All the Ships at Sea
Premiered 9/9/9 (9 September 2009)
The continuation of The Myth and Legend of D'PTah, an original novel by Dan Sewell Ward.
All the Ships at Sea
Jianyu Yongrui smiled in his typical manner, the one with the corners of his mouth only slightly raised and at the same time combined with the subtlest of a twinkling in his eyes. Désirée had promised him a surprise, and then she had proceeded to be industriously hard at work packing some of their most precious possessions. She had been very mysterious about it all, but had managed to give him just enough smiles to assure him that change... and whatever was happening... was good.
For some time now, there had been more than a few doubts on the part of Jianyu as to where it was all leading... the wars, the plagues, the blatant signs of man's inhumanity to man. Jianyu had more than a few times become distracted by the possibilities of disaster (worldwide, local, and very close to home). But then, without Désirée having said a word, and instead by the sheer presence of her inner change in attitude, there had been a sea change in Jianyu's outlook as well. Something in Désirée's manner was announcing to Jianyu in the loudest and clearest language that optimism was the new coin of their family realm. Jianyu had decided immediately that it was time to take it to the bank.
Désirée had lately been having him pack some of his most recent ideas – mechanical devices that might do any number of things effortlessly. Of course, neither Jianyu nor Désirée had any clear idea at the moment of just exactly what it would be that was to be accomplished by just creative tools. Such considerations depended upon faith in Jianyu's ability, and which over the years had been amply demonstrated to his wife and personal manager more than once. And in the last few days, faith in the future had once again managed to dislodge itself from the endangered species list.
Jianyu had his suspicions about all of Désirée's activities. His best guess was that she was probably getting ready to move them to a new home, one that she had wangled based on Jianyu's technical talents... and of course her own extraordinary skills of Dragon Lady style persuasion. Perhaps she had finally convinced someone that despite his poor grades in tech school – due almost entirely to his inability to take tests and do well in rote memory exercises – that Jianyu Yongrui was in fact quite accomplished. Just by showing off his handiwork, perhaps, she had accomplished a minor miracle. That would be nice, Jianyu thought. But whatever was about to happen... was just as welcome.
Jianyu had begun to wonder if they would be closer or further from their stall at the Great Wall and its -- by now for many of the locals – its Auspicious Rift, the latter being one of the best money-makers in tourist business memory. Jianyu rather hoped any new home would be further from their stall in that the closer accommodations were just not that nice. Besides, business at the Wall had turned somewhat sour of late, despite the season normally being good for tourists.
Jianyu turned to see his wife looking at him quizzically.
“Yes,” he replied simply. Then with a kidding expression, he asked, “Where we going?”
Désirée's face suddenly lit up – something Jianyu could not remember seeing since their wedding day when their expectations for useful work and nice living accommodations were still high.
“We're leaving,” she said. Then enjoying herself, “I thought you'd like a sea voyage.”
Jianyu stepped back. This was really surprising. Jianyu Yongrui had never even seen the sea.
When his wife had thoroughly immersed herself in the expected reaction, she added, “We go to a ship where they know how to use your talents. The ship they call it 'Emily's Tender'.”
She might have continued, but a noise outside told them something extraordinary was about to happen. Opening the door, Désirée was greeted by three men who without a word began loading the six crates allotted the Yongrui family. As soon as the crates were on the truck and they climbed on board as well, along with Small White Dog. [Small White Dog had only recently been officially named and adopted as a family member – although he had been Jianyu's guide for a much longer time.]
It was from their new vantage point that Jianyu turned to look back at the home he had known most of his adult life, the one now clothed in the early morning mist. Then he turned to look at his wife. After a moment's introspection, he smiled – a most genuine and deeply felt smile. Never taking his eyes off of her – and with her attention fully on him as if appreciating the occasion of her husband's attention being completely on her as a singularly rare moment -- Jianyu said, “This good.”
Désirée, having determined that the heavens had indeed opened up, angels had appeared to sing a cappella, and a golden laurel had just been placed on her head... simply and with little fanfare, accepted the compliment. Her acceptance speech was simply, “I got lucky.”
Jianyu smiled broadly. “Me too.”
Désirée was slowly melting, thinking that perhaps she was more in love than ever... or maybe only just now recognizing the love she unaccountably felt for her husband, the kind associated with caring about and for another. Even Small White Dog was a beneficiary... and a benefactor. Something of a revolutionary new brand of family values.
Then Jianyu Yongrui added, with a big grin on his face, “You and Small White Dog both lucky.”
His wife, Sybille Désirée Minzhe Yongrui, laughed uproariously -- love and laughter having always been a dynamic duo – the latter not unlike two Chinese snow peas in a pod.
Sol kept looking over his shoulder. She was still there... despite any remembrances on his part of an exodus from Sodom and Gomorrah. Added to that was the exceptionally nice feature that when she saw him looking at her with something akin to awe, she always smiled. And it was a great smile... the kind that lights up dark places! Sol had never been one to miss out on being in the company of beautiful women, but Maria Emiliano was something else. For one, she was a Christian (aka gentile) from a staunchly Italian family living in the United States. She – or rather her family -- sported the arguably finest Italian restaurant in Chicago. As a consequence her family was financially quite well off. It had been this which had provided the opportunity for Maria to visit Israel on something of a lark, checking out the old haunts of the family's alleged benefactor. It was not that Maria was particularly religiously motivated; that was her parent's department -- the same parents who had officially named their daughter Ave Maria .
Maria was, instead, an independent soul, a fledgling journalist... or novelist... or just a kid taking advantage of her situation. It had been no problem to wangle a first class trip to Israel, albeit her parents did insist on less standard, and therefore presumably safer, accommodations. The idea of taking an apartment in Jaffa had been, one might have thought, a very clever idea on their part. Sometimes, Maria's parents did not understand her at all. Inexplicably, Maria liked being something of a mystery.
When Maria had arrived on Sol's doorstep... his bachelor days had been abruptly and definitively terminated, even if it had taken him nearly two weeks to become aware of the phenomena To begin with, he had assumed the new arrival's non-Jewish state implied that any possible romantic liaisons would be on the endangered species list from the outset. Sol had always been fascinated by different cultures and thus he approached his new tenant with intellectual curiosity... and oblivious to the possible religious cross-fertilization potentials. Furthermore, he had been expecting someone with whom he would have no significant problems... i.e., her rent had been fully prepaid! It was one of the things he loved about Americans and the way they conducted their financial affairs. Obviously... the wages of acquired religious tolerance in the renting of view-apartments can really be quite substantial.
From Maria's perspective, Sol was simply a gorgeous hunk of man... no to mention exotic, unique, and delightfully different from all of the other men in her relatively extensive past. But then after learning from her newly minted tour guide (Sol) about every Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Israel's way-off-the-beaten-path destinations, she had also discovered that Sol was interesting, had a great sense of humor, and after roughly 9 days of near-constant mutual attentions, was a great ecumenical lover. There had also been the singular surprise that Sol had never been circumcised. Maria had found herself not really caring or fully appreciating how Sol had managed such a thing – or that his two parents had had some very original ideas and the good sense never to ever speak of it... or that Sol had never presented himself for a marriage license, whereupon he would have had a Rabbi breathing fire and brimstone until Sol had submitted himself to Jacob's Revenge. Maria, thus, could not help but like the idea of her Jewish Sol being in vogue... so to speak... and in full accordance with the new, Regency-inspired ideals.
What Maria did care about was their future. Accordingly, she had contacted her best friend from college, whose thoroughly Greek father just happened to have an ocean going yacht. Her friend's father, as it turned out, had always been delighted with his daughter's friendship with Maria, his having thought of Maria as delightful company (true!) and a positive influence on his daughter (not quite as true). It is a fact of life that fathers can be very... well... "n a double dot over i v e" -- especially when it comes to anyone's daughter (his or that of others). The truth is that Maria knew how to live life to the fullest! Curiously, she also craved a degree of stability (at least in the form of always being able to live life to the fullest). It was in this way that she understood that social security was never remotely about financial security (which she already had),but about the number and quality of her friends... and of course, her lover.
