From The Journals Of Candidia Smith-Foster:
“By now reader probably wondering who or what H. post hominem might be. Or (at very least) me. Viewed in that light, introductions are in order:
“Name: Candidia Maria Smith-Foster. Born 11 years ago to Smiths; orphaned six months later; adopted by Dr. and Mrs. Foster—‘Daddy’ and ‘Momma.’ Been known as ‘Candy’ since first breath.
“Homo post hominem is new species, apparently immune to all ‘human’ disease, plus smarter, stronger, faster, etc., emerging to inherit Earth after H. sapiens eliminated selves in short, efficient bio-nuclear war. Am myself Homo post hominem. Rode out war in Daddy’s marvelous shelter, now engaged in walkabout, searching for fellow survivors. Of which reader must be one. . . .
“Tomorrow morning, though not now. Tired. Disappointed. Perhaps just bad day: too long, too many expectations. Too much letdown.
“Never mind. Tomorrow is another day—Pollyanna lives!”
The original Emergence novella, Volume I herein, and its sequel, Seeking, Volume II, were published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine. Both earned Nebula Award nominations, Hugo Award nominations, as well as Philip K. Dick Award nominations for best new writer. In addition to those nominations (and coming in second in the final Hugo balloting in 1985), the Emergence novel won the Balticon’s Compton Crook Award for best first novel.
Volume I Emergence
Nothing to do? Nowhere to go? Time hangs heavy? Bored? Depressed? Also badly scared? Causal factors beyond control?
Unfortunate. Regrettable. Vicious cycle—snake swallowing own tail: Mind dwells on problems; problems fester, assume ever greater importance for mind to dwell on. Etc. Bad enough where problems minor.
Psychology text offers varied solutions: Recommends keeping occupied; busywork if necessary, keep mind distracted. Better if busywork offers challenge, degree of frustration. Still better that I have responsibility. All helps.
Anyway, keeping busy difficult. Granted, more books in shelter than public library; more tools, equipment, supplies, etc., than Swiss Family Robinson’s wrecked ship—all latest developments: lightest, simplest, cleverest, most reliable, nonrusting, Sanforized. All useless unless—correction—until I get out (and of lot, know uses of maybe half dozen: screwdriver for opening stuck drawer; hammer to tenderize steak, break ice cubes; hacksaw for cutting frozen meat. . . .).
Oh, well, surely must be books explaining selection, use.
Truly, surely are books—thousands! Plus extensive microfilm library, even bigger. But hardcopy, film libraries dwarfed by data stored digitally—in wan hope that functioning reader equipment (never mind electricity!) will be available when dust settles.
Much deep stuff: classics, contemporary; comprehensive museum of Man’s finest works: words, canvas, 3-D and multiview reproductions of statuary. Also scientific: medical, dental, veterinary, entomology, genetics, biology (marine as well as dry-land); engineering, electronics, physics (both nuclear and garden variety); agronomy, woodcraft, survival, etc., etc.; poetry, fiction, biographies of great, near-misses; philosophy—even broad selection of world’s fantasy, new and old. Complete Oz books, etc. Happy surprise, that.
Daddy was determined Man’s highest achievements not vanish in Fireworks; also positive same just around corner. (Confession: Wondered sometimes if playing with complete deck; spent incalculable sums on shelter and contents. Turns out was right; is probably having last laugh Somewhere. Wish were here to needle me about it—but wouldn’t if could; was too nice. Miss him. Very much.)
Growing maudlin. Above definitely constitutes “dwelling” in pathological sense as defined by psychology text. Time to click heels, clap hands, smile, Shuffle Off to Buffalo.
Anyhow, mountains of books, microfilm, CDs of limited benefit; too deep. Take classics: Can tolerate just so long; then side effects set in. Resembles obtaining manicure by scratching fingernails on blackboard—can, but would rather suffer long fingernails. Same with classics as sole remedy for “dwelling”: Not sure which is worse. May be that too much culture in sudden doses harmful to health; perhaps must build up immunity progressively.
And technical is worse. Thought I had good foundation in math, basic sciences. Wrong—background good, considering age; but here haven’t found anything elementary enough to form opening wedge. Of course, haven’t gotten organized yet; haven’t assimilated catalog, planned orderly approach to subjects of interest. Shall; but for now, can get almost as bored looking at horrid pictures of results of endocrine misfunctions as by wading through classics.
And am rationing fantasy, of course. Thousands of titles, but dasn’t lose head. Speed-reader, you know; breach discipline, well runs dry in matter of days.
Then found book on Pitman shorthand. Changed everything. Told once by unimpeachable source (Mrs. Hartman, Daddy’s secretary and receptionist) was best, potentially fastest, most versatile of various pen systems. Also most difficult to learn well. (Footnote, concession to historical accuracy: Was also her system; source possibly contaminated by tinge of bias.) However, seemed promising; offered challenge, frustration. Besides, pothook patterns quite pretty; art form of sorts. Hoped would be entertaining.
Was—for about two days. Then memory finished absorbing principles of shorthand theory, guidelines for briefing and phrasing; transferred same to cortex—end of challenge. Tiresome being genius sometimes.
Well, even if no longer entertaining for own sake, still useful, much more practical than longhand; ideal for keeping journal, writing biography for archaeologists. Probably not bother if limited to longhand; too slow, cumbersome. Effort involved would dull enthusiasm (of which little present anyway), wipe out paper supply in short order. Pitman fits entire life story on line and a half. (Of course helps I had short life—correction: Helps brevity; does nothing for spirits.)
Problem with spirits serious business. Body trapped far underground; emotional index substantially lower. Prospects not good for body getting out alive, but odds not improved by emotional state. Depression renders intelligent option assessment improbable. In present condition would likely overlook ten good bets, flip coin over dregs. Situation probably not hopeless as seems; but lacking data, useful education, specialized knowledge (and guts), can’t form viable conclusion suggesting happy outcome. And lacking same, tend to assume worst.
So journal not just for archaeologists. Therapeutic; catharsis: Spill guts on paper, feel better. Must be true—psychology text says so (though cautions is better to pay Ph.D.-equipped voyeur week’s salary per hour to listen. However, none such included in shelter inventory; will have to make do).
First step: Bring journal up-to-date. Never kept one; not conversant with format requirements, Right Thing To Do. Therefore will use own judgment.
One thing certain: Sentence structure throughout will have English teachers spinning in graves (those fortunate enough to have one).
English 60 percent flab, null symbols, waste. Suspect massive inefficiency stems from subconsciously recognized need to stall, give inferior intellects chance to collect thoughts into semblance of coherence (usually without success), and to show-off (my $12-word can lick your $10-word). Will not adhere to precedent; makes little sense to write shorthand, then cancel advantage by employing rambling academese.
Hmm . . . Keep getting sidetracked into social criticism. Probably symptom of condition. Stupid; all evidence says no society left. Was saying:
First step: Bring journal up to present; purge self of neuroses, sundry hangups. Then record daily orderly progress in study of situation, subsequent systematic (brilliant) self-extrication from dire straits. Benefits twofold:
First, will wash, dry, fold, put away psyche; restore mind to customary genius; enhance prospects for successful escape, subsequent survival. Second, will give archaeologists details on cause of untimely demise amidst confusing mass of artifacts in shelter should anticipated first benefit lose rosy glow. (Must confess solicitude for bone gropers forced; bones in question mine!)
Enough maundering. Time to bear down, flay soul for own good. Being neurotic almost as tiresome as being genius. (Attention archaeologists: Clear room of impressionable youths and/or mixed company—torrid details follow:)
Born 11 years ago in small Wisconsin town, only child of normal parents. Named Candidia Maria Smith; reduced to Candy before ink dried on certificate. Early indications of atypicality: Eyes focused, tracked at birth; cause-effect association evident by six weeks; first words at four months; sentences at six months.
—Orphaned at six months. Parents killed in car accident.
No relatives—created dilemma for baby-sitter. Solved when social worker took charge. Was awfully cute baby; adopted in record time.
Doctor Foster and wife good parents: Loving, attentive; very fond of each other, showed it. Provided good environment for formative years. Then Momma died. Left just Daddy and me; drew us very close. Was probably shamelessly spoiled, but also stifled:
Barely five then, but wanted to learn—only Daddy had firm notions concerning appropriate learning pace, direction for “normal” upbringing. Did not approve of precocity; felt was unhealthy, would lead to future maladjustment, unhappiness. Also paternalistic sexist; had bad case of ingrown stereotypitis. Censored activities, reading; dragged heels at slightest suggestion of precocious behavior, atypical interests.
Momma had disagreed; aided, indulged. With her help I learned to read by age two; understood basic numerical relationships by three: Could add, subtract, multiply, divide. Big help until she had to leave.
