all treasures.” Mom grinned. “Hand carved snakewood, that white one is a dragon-claw, there are two small water pipes.”

The two women laughed and smoked while they remained safe and dry under the covered swing while the storm clouds brought more rain.

‟You know, mom.” Kaylee felt better after a few minutes. ‟It’s a good thing you are cooking dinner. I think I am going to have a good appetite.”

Mom gasped.

‟My DINNER!” Jumping up with a string of profanities. ‟I left your dad in charge. He’ll try and help out. The last time, he turned a simple spaghetti dinner into a seven course disaster!”

Kaylee laughed and laughed while her mom ran. Mom was so funny when she smoked.

Of course it had nothing to do with Kaylee smoking, but that also made her laugh, too. Locking up the weatherproof stash box, Kaylee followed after her mother and joined her inside the house for a rescued dinner.

Her dad was an accomplished cook and yes, sometimes he did get carried away.

This made Kaylee laugh again as she made her way to the house in her mother’s wake, the pain of Glenn no longer a wound that made her weep.

*Mom’s are great.*

A class reunion and observation.

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Decades pass.  For some people, they pass more quickly, others still look like they could be in college still.

Then there are those gentlemen, ones with the hair that was so perfect in school, but nature has had the twisted sense of humor to stop the hair from growing out the top of their heads and start growing out their ears.

One fellow, now keeps his hair cut short to hide the thinning patch on the scalp, but he forgot (forgets on a regular basis?) to trim the hair in his ears.

I mean, wow! I am sitting there and it gets suddenly shady when he walks by.  Five feet of ear fuzz is scary.  He could have braided it into a toupe’ and just used his ears to anchor it.

One beautiful woman I did not remember, I stood and talked with her for nearly a half-hour before I realized at one time, she was a he and he was a decent baseball player in school.  THEN! Then I could relate to some of what she said. Before my epiphany, I was lost to the references.

Once she realized I did not realize who she was, we both had a laugh and restarted the conversation with honest laughter (No cues needed this time) instead of polite chuckles. (Well, okay, always polite chuckles.  I am not known to laugh much.)

One woman walked up and gave me a huge hug. I did not recognize her at all, but faked the “Ohh, I remember. I was so in love with you.” to her. She blushed, giggled, and walked off with a huge thank you and another hug.

She chased me down later to hug me again, introducing me to her date (her son) and brag about him also being an aspiring screenwriter. (in community college working on his english degree and theatrical arts) I can only nod and wish luck.

Then she squeezed the stuffin out of me when I was leaving.

I have decided that crowds I do disdain. But hugs? thems I can take, as long as we are on the far edge of any group.

I bumped into an English teacher who is impressed with my writing on all the subjects you have looked over on here. She even remembered how to spell my name. lol. And my sister (who was not there) I did not bother to mention my niece or nephews. lol.

Funny however, that the teacher got shorter than I remember. Couldn’t be that I am taller than I was as a freshman in high school?

Finally I left, as I was reaching the parking lot, I could hear the class years being called to come front and center.

“Oh the heck with it.” I turned around and walked back to see what it was. (Pictures) the woman with the son-date intercepted me on the way back and dragged me over to meet a couple more friends in the same class.  Each one asking me about my writing when we realized we missed the photo op.

So I laughed and left just as I arrived. Just a little squeezed out, is all.

really, it was just okay.  There were few people I met at first that I spent much time with. And for a large fraction of the time, I sat alone.

So no drink, no booze, no friends other than someone that was a hugging humunculus. (She was short)

So I came stag and sober, I left stag and sober.

that is just the way it always should be. Keeps us men out of trouble.

Funny how it works. When just out of high-school, the men looked at the girls, a few years later, the moms were fair game, now, they are grandma’s and they are still fun to flirt with from what I saw.

Waitaminute!  *Grandmas*?  Well. yeah, so it seems. The grampa’s were getting some action too.   Um..wait… wut?  When are these guys who are my age…”Grandpas”?

Well, this has been an abusive night.  I am not that old. I refuse to be that old.

So on that note, I am going to drink my Ensure and Geritol, kick off my orthopaedic supports and go to bed. Them old folks are too creaky looking for my mental health.

Married by Mistake Chapter 46. A Husband’s Terror

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Chapter 46. A Husband’s Terror

The familiar car pulled into his driveway and Glenn finished his chores around town at the request of his mother. After he took the silver platter to the Grant’s house and tackled by Kaylee who nearly gave him a heart attack. He did not look forward to the conversation about his sudden life change that he invited no one to attend.

Sam and he dated on and off. Two months after they had a weekend trip to Canada, Sam began to get sick at every smell there could be.

Eggs, she got sick.

Soup. Any flavor. She got sick.

Pasta. (Pasta!?) Sick.

Toast. (Well, smoke, he did not clean his toaster.) Sick.

So Glenn went with his ill friend with benefits to the doctor, sudden movements sometimes made her nauseated, so he drove.

The doctor smiled and sat down with them, explained that the hyperemesis gravidarum would pass after a few weeks and in the interim they would put her in a hospital and give her some IV fluids and keep her hydrated.

Glenn had to ask the doctor to define the of the name of this arcane illness. His mind refused to accept what the doctor tried to say.

In a moment, the doctor congratulated the couple. It was no virus, it was morning sickness, Sam was pregnant.

Glenn could not believe it at first. He could only see his career  fall into a smokey ruin like his toaster.

Samantha was also a poli-sci major and after hours of tears, they decided to get married. Neither one of them needed to have a scandal.

In his panic he had forgotten his home town while he was in the big-city. He had fixed a flaw in his life.

“So I’m a flaw?”  Sam became furious. No one called her a flaw, she threatened to tell everyone that he would leave her when she needed him most.

It evolved into a scream fest and rash words exchanged. They did not see each other during that week or part of the next. Two-weeks later, while they attended a study group together and sat across the table in awkward silence while they studied with the group.

Glenn finally brought her a glass of water and some saltines, seeing that she was pale and had developed a sheen of sweat on her forehead.

This singular awareness and his effort to keep her nausea under control had gone a long way to get Sam to smile at him again.

By the end of the homework jam session, people got up and went back to their apartments and lives.

Except for Glenn Schroder and Samantha Walshe who talked far into the night and they married in secret the next day in a civil ceremony. Shortly after that, they went off to Washington State and had a small ceremony for her family.

In those panic filled days, the childhood promise he had with Kaylee evaporated.  He forgot the depth and breadth of the years invested and he did not remember any moments of paper cigar rings and motorcycles.

He began to think about his childhood sweetheart about a week after he had done the deed with Sam, when she was changing her name to Schroder while he stood there.

Glenn practiced and readied for weeks to have a long talk and try to keep things on the down-low with Kaylee. Then when she showed up early at her mom’s house and surprised him, all practiced words left him.

But! He told himself, life changes and he and Kaylee readied for each other to have separate lives.

He walked up the steps to his parent’s house unaware of the new car parked on the street. Glenn’s focus consumed with all his thoughts that raced in circles in his mind. He wanted to make things smooth with his best friend, who he had replaced with a new, pregnant wife. When he would get to talk to Kaylee, he would make it sound reasonable that they stay close friends.

*Yeah! That was the way. If I could do what the Senator Mumy did in Washington, who talked his wife out of a divorce and still kept his girlfriend.* He smiled. 

And no one knew but for Glenn who ran errands for them. And the girlfriend began to come on to Glenn.

*Senators and Congressmen shared a lively trade in girlfriends and boyfriends. Congress members would grow tired of their trysts with one and move onto the next. The women in Congress are as bad or worse than the men in Congress.*

The one thing that Glenn looked forward to, have enough petty cash to keep an apartment in D.C. on the side.

He nodded. *This is one thing I have it dialed in, I know Kaylee and I can pull strings with her.* 

He opened the door and stepped through, he had weathered the worst part of the storms, but with any luck? He would still come out with a little fun with a bong and Kaylee and Sam would never have to know about the local party-girl he had on the side.

Then he stopped at a sight that made his heart drop into the pit of his stomach.

In all the world’s history, the things would fill a man with terror and fear for his life.

The Great Chicago Fire…

Terror of being consumed by a wall of flames.

The Great Quake of 1909…

Terror of the very ground that shook without reason.

The Stupid Husband Bust…

Terror? Terror is to stand in the doorway while your girlfriend and pregnant wife sipped coffee, looked at you and invite you to sit.

In the kitchen.

Near knives and other sharp objects.

And boiling hot liquid.

That is terror.

Married by Mistake Chapter 45. The Mother-Child Reunion

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Chapter 45. The Mother-Child Reunion

She watched Glenn leave to do the chores for his mother, Kaylee turned and walked in the house and handed the platter to her mom, sat at the dinner table and waited for the matriarch of the family put her mobile phone back in her holster.

Not often in the family kitchen, Mama Grant, the hard-driving and meticulous leader of local business after the girls had gone off to college.

Once-upon-a-time she was a soccer-mom with dresses and worked as an office accountant. She did odd jobs on the side to balance books for local businesses, her life was one of four walls, erasers and double-entry books.

Then she had to hold a meeting with the owner of a small, money-losing enterprise called ‟Java Hut” and give the owner the bad news that he was broke.

The owner sold the business to her in lieu of the work she did to balance his books. Preventing a foreclosure on his contracts and business with creative book-keeping to keep the collectors at bay. Even then it was a major effort. Linda Grant took a personal loan, using her car as collateral to keep the doors open.

After months and diligent following of the business map the previous owner had created, she discovered the flaws in his business plan and corrected the minor operational errors.

The net income increased geometrically after each change in operations. In a six-months time, she paid off the loan, opened a second café on the opposite side of town with easy access of the main highway.

The income increased enough that and a third café opened, followed by a fourth and a fifth. No longer called Linda by other businesses, she was Mrs. Grant.

When she left her employer, in anger he predicted that she would return, humbled, despite of her first successes.

‟Women do not have what it takes to operate in this coffee business.” The old man said. A coffee roasting company owner of a mind-set era she thought was dead, his last words motivated her with anger. She became determined never to go back.

Even if she lost her house and starved. She would never work for that dinosaur ever again.

He, she promised herself, would work for her.

Her husband, father of two princesses, kept his job only for the retirement account. He helped his wife, followed her directives and business model, imposed strict observance of Mrs. Grant’s rules of operations.

If ever a husband was proud of his spouse, it was the Patriarch of the Grant clan.

The change in Linda surprised Kaylee in both outlook and attire.

Before, mom was in skirts and blouses. Now she wore slacks and a polo-shirt with the logo of her company, her hair, differently styled and her demeanor was more focused and intense. A coffee buyer, learning how to roast coffee and her business success, becoming known as a keen business mind and a well-respected leader of the business community.

Kaylee loved her mom before, now, amazed and truly proud of her. Unlike some of her college friends, embarrassed about talking about their own parents. Kaylee already enjoyed talking about her mom, and she was Kaylee ‘s personal super-hero.

Mother and child sat down over the coffee and Kaylee opened the subject.

“Glenn is acting odd.” Kaylee said before her first sip.

“No.” She corrected herself. “Not odd. He was…”

“Reserved.” Mom said and nodded.

‟I noticed that. He wasn’t excited answering the phone when I called his mother and asked for the platter.” Linda Grant and Katherine Tucker-Schroder were friends who went back to their own high school days in Salem, both moving out the northwestern state for different times and reasons and kept a close friendship.

‟I wonder if he is in trouble somewhere. Maybe his job is in jeopardy in Washington.”

‟Perhaps.” Mom nodded slowly. ‟I think it is more personal. Something close to his heart that is scaring him.”

‟Well, he doesn’t have to be scared to talk to me.”

‟Have you ever done something that scares you to talk about?” Mom sipped her coffee and looked over the top of the rim into her daughter’s eyes. A sparkle there that meant that mom was fishing a little.

‟Well…”

The story of Thomas Harrison Harte, drinking and a summer of adventure poured out of Kaylee in laughter, tears, smiles and more laughter.

‟Anullment makes it that you never divorced. Someday maybe we can talk about it with your father, but for now? I think it would be best if we kept it between ourselves.”

‟And Melanie .” Kaylee said.

‟Yes, and Melanie .” Linda stood up and kissed her daughter on the head as she refreshed her coffee.

‟I won’t ever tell Glenn. It would be a problem that we might need to do counseling over.”

‟Well, that’s up to you.” Mom said. ‟You are Glenn’s girl to go through all that, rather than bringing home a millionaire husband.”

‟Should I have done that?”

‟It’s done. No going back to worry about it.” Mom said quietly. ‟Besides, Glenn and you have a relationship that you need to take care of.”

‟Yes, this is true.” Kaylee nodded. ‟Glenn and I have a lot of good memories and I don’t need to bring up anything that might screw things up. Melanie thinks that Glenn is going to ask the question.”

‟Oh honey! That would be terrific!” Mom said. ‟That might be the thing that is stressing Glenn out. Men have such problems with that issue. Your father couldn’t even say it right. It took him five minutes and I said yes before he got it out.”

The two women laughed and made jokes at the expense of the male gender for several minutes.