Thereafter things moved at an exceptional pace. Today was in fact embarkation day, loading from the port of Piraeus, Greece. Maria and Sol had reached the ancient port by a private jet carrying two American embassy big wigs. (Maria's father had some very interesting political connections. Local, well-frequented restaurateurs often do, inasmuch as those in power often greatly appreciate their wine and food preparers... and occasional.. food and drink tasters. Furthermore, said connections were never necessarily confined to a single city, even one as large as Chicago. The Jet Set gets around.)
Sol stepped aboard the SS Argo, stopped, took Ave Maria Emiliano into his arms, and let her know just how much he cared for her. Then Maria's face really lit up -- whereupon she pushed Sol aside (gently), and rushed from his arms in the direction of her best girl friend. Sol, slightly surprised, turned to see where his lady had gone. That's when he saw his new benefactor.
'Wow!' Shaul Isaac Rosenberg thought. 'She's gorgeous, too. And she comes with a yacht? What next? A golden fleece or two?'
Roger had become friends with Raul Rolando when he had begun photographing and documenting the reconstruction efforts at Sacsayhuaman. Raul appreciated Roger's obviously unpaid efforts, and Roger liked Raul's ability to provide a personal tourist service. The fact they could both practice their language skills on one another was simply a bonus. Then there was the similarities in their characters.
Both men had never been spectacularly successful in a capitalistic society, and this fact had provided a bond of sorts. Male bonding really does come in assorted and varied flavors. This particular male bond had made them a formidable duo, and at the same time had also been motivation for Roger to tell Raul about the plans whereby Breanne and he -- upon the completion of her work at the observatory... and very importantly, their hanging around until the last possible moment... were to be airlifted to a waiting ship at sea. The latter part of this announcement had amounted to a serious breech of security on the part of Roger, but he sincerely wanted Raul to have time to prepare his own situation for himself and his loved ones... and just possibly arrange for Raul to hitch a ride with Roger and Brea.
Raul was very appreciate of Roger's gesture, but the sea held no appeal for him. Raul was very much a high altitude man, and he preferred to link his fate with that of Cuzco's. He had, in fact, become something of a local leader. Raul's small group had made the assumption that his ancestors had already survived one Great Flood already – albeit in ancient times – but the principal still applied: Stick to the high ground... the very high ground. Running at ten to fourteen thousand feet elevation, world class flooding is never considered to be that traumatic. The locals had always had ways of dealing with such matters. The rivers were wild beyond the imaginings of most white water rafting companies, but in general any intelligent person could for the most part avoid drowning by staying away from raging waters. This was in fact the old Quechua way.
As part of the same sort of traditions, Raul had taken Roger by the arm, and when their eyes met, had said, “You will, of course, my dear Roger, be protecting Breanne at all costs!”
Roger had felt the intensity of the charge. He answered, “You can count on it.”
“And should you or your lady need anything, at any time, you will call upon me and my family. You will not hesitate to do so. Is that clearly understood?”
“Your English... and your intentions... are very clearly understood,” Roger answered, smiling.
Such camaraderie was not unknown to the Quechua. Helping one another was practically genetic. Furthermore, Raul's people had been cooperatively growing their own food and subsisting almost independently of the outside world for a very long time. When everything was over, and the ships again ventured back to land, the locals would still be there, continuing their days in pretty much the same way they had done for eons. They would even welcome the Sea Peoples, just as they had done in ages past – and despite any of several misadventures arising from one or two of those... slight errors in judgment.
As Roger said to Raul what he assumed would be 'hasta la vista' (and not good bye), he knew with great certainty that moving to Peru and Bolivia had been the best thing he'd ever done. Brea had been a major aspect in his happiness, and in following her bliss, Roger had gained a whole new appreciation for life. Edward still wondered about his family, all of whom still lived at very nearly sea level. Edward IV had in fact, with his most royal presence, long sense urged his family to acquire a larger yacht, outfit it, and plan on an extended sea cruise. He was just not sure if they had listened to him. The black sheep of the family is never really appreciated, even assuming the IVth is not crying wolf for the very first time.
Still... if Edward's advice had sounded like similar, even urgent advice from other quarters... then maybe, just maybe... someone had listened and taken heed.
Winnemucca, Nevada is a small city located along Interstate 80, with a population of roughly 8000 hardy souls – of necessity the emphasis being placed on “hardy”. Despite its billing as “the crossroads of the west”, it had never been a destination for tourists and sophisticated jet setters. To its credit, the city seems to be aware of this possible distinction and has acknowledged as much by establishing large billboards just outside of town that proudly state, “Five Billion People Have Never Visited Winnemucca”.
As it turns out, roughly the same number of people had never imagined a Great Flood and Deluge in their immediate futures. For obvious reasons, they had made no provision for such an eventuality. This may have been just as well, because there really was no provision to be made for this number of people. There were never remotely enough ships, never enough food and lodging for the nearly billion people who would make a final rush to apparent safety, and never enough to provide any true salvation for a huge mass of humanity. Such is the essence of overpopulation of a species.
People die by the millions each day, each having their own destiny prematurely or optimally determined by external events. The fact that all of these billions would perish in a single day, and instead of a long drawn out affair, would die within a few weeks, many within a few days... such a collective of epiphanies was neither more sad nor more tragic. It was life.
Billions of other species also met their fate, but life being such a survivor, many of the survivors began once again to multiply and return the earth to a diversity of life seldom seen in the last hundred years. Such was the nature of... well... Nature.
The recently resurrected and/or found out Layton Ronohon Kennedy smiled, his freedom apparently condoned, all his detailed preparations seemingly in place, well ordered, and everything fully organized for any and everything that was to transpire in the coming months and years. There was an ample supply of young and very lovely ladies, enough gourmet food stocks to feed an army of aficionados, and a wine cellar to rival any royal court. He also had the all important elevation of his castle on a potentially self sufficient island in which he had determined would be in his refuge from every imaginable trouble from the outside world. Layton did, after all, know how to live in luxury.
Curiously, in this midst of plenty and more plenty, there were a couple of nagging thoughts that occasionally intruded upon Ron's feeling of bliss and pleasure in his small corner of paradise. Several of the individuals who had ostensibly planned to be joining him had not yet arrived, and the time was growing short for easily making it to the island. Of course many of his contemporaries who would appreciate his attention to every detail would also likely have their own ships. Thus docking at this small harbour, sometime in the future, perhaps just to visit and join in the merriment of the successful achievement of their abilities to survive... perhaps that was the more likely possibility. It was not like he was being abandoned... at any rate, one would have to assume as much.
The other, essentially subconscious thought, concerned his second oldest son, the one who had learned to perfection his father's pretentious smile. Sonny also had what some might have described as a lean and hungry look. After all, from Sonny's viewpoint, was it even a crime to kill someone already officially declared dead? The fact his son might have patricide on his mind, that his son would almost certainly have been no match for many of the possible VIPs to his island, or that Sonny would not outlive him, had never occurred to Ken. There was also the destiny of a rather large shard of ice which following the laws of celestial and terrestrial mechanics was slated to drop in upon Layton's island as well. Such prescience by Layton might have comforted him.
But than again, probably not. Probably not even hearing the background music of Chicken Little singing its own very unique version of Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head . Obviously, some people just have no appreciation for music. Or for pre-cognition... or even for father-son rivalries (albeit those eclipsed by AWE inspiring events).