So sneaked most of education. Had to—certainly not available in small-town classroom. Not difficult; developed speedreading habit, could finish high school text in 10, 20 minutes; digest typical best-seller in half, three quarters of hour. Haunted school, local libraries at every opportunity (visits only; couldn’t bring choices home). But town small; exhausted obvious resources three years ago. Have existed since on meager fruits of covert operations in friends’ homes, bookstores; occasional raids on neighboring towns’ libraries, schools. Of course not all such forays profitable; small-town resources tend to run same direction: slowly, in circles. Catalogs mostly shallow, duplicated; originality lacking.
Frustrating. Made more so by knowledge that Daddy’s personal in-house library rivaled volume count of local school, public libraries put together (not counting shelter collection, but didn’t know about that then)—and couldn’t get halfway down first page of 95 percent of contents.
Daddy pathologist; books imperviously technical. So far over head, couldn’t even tell where gap lay. (Ask cannibal fresh off plane from Amazon for analysis of educational deficiencies causing noncomprehension of commercial banking structure.) Texts dense; assumed reader already possessing high-level competency. Sadly lacking in own case—result of conspiracy. So languished, fed in dribbles as tireless prospecting uncovered new sources.
Single bright exception: Soo Kim McDivott, son of American missionary in Boxer Rebellion days, product of early East-West alliance. Was 73 when retired, moved next-door two years ago. Apparently had been some sort of teacher whole life but never achieved tenure; tended to get fired over views. Did not appear to mind.
Strange old man. Gentle, soft-spoken, very polite; small, seemed almost frail. Oriental flavoring lent elf-like quality to wizened features; effect not reduced by mischief sparkling from eyes.
Within two weeks became juvenile activity focus for most of town. Cannot speak for bulk of kids, but motivation obvious in own case: Aside from intrinsic personal warmth, knew everything—and if exception turned up would gleefully drop everything, help find out—and had books. House undoubtedly in violation of Fire Code; often wondered how structural members took load.
Fascinating man: Could, would discuss anything. But wondered for a time how managed as teacher; never answered questions but with questions. Seemed whenever I had question, ended up doing own research, telling him answer. Took a while to catch on, longer before truly appreciated: Had no interest in teaching knowledge, factual information—taught learning. Difference important; seldom understood, even more rarely appreciated. Don’t doubt was reason for apparent modest retirement income.
Oh, almost forgot: Could split bricks with sidelong glance, wreak untold destruction with twitch of muscle. Any muscle. Was Tenth Degree Master of Karate. Didn’t know were such; thought ratings topped at Eighth—and heard rumors they could walk on water. (But doubt Master Mac would bother. Should need arise, would politely ask waters to part—but more likely request anticipated, unnecessary.)
Second day after moving in, Master was strolling down Main Street when happened upon four young men, early 20s, drunk, unkempt—Summer People (sorry, my single ineradicable prejudice)—engaged in self-expression at Miller’s Drugstore. Activities consisted of inverting furniture, displays; dumping soda-fountain containers (milk, syrup, etc.) on floor; throwing merchandise through display windows. Were discussing also throwing Mr. Miller when Master Mac arrived on scene.
Assessed situation; politely requested cease, desist, await authorities’ arrival. Disbelieving onlookers averted, closed eyes; didn’t want to watch expected carnage. Filthy Four dropped Mr. Miller, converged on frail-looking old Chinese. Then all fell down, had subsequent difficulty arising. Situation remained static until police arrived.
Filthies taken into custody, then to hospital. Attempted investigation of altercation unrewarding: Too many eyewitness accounts—all contradictory, disbelieving, unlikely. However, recurring similarities in stories suggested simultaneous stumble as Filthies reached for Master; then all fell, accumulating severe injuries therefrom: four broken jaws, two arms, two legs, two wrists; two dislocated hips; two ruptured spleens. Plus bruises in astonishing places.
Single point of unanimity—ask anyone: Master Mac never moved throughout.
Police took notes in visibly strained silence. Also took statement from Master Mac. But of dubious help: Consisted mostly of questions.
Following week YMCA announced Master Mac to teach karate classes. Resulted in near-riot (by small-town standards). Standing room only at registration; near fistfights over positions in line.
Was 16th on list to start first classes but deserve no credit for inclusion: Daddy’s doing. Wanted badly—considering sociological trends, self-defense skills looked ever more like required social graces for future survival—but hesitated to broach subject; seemed probable conflict with “normal upbringing” dictum.
So finally asked. Surprise! Agreed—granted dispensation! Was still in shock when Daddy asked time, date of registration. Showed him article in paper: noon tomorrow. Looked thoughtful maybe five seconds; then rushed us outdoors, down street to Y. Already 15 ahead of us, equipped to stay duration.
Daddy common as old slipper: warm, comfortable, folksy. But shared aspects with iceberg: Nine-tenths of brains not evident in everyday life. Knew was very smart, of course. Implicit from job; pathologist knows everything any other specialist does, plus own job. Obviously not career for cretin—and was good pathologist. Renowned.
But not show-off; was easy to forget; reminders few, far between. Scope, foresight, quick reactions, Command Presence demonstrated only in time of need.
Such occurred now: While I stood in line with mouth open (and 20 more hopefuls piled up behind us like Keystone Kops), Daddy organized friends to bring chairs, cot, food, drink, warm clothing, blankets, rainproofs, etc. Took three minutes on phone. Was impressed. Then astounded—spent whole night on sidewalk with me, splitting watches, trading off visits to Little Persons’ room when need arose.
Got all choked up when he announced intention. Hugged him breathless; told him kismet had provided better father than most workings of genetic coincidence. Did not reply, but got hugged back harder than usual; caught glimpse of extra reflections in corners of eyes from streetlight. Special night; full of warmth, feelings of belonging, togetherness.
After Daddy’s magnificent contribution, effort to get me into class, felt slight pangs of guilt over my subsequent misdirection, concealment of true motivation. True, attended classes, worked hard; became, in fact, star pupil. But had to—star pupils qualified for private instruction—yup!—at Master’s home, surrounded by what appeared to be 90 percent of books in Creation.
Earned way though. Devoted great effort to maintaining favored status; achieved Black Belt in ten months, state championship (for age/weight group) six months later. Was considered probable national championship material, possibly world. Enjoyed; great fun, terrific physical conditioning, obvious potential value (ask Filthy Four), good for ego due to adulation over ever-lengthening string of successes, capture of state loving cup (ironic misnomer—contest was mock combat: “killed” seven opponents, “maimed” 22 others for life or longer).
But purely incidental; in no way distracted from main purpose:
With aid of Master (addressed as “Teacher” away from dojo) had absorbed equivalent of advanced high school education, some college by time world ended: Math through calculus, chemistry, beginnings of physics; good start on college biology, life sciences—doing well.
Occasionally caught Teacher regarding me as hen puzzles over product of swan egg slipped into nest; making notes in “Tarzan File” (unresolved enigma: Huge file, never explained; partially concerned me, as achievements frequently resulted in entries, but 36 inches thick before I entered picture); however, definitely approved—and his approval better for ego than state cup.
Regarding which, had by then achieved Fifth Degree; could break brick with edge of hand, knee, foot. But didn’t after learned I could. Prospect distressed Daddy. Poor dear could visualize with professional exactitude pathological consequences of attempt by untrained; knew just what each bone splinter would look like, where would be driven; which tendons torn from what insertions; which nerves destroyed forever, etc. Had wistful ambition I might follow into medicine; considered prospects bleak for applicant with deformed, callused hammers dangling from wrists.
Needless concern; calluses unnecessary. With proper control, body delivers blow through normal hands without discomfort, damage. Is possible, of course, to abuse nature to point where fingers, knuckles, edge of hands, etc., all turn to flint, but never seen outside exhibitions. Serves no purpose in practice of Art; regarded with disdain by serious student, Master alike.
So much for happy memories.
Not long ago world situation took turn for worse. Considering character of usual headlines when change began, outlook became downright grim.
Daddy tried to hide concern but spent long hours reading reports from Washington (appreciated for first time just how renowned was when saw whom from), watching news; consulting variety of foreign, domestic officials by phone. Seemed cheerful enough, but when thought I wasn’t looking, mask slipped.
Finally called me into study. Sat me down; gave long, serious lecture on how bad things were. Made me lead through house, point out entrances to emergency chute leading down to shelter (dreadful thing—200-foot vertical drop in pitch dark, cushioned at bottom only by gradual curve as polished sides swing to horizontal, enter shelter). Then insisted we take plunge for “practice.” Although considered repetition more likely to induce psychic block, make subsequent use impossible—even in time of need—performed as requested. Not as bad as expected; terror index fell perhaps five percent short of anticipation. But not fun.