‟Kaylee , take my keys. Go talk with Glenn, we can make this an engagement announcement dinner.” Mom smiled widely. ‟It’s full of gas and the wheels are winter readied. Oh! When you come back if you can pick up a five-pound bag of russet potatoes from the grocer, we can have enough bakers for dinner. I have a roast in the oven that would go perfectly with that.”

‟Thanks mom, you’re the best.” Kaylee said, standing up and heading to the door.

Standing on the front porch for a moment, she thought about what her mother had said. She did not want to hold anything back from dad, but there was time enough for that discussion.

Looking around for the dark red Dodge Durango, the car her mom had named ‟David” sat in the two car detached garage. The garage was her dad’s own design. He had designed it as a pull through with cobblestone drive around the entire structure.

One thing her father had an eye for, was beauty and function. He had turned the attached garage into his shop that he spent long hours in with his IT skills. Sometimes mom would worry that government agents might come and take him away as a hacker of some arcane database.

Kaylee wanted to go surprise Glenn at his house, she got into David the Durango and started up the powerful engine and it grumbled to life.

Kaylee wondered if mom had work done to the new car, it felt unusually powerful when she pulled out of the driveway.

She smiled to herself and nodded in her thoughts. *Mom’s was right. Glenn sometimes stressed out when he had important things to do and if he is going to ask me to marry him would be no different, he might even panic.*

Even if it was a forgone conclusion that she would say yes, it would stress him out if he was already having troubles at college or his assistant program.

In deep thought, she drove over a newly paved road, the old section, patched for years, becoming a solid patch, each asphalt patch that filled a pothole covered part of its neighbor, new patches overlapped old patched asphalt until the funds became available to replace the patchwork pavement. The ride was a smooth surprise that made Kaylee laugh, she remembered the route to Glenn’s house as so bumpy, people had to slow down or risk damage to their wheels and tires.

It was a nice drive today, a classic country road that was perfect. Trees glistened in the mist, it was a Kate Williams watercolor image, Kaylee smiled. She wondered if Glenn would have gotten an engagement ring that duplicated the cigar band that he had given her a few years before.

That would be funny and romantic!

Pulling in the Schroder driveway, the two-story A-frame home was a beautiful place in the small town. Peaked roof homes were the norm, but this one used extensive glass to look out over the valley.

She got out and looked up, in the tree, the elaborate treehouse that Glenn and his dad built when Glenn was not even a teenager, was still there. She had sneaked up into the treehouse with Glenn more than once. A good place for a couple of kids with the summer off.

She created more than one sketch of the views from the treehouse.

It looked tired and dusty. A window, broken sometime in the years she was at college, and the ladder from the Rose Suchuck Ladder company that leaned up against the tree, looked unsafe at best. It had been years since she climbed the ladder to get inside of their little home away from home.

Natural stone steps, built by his father after he spent weeks in a rock-hunt along riverbeds for just the right kind of stone fit tight together.

Plus four small nuggets of gold, a lost wallet and one victim of a mountain lion attack over the months of his hiking. The victim stayed in touch with Anders Schroder over the years and they often traded services to the business benefit of each construction company.

Kaylee walked slowly up the steps, she enjoyed the memories of childhood passions and anticipation of being a member of this family.

The natural wood door was taller than most, shaped like the A-frame of the house, hundred-year-old iron knockers from some antique store that a talented cabinet company took great care to fit in the middle of the doors. The effect was dramatic and castle like. When the doors opened, it was as if the whole front of the house welcomed you in.

She rang the doorbell and looked around, Glenn’s car was not in the driveway, she had arrived ahead of him.

This was fun. David the Durango was new and Glenn had never seen it before, plus she had parked near the neighbor’s house. She would surprise him, twice today. If she needed, she would beat the engagement ring out of him, then kiss all the bruises better.

Footsteps, she knew the sound of heals, his mom would be surprised, too. If she beat Glenn home, she did not know that Kaylee could stop by.

And the pregnant woman who opened the door was a complete stranger to Kaylee .

‟Um. Hello. I’m looking for Glenn?” Kaylee had a thrill of fear, like what the lookout on the Titanic might have had at the last moment.

Smiling, the pregnant, blond woman held out her hand.

‟Hi! I’m Samantha, Glenn’s wife.” 

Married by Mistake Chapter 44. Something missing from your mouth

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Chapter 44. Something Missing from your mouth

Home! It made Kaylee happy. There! There at the memorial park where, one summer’s day, she discovered that if she wore her hair down, Glenn would run his fingers through her hair and enjoyed the texture of her curls.

Over there, he invited her to skinny-dip with him at the pond.  But she was still a victim of strep-throat and wouldn’t swim. Instead Glenn just suggested she lay naked on the rocks, which she did! After laughter of that day and she pointed out that her dad would hurt him if pops ever found out, it was good summer memory of that year, too.

The taxi ride was typical of the area, battered on snowy roads and potholes. The cab, strictly functional with a rough ride on studded tires, was normal for the suburban type of taxi.

Home was so close, she could walk it from here. Her excitement was oddly muted.

Her thoughts turned back time and again to the man she left in the rain where he stood alone.

She looked out the window and told herself to shake the fog of melancholy off, Tom would be on the plane by now and be above the clouds far away from her, he was now history. Maybe.

He did have that moment. A look that bothered her. He reminisced with her and it should have made him smile, but he had a look of unfathomable sadness for a brief moment. A deep look like someone who once before stood on the edge of the road to say good-bye and could not bear to do it again. Then he was his quirky self again with a wide smile. 

They had a great summer, but they were careful with each other and honest. Neither she or Tom expected it to last forever.

Kaylee was honest with Tom, she had a promise to keep. She and Tom, until that day at the start of summer, a lifetime ago it seemed. They did not know each other.

He was some random guy on a beach who wrote notes on a tablet computer.

She was a college student that had a really, really bad day.

He was the man that she would have not expected to wake up next to after a night of drink and smoke. *And married!*

It was so unexpected, she had gotten stoned many times and had never had even a hint that she and a date might get married.

*But there’s that sparkle about Tom. A color of soul that I could see even through my wine goggles and pharmaceuticals.* The heart of the matter was her heart, in the grand scheme of the universe, could the heart feel fondness about the strange man in the flying-yacht?

If not for two bits of information.

One: That Tom never asked. Was she with him for the simple reason of his money?

The answer was no, and that she even wondered about herself, it caused her to follow through with annulment of her marriage with Tom in a way that no one knew. Just to prove to herself the honesty of her heart.

And they did not have a pre-nup. His implicit trust her in her heart and soul. That there was no second thought, as if that was even needed. She left that life with her conscience clear, but with doubt in her heart.

And her heart did ache. Excited as for the question Glenn was about to ask, it ached for the quirky humor, adventurous spirit of Thomas Harte, the airship thief of hearts.

Still, she had Glenn, the boy that she first got stoned with, grew up with and had such a long history. Everyone knew that Glenn and Kaylee were best of friends and one day they would be married.

Every mile the taxi drove towards the home she grew up in, her smile widened. She wondered if everyone would be there, except Melanie who stayed behind for the start of early term classes.

The bump of the pothole that had been in the intersection for the last decade brought her out of her introspective moments.

She was home.

The cab driver got out and walked to the back of the taxi. For a moment, she expected the cabbie to open the door for her. Instead he opened the trunk and took her bags out.

Kaylee laughed at herself.

She’d been spoiled!

She pushed on the door and it opened with a rusty groan. A noise that cars get when the hinges exposed to the harsh elements are often stressed with constant open and shut, far beyond those of a normal car.

After he sat the bags on the sidewalk, the cabbie tipped his hat to Kaylee .

‟Thank you, miss.” He smiled as he looked at the bills she gave him and counted an extra twenty.

‟Keep the change and thank you.” Kaylee smiled.

The rain had stopped for a few minutes. By the looks of the clouds and the dark columns that obscured the hills and lowlands, it will rain again in a few minutes.

She gathered the bags up in her arms, she suddenly felt like an overloaded pack-mule — and she packed light!

The humor in the situation tickled her again. She was back home and happy. Soon she would get a big hug from mom’n’dad. Then to see Glenn, if he had not yet arrived at the house.

She had messed up everyone’s schedules, she knew, she took the private jet to an airport that was so much closer, it seemed a wise move.

Dad had emailed her, and he directed her on what was the best airline and the most on time. Her plane would land around dinner time and he would pick her up then. That made her shake her head it began to snow at the scheduled time of arrival on her smart phone if she followed the plans that the patriarch of the family had planned.

Dad’s office was fifteen minutes from the airport in Portland and he would pick her up on the way home. Except that Kaylee was eight-hours early and the airport she arrived at was an hour closer. She would surprise everyone when she walked through the door.

Up the steps, she stood at the doorbell for a moment. Oddly the small, pale mark on her finger where the jeweled band had been the last month stood out in her awareness. It was not very noticeable to the rest of the world, but to her it was a giant flag.

A leftover memory. A good memory, but one that she did not want exposed.

Not just yet, anyway. Mel, her sister, knew, she was the only one in the family aware of any of the events in the past summer.

It promised that an intense conversation with mom in the near future would happen after she unpacked and settled in.

The the first few notes of Westminster chimes sounded when she pushed the button, the sound made goosebumps on her skin that had little to do with the cold, moist air. The mission “Surprise!” was now active.

The door opened and her mom took a moment to register that her eldest daughter stood in front of her.

‟Kaylee!” The elder version of the daughter shrieked and jumped to hug Kaylee . ‟What? Where did you come from? How are you here so early? No one is here. Oh my God! We need to call your dad before he leaves early to pick you up.”

She walked into the house and was assailed by the smell of coffee, the primary drink in the house since before Kaylee could remember. The warm scent was pervasive and tickled her senses with chocolate notes. She was ready for a cup of coffee that her mother would make in a french press and then store the fragrant black liquid in the same kind of insulated pots she used at the cafe’s.

Mom often took the time off to make the coffee at home, too. As the owner of a chain of cafe’s, Linda Grant could take any time off she wished.

‟I only have to work half the day, and it doesn’t matter which twelve hours.” She would often joke. An accountant by her diploma, Mother Grant discovered that she had a strong business acumen and transformed a small, money-pit café into five salary-equivalent coffee and sandwich shops.

Mom’s recent history was a surprise for both of the Grant women as they talked.

Then a pause in the conversation.

“What have you been up to? You’ve arrived home late this summer. Any troubles with classes?” Mom asked.

‟It’s a long story, mom. But I promise I’ll tell you later. Glenn’s car just pulled up in front.” She stood up and hugged her mom and walked calmly to the door.

Then flew off the porch into the arms of what most of the girls in town agreed was the most handsome boy in town.

Glenn Greggory Schroder, president of the student body at Lincoln High School in his senior year. After graduation, he studied to become a congressional page then an assistant, he worked on his voter base so when he ran for an elected office life would be much easier while the he stumped for votes.

Six-foot-tall, blue-eyes of Danish extraction, Glenn, destined in his life to be elected to congress and, in breathless whispers by girls, a governor of the state, or even greater, office.

The friends that knew him, team members from the chess club and the debate team knew that he had a mind as dull as a hammer. But his talent for comeback was whip-quick. He never seemed to let that he was wrong or had the facts twisted ever stop his arguements, then if that did not work he would try to change the one subject to another that he had a handle on.

And he could drink! Only once did Glenn admit that he was even close to a DUI when the police wanted to pull him over after drank beer while home from school.

The officer that had tried to chase them, got hung up in a narrow lane and with a seven-point turn around, he had fallen so far behind that when he pulled into the driveway behind the parked station-wagon, everyone had already exited the car and sat around the pool with drinks in hand.

Unable to prove who was behind the wheel or violations of open beverage law occurred while they were in the car, the officer issued a weak threat that he would keep an eye on them.

In the small Oregon town, the officer always had his eye out.

Glenn admitted to the group, even when Kaylee sat in his lap that he was really too wasted to drive.

This set off a fight between Kaylee and himself.

Still and somehow, they stayed together. But with threats and argument, Glenn never admitted that he had ever did drink and drive again.

He never even admitted that he attended any party in school or on his internship in Washington.

Today, the only admission he had been his surprise at his girlfriends appearance.

‟Hi!”

‟Ohmygod! I have missed you!” Kaylee nearly screamed as they almost fell down into the wet grass of her parent’s house.

“You’re home! You weren’t supposed to arrive until after six o’clock tonight.”

‟I had a chance to catch an earlier flight and surprise everyone. ‟

‟You did that!” Glenn smiled a crooked smile, but there was wrongness about it.

‟Your mouth needs something.” Kaylee said with a sideways grin.

‟What?” The Nordic blue eyes almost crinkled in good humor.

‟My lips!” With that, she kissed him deeply.

The kiss was long and passionate of a couple that had not kissed in a long time.

But it was a troubled kiss. Kaylee pulled back.

‟I thought you would be happier to see me.”

‟I was not ready for you. I have one more stop to make, I need to shop before I come back.”

‟Ooh… Would it be… Oh, I don’t know. Important?” She got to her feet and almost danced in excitement.

‟Oh quite.” Glenn said. ‟I need to talk with you later, after you say hello to your mom and dad.”

