Pull the trigger, dummy.
Alvin looked at the face at the end of the barrel’s sight and wondered why the face was there.
Alvin’s hesitation allowed the face to flee. The other behind him went quickly off in the other direction. Alvin jerked around and pointed the gun at the runaway. The street lights showed him clearly. It was an easy target even though it was moving quickly.
Pull the trigger.
The second man who was under the lights disappeared between two houses. Somebody’s dog barked. Alvin wheeled and pointed the gun down the sidewalk where the first had fled. But there was no one now to be seen.
Alvin stood on the quiet street, arm still outstretched and stiff, gun pointing one way and back the other, his finger firm on the twelve-pound trigger.
He calmed. He felt the humidity. He listened to the crickets chant. And he absorbed the stillness.
Note to the Mother Ship
If I carry my gun, it’s simply a matter of time before I kill someone, whether they deserve it or not.
“Two?” Rika said to the Denny’s hostess.
Alvin slid into one side of the booth and Rika the other. It was after midnight so Alvin ordered breakfast. Rika ordered a club sandwich.
“Oh, my God,” Rika said, having glanced behind her about twenty feet. “Oh, my God. Do you see who that is sitting in that booth back there?”
“What? No. It’s Thomas Finzi. That must be his wife with him. He’s in town for the Democratic debate. But what’s he doing here? What are they doing having breakfast at Denny’s?”
“Denny’s is good enough for us but not them?”
“I’d think if they were hungry they’d have their food chauffeured to the hotel or something. Oh, God. He’s great. I think he’s great.”
“Even if he eats at Denny’s?”
“Well, all the more so. Shows he’s down to earth. I have to go meet him and if I don’t I might explode. What do you think?”
“Oh, oh, a man just stopped by their table.”
The man leaned over, almost bowing, and shook Senator Finzi’s hand.
“See,” said Rika. “They’re fine with people coming up to them. They’re politicians, they expect that. I’m going to go say hello to him. I’ve got to wait for that guy to leave, though.”
“Let them eat in peace,” Alvin said.
“They’re done. Look. They’re just having coffee now.”
“Three eggs over easy, muffins, bacon, and hash browns,” said the waitress, putting down the platter in front of Alvin. “Club and slaw,” she said, putting the other platter in front of Rika.
“Thank you!” Rika beamed.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“Thanks, no, everything’s fine,” Rika said with a smile.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Alvin said.
“Enjoy your meal.”
“Thank you,” Rika said, but then as the waitress left she immediately turned and looked intensely at Alvin. “Should I? Now?” She glanced back at the other couple, then back to Alvin. “I think they’re almost done. I think they may be ready to leave. I should go. Right now, don’t you think?”
“I should wait?”
“Yes. For a really long time.”
She looked back at the senator and his wife, then to Alvin. “I really want to meet this person. I am not a bold person. I am confused.” She closed her eyes and took quick short breaths. “I need strength. This is a moment in my life. I will not let it pass me by by being polite and un-obnoxious.” She opened her eyes and looked at Alvin. “Support me here. I need courage.”
“I support you. Take a shot of orange juice.”
“Good idea.” She downed the short glass of juice and put the glass back on the table with firm commitment. “Here I go.”
She journeyed forth.
Alvin watched what he assumed would be a polite and quick howdy-do with Rika then returning to the table so that they would finish their respective meals in tandem. But that didn’t happen. Three minutes passed. ‘That’s an entire song,’ Alvin thought. ‘This is running long. We’ve passed flattering fan and are now at annoying presence.’ He tried to will her back to the table with a remote mind meld. ‘Rika…come!’ he said loudly in his mind. He started on his second egg as he watched Rika apparently unload every opinion she had about how the world works and how it should work upon Senator Finzi. He considered whistling her back, as the mind meld was in vain, but realized that might not be appreciated. There was only thing left to do: get up and go get her. He sighed, then scooted out of the booth.
The gentle and hypnotic bouncing ball of light on Mil’s monitor exploded into pieces. Then came a blinding light that covered the entire screen. She jerked her head away to the side and in a reflex action narrowed her eyes for protection. It lasted for just seconds, then in its place returned the single ball of light but now not bouncing and simply moving left to right in a straight line. And along with it came a loud, piercing, unending beep.