Fleet Admiral Sudra was in his element: flying his colors on the largest heavy cruiser of the modern era. He had the advantage of being allowed to keep a respectful distance from the flotilla on which the Regent was supposedly residing, and yet within range of lending virtually immediate intervention if required. Being out of sight, just over the horizon, provided the Admiral with the sense of being the supreme lord over his own world, even if a smaller world than a single planet. On the other hand, he had by far the greatest single, coordinated military force on the open seas, and very, very soon, on the entire planet.
Admittedly, Koenig's land assault force was comparable, at least in the number of “delivery ships”. But Koenig's force was also scattered about in various different seas and oceans. It also lacked the sheer firepower of Sudra's armada. It seemed enough for General Koenig, who had even, apparently, developed some 'sea legs' and had become strangely tolerant of seaboard life. Koenig had even accepted the fact of his smaller fleet being manned by Captains whose ultimate loyalty was to Admiral Sudra. Quite an item for the General's resume, but epiphanies often added such interesting twists in the biographies of those experiencing them.
Adding to the irony was that General Koenig's flagship was commanded by Colonel (now Navy Captain) Gabe Yagalone. There were more than a few strange looks at that appointment, but inasmuch as the flagship was a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH)... and because such vessels were often commanded by aviators... it wasn't that big a step to put an Air Force pilot in command. Added to Gabe's long awaited transformation was an idealistic female biologist who had become the unofficial First Lady of the LPH. Gabe was doing quite well for himself, Sudra decided. It was enough to make a mentor proud.
Then there were the reports concerning a certain General Mick... the latter who was probably not a happy camper right now. Mount Weather had apparently encountered some seriously rough seas... so to speak. With it suddenly becoming apparent to most everyone in the underground fortress that prior rank has no value in future dealings -- i.e., contributions must be current -- and with a degree of tension in the minimal supply of air... the JCS Chairman was probably not someone that Sudra would again have to tolerate. 'So much," Sudra thought, 'for the benefits of burying one's head in the sand.'
Topside (i.e., above ground), however, was where everything seemed to be coming up roses for recently promoted five-star fleet admirals. Sudra could enjoy being lord and sovereign of all he surveyed. Better yet, he had taken the time to be incredibly detailed and diligent upon precisely which individuals (including an equal contingent of females) would be allowed to join him on his ship and in his flotilla. As a result, the Admiral was reasonably certain that there would be no challenges to his reign. There was also the minor detail of his being so competent, and his intelligence services the stuff of such legends, that no sane individual would have considered even the wild hare thought of mutiny. Even those temporarily insane would also likely have hesitated.
Art, if we might call him that (meaning of course no disrespect) did have one momentary doubt. 'What was one to do when a host of his potential enemies were long gone? Who would he practice his art on, to keep the efficiency of his intelligence gathering at its peak? What would serve to occupy his time if he was confronted with a degree of contentment? If there were no greater peaks to conquer, what would a man of his abilities do? Wasn't conflict a necessary ingredient in life? It was definitely a conundrum.'
Fortunately for the moment, there was the report on the movements of Norman Malestrom in his yacht, an ocean-going vessel that had all the appearances of a modern day... and extremely well equipped... gun-running ship. From Sudra's point of view, Norman was intriguing if only because of his ruthless reputation. Still... there was his Achilles' heel – the potential lack of any external (to the yacht) retribution of anyone taking matters (and command of the yacht, for example) into their own hands. The task now was to attempt to analyze what was known of the yacht's crew and upper echelons of command to determine if there was a possible Pepin the Short in Norman's future. Barry Laurence's name in fact came to mind. Still, anticipating the future of these particular individuals was not a high priority task of course, but at least something to keep the men and women in his intelligence service primed and busy.
The Admiral did find the last report he'd received somewhat amusing. The gist was that Norman had finally (and belatedly) decided -- according to the scuttlebutt report -- that he was now hoping, however belatedly, to just get lucky -- that is to say, that maybe there's no hell for him.' Clearly, Sudra thought, 'the possibility of imminent death can be a strong encouragement to philosophical thought.'
The difficulty with wielding power has always been the means by which it was enforced. Wealth had been one means, despite the well known fact that a pot of gold attracts thieves, and worse yet, wealth in the modern world was all too easily transferable. Of course, in the current state of the world wealth in the traditional sense was a thing of the past; bank accounts in Switzerland had suddenly gone out of fashion for even the most discriminating clientele. This newly occurring power vacuum stemming from the elimination of wealth left in its wake the more traditional power enforcers of: fear, raw physical force and manipulation of information.
Strangely, even these traditions were rapidly going out of style. Fear of a firing squad is seldom a major deterrent when the next day will bring an all out assault on your community from a enemy whose power and depth of forces can only be viewed with awe and trepidation. That left information and more importantly disinformation as the power-hungry's Heir Apparent. But even here, this was becoming more difficult, in that far too many had begun believing that there was an inalienable right for them to know exactly what the hell was going on. With such things being left in the lurch, so to speak, with what was a commander, leader, king, or despot left in order to enforce his will upon others? The only thing that came to Sudra's mind was... in a word... competence. Wouldn't it be interesting to encounter a meritocracy, a situation where skills and talents ruled as a king maker? Fascinating thought!
Sudra realized he had allowed his mind to wander from the report on various individual's status, and that this was likely noticed by the Lieutenant giving the report. Sudra quickly turned to a Commander for a change of subject, as if Sudra was simply not as concerned with the Lieutenant's report. Such tactics have always had their use: allowing the subordinate to think it was their fault or failing to adequately engage the leader with their project.
Funny enough, the report by the Commander (actually a Lieutenant Commander) was in fact slightly more interesting. Or else, the Commander was more adept at playing the game. In any case, the report indicated that in addition to having once served as the ultimate in gun running ships, Richard Villa's ship was equipped as well with the capability to be the ultimate, state-of-the-art pirate ship. The Commander seemed even to admire the man. What he had missed, of course, was that there really was honor among a certain class of thieves. Also very likely, a measure of competence. Sudra liked the idea.
Villa just might have been able to maintain his tenure on power, while at the same time continuing as a worthy confederate/associate of Admiral Sudra with just the right amount of potential skulduggery to keep the Admiral at his best. Their potentially enjoyable mental games could of course be continued for a possibly extended time, if only because of the Regent's standing orders that there were to be no peremptory actions against anyone or any ship -- including no warming shots or other potentially pretensions of hostile intents. Hostilities were to be held to an absolute minimum, and only in self defense against eminent danger. This was the time when the Goddess of Fortune would be allowed to have her sway without human interference.
'Yes,” Sudra thought, 'Richard the Third would have likely provided for some interesting times – too bad he voluntarily came under my employ." Sudra smiled as the thought of Villa following his orders with more enthusiasm and diligence than most of the Admiral's best officers. Villa had in fact become one of the premier tools by which Sudra was able to exercise his authority. Furthermore, other than a small cadre of insiders, no one had a clue about Sudra's ace in the pirate-infested hole. Villa could, therefore, still be used against any of the Admiral's potential usurpers. Or come to think of it, for any reason whatsoever.
Melissa had to smile when she thought of Senator Layde's reaction when he first saw the photos of his 'flagship'. The SS Zinn-Wanne was the apparent epitome of a leaky tin bucket, one that by all rights should have been sunk far at sea (if only for fear of contaminating any harbor or anchorage). At least that was its appearance on the surface (and ostensibly as long as it remained on the surface and above the waterline.) But then Melissa had begun describing the interior structure in such glowing detail that she also convinced the Senator that behind the facade of a rusted, dented, unpainted for generations skin of the ship, there lay hidden the latest innovations in ocean-going luxury and seaworthiness. There were the glossy, color photos of the interior, where underneath the Zinn-Wanne's makeup there was to be found luxurious and spacious accommodations. As Melissa had joked, “Tramps come in all varieties... and occasionally a select few can provide one with ecstatic pleasures and fantastic experiences.”