‟I have gotten mom, already. Mom just texted Dad when I got in.” Kaylee bounced on the balls of her feet.

‟You have changed up my plans, I have a few stops to make, I was told to drop this server plate off to your mom. She said it is for a ham tonight and needed it.”

Glenn reached in his car and pulled out a silver tray with local names and places etched around the edges.

‟When I come back, you and I will go for a ride downtown.  I need to talk to you.” Glenn said. ‟It’s serious.”

‟Oh.” She smiled but he did not. She refused to let him dampen her spirits or change her course of thought. She took the platter and kissed him, again.

‟I look forward to our talk!”

She watched him drive off, her smile faded to a frown. He acted different. His smile was wrong and his eyes were in a far-away place.

Inside her heart, she worried that he might be in trouble with the law, or maybe he ran afoul of the law in the capital with possession of an illegal substance and was about to be charged or had gotten caught in a undercover operation.

She walked back to the house to give her mom the big platter. A pensive look crossed her face.

The more she thought, the more she worried.

Married by Mistake Chapter 43. Leaving on a Jet Plane

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Chapter 43. Leaving on a Jet Plane

The limousine ride for Kaylee was quiet, giving her a chance to think. The trip home to see Glenn filled her with excitement.

His family was hard-working and, while not wealthy, they had no wants or wishes that were not answered.

She wondered what kind of ring she might get. The last time they had spent a summer home, Glenn had negotiated to lease a three-wheel motorcycle from a company with full windshield and a trailer that folded out as a tent.

They had toured Canada that year and she found a ring with a star sapphire, surrounded by small diamonds as an engagement ring.

Glenn nearly fainted right then and Kaylee laughed at his frugal soul.

‟A ring is a ring. I would love it no matter what.” She had told him when he got his breath back.

Afterwards, he walked into a smoke-shop and bought an expensive cigar, tossed the large brown stogie into a garbage can and took the small brass-colored paper ring off the shaft and put it on her finger.

‟I will replace it with a real one after we graduate.”

The ring had long since worn out, but it lasted for the length of their journey before they started as freshmen at their separate colleges. Still, she kept the wrinkled and torn paper-foil ring in between the plastic pages of a photo album.

It excited her to think that the day was so close, and she had almost obliterated that future.

*Mangled it, even!* Kaylee memories mixed both excitement, sadness and an ironic laugh, a party with a strange man who became an accident of a husband for a short time. *At least I was able to put my life back on track, and Tom is kind enough for one last favor and fly me home.*

Tom said they could use an airport closer to home than going to a commercial airport. There she could take a taxi home instead of trying to have family take time to drive the hundred miles, pay for a bus, or try to find connections to land at the same airport. And she had no need to buy tickets it was the best of all choices, it showed his heart and friendship.

The limousine arrived at the gate leading to the private area where the jet was. She could see it was the same kind of Lear jet as she had taken to Las Vegas with Tom.

The person that stepped out of the plane was none other than Captain Watson.

Regina Watson! This made Kaylee smile, Captain Watson made Kaylee feel motivated to make choices.

The chauffeur pulled to a stop and the driver got out and walked around to let her out.

‟Thank you, Miss Grant.” He remembered her name despite not talking with her at all. Kaylee was feeling a bit worried, she still did not see Tom anywhere when the limousine drove off.

‟Kaylee ?” Tom’s voice came from the building where Regina Watson was walking towards.

Tom stepped into the sunshine and smiled a wide smile. One would think they had not seen each other for weeks, instead of just that morning.

‟Let me get those for you.”

‟No, if you hurt your arm again, I’ll break your leg.” She warned him.

‟I have it.” A tech walked from the office behind Tom and took the bags that she was carrying.

A long hug from Tom, old friends. Lovers as of the previous morning, but no animosity.

She felt that pang of doubt that haunted her a few times when she molded her body to his for a moment.

Tom flinched a little.

‟What happened?” She touched his wounded arm. ‟Is it hurting?”

‟No, it actually feels pretty good, I wrote a few chapters this morning. A novel idea called ‟Married by Mistake”.

‟You better not be using my name!” Kaylee laughed.

‟I’m kidding, actually a fourth book to Steamland that’s in theaters. It will be the last one. I planned only three, but it began to come out of my hands this morning.” Tom smiled. ‟There was one in the middle that had needed to fill in some gaps. The mother’s point of view of losing her child to the abuse of government’s agent.”

‟Wow, sounds intense.”

‟I have a few folks proofreading it as of this morning.” Tom said as they entered the cabin of the jet. While they were settling down, a few more people climbed in.

‟I thought this was a private charter?”

‟It is, but they also chartered it. We are all going to the same place.” Tom smiled. ‟I would like to introduce you to a few writer friends of mine. Dee O’Kelley. He has written a few swashbuckler novels. The Porthos series, the musketeer that is also a kind of anti-hero?”

‟Haven’t heard of it.” She whispered to Tom after she shook hands with Mr. O’Kelley.

‟Phoenix Alexandra, she has written about a woman who becomes a private-eye after retiring from military special forces. She is doing well with that, it’s on the New York best-seller’s list.”

Kaylee smiled and nodded hello to the rest of the group as they filed in. Six in all, the writers all chatted animatedly among each other on the upcoming book-con that they were going to attend in Seattle.

Tom smiled as the group settled in, Captain Watson finished her checks and closed the door.

The speakers overhead chimed on the small jet and the seatbelt sign illuminated.

Although a group, the chartered jet had few seats in relative terms, and was very comfortable. This was a different airplane that Captain Watson was in charge of. The seats were different, it was as if the group had wished for a family room with wings.

‟How do you know Tom, honey?” A beautiful woman asked Kaylee .

White haired, but intense black eyes, she looked as if she had stepped off a farm. To call her elderly would have been wrong on a philosophical level, her eyes had seen much during the years of her life, but the life and light in them was piercing when she looked at Kaylee .

‟We are friends, I helped her out with a problem at Ocean Bay University with Doctor Manga.” Tom chimed in when Kaylee looked stuck.

‟Kaylee , may I introduce you to…”

‟I know!” Kaylee grinned. ‟Margaret Patrice! You are my favorite author! You wrote about Honey, the homeless dog.”

‟A young adult book, my answer to Old Yeller. That was a long time ago, my dear. I have written many since then.” She smiled. ‟And thank you for remembering me and your kind words. Are you going to Seattle with us?”

‟No, I am getting off near Portland, if Tom slows the plane down a little.”

The older woman laughed lightly, a sound of a person that enjoyed to laugh. Her eyes sparkled with good humor.

‟You should ask Tom out.” Margaret whispered in a conspiratorial tone to Kaylee when Tom became deeply involved in conversation with Thomas Kraig who had written a fan-fiction of an established science fiction series that became a basis for an upcoming movie.

”He has been alone for far too long. I would do things with him, but alas, I have a family that might take a dim view of an old woman in pursuit of a man who lives on a floating plane.” The wrinkles around her eyes smiled as brightly as her lips.

‟Flying boat.” Kaylee corrected, and immediately regretted. ‟I’m sorry, he has jumped me for that a few times. It has become habit.”

‟Jumped you?” The sparkling eyes smiled with the dual meaning. ‟Have you slept with him?”

Another jaw-dropping moment that Kaylee ’s command of the English language failed her.

‟Maggie, Kaylee is a bit of a wallflower, kinda shy and all. Are you intimidating her?” Tom leaned over and asked.

‟Not at all!” She laughed. ‟I think I was finding some details.”

‟No details to find.”

‟Maggie!” Thomas Kraig piped up. ‟Stop intimidating people. Forgive her miss…?”

‟Grant. Please, call me Kaylee .”

‟Of course. Kaylee . See Maggie, she is a sweet girl, not like us Bohemian Bull types.” It was Phoenix that had reined in Kaylee’s favorite author.

Still, the white-haired author studied Kaylee .

*She knows.* Kaylee’s eyes tried to hold a bland look. *She knows there was something going on between Tom and me, she’s just a few hours late.*

The flight continued with Phoenix looking at pictures on Kaylee ’s camera, her entire collection of paintings over the three years of fine arts studies at Ocean Bay.

An image of Tom without a shirt surprised them both and Kaylee coudn’t get it off fast enough. Laughing quietly, Phoenix patted Kaylee ’s leg.

‟I saw nothing.” She whispered.

The overhead speakers chimed and the sign ‟Seatbelts” illuminated.

‟Ladies and Gentlemen, we are beginning our descent to disembark a passenger. We will be landing in about five minutes, our time on the ground will be about a half-hour.”

The last chance to hold Tom’s hand presented itself without being obvious.

It was the one thing she was going to miss with all her heart.

Married by Mistake Chapter 42. Packing

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Chapter 42. Packing

After the exhausting “Unwedding” in Las Vegas, partying with her never-was husband, he dropped her at home, where she sat in her apartment drinking coffee with her sister, Melanie.

The two Grants sat next to each other in the bay window of Kaylee’s apartment on a garage-sale special faux wicker loveseat. They had turned it around to create their own private space while they talked like sisters do.

‟It was amazing, we saw acrobats and a ballet that hung from the ceiling! Tom introduced me to the manager of the casino who let us go back and meet the circus group. A few of them knew Tom from his novels and movies.” Kaylee described with a wistful smile. ‟I’m sorry that you weren’t his sister-in-law for very long.”

Melanie held her sister’s hand.

‟You are on my spank-list for that, but you did the right thing. Glenn has asked about you a lot. He’s made it sound urgent and I know he said he had to go back early.” She nodded. ‟I bet he got an appointment somewhere and wants to take you with him to D.C. to meet everyone.”

‟What about going to school here? I can’t marry him until I graduate.”

‟You would be engaged in that time.” Melanie winked over the cup as she sipped the coffee that she had bought down the street. A ‟Shot in the dark”, black coffee with a shot of espresso that she sweetened with some sugar. ‟You don’t have to run off and get married. Even if you like to do that.” She nudged her sister as they sat and looked out the window.

Sisters, first and always. They knew each other’s secrets and stood by each other no matter what the world came at them with. They might fight with each other, but they were family.

Melanie looked out over at the bay where a large jet floated.

‟It seems strange seeing it from so far away.” Kayley whispered, almost to herself. ‟It’s bigger than most boats.” Her smile widened. ‟Hard to miss with those colors.”

‟Is he there now?”

‟No. He had to make arrangements to move the Sea Dragon. The FAA approved it for flight and Tom needed to have a check up on his arm. He heals fast I think, his fingers don’t tingle anymore and he has movement enough to type without me helping him. He was typing when I left the Wizard at the airport.”

‟So everything is all right there.”

‟Do you know he has so much money that he gets free rooms at casino’s?” Kaylee said wistfully. “That whole thing kind of made me mad.”

‟You told me that.” Melanie brushed the hair out of her sisters face.

‟I am still amazed.”

Melanie smiled. Her older sister had repeated things time and again for the last couple days while she packed to go back home and meet up with Glenn.

*Glenn.* Melanie’s future brother-in-law would be interesting to have around. He would spend a lot of time in the Maryland area as a congressional aide and possibly be elected. *I am not as excited about that as I was about Tom. Politics corrupts so many people with power, money, drugs, drink, parties with temptation everywhere. I have no trust in them, that kind of snake den would cause nothing but trouble.*

Melanie wanted her sister to avoid that kind of stress, and Glenn was good-looking enough to have a dozen girls on the side, and Washington was awash in pretty women and men.

Kaylee leaned on her sister, putting her head on Melanie ’s shoulder.

‟I miss him. I miss Tom.” She said. ‟I did the right thing, Mel, didn’t I?”

‟Yes.” Melanie put her arm around her older but smaller sister and kissed the top of her sister’s head. ‟Glenn is our generation, Tom is almost as old as mom. I looked it up.”

On the volleyball courts, they called Melanie “The Monster”. As the six-foot-tall captain of the volleyball team, she drove her team to back-to-back championships. But now she was a sister. Melanie the Monster loved Kaylee more than anyone else of her generation.

‟I’m taking a flight with Tom to go home. He has some business in Seattle and would drop me close to home, I could take a taxi on the cheap then and surprise everyone.”

‟What business does he have in Seattle?” Melanie ’s quizzical smile tickled Kaylee ’s soul.

‟A book event where he autographs works of his novels for people.” Kaylee got up and refreshed her cup of coffee. ‟He goes to those a lot, like twelve times a year, maybe more.”

‟Headed home in a private jet.” Melanie laughed. ‟You’re spoiled.”

‟Chartered.” Kaylee corrected. ‟Oy! He has taught me that habit. Sometimes, Tom makes me mad and he is not even here.”

Melanie laughed again, harder. Her sister’s tastes in things had changed in the five weeks of being married, rather, not-married according to the government, to Tom. She had become more complex, even her drawing and painting all night had been fast paced and prolific.

Twelve charcoals done in eight hours. Some surreal like Picasso and Salvador Dali. A Monet style drawing of Melanie as she napped on the couch during the night, among the many that she did.

All for her own pleasure.

*If it was pleasure?*  She pondered.

*All passion for sure.*

Some art she created with bright colors and filled a heart with happiness.

Others, blue and sad, a cold pastel of a single heart, alone in a snowy field.