However, first time in shelter since age three. Scenic attractions quickly distracted from momentary cardiac arrest incurred in transit. Concealed below modest small-town frame house of unassuming doctor was Eighth Wonder of World. Shelter is three-story structure carved from bedrock, 100 feet by 50; five-eighths shelves, storage compartments. Recognized microfilm immediately; identical to one used at big hospital over in next county. Film storage file cabinets same, too—only occupied full length of two long walls; plus four free-standing files ran almost full length of room. Rest bookshelves, as is whole of second floor. Basement seems mostly tools, machinery, instrumentation.
Hardly heard basic life-support function operation lecture: air regeneration, waste reclamation, power production, etc. Was all could do to look attentive—books drew me like magnet. However, managed to keep head; paid sufficient attention to ask intelligent-sounding questions. Actually learned basics of how to work shelter’s vital components
—because occurred to me: Could read undisturbed down there if knew how to make habitable. (Feel guilty about that, too; here Daddy worried sick over my survival In The Event Of—and object of concern scheming about continued selfish pursuit of printed word.)
Tour, lecture ended. Endless spiral staircase up tube five feet in diameter led back to comfortable world of small-town reality. Life resumed where interrupted.
With exception: Now was alert for suitable opportunity to begin exploration of shelter.
Not readily available. As Fifth, was qualified assistant instructor at formal classes; took up appreciable time. Much of rest devoted to own study—both Art (wanted to attain Sixth; would have been youngest in world) and academics, both under approving eye of Master.
Plus null time spent occupying space in grammar school classroom, trying not to look too obviously bored while maintaining straight-A average. (Only amusement consisted of correcting textbooks, teachers—usually involved digging up proof, confrontations in principal’s office.) Plus sundry activities rounding out image of “normally well-rounded 11-year-old.”
But patience always rewarded. If of sufficient duration. Daddy called to Washington; agreed was adult enough to take care of self, house, Terry during three days’ expected absence. Managed not to drool at prospect.
Terry? True, didn’t mention before, by name; just that had responsibility. Remember? First page, fourth paragraph. Pay attention—may spring quiz.
Terry is retarded, adopted twin brother. Saw light of day virtually same moment I emerged—or would have had opened eyes. Early on showed more promise than I: Walked at nine weeks, first words at three months, could fly at 14 weeks. Achieved fairly complex phrases by six months but never managed complete sentences. Peaked early but low.
Not fair description. Actually Terry is brilliant—for macaw. Also beautiful. Hyacinthine Macaw, known to lowbrows as Hyacinth, pseudointellectuals as anodorhynchus hyacinthinus—terrible thing to say about sweet baby bird. Full name Terry D. Foster (initial stands for Dactyll). Length perhaps 36 inches (half of which is tail feathers); basic color rich, glowing, hyacinth blue (positively electric in sunlight), with bright yellow eye patches like clown, black feet and bill. Features permanently arranged in jolly Alfred E. Neuman, village-idiot smile. Diet is anything within reach, but ideally consists of properly mixed nuts, seeds, assorted fruits, sprinkling of meat, etc.
Hobbies include getting head and neck scritched (serious business, this), art of conversation, destruction of world. Talent for latter avocation truly awe-inspiring: 1,500 pounds pressure available at business end of huge, hooked beak. Firmly believe if left Terry with four-inch cube of solid tungsten carbide, would return in two hours to find equivalent mass of metal dust, undimmed enthusiasm.
Really was convinced were siblings when very young. First deep childhood trauma (not affected by loss of blood parents; too young at time, too many interesting things happening) induced by realization was built wrong, would never learn to fly. Had stubbornly mastered perching on playpen rail shortly before began walking (though never did get to point of preferring nonchalant one-legged stance twin affected—toes deformed: stunted, too short for reliable grip), but subsequent step simply beyond talents.
Early on, wondered occasionally whether this phase of youth contributed to appearance of symptoms leading to early demise of Momma Foster. Clearly recall first time she entered room, found us perched together on rail, furiously “exercising wings.” Viewed in retrospect, notwithstanding medical specifics, amazing didn’t expire on spot.
(Sounds cold, unfeeling; is not. Momma given long advance notice; knew almost to day when could expect to leave. Prepared me with wisdom, understanding, love. Saw departure as unavoidable but wonderful opportunity, adventure; stated was prepared to accept, even excuse, reasonable regret over plans spoiled, things undone—but not grief. Compared grief over death of friend to envy of friend’s good fortune: selfish reaction—feeling sorry for self, not friend. Compared own going to taking wonderful trip; “spoiled plans” to giving up conflicting movie, picnic, swim in lake. Besides, was given big responsibility—charged me with “looking after Daddy.” Explained he had formed many elaborate plans involving three of us—many more than she or I had. Doubtless would be appreciably more disappointed, feel more regret over inability to carry out. Would need love, understanding during period it took him to reform plans around two remaining behind. Did such a job on me, truly did not suffer loss, grief; just missed her when gone, hoped was having good time.)
Awoke morning of Daddy’s trip to startling realization—didn’t want him to go. Didn’t like prospect of being alone three days: Didn’t like idea of him alone three days. Lay abed trying to resolve disquieting feeling. Or at least identify. Could do neither; had never foreboded before. Subliminal sensation: below conscious level but intrusive. Multiplied by substantial factor could be mistaken for fear—no, not fear, exactly; more like mindless, screaming terror.
But silly; nothing to be scared about. Mrs. Hartman would be working in office in front part of house during day; house locked tight at night—with additional security provided by certain distinctly non-small-town devices Daddy recently caused installed. Plus good neighbors on all sides, available through telephone right at bedside or single loud scream.
Besides, was I not Candy Smith-Foster, State Champion, Scourge of Twelve-and-Under Class, second most dangerous mortal within 200-mile radius? (By now knew details of Filthy Four’s “stumble,” and doubt would have gotten off so lightly had I been intercessor.)
Was. So told feeling to shut up. Washed, dressed, went down to breakfast with Daddy and Terry.
Conduct during send-off admirable; performance qualified for finals in stiff-upper-lip-of-year-award contest. Merely gave big hug, kiss; cautioned stay out of trouble in capital, but if occurred, call me soonest—would come to rescue: split skulls, break bones, mess up adversaries something awful. Sentiment rewarded by lingering return hug, similar caution about self during absence (but expressed with more dignity).
Then door of government-supplied, chauffeur-driven, police-escorted limousine closed; vehicle made its long, black way down street, out of sight around corner.
Spent morning at school, afternoon teaching at Y, followed by own class with Master. Finally found self home, now empty except Terry (voicing disapproval of day’s isolation at top of ample lungs); Mrs. Hartman done for day, had gone home. Silenced twin by scritching head, transferring to shoulder (loves assisting with household chores, though acceptance means about three times as much work as doing by self—requires everything be done at arm’s length, out of reach).
Made supper, ate, gave Terry whole tablespoon of peanut butter as compensation for boring day (expressed appreciation by crimping spoon double). Did dishes, cleaned house in aimless fashion; started over.
Finally realized was dithering, engaging in busywork; afraid to admit really was home alone, actually had opportunity for unhindered investigation of shelter. Took hard look at conflict; decided was rooted in guilt over intent to take advantage of Daddy’s absence to violate known wishes. Reminded self that existence of violation hinged upon accuracy of opinion concerning unvocalized desires; “known wishes” question-begging terminology if ever was one. Also told self firmly, analysis of guilt feeling same as elimination. Almost believed.
Impatiently stood, started toward basement door. Terry recognized signs, set up protest against prospect of evening’s abandonment. Sighed, went back, transferred to shoulder. Brother rubbed head on cheek in gratitude, gently bit end of nose, said, “You’re so bad,” in relieved tones. Gagged slightly; peanut-butter breath from bird is rare treat.
Descended long spiral stairs down tube to shelter. Ran through power-up routine, activated systems. Then began exploration.
Proceeded slowly. Terry’s first time below; found entertaining. Said, “How ’bout that!” every ten seconds. Also stretched neck, bobbed head, expressed passionate desire to sample every book as pulled from shelf. Sternly warned of brief future as giblet dressing if touched so much as single page. Apparently thought prospect sounded fun, redoubled efforts. But used to idiot twin’s antisocial behavior; spoiled fun almost without conscious thought as proceeded with exploration.
Soon realized random peeking useless; was in position of hungry kid dropped in middle of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: too much choice. Example: Whole cabinet next to microfilm viewer was catalog!
Three feet wide, eight high; drawers three feet deep, six inches wide (rows of six); ten titles per card (thin cards)—72 cubic feet of solid catalog.