“What the hell?!” shouted Abesset.
“I don’t know! I don’t know!”
“We need to call Taus!”
“Right. Right. Yes.”
“Go get him. I’ll stay here.”
Mil ran through hall, into the elevator, departed four levels up, and then ran through the next seemingly endless corridor to Taus’s chamber. She banged hard and long on the door.
“What is it?” Taus asked nervously, opening the door while still putting on his robe.
“We don’t know,” Mil said. “The screen flatlined. The alarm went off.”
Parma Das got out of bed, threw on her robe and came quickly up behind her husband. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Taus said. “I want you to stay here.”
Mil and Taus rushed down the hall.
“Get ahold of Vensentra and Bolia and tell them to meet me in 621 right now,” Taus told the other.
“Right.” Mil pulled out her communicator and started to make the calls as Taus ran on.
He rushed into room 621 and stood before the flatlined screen. Abesset tensely stared at the unwavering pattern before him as well. The two others that had been summoned wasted no time in arriving and along with Mil now stood apprehensively behind Taus.
“What does it mean?” asked Taus.
“I don’t know,” said Abesset.
“What do you think it means?”
“There’s no brain activity being received. Nothing. Just nothing.”
Taus took a deep breath. “He’s dead?”
Abesset was greatly hesitant to speak. But did. “Maybe.”
“Alvin’s dead?” Taus repeated.
Abesset chose not to answer the question again.
“There was something else,” said Mil.
“A burst from Dora One, just before the flatline.”
“A discharge, like the one before?” Taus asked.
“Bigger than that. A burst.”
Taus sat behind his desk in his chamber. Just staring at the middle of it. Vensentra and Parma Das sat near him while Bolia stood behind them.
“I’m sorry,” Vensentra said.
“Can I get you a drink?” asked Bolia.
“Yes,” said Taus. “Thank you.”
Bolia opened the cupboard where Taus kept the tivot and poured two ounces in a glass. “Here you go,” he said, setting it gently on the desk.
“Thank you,” Taus said, picking it up and drinking. He drained the glass, put it down, closed his eyes tightly for moment and let out a desperate breath. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe we were so close to the end…and…and this.”
Parma Das looked at her husband. “Can we somehow bring Alvin’s Zaronsky’s body back?”
Taus just shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Dora One doesn’t work separately from Alvin; they work together. Dora One has no data storage capacity. Alvin does. His brain. If Alvin’s dead, his brain is dead. There’s nothing for Dora One to draw on. There’s no data. There’s nothing to evaluate. And there’s nothing Dora One can tell us. Everything that was observed, is now gone.”
Parma Das had been standing beside her husband, occasionally stroking the back of his hand with her fingertips as it rested on his desk. Now she felt a great weight that caused her to disengage, back up to a chair, and just drop herself on it for support. She clutched her hands, rested them on her knees, leaned forward, and stared at the floor.
Mil didn’t bother to knock and pushed the door open with such force that it knocked the floor lamp behind it into the wall where it bounced off and crashed to the floor. “Alvin’s alive! Alvin’s alive! We’ve got a reading! Alvin woke up! Alvin woke up!”
Taus leapt up from behind his desk and shook his fists in the air. “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Alvin opened his eyes and looked up at the faces of the eight people looking down at him. He felt great. He didn’t know why he felt great, but he didn’t think about it either. He just felt great. But he couldn’t recall having had this much attention in his life. So, this was great. He was also moving. Possibly levitating. This made it even greater. Then he took a little nap.
When he woke up from his nap he noticed that he didn’t have any clothes on. He also didn’t feel nearly as great as when he was on the magic carpet moving platform. There were two nurses on either side of him.
“So, we’re gonna come up now, okay?” one said.
“Okay,” Alvin said, though, he had no idea why this might be a good idea or what the reason was or for that matter where he was.
“Here we go,” and both nurses took hold of either arm and stood him upright.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Alvin screamed, as he experienced more pain than he—or seemingly any other human being—had ever been in, as the bruised cartilage in his chest wall scraped over the end of a rib. “God damn it! That really hurt!”