‟I need to get packed,” Kaylee said softly, got up and went to gather her clothes for her trip. “So I can fly with him.”

Melanie tossed back the last of her coffee and smiled.

‟You have a last ride on him?” Winking at her older sister.

‟No, that part’s done. Tom is just doing this as a favor because I am late and he is going north, too.”

‟When is the limo supposed to pick you up?”

‟Anytime, now. It’s a ninety-minute flight to Portland from here.”

‟That’s all?”

‟That’s that Tom said.” Kaylee shrugged. ‟It will be the last time I see him for a month. My classes don’t start at the normal date, they are a later starting class this year. Professor Denton, who is teaching it is in France.”

‟You have Professor Denton? That is cool! She got married to her wife last spring and they are in France on a honeymoon.”

Kaylee stacked her luggage by the door.

‟Yeah, did you see who she married? It was in the paper, her wife is an artist downtown.”

‟Yup! Sculptures are amazing, she even has a bathtub sculpted out of soapstone.”

‟I saw that, shaped like a flower. They want thirty-thousand for it.”

‟I am not going to buy it. Not for that price.” Melanie laughed.

‟I won’t buy it for a tenth that price, it is too much.” Kaylee nodded as she put her toothbrush in the last small bag to take down.

‟You are traveling light.” Melanie noted. ‟You used to go home with almost everything.”

‟I’ve learned a few things this summer.”

A knock on the door and Kaylee answered it. A handsome older gentleman was there, wearing a drivers uniform. It was a driver that she had not met before.

‟Miss Grant?” He asked.

*Ouch.* A sharp pang in her heart when he used her maiden name.  *I had gotten used to being a Harte.*

‟Yes, Just these bags, please.”

The trio walked down the stairs to the street, a midnight-blue limousine waited. It was not stretched like many were, it was more business and less party.

‟Give mom and dad hugs for me. I wish I could go but I need to set up for early starting classes. I’m supposed to have access to the school network, but I’m blocked from logging in.”

Kissing her sister good-bye, Kaylee got into the limousine and the driver clicked the door quietly, leaving Melanie waving on the sidewalk.

For one brief, shining moment, she wished she still wore a ring. A pale band on her skin of her ring-finger showed where she refused to take it off until the very end.

One last time, she looked at the bay, where sat the Pacific Wizard, just before they turned inland to the airport and lost sight of it.

In the front of the limousine, Gulstan the Chauffeur looked in the mirror at the young woman who appeared to weep. Professional that he was, he would never ask.

What happens in his limo, stays in his limo. 

Married by Mistake Chapter 41. Afterglow and Tables

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Chapter 41. Afterglow and Tables

Candles, perfumed smoke of a cedar-wick that crackled on the far table wafted through the room with two exhausted lovers relaxed in the soft light.

Tom still had his shirt half-on, he was too drunk to take it off with one arm when they got home, the white material stained from when he fell into a fountain. .

Kaylee kissed Tom’s chest as he slept. Six hours of dance and drink and then home to the penthouse pushed him over the edge of exhaustion more than once, he drank too many cups of coffee to keep going.

Now, with his shoes removed, he was in a deep sleep, despite where he lay his recovering arm.

Small marks on his chest would take a few days to heal where she had bitten him during a slow dance, but between the ice-cubes she dropped down his shirt and kissing, he was sleeping with his arms around her. The pain of his wounded arm forgotten as was the wound in both their hearts while their bodies recovered from the intense celebration.

They were friends and even if her promise had to take them each on a separate path in life, she knew in time that he would relax more.

‟You know,” Tom said quietly, little more than a whisper. ‟If this is what it is like getting  annulled from you, I want to do this once a week, at least.”

Kaylee laughed quietly, the sun was going down and they were about to wake up.

‟There is a private gaming table with our names on it?” She asked.

‟Now you mention it.” Tom snuffled. ‟We do.”

‟You said you like to play blackjack?” She asked and pressed her body against his, she was still in her silk party clothes, too tired the night before to undress. She wanted to remember what it felt like and she wanted to touch every inch of him for as long as she could.

All too soon, this journey of passion and party would be over and she would go back to the life that she had planned since before puberty.

Artist, student, possibly even the wife of a congressman. Elected officials had a more complex life while trying to do their jobs.

Glenn often said they had to make hard choices that might make them unpopular with the voters. So the right thing was the thing that would get them removed from office.

It was a wonderful, great time build a life.

If it wasn’t for Tom and this past few weeks of wonder and passion. An exciting summer of build-up to the wedding and the first years together with Glenn.

She lightly touched Tom’s chest. He twitched with a slightly hysterical giggle. His body was still tingled from the intense excitement of the impromptu party and dances she made him do while he drank expensive wines until his words slurred.

His smooth and, now, hairless chest. Her skill with argument, convincing him on this last night of the thrill and fun to have every hair on his body removed, every strand of stray hair. His control impressed her while the attendant wax his underarms and toes.

Even if he did squeak a couple of times.

*Well, maybe not fun for him, but I enjoyed watching it.* She smiled, on the knife-edge of laughing out loud.

The rewards of his clean-to-the-Nth-degree-body made for better dance-floor teases. She loved his bare, hair free chest.

*He will never forget any of this, I hope he still loves me for having his hair ripped out!*

She knew she would never forget.

Kissing his chest, his twitching making her smile. She stood up and pulled him to the edge of the bed.

‟Oh? What now?” She shut him up with a kiss.

‟Let’s not waste anymore time! Let’s go party gamble for our un-wedding.” She smiled and opened her bag and pulled out a small black dress.

‟What? Do you have a wardrobe in that thing?” He yawned, and made a quiet yelp of pain. “My armpits are sore! Woman, you said this was painless.”

She laughed.

‟Melanie ’s design. Whenever we travel, we keep nice clothes in a kit, I have another one for formal, it is slightly larger with a full length black dress and heels. It fits in a dresser drawer, and I can put it in a bag or purse in a second. She has wanted to market it, but some problems with one seam  or another not lining up and we keep getting creases in the wrong places.” She smiled while she pulled the dress up, pulled her hair out and tucked herself in. Buttoning up the up to the top of her cleavage. ‟We are going to try to roll dresses in the next design in special tubes made for packing. It takes less room and, in theory, does not cause creases.”

‟Quite the invention.” Tom smiled as he pulled on a red-silk shirt.

‟We had plans of being famous designers and do art-level clothing that could be inexpensive, and recyclable. We could keep it as haute couture, with a fraction of the price.”

‟What has stopped you?”

‟Lack of funding and time. Dad is an IT tech and mom teaches accounting. It’s just enough to help us go through college, even with scholarships.”

‟Yes,” Tom took a deep breath let it out slowly and shook his head. ‟This state charges more for education with a high cost of living that prevents many students from going to higher education. It is a weakness in this country. No investments in education on a higher level.”

‟Well, whatever, but I am going to finish what I have started and have my Master’s in fine arts.”

‟Okay, I’m ready. Do you want to go gamble?”

‟Yeah!” She cheered. “Woot!”

‟I don’t know if I want to take you downstairs, there won’t be any eyes not looking at you.” Tom said. ‟I may become jealous.”

‟Yeah, right. You have one quirk. You are the most laid-back man I know.”

‟The most laid on his back, anyway.” Tom laughed. ‟Okay, to the elevator.”

Kaylee walked carefully in her high-heels, wearing the shoes, she was as tall as Tom.

‟You are beautiful.” Tom whispered.

Kaylee felt her cheeks flush.

‟Thank you. I wanted you to enjoy this date.”

‟I have. I’m just sorry it has to end.”

‟Tom, I want to go home to Portland when we get back. Glenn is waiting for me there, he has asked the family about me. Melanie says that he is going to ask the question.”

‟The big question?”

Kaylee laughed.

‟I hope so, if he asks me to borrow my car, I’m going to punch him.” She raised her fist. “Hard.”

They both laughed awkwardly.

The door of the elevator opened and the couple entered.

A direct ride to down, over twenty floors, to the one room with limited access.

Tom handed over his room key,  scanned by a security guard who nodded and then they were in.

‟Let’s go here, you said you like the old-style dollar machines?”

‟Oh yeah, you have no idea.” Kaylee laughed and imitated the clinking of silver dollars falling.

‟Okay,” Tom smiled. ‟Let’s go over here.”

At a cage, Tom chatted a girl who knew him by sight.

‟Hi Tom!” She smiled, a brilliant grin that looked natural. Kaylee felt a pang of jealousy when she leaned in and kissed Tom on the cheek.

‟Five-thousand singles for this young woman here.” Tom said. ‟She wants to play the dollar slots.”

‟Yes, sir. Very good choice.” She smiled again and began to tap on a computer touch screen. ‟And your usual starting stake?”

‟Yes, please.” Tom nodded. ‟And if she comes back, fill her order at a thousand-chip increments, she can carry those without tipping over.”

‟Of course.”

The stack of chips were the size of silver dollars of the Eisenhower era.

‟If you go over there, you can play the giant machine and still watch me. I’ll be here on the table with blackjack.” Tom pointed to the empty table in the middle of a large room with very few people walking about.

‟Wow!” Kaylee boggled. ‟I never knew this place even existed.”

Tom smiled and sat on the stool. He was the only person there.

‟I don’t think this one is open, hun.” Kaylee kissed him. “Maybe we can raise our hands to attract attention?”

‟It’ll be open, give it a half-minute.” His eyes reflected the confident tone in his voice.

Kaylee laughed and went to the one-armed bandit and dropped in a few of the chips that clanged all the way in. Her first pull she won twenty back that clanged in the tray under the two images of cherries and a golden number seven.

An hour later, Kaylee dropped in her last dollar chip. Biting her fingernails she pulled the lever, then the jackpot hit on a minor score.

She won all but two-hundred dollars back in chips. The sound clinked nonstop while machine stayed in dispense mode for five minutes.

Gathering up her Casino treasure in a bucket, she went to see how Tom was doing and found him right where she left him, but now he sat with five other gamblers, plus the dealer. In front of him was a minor stack of chips, she noted, and it seemed smaller than when she had left him, and the chips were different colors.

*Lower denominations.* She tried to look over his shoulder.

‟Tom?” Caressing his shoulder. ‟I’m ready to go see the rest of the town.”

‟Hi, babe. Just a minute. I’ll finish this hand and we can go look at things.”

‟How much are you betting?” She was unfamiliar with the chip colors.

‟A hundred.” Tom did not take his eyes off the dealer’s hands.

‟That’s a lot of money to put down on a single bet.” She said while the dealer went down the line of players. ‟I could have a lot of fun with a hundred dollars than to blow it on a bet. I thought you would bet the regular amount.”

‟It’s not a hundred dollars.” Tom said with a crooked smile.

‟What is it?” She blinked. “Credits?”

‟A hundred-thousand.”

Kaylee felt like she had been hit with a snap-kick in the chest and lost her brain-power to speak, her mouth opened and her lips just twitched.

‟Oh my god?” Tom asked. While he nodded. With a jack and a duece showing, he drew a king and lost the bet. ‟Okay, thank you.”

He rolled a token towards the dealer.

‟Thank you.” The tuxedo clad dealer smiled at the five-hundred-dollar chip given to him.

‟Tom!” Kaylee was able to get the word out. ‟Tom, you lost a bet! That could have bought a nice car, even.”

‟It wasn’t one bet. That was my third loss in a row, that is why it was time to quit.”

‟Wut?” Kaylee got dizzy and grabbed at Tom’s sleeve and looked in his eyes.

‟I lost three bets in a row, it was time to leave.”

‟You lost a hundred-thousand dollars on one bet? You were betting… A. Hundred.” Kaylee couldn’t breathe. “Thousand. Dollars.”

‟Yes. I was there, I know it was a hundred-k bet.”

‟You lost three-hundred thousand?”

‟No, only one-seventy five.”

‟Oh. TOM!” She was about to blow a gasket. Suddenly, she was angry.

‟I’m still up two-hundred twenty thousand.” He shrugged and continued walking.

‟Holy crap!” Kaylee sat down on a stool.

“Well, are you hungry? Let’s go get food.” Tom smiled.

“Now I know why they want your money back.” She got up to follow Tom, her legs still a little shaky. Kaylee was not sure if it was from the shock, dancing or wine.

“They always do.” Tom laughed.

Married by Mistake Chapter 40. This Girl Loves Her Sharp Dressed Man

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Chapter 40. This Girl Loves Her Sharp Dressed Man

Smiling, Kaylee climbed out of the pool and padded around on the concrete walk, the water glistened on her bare skin. She spread out a towel and Stretched in the sun at Tom’s side, while he soaked his feet in the pool.

Sitting next to his left, she touched his bandaged arm.

‟You got this damp. We will need to change it before you get dressed and we go out.” She observed. Her skin puckered in the breeze that blew over the open area on the roof of the penthouse.

She helped Tom to his feet and they walked down the stairs to the breakfast nook where the bag with bandages sat.

Slowly unwrapping the arm, exposing the ugly suture line, Kaylee smiled softly.

‟The color is better than when we got to the hospital. How does it feel.” She stroked his hand with her fingers.