(Wondered, for possibly five seconds, at Daddy’s apparent inefficiency—why on earth inflict such labor upon presumed future users . . . But then—oh, yeah, EMP: electromagnetic pulse—barring extraordinarily advanced technological precautions, odds that anything complexly electronic still functioning once anticipated thermonuclear bursts’ wavefronts completed appointed rounds vanishingly small.)
Which explained (but in no way mitigated) scope of project facing me, prospect of which positively took breath away to contemplate.
Also depressed; likelihood of mapping orderly campaign to augment education not good. Didn’t know where to start; which books, films within present capacity; where to go from there. Only thing more tiresome than being repressed genius is being ignorant genius recognizing own status.
Decided to consult Teacher; try to get him to list books he considered ideal to further education most rapidly from present point, cost no object. (Giving consideration to Daddy’s ambition to see me become doctor; but regardless, no education wasted. Knowledge worthwhile for own sake.)
Didn’t feel should report discovery—would be breach of confidence—but could use indirect approach. Not lie; just not mention that any book suggested undoubtedly available on moment’s notice. Ought to fool him all of ten seconds.
Started toward switchboard to power-down shelter. Hand touching first switch in sequence when row of red lights began flashing, three large bells on wall next to panel commenced deafening clangor.
Snatched hand back as if from hot stove; thought had activated burglar alarm (if reaction included thought at all).
Feverish inspection of panel disclosed no hint of such, but found switch marked “Alarm Bells, North American Air Defense Command Alert.” Opened quickly; relieved to note cessation of din, but lights continued flashing. Then, as watched, second row, labeled “Attack Detected,” began flashing.
Problem with being genius is tendency to think deep, mull hidden significance, overlook obvious. Retrieved Terry (as usual, at first loud noise had gone for help), scritched head to soothe nerves. Twin declared, “That’s bad!” several times; dug claws into shoulder, flapped wings to show had not really been scared.
Requested birdbrain settle down, shut up; wished to contemplate board’s implications.
Which were impressive. Daddy must be truly high-up closet VIP to rate such inside data supplied to home shelter.
As considered this, another row flashed on, this one labeled “Retaliation Initiated.” Imagine—blow-by-blow nuclear-war info updates supplied to own home! Wonderful to be so important. Amazing man. And so modest—all these years never let on.
Wondered about real function in government. With such brains, was probably head of super-secret spy bureau, in charge of dozens of James Bond types.
Don’t know how long mindless rumination went on; finally something clicked in head: Attack? Retaliation? Hey . . . !
Bolted for steps. Terry sank in claws, voiced protest over sudden movement.
Stopped like statue. Daddy’s voice, tinny, obviously recording: “Red alert, radiation detected. Level above danger limit. Shelter will seal in 30 seconds—29, 28, 27 . . .”
Stood frozen; listened as familiar voice delivered requiem for everything had ever known and loved—including, probably, himself. Interrupted count once at 15-second mark to repeat radiation warning, again at five seconds.
Then came deep-toned humming; powerful motors slid blocks of concrete, steel, lead across top of stairwell, did same for emergency-entry chute. Sealing process terminated with solidly mechanical clunks, thuds. Motors whined in momentary overload as program ensured everything tight.
Then truly alone. Stood staring at nothing for long minutes. Did not know when silent tears began; noticed wet face when Terry sampled, found too salty. Shook head; said softly, “Poo-oor bay-bee. . . .”
Presently found self sitting in chair. Radio on; could not remember turning switch, locating frequency carrying Emergency Broadcast System. Just sat, listened to reports. Only time stirred was to feed, water Terry; use potty. Station on air yet, but manned only first three days.
Was enough, told story: Mankind eliminated. Radiation, man-made disease. International quick-draw ended in tie.
Final voice on air complained weakly situation didn’t make sense: Was speaking from defense headquarters near Denver—miles underground, utterly bombproof, airtight; self-contained air, water—so why dying? Why last alive in entire installation? Didn’t make sense. . . .
Agreed, but thought objection too limited in scope.
Also wondered why we were still alive. Likewise didn’t make sense: If invulnerability of NORAD headquarters—located under Cheyenne Mountain, just this side of Earth’s core—proving ineffective, how come fancy subcellar hidey-hole under house in small town still keeping occupants alive? And for how long? Figured had to be just matter of time.
Therefore became obsessed with worry over fate of retarded brother. Were safe from radiation (it seemed), but plague another matter. Doubted would affect avian biochemistry; would kill me, leave poor baby to starve, die of thirst. Agonized over dilemma for days. Finally went downstairs; hoped might turn up something in stores could use as Terry’s Final Friend.
Did. Found armory. Thought of what might have to do almost triggered catatonia; but knew twin’s escape from suffering dependent on me, so mechanically went ahead with selection of shotgun. Found shells, loaded gun. Carried upstairs, placed on table. Then waited for cue.
Knew symptoms; various EBS voices had described own, those of friends. Were six to syndrome. Order in which appeared reported variable; number present at onset of final unconsciousness not. Four symptoms always, then fifth: period of extreme dizziness—clue to beginning of final decline. Was important, critical to timing with regard to Terry. Desperately afraid might wait too long; condemn poor incompetent to agonizing last days.
And almost more afraid might react to false alarm, proceed with euthanasia; then fail to die—have to face scattered, blood-spattered feathers, headless body of sweetest, jolliest, most devoted, undemandingly loving friend had ever known.
Which was prospect if acted too soon—intended to stand 20 feet away, blow off head while engrossed in peanut butter. Pellet pattern expansion sufficient at that distance to ensure virtually instantaneous vaporization of entire head, instant kill before possibility of realization, pain. Would rather suffer own dismemberment, boiling in oil, than see innocent baby suffer, know was me causing.
Thus, very important to judge own condition accurately when plague sets in.
Only hasn’t yet. Been waiting three weeks, paralyzed with grief, fear, apprehension, indecision. But such emotions wearisome when protracted; eventually lose grip on victim. I think perhaps might have—particularly now that journal up to date, catharsis finished. Book says therapy requires good night’s sleep after spilling guts; then feel better in morning. Suspect may be right; do feel better.
Okay. Tomorrow will get organized . . . !
∞ ∞ ∞
Good morning, Posterity! Happy to report I spent good night. Slept as if already dead—first time since trouble began. No dreams; if tossed, turned, did so without noticing. Appears psychology-text writer knew stuff (certainly should have; more letters following name than in). Catharsis worked—at least would seem; felt good on waking. Wounds obviously not healed yet, but closed. A beginning—scabs on soul much better than hemorrhage.
Situation unchanged; obviously not happy about fact (if were, would know had slipped cams), but this morning can look at Terry without bursting into tears; can face possibility might have to speed birdbrained twin to Reward before own condition renders unable. Thought produces entirely reasonable antipathy, sincere hope will prove unnecessary—but nothing more.
Despairing paralysis gone; mind no longer locked into hopeless inverse logarithmic spiral, following own tail around ever-closer, all-enveloping fear of ugly possibility.
Seems have regained practical outlook held prior to Armageddon; i.e., regard worry as wasteful, counterproductive if continued after recognition, analysis of impending problem, covering bases to extent resources permit. Endless bone-worrying not constructive exercise; if anything, diminishes odds for favorable outcome by limiting scope of mind’s operation, cuts down opportunities for serendipity to lend hand. Besides, takes fun out of life—especially important when little enough to be had.
Time I rejoined world of living (possibly not most apt choice of words—hope do not find am in exclusive possession). First step: Consider well-being. Have sadly neglected state of health past three weeks; mostly just sat in chair, lay abed listening to airwaves hiss.
And speaking of physical well-being—have just noticed: am ravenous! Have nibbled intermittently, without attention to frequency, content—mostly when feeding, watering Terry.
(Regardless of own condition, did not neglect jovial imbecile during course of depression. Even cobbled up makeshift stand from chair, hardwood implement handle; found sturdy dishes, secured firmly to discourage potential hilarity. Granted, diet not ideal—canned vegetables, fruits, meat, etc.—but heard no complaints from clientele, and would be no doubt if existed: Dissatisfaction with offerings usually first indicated by throwing on floor; if prompt improvement not forthcoming, abandons subtlety.)
Have also noticed am filthy! Wearing same clothes came downstairs in three weeks ago. Neither garments nor underlying smelly germ farm exposed to water, soap, deodorant since. (Can this be same fastidious Candy Smith-Foster who insists upon shower, complete change of clothing following any hint of physical exertion, contact with even potentially soiled environment? Regrettably is.) And now that am in condition to notice—have! Self-respecting maggot would take trade elsewhere.
So please excuse. Must rectify immediately. Bath (probably take three, four complete water changes to do job) followed by proper meal, clean clothes. Then get down to business. Time to find out about contents of shelter—availability of resources relevant to problems.
Be back later. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Apologies for delay, neglect. But have been so busy!
