New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
"What?" Tom asked as he approached Evan and overheard his exclamation.
Evan turned, surprised at Tom's presence. Grimacing, he explained, "The reports on the latest news release from the government. That has got to be a masterpiece of obtuse stupidity. How in the world those bureaucrats figure they can keep dropping hints of a continually worsening prospect for large scale destruction from the comet and not expect wholesale panic is beyond me."
'It does rather suggest that more and more people are going to be heading for the hills."
"The government's credibility must have reached an all time low with that one."
“The only thing I can think of that is preventing worldwide panic is the age-old natural skepticism of people."
"I don't know, Tom. Most people leap off the deep end on the slightest hint of a rumor. Someone only has to mention the possibility of a shortage of antifreeze in the middle of June and you'll have a wholesale rush on it."
"I know, but in this case I would suspect that it's just too immense. The size of the catastrophe is not within the realm of most people's thinking. They won't be able to accept it. It violates their paradigms in so many ways that it's almost easier to just bury their heads in the sand."
"You're probably right, Evan admitted, as he continued to inspect the exterior of the enclave. "Meanwhile, we've just about finished with number three. That's the good news. The bad news is that we've hardly begun on number five, and number six won't be here for another week."
"Keep in mind that we've got more people on the way."
"We're going to need them." Then, after a moment, “In any case, I've got to get back to work before I get a mutiny on my hands.” With that, Evan started up the ladder that led into the interior of the enclave.
Tom turned away just in time to see a narrow avalanche of dust moving toward the site. Puzzled by the fact that few of the people at the site ever used the ‘back road', he walked toward the parking lot area to meet the approaching car. He reached the area just as an apparently fully loaded rental truck pulled up. It was Larry Scott and a woman that Tom did not recognize.
"Larry! Great to see you! How did your trip go?"
“Great! Picked up a couple of winners. One's an old friend of mine, named George Frederick. He's been in various security organizations, Army, CIA, etcetera. Then one day he got fed up and became an insurance salesman. I found him in a small town in Louisiana. I figure he'll be useful as a security chief for the site, at least for the moment. For later on, I know him to be one hell of a resourceful guy.”
Tom glanced across the car to where the woman sat, gathering things in the seat and putting them into a sack. "Sounds fine. Who else?"
Larry glanced upward, thinking. "Ted Andrews, another old friend. He's sort of a jack-of-all-trades." Before he could continue, he noticed Sally beside him. Tom had already been watching her approach. Scott smiled, "Oh yes, and this is Sally Hammond. Sally, this is Tom Griffith. I think I may have mentioned his name already." He grinned even more and put an arm around her.
Sally smiled and turned to Tom. "Nice to meet you, Tom." When Tom had introduced himself, she added, Then to Sally, "Why don't I grab the rest of the stuff and put it away?"
"Great," Scott acknowledged. "Try the third shack over there -- the one with my name on it. If you don't mind.”
Sally smiled, "I don't mind." She then excused herself, and set off for the small building.
Tom watched her walk away. Turning back to Larry, he asked, "Who is she?" But Scott was continuing to watch Sally as she walked toward the building. He smiled as if pondering some marvelous secret. Griffith hardly noticed. "Scott! Are you going to tell me who she is?"
Scott glanced back at the professor. His look and tone implied that it was obvious. "She with me," he said simply.
"Oh?" Griffith's head tilted slightly, trying to understand. "What about Linda, your wife?"
Scott frowned. "Actually, Linda won't be joining us."
"You're leaving your wife?" Tom asked, incredulous.
Scott grimaced as he studied Griffith's face with the compassion worthy of a monk. Then, trusting his instincts, he began to let out the feelings that had never reached another human being. It was with sudden relief that he said,"Linda's no longer my wife. In some respects, she never was. Certainly we've lived together, eaten together, and had sex together. And children.” Hesitantly he added, "But she's never really been my wife. That's because my wife must love me. Someone once said that 'woe be to the man who marries a woman who does not love him with a passion', or words to that effect. And that's what was missing in Linda. She never passionately loved me."
Scott hesitated, trying to gauge Tom's reaction. Tom only looked at him. He didn't frown or laugh, he seemed only trying to understand. Encouraged, Scott continued, "In all the twelve years of our marriage, Linda never once made love to me. Oh, sure, she allowed me to make love to her. And she responded, she wasn't frigid or anything. But she never made love to me. She went through some of the motions, let's face it, she had arouse me enough to at least complete the act. But she never really held me as if she never wanted to let go. She cared absolutely nothing for the touch of my body. “A smile crossed Scott's lips. Then, with a grin, "That sounds stupid, I suppose, but God, what I would have given if she had once snuggled up to me as if she wanted to just hold her body against mine! But she never did."