The Senator was delighted, both at her wit, and the photos – the latter which were quite real... just located (unfortunately for the Senator) on Norman's yacht, some distance away in virtually another ocean. But from Layde's point of view -- and his considerable experience in the matter -- it was often better to hide one's luxury from the outside world, lest the natives become restless. He had in fact been doing this for the entirety of his political career. In his most satisfied grin, he asked, rhetorically, “Does this rival the Regent's accommodations?”
“I'm afraid I have not been privy to his preparations.”
“Too bad. But then we'll probably cross paths... or sea lanes... at some point in the future. We can even salute one another in passing.”
“And your wife,” Melissa teased, “Will she be joining you?”
The Senator took the slight taunt in the best tradition of the multi-layered, world class thick skin of the extremely savvy statesman and politician. With a gesture toward one of his better speech writers, he extemporized. “On the stage I prepared for her, she performed with distinction – never for a moment allowing a lapse in character. For that I admire and thank her. But I fear that on this, the last stage out of D.C., she is, regrettably, no longer necessary. One might even say her new and challenging gig is now to be the victim of circumstances. Her loss is something that I must somehow face and with great courage, deal. Her death scene, I am absolutely certain, will be glorious – albeit primarily for an audience of one.”
Melissa could not help but smile. It was just enough to encourage the Senator to add a few more pithy comments.
“As a loyal and leading member of the Regency's Inner Circle, it is only appropriate that when the Ships are to put to sea, I will have my own small fleet – one geared to provide weaponry as well as luxury accommodations. I will have earned such honors by having distracted the full intensity of the backlash from the corporations who wanted the Regency's head. By thus allowing every side to believe they were gaining control, I have set it up such that all the competing forces were far less enthusiastic about upsetting the apple cart when they realized I would be use it to deliver to them the Apples of Hesperides.”
It had not even occurred to Melissa to rain on the Senator's parade. Her only remaining duty was to now escort him to his new command.
The hour aboard the launch taking them to Layde's flagship, allowed the Senator to see from a distance several other members of what was to be his flotilla, a half dozen ships of varying design, all congregated as if on station to welcome the new commander in chief. All of them looked seaworthy and impressive, many of their crews taking the time to observe the launch's progress. In fact, one of the honorary admirals from the flotilla was General Morton, the commanding officer who had kept his cool on that long ago day in the rose garden. Since then, Morton had become a poster child for the rugged and very tall military commanders the world over, and was now aboard the launch and providing the escort that any high ranking VIP such as Layde would naturally warrant.
It was then the Senator noticed that there was apparently no one actually on Layde's ship. Of course, they were approaching close alongside the tramp, and with it riding high in the water, it fairly loomed over them. Thus there was little chance of seeing anything happening on the main deck, which was now some 50 or 60 feet above the water line. Unless, of course, one of the sailors were to lean over the side and see Layde's approach. Still... Layde turned to Melissa to ask about the apparent lack of personnel.
“They're probably busy, getting ready for your arrival,” was her answer.
“Everyone aboard we talked about?”
“Everyone,” she answered. “Of course, General Lester Mick, was obligated to decline your gracious invitation, having already decided to weather the storm at Mount Weather with the ex-President and the ex-vice President."
"Is that wise, you suppose," Layde asked, "to go underground at a time like this?"
"Seems entirely appropriate for them." Melissa smiled, and then gestured to Layde's flagship. "There's probably a total complement of well over a hundred on board your ship. You're of course the last to arrive... as is only fitting... Admiral.” Melissa's wink was combined with her best smile. Layde had liked the title, and in particular found the three-star rank (that of Vice Admiral to be entirely appropriate). “I'm sure they're planning quite a reception for you," Melissa added.
“Good,” the Senator. “In fact, excellent.”
As the powerful launch approached the tramp – where an obviously recently upgraded gangway was located -- Layde turned back to face his future. This was going to be a great adventure!
As they pulled alongside, and just as the two sailors at the lower portion of the gangway tied up the launch, the Senator fairly leaped from the launch and began scrambling up the slightly swaying gangway, never even bothering to look back. Arriving at the main deck, he was momentarily surprised to find no one to meet him. Not exactly an auspicious welcome for the newly, self-appointed admiral of the small fleet. Then he turned to look back down the gangway.
The two sailors had already clamored back aboard the launch, and with no remaining ties, the launch had turned away and had begun accelerating at maximum speed toward one of the other ships. Layde watched it for several long moments. Near the stern was the rugged General Marvel Morton with his protective arm securely around Melissa. Layde's former aide bid a cheerful farewell to Layde, even blowing him a kiss.
A noise from his ship then attracted the Senator's attention, and he turned and leaned over to look down into the extensive cargo hole. There were in fact over a hundred people, many of whom he quickly recognized... everyone an associate, a manipulator, a con artist, and/or a politician. It was one hundred or so of the Back Stabbers Anonymous, the D.C. Chapter. Some had now seen him and had begun yelling. Much of what was being said were obscenities, but from Layde's vantage, it was mostly just rabble. Apparently there were no means to exit the hole for its occupants. Clearly, a serious oversight.
As Layde recognized Jerry Friendly in the cargo hole, the preacher very much disturbed in the true tradition of the extreme self-righteous individual caught in the act, the Senator could only think, 'My God... Do I really deserve such company?'
Then the Senator turned back to look again at the launch, which was now approaching one of the better looking ships of his... former flotilla. For a moment he simply looked at the sight. He then began thinking of all the details that Melissa would have undoubtedly made sure were accomplished: “There would be no communication equipment of any sort, no way to send an SOS, no food stocks to speak of (at least no more than enough to cause a dog-eat-dog melee in grabbing the last morsels), no fuel, no place to sleep, nothing in fact to represent the slightest use of resources better used for more laudatory purposes. There would also be a fair number of thoroughly pissed people crowded into the cargo hole.
Obviously, Senator Tom Layde had been found out, outwitted by his trusted aide who had always had the good tastes to be highly selective in her chosen relationships.
Continuing to watch the launch, the Senator begin to smile. Following a low chuckle, he then with all the flourish of which he was capable, blew a kiss to Melissa. "What a woman," he yelled!
As the other ships begin to get underway, the Senator turned back to survey his kingdom. There might be things to do... if only to facilitate slightly his chances of becoming extremely lucky.
First of all, he abruptly realized, it would be essential to go to the Admiral's Cabin. No doubt there would be one last gourmet meal, one with some excellent wines awaiting him there. Melissa was always one to ensure that protocols, of every kind and variety, were observed.
In fact, diminished expectations aside, Melissa might even have arranged a getaway stash for her boss of first resort. She was that kind of woman. And the Senator could not fault her, especially when she had casually alluded to the comment from the Gone With the Wind heroine, "After all, tomorrow is another day." Accordingly, even with hopes dashed, the essence of the game was to be a good sport (especially when there was no viable alternative), and ultimately drop back and punt and hope for a "hail Mary".
It was then that she stepped out of the cabin. It was no one Layde had ever seen before, but she had... obviously... all of the physical accruements he might want. If Melissa had any hand in it, the new beauty would -- unlike the director of this last act of the dutiful aide -- have a low IQ... albeit an extraordinarily high survival instinct. She would in all respects be the young, wretchedly inexperienced but ambitious intern. Come to think of it, the Senator seemed to suddenly recall the face... and the circumstances where the beauty had tried a gambit with Melissa and been promptly cashiered. The fact that Melissa arranged their meeting was thus irony, comeuppance, or mischief. The Senator and his female might be able to pull it off... or one kill one another before the end of the week.
She did have a nice smile, Layde thought. She was, in fact, already gesturing toward the admiral's cabin, either her web, or their honeymoon cottage.
