Fig Street is Copyright © Wendell Sweet 2018.
All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2018 Wendell Sweet
Some text copyright 1984, 2010, 2014, 2015 W. G. Sweet
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
This novel is Copyright © 2018 Wendell G. Sweet. Dell Sweet, W. G. Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell G. Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.
Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
June: Jimmy Chang’s
“So, listen, it’s like this. When I die… No… It has nothing to do with when I die. Okay, when the people in my life who have screwed me over die? They will have to pay for what they did to me,” Bobby Weston said.
“Oh. Oh, okay. I got it. The eventual retribution deal. In other words, okay, screw me over right now, but when I die you are so done,” John said.
“Okay. Yes, but not totally. I won’t get them back, God will do it for me.”
Johnny chuckled. “So God, the God, will personally pay these low rent bastards back for you… Sweet. Very sweet.”
Bobby nodded. “And it’s all biblical too. I mean completely. God says he’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about it. I got you.”
“I would like to hear God say I got you somewhere, because to be honest I have never heard him say it here. It seems kind of like a scam though that you got to wait until you’re dead to hear it. I mean what the hell is that? Who can say if that’s the deal, whether it’s real or not? I mean that is kind of a perfect con job. That’s like… That’s like those bank account scams. You know, the guy approaches you and says: “Hey! I got a million dollars in this account, but those bastards won’t let me have it. Talking about some sort of transfer fee. That’s messed up too because I don’t have no transfer fee. I mean, that’s messed up isn’t it? I can’t get the money… My own goddamned money, it’s my money, without paying this transfer fee.”
“Jesus Christ, you make me wanna give you the money, Johnny.”
“Exactly, and that is the scam. You give me my money for the transfer fee. We set it all up legal too, and bam. I got you. I’m gone. Your money’s gone. It’s a wrap, and you never see that money back or whatever I promised extra to you to get you to do it. So… So this thing is the same. You’re dead, how do you know?”
The crowd in the bar was quiet. It was early yet, the noisy younger crowd wasn’t in yet.
Jimmy Chang’s was a neighborhood bar. You wouldn’t think so in East Glennville which seemed predominantly white, but the Asians had been here far longer than some of the prominent white families. Jimmy Chang’s grandfather had come for the railroad work out west back in the 1800’s. When the work died out he had brought his family north and settled in Glennville. There were three branches of the family now: Jimmy, who ran the bar the old man had built first and saw through the dry years of prohibition. His sister Alice who ran Chang’s which was about the closest thing that Glennville had to a Coat and Tie restaurant. And Jimmy’s uncle Billy who owned a truck stop just outside of the city. The truck stop was known across the U.S. by truckers who had spread the word. Bobby had eaten there more than once. It was better food than any of the other nearby diners, and more of it too.
Bobby smiled, ignoring the pain in his side. It had been there a few days now. Maybe a little too much jogging, that stitch in your side that didn’t want to go away. Maybe he had pulled or sprained something: Who could tell. He’d had it before, or something like it, and it had passed. This would too. “Listen, Johnny… It won’t be like that for me because I’ll be right there… I’ll know… I’ll see it.”
“No… No… I mean, like… You are alive now… I’m alive now. Two seconds from now I drop dead, how do you know what I see or don’t see? How can you know even? I mean you have to die to collect, that’s pretty suspect to me, man. No die. No know,” Johnny shrugged his shoulders.
Bobby nodded. “I know. I see. But I…”
“… Been dead before… I know…” He shook his head. “It’s about the only thing that makes me believe.”
“Yep. I mean, I believe you. I don’t think you made it up. I’ve known you all of your life. I believe it.”
“Me too,” Bobby agreed. They both laughed.
Johnny hadn’t moved to Glennville and become friends with Bobby until his early teens, but he had heard the story. Back in the fourth grade Bobby had gone fishing alone. He had crossed the Black while the dam wasn’t running, and crossed over to Saints Island to fish. He had been to that island before as a younger kid with his dad. It was an easy cross, but Bobby hadn’t known anything about the dam and the levels of water in the Black. How they could change in a matter of a minute or two. When he had started back across the top of the dam to cross the Black to get back to the main road he had slipped and gone under. A fisherman had just happened to see his head as he went under. He had managed to snag Bobby and get him to shore, but he had stopped breathing, his lungs full of water.
Bobby had been in the hospital for a month in a coma. Then one day he had awakened. The same old Bobby: Like nothing had ever happened. Except he swore that he had not been dead that whole time, or gone away from his body even when he had been dead on the river bank. He claimed to remember every part of it; all of it, right down to the fisherman’s thoughts as he had hauled Bobby out. “This kids a goner,” he had thought. “Ain’t no hope for him at all.”
Still he had gone to work, picking up his arms, flushing out his lungs, pounding his back, compressing his chest to empty the lungs. If you lived near the river things happened more often than people thought that they did. A truck had stopped on the road above the river and a power company employee had scrambled down the bank to the river. He had taken over and begun CPR; the training was required. He had never used it until then.
He had even turned Bobby upside down and wailed his back hard enough to leave bruises. He had been as surprised as anyone else had been later when Bobby had coughed, sputtered, and then began to breathe once more. Between the two of them they had laid him out on the seat of the power company truck and the man had driven him the three miles to the Glennville Community hospital.
Johnny had never forgotten Bobby relating that experience to him. He had tried to tell his parents but they had dismissed it. Johnny hadn’t. Over the years the story had never changed and Johnny had come to believe it.
He sighed and looked around the bar. The day was growing old, already a few of the younger crowd had wandered in. Looking to nail down a stool or a booth for the evening.
“Coming in earlier and earlier every day, huh?” Bobby said.
“Exactly what I was thinking… Pretty soon it won’t be our place anymore at all.” Johnny sighed again.
“Hey, let’s go to Billy’s. They got those tables right outside. The night is nice. Shit, summer will be gone before we know it. I’ll buy steaks, what do you say?” Bobby asked.
“I say that sounds goddamn good to me, that’s what I say,” Johnny agreed. He threw a ten on the bar and then followed Bobby out of the bar.
July: Jimmy Chang’s
The bar was beginning to fill up. A young guy with a shaved head and a couple pounds of metal in his face slid in next to Bobby and eyeballed him hard. Bobby turned away. He looked over at Johnny and Johnny raised his eyebrows in a What the hell gesture.
Bobby had swung by Johnny’s work place at the Ford dealership and picked him up after work. Johnny’s car was in the shop. He could have gotten a rental right through the dealership, cheaply too, but that went against Johnny’s principle of paying for something he could get for free. A ride from Bobby was free. Always had been since they had been in high school driving clunkers that would have been better off in the junkyard. Johnny had always joked that somehow Bobby always seemed to get the better junker. It broke down less, ran better, was more reliable. He didn’t know how that could be, but it had always worked out that way.
“Time moves on. It all becomes relative,” Bobby said picking up a conversation on politics that Bobby himself had started. The kid’s cologne drifted across to him. Something from back in high school. Patchouli maybe, heavy and cloying. He picked up his beer and took a deep drink. His usual smile was not in evidence.