"There's a lot more to love than just sex." Griffith was thinking of Linda, feeling that he had to say something.
Scott nodded. "Sure. But sex is the most beautiful act of love. And when one never makes love to another or, for that matter, never even tries, then I have to believe that there is no love. And that the other, quote, acts of love, unquote, are really based on entirely different motivations. Linda may have thought she loved me but her definition involved only duty, just going through the motions.”
Scott dropped his gaze to the ground. With compassionate regret, he said, "She never tried. In twelve years of marriage, she never once tried. She never held me for the sheer joy of holding me. She never kissed me for the thrill of kissing me." Suddenly the regret turned to a cynical grin as Scott looked up at Griffith. "In twelve years she kissed me a total of two times. Can you believe that? Twice! And both on the same night. In one night she planted two kisses on me that really turned me on. Two kisses! In twelve years! And you want to hear the clincher? That was the night she wasn't feeling well and didn't want to have any sex. The kisses were in lieu of sex. Can you imagine? She put everything she had into two kisses so that I would roll over and play dead. And all it did for me was to drive me up the wall with desire."
"Did it occur to you that she may not have known or didn't understand? Did you consider the possibility that she may have had problems and needed a little help?"
"Oh she had problems. She quite readily admitted to that. But she did absolutely nothing to overcome them. I tried every subterfuge, every strategy I could think of, but she wouldn't have it. She utterly refused to even try. She could not even imagine getting professional help since that might have tarnished the social image she held of herself. My God; it was frustrating!"
Griffith began to sense the emotional depth of Scott's thoughts. It seemed clear that the dye was cast.
"In all fairness, I suppose I should recall that I was hardly the fantastic lover in our first few years. But I tried like hell to improve. I cared. And I think I did. She always seemed to get more out of it."
"Where is Linda now?" Griffith had now come back to the practical.
“She's back home with her folks.”
“Does she know your intentions?”
“No. I couldn't see the sense in telling her. Patrick and Cheryl are going with me in the enclave. I doubt that she'd give up the kids if I confronted her directly with that possibility. It wouldn't be socially acceptable. Right now I'm planning it so that she will be sufficiently delayed in getting back from her folks and that she'll never know my true intentions. She'll probably die thinking that I'm true blue and taking care of the kids. She'll then be able to do the motherslant-wife sacrifice bit.
Griffith frowned. “I don't know, Scott. That's pretty rough. Some might even say sleazy.”
“But it's your orders.”
“Let's face it: You know as well as I do that she'd be more of a liability than an asset. Sure she's a hard charger now. But wait until she runs out of her medicine and her migraines take over. She'll be out of commission twenty-four hours a day. She'd be an absolute dead weight. And invalids we don't need.”
“I can agree with the logic of not bringing someone who is dependent upon some medication, but I'm not sure that it's your right to make the decision. A unilateral action of this sort is questionable at best. I would think that the decision is the groups'.
“In other words, my choice of a mate is dependent upon the will of the community?”
“Don't be an ass! It's a question of who decides who goes in the enclaves and who doesn't.”
“Fine, and when you take Linda's case under review, be sure and include Michele Voulers' as well.”
Tom was thunderstruck. “Michele? What the hell are you talking about?”
“I take it you've not met Melissa."
"Melissa Marsten, George's new woman. Or, as he likes to phrase it, 'his companion'. George will be arriving with her in a few days. Michele will be at home thinking her husband's in Australia for a special and conveniently long conference."
"Oh my God! I don't believe it.”
"Believe it. It's a fact of life. And it's just a trifle illogical to expect people to stand by choices that were made in totally different circumstances. When the rules of the world change, there has got to be some changes or modifications of those previous choices."
Griffith, with his forefinger massaging his upper lip, seemed half convinced but still very concerned. "How do you expect the other wives to react?"
"I don't expect anything. As far as anyone's concerned, Linda just didn't make it. As for Sally, she's just another single who can help in the work. If we get together later, that's just practical. And if they do suspect, maybe they'll just take it as a compliment that their husbands invited them along."
"Okay then, I'll go along with you. And I suppose with George as well." Griffith was, above all things, practical. We'll just say that she's a prospect you ran across. By the way, does she have any particular qualifications?"
Scott jerked his head up, unbelievingly. Then a broad smile crossed his face. Griffith half-smiled and glanced in Sally's direction. "I mean other than the obvious?"
"She's a sculptress. Bronzes. And because of that she's become an accomplished welder and had a tool and machine room in her garage which was the envy of the neighborhood -- said tools and machines being now here on site in this rental truck. She is also very, very good at manufacturing tools, and knows a great deal of metalurgical chemistry. Overall she has more practical, hands on skills than most of the men here.” With that, Scott smiled and went to join Sally.