The Senator looked down into the hole again, thinking that these people were his new mates. Lying with dogs does tend to lead to fleas, pests, and lots of dog hair... the latter positively sticky and leading to an unkempt state. Alternatively, there was the apparently willing and enthusiastic intern. It was an easy choice. And then later, maybe Senator Thomas K. Layde (R-Texas) would talk to his new constituency. But only after a very satisfying meal and dalliance. The Senator always had his priorities.
Senator Layde's charming wife, Kylee, also had her priorities. Curiously, she had not exactly been left in the lurch by her philandering and unfaithful husband, the man she always equated in her mind to 'dear Uncle Tom'. In fact, she was not even remotely upset at his act of abandonment. Rather his departure had caused considerable relief for Kylee; she had made other plans and his hanging around might have become... well... awkward. Awkward was a serious flaw in any sophisticated society worthy of the name. Accordingly, it was to be avoided at all costs... despite the fact that costs were largely irrelevant for the extremely wealthy.
Kylee had long known that despite her beauty, she was not meant for Hollywood. Being pragmatic to a fault, she knew also that one married for position and power, and then found love and affection elsewhere... all in the true tradition of the aristocracy. But the love and sex bits were always done with discretion. One does, after all, have certain binding contractual obligations to maintain. Up to a point.
Furthermore, and despite any contractual arrangements... when they don't pick up your option, you carry on... hopefully adding love and sex in proper proportion, and seeking better contracts -- the contracts with clauses about comfort, stability, status, and the like. Such things were simply part of Kylee's life (and/or destiny). It must have been that she had done something marvelous in a past life to earn such rewards. It had certainly never occurred to her that she was not entitled to such things.
Today, for example, Trudy Kylee Jessup Layde was arriving at her own new floating home away from home. Clambering aboard with as much as enthusiasm as the Senator, she found quite a different reception. The last of a breed as Air Force Chief of Staff was waiting for her, with a small honor guard of very willing volunteers who were thoroughly enjoying the arrival of their last dignitary before getting underway for the wide broad expanse of the ocean.
After a kiss, some laughs, and a humorously excessive amount of bows and curtsies, Mac took her hand, and begin escorting her toward his... strike that... their private, albeit double occupancy cabin. Smiling and clearly excited, he said, “You've got to see the tapes of the Iapetus launch. Fantastic! An enormous success. They're already well on their way.”
“Tapes,” Kylee asked? You would have almost thought it was an innocent question. It wasn't.
“The actual launch was a month ago. The tapes began being released two days ago.”
“So there's nothing to observe in real time,” she said.
Mac was momentarily puzzled – it's a common affliction of such leaders. “Nothing live.”
“In that case, it can wait.” When he had still failed to see the obvious, she added, “First we're going to have some great sex. And then you can show me your tapes. Or your etchings, or whatever!”
General William MacIntosh smiled. 'There really was such thing as having it all.'
Melissa clamored aboard her own special flagship behind her new beau, what in a bygone era she might have called her Marlboro Man. But this was the one who had never smoked, and consequently never had to say, “Bob, I miss my lung.” He was roughly a foot taller than any man Melissa had ever known intimately, and yet he was clearly accustomed to spending inordinate amounts of time in the saddle [if you'll pardon the pun]. As he strode up to take his command and acknowledge the attention of his officers and crew, he gave her a slight deference. She smiled, and knew at the same time that she had at last met her match and then some. The man was capable of dropping her in a heartbeat, but provided she genuinely adored him, he would move mountains for her whenever the need arose. Large mountains! Just say the word.
Melissa Sheba Court had to smile, for her one of the most genuine expression of feelings in several decades, maybe even a lifetime or so. It was going to be such a relief to just flat retire -- to drop all of the scheming, all of the manipulations, all the cons, each and every one; and instead to be someone else's... whatever he wanted her to be. And in the letting go of her skills and talents -- and simultaneously seeming to get away with all of her previous misdeeds -- she had found herself to be... well just incredibly lucky. And for that reason she was going to allow herself to become dependent upon someone else... or at the very least, she would give it a shot! In the process, she might even get to be who she really wanted to be.
In Rome, Colonel Laurenti was in full overdrive. The scanning of everything in sight had taken far longer than he might have imagined. The tender loving care that was required for handling many of the documents -- and the fact that it was never really clear which documents would require such TLC and which might not -- made the process laboriously slow and agonizingly painful. There had also been more than a few rumblings (and with ever greater intensity) from the local authorities -- of which there were at last count roughly seven major factions competing among each other and Laurenti's battalion. (Curiously this was roughly the same number of major "Christian" sects in the first three to thirteen hundred years of the term being extant, who had been (and continued to be) competing for the title of the One True Christianity.) Accordingly, the trained and highly accomplished professional killer had had to learn a few diplomatic tricks just to keep... as it turned out... the lid off of Pandora's box.
There was always a silver lining in such challenges of course. In this case, the Colonel had begun to nourish his distant youth and its delights in discovering the recorded antiquities of the human race. All of this was influencing him in the midst of his being constantly constrained to avoid unloading any of several dozen clips at opposing forces, while at the same time providing reassurances to a variety of nervous red hats, and to creatively perpetuate the con of being on their same side of the Trinity, so speak. The fact that Laurenti could speak in such double-speak was extremely helpful. Meanwhile, the challenge was that those worried about their continuing livelihood were, in general, enemies of the Colonel's sense of the absolute supremacy of the perpetuation of gnosis. (The latter which for diplomatic reasons, Laurenti had to keep to himself.)
The continuing effort to copy the Archives was still, almost exclusively, in the hands of the "reserve platoon", and it was their labors that so intrigued the Colonel and made Giardino lean toward making a career change from soldier to his youth's original ambition. It was perhaps the degree of TLC being practiced by the reserve platoon that allowed him to transfer his allegiance from defending at all costs... and simply enjoying the fruits of knowledge and its individual gathering. One must always be careful, for example, when harvesting the grapes of the vine, less they be bruised and injured irrevocably.
The problem was that time was of the essence, and one could no longer simply luxuriate in the underground version of the ultimate ivory tower. With time running out, many of the documents -- actually everything, but we won't tell the local librarians -- would have to be crated and carried with the departing troops. It was simply time to head for the ocean going new Libraries (emphasis on the plural).
This obviously posed a problem with the local authorities... until destiny manifested its own agenda. The entire issue was abruptly overshadowed by the death of the Pope (apparently from some gastrointestinal distress). Suddenly, all of the elaborate rituals concerning the transition to the next infallible head of the church took precedence over just about everything else... despite the fact that anyone accepting the papal crown at such a juncture in the world was almost certainly not infallible. In fact, a few red hats and their subordinates were admittedly, not as easily swayed by the new enormously important election of what would almost certainly be the ultimate in lame ducks. But many of these same red (and black) hats had already begun to suspect Laurenti's true intentions... and had begun to agree with said intentions. Any port in a storm.
Just as the hurriedly initiated Conclave to elect a new Pope was beginning, the doors to the Sistine chapel being closed with enormous ceremony and gravitas, Lieutenant Colonel Giardino Laurenti, the entirely of his battalion, plus a few local converts left via an armada of helicopters that flew west to Sardinia where they were to regroup and board their own fleet of sacred repositories. It would be on the so-called flagship of this small fleet, the newly commissioned SS Bibliotheca Alexandrina, that Brigadier General Giardino Laurenti would find his personal flag flying. It was also where a return to his past would finally ease the strictures and limitations of an all encompassing mission in life.
Brutus Rosario was smiling and shaking his head in apparent disbelief. The communique before him concerned the conclave of cardinals now being convened in Rome in order to select a new Pope. Brutus would normally have relished the opportunity to once again play the role of king maker. But now, from his more enlightened perspective, it was so utterly pointless.