*She is caregiver who is breathtakingly beautiful, shy as a hammer and cares for me, a partner who can’t swim with her.* He moved his fingers. “It doesn’t hurt at all, at the moment.”

‟It is not leaking at all right now. The bandages are still clean underneath.”

Tom looked away, he did not want to look at it since the doctor cut off the bandages, the bluish color at the hospital had alarmed and frightened the author of books. In his head, he got too close to losing the arm.

‟That’s good. Just make sure its clean and cover it up, I don’t want to look at it at all, it makes me a little… Well, a lot… worried.”

Kissing his fingers, she looked in his eyes.

‟You feel that?”

‟Yes. How could I not?”

‟Sensation for soft touch is normal.” She smiled. Then biting his thumb lightly. ‟Feel that.”

‟Oh, yeah.” He gasped and his eyes got big. ‟This is a tease?”

‟You’ll never know.” She slowly wrapped his arm with a roll bandage wearing a slight smile.

‟What do you mean? “I’ll never know”.”

Her creative muse of art and sensation awoke, she stood up, reached in the bag and took out a blood-red short-sleeve silk cocktail-dress and pulled it over her head, laughing at Tom’s eyes.

‟Like I said, you will never know.”

‟Do you have anything in that for me?” Tom grinned. “Is this part of the surprise?”

‟Well, now. She turned on her phone and ordered a black tuxedo. We have the obvious out-of-the-way. I had the tux set up for my call.” She took his hand and pulled him to his feet.

‟Follow me.” She took him by the hand, pulling Tom out of the kitchen chair.

‟Where are we…”

‟Shush and follow my lead, brat.”

‟Brat?”

‟Hush. Close your eyes.” She pulled him firmly. “We have something to fix before you get dressed. Follow.”

Playfully resisting, he followed her slowly across the suite, a pause as she picked up a bag tickled his imagination of what was about to happen.

Pushing him to a large, padded cushion, it took Tom a moment to realize he was sitting on a bed.

A big bed.

Tom bounced a bit, but no spring, it settled. Memory foam.

It was comfortable and somewhat firm. The bed felt large, king-sized.

A sound of a small ratchet echoed in his dark world, she had picked up something.

‟What…” He felt a metallic clamp on his right thumb.

‟Move to the head of the bed, lay down and let me lift your hands up over your head, so they are above your heart a little.”

Stretching out on the bed, he found a pillow, and she laughed lightly at his efforts. She knelt next to him and gently guided his wounded arm over his head.

The clicks of a ratchet sound and sensations of a clamp on his other thumb through the slats of the headboard alarmed him and he tugged at his arms.

He was trapped.

‟Kaylee ?” His eyes opened wide.

‟You will call me Mistress.”

Tom started to laugh and found that he had a most definite bound and helpless sensation, his hands held in place by the thumb-cuffs.

For the first time in his adult life, he was afraid of a woman in the bedroom.

Thomas Harte, writer of steam-pirate stories, survivor of near disasters and surgery gave a nervous giggle.

“Be gentle?” he whispered.

Kaylee gave the most wicked laugh she could muster.

For twenty-minutes while they waited for his tuxedo to arrive, she taught him the reason about why she was not an ex-wife.

Kaylee was pulling her dress back over her head when the doorbell rang and she left to answer it.

“Um. Thumbs?” Tom’s voice came out as a whine.

“Don’t go away.” Kaylee laughed when she left the room.

*Like I have a choice.* He tugged at the thumb-cuff. He could hear her talking with another woman at the door. *It sounds like she just gave my number to Erika.*

She returned to the bedroom with a black tuxedo, carefully hanging it on the bar in the closet.

“Now mister.” She turned to the helpless non-husband. “We dress you, cuz there isn’t any date I like better than have my men dressed in formal clothes. Tonight, you wear a stick-pin, cufflinks, and there are gloves, a hat and a cane at the door.”

“A hat?”
“Silk shirt, hat, cane, gloves. Mister, then you’ll be one sharp dressed man.” She waved two brand-new mirror-shined black dress shoes for him to wear.

When they finished getting him dressed to the nines, they stood in front of the doors of the elevator.

She could not take her eyes from him and was humming a tune.

When the doors closed behind them, she whispered-sang in his ear while holding his hand and stepped off the elevator car to the stares of the staff women at the lobby desk.

“Every girl is crazy about a sharp dressed man.” And kissed him on the earlobe. “I love you in your tux and black tie.”

*I love you, too.* Floated through his mind.

Married by Mistake Chapter 39. Suite and Shower

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Chapter 39. Suite and Shower

Tom knew how to get to the hotel and told Kaylee not to follow the GPS.

‟That thing is taking you around the long way. I don’t know that route, and through a neighborhood?! That’s nuts. Take the next left, go to the highway on-ramp. Three exits, and left. It’s easy to find.”

‟You have been there before?” She said, after slowing for a slightly wobbly street person who walked across the street in the middle of the block and waved thanks at her.

‟He should know better,” She growled at the scraggly man. ‟That is a good way to die and that would just screw up my day.”

‟Well, deep breath. We have a nice room waiting for us.”

‟It’s just a room.”

‟You used the married name? My name?”

‟Well, yeah.” She nodded. ”I used the card you gave me.”

She thought a moment.

‟I suppose I should give it back to you.”

‟No, keep it. Let it expire in three years and use it for emergencies, getting married, paying rent.” Tom smiled. ‟Especially if you buy books. My books.”

‟Drumming up business, are you?” Kaylee laughed.

‟Well, that would be self-defeating. My, money buying my book? Then I’d pay commission, there is no profit in that.” Tom chuckled. ‟Consider it a gift if you buy one.”

‟I’d buy a bunch and give them away, try to drum up business for you.” Kaylee winked as she merged on to the highway.

A small smile crossed his lips, then a far away look settled in his eyes and Tom looked out the window and remained quiet for a few minutes.

‟I’ll miss you.” She said softly. ‟I know you are unhappy.”

‟You know me pretty well, already.” He said in a soft voice and turned back to look out the window. ‟You will go back to school this fall, probably with an engagement ring. Melanie will stop coming to my movies, she will stop buying books and hold a grudge. The world will end and I’ll drown my sorrows in an overdose of rum and painkillers and fly the Pacific Wizard to a bad landing on the ocean with no survivors.”

‟What? Tom!”

‟Kidding, just poking at the pity-pot for a moment.” Tom gave a crooked smile. But there was some truth that glinted in his eyes. A sadness that he didn’t cover up quickly enough for Kaylee to miss.

It was a horrid sadness of soul, a soul that she cared for.

‟On the subject of the hotel, have you been there before?” She changed the subject back.

‟A time or two for book-signings. They wanted me to play, too. I have a minor weakness for blackjack. I win more than I lose, as well. The casino is always interested in winning back some that I have taken from their tables. Roulette is good, too, but I lose more there.”

‟I like dollar machines.” She smiled. “I might ask you for a few rolls”

‟I bet.” Tom laughed at his own joke.

Kaylee gave him a sideways look.

‟That was terrible.” She said with a crooked smile shaking her head.

‟Made you grin.”

Guiding the electric SUV to a parking slot, she overshot the painted line of the parking stall and began to struggle slightly getting it straight.

Outside, a woman got out of her small hybrid and started to berate them though the glass of the Tesla.

‟You people need to get over your small penis envy! That car is an abomination, sucking down more gas than you are worth! This is what will wreck the world for us all in twenty years! Selfish, stupid whore.”

Kaylee got a look in her eye that Tom had seen once before.

He had seen the look when she stomped a man twice her size nearly to death, and this look was just the same, but this time, he saw it up close along with the white knuckles of the warrior woman.

‟NO! No, Kay! No!” He grabbed at her hand.

‟Lady, go into the casino where you belong. You no clue what you are talking about.” Kaylee’s temper was a nuclear furnace. 

‟I do, you drive that gas-pig around and the rest of us pay for the global warming filth that you create, that movie showed it to us. Inconvenient isn’t it? You drive gas guzzler’s with all your careless abuse of fossil fuels.”

‟Lady,” Kaylee hissed. ‟You get in your fossil-fueled car, take your attitude and get the hell away from my husband…” Kaylee choked. ‟And me.”

‟My car is an all green hybrid. I get fifty-miles per gallon, how much does your pig get?”

‟I can’t tell you, it doesn’t take gas.”

‟Diesel! Foul, nasty, penis envy…”

‟It does not use any kind of oil. No diesel, no gas, no propane.” Tom said.

‟What?” The woman pronounced it ‟wut” and blinked in confusion.

‟It’s all electric, no hybrid. It gets an electric equivalent of over two-hundred miles per gallon.” Kaylee clenched her fists. She was an artist about to paint her version of Dante’s Inferno on this woman. ‟So. Kiss-off.”

Taken aback, the woman shook her head.

‟You lie. There is no such thing.” She looked at the back of the Model X.

‟No tailpipe, witch.” Kaylee called over her shoulder while they left her looking at the dark windowed car with the electric-car tag hanging on the mirror.

“I was this close,” Kaylee held up her thumb and forefinger. “She was about to have a problem.”

“Yeah, I know, she is still looking over the Tesla.” Tom laughed as they walked across the parking lot.

They made their way into the casino and to the check-in desk.

The clerk did not bother to look up when Kaylee stepped up to the counter.

‟Reservation for Harte.”

‟One moment please.”

Another voice from around the corner.

‟Harte? Kaylee and Thomas Harte?”

‟Yes.” Kaylee nodded.

‟Steve, go over there, I have this.” It was a dapper woman with a the air of Captain Watson, all professional.

‟What? Why?”

‟Remember I said of the VIP coming in?”

‟Oh.” And moved off.

‟I apologize for that. I was watching for your limo to come in.”

‟We came by rental car. Miss…?”

‟I have this Kaylee .”

‟Erika, thank you for watching, but we are in a rental car this time. Might go driving later.”

‟Very good. Do you need the rental returned for you and we will arrange a limo for your use later, on the house.” Erika said.

‟That would be most excellent.” Tom nodded. ‟My usual company I use here?”

‟Desert Limo? I’m sorry, but they are out of business.”

‟Oh? Since when?”

‟About three weeks ago, IRS came in and shut them down, the tax-man took out a lot of limo companies. There are only two in town now. A few gypsy limos, but the two that stayed operating for the moment is Deviance Limousine and Gemini Limousine are still in business. Until the IRS gets to them.”

‟Why is the IRS involved?”

‟They are cleaning house around here. It is causing trouble for everyone.”

‟I can understand. In any event, we will be changing and heading out in a bit.”

‟A limo will be on standby for you, Mister Harte. A moment’s notice will be all that is all we will need.”

‟Very good, as you can see, I have a small problem with my arm. Could I get a porter?”

‟Right away.” Erika said, dialing a number. ‟Where are your bags now?”

‟Black Tesla rental, in the electric only parking stall.” Kaylee said.

‟Very good,” Erika nodded to a young man who was standing within earshot, who walked up and took the key from Kaylee and headed out to the car.

‟Your bags will be up at your suite momentarily.”

‟Thank you, Erika. We will wait for the bags in our room.”

‟I will trust you will find the lodgings to your pleasure. You have a panoramic view, the gaming table on the floor is available at any time. You also have access to our private gaming area as you see fit. And as always, this will be comp. Your VIP code was not entered when the clerk took the call, so I will deduct the reservation charges now.”

‟Thank you.”

‟Mister Harte? This way, please.” It was an impeccably dressed man with a Mid-Atlantic accent wearing a name tag Gene Childs, Hotel Manager.

‟Tom. Please, call me Tom.” He smiled. ‟I ask you that every time I arrive.

‟Yes, sir. Tom.” The manager smiled. ‟It’s an old habit.”

Riding the elevator up, Kaylee looked over in front of Tom and tapped his hand.

‟We are going to the top?”

‟Yes, ma’am. This is Mister… er… Tom’s regular place when he stays. I can say that Tom does not bring his family members here often, we are always pleased to serve you in any wishes you might have.”

‟Tom’s family…” She thought for a moment and looked down.

The doors opened, there was no hallway. They stepped out directly into a frosted glass foyer with a wooden door.

‟The normal full security precautions, four-inch-thick glass and polycarbonate panels with electronic privacy. It converts from clear to frost with a press of a button on the remote control and at several panels around the room. The door is all but breach proof. The whole floor is a panic room.” Gene walked around and pointed the features. ‟Limited access to the elevator, staff and the key-holder for this floor only.”

‟Thank you, Gene.” Tom said as the elevator chimed and the young man walked in with their bags.

‟Of course, please call me directly if there is anything you need. Twenty-four hours.” Gene said as he handed Tom his card. ‟The number on the back is my direct line.”

‟Thank you, again.” Tom smiled.

Two hotel staff members stepped inside the elevator and the doors slid silently shut.

‟I thought they would never leave!” Kaylee said. ‟I’m *family*?”

‟He was being circumspect. He could have gone the other way and asked if you were a working girl.”

‟That’s just wrong to assume.”

‟Agreed. But you must admit, we are an odd couple. You are young, beautiful and vibrant. I’m OFU.”

‟Oh-Eff-You?”