“Yeah…” Johnny cleared his throat and took a sip of his own drink. “I just hate those bastards. Relative or not, and I ain’t saying it isn’t relative to the way we vote, live, whatever, but the politicians seem to stay the same. No good, broke down lying bastards that would gladly swipe a lollipop from a little kid and then sell it back to them in the guise of some public work project. And!” He smiled widely. “Make the kid think he had gotten something in the deal.”
That bought a ghost of a smile to Bobby’s lips. “Hey, let’s take this out back,” Bobby suddenly suggested.
“Uh… Sure,“ Johnny agreed. “You gonna pound my ass or what? Sorry I called the politicians all broke down bastards, I know Ruth’s brother Don is one.” Ruth was Bobby’s wife of twenty five years.
Bobby laughed. “No ass pounding, just need a little fresh air.” He shot a hard look at the young guy who looked away and nursed his flavored vodka. “Besides, Donnie is the worst of the worst.” He laughed and Johnny joined in. He caught Jimmy’s eye and motioned toward the back door; Jimmy nodded. He didn’t like his bottles walking out. He owed the deposit on them. And he was one tight bastard, but he knew that Bobby would be bringing his bottle back.
They stepped out into the bright moonlight of early evening. The air was cooler. For the last several days it had been super hot. Global warming they said, global holy shit it’s hot, he thought.
“So what’s up with you? … You putting your garage addition on this year,” Johnny asked, fishing for the subject that had bought them outside.
“Oh yeah. Yeah it’s going up. Got the loan. It’s in the bank account. Hired Jeremy Jefferson. Starts in two weeks.”
“Shit. I’m hanging out over there every night after it’s done.”
“Me too,” Bobby agreed. They both laughed again. Bobby sighed heavily. “Cancer, man, the big C.” He sipped at his beer. “All through me… Nothing to do for it.”
Johnny was struck silent. “I don’t even know what to say,” he said at last.
“Well there’s nothing to say,” Bobby agreed.
“But you’re still gonna build that addition?”
“Yeah… Hell yeah… I’ve waited for that forever. Besides. I’ve known men that had a few months left to live that far outlived that.”
“That what they said? A few months.”
“At the outside,” Bobby said quietly.”
The silence spun out. A small group of bats left the tall chimney which was all that remained of an old plant across the tracks and flew across the moon.
“Damn Indiana Brown Bats,” Johnny said.
“Yep. Had to tear the factory down, but they couldn’t touch the stack. Had to fix it up instead… Preserve it… Christ they’ll be sticking money into that stack for the next several centuries to keep it up. Can’t let it fall it’s their natural home now.”
“Yeah… I was shocked when the EPA decided to do that.” The bats flew off and the silence returned.
“So… What you gonna do… I mean really… What are you going to do? What can I do?” Johnny turned to Bobby.
“Really nothing… Come on over and hang out. Watch the garage go up. I’m positive I’ll beat this shit. I don’t really even feel bad… Sick.”
“Sounds like you don’t believe it,” Johnny said.
“You know what? That’s right. This ain’t like being dead… I don’t feel it. I feel like it isn’t real. Just a phase in my life someone got wrong is all…” He made eye contact and winked. “Did you know that once Donnie tried to talk me into some land deal? Swamp land!”
“Yeah… I remember you telling me. Real swamp land too,” Johnny laughed.
“Bastard sold it all and him and his partners made a few million on the down low. Who would think you could sell swampland? Not me.”
Their laughter rose up into the moonlit summer sky. Bobby tipped his beer bottle, drained it, looked at Johnny, “Another?”
“Yeah… One more,” Johnny agreed and laughed.
October: Bobby’s House
Johnny Miller stood at the edge of the sidewalk and stared at the half finished garage. His German Shepherd Tank beside him. Ruth, Bobby’s wife, had stopped the construction as soon as he had died. The garage had sat there unfinished all through the balance of the summer and into early fall. He had heard the new owners intended to finish it before winter. He thought about that. Bobby Johnson was barely cold in his grave and some other guy was going to finish his garage and sit down and have himself a beer. A beer Johnny and Bobby had planned to have once it was done and never had. Never had, had the time for. Two weeks after their night at Jimmy Chang’s when Bobby had told him about his cancer; he had dropped dead of a massive heart attack. Forty three. Healthy. Worked out twice a week. Jogged. Bang: Out of the blue. And Ruth had already sold the house and been gone for three weeks. Gone for three weeks. Back to her people in Minnesota. Jesus please us.
Tank’s nails clicked on the pavement and Johnny looked back at the sidewalk from the garage. The German Shepherd wagged his bushy tail and cocked his head. Johnny smiled. So the big C hadn’t taken him. How was that for ironic? He wondered briefly about the life after death conversation they had, had. Well, he decided now, if there was some kind of life after death Bobby was right there. He lifted his head and looked around. Maybe even watching him right now. He wondered about that for a few moments and then the big dog whined, breaking into his thoughts.
“Yeah… Let’s go, Tank. Let’s finish this walk, buddy.”
Tank needed no further urging, eagerly examining both sides of the walk as he began padding down the sidewalk once more, tugging lightly at his leash. Tank crossed the short expanse of leaf strewn berm, stopped suddenly causing Johnny to plow into him, and then took off into the street dragging Johnny with him. The end of the nylon leash burned his palm as it Tank yanked it from him and broke into a gallop. Johnny lunged off the berm and into the roadway trying to catch it, but he was too late. Tank was already across the street as he straightened, chasing after whatever had caught his attention.
He began to straighten from the crouch he had found himself in when the entire world suddenly burst into bright light.
Sisters of Mercy Hospital: Room 357
Becky Miller smoothed the sheets that covered Johnny, careful not to disturb all the wires and tubes that were a part of who Johnny was now. Her brother spoke from the doorway behind her and she turned and gave him a strained smile.
“Sorry,” Dell Anders said. “I thought I would offer to sit for a while… Let you get a break… Some sleep.” He moved from the doorway and hugged her to his chest. He felt her chest hitch, once, twice and then she began to sob. He eased her over to the chairs and sat her down, pulled another close and held her as she cried…
…Johnny was walking the tracks that split the neighborhood behind Fig Street: It was night… Silent and he was not alone, a young boy walked beside him. Talking quietly as Johnny listened: leading him forward; guiding him through the darkness…
“…It’s me, Bobby,” the dream boy told Johnny Miller.
Johnny stared at the kid as they walked the tracks. He had noticed something was familiar but he hadn’t been able to place what that was. He looked down at himself. He was the same. An old man following along as a little kid walked the tracks, balancing on the rails. He stopped, lost for a second.
“You okay?” Bobby asked as he stopped and turned back to face him.
“Yeah… I think, but why are you in my dream? I didn’t know you then… This place… Did I?” Johnny asked.
“Yes and no. We share certain things.” He walked back and looked up at Johnny; his face serious.
“Will you come with me?” Bobby asked urgently.
This is the strangest dream I’ve ever had, Johnny thought. He stared around at the dark trees; the cold moonlight glinting off the steel rails. The young boy faced Johnny where he stood in the road.
“It’s no dream, Johnny, no dream at all, honestly. You can’t think of it as a dream either. If you do it’ll kill you, man. For real, I swear… Will you come?” Bobby asked again. His bright blue eyes seemed to glow as they locked on Johnny’s own.