'Were these old staunchly conservative men so oblivious to the reality of the world about them that they thought their actions would matter at all? Did Lucius Moroni, the apparent heir apparent, the man Rosario knew would want to choose Peter as his Papal name... did this diminutive figure truly expect to rule over anything? Were all of Brutus' former colleagues so incapable of imagining the future that to them it would never be truly real? Almost certainly,' Cardinal Brutus speculated.
What fascinated Rosario was that Paul Fox had been so eager to cover the papal election... thinking that in Cardinal Rosario, he would have an incredible feed of first hand information. He had even talked about how to set the Cardinal up with a wireless communicator; one that no one would ever suspect. Rosario did not have the heart to tell his journalistic disciple that he might as well head for the catacombs under Rome in order to get the latest news. It was always a bit sad, the Cardinal decided, when one goes to so much trouble to educate someone to the reality of the world... and then ultimately be disappointed when apparently, they had learned nothing. Very, very sad.
Also disappointing to the Cardinal were Amin and Goldman, the latter two who had been visibly horrified at Rosario's report on the planned, very deadly pandemic. Rosario had been able to see it in their eyes. Goldman has suddenly seemed the man who had had to live with just one too many holocausts, and who could no longer rationalize life in such circumstances. Meanwhile Amin had seemed ready to kill Brutus on the spot... ostensibly for all of the Muslim deaths that were inevitable (the average Muslim spending considerably less time in fancy restaurants and thus the per capita death toll seriously out of balance in terms of religious choice). Nothing had ended up happening, at least immediately, but Rosario had felt compelled to leave his beloved Potsdam... if only to avoid the very real possibility of assassination by Muslim fanatics... the latter who might perhaps this time have had good cause.
All of this disappointment was in fact something of a new experience for Brutus. Here he was, a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, and irony upon irony, he had been forced to seek refuge from the storm by retreating to an Abbey... so to speak. Only in this case, the Baroness would also be one of the few creatures in his circle who would not be reminding him of his earlier lack of compassion... and in fact, could not by virtue of her own lack of experience in such an emotion. About the only silver lining that he could find was that the irony had initiated a new train of thought, wherein perhaps, just perhaps, Cardinal Rosario had become just a bit too old for all of this. There had been too many deaths, and retribution was no longer avoidable. It was one thing to bomb others into oblivion, but quite another to wander on foot among the dead and mangled bodies.
His reverie -- if we might generously call it such -- was abruptly interrupted by the entry of the Baroness, herself. It was after all, Abbie's cabin – the latter which accounted for her black poodle with its heavy chain trying desperately to rest its head on one of the Black Widow's more luxurious cushions. Rosario had been shown to this cabin, while his luggage was being recovered after having been delivered elsewhere. Brutus had been content to rest at the nearest pit stop [pardon the pun], if only to reduce, even slightly, the pain and spreading weakness in his legs.
“I'm so delighted that you could join me on my yacht,” the Baroness began. “It would have been so incredibly dull if I had no one of consequence with whom I could... exchange... views.” She didn't say 'have intercourse with', which would have been entirely too crude, or so she suspected.
“My honor,” Rosario answered. He kept his thoughts unspoken as well, not adding out of a sense of protocol (and the fact she probably already knew) that his Potsdam chateau was probably even then being overrun by the Muslim faithful looking for the bounty hunter prize of dispatching any and every infidel of high rank... as well as the great Islamic turncoat, one Mullah Sefati. 'They would, mercifully,' Rosario thought, 'come away with no prizes.'
“Not to worry, my deal Cardinal; you do have a spacious cabin as well. We would not wish to have you... defrocked prematurely by being lodged too closely with me.” Abbey had a really evil grin on her face, combined with a laughing smile at her own clever pun.
“Your kindness is appreciate, but somehow I suspect my tenure of adhering to any holy oath is rapidly approaching an end.”
“I am delighted to hear it." Actually, Abbie's glee was pretty clear. "While I suspect my motley crew, relatively speaking, may still hold you in some esteem, if not for fear of your possible powers, I suspect my own predilections include your providing me with a bit more than verbal intercourse.” Okay, she finally said it! When Rosario only smiled, she added, “I assume that your equipment is still... functional.”
Rosario laughed, albeit somewhat bleakly. “Oh, yes. Everything works. I've made it a point to ensure the regular... exercise of... everything... just in the eventuality of extraordinary circumstances.”
The Black Widow smiled as only a female black widow who had earned her title, could.
“But tell me,” Rosario interrupted. “Isn't it time to release your pet poodle from its chain. It's not as if he's likely to run away, now that we're at sea.”
“Unfortunately, the poor thing is sufficiently dim that he's just as likely to go overboard as eat. It's one of the problems with their breed. The French court made such a deal of poodles being the epitome of extravagance and riches, that they quite forgot to breed them for intelligence. They even made the ancestors of my little Poopsie their national symbol, precisely because of their flamboyancy. As the daughter of a Russian aristocrat, I've always admired the French Court. Some of the best of Russian literature makes reference to our toy play-thing as a notable symbol.”
The Baroness would likely have continued in her royal reverie, when sharp noises were heard. Rosario's first reaction was to ask, “Were those gun shots?”
The woman was immediately enraged. “They had better not be. I've given strict orders not to pull out any weapons without my direct authorization. This is why I have the only key to the weapons locker. If someone has disobeyed my orders, there will be heads to roll!” Amazingly precognitive, this Baroness.
Three more shots or facsimiles thereof attempted to contradict her. It was enough to turn her light hearted conversation with the Cardinal into a commanding authority figure. Without a word, she stomped out of the cabin, letting the cabin door slam behind her.
Rosario sat mesmerized by the strange turn of events. Were things getting out of control so quickly?
The Baroness had indeed kept a tight grip on the key to the arms locker. Unfortunately, what she had not considered was the possibility of pirates coming alongside in the dark, and boarding her yacht when by virtue of her care in holding the key to the arms, none of her crew members would have any means with which to resist. Five members of her crew were already dead, overboard, and ready to become food for the fishes. And despite her bravado and arrogance, Baroness Abbiedale Tensile almost immediately took three shots in her torso and went down with minimal fanfare. It was then her head rolled -- the pirates engaging in one of their favorite sports (based unknowingly on a Mayan game). Rosario, looking out the nearest porthole, did have the opportunity to see her recently severed and bloodied body hit the water.
That was when he quickly moved to lock himself in her cabin. With the relatively lightweight door as his only defense, he returned to sit on the couch by the dog, where he began taking off the chain and allowing the dog to enjoy a few moments of life without its burden.
Within minutes there was scuffling outside the cabin door, some loud voices talking about ''his eminence, the cardinal” and a few other remarks which were unintelligible – save that some sounded defensive while others were offensive in the extreme and in every meaning of the word. The only resolution of the arguments seemed to have been that the cabin door was then secured from the outside as well. The question of what to do with a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church would have to wait for a later answer. Religious indoctrination had proved to have some advantages – at least for the indoctrinator. There were in fact pirates and other blaggarts who despite their chosen career had serious reservations about killing a holy man. Hanging was one thing; excommunication quite another. One never knew just whose god was the real one, and there was no point in taking any chances.
Rosario was momentarily relieved. He began to pet the dog, which looked up momentarily as if he had just found his god. Rosario found himself enjoying the process of extending comfort.
The moment of his realization was interrupted by the explosion – multiple explosions actually – all of which rocked the boat. Rosario heard the melee of injured people and others trying desperately to escape the sudden fires. The yacht began to list to port, and then to drop by the stern. Flooding in the after portion, near the main engines had apparently commenced.
That was when Rosario went to the cabin door, looking around even as he did so for any kind of life preserver. There was a certain irony here, he began to think. The fact his legs were not going to be taking him any distance had suddenly become somewhat irrelevant. Whereas his escape might merely be a matter of floating away – assuming he was not going to be required to tread water. Then, with little or no fanfare, he realized that the couch cushions could have served as such.