Tom watched him for a moment, once again amazed at the intricacies of people. Two days ago he had talked to Sarah Ryker, who had relayed a totally contradictory story. According to Sarah, Scott had asked her to try to reach Linda, to explain about the comet. Sarah had left the fray shaken and stunned. Linda had rebuffed Sarah, an old and dear friend, so completely that Sarah had doubted her own self. When she had told Scott of Linda's intractability, Scott had only sighed and quietly thanked her.
What amazed Tom was the unapologetic story that Scott had just relayed. The complexity of people's motives and actions was a complete puzzlement to Tom. Why should Scott burden himself with Linda's problem when it seemed to gain so little? And, at the same time, why should Scott maintain the objectivity to do the most logical, if not the most dutiful, thing? Perhaps Scott felt he could do what was best for him as long as he accepted additional guilt for his action.
Tom was not sure he would ever completely understand, but he knew that he would have to try. To lead people one must understand them.
Nancy Lomas pulled the medicine cabinet shut and put a seal on it. Enclave number one was now ready for occupancy, or at least the medical part. Her latest task completed, she glanced around the interior of the enclave. Nancy smiled as she recalled her husband's enthusiastic description of the unit. Apparently he was still an engineer at heart.
She knew from his detailed discussion the basic shell structure of the enclaves consisted of two concentric geodesic spheres using steel “I”' beams as the structural members. The interior sphere included steel plates welded to the structural beams to form a leak tight shell. Between the two spheres were heavy equipment items which were considered useful but which were in the worst case expendable. The primary purpose of the outer shell was to act as a buffer and the first line of defense if the enclave was crushed.
The inner geodesic sphere was of the same design as several oil companies had utilized for living domes in very cold climates. Many of the interior compartments and storage racks were unmodified. In addition, the group had taken advantage of several features which had been designed for underwater structures intended to be established on the continental shelf (but never constructed due to a lack of funds).
The primary addition by the group to the interior had been the flexible nylon scaffolding which allowed easy access to any part of the enclave, no matter what the position of the enclave was. In addition, all compartments were hinged in order to get to the contents, even when the compartment was directly overhead. The people themselves would be carried in hammock-like harnesses which could be readjusted for any orientation.
It looked very sound and safe, Nancy thought. Provided, of course, we finish everything in time, she reprimanded herself. Knowing it was time to quit daydreaming, she moved to the lower hatch and down the ladder. At the bottom her husband Jim and Mike Brownson were both standing and looking toward another of the enclaves.
"What's so interesting?" she inquired, half-mockingly. She could see Sally Hammond in the distance.
“Oh, nothing much,” her husband answered.
“Depends on your viewpoint,” corrected Mike. “Looks great from here!”
“I don't mean to break your heart, Mike,” Nancy said, “But I'm afraid that she belongs to Larry Scott.”
“What the hell? Isn't he married?” Mike was only slightly shocked.
Nancy simply shrugged. “All I know is that she's made her choice.”
“Did she tell you?”
Nancy looked at her husband, wondering how he could so easily have missed the obvious. “This whole community lives in trailers with paper-thin walls, and you have to ask how I figured it out?”
Jim grinned. “I like to think of myself as above gossip and eavesdropping.”
Mike then added, “Us males don't make it a point to know all the secrets.”
Nancy smiled, with a calm seriousness, “You know, I wouldn't have thought that I could care about knowing someone else's secrets or even be concerned if they knew all of mine. But lately I've begun to like the idea.”
Her husband looked at her, his eyes frowning as if over a pair of spectacles.
“No, I'm serious. I can feel closer to someone whom I know about, and where I can better understand why they do the things they do.”
Mike seemed to agree. “The essence of community is knowing a little dirt on your neighbor.”
“Bullshit!” Jim was not convinced.
"No, really,” Mike replied. “When people in a community all know each other's secrets, they are in a much better position to understand each other. They are able to develop a mutual pact between themselves and, in many respects, derive a sense of responsibility for their neighbor. The total stranger is the person whose secrets you don't know and whom you must be careful not to open up to. If he discovers your secrets without revealing his, he has you at a major disadvantage."
“Why, Mike, I never realized you could be so sensitive." Nancy's smile was very real.
Mike grinned. Feeling a need to recapture his 'devil may care' attitude, he added, "I'm also a great lover."
But Nancy was too quick. "But Mike, that's not what I've heard.”
Jim doubled over with laughter, held his wife in a victory hug, and, in the midst of hilarity, began to sense a feel of home.
Chapter Six -- Civil Servants
Chapter Eight -- A Cast of Characters
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