“Where?” Johnny asked. The sound of his own voice startled him. It had changed. Become a child’s voice. A voice locked on the edge of change. A voice in between man and boy. He glanced down at his body and was not surprised to see that it had also changed. What he saw was a child’s body. And not just any child, but the same child he himself had been so many years before. The same wash faded jeans, with the same patched knees. He clearly remembered those jeans. Clearly remembered his mother carefully mending the knees. The same scuffed high top sneakers, with the same knotted laces. He raised his eyes and stared back at the small boy.
Bobby moved closer, seeming to float above the surface of the road. “Now. We need to go now. There isn’t much time,” Bobby told him.
The darkness split apart, and gray rock walls sprung up where the trees had been. In the distance Johnny could hear the laughter of children echoing against the cold stone walls. The laughter turned to screams. Shrill, panicked and growing closer, the low bass growl of a wolf mixed in with the screaming. Johnny started to move towards the sound.
“No! Bobby told him. “You’ll die. Not yet. We have to be first, see? We ain’t yet. It’s too early, man. Too early. you’ll die if you try to stop it now.”
“But?” Johnny asked aloud in his child’s voice.
“Home, man,” Bobby told him. “Home first, then here, after.”
The rock walls suddenly faded, replaced by a night darkened and quiet street. Houses lined one side of the street, a huge gravel lot filled the other side. Beyond the edge of the gravel lot long rows of leaning, crumbled buildings stood outlined in pale moonlight. The remnants of a chain-link fence ran partway down the street, still enclosing the buildings in places, overgrown and fallen in others. Johnny turned toward the houses and began to walk
“Here. Right here,” Bobby told him as they walked towards one particular house.
Johnny skirted the dirt front yard of the run-down old house behind Bobby. Peeling gray paint clung to the weathered clapboard, glass from the shattered windows lay glittering in the darkness. The few that remained were filthy yellowed panes set in crumbling frames, impossible to see through. Flecks of gray littered the hard-packed dirt yard. He rounded the side of the house and stopped. A long rope dangled from a broken second floor window. “Here?” Johnny asked.
“Here,” Bobby agreed. He began to climb the rope to the window that stood open above it. He paused part way up and stared back at Johnny where he stood watching. “Climb it, man. That’s my room up there.”
The rope was not nearly as hard to climb as Johnny had thought it would be. He made his way quickly to the top, and eased over the sill into the small room. The room was dark and quiet. He made his way to a narrow cot in one corner and sat down next to Bobby. “And?” he whispered.
“Morning. We gotta wait for morning. Then we can start. Then we can do something, see?”
“No,” Johnny whispered, “I don’t see… Start what? Do What?”
“We all gotta meet,” Bobby told him. “It’s hard to explain. You see, I was here. I lived here, and there are two other kids here. They live close by. We gotta do something important, see? And we need you. We need your help, man, get it?
“No,” Johnny replied honestly, “I don’t.”
“You will. Go to sleep, man. In the morning we’ll start. In the morning. It’ll be different this time. It will.”
Johnny laid down on the narrow cot and closed his eyes.
Sleeping in a dream, he thought. A dream about sleeping. Weird.
“Not a dream,” Bobby reminded him as he spiraled away into darkness. “Not a dream.” …
Fig Street from Dell Sweet, due this Fall from Smashwords, Amazon, Nook, Kobo and iBooks…
By DELL SWEET
Published With Amazon Digital
Copyright 2014 Dell Sweet
Copyright 1976, 1983, 1987, 2009, 2014 independAntwriters Publishing & Dell Sweet. Copyright renewed 2015, Dell Sweet. All rights reserved
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Much Thanks to: M. Laughlin, C. Maxon, G. Dell, C.J.
Somewhere in everything that I have written over the last seven or eight years, resides the story of this book. I spent a few hours trying, but I could not find it. There are times where I irritate myself and this was one of them: Because although I could have easily rewritten the information I spent the better part of an hour looking for it; as if somehow that made more sense. Of course it didn’t turn up. Things that were close to explaining it turned up, but not the text I remember writing. So I will write the story once more.
In 1976 I was a young man and I wanted to be a writer. I wrote a short story about this closed up series of caves where bad things happened. I didn’t know what bad things happened there, only that they were bad; probably very bad. I had some vague ideas, Russians, Dead people, Military types. All the things that used to scare me back then. I struggled for what was probably a few months and managed a short story that had very little to do with the caves and more to do with some post apocalypse cave man who was affected by radiation deformities, part of which made him want to kill and eat other people. That short story was sixteen pages long, handwritten, and everyone who read it thought maybe it was a joke of some kind and maybe I should consider doing something else instead of writing.
So I put it away and life took a giant step forward to 1983. I found myself working at home and had a lot of extra time on my hands. I happened across the manuscript as I liked to think of it, all sixteen yellowed and dog eared pages, and began to re-write it. It held my attention for a while and then life took another step forward to 1987. Still working at home, only now involved in the world wide web, as we called it. A thing most people thought would go nowhere at all. I got back into writing and fell into that story. This time it actually went where I wanted it to go, where I thought it should go all those years before. I wrote it and then wrote a sequel, and then a few dozen short stories and then life took another giant step.
When things shook out again it was 2010 and I was in a position to once again write. I thought about that first book, and the sequel, and the short stories, all lost now, gone to who knew where. Thinking didn’t bring them back but it did get me writing again. The first thing I did was re-write that book. It came out nothing like that long before first book had: It had taken a few twists and turns in the writing; in trying to remember what the other book had been about so many years before, and colored by all the things that had happened during that passage of time.
In any event I liked it, so I wrote another part and added it to it, and then another, and pretty soon there were twenty books written from that long ago first book. A series really. Then I wrote another book, and another, and one day I woke up and realized that I was not still hoping to be a writer, I was a writer.
Sometimes I would think about that first book and regret losing it, but I would also remind myself that if I had not lost it I would have never written all of the other books that I had written, or at least not the way they were written,. Maybe they would have been better, maybe worse. Who can tell when you think about changing circumstances. I moved on, literally forgot about those books and stories, and then one day my son called me and told me he had found those files in a digital format. All of them. He doesn’t know if we can get them or not, or if they will be readable if we are able to get them. He only knows we have a shot at getting them.
To make a long story short we did get them, and everything except for the second book was easy to get and download to my own computer. The second book was not easy at all. I ended up using a program that downloads the file no matter what condition it is in. It simply fills the corrupted sections with zeros. Amazing. I got about 95% of the second book that way. Small sentences missing here and there, a few words or a paragraph there, but easily reconstructed.
I marveled over the technology that allowed me to pluck that book out of time, nearly twenty years of it, and then took a walk back through time and read that first book and those short stories from way back then. There were some that I did not even remember writing until I began to read them and then the story flooded back into my head. It was great.
The thing was life was busy and I had a lot of work laid out in front of me. It took awhile to get back to that first book. I debated over whether to do anything with it except read it and then let it sit. But after I read it I decided that in very many ways I liked it as much as the books I had written to replace it. In some ways even more.