It was then that the more relevant thought struck him: With the cabin door locked from the outside, it didn't appear that the cushion / life preservers would be needed. In fact, he thought, 'nothing was needed'... other than maybe a hope that hell didn't really exist. (The distinct possibility of imminent death does in fact encourage all manner of philosophical thought.)
Strangely at peace, Brutus Rosario returned to his seat by the dog. The Cardinal had made a pact with dysfunctional mortals aspiring to be devils, and now it was perhaps time to harvest his rewards. For a moment, Rosario realized that he would want to dispatch the dog cleanly, perhaps with the small knife he carried. That would be better for the dog than drowning.
He was about to make the sign of the cross, when it suddenly occurred to him that one more brazen insult of the Christian motif might be just one too many. He had made enough of such signs, and almost always intended to manipulate and control others. Now, however, he could neither manipulate nor con himself... or his own mind into thinking himself in any way favored by grace. Even a reprise of Ave Maria in his mind failed to ease things.
As he gently held the small body to his chest... and lovingly sliced the poodle's throat... he seemed to recall something from Faust, something about Mephistopheles first appearing as a poodle.
It was then that stories from his German heritage came to his mind: history telling us...
What a world, Cardinal Brutus Rosario thought, when everything works to such perfection.
At roughly the same time, Rabbi Goldman was in his cabin aboard a Greek Magnate's over sized yacht. He was toying with the idea of converting to the Greek Orthodox religion in order to ensure his berth among the crew of the large ship, a ship luxurious even for the elite. Such a conversion would not have to be all that extraordinary. After all, the Orthodox Greeks at the very least had an appreciation for ceremony and mystical, if not mysterious, artifacts and happenings. Perfect for Rabbi Goldman.
The Rabbi had begun to contemplate the idea of opportunism,.. as if the trait might have seemed to some to be the natural heritage of being Jewish. Perhaps, he thought, it was all part of the chosen races's genetics. There might be training and education as well, but primarily for the reinforcement and activation of the opportunism gene. Even sex was apt to have less appeal, if not allowed to flourish in such a climate. Opportunism must be given its day... if only as a Jewish tradition. The characteristic seemed in fact to be a highly desirable commodity, much in the spirit of the Chinese tradition where with the advent of chaos there was also opportunity. Yes, Goldman thought, that would explain everything.
Rabbi Esau Tomas Goldman consciously decided, a wry smile crossing his face, that he could indeed embrace this wonderful tradition of Judaism by converting to the Greek Orthodox religion. This made a lot of sense. Surely, his one God had smiled upon the Rabbi, giving him this insight in order to preserve him and the knowledge (the Jewish traditions and so forth) that he carried with him. Yes! His decision was entirely reasonable, and had gone through all the necessary channels for deity approval. He might of slit in own throat in consternation, but an angel has stayed his hand as surely as Abraham's.
It also saved all the angst connected with Jewish martyrdom, the latter which was now decidedly going out of favor in theological circles. It was a practical matter, Goldman thought. Martyrdom simply did not work!
Goldman's former ally in truth and, at least in official circles, his implacable enemy, Mullah Amin tu Sefati, had taken an entirely different path. He had returned to his native Georgia, back to his family home – not so much as to reconnect with old family and friends, but instead to find a last link to... well... he was not sure what. Maybe it was his soul for which he was searching. Accordingly, it might in fact have been a pointless quest. But it was one he felt compelled to make.
He had already encountered his demons of outrage, vengeance, feeling used and looking for any and all scapegoats. The overpowering feeling to prevail, to be the last man standing... after killing all of the rest of the competition... such a feeling had faded. What after all was the point? Religious wars were very likely to go out of style. Accordingly, Amin now had to find another quest, another goal to justify himself.
The answer of sorts came inexplicably when he heard someone singing what he thought was the song, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia . Suddenly he had an insight into finding exactly what it was for which he had so long searched. He spontaneously burst out laughing. What a delightful surprise, he thought. His smile was in fact so contagious that he never again lost it in this particular incarnation.
Luck has always struck me as one of the more fascinating mysteries. Good or bad, having it or not, the varying caprice of fate, all those attributes of happenstance... these often seem to me to be assigned with such randomness. It is almost inexplicable. And yet, curiously, it seems as often as not to simply be a product of reception. In other words, the same happy events occur, but it is how they are perceived -- or even if they are perceived -- that makes the difference. It's just a matter of being in the appropriate mode. And I strongly suspect, one of gratitude, a pre-requisite gratitude for what has yet to manifest in one's reality. One can think of it as a "pay forward"on gifts and thank you's (albeit in the reverse order). I know that in my past, if I'm in a thankful state, then Lady Fortune always smiles on me. If not, I suppose, she shrugs her shoulders and silently walks away.
Clearly, my most recent past has been astoundingly lucky. Why else, for example, and in this strangest of worlds... would I have so easily forgiven Melissa, and without a thought of what I was doing? Why did my logic and vengeance take a back seat? Okay, I was in the receiving mode at the ball -- perhaps in more ways than one. Therefore, I had been prepped for it. And now, I can appreciate it as having been one of my luckier moments. Melissa had, in very unknown manner, become the catalyst for my taking a critical step along my path. And then, when I was confronted with David's... many mistakes... I had already gotten very, very lucky... and felt very, very grateful... along with millions of others. Is luck contagious?
Then when it came time to make a judgment, the only think I could think of was to apply the luck syndrome to the decision... and let David... by his own state of mind... determine just how lucky he would be. It would no longer be about destiny... at least in terms of following a pre-conceived one. It was about creating destiny... both mine... and left to his own devices... David's.
David was in his windowless cell, surveying the stocks of food and drink left for him. It had been almost three weeks since he had his confrontation with Sally... even if she had had little to say, and seemed not at all interested in anything he might have said. She had simply said good bye to him, and he had been immediately taken to some unknown location. There, he had been led down, down, down into what had to be the lowest most levels of a modern day Bastille, or a Dante's Inferno... whichever. Once in his cell, David had seen no one, heard nothing, tried the door on a daily basis to ensure it was still locked (all to no avail) and had only now begun to assess his situation for the number of days his food and water might last him. Starvation would not be a desirable outcome.
The water was apparently as available as he might need, and inasmuch as the lights were going on and off on a regular schedule, they were probably attached to an automatic clock. Obviously then, the utilities had been paid, and were still operational. They might last as long as he needed them. But the food stocks would clearly be used up at some point. Had he perhaps already been indulging a bit too much? Surely not. He did after all have access to his small view screen, which could be seen from his small chair, and which included a variety of movies at his beck and call. He could likely avoid going stir crazy.
But then one morning there had been a change. The movie catalog had failed to appear and in its place only some documentaries about nature, wildlife, and such esoteric offerings as yoga, exercises, and wilderness survival techniques. David had at first been put out by this sudden limitation of his choices -- he had really been getting into one series -- but then he began recalling his last conversation with Sally.
“I no longer know you,” she had said.
“So are you my executioner?” It seemed like a reasonable question.
Her answer had been entirely too succinct: “Just your temporary jailer.”
'Now what the hell was that supposed to mean?' It was true David had quickly been escorted to his cell, but why 'temporary'? 'Was this merely a test? Would he be reinstated after some down time and incarceration? And what's the point of stocking all the food in his cell? Just to avoid his having any contact with anyone else? Shit! He hadn't even heard the slightest sound of any living thing. Was this some sort of perverse albeit relatively comfortable solitary confinement?'