Bath, resumption of proper nutrition completed cure. Spirits restored; likewise determination, resourcefulness, curiosity (intellectual variety; am not snoop—rumors to contrary). Also resumed exercises, drills (paid immediate penalty for three-week neglect of Art—first attempt at usual kata nearly broke important places, left numerous sore muscles).
Have systematically charted shelter. Took pen, pad downstairs to stores, took inventory. Then went through bookshelves in slow, painstaking manner; recorded titles, locations of volumes applicable to problems. Project took best part of three days. Worth effort; variety, volume of equipment simply awesome. Together with library, probably represents everything necessary for singlehanded founding of bright new civilization—from scratch, if necessary.
(Not keen on singlehanding part, however; sounds lonely. [Besides, know nothing about Applied Parthogenesis; not merit badge topic in scouts. Only memory of subject’s discussion concerned related research—was no-no; leader claimed caused myopia, acne, nonspecific psychoses.] Oh, well, considering age, prospects for achieving functional puberty, seems less than pressing issue.)
Speaking of pressing issues, however—found food. Founder of civilization certainly will eat well in interim. Must be five-year supply of frozen meat, fruit, fresh vegetables in deep-freeze locker adjoining lower level (huge thing—50 feet square). Stumbled upon by accident; door wasn’t labeled. Opened during routine exploration expecting just another bin. Light came on, illuminating scenery—almost froze tip of nose admiring contents before realized was standing in 50-degree-below-zero draft. Also good news for Terry: Daddy anticipated presence; lifetime supply of proper seed mix in corner bin. Will keep forever; too cold to hatch inevitable weevil eggs, etc.
Actually haven’t minded canned diet; good variety available—but sure was nice to drop mortally-peppered steak onto near-incandescent griddle, inhale fumes as cooked; then cut with fork while still bleeding inside charred exterior. Of course, had to fight Terry for share; may be something likes better, but doesn’t come readily to mind.
Is regrettable this could be part of Last Words; means must exercise honesty in setting down account. Bulk of organized theologies I’ve read opine dying with lie upon lips bodes ill for direction of departure. Since can be no doubt of Terry’s final Destination, must keep own powder dry. Twin would be lonely if got There without me—besides, without watching would announce presence by eating pearls out of Gate.
So despite self-serving impulses, must record faithfully shameful details of final phase in monumental inventory: assault upon card file. Intended to make painstaking, card-by-card inspection of microfilm catalog (vastly more extensive than bound collection), recording titles suggesting relevance to problems. Grim prospect: 72 cubic feet holds dreadful quantity of cards—each with ten titles. Even considering own formidable reading speed, use of Pitman for notes, seemed likely project would account for substantial slice of remaining lifespan—even assuming can count upon normal duration.
However, could see no other way; needed information. So took down first drawer (from just below ceiling, of course; but thoughtful Daddy provided rolling ladder as in public stacks), set on table next to notepad. Sighed, took out first card, scanned—stopped, looked again. Pulled out next 20, 30; checked quickly. Made unladylike observation regarding own brains (genius, remember?). Reflected (after exhausted self-descriptive talents) had again underestimated Daddy.
Humble healer, gentle father was embodiment of patience—but had none with unnecessary inefficiency. Obviously would have devised system to locate specifics in such huge collection. Useless otherwise; researcher could spend most of life looking for data instead of using.
First 200 cards index of index. Alphabetically categorized, cross-referenced to numbered file locations. Pick category, look up location in main file; check main file for specific titles, authors; find films, CDs from specific location number on individual card. Just like downtown.
So after settled feathers from self-inflicted wounds (ten well-deserved lashes with sharp tongue), got organized. Selected categories dealing with situation; referred to main index; decided upon specific films, CDs, books. Cautioned Terry again about giblet shortage, dug out selections. Settled down to become expert in nuclear warfare, viral genocide; construction details, complete operation of shelter systems.
Have done so. Now know exactly what happened. Every ugly detail. Know which fissionables used, half-life durations; viral, bacterial agents employed; how deployed, how long remain viable threats without suitable living hosts. Know what they used on us—vice versa. Found Daddy’s papers dealing with secret life.
Turns out was heavyweight government consultant. Specialty was countering biological warfare. Privy to highest secrets; knew all about baddest bugs on both sides. Knew how genetically reengineered, how used, countermeasures most effective—personally responsible for development programs aimed at wide-spectrum etiotropic counteragents. Also knew intimate details of nuclear hardware poised on both sides of face-off. Seems had to:
Radiation level often key factor; in many cases benign virus, bacteria turned instantaneously inimical upon exposure to critical wavelengths. Only difference between harmless tourist and pathogen: Soothing counsel transmitted from pacific gene in DNA helix to cytoplasmic arsenal by radiation-vulnerable RNA messenger. Enter energy-particle flood, exit restraint; hello Attila the Germ. Clever, these mad scientists.
Undoubtedly how attack conducted—explains, too, fall of hermetically sealed NORAD citadel. Entire country seeded over period of time with innocuous first-stage organisms until sufficiently widespread. Then special warheads—carefully spaced to irradiate every inch of target with critical wavelength—simultaneously detonated at high altitude across whole country. Bombs dropping vertically from space remained undetected until betrayed by flash—by which time too late; radiation front travels just behind visible light. Not a window broken but war already over: Everybody running for shelter already infected, infectious with at least one form of now-activated, utterly lethal second-stage plague. Two, three days later—all dead.
Supposed to be another file someplace down here detailing frightful consequences to attackers; haven’t found yet. Only mention in this one suggests annihilation even surer, more complete among bad guys—and included broken windows.
Tone of comment regretful. Not sure can agree. True, most dead on both sides civilians—but are truly innocent? Who permitted continuing rule by megalomaniacs? Granted, would have been costly for populace to throw incumbent rascals out, put own rascals in—but considering cost of failure in present light . . .
Must give thought before passing judgment.
Have learned own tactical situation not bad. No radiation detectable on surface, immediate area (instrumentation in shelter; sensors upstairs on roof of house—part of TV antenna). Not surprising: According to thesis, nuclear stuff to be used almost exclusively as catalyst for viral, bacterial invaders. Bursts completely clean—no fallout at all—high enough to preclude physical damage.
Exception: Direct hits anticipated on known ICBM silos, SAC bases, Polaris submarines, bomber-carrying carriers, overseas installations—and Washington. . . .
Where Daddy went. Hope was quick, clean.
Plague another question entirely. Daddy’s opinion holds infection self-curing. No known strain in arsenals of either side capable of more than month’s survival outside proper culture media; i.e., living human tissue (shudder to contemplate where, how media obtained for experiments leading to conclusion). Odds very poor such available longer than two, three days after initial attack; therefore should be only another week before safe to venture outside, see what remains of world.
However, wording, “should be,” erodes confidence in prediction; implies incomplete data, guesswork—gamble. Considering stake involved is own highly regarded life, placing absolute reliance on stated maximum contagion parameters not entirely shrewd policy.
So shan’t. Now that can get out whenever wish, no longer have such pressing need to; claustrophobic tendencies gone. Shelter quite cozy (considering): Dry, warm, plumbing, furniture; great food (brilliantly prepared), safe water; good company, stimulating conversation (“Hello, baby! What’cha doin’? You’re so bad! Icky pooh!”); plus endless supply of knowledge. Delay amidst such luxury seems small price for improved odds. So will invest extra two months as insurance.
Figure arbitrary; based on theory that treble safety factor was good enough for NASA, should be good enough for me. (Of course theory includes words “should be” again, but must draw line somewhere.)
And can get out when ready. Easy: Just throw proper switches. All spelled out in detailed manual on shelter’s systems, operation. Nothing to it. Just pick up book, read. After finding. After learning exists in first place. (Daddy could have reduced first three weeks’ trauma had bothered to mention, point out where kept—on other hand, if had learned how to get out prior to absorbing details on attack, doubtless be dead now.)
Manual fascinating reading. Shelter eloquent testimonial to wisdom of designer. Foresight, engineering brilliance embodied in every detail. Plus appalling amount of money, shameless level of political clout. Further I got into manual, more impressed became—NORAD headquarters miniaturized, improved: hermetically sealed; air, water, wastes recycled; elaborate communications equipment; sophisticated sensory complex for radiation, electronics, detection, seismology, medicine.
Power furnished by nuclear device about size of Volkswagen—classified, of course (talk about clout?). Don’t know if works; supposed to come on automatically when municipal current fails. But according to instruments, am still running on outside power.
Let’s see—nope; seems to be about everything for now. Will update journal as breathtaking developments transpire.
∞ ∞ ∞
Hi. One-month mark today. Breathless developments to date:
- Found stock of powdered milk: awful. Okay in soup, chocolate, cooking, etc., but alone tastes boiled.