That is this book you are about to read. Started when I was a kid just out of the service with a young wife and son, finished when I am at the other end of that spectrum. Kind of funny. Maybe it puts end to what I began. I don’t know. I do know I liked the book then, I thought the story just flowed from me and I really felt a part of it, and that has always been the hallmark of good writing to me, being right in the story. Falling into it. Starting to care about the characters and their circumstances.
So here it is forty years late: The road to publishing this book was a hard one, but I hope that you like it as much as I have enjoyed watching it come together.
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
This novel is Copyright © 1976 – 2014 Wendell Sweet & independAntwriters Publishing. Dell Sweet is a publishing name for Wendell Sweet. All other copyright notices are herein encompassed. All national and foreign rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.
Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
Ira Pratt stared at the squared board lost in thought. If he moved to the right, he would surely lose two checkers. Maybe, he thought, as many as four. Moving to the left would not help either. There was actually only one semi-safe move to make, and that was straight ahead. But even that move could put a hurtin’ on his few remaining checkers, he thought. Nothing to do for it though, but move it, and see what happened.
He stared into the thoughtful eyes of the older man across the table, trying to read them. No good, he was a master at hiding his thoughts. His face was calm and carefully composed, not so much as a smile played at the corners of his mouth.
Ira gave in and decisively moved one checker forward and then leaned back into his chair, waiting to see what the older man would do.
“Well, I see you have left me little choice, Ira,” the older man said. He picked up one of his own checkers and carefully slid it forward as he finished speaking.
“That was what I was hoping you’d do,” Ira said grinning as he jumped two of the older man’s checkers.
“No doubt about it, Ira, you’re just too good for me,” the older man replied. He smiled widely, and pleasantly, and then changed the subject. “How about we take a short break, Ira, maybe go for a walk. You must get tired of beating me all the time?”
“Well,” Ira replied, “I kind ‘a get the idea you let me beat you some times, but sure, I wouldn’t mind a break at all.”
“I would never let you beat me, Ira. It is a good thing we don’t play poker though. I might gamble the entire kingdom away trying to beat you,” the older man replied laughing. “Besides I have my reasons for wanting to take a break right now. I see it like this, if you and I take a break, maybe once we return your concentration will not be so keen, and then maybe I will win one of these games for a change.” He rose from the small table as he finished speaking. “Ready, Ira?”
Ira closed his eyes. He could have kept them open, and a few times he had, but the trip was unnerving enough without adding the visual aspects to it. Not that there was anything to see except darkness for the split second they would be traveling, he thought. Still…
He opened his eyes. They had actually only been shut for less than a second, but in that space of time they had traveled a considerable distance, or at least seemed to have. The small table that had been before him was gone, replaced by a lush green valley. A calm blue river flowed across the valley floor far below. He followed it with his eyes as it wound away in the distance.
“It’s beautiful,” Ira exclaimed, “but will it still be…?” He let the question trail away.
“Yes it will, as will several others, Ira. But it need not be this place, there are so many to choose from,” the older man informed him. “Come.”
Ira blinked, and when he opened his eyes they were standing in a high mountain meadow. Wild flowers covered the meadow, and a large, summer-fat herd of deer grazed peacefully among them. A large buck raised its heavily antlered head and stared at the two men, but perceiving no threat went back to grazing the field.
“This is also beautiful,” Ira said quietly.
“It only matters where, Ira. There are so many. There were even more, and there will be again.”
“I’ll have to tell Cora about this place, and the other,” Ira replied, still watching the deer graze.
“You should, Ira. In fact, there will be many things to tell her. Things she will need to know, Ira.”
“Yes. The time is short.”
“I was afraid of that,” Ira said slowly.
“There is no reason to be afraid, Ira.”
“I know that. I guess I mean afraid, as in I wish it didn’t have to happen.”
“I knew what you meant, Ira, but it is necessary. As much as I would wish that it was not, it is.”
Ira nodded his head slowly. “I know.”
The two men stood in silence for several minutes, watching the deer in the field. It seemed so peaceful to Ira, a good place to be, a good place to live, and that made it harder to accept that most of it would soon be gone. The older man spoke, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.
“Would you like to look at some others, Ira?”
“I believe I would at that. I think I’d like to look at as much as I kin before it’s gone, I guess. Does that sound wrong?”
“No, Ira, it does not, I too wish to look… Ready?”
Ira nodded but did not close his eyes. Darkness enveloped him, and a sense of speed. The absence of light was complete; he could only sense the presence of the older man beside him as the traveled through the dark void.
– 2 –
Far below the small city of Watertown New York, Richard Pierce sat working before an elaborate computer terminal. He had just initiated the program that managed the small nuclear power plant hidden deep below him in the rock. A small handset beside the computer station chimed, and he picked it up and listened. He did not speak at first, but as he listened a smile spread across his face. “Very good,” he said happily, when the caller was finished, “keep me advised.” He set the small handset back into its cradle and turned his attention back to the screen in front of him. The plant had powered up just as it was supposed to, no problems whatsoever, and that made Richard Pierce extremely happy. Two more days tops, he thought, and then maybe I’ll get out of this dump.
He supposed he should feel honored that he was even here. It was after all one of the biggest projects in the country, albeit top secret, but he could not help the way he felt. He was close to a mile underground, totally cut off from everything and everyone, and he hated it. If he had a choice, which he had not, he would never have come at all. But he had written the software that handled the power plant, as well as several other sections of the underground city, and that made it his baby. There were a couple of small bugs, mainly due to the fact that no one had been allowed to know what the entire program was supposed to do. The way the rewrites were going however, it looked as though he would not be stuck here anywhere near as long as he had originally thought, and that was something to think about. He had begun to feel that he would never leave this rock bound prison, and wouldn’t that be a real bitch.
– 3 –
At a large gravel pit on the outskirts of Watertown, Gary Jones carefully maneuvered the wide mouth of the loader bucket over the dump box of the truck, and pulled back on the lever closest to him to release the load. Ain’t this something, he thought as he slowly topped off the dump box, barely 10 AM and we’ve already sent out twenty seven truckloads of gravel to the base.
Six men out sick, and another forty truckloads to deliver before five tonight. What in hell are they doing with all this gravel? He wondered. It was a question he had asked many times before, and still had not gotten an answer to. Uncle Sam paid well though, and on time to boot, so he guessed he probably shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He signaled the driver, and he pulled away with a whoosh of air as he released the brakes. Another dump truck lumbered up to take his place, and he pushed the questions out of his mind as he began filling the box.
– 4 –
In Seattle Washington, Harvey Pearlson sat at his wide mahogany desk and talked quietly into the phone.
The extravagantly appointed office was located on the top floor of one of Seattle’s most highly regarded newspapers. Pearlson had worked his way up from the bottom, after starting as a carrier in 1955, sixteen floors below.
“No,” Pearlson said quietly, “I don’t want to know. I just thought that maybe it could be handled in some other way.” He listened for a few minutes nodding his head as he did.
“Yes, yes I see, but?” He rubbed his eyes as he listened. “No, I don’t,” he said emphatically, “I happen to like him a great deal, and if you give me the time…” The voice on the other end of the line cut him off, and he once again listened quietly.