‟Old, fat and ugly.” He said as he walked to the door and pressed the button on the key and unlocked the door to the suite.

She kicked Tom in the backside.

‟You stop that.” She started to make a growl then gasped. ‟Shut-up! This is not our room? Oh-my-gawd!”

The walls moved on command when Tom tapped the buttons on the remote control.

Three hundred-sixty degree views of Las Vegas and the surrounding mountains took her breath away.

‟Tom, I swear, I only wanted to get a nice room. I didn’t book a penthouse.”

‟You forget my name carries some influence. They may have thought you were just some any Kaylee Harte, and I wager they mulled that over, and did not clue on it.”

‟How many times have you been here?”

‟A few, I don’t count. Usually, I stay on the Pacific Wizard.” Tom said as he sat down in a sculpted leather chair that looked out over the landscape.

‟Is the bar open?”

‟Everything is. You heard Erika said that it was comp.” Tom said, grunting slightly as he moved his wounded arm to a comfortable position.”

‟Wow. Macallen whiskey!” Kaylee balked. “What? This one is thirty-years!”

‟They should have the full spectrum.” Tom nodded, looking out the window.

‟Holy crap! Do you know how much this is? I saw some in the locked case at the Tower of Liquor in Ocean Bay.” She turned it around in her hand slowly. ‟And I can open it?”

‟If you want. But if you open it, you better drink it. That is about three-hundred dollars you have in your hand.” He said as he kicked his shoes off.

‟I’m going to put it back, I have never held anything that expensive in a bottle.” She poked around in the refrigerator. “I can’t read this except for chocolate.”

“Oh, that would be the old world Luxemburg or German-made chocolates.” He chuckled. “Impossible to say, wonderful on the tongue. Except I don’t like chocolate.”

Kaylee laughed at that. 

‟What are you up to, hun?” She asked while he pulled off his shirt.

‟Thinking about jumping into the pool.” Tom said.

‟There’s a pool?” She turned around, nearly dropping a full bottle of Pyrate Rum, with ‟Cask Special” on the label.

‟Let’s go swimming!”

‟You didn’t bring a suit. Remember?”

‟Skinny dip!” She yelled as she ran through the suite peeling off clothes. ”After that I am going to have a cuddle with you until you cry for a mommy!”

Tom watched her jump in the penthouse pool, her skin shimmered in the ripples of the clear pool water. He didn’t laugh, in fact, it saddened him on a deep level. Until a little while ago, she was his wife.

This troubled him on so many levels, he was not sure he could count them all.

But he was going to have one last night of love with a twenty-two-year-old art student and martial arts master with the moves of a gymnast.

‟You know, you’ll need a shower after this. This is a salt pool.”

‟I’ll give you a body shampoo, before we go to bed.” She yelled from the far end of the pool while he sat in the shallow end, with his arm perched above the water.

Tom chuckled, that was a plus. He had spots he could not reach.

It was a lesson about how important each of his hands were.

*A serious lesson.* He pulled at his earlobe with his good hand while he watched the young woman swim in the private pool forty stories in the air.

Married by Mistake Chapter 38. Emergency Room Visit

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Chapter 38. Emergency Room Visit

“We will have to go back to get our bags when we have the car.” Kaylee, taking command of the situation. She had noticed that Tom look more pale, but was not saying anything.

Kaylee contorted herself to look through the tunnel that separated from the front to the patient compartment.

He definitely favored the arm and he rubbed the fingers lightly. The occasional yelp of pain was testament that his arm caused him more agony than before they left the plane.

“Tom, why don’t you admit something is wrong? You picked up that bag with that arm, did it hurt then?” Kaylee called back.

“No. But that is the only thing I did. I didn’t even think about it.” He admitted. Tom Looked at the medic. “I really didn’t feel anything was wrong after I picked up the bag.”

“I’m married, I am not about to get in the middle of an argument. You just stay cool, you can always argue later.” The medic shook his head with a wry grin.

“Chicken.”

“Yup. Big rule: Do not get involved with husband-wife spats.” The medic chuckled. “I always lose.”

“My arm hurts worse, I thought it was the plane and decompression.” Tom moaned.

“Is it throbbing or is it a steady pain?” The medic asked as he taped down an IV on Tom’s good arm. “Your blood pressure is lower than I would expect.”

Using pillows, the medic raised the arm above Tom’s heart.

“Oh, I had a bit of surgery on my arm and it started to hurt after I picked up a bag to carry. I shifted it to my good arm, but I think I pulled on something too much.” Tom said, his voice stronger, doing his best to hide his discomfort. “Actually, that makes it feel better.”

“Okay, it’s just a short trip to Mountain View hospital, just a couple of miles.” The medic said as he looked forward, his name was George, he looked like a man who had many miles in an ambulance. “How long have your fingers been cool like this?”

“Cool? They felt warm in the airplane.”

George pressed on Tom’s fingernails of his good hand.

“Uh-huh.” Then his fingers went to Tom’s pained hand. “Can you feel when I touch your fingers?”

“It tingles a bit.” Tom said. “That’s okay, it has been like that for a while.”

“Define a while?”

“Most of the day, but my fingers have stayed warm and red.”

Nodding, George let no concern show behind his brown eyes. He might as well been talking about the weather.

“Well,” George pressed on the bandage, leaving the bandage on his arm. “We will get the doctor to open this time-bomb carefully.”

“Why don’t you do it?”

“Ah yeah, no. What if I release the pressure and turn you into a firehose of blood?” George chuckled. “That would be a bad thing. I can see it leaking through the gauze now. This close to the ER, you are better off to have a surgical team look this over to release the pressure.”

Tom laughed nervously, unsure if he was joking.

Backing into the ambulance bay at the ER Entrance, Kaylee watched a conversation between George and an older woman in a white coat about surgery and sudden and increasing pain got the doctor’s attention while the medic crew rolled Tom in on a bright yellow ambulance gurney.

“Mister Harte? I am Doctor Octavia Guzman. Is it okay if I examine you and your arm.” The white coated woman smiled as a nurse walked close and started taking notes on a computer stand.

“Do your fingers tingle?” The doctor said

“Yes, a little.”

“Have they been cool or warm?” She asked touching them. Her raven-black hair was almost blue, the black eyes of a local native tribe. She had an air of professionalism mixed with deep caring. The crew rolled Tom to a separate room off to the side and moved him to a hospital bed.

“Cap-refill is greater than four-seconds. We need to get a view of his surgery site.” She directed to the nurse.

Giving orders for a host of tests, she sat down with Tom and Kaylee .

Answering all her questions, the original trauma and surgery to fix the wound.

“Donna?” He turned to the clerk. “Get me his surgeon on the phone.”

“Let’s open this bandage and see what the trouble with the arm is, shall we?” The Doctor trimmed away the white bandage, stained a slight-brown with the fluids soaking through from the suture line.

“You say you picked something up?”

“Yes,” Tom hissed in pain when the doctor pulled back on the layer of bandage she cut. “My other hand was full and I was just going to hang the bag on my good wrist. It wasn’t heavy. Maybe seven-kilos. My elbow popped, but it always pops after not using it much.”

“Hm. Fascinating.” While she trimmed more of the wrapping away. “This is rather tight, did you wrap your arm this tight to begin with?”

“Kaylee , my wife, she was in the other room when I started the wrap with one hand.”

“Well, now I have looked a little deeper, you would do well to let her do it from now on. You wrapped it too tight and restricted the return circulation.” He pressed a fingernail, blanching it white. The color returned quickly. “You might be having more pain in the hand now?”

Tom moaned slightly.

“Yeah, it aches.”

“How long has it been since you changed the dressing? When did you wrap it so tightly?”

“Um.”Tom thought, looking at the clock on the wall. “About three-hours now.”

“Blood is returning, but I am still worried about the extensive surgery you had on this arm and the bandage being tight for so long. The popping sound you heard also bothers me. I’ll be talking with your surgeon and ask his opinion. I recommend you see him as soon as possible over this incident.”

The doctor looked at his fingers again, the color had returned to reasonable facsimile of normal and were warming up.

“I will get a vascular consult on this and make sure that no lasting damage resulted from the bandage.” She smiled at Tom. “I think you get to thank your wife for saving the arm. She told the nurse that you wanted to go to the hotel and instead she brought you here in the ambulance.”

“That’s true.” Tom said. “But I wanted to change the bandage at the hotel room, so we could have cured the problem.”

“Maybe. But you did not know. You had gone all the way around with the tape when you put your bandage on, the tape acted as a constricting band and cut off the return of the blood in your arm. ” With that, the Doctor walked out.

Two hours later, they were in a rental Tesla and driving towards the courthouse.

“Seriously, Tom.” Kaylee said in an irritated voice. “You wrapped that thing too tight. Doctor Tribbing told Doctor Guzman that you’ll be okay, but you need to let someone else dress your arm. It was lucky I paid attention when they said how to check the fingertips.”

“You are my hero.” Tom winked but winced when they hit a bump. “It’s still tender to bumps.”

“I will not have you behaving like an idiot teenager, you will hire a home-care person until your arm is fully healed.” Kaylee sounded threatening while wheeling the Tesla Model X into a parking spot set aside for electric cars.

“We need to get going.” Tom nodded. “I can arrange the home care in a blink.”

“Well, we are here. Let’s get this done and go party. We also have to check in to the hotel room.”

“Just one? Not two?”

“I plan to have one more night, I’ll party with someone who’s not my husband until you pass out.”

“I will drink some espresso, then.”

“I’ll make you some chamomile tea, instead. It’s healthier for you.”

“Maybe.” Tom said. “Ugh, arm is throbbing.”

Standing in line for five minutes, they discussed their party plans for the evening.

The clerk was slightly disbelieving to the intent and the friendliness of the couple. They paid cash for the forms, and followed the instructions on the printed paper. They finished in a short time.

Walking back out to the car, they found a citation on the windshield for parking in the electric-only car stall.

The parking enforcement officer was just getting back to his vehicle.

“What is this for?” Tom asked.

“You can’t park there, sir. Electric only.”

“This is electric.”

“Sorry, sir. I don’t it says four-wheel-drive on the back.”

“It’s all electric…”

“Bring it up in the courts, it’s not my call.” The young man said.

Kaylee sighed. An urge to kick someone was growing, like she not had kicked a man in the chest in a month.

“Let’s go to an un-wedding party of our own. Forget this place. We’re done with business here.” Tom suggested.

“Yeah! Let’s get out of here.” The wife-that-never-was agreed.

Climbing into the eSUV, Kaylee found the large tag that hung on the mirror which had a large blue lightning bolt emblazoned on it that would be visible from the sidewalk and have avoided the parking nazi from citing the rental.

“Kay, it’ll be interesting to have that conversation, but I will make sure it’s passed on to the rental company.” Tom smiled. “We were in a hurry and wanted to get me out of the ER. So if they told us, I don’t recall.”

“Neither do I. And I don’t remember getting a receipt.” Fishing through her purse. “But here it is.”

Reading the slip, she gasped.

“It says where the electric tag is. Ugh.”

“Nothing to worry about. It doesn’t go on anyone’s driving record.”

“Just annoys me,” Kaylee said as she tapped in their destination to the hotel in the GPS. “But I came here with a good time planned and I will not have anything distract me.”

“Oh? Want to lay out by the pool?” Tom said as he looked out the window. “It is a nice day, a bit hot. We can always go gambling.”

“Gambling is good, I didn’t bring my swimsuit or many clothes. Some nice pants and a top so we can have dinner out somewhere.”

“But you brought a bag that’s kind of heavy.”

“Tom, those are bandages and other supplies for things.”

“Other things? What do you mean… Ooh!” The meaning of what his ex- sank in…

Well, he couldn’t call her an ex-wife, in the eyes of the government, it never happened. So she has no ex- in relation to her other than as an ex-girlfriend.

Still! Oh, smoking crap on a cracker!

“Supplies.”

Jeeze. She was serious about this being a one last time to remember.

“Um, be gentle with me?” Tom asked.

Laughing cryptically, Kaylee just drove.

Married by Mistake Chapter 37. Las Vegas, Declaring A Medical Emergency

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Chapter 37. Las Vegas, Declaring A Medical Emergency

The jet punched a hole in the air as it sped over the horizon, taking a direct line to the desert city, shining like a jewel in the barren land.

They had to get down, Tom’s arm was showing signs of decompression illness, a kind of compartment syndrome that blocked blood from circulating in his arm. If it was up to Captain Watson, she’d have an ambulance waiting for him to get him to the medical center emergency room.

Pushing the limits of the rated engine’s power until they could not go any faster, Captain Watson managed to shave a measurable amount of time off the trip. A planned orbit of the city that would give the passengers a view of the beauty of it, even during the daylight the view was glorious. The Captain skipped the flyover and they saved a half-hour to get him on the ground.

Captain Watson would never say it outside of the conversation with her first officer sitting to her right.

“The fool flew too soon.”

“Did he have medical clearance?”

“No, I would bet not.” Regina said as she got cleared for her approach, declaring a medical emergency and ordering a paramedic unit.

The wheels touched with a feather like control that Watson used. A fine pilot, she never bounced the passengers or her planes if it was humanly avoidable.