- Discovered unplugged phone in hitherto-unnoticed cabinet. Also found jack. Plugged in, found system still working. Amused self by ringing phones about country—random area codes, numbers. But no answers, of course; and presently noticed tears streaming down face. Decided not emotionally healthy practice. Discontinued.
- Employed carpentry tools, pieces of existing makeshift accommodation to fabricate proper stand for brother. Promptly demonstrated gratitude by chewing through perch (which had not bothered for whole month!). Replaced with thick, hardwood sledge handle; sneered, dared him try again. Thereby gained temporary victory: Fiend immediately resumed game but achieving little progress. Wish had stands from upstairs in house. Are three, all 11 years old—still undamaged (of course, perches consist of hard-cured, smooth-cast concrete—detail possibly relevant to longevity).
Guess that’s it for now. Watch this space for further stirring details.
∞ ∞ ∞
Two months—hard to believe not millennia. Einstein correct: Time is relative. Hope doesn’t get more so; probably stop altogether. Have wondered occasionally if already hasn’t.
Not to imply boredom. Gracious, how could be bored amidst unremitting pressure from giddy round of social activities? For instance, just threw gala party to celebrate passing of second month. Was smash, high point of entombment, sensation of sepulchral social schedule. Went all out—even invited Terry (desperately relieved to find invitee able to squeeze event into already busy whirl of commitments).
First class event: Made cake, fried chicken thighs; broiled small steak; even found ice cream. All turned out well. Preferred steak, cake myself; honored guest chose ice cream (to eyebrows), chicken bones (splits shafts, devours marrow—possibly favoritest treat of all). No noisemakers in inventory (gross oversight), but assemblage combined efforts to compensate. At peak of revelry birdbrain completed chewing through perch. Was standing on end at time, of course; accepted downfall with pride, air of righteous triumph. Then waddled purposefully in direction of nearest chair leg. Had to move fast to dissuade.
Also have read 104 microfilmed books, CDs, regular volumes. Am possibly world’s foremost living authority on everything.
As if matters.
∞ ∞ ∞
Ever wanted something so bad could almost taste, needed so long seemed life’s main ambition? Finally got—wished hadn’t?
You guessed: three months up—finally!
Went upstairs, outside. Stayed maybe two hours. Wandered old haunts: familiar neighborhood, Main Street shopping area, Quarry Lake Park, school, Y, etc.
Should have quit sooner; would, had understood nature of penalty accruing. By time got back was already too late; trembling all over, tears running down face. Scabs all scraped from wounds; worms awake, gnawing soul. In parlance of contemporaries-past, was bad trip.
However, conditions outside are fact of life, something must face. Must overcome reaction unless intend to spend balance of years simulating well-read mole. Nature works slowly, methods unaesthetic; tidying up takes years. Inescapable; must accept as is; develop blind spot, immunity. Meanwhile will just have to cope best I can with resulting trauma each time crops up until quits cropping.
Well, coping ought be no problem. Catharsis worked before, should again. But wish were some other way. No fun; hurts almost as much second time around. But works—and already learned cannot function with psyche tied in knots. So time to quit stalling. “Sooner started, sooner done; sooner outside, having fun.”—Anon. (Understandably.)
Only just can’t right now. Not in mood; still hurting too bad from initial trauma. Guess I’ll go read some more. Or pound something together with hammer.
∞ ∞ ∞
Okay. Feel no better yet, but feel less bad. Is time got on with therapy.
Suspect current problems complicated by déjà vu. Still retain vivid mental picture of body of Momma Foster minutes after pronounced dead. Bore physical resemblance to warm, wise, vital woman whose limitless interests, avid curiosity, ready wonderment, hearty enjoyment of existence had so enriched early years.
But body not person—person gone. Resemblance only underscored absence.
So too with village: Look quick, see no difference. Bears resemblance to contentedly industrious, unassuming small farm town of happy childhood. Same tall, spreading trees shade same narrow streets, well-kept, comfortably ageless homes.
Old-fashioned streetlights line Main Street’s storefront downtown business district, unchanged for 50 years, fronting on classic village square. Hundred-year-old township building centered in square amidst collection of heroic statues, World War One mementos, playground equipment; brightly painted, elevated gazebo for public speakers.
Look other direction down street, see own ivy-covered, red-brick schoolhouse at far end, just across from Y.
Next-door, Teacher’s house looks bright, friendly, inviting as ever in summer-afternoon sunshine.
But open door, step out onto porch—illusion fades. Popular fallacy attends mystique of small towns: Everyone knows are “quiet.” Not so; plenty of noise, but right kind—comfortable, unnoticed.
Silence is shock. Is wrong, but takes whole minutes to analyze why wrong; identify anomalous sensation, missing input.
Strain ears for hint of familiar sound: Should be faint miasma of voices, traffic sounds drifting up from direction of Main Street; chatter, squeals, laughter from schoolyard. Too, is truly small town; farmlands close at hand: Should hear tractors chugging in fields, stock calling from pastures. Should catch frequent hollow mutter as distant semi snores down highway past town; occasional barely-perceptible rumble from jet, visible only as fleecy tracing against indigo sky. Should be all manner of familiar sounds.
But as well could be heart of North Woods; sounds reaching ear limited to insect noises, bird calls, wind sighing through leaves.
Visual illusion fades quickly, too. Knee-deep grass flourishes where once had been immaculately groomed yards. Straggly new growth bewhiskers hedges, softening previously mathematically-exact outlines. Houses up, down street show first signs of neglect: isolated broken windows, doors standing open, missing shingles. Partially uprooted tree leans on Potters’ house, cracking mortar, crushing eaves, sagging roof. Street itself blocked by car abandoned at crazy angle; tire flat, rear window broken, driver’s door hanging open. Closer inspection shows Swensens’ pretty yellow-brick Cape Cod nothing but fire-gutted shell; roof mostly gone, few panes of glass remain, dirty smudge marks above half-consumed doors, windows; nearby trees singed.
And the smell . . . ! Had not spent last three months sealed in own atmosphere, doubt could have remained in vicinity. Still strong enough outside to dislodge breakfast within moments of first encounter. And did. Happily, human constitution can learn to tolerate almost anything if must. By time returned to shelter, stench had faded from forefront of consciousness—had other problems more pressing:
Learned what knee-deep lawns conceal. Three months’ exposure to Wisconsin summer does little to enhance cosmetic aspects of Nature’s embalming methods: Sun, rain, insects, birds, probably dogs too, have disposed of bulk of soft tissues. What remains is skeletons (mostly scattered, incomplete, partially covered by semicured meat, some clothing). Doubtless would have mummified completely by now in dry climate, but Wisconsin summers aren’t. At best, results unappealing; at worst (first stumbled over in own front yard), dreadful shock.
Yes, I know; should have anticipated. Possibly did, in distant, non-personally-involved sort of way—but didn’t expect to find three bodies within ten feet of own front door! Didn’t expect to confront dead neighbors within three minutes after leaving burrow. Didn’t expect so many! Thought most would be respectably tucked away indoors, perhaps in bed. That’s where I’d be. I think.
Well, lived through initial shock, continued foray. Was not systematic exploration; just wandered streets, let feet carry us at random. Didn’t seem to matter; same conditions everywhere. Peeked into houses, stores, cars; knocked on doors, hollered a lot.
Wasn’t until noticed twin digging in claws, flapping wings, protesting audibly, that realized was running blindly, screaming for somebody—anybody!
Stopped then, streaming tears, trembling, panting (must have run some distance); made desperate attempt to regain semblance of control. Dropped where stood, landed in Lotus. Channeled thoughts into relaxation of body, achievement of physical serenity; hoped psyche would heed good example.
Did—sort of. Worked well enough, at least, to permit deliberate progress back to shelter, deliberate closing door, deliberate descent of stairs, deliberate placing of Terry on stand—all before threw screaming fit.
Discharged lots of tension in process, amused Terry hugely. By end of performance fink sibling was emulating noises. Ended hysteria in laughter. Backward, true, but effective.
Recovered enough to make previous journal entry. Granted, present (therapeutic) entries beyond capacity at that point; but after spent balance of day licking wounds, night’s rest, was fit enough to make present update, discharge residual pain onto paper.
Amazing stuff, therapy: Still not exactly looking forward to going outside again; but seem to have absorbed trauma of dead-body/deserted-city shock, adjusted to prospect of facing again.
Forewarned, should be able to go about affairs, function effectively in spite of surroundings.
Which brings up entirely relevant question: Exactly what are my affairs, functions . . . ? Now that am out, what to do? Where to go? What to do when get there? Why bother go at all?