“I see,” he said, once the voice had finished speaking. “No, I do understand. I won’t. Do you think I’m that stupid? Give me a little credit here, will you. You wouldn’t even be aware of it if I hadn’t called you in the first place, for Christ’s sake.” He listened for a few seconds longer, then hung up the phone.
There was no reasoning with Weekes, he told himself, and he was going to do what he was going to do. For Frank’s sake, he wished he had never called him at all. Too late now though, he told himself, far too late. After all, he had done his best to swing Frank away from the story, but Frank Morgan was not a man who could be easily swayed, and, he told himself, unless he wanted to find himself in the same circumstances, he had better just shut up and let it go. He reached over and thumbed the intercom button.
“I’m going to be out the rest of the day, Cindy, and if Frank Morgan comes looking for me before he leaves, you don’t know where I am, correct?”
“Anything important comes up you can reach me on my mobile, Cindy.”
“Yes Sir, Mister Pearlson.”
Harvey Pearlson picked up his briefcase and left the office. Whatever Weekes had in mind, he wanted nothing to do with it, and he didn’t want to be available for any sort of questions that might arise either. It was unfortunate enough that he had started the whole ball rolling;he had no intention of sticking around to see where it ended up stopping. No, he told himself, the lake was the best place to be. The only place to be, and he intended to stay there until the whole thing blew over just as he had been told to.
He took his private elevator down to the garage area, walked across to his Lincoln, and drove out of the parking garage, turning right on Beechwood. He passed a hooker standing at the corner of the building, and thought just how badly Beechwood Avenue had gotten as of late. He would have to speak to the security people when he got back from the lake. Putting up with the hookers that had taken over the avenue at night was one thing, but broad daylight? Standing right in front of the frigging building? No, something would have to be done, and if the security people couldn’t take care of it, maybe he’d speak to Weekes. After all, he owed him one now, didn’t he? He pushed the thought away, signaled, and pulled out onto the loop. In an hour he’d be at the lake, and then he could forget about the whole mess, for today at least. He eased the car up to sixty, and leaned back into the leather upholstery to enjoy the drive.
– 5 –
April 11th 1952
Ira Pratt drove the old tractor carefully down the side of the slippery hill. It had been raining for close to three days, and it didn’t look as though it was going to let up right quick, he thought.
The rain was causing all sorts of problems, and not just for him, he knew, but for the cows as well. The biggest problem was the creek, and the only way the creek wasn’t going to be a problem was to unplug the thing.
He sat on the tractor as it slipped and slid its way down the hill through the gray sheets of rain. Ira let out a sigh of relief once it reached the bottom. For a second there, he had been sure both he and the old tractor would end up in the creek, but God was smiling on him today.
He slipped the worn gearbox into neutral, and sat looking at the rush of muddy-brown water. The creek was a good four feet above the point of flooding, and he wasn’t sure it was a smart move to try to put the tractor in that. The tractor was sure footed, but so was a goat, and he’d seen more than one goat end up on its ass. But there wasn’t anything else for it. If he didn’t move the trees that were clogging the creek, and flooding it out and over the banks, then he might as well just sit back and watch a couple more cows drown.
Ira knew cows, pretty much anyhow, and every one that he and Cora owned were just as stupid as any other cow he’d ever seen. The cows didn’t understand flooding, they didn’t understand how the water could weaken the banks, and so the big dummies just walked on down to the creek, just like any other day, and got swept away when the bank crumbled under their weight. Three days of rain and four dead cows, and though cows were stupid, they weren’t cheap.
Ira sat in the pouring rain and stared at the creek. Normally, the creek was no more than eighteen inches deep at the most. Course normal wasn’t what it was today, he thought, and wishin’ it was wouldn’t make it so. It was his own damn fault, he reminded himself. Two of the trees that were clogging it had been there last summer, and hadn’t he promised Cora he’d take ’em out before fall? He had, but he hadn’t, and so here he was in the pouring rain fixin’ to half kill himself to get ’em out.
Looked like the best way, Ira thought, might be to try and snag the biggest one right from the bank. He squinted as he shielded his eyes to peer through the rain. One thing was for sure, sittin’ on the tractor and thinkin’ about it, wasn’t gonna get it. Reluctantly, Ira climbed down off the tractor and edged closer to the bank. The rain was coming down hard, but the section he stood upon seemed solid enough. “Probably what the cows thought,” he muttered as he moved closer.
He walked back to the tractor, unwound a long section of chain from behind the seat, and walked back to the creek. The top of the bigger tree was sticking a good three feet over the bank, and he was glad that it was. He could see that the water was rising faster, and moving along quicker, and he had no wish to get any closer to it than he had to. Quickly, but carefully, he wound the chain around the tree and pegged the links with an old bolt to hold them. Looks good, and solid as well, he thought as he slipped the other end of the chain over the bucket. He genuinely didn’t want to try and turn the tractor around. In fact, he thought, as muddy as the ground was, he’d be damn lucky just to get it back up and away from the creek when he finished.
He gave an experimental tug at the chain, and then climbed back up on the tractor. Carefully, without grinding the gears any more than he surely had to, shifted into reverse. He played the clutch out slowly and brought up the slack in the chain.
“Well God?” He asked, looking skyward, “You keepin’ a watch down here? I could sure use a hand about now, Lord. Amen,” Ira finished.
He let the clutch out a little further, playing the gas pedal as he did, and let the tractor go to work. The oversized tires spun, caught, and the tractor began to slowly back up the steep bank, pulling the tree out of the muddy water as it did. Ira released the breath he had been holding, and just as he did the chain snapped in two. Ira barely had time to register what had happened, when the old tractor flipped, crushing him beneath it.
ALEA IACTA EST
June 15th: Seattle Washington
The wind kicked up along Beechwood Avenue in Seattle’s red light district. A paper bag went rolling along the cracked sidewalk: Skipping over Willie LeFray’s feet where he stood watching the traffic… thinking. One trick… The right trick… Somebody with money and he could call the night good. Just enough to get a good high… Or enough to get enough shit to get a good high tonight and maybe a good high tomorrow when it all wore off and the jingle jangles set in? … Maybe, he decided. Maybe. Willie stood watching the cars as the paper bag bounded over his feet and tumbled along the avenue.
– 2 –
For Franklin W. Morgan, just Frank to his friends, June 15Th, had been a particularly hard day.
As he sat at the small, scarred, wooden table at Mikes Pub on Sixth Avenue, nursing a shot of gin, his thoughts turned inward, mulling over the same problem he had been mentally chewing for the last several weeks. It always came back, no matter how far away he pushed it. It slipped right back to the front and began to hammer away at him. But today was much worse. It had seemed endless as it dragged on, and he had been able to concentrate on next to nothing. He had avoided the office, and Pearlson, no sense compounding things when he was so close to the truth by chancing a confrontation with Pearlson.
Pearlson was… Pearlson was, a piece of shit, he thought. However, at the moment it wasn’t just Pearlson that had him so keyed up and anxious, it was leaving, and, he supposed, that was just as it should be.
The thing that had made it difficult to get through was the pressure and anxiety he always felt when he was on the trail of a promising story. That and the stress associated with the story.