As they taxied to the private terminal, she heard Tom moan loudly with a profanity.

“We need to expedite this. That medical problem is growing worse back there, Captain.” Kevin spoke quietly.

“Check on EMS, be sure they’re cleared to meet us when we stop.” There was no room for questions. “I will speak with Thomas Harte and see what is going on with his arm.”

“Affirmative that.” Kevin nodded, patting his shirt, confirming the mobile phone that resided there was still in place.

Coming to a stop, Captain Watson stood and walked to the rear of the cabin where Kaylee and Tom sat.

“Everything alright?” The Captain could see it was not, Tom was pale, perspiration shined on his forehead.

“Just a bit of an ache.” He hissed through gritted teeth.

“His fingers have gotten darker red, but they are still warm.” Kaylee said.

“Would you let me call you an ambulance?”

“You can.” Tom moaned when he moved his arm. “But I will always be human. Just don’t call me late for dinner.”

Kaylee looked at Regina and sighed.

“I already ordered an ambulance before we stopped. It is coming now.” Captain Watson said.

“I should have let Kaylee carry the bag.” Tom winced.

“Is that is what is going on?” Regina raised an eyebrow. She observed a light pink stain on the bandages that covered surgical wound. “You have saturated the bandages. Look, I can have you back in San Francisco in under an hour.”

“No.” Tom grimaced. “We just need to change the dressings and take a look. I strained it when we packed and I moved the bag.”

“What did they do for you, Tom?”

“They had to graft a vein they took out of his butt.” Kaylee said.

Regina almost laughed, but no one in the world knew.

“I might have over-stressed it.” Tom admitted. “Maybe you can hold over the next few hours, I’ll pay extra.”

“We have another assignment, Tom. But I’ll see what I can do.” Captain Watson said.

“Okay, we can wait until the morning after we get clear of the courts.” Tom looked like he was feeling better.

“But your arm?” The Captain asked.

“We will change the dressing and see what it looks like…”

“It’s gross.” Kaylee nodded.

“But I have finger movement.” Tom said as he wiggled his fingers with obvious discomfort.

“Well, let’s get you somewhere to get the dressing changed.” Kaylee growled. “We have to get to a doctor where we can check that arm right away.”

“Do you know where you are going?” Captain Watson asked.

“I don’t. But we have a rental car here, somewhere.” Tom moaned slightly. Turning his head to look out the window, the paramedic ambulance was coming down the taxi-way.

“Let me give you a directive. You will go by ambulance to the ER straight away.” The Captain said and turned to the Co-Captain who nodded and dialed the tower.

“Thomas, you do not allow yourself to become a wreck. I have a seven-year-old nephew that loves your books. He even has a model of the flying yacht you have. It’s painted in the colors of the Pacific Wizard.” Her tone betrayed her normal professional façade.

“Seriously. I will come fly your jet for you if you need.” Kevin Nunez said. “I hear you have a twin-engine yacht.”

“With wings. And I’ll refuse service.” Tom added, trying to laugh, failing and moaned out a profanity instead.

“That does it, I’m taking him to the emergency room to get that checked out.” Kaylee said and stood up. “Come on, trouble. The ambulance is here.”

“I’m not trouble.” Tom with a strained grin, got up. “I just write it.”

“Yeah. Trying to lift stuff, you refuse to listen, over exert that wound that we spent a million dollars to put back together.” Kaylee growled.

“It wasn’t a million dollars.” Tom said.

“The final bill has not come in, they were charging forty-five bucks a pill for over-the-counter acetaminophen.” Kaylee grumbled. “And you took a lot of pills. It might be a million dollars in the end.”

Two uniformed people stepped on board, a man and woman, both with patches that said “Paramedic” on their chests and back, kneeled next to Tom and took report.

“Maybe. But that is what I have health insurance for.” Tom said in between questions as they escorted Tom from the chartered jet and he bid farewell to the pilots as they went about securing their race-car of the sky.

Tom sat on the ambulance gurney and Kaylee walked next to him while the medics wheeled their patient to the waiting EMS unit. The medic in charge motioned to the second with three fingers.

The EMT nodded without a word, got out of the ambulance before he finished his procedure and got into the driver’s seat.

It took a moment while he sat Kaylee in the front passenger’s seat and made sure she wore the seatbelt, then got in behind the wheel and made a radio report.

“Medic-27 enroute Med-center code 3, one passenger, one patient.”

The radio echoed his report and confirmed the destination.

“Okay, ma’am. Do not ever drive like I am about to do.” He winked and flipped an overhead switch, she could hear clicks of relays as navigated the ambulance around in a careful turn back the way they came. The EMT never used the siren until they got to the gate and out into traffic.

In the back, she could hear the medic describe the serious medical problem.

“ETA 4 minutes.” The medic in the back could have just told someone when lunch would arrive.

Married by Mistake Chapter 35. Familiar Face

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Chapter 35. Familiar Face

Tom and Kaylee left the office and as soon as the door closed behind them, Kaylee spoke first.

“I don’t think that person was happy with you. She was quite upset about just filing the plan then she had cancel it.”

“She’ll recover.” Tom nodded. “Right now I have to call the exchange. Did you like the crew on the last flight?”

“Yes, what was her name.” Kaylee grumbled at her senior moment.”

“Watson?” Tom asked helpfully.

“YEAH! That’s her. Captain R. M. Watson.” Kaylee nodded her head.

“Good woman. She flew in Iraq and other places that I can’t recall. Multiple ratings. I request her a lot, the company knows my account number and gives me a list on who is available. She is the only woman on their staff that is multi-engine jet rated.” Tom described his history with the company.

“They only have one woman on staff?” Kaylee blinked, for a moment she felt that old urge to boycott.

“No, they have others,” Tom smiled as they walked, holding hand. “She is the only one rated for multi-engine jet.”

“Oh.” Kaylee laughed. “I was going to use another company if they didn’t hire women.”

“Oh no. Lettie, my NorCal Limo owner is a major investor. I would doubt that they’d make a glass ceiling. Could happen,” Tom pondered “But if Lettie found out? I’d run if I were them.”

“OH! I know Lettie! She picked me up from when we hit the birds.”

“Oh yes. That was a special favor, normally they don’t take limos off the pavement.” Tom smiled. “She is a rare one.”

“She said you helped them get a start?” Kaylee leaned her head on Tom’s shoulder for a moment while they walked.

“Not precisely. I just keep them on retainer and speed dial.” Tom said. “I direct business their way. They only have a few cars and I think only four drivers. Lettie and her cousins.”

“They have a post-grad psych major working for them. A guy named Kaikane.”

“Sounds Hawaiian.”

“He is. You get points for paying attention.”

“I don’t know Kaikane.”

“He knows you.”

“I get that a lot.”

“You are likeable.”

“Am not.” He argued.

“I’m going to slap you.” She growled at the lack of his self-confidence.

“Promise? We won’t have the chance for a mile-high fun time.”

“Seriously. You need to relax on yourself, you need someone to keep you…” She paused, looking for the words. “Well, not on your best you always seem at your best, but keep you from being so dark.”

“Your books will show that and if you are writing children’s stories, you need to keep them light.” Kaylee looked at him evenly with the soul of a woman who would protect the one she cared for, even from himself. “You write beautiful words like no one I know. Probably as good as any of the great writers. Even like Joyce and Steinbeck or Hemingway. But you don’t have to go all Edgar Allan Poe to do it.”

She paused and took a breath before pushing on with the thought.

“Tom,” She kissed his hand and looked into his eyes. “Don’t go back into that hole you locked yourself up into for a while.”

“What makes you think I am going back into anything?” Tom smiled. “You have given me light and passion. We are ending a contract in a way that protects you. I am not emotionally broken, I could have invested in it emotionally if I thought that you were sober and we spent some time together.”

He kissed her hand and smiled before he continued.

“Not baked, drunk and horny as you were. I can say I am fond of you, and that extends into friendship. And yes. I want you to stay, but not at the cost of a future.” His voice was soft, covering up a hidden emotion.

Kaylee thought a minute as they waited for Lettie to arrive with a limo. Tom’s speed dial rang her phone directly and he had told her of the situation.

“You are the best man I know, next to my dad.”

“I would like to meet him, someday.”

“Are you kidding? He would die to meet you. Steamland, if there is anything written by you on that series, he has it.”

“Heh, I bet he is almost my age.”

“I think you are older.”

“Oh. Um. Yikes!” Tom laughed. “He might greet me with a shotgun.”

“No, I think he’d be happy to have you in the family.” A twinkle in her eye showed her humor. “Even if you did corrupt his daughter.”

“TMI sweety.” Tom closed his eyes as if to block out the scene.

“Kidding.” Kaylee laughed.

A dark limo wheeled in. It was Lettie.

“Tom! Kaylee !” She seemed happy to see them. “It seems like we just left you both in the Sea Dragon.” She her smile was wide and bright.

“We need a ride to the Executive Airport to the private entrance.”

“Let’s go. Traffic is good, I can get you there in thirty minutes.”

“I will pay you for two hours. The plane won’t be ready until then, take us to The City to drive through the park and down the beach.”

“Hm. Tom, if I may suggest, from here? Let me take you to Half Moon Bay and then up along the coastal highway. We can pull in, then you and Kaylee can walk on the sand.”

“We…” Tom stopped for a moment as if something caught in his throat. “We are heading to Vegas to get an annulment.”

“WHAT? No…” Lettie caught herself and the professional woman came back to grips. “Sorry, Tom. But my opinion, she makes you smile. Kaylee , for a girl who was so mad at him a few days ago, you have a glorious soul that’s been touched by this gentle man.”

Motioning the couple into her limo, Lettie’s strained smile stayed frozen to her lips.

“That is all I will say on the subject. I apologize. Not my place and I’d fire anyone who did what I just did.” Lettie said. “One trip through Golden Gate Park, back to Executive. Do you have your transport taken care of?”

“Yes, thank you.” Tom smiled.

The Lettie close the door and got in the front of the stretched limousine.

“What was that all about?” Kaylee asked Tom.

“Lettie is kind of protective. But she has a point. I can switch companies if it would make you feel better.”

“No, actually, it makes me smile. Tom. Only someone special can evoke that kind of emotion in people, someone who people would stand up for. If I can come back and marry you?” Kaylee ’s eyes shined with tears. “I want to invite all your friends. From pilots, to writers, to limo drivers and everyone I can find that calls you by your first name.”

“Um. That is everyone I meet. I insist to dispense with formality. I am no better than anyone.”

“You are a great writer. Not many people can do that. PLUS!” Kaylee raised her index finger and touched the tip of his nose with it. “You do more for the fire fighters than just with your fleet of water bombers.”

“Water bombers? What… OH! Air tankers. How did you know about the tankers?” Tom blinked.

“I…” She bit her lip. “Well, I looked on your history in your computer back at the Pacific Wizard.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Ah. No.” A guilty laugh. “I was mad and curious and alone. You have internet on your computer at the Wizard and I logged into the guest accounts. Your name is all over the net.” Kaylee said.

“Ah. Yes.” Tom mimicked her.

“No problem. So you know about my aerial firefighting air-force that some states won’t use.” Tom smiled. “It works in most states, California is a bit more… Picky.”

“You have changed the subject. We need to talk and have this understood.”

“Well, technically, you changed the subject.” The quick mind of the writer did mental gymnastics around their conversation.

“Don’t change the changed subject.” Kaylee laughed. “The point is, you deserve more happiness than you have. And we can do it together if you and I start on a proper friendship and wedding.”

“Okay, I think we can do that. But you go take good and well care of Glenn. I’ll be your little secret.”

“Little? Little would be if you were an undergrad student of art, but you are a successful writer.” Kaylee shook her head, laughing. “AND, mister, you have two private flying yachts and your own personal air force and I don’t how many non-profit organizations that you have listed as getting support from you. So I would not call you little in any description.”

Tom chuckled.

“Well, tell you what. We split the sheets on this and you decide that this accident was a good thing to happen. We’ll have that wedding for you.”

“Not for me. For you. You should be honored. My family and friends combined couldn’t fill four rows in a church. I tend towards the shy side.”

“Shy? You? Shy like a hurricane. Let me see,” Tom smiled. “You have skills in karate…”

“Eskrima.”

“Yeah, that.” Tom smiled. “You like to lay naked on a beach, you are a bartender and you would not surrender in any meek way to a large man with a knife. And. If I recall he had at least a hundred pounds and a foot taller than you are and you still kicked the living poop out of him.”

“Heh!” Kaylee laughed. “Yeah, I did. It felt good, too. He wanted to hurt me, and I was in the proper mood to return the favor.”

“That is all too true, you are good.” Tom gave a quiet laugh at the memory. “I would have not ever missed that show for anything. It was fun to watch, shocking, but fun to watch.”

“You know, I might write about it someday.” He said more to himself than her.

“I would like to read that. Make me as an avenging angel.” Kaylee smiled.

“You can be sure.” Tom nodded. “I would make you that and more.”

The limousine pulled into the Golden Gate Park and drove around the green strip. Tom pointed out an archery range and a giant windmill as they drove by.