Taking his mind off his plight, and looking again at the food stocks, he began calculating the number of days at given consumption rates. With his mind thus momentarily diverted, the answer to one of his many questions came rocketing into his consciousness. 'Duh!' was his immediate reaction. One, the reason he had not heard the sound of another living soul was that there was no one else there, that they were all gone. Two, his current venue was on automatic, to keep him alive, while time was bought. Three, he would be released... probably automatically... at some prearranged time. Four, at that time he would have to depend upon his wits... and possibly recently learned knowledge... to survive. Five, the survival tapes were to help him in that regard. Six... what was six? Oh yeah. Time to get the body in shape and learn how to survive in the wilderness.
Two weeks later, David had just awakened from a deep sleep with pleasant dreams, the kind often occasioned by good physical activity the day before. There was a very noticeable sound of a lock unlocking. David smiled. It had been three days since he had even bothered to try the lock. Somehow his mind had yielded to the faith of knowing his... by now, former wife... and just how she thought.
David got up, dressed himself in his finest (which was pretty much everything that was still remotely clean), gathered up the remaining food stocks, packed them as well as he could, and opened the cell door. He looked out at a hallway completely deserted... except for a small backpack leaning against the wall next to his door, along with a pair of hiking boots and socks. He put on the boots, added his padded cell shoes and the remaining food stores to the backpack, filled four plastic jugs with water, tried the backpack on, adjusted the straps, and began hiking in the only direction with lights.
David was in the very depths of a three-dimensional labyrinth, but in the true definition of such structures, there was only one way out. This was not a maze, but a return up the pathways and ladders to the surface of the world... and like most labyrinths, something of a mystical journey. And as added encouragement, the lights behind began to go off... perhaps permanently, as he made his way down a hallway or up yet another staircase. David had begun to suspect that had he slowed his pace, he would have been hiking in the dark. On the other hand, David was still operating with a deep faith in Sally's thinking, and as he reached the seventh level above his own, he found himself at a door which had all the markings of being the final exit.
For a few moments, David hesitated, looking around at the place to which he would unlikely want to return. It had its qualities -- nice atmosphere and good food... but very, very lonely. David suspected that his recent home depended entirely too much on functional utilities and the fuel to operate them. There was a partial confirmation of his guess with the last light winking out... leaving him in a profound blackness. Knowing Sally, David calculated he would have perhaps another ten minutes before everything shut down... and with little hope of being brought back on line.
David opened the exit and stepped out into a brilliant morning, the time of day when near by celestial objects such as the moon were invisible in the bright light of day. On this particular morning, there was not even a cloud in sight. And of course not a human either. Also no animals. He was standing next to a very small structure in the middle of an apparently natural grassland. But then off to the right he saw some unique structures: white tents of some kind. The peaks were unusually sharp, more the work of an architect with aesthetic qualities in mind than an engineer... or an American Indian designing the merely functional. David looked at them for some time, realizing that he had seen them before.
Then it hit him: It was the terminal – pardon the word – of Denver International Airport (DIA), set on the grasslands of Northern Colorado and located some distance from the mile high city. David recalled some wags wanting to recognize its location in the middle of Colorado – and thus far from Denver – by renaming it the Colorado International Airport. But then there would be the inevitable unfortunate connection with other organizations with the same acronym. And possibly with good reason.
David took a deep breath. It was now time to somehow prove himself... with survival being the final determinant of the degree of his success. Perhaps in doing so... by honest means... he could then be redeemed for his previous stupidity, arrogance, and general misdeeds. And in accordance with some of the rules to which he had recently been exposed, it was time for less introspection and more action. He started walking, generally in the direction of the tents, but at a slight angle, as if he could keep a better eye on the structure when it was not directly in front of him.
By the time he reached the first outlying terminals, he already knew that the place was deserted. The first clue, of course, had been the 707 which was half on and half off the runway, its previous cargo of passengers having using the rubber ramps to desert that particular sinking-in-the-mud ship.
Moving further along, he toyed with the idea of checking the structure for supplies, but then he frowned. The place was far too obvious and flagrant as a destination for anyone to have left anything of value. It would be better to bypass it... until he saw a movement. Probably a wild animal making its own reconnoiter. But then this particular animal seemed to recognize him as one of her own.
It was a small child, a girl in nice but excessively worn clothes. She was looking at him as if trying to gauge if he was someone she could trust.
David frowned. Survival was always easier when there were no free loaders, no members of the clan who would use more resources than they would ever be able to acquire. Perhaps the wisest thing was to silently wish her luck, pass on by, and ignore her. Probably not more than eight, she would clearly be a hindrance to David's trek... not to mention his... journey.
Journey... That was when the thunderbolt struck. Any test worth taking always involved obeying the rules of play. How could one survive and recover one's honor without being honorable in the process?
David smiled. Lifting his arm, he gestured for the young girl to join him. Rationalizing his action, he concluded that her having managed to survive this long was a testimony to her having some skills. Within moments, she was standing ten feet away, her hand trailing what looked like an old mail bag, but one still partially filled with something of value to the girl.
“Hi,” David said. “I'm David. What's your name?”
The girl was shy, but still managed a smile. “Sarah Margarita.”
'Oh shit,' David thought. 'This is entirely too fucking weird.' Abruptly he laughed out loud. Then when she looked at him with a skeptical gaze, he added, “Where exactly are we? Denver?”
The young Sally substitute thought the question was strange, but she had been taught to always be polite, even with the obviously retarded... and even more so with adults. “Denver. We're at the airport.”
“A good place then to start our great adventure.”
“To find Mommy?”
“Of course,” David answered. “We will have to outsmart the wizard and elude his minions, but together I'm confident we can succeed.”
The girl looked at him, evaluating him with a sharp eye. Her first thought was, 'Which planet are you from?' But blood will tell, as if did for her. She simply asked, “Do you have children?”
“No,” David replied.
Then the girl seemed to understand. “No. I didn't think you did.” As David looked puzzled, she asked herself, 'Wizards? Was he kidding?' With that she slung over her shoulder the mail bag with its nearly depleted store of candy bars and packaged food. It was time to travel. Finally!
David Reston Baer quickly fell in step, following his new ward. Sarah... even though it was not clear to her... had been given the task of leading. Among other things, Sarah Margarita had been destined to give to David a gift... one of inestimable value.
Global Warming had taken center stage. The comet was still out of sight of the vast majority of the human race, many of which in any case would never have bothered to look skyward... at least without some one suggesting that there was something of interest to be seen there. The famines, the plagues, the rapidly collapsing economic and societal structures, and the testing of the apparent absence of law enforcement by anything other than gangs of every imaginable color (including blue), had been sufficient to convince the vast majority of people on the planet's surface that the time of retribution, of rapture, of the return and/or arrival of any number of heroes, inspirations, and/or beasts... was now at hand.
Justice was indeed proving to be blind, if not somewhat random and amenable to the luck of the draw. A highly selective group of the latest round of apocalyptic predictions and prophecies were now being demonstrated in spades. The rumors of all the ships being at sea were evidently being confirmed. And the strange and bewildering activities of collectively large groups of individuals and families had quickly peaked in their intensity and rapidly become absent.
There was now an intense, all pervading atmosphere of eminent events. Those with even the most minimal resources to accomplish it, were sensing a need for quick and decisive mobility. It had long been understood by those who specialized in such knowledge that a naval aircraft carrier had great advantages over fixed land bound airfields, that missiles mounted on trains and other vehicles were more defensible than the most hardened silos, and that the only way to minimize damage in a rock fight when your side is at the bottom of the well is to have a very large area in which to run whenever necessary. Furthermore, the greater the range, the better.
Such considerations might account for the latest model of icebreakers now plying oceans. These babies had everything. But for the moment they would not be plying their trade in its most obvious venue, if only because there was likely to be more action than even they could tolerate. The state-of-the-art vessels had in fact being kept on ice... so to speak. They would be held in reserve until they could begin gathering data as only they could. In the meantime, they would simply be just a few more ships, armed to the teeth, and with select crews taking turns at watching the skies.
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