Okay, fair questions. Obviously prime objective is find Somebody Else. Preferably somebody knowing awful lot about Civilizations, Founding & Maintenance Of—to say nothing of where to find next meal when supplies run out.
Certainly other survivors. Somewhere. So must put together reasonable plan of action based on logical extension of available data. Sounds good—uh, except, what is available data?
Available data: Everybody exposed to flash, to air at time of flash, to anybody else exposed to flash or air exposed to flash or anybody exposed to anybody, etc., either at time of flash or during subsequent month, anywhere on planet, is dead. Period.
Shucks. Had me worried; thought for moment I had problem. Ought be plenty survivors; modern civilization replete with airtight refuges: nuclear submarines, hyperbaric chambers, spacelabs, jet transports, “clean assembly” facilities, many others (not to forget early-model VW beetles, so long as windows closed). Ought be many survivors of flash, initial contagion phase.
But—loaded question—how many knew enough; stayed tight throughout required month? Or got lucky; couldn’t get out too soon despite best efforts? Or, with best of intentions, had supplies, air for duration? Or survived emotional ravages; resisted impulse to throw open window, take big, deliberate breath?
Could employ magnet to find needle in haystack; easy by comparison. Real problem here: Is needle in there at all?
Well, never mind; leave for subconscious to mull. Good track record heretofore; probably come up with solution, given time.
Other, more immediate problems confronting: For one, must think about homestead. Can’t spend balance of years living underground. Unhealthy; leads to pallor. Besides, doubt is good for psyche; too many ghosts.
Where—no problem for short term; can live just about anywhere warm, dry. Adequate food supplies available in shelter, stores, home pantries, etc.; same with clothing, sundry necessities. Can scavenge for years if so inclined.
However, assuming residential exclusivity continues (and must take pessimistic view when planning), must eventually produce own food, necessities; become self-sufficient. Question is: Start now? Or wait; hope won’t prove necessary?
Not truly difficult decision: Longer delayed, more difficult transition becomes. Livestock factor alone demands prompt attention. Doubtless was big die-off over summer. Too stupid to break out of farms, pastures, search for water, feed, most perished—“domestic” synonym for “dependent.” And even of survivors, doubt one in thousand makes it through winter unaided. Means if plan to farm, must round up beginning inventory before weather changes. Also means must have food, water, physical accommodations ready for inductees beforehand.
Means must have farm.
However, logic dictates commandeering farm relatively nearby. Too much of value in shelter; must maintain reasonable access. Availability of tools, books, etc., beneficial in coming project: provisioning, repairing fences, overhauling well pumps, etc.
Plus work needed to put house in shape for winter. Wisconsin seasons rough on structures; characteristic swayback rooflines usually not included in builders’ plans, zoning regulations. After summer’s neglect, buildings of farm selected apt to need much work—none of which am qualified to do. Expect will find remainder of summer, fall, highly educational, very busy.
So perhaps should quit reflecting on plans, get move on. Best reconnoiter nearby farms. Be nice to find one with buildings solid, wells pumping, fences intact, etc. Be equally nice to meet jolly, red-dressed, white-bearded gentleman cruising down road in sleigh pulled by reindeer.
∞ ∞ ∞
Hi, again. Surprised to see me? Me too. Thinking of changing name to Pauline, serializing journal. Or maybe just stay home, take up needlepoint. Seems during entombment, character of neighborhood changed; deteriorated, gotten rough—literally gone to dogs. Stepped out of A & P right into . . .
Nope, this won’t do. Better stick to chronology; otherwise sure to miss something. Might even be important someday. So:
Awoke fully recovered—again (truly growing tired of yo-yo psychology). Since planned to be out full day, collected small pile of equipment, provisions: canteen, jerky, dried apricots, bag of parrot mix; hammer, pry bar (in case forcible investigation indicated). Went upstairs, outside.
Retained breakfast by force of will until accustomed to aroma.
Took bike from garage, rode downtown (first ride in three months; almost deafened by twin’s manic approval). After three months’ neglect, tires a tad soft (ten-speed requires 85 pounds); stopped at Olly’s Full Service BP, reinflated. And marveled: Utilities still on, compressor, pumps, etc., still working—even bell rang when rode across hose.
Started to go on way; stopped—had thought. Returned, bled air tanks as had seen Big Olly do. Had explained: Compression, expansion of air in tanks “made water” through condensation; accumulation bad for equipment. Found was starting to think in terms of preserving everything potentially useful against future need. (Hope doesn’t develop into full-blown neurosis; maintaining whole world could cramp schedule.)
Set about conducting check of above-ground resources: Eyeball-inventoried grocery stores, hardware, seed dealers. Took ride down to rail depot, checked grain elevators. Found supplies up everywhere; highly satisfactory results. Apparently business conducted as usual after flash until first symptoms emerged. No evidence of looting; probably all too sick then to bother.
And since power still on, freezers in meat markets maintaining temperature; quantity available probably triple that in shelter. If conditions similar in nearby towns, undoubtedly have lifetime supply of everything—or until current stops.
Personally, am somewhat surprised still working; summer thunderstorms habitually drop lines, blow transformers twice, three times a year—and winter . . . ! One good ice storm brings out candles for days; primary reason why even new houses, designed with latest heating systems, all have old-fashioned Franklin-style oil stoves in major rooms, usually multiple fireplaces. Doubt will have electricity by spr
—OH HELL! Beg pardon; unladylike outburst—but just realized: Bet every single farm well in state electrically operated. I got troubles . . . !
Well, just one more problem for subconscious to worry about. Can’t do anything about it now—but must devote serious thought.
Back to chronology: Emerged from A & P around ten; kicked up stand, prepared to swing leg over bike. Suddenly Terry squawked, gripped shoulder so hard felt like claws met in middle. Dropped bike, spun.
Six dogs: Big, lean, hungry; visibly exempt from Best Friend category.
Given no time to consider strategy; moment discovered, pack abandoned stealth, charged. Had barely time to toss twin into air, general direction of store roof, wish Godspeed. Then became very busy.
Had not fought in three months but continued kata; was in good shape. Fortunate.
First two (Shepherd, Malamute) left ground in formation, Doberman close behind. Met Malamute (bigger of two) in air with clockwise spin-kick to lower mandible attachment. Felt bones crunch, saw without watching as big dog windmilled past, knocking Shepherd sprawling. Took firm stance, drove forward front-fist blow under Doberman’s jaw, impacting high on chest, left of center. Fist buried to wrist; felt scapula, clavicle, possibly also humerus crumble; attacker bounced five feet backward, landed in tangle. Spun, side-kicked Shepherd behind ear as scrambled to rise; felt vertebrae give. Took fast step, broke Malamute’s neck with edge-hand chop. Spun again, jumped for Doberman; broke neck before could rise.
Glanced up, body coiling for further combinations—relaxed; remaining three had revised schedule; were halfway across parking lot.
Wildly looked about for Terry; spotted twin just putting on brakes for touchdown on shopping cart handle 20 feet away. Wondered what had been doing in interim; seemed could have flown home, had dinner, returned to watch outcome.
Retrieved; lectured about stupidity, not following orders—suppose had been flankers? Would have been lunch before I got there.
Birdbrain accepted rebuke; nuzzled cheek in agreement, murmured, “You’re so icky-poo!”
Gave up; continued sortie.
Wondered briefly at own calmness. First blows ever struck in earnest; halfway expected emotional side effects. But none; only mild regret had not met attackers under favorable circumstances. Doberman in particular was beautiful specimen, if could disregard gauntness.
Decided, in view of events, might be best if continued explorations in less vulnerable mode. Decided was time I soloed. Had driven cars before, of course; country kids all learn vehicular operation basics soonest moment eyes (augmented by cushions) clear dashboard, feet reach pedals.
Question of which car to appropriate gave pause. Have no particular hang-ups: Familiar (for nondriver) with automatics, three-, four-, five-, speed manuals, etc. But would be poking nose down vestigial country roads, venturing up driveways more accustomed to (suitable for) passage of tractors, horses; squeezing in, out of tight places; doubtless trying hard to get very stuck. Granted, had been relatively dry recently; ground firm most places. But—considering potential operating conditions, physical demands . . .
Would take Daddy’s old VW. Happy selection: Answered physical criteria (maneuverable, good traction, reliable, etc.); besides, already had driven—for sure could reach pedals, see out.
Did give thought to Emerson’s Jeep, but never had opportunity to check out under controlled conditions. Further, has plethora of shift levers (three!). True, might be more capable vehicle, but sober reflection suggested unfamiliar advantages might prove trap; seemed simpler, more familiar toy offered better odds of getting back.
Pedaled home quickly, keeping weather eye out for predators (can take hint). Arrived without incident. Found key, established blithe sibling on passenger’s seatback; adjusted own seat for four-foot-ten-inch stature, turned key.