Talking happily with each other, two people enjoying their hearts and souls. Knowing that it would come to an all too soon end. They learned more about each other while Tom poured wine in glasses for the both of them and fed Kaylee dark chocolates from a crystal jar he purchased from a tiny, exclusive shop he made Lettie stop at in the Height-Ashbury district. Little more than a hole-in-the-wall near a Whole Foods store on Stanyon, he ran in and out in a minute, Tom’s wounded, but healing arm flapping painfully as he stepped hard off the curb.

It was an unplanned celebration.

Two people celebrating friendship and the strange path that brought them together.

After their second circuit of famous park, Tom leaned over to Kaylee and kissed her slowly with chocolate flavored lips from a San Francisco hidden candy-store.

“Let’s go get unmarried.” Tom whispered without conviction. “The time is now.”

“Okay.” She said, looking down into the glass of her wine, the sadness of the moment setting into her heart.

“This has been very enjoyable, Tom. You make it more difficult by being so nice.”

“You want to stay?”

“Yes. And no. I want my chance with Glenn.”

Tom stopped the conversation and toned Lettie to drive them to the airport with the phone from the back of the limousine.

“Time to go, thank you very much Lettie.”

They rode in awkward silence to the airport, the atmosphere in the limo becoming darker and increasingly tense.

“It will be okay.” Tom said, holding Kaylee ’s hand.

“Thank you.” She made a sad smile.

Together, two lovers and friends rode to the airport to fly to Las Vegas, to get “un-married”.

Married by Mistake Chapter 34. Flight Plans

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Chapter 34. Flight Plans

Kaylee finished dressing while Tom pulled on his clothes in awkward silence.

“Why are you mad at me?” Tom said as they walked across the tarmac to the flight control office.

“If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.” Her words chilled the air.

Tom rolled his eyes in that way that drives women crazy and would turn Mother Theresa into a club wielding banshee if she had seen it.

Half-way from the office in the three-hundred meter hike, Kaylee started to laugh and took Tom’s hand.

“I’m sorry. But I kind of thought you would be a little heartbroken.” She smiled. “I was hurt you are just okay with it.”

“Kaylee, no, I’m not okay with it.” Tom said as they walked through the door. “But, if I trapped you here, what good would that do? You’d leave anyway and never return. My way, it stings like a slap, but you might decide that you like life on the Pacific Wizard and the need to renew your passport once-a-decade.”

“Renew my passport? What do you mean?”

“You can’t leave home without it. If we went anywhere, like the U.K. to watch Doctor Manga’s installation for example, you will need that silly-assed bit of paper and plastic.”

“Hm. I don’t know, Tom. You make me feel…”

The clerk walked in and Tom pulled a form from the slot and began to fill in the blanks.

They finished the paperwork in ten-minutes, filed with the person behind the desk and walked out, Kaylee felt a pang of sadness when Tom took her hand as they walked back to the Flying Sea Dragon.

“I’m serious, Kaylee. I don’t want to see you go. But there is an old poster about a butterfly or a bird or something, you let it go and if it returns, et-cetera.”

“Yeah. Who knows. Maybe Glenn needs to tell me he is gay and everything is off, because he is in love with some guy named Joe Young or something.”

“We talked about this, I don’t want to think I’m a consolation prize. You make me smile wide because you are my wife.” Tom smiled at her. “But I laugh because I am your husband.”

“What?” Kaylee blinked. “I don’t understand you, you are talking in riddles.”

“No riddle. I smile because I got such a great treasure, if I can count you as such, and in comparison, you got the joke prize. I got a better deal by far out of this whole situation than you did.”

Tom laughed out loud at this.

For a moment, Kaylee pondered what he had said.

Then she began to laugh.

“Tom, you are the treasure. Never say otherwise.” She kissed his hand and continued to swing it in hers.

“Yeah. Ain’t ever going to happen. I’m just a writer, I am not a treasure. You are the gem in this relationship. I’m a damaged diamond, a shattered sapphire, a pulverized pearl, a…”

“Okay, enough. And you are not.” Kaylee said pulling on his hand as they got close to the big jet. “You have had more sorrow than anyone should be allowed, but you are awesome. You make me draw and paint. You keep me turned on, creatively speaking.”

“I thought…” Tom was winking like a dirty old man in a bar.

“Shh. I am being serious and trying to tell you my heart, you are trying to make a joke.”

“Sorry.”

“Men are all alike.”

“Well. Yeah. We’re married at the moment, I’m supposed to act like that, it’s in the rule book.”

“You are changing the subject.” She growled at him. “Is this bothering you?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“Okay, well, I would like to go back to my old life, but it is not going to happen. You have already spoiled me.”

“That is a good job, spoiling you. Glenn will have to work that much harder.” Tom said as they approached the Sea Dragon.

“You have raised the bar high on that.”

“I hope so.”

“Where are we going now?” Kaylee asked as Tom walked past the steps going up to the door of the jet.

“Over here to the service office on the far side of the hanger. I need to do a couple of things. first is to make sure the payment for the services is complete and two, that the inspection by the FAA officer clears the Dragon for flight. I want to go over it together with him and make sure that nothing falls off the yacht while we are airborne, that would go into the bad column.”

“What if we took a commercial flight?”

“We could, but then we would be at the mercy of the commercial operators and TSA officers that are tasked with complex jobs that now take hours what used to take minutes when our grandparents traveled. Back in the day of Humphry Bogart and Casablanca.”

“I wish it would be like that. I could so make a charcoal of that.”

“How long would it take you?”

“I… I don’t know, why do you ask?”

“Well, I need to find that pain in my neck FAA agent or we have to charter a plane, or we have to buy tickets and wander over to the terminal and be tourists in Vegas. It may take hours to do that last part, just to leave on a commercial airline, so you might go do some drawing?”

“And leave the business to you while I entertain myself? Hardly, Mr. Harte. I am not just along for the ride, I will help you make this happen, even if it is my choice— right or wrong. I control my destiny.”

“One day, Missus Harte, you will be in charge of your own house of beauty, painting and sculpture. You will be an artist in demand.” Tom nodded. “You have the attitude.”

“Right? Just for now, I have to finish another year of college, get my business admin minor out of the way. Melanie will help me, we keep each other balanced with life’s challenges.”

“I would like to get to know Melanie better.” Tom smiled.

“Tom, do you plan to replace me, already?”

“Heh. No.” He back-pedaled quickly. “She just sounds like a good friend to have. And she likes my movie.”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it. She is a true fan and in love with some of your characters. The airship pirates, some of the princes. Her costume for Halloween last year was the red-headed pirate princess, I can’t remember the character’s name.”

“Julia Aquila.”

“Yeah! That’s it, Melanie makes a good Princess Aquila.”

“SteamLand is fun to write.”

“Is? It’s not finished?”

“Heck-no. There are lots of adventures for the Sky-Pirate empire to deal with.” Tom smiled with the memory of writing the novel series.

“I thought you liked to write children books now?”

“Yeah, that is fun, but SteamLand.” Tom smiled wide. “I really enjoy writing. So much fun with that. Roman times, airship pirates, steam-powered arrows, demi-gods. A lot of fun.”

“Demi-god?”

“Oh. Ut-oh. Spoiler-alert.” Tom laughed. “Let’s go over here. This way we can talk without being distracted.

Together they went to cancel flight plans and charter an executive jet, instead of taking the yacht.

Married by Mistake Chapter 32. Jaw Drop

MbM
Standard

Chapter 32. Jaw Drop

‟What do you mean it won’t be accepted?” Kaylee’s eyes widened..

‟Clerk of the court is exacting and by law can not help or give advice. It is outside their scope.” Tom smiled while he pulled at his ear while looking where she had initialed and signed. “I have had experience with court papers in the past.”

‟So… We have to fill another set of papers out.”

‟Well, yes.” Tom stopped smiling. ‟If you are still wanting the annulment, we can go there tonight and be there when the court opens in the morning.”

‟Can you fly?” Panic grew in her soul like a fire. “It’s not so much wanting it. I don’t want to divorce you.”

‟I can be flown. I have healed pretty well, we are changing the dressings regularly and I have no infection showing. So. Yes. I can go.”

A wink meant to put her at ease just made Kaylee think he was hiding something.

Kaylee turned to the steaming pot of her own recipe of dark chocolate and fresh pomegranate juice she had crushed with a spoon, dribbling the liquid into her creation.

“I think you might have done this on purpose.” Tom pondered as he looked over the papers that his wife signed. “You are sure you signed these carefully?”

Shaking her head, her hair swayed in the soft light of the galley while she moved around the steaming pot.

A makeshift double boiler, chocolate, essence of pomegranate infused into the molten mass, a pinch of powdered chili pepper that she found in his pantry of the large jet.

*Flying boat.* She reminded herself for the umpteenth time, while she moved about the galley wearing his pajamas and t-shirt, yipping slightly when she stirred the wine into the sauce to energetically and splashed a drop on to her bare skin to Tom’s amusement while he sat in the dining area. .

*The reason people do not cook while half asleep.* She thought to herself.

“And I did not make an error on purpose.” She said, taking a dab of melted chocolate out of the pot and rubbing it on his nose, licking it off. “Mm, good.” And turned back to her “Operation-Starved-Lover” at hand.

Tom moved so he could watch her from his perch on the edge of the table. He didn’t want to sit down again, he missed some moves and bends she made.

For Kaylee , the shock of the news that she signed and initialed the wrong places had thrown her off her mood. She wanted to do something constructive that she had skills in, cooking up sweet and savory things was a knack for her. Sometimes she used a little weed in her mixes to enhance things.

A slightly spiced dark chocolate-pomegranate sauce with a pinch of Australian pink river salt.

“No, I need to go home, anyway. My pops would not take kindly to us getting married the way we did.” She spoke softly as she leaned over and kissed him again with chocolate on her lips. After she pondered for several minutes, looking in his eyes and seeing a sadness creep in to his eyes, she went back to work on her creation.

He struggled to keep her from seeing the hurt, but Kaylee was a student of observation and art. It did not get past her.

Slicing up bananas into a bowl, she dribbled her dark-chocolate wine sauce over the coin-sized medallions of the fruit.

‟There.” She smiled. ‟Only 15 minutes and I am just now getting some feeling in my legs.”

‟You have moved okay from my point of view.” He said, smiling at the way she moved around the chair to him. “You are enjoying yourself making that so much, I bet that must be a practiced snack.”

Sitting on his lap, Kaylee scooped up a banana slice with a spoon and gave him first bite of her impromptu morning meal.

‟That is good.” He smiled. ‟Salty, sweet, peppery.”

‟Like me?”

‟You. You are just a pepper.” He kissed her chocolate flavored lips. “A beautiful one.”

‟What do you mean?” She sat back, giving him a quizzical look.

Tom kissed her, causing Kaylee gasp playfully.

‟You are hot.” Tom smiled. Tracing the tip of his tongue over her sensitive vermillion zone of her labial oris.

‟You are going to make me spill this.” She whispered with her eyes closed.

‟Just wait. You might want to put the bowl down for this.” He winked with a glint of humor in his eye.

Stealing a slice of a banana dipped in the chocolate Tom then put both in his mouth and kissed her deeply, enjoying the blend of flavors.

Kaylee returned the kiss with eyes closed, dreams tickled her soul. Passion filled her heart. Images of brilliant color danced with the muse of her mind.

‟Ouch…” She rubbed her lip.

‟Sorry.”

‟No, please. It hurt, but in a good way.” She whispered in his ear. “Don’t you dare stop.”

She shifted her position so she was astride him, Kaylee fed him more of her chocolate-flavored creation from the shared spoon.

Taking a smear of breakfast on her finger, she traced the chocolate covered digit over Tom’s lips, kissing him as his good hand caressed her body as if for the first time. Her body was a playground for his muse.

When the kiss broke, Kaylee leaned back slightly, putting a spoonful of the fruit and chocolate into her mouth with a smile while Tom kissed the void just above her collarbone, his hand supported the small of her back.

‟Mm… I like that.” She whispered as he small dribbles of chocolate that flavored her skin, then blew gently to give her a thrilling chill.

“Oh… I like that. A. Lot.” She bit her bottom lip, she held the bowl in one hand and ran her fingers through his hair with the other.

Balancing the bowl in her hands, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him holding him, his breath, tears from his eyes both alarmed her and made her smile at the same time.

A moment passed as she kissed his neck and earlobe.

‟You should have stopped when I told you to.” Tom said when he could talk again.

‟Take a bite.” She said offering him another spoonful. ‟Why should I deny myself the fun of making you squirm? I like watching you struggle for control.”

‟Because I was admitting to something.” When he could talk after swallowing the offered morsel.

‟Mm…what?” She still had not realized what he was saying.

‟You.” He whispered. “You… are the sole reason I smile.”

His words finally making sense, her eyes got big for a moment and put the bowl down on the table.

‟Oh, uh oh! Don’t you dare say that.” Kaylee tried to stand but her legs were refusing to flex properly and she had to help herself with her arms from the chair. ‟Tom, I didn’t want to have this.” 

Tom thought about that for a moment, then he nodded. 

“Nothing like complicating matters.” Tom chuckled. 

“Don’t make me love you back.” She said, a tear filled her eye with a sad laugh.