It was not so much the stress his job placed on him; he had always dealt with that quite well. He knew what it was, and what it had been for several weeks now. All of those late night calls to his sources in New York. No sleep, virtually working around the clock; sifting through the information this source or another provided; sorting out the truth from imagination, and getting to the facts, or as close as he could get to them. That, coupled with the fact that he had been the only one, save Jimmy, who believed it, and now Jimmy was apparently missing so he could add the disappearance of a good friend to the growing list of worries that kept him up at night. This was turning into a three ring circus damn fast, and he didn’t like. He didn’t like it at all.
He was sure now, or as sure as anyone could be. But, who the hell would believe him? Not his editor, that was for sure. He would not soon forget the day two weeks ago, when he had approached the subject with him either. It had been partly his own fault, Frank realized. He had not been as prepared as he should have been. He had also possessed no hard facts, he reminded himself, and he had speculated far too heavily for Pearlson’s taste. Even so, he was just as convinced as he had been then. No. More so now, he amended.
Two additional weeks of digging into it, with Jimmy’s help, had produced a wealth of information, and it was no longer just conjecture as the old man Pearlson had said, but a steadily growing stack of cold hard facts.
Pearlson had still laughed, and told him he should try writing fiction for a living. But there had been something else lurking just behind that laugh, hadn’t there? Perhaps a hint of nervousness maybe?
Pearlson had also suggested that just maybe Frank needed a vacation, and, things being the way they were Frank had taken him up on the last suggestion.
Screw him, Frank thought as he sat at the table and drained the last of his drink… Just screw him.
That was what had made his days so long and his nights so sleepless, he reasoned. Churning around in his head was all of that knowledge… Along with fear, fear of what that knowledge may mean.
But did he actually know anything? He asked himself, and could he actually prove what he did know? Yes, Dammit… And just as suddenly, probably not. He couldn’t prove all of it yet, at least not entirely, he admitted.
Not for much longer though, he told himself, the proof part of it was about to change. He had made plans to go to New York. Directly to the source, so to speak, and find out just exactly what was going on. No conjecture, no guessing, no screwing around at all. If Pearlson wanted facts, Frank would get them one way or the other, he had decided. And the suggestion to take a vacation couldn’t have been a better cover for him to go under, he reasoned.
No, he decided, it wouldn’t be much longer at all. Two weeks in upstate New York and he would know for sure. Frank saw no way that Pearlson could kill the story then. Not faced with cold hard facts.
But Pearlson could be an idiot, what if he still rejected the truth even after the facts were presented, he asked himself. Well, if he did, Frank reasoned, that would open up a whole new set of problems. Maybe Pearlson was involved somehow… Maybe not, but the whole thing had smelled of a cover up from the start, and if Pearlson cut the story loose, if he still placed no faith in it, then there had to be a reason, and maybe… And maybe shit! If it turned out that way, then maybe it would be time to move on.
He rose slowly from his chair and fighting his way through the crowded table area, made his way to the bar.
“Another Gin, Mike,” he said, once he had gotten the old man’s attention. “On second thought hold the ice , just straight up.” He stared miserably at the jukebox in the corner that blared incessantly, and silently urged it to fall silent as he waited for the drink. His thoughts, still clouded, turned back to the problem he was constantly turning over in his mind, when a glance at his wristwatch reminded him of how late it actually was.
He turned his attention back to the bartender. “Shit! Mike, I’ve got to go see the kid’s and I am already late,” he threw a twenty on the bar, “that should cover the tab.”
“What about this?” Mike asked, holding up the shot glass.
“You drink it, Mike, I truly am late. I’ve gotta go,” Frank replied as he started to turn towards the front door.
“Hey?” Mike called in a questioning manner. Frank turned back to the bar.
“Get some sleep, Frank,” Mike said, “your eyes look like two piss holes in the snow.”
“Yes mother,” Frank joked, “I will.”
Frank smiled to himself. They always played this game, and had been at it for the twenty years that Frank had been coming into Mike’s. Mike seemed to think it was his duty to mother him, even more so since Jane had died.
“See you in a couple of weeks or so, Mike,” Frank called as he stepped out the door. He glanced at his watch once again as he did. I’ll never make it, he thought, no way.
He resigned himself to the fact that he would more than likely be late, and not for the first time this week. He had already been late three times, picking up Patty and Tim from the sitter.
Cora Pratt, the sitter, could pitch a real fit when she wanted to, he thought. “Well I’ll deal with her when I get there,” he mumbled to himself. Besides, he thought, tonight I don’t have to pick them up, just say good-bye for two weeks.
The heat assaulted him as he stepped out of the air conditioned comfort of the bar, and he winced.
Twenty seven years of living in Seattle had not changed a thing for him. He felt about the city as he always had. It was too hot in the summer, what there was of it, and too damn cold and windy in the winter, and it wasn’t home. He still thought about it as a place he was only visiting. He never had gotten used to it, and, he knew, he never would.
Frank worked the handle upward slowly, pulling the driver side door of the company car open carefully. He had to as this one stuck if you were forceful, and then he would end up crawling over the damn passenger seat to reach the driver’s side. It seemed to him that he had once had this car when it was new. It was hard to tell though as it was a pool car, and the younger generation of reporters in the press pool beat the hell out of all the cars.
“Too many hot-rod kid’s driving the piss out of them,” he said aloud as he keyed the motor and pulled the Plymouth Voyager out into the traffic. He headed out of the city, towards the suburbs and Cora Pratt…
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So I woke up yesterday morning about 3:00 am because my cat insisted that I wake up. He does that. I guess he gets bored sometimes and wants someone to bug so he comes and wakes me up, meows a few times and then leaves. If he continues to meow it means … “Get up you fat %^&$#@& and let me out right now!” I understand cat relatively well.
So about three years ago my mother bought me a lamp. One of her summertime rummage sale romps and she dragged back this touch lamp with glass shades, and all the shades have pictures of horses grazing next to a field and a stream. Very pastoral, peaceful, made me think good things. I used the lamp on my desk for about a year and then installed an overhead lamp so I can see to type better on my monitor… Did I really just say that? Yes, I did.
So my excuse was that I wanted to see better as I typed, but the truth was I couldn’t see much of anything on my desktop, it was all murky and indistinct so I installed an overhead fluorescent light and nearly blinded myself, yanked that out and screwed one side of a clip on lamp to the wall above my router and called it good… Ahhh, the things you can get away with when you don’t have a wife.
A few days later I noticed the touch lamp sitting forlornly next to my desk so I picked it up thinking … “I need a bedside lamp.” And there it went and stayed.
So the cat comes into the doorway at 3:00 am and meows, I awaken, look at the shadow, wonder if it is a cat or that damn raccoon that has been hanging around: The raccoon in the television commercial that follows the woman to bed because she calls it thinking it is her cat bugs the hell out of me and I am probably blind enough to make that mistake. Don’t ask me when I would have let the raccoon in… So I click on the lamp to better see the cat and make sure it is a cat and I’ll be damned: My horses grazing next to the stream and field are not horses at all I see as the light comes on and nearly blinds me; they are bright glowing white unicorns… Yes, unicorns grazing next to that stream and the field. I look at the cat, the cat looks at me as if to say “I could have told you they were unicorns, Susie.” The cat is a real wise acre. I blink but it is still 3:00 am and the horses are still unicorns and the cat is still meowing so I get up, pad to the door and let him out. I return to bed thinking I must do something about this. After all this is the same mother that bought me A pink high heel shaped tape dispenser that my visitors picks on me about all of the time.