“Hi-i,” said Rika brightly, appearing in the doorway, just having witnessed Alvin’s triple-fuck exclamation but not entirely sure where to go next. “How are we doing?” she added, again with a wishfully optimistic tone.
“Hi,” Alvin groaned back. He reached to the back of his head and felt the hair completely matted. “My head’s all crusty.”
“It’s blood,” Rika informed. “There was blood everywhere. You just went out like a light and hit your head on the table. They had to close Denny’s because there was so much blood everywhere.”
He took a deep breath. “They just picked me up. God, it was just incredibly painful.”
“Yeah, I heard that,” she said and came close to him. “Where?”
Alvin lifted up his gown and pointed to the spot. Though still under the skin, his bottom rib protruded out from the rest of him. “Oh, my God, what the hell is this? I have a pointy rib.”
“Oh, well, hm,” said Rika, “That seems, not normal.”
Alvin stroked the pointy rib with the ends of his fingers, petted it, lowered his shirt, then let his fingertips continue to gently comfort and monitor the injury while the rest of him moved on. “What happened?”
“You came up to the table. Then dropped like a sack of potatoes. It was like someone unplugged you. You hit your head on a table. Really hard. Senator Finzi was the first one to get to you. We thought you were dead. Then you came to but you were really violent. Senator Finzi grabbed you from behind and, like, bear hugged you. You were like a maniac.”
“Then what? I went out again?”
“There were a couple paramedics there already. Somebody called. You’d just been lying on the floor unconscious for a really long time. Then you got up, like, you just woke up and suddenly launched yourself off the floor. You were uncontrollable—yelling, trying to hit people, screaming at people—like, actually just screaming, shrieking, like an animal. That’s when Senator Finzi grabbed you. Then one of the paramedics grabbed you too and then the other one gave you a shot of ketamine. Then you went out again.”
Alvin managed to stand. A medical looking male person came in. “How are we doing?” he asked with no inflection or assumption that Alvin might be doing just swell, but to the contrary seemed concerned that Alvin was even standing by himself.
“Fine, I think,” Alvin said. “Can I go home now?”
“We think it might be better if you spent the night.”
To Alvin that was not an option. “No, I’m fine,” he said. He took a step forward and swayed. First forward and back, then left and right.
“Alvin,” Rika said, “You should spend the night here.”
Alvin looked at the medical person. “Do I have to?”
“No, you don’t have to. It would be a good idea.”
Rika took hold of Alvin’s arm. “Stay here tonight. I’ll stay with you.” She turned to the medical person. “Is that okay? Can I get a cot or something?”
About every two hours Alvin woke up and saw six people standing around him in white scrubs. They’d only put on a little wall light so as not to be too disruptive. They came and went like ghosts. They’d be there, then they wouldn’t be there. And while he knew they weren’t ghosts, even though they seemed liked ghosts, he knew they were real medical people checking in on him on a regular basis. And it caused him to have a nice sense of security while at the same time causing him to think, ‘This is going to be really expensive.’
When they weren’t there, a little light still came through under the door. And in the dim light Alvin could see Rika turned away and on her side, covered up in a single blanket and asleep on the cot just a few feet away. And that made everything not terrible.
Cathy set her book down on top of the big boulder and then hoisted herself up. The boulder was forty yards from her truck and about twenty from the lake. It was high enough to serve as a throne and low enough so as to not require much effort to mount. She perched and her legs dangled down the front. She commenced for the moment of not reading, but rather of watching her favorite show: sunset.
The breeze took periodic hold of her normally neatly parted hair and rearranged it across her face. She made no effort to push wayward strands away from her eyes, but instead allowed her hair the freedom to drift where it wanted. That was part of the show too. That was part of being in The Now. There is nothing finer than being in The Now, she thought. Presently, the Earth, the lake, the majestic crowns of the trees, the orange sky, the unseen but audible birds around her, and the little patches of dirt was The Now. And it was all so, so pretty. Even the dirt. She didn’t feel like an observer of all that was pretty, but rather a part of it, like being in a painting rather than looking at it. She slowly scanned from left to right. She nodded her head in approval. “I could live here,” she whispered. She nodded again and smiled. “Forever.”