“Hide it in the basement.” I say aloud… No good. We don’t have a basement.
“Well, the pantry then.” Uh, no, we don’t have a pantry either.
I make it back to bed. Look at the lamp carefully and yes, this is no mistake every damn horse in the field on all six glass panels have spiraled unicorns on their narrow heads. I sigh, turn out the lamp so I don’t have to see them, but there is no sleep for me, the cat and the disturbing unicorns have awakened me so I pop on Netflix: LOST season 5 episode 8 and watch it. After all, if it is going to be weird I may as well enjoy it… Geo
This is the short story that turned into Rocket. I will leave you with this, enjoy the weekend, Dell…
Dying World is an unpublished short story by Dell Sweet.
All rights are reserved by the author. Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person dead or living is purely coincidental. This work is licensed to this blog only. You may not copy, transfer or quote this text; excepts verse of two paragraphs or less strictly for critiques. Anything more requires author permission.
Los Angeles district
My hand reached across the bedside table searching for the headset as it buzzed. Petra moved beside me, mumbled, obviously displeased that the buzzer was still going off. “Wake the babes,” she said, as coherently as she could.
My hand finally closed on the headset. I untangled my head from the sheets and jabbed at the on button as I bought the device to my face. I mumbled into it.
“Mike? … Mike?” The voice sounded excited. Over excited. I opened my eyes fully in the semi darkness, got up and out of the bed. I was barely used to sleeping off ship, it was only my second time. But I had missed Petra and the babes so much. The gravity was horrible. I felt overweight, out of shape. Petra said it passed, but I hated the waiting and the truth was that for me, with only short stays it never would pass.
“Brother… Brother. Listen to me, brother, listen to me… Can you hear me? … Are you there?” The voice was my oldest friend, Tom Richards.
“Tom… Tom, calm down. What is it.” Do you know,” I looked at the clock: A thing I rarely ever worried about shipboard, “time it is? Petra’s upset, you could’ve waked the babes
“You’ll have to wake them anyway,” he said bluntly.
“What?” I asked. I made my way out of the bedroom quickly, stumbled to the kitchen and pulled a stool from the serve through and sat down.
“I said you’ve got to wake them… And Petra. This is serious!”
“What is serious, Tom? You’re scaring me more than a little. What’s wrong? … Has it? …” I couldn’t bring myself to say it.
Tom had worked at one of the biggest penal colonies on Mars for the last several years. Three years before he had fallen in with Petra and I when we had decide to buy our own Star Cruiser and seek our fortune. He kept close contact when the men and women he had come to know, including some that were part of the Federal Planet Association that controlled all of Earth and all the other planets as well. When things had gone sour for the FPA the year before Petra and I had decided now might be the time to start a family. My wish was to get Petra off the ship, she had wanted to have children before it became too late. Bring them shipboard in a few years. After all a Star Cruiser might not be a bad place to raise a family. They were protected after all. The Feds had dozens of cruisers of their own that patrolled what they considered their borders to keep us safe as we delivered supplies and more to distant outposts.
Star cruisers were protected, but with just so few ships to protecting hundreds of private cruisers it was becoming a hard job.
We were docked on Earth. More properly put, we were docked at UPT fifteen, twenty-two miles above Earth. I was on the planet with Petra.
“We lost a big chunk… A big chunk,” he was whispering now.
“A big chunk?” My mind was beginning to focus.
“A big chunk… The Feds are pulling out… Right now, they’re pulling out. They’ve done their calculations and we just slipped past the point of no return… I got a shuttle on the way, but believe me when I say this is no easy deal… You got to get them ready… Move fast… You there?” He whispered.
“How much time,” Mike heard himself say. His face felt numb. He stood and trotted back to the bedroom on autopilot.
The end had been coming for generations, but it had been suppressed, kept from the public in the best possible way, ignoring it. After all someone was always yelling about the end coming. There was always some doomsday prophecy being rolled out. The Feds had found out long ago that shaking your head with a crooked smile on your face was the absolute best way to fight it. It said exactly what words could not say. Words that affected the same thing would have fanned the flames. The nod and he crooked grin worked.
And that had been their tactics for the last year since the voices had begun to shout louder and louder. Nod, smile, move on to something else. Meanwhile the atmosphere had been leaking from the planet Earth faster and faster. Tonight it had passed the point of no return. He and Tom had discussed exactly that scenario. In fact he had intended to discuss it with Petra on this visit. Maybe it was time to pack up the babes and go ship board… But they had never found the time. It seemed there were so many other things that crowded in and so little time before Star Dancer had to leave dock again. Time with Petra, time with the babes, talks of the new crew manifest with Tom. The year before Tom and Marva had become full partners and they had moved up several notches on the cargo drops for the Feds. Large contracts: Full time work. No or little time off. In fact they had discussed the possibility of another ship, maybe even bigger than Star Dancer. It was incredible to think it, but collectively they were worth trillions and they could easily handle the loans they needed. And then Earth had taken a sudden turn for the worse. And a turn is what had started it.
For millions of years the Earth had wobbled in her orbit. Many had thought that was an unfortunate occurrence in the early years of civilization, but they had come to learn that without the wobble there would probably be no way to sustain life. They hadn’t predicted that the hole that had been in the ozone layer, growing wider and wider would suddenly begin to vent atmosphere. The venting of atmosphere was small at first, but life a small hole in a raft the constant rush of atmosphere widened it.
The Feds had known and suppressed the information. The news agencies that were still owned by free stations broadcast it and for once the nod and grin failed them. Even so it was far too late. By the time everyone realized just how late there had been a complete clampdown on the news sources. Tom had feelers out and the news had been trickling in that the situation was untenable. Still, Mike thought that meant years. Apparently it had not.
“They think it will completely blow out within a year. Apparently once it hit this point it is all downhill from here.”
“My God, Tom,” I said “I meant how long do we have to get there… To make it?”
“Oh… Oh… Fast. Lift off in three hours. I can’t hold it. I had to fight to get a slot. They’re freezing any passenger flights solid. No one leaving at all until they say so; if we weren’t cargo… Still, I don’t know what traffic will be like… Delays… Boarding through the station, so I would just come directly to the ship… Put it in a cargo bay… Petra could do it. And… You’re under an assumed name… I had to lie, pretend to be you to push the flight schedule, so they believe you’re on board with Petra and the babes. It seemed smart… The alternative would have kept you tied up for hours, maybe days, and the ship grounded.”
“I see. I see that… PETRA!” I screamed into the semi darkness. “Get the babes, get ready, we have to go now!” I spoke back into the headset, realized I was still holding it and dropped it to the floor. I tapped my wrist twice and turned on my personal link system. “Where will you be?” I asked Tom.
“Space gate ten. I had to move to the ready line… Fifteen ahead of us right now.”
I nodded, realized the camera link was off, ”We’ll be there in a n hour tops… Depending.” I clicked off and began stripping off my sleepwear so I could get dressed.