She picked up her book. It was Unfollow: A memoir of loving and leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, by Megan Phelps-Roper. She looked long at the cover—as she always did—focusing on the photograph of the young smiling author in mittens, scarf, and wool hat, holding a sign over her head that said OBEY GOD. The composition produced not an emotion, but simply an inexplicable fascination.
The reason for the fascination again unresolved, Cathy flipped through until finding the page where she’d left off. Today it was page 127, chapter 6, The Appearance of Evil. She would read for ten minutes or so, then take a break and see how things were progressing with the Earth, the sunset. Each thing got the same amount of time: ten minutes book, ten minutes Earth. Back and forth.
She noticed a garden spider crawling across her pants during an Earth break. She watched it for a while to see what it was up to. When she felt it was up to no good—given that it was moving vertically upward as opposed to the acceptable horizonal or path heading to the stern, Cathy put her hand out and created a magic carpet for the spider, then flew it to the nearby grass and encouraged it to disembark with a gentle tap, tap, tap. It didn’t leap away from her hand, but rather dropped a rope and started climbing down. Then it stopped and started climbing back up. Cathy waved her hand a bit. “Let go already,” she said. Which it finally did. She returned to her throne rock.
A young couple approached from the left, walking by the water. The woman held the hand of a toddler. Dawdling and goofing off behind the family was a yellow Labrador retriever. As they passed in front of Cathy, the male greeted her with, “Evening!”
“Hi,” Cathy returned with a smile. The female with the toddler, now having taken note of Cathy on her rock also returned with a cheerful, “Hi.”
‘They seem very nice,’ Cathy thought.
The dog then took note of Cathy. It bounded toward her with vehemence and seemingly with purpose, shouting as it came quickly forward with fearsome yells of, “Hey! Hey! Hey!”
Cathy slid off the rock with the finesse and urgency of a crocodile and stood stiffly. She shoved her right hand into her pants pocket and took firm hold of her knife. She tightly squeezed the handle and the release button. But it remained in her pocket.
“Brandy!” the male shouted. “Brandy, no! Brandy, come!” And he bolted toward the dog.
The dog paid no mind and established a position just feet from Cathy, continuing its loud vocals. Cathy stood her ground and so did the dog. With her hand in one pocket, on the switchblade, she stretched out the other arm and wiggled her fingers at the dog. “Hello! Hello! Hello!” she loudly greeted, but with a tone of “Go away! Go away! Go away!” While her right hand prepared for an unappealing though committed defense, her left hand’s happy wiggling fingers were simultaneously negotiating a peace agreement.
The man grabbed Brandy by the collar. “I’m so sorry!” he sincerely said to Cathy. “She wouldn’t hurt you. She just wanted to say hi.”
“Oh, I know,” Cathy said, offering an agreeable smile. But she didn’t really know.
The man rejoined his wife and the troupe moved on along the shore. Cathy climbed back on her rock, but she eyeballed them till they—and their dog—were out of sight. She looked back at the nice scene that she had been a part of up until the last minute. It calmed her. She sighed and widened her eyes. “Well, that was interesting.”
She picked up her book again and read some more. Then looked at the lake some more. Then read some more.
The crickets were starting to pipe up, which she liked, but it was now getting dark and thunder could be heard not far off and she didn’t want to risk her book getting wet. She closed it and walked back to the truck camper.
Inside it, she stopped at what was referred to in the camper industry as the “dining room” and looked through the stack of DVD’s on the little table that she’d most recently gotten from Barnes and Noble. She read each back. She pulled her knife from her pocket, released the blade with its usual threatening yet pleasing flash and click given you’re the one holding it, and carefully cut the plastic seam on Mommie Dearest, as well removing all the extraneous tape. She found this over-long and tedious, causing her to roll her eyes during the process and simply utter, “Why?” After she read the insert on Mommie Dearest, she closed up the case with a dismissive, “Hm,” then put all the DVD’s back in a neat order on top of each other. She crawled up and onto her bed over the cab. She opened the side storage and took out a portable DVD player, shuffled through a few DVD’s that were in there with it, and took one out. She laid on her back, put the DVD player on her stomach, and inserted her selection for the evening: Despicable Me 2.