We had prepared for this possibility, although we had both believed the government propaganda. Both believed it would be solved. Still Tom had warned it might not be true. The people he had been in contact with said otherwise. The people he had spoken to said the hole could not be fixed, reversed, repaired, it was over. This had happened on many other planets, a few in our system. It was like the great reset button in the sky, and when it was over everything on Earth would die off. The atmosphere would leave completely. Then, a few million years in the future something would shift in the great mystery that was the universe and the whole thing would start over agin. The atmosphere would slowly reestablish itself, then life would reawaken from the frozen seas and it would begin to establish domain once more. Maybe. On some worlds that had not been the case. On Mars the atmosphere had been lost and they had not been able to reestablish it. They had nearly perished before they had managed to reestablish themselves on Earth. And Earth’s peoples had not known that had happened until the discovery of the ship that had bought the seeds of humanity from Mars to Earth all those years before, in the Ice of Antarctica.
Global warming. If not for global warming Standard would not have been in Antarctica exploring at that particular day when the warm winds had expose d the hull of Mayosythia from its frozen tomb. Mayosythia, the pictures and grainy video had been on the news channels for months and then suddenly the story had disappeared from the headlines and a few years later Standard had invented Starlight Drive. Probably not a coincidence, Mike thought now. He was surprised at the random thoughts running through his mind as he hopped, one boot on, one in his hand and finally made the bedroom door.
The bedroom looked like a hurricane had swept through it. The babes were both on the wide bed, quiet, well behaved, a new game they most likely thought. Petra’s eyes met his own, wide frightened.
“Tom has it worked out. We are prepped and on standby to launch. We have plenty of time to get there, Petra… We do.”
I went to a console in the wall, punched in the names Tom had given me and downloaded the ID we would need if we were stopped. I looked around, there was nothing else here that we needed. Petra gathered the babes as I grabbed the two backpacks she had stuffed full of essentials for the babes and we rushed through the kitchen and into the service port lights going on and off before and after us, tracking our progress. The babes wide eyed and babbling baby-talk as we went: Excited for the new adventure.
I checked the charge meter, three quarters, more than enough. I punched in the kill code and shut down the juice port on the old runner. Three minutes later we were hovering in the air, rising slowly up through the top of the service port, the port yawning wider as we rose, and finally breaking clear of the port and rising above the house into the darkness of early morning L.A. That was when I saw the pup I had bought home for the babes just two days before. The pup to raise with the babes, looking up at me from the rear yard area. Body wriggling.
“It’ll die,” Petra said as if reading my thoughts.
“I know.” I set the runner down on the lawn, levered my door-lock open and ran through the house to the rear yard attachment. The pup came running, her whole body squirming with happiness, as if she knew she had just won the lottery. I picked he up and tucked her inside my shirt. She curled against my stomach. Tucked her nose into her tail and seemed instantly to drift off into sleep before I made it back to the runner.
Petra looked at the small bulge in my shirt.
“Makes you look fat,” she laughed in spite of everything, the fear and tension she must have felt.
“Let’s hope so,” I said. I felt the pup move as I lifted into the air and accelerated into the dark skies.
It had taken forever but we had made it to Space Gate ten with no incidents of note. Considering what we had expected and the shock we were operating under it was amazing that my flying, the unauthorized flight, none of it had caused suspicions or alerted anyone. The shock came when I saw what awaited us at Gate Ten. Not Star Dancer, the intra-crusier we owned and operated, but one of the larger, newer ships. A Fed ship. She was unmarked. No name graced the curve of her bow. Her viewports were black and rose stories into the air. My heart sank, but I tapped my wrist anyway.
“Tom,” I called. I had little hope. Tom was probably already in a holding cell waiting for the Feds to pick him up. Marva’s voice came to me.
“You will be coming around to bay sixteen,” her voice said. “We’ve been expecting this delivery… You’re a little late, be glad I don’t place you on report… Stand by… Disengage engines…”
I tapped the control sticks and let the runner drift momentarily. The digital tug line caught us and we began moving sideways and down the front of the ship. Marva said nothing else. Petra and I both sat silent as we were maneuvered around the giant ship. Her thoughts probably a mirror of my own, what next? What had happened to our own ship? Where was Tom?
It took more than twenty minutes to make the trip down and across one side of the ship. We finally slipped under one Starlight pod and a yawning chasm of a hanger opened before us. I saw no one.
“Shut down your engines please.” It was an automated voice. The ships computer. The runner slowed to a crawl and made its way inside the hanger.
“All passengers must remain on vessel until the atmosphere has been restored. Leaving your vessel at any time prior to the restoration of…” The voice stopped and then began again. “Atmosphere has been restored. You have been cleared to leave your vessel once ship personnel arrive to facilitate disembarking. United Planet Technologies thanks you for shipping with us.”
“First damn thing I’m going to do is gut that voice system,” Tom said.
I laughed. I had had no idea that I had been so scared, so nervous. Beside me one of the babes pulled away from nursing and giggled. Petra soothed her.
“Jesus, Tom… What happened. What is this ship? Where is Star Dancer?”
“Happoed,” the baby giggled.
“Terrica, you said a word!” I became all melted and soft at once. Something about your baby speaking will do that.
“Jerrica,” Petra corrected.
“Jerrica,” I corrected. I was not my first time making the mistake and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Hopefully I would get it right long before they were old enough for it to be a big deal. “Jerrica,” I said again. Terrica looked at her sister as if she knew perfectly well who she was.
I glanced out the window and saw a smooth wall part and make an opening into the interior of the ship. Tom and Marva came through with a half dozen others, all crew I remembered. I released the door-locks and we stepped from the runner onto the ship.
The conversation lasted well into the morning, concluding just before takeoff with me on the bridge with Tom and Petra at the navigation station where she had always been on the old Star Dancer.
Star Dancer Two
The answers were not so complicated. Tom, Marva and Petra had signed the papers for the new ship weeks before. It was a surprise and would have come to us completely ready for flight had the world not taken a sudden turn.
They had moved her from dry-dock. Some interior work left unfinished: Her name as yet not on her bow. These were things that could wait, as far as the Feds were concerned. Wait for a time when things on Earth were not so volatile. They had commissioned her with nothing more than database entries, no official words or ceremony. As it turned out Star Dancer Two was the last ship ever commissioned from Earth. From anywhere in the Federated system, for all any of them knew.
She was preflight tested. Tom himself had captained her. She was loaded with Fed materials for a new colony. Star Dancer and nine other ships under command of Dancer Two had left the day before. Even though Star Dancer was a fast ship, with our speed difference we would catch her in a matter of weeks and assume command of the fleet. The shocking news had come later in the flight. The news of what our cargo and destination really was: The news that there had been no mistakes, no carelessness. The Feds had known we were off planet and they had made sure that we had made it back to the ship.
We were less than two full days into our flight when Earth became a fireball and all communications with the planet failed. Subsequently all communications with colonies and bases in the Federated system failed as well. All of it had been routed through Earth or Mars. We had no way of knowing what had happened on Mars, but something serious enough to shut the relays down. Mars had gone silent: Communications became loose messaging systems between the other ten ships ahead of us….
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