Results would have warmed ad writer’s heart: After standing idle three months, Beetle cranked industriously about two seconds, started.
Gauge showed better than three-quarter tank, but wanted to make sure; lonely country road frequented by hungry dog packs wrong place to discover faulty gauge. So backed gingerly down drive (killed only twice), navigated cautiously to Olly’s. Stuck in hose, got two gallons in before spit back. Beetle’s expression seemed to say, “. . . told you so,” as capped tank, hung up hose.
Went about tracking down suitable farm in workmanlike fashion, for beginner. Picked up area USGS Section Map from sheriff’s office. Methodically plotted progress as went; avoided circling, repetition. Drove 150 miles; visited 30, 35 farms; marked off on map as left, graded on one-to-ten basis. Were many nice places; some could make do in pinch. But none rated above seven; nothing rang bell until almost dark.
Found self at terminus of cowpath road. Had wound through patchy woods, hills; felt must go somewhere, so persevered to end, where found mailbox, driveway. Turned in; shortly encountered closed gate. Opened, drove through, resecured. Followed drive through woods, over small rise, out into clearing, farmyard. Stopped abruptly.
Knew at once was home. . . .
To right stood pretty, almost new red-brick house; to left, brand-new, modern steel barn, henhouse; two silos (one new), three corn cribs—all full.
Got out, walked slowly around house, mouth open, heart pounding. No broken windows, doors closed, shingles all in place—grass cut! For glorious moment heart stopped altogether; thought had stumbled on nest of survivors. Then rounded corner, bumped into groundskeepers—sheep.
Owners quite dead. Found remains of man in chair on porch. Apparently spent last conscious moments reflecting upon happy memories. Picture album in lap suggested four impromptu graves short distance from house were wife, three children; markers confirmed. Fine-looking people; faces showed confidence, contentment, love; condition of farm corroborated, evidenced care, pride.
Grew misty-eyed looking through album. Resolved to operate farm in manner founders would approve. Had handed me virtual “turnkey” homestead; immeasurably advanced schedule, boosted odds for self-sufficiency, survival. Least I could do in return.
Farm nestles snugly in valley amidst gently rolling, wooded countryside. Clean, cold, fast-running brook meanders generally through middle, passes within hundred yards of house; and, by clever fence placement, zigs, zags, or loops through all pastures. Perimeter fence intact; strong, heavy-gauge, small-mesh fabric. Probably not entirely dogproof, but highly resistant; with slight additional work, should be adequate.
Contents of silos, cribs, loft product of season’s first planting; second crop still in fields—primary reason stock still alive, healthy. Internal gates open throughout; allowed access to water, varied grazing (including nibbling minor leakages from cribs, silos). Beasties spent summer literally eating “fat of land”; look it.
Besides five sheep are nine cows (two calves, one a bull), two mares, one gelding, sundry poultry (rooster, two dozen chickens, motley half dozen ducks, geese). No pigs, but no tears; don’t like pigs, not that wild about pork.
From evidence, losses over summer low. Found only three carcasses: two cows, one horse. Bones not scattered; doubt caused by dogs. More likely disease, injury, stupidity—salient characteristic of domestic ruminants: Given opportunity, will gorge on no-no, pay dearly later.
Wandered grounds, poked through buildings until light gone. Found good news everywhere looked. Nothing I can’t use as is, put right with minor work.
Clocked distance on return: 17 miles by road. Not too bad; can walk if necessary—should breakdown occur while commuting—but perhaps wiser to hang bike on bumper.
Still, machines can’t last forever; only matter of time before forced back to horseback technology. Will have occasion to visit shelter often. Map shows straight-line distance only nine miles; guess better learn bulldozer operation, add road-building to skills. (Goodness—future promises such varied experiences; may vary me to death. . . .)
Was late when finally got back to shelter, tired but glowing all over at prospect. Can hardly wait for morning, start packing, moving in; start of new life.
Demented twin shares view; hardly shut up whole time were at farm. Or since. Lectured stock, dictated to poultry, narrated inspection tour throughout. Hardly took time out for snack, drink. Must be country boy at heart. So urbane, never suspected.
Hey—am really tired!
∞ ∞ ∞
Oh! Hurt places didn’t even know I had. Suspect must have come into being just for occasion.
Six trips to farm. Count ’em.
Light failed just before self. Packing stuff from house no problem: Eight, ten trips to car; all done. Stuff in shelter is rub. Aye.
Two hundred feet straight up, arms loaded. Repeatedly.
Must be better way.
∞ ∞ ∞
This is embarrassing; guess is time quit posing as genius. Proof in pudding. What matters 200-plus IQ if actions compatible with mobile vegetable?
Occurred this morning to ponder (after third trip upstairs) how excavated material removed during construction. Hand-carried in buckets . . . ?
Counting stairwell, material involved amounts to 200,000 cubic feet plus. At half cube per bucket, assuming husky lad carrying doubles, 15-minute round trips, that’s 32 cubic feet every eight hours. Would take ten-man crew 625 days—not counting down time due to heart attacks, hernias, fallen arches. . . .
And what about heavy stuff? Doubt nuclear generator carried down by hand—must weigh couple tons.
Okay. Obviously done some other way. But how? Oh—shelter manual; had forgotten. Thumbed through quickly, found answer: elevator! Of course. Missed significance of small, odd-shaped, empty storeroom during first inspection. Other things on mind; didn’t notice controls.
Balance of day much easier. Still tired tonight but not basket case.
Tomorrow is another day . . . !
∞ ∞ ∞
STOP THE PRESSES! Strike the front page! Scoop! I’m not me—I’m something else. No—we’re not us—no— Oh, bother; not making any sense. But can’t help it; hard to organize thoughts—so DAMNED excited . . . ! Will try, must try. Otherwise will end up leaving out best parts, most important stuff. Then, by time get feathers settled, blood pressure reduced, will have forgotten everything! Oh, must stop this blithering. Must get back to chronology. So . . .
Deep breath . . . release slo-o-ow-ly . . . heart slowed to normal. Physical tranquility . . . serenity . . . ohm-m-m. . . .
Amazing, worked again.
Okay. Resumed packing this morning. Took two loads over, returned for third. Finished; everything in car, at farm, felt would need. But still fidgeting; couldn’t decide why. No question of something forgotten; farm only short drive away; omission not crisis.
Finally recognized source of unscratchable itch: Was time I did duty. Had avoided at first; knew couldn’t face prospect. Then got so busy, slipped mind. But now remembered: Soo Kim McDivott. Teacher. Friend.
To friend falls duty of seeing to final resting place.
Generally inured now to face of death per se; unaffected last few days by myriad corpses have stepped over during course of running errands. Had no problem, for instance, removing Mr. Haralsen from porch to proper place beside wife, children; even finished job with warm feeling inside. (Suspect original trauma caused by sudden shock of events; enormity, completeness of isolation.) Condition improved now; felt could perform final service for old friend—more, felt need to.
Went next-door, looked for body. Checked entire house: upstairs, downstairs, basement—even stuck head in attic.
Finally returned to library. Teacher had used as study; desk located there, most of favorite dog-eared references close at hand. Hoped might find clue regarding whereabouts amidst clutter.
First thing to catch eye was “Tarzan File” standing on desk. Large envelope taped to top, printing on face. Glanced at wording. Blood froze.
Was addressed to me!
Pulled loose, opened with suddenly shaking fingers. Teacher’s meticulous script, legible, beautiful as Jefferson’s on Declaration, read:
It is the considered opinion of several learned men familiar with your situation, among them Marshall Foster and myself, that you will survive the plague to find and read this. The viral complex employed by the enemy cannot harm you, we know; it was created as a specific against Homo sapiens.
Almost dropped letter. Surely required no genius to note implications. Took deep breath, read on:
I know, my child, that that statement must sound like the ramblings of an old man in extremis . . .
Ramble? Teacher? Ha! True, was old; condition intrinsic to amount of water over dam—of which lots (all deep, too). Probably also in extremis; lot of that going around when wrote this. But ramble? Teacher? Day Teacher rambles will be day Old Nick announces cooling trend, New Deal, takes up post as skiing instructor on glorious powder slopes of Alternate Destination. I ramble; Teacher’s every word precise, correct.
Precise, correct letter went on:
. . . but please, before forming an opinion, humor me to the extent of reading the balance of this letter and reviewing the supporting evidence, which documents 25 years of painstaking investigation by me and others.
Note that of the 1,284 incidents wherein wild animals of varying descriptions “adopted” human children, none (with the exception of the very youngest—those recovered from the wild below age three) developed significantly beyond the adoptive parents. They could not be taught to communicate; they evinced no abstract reasoning; they could not be educated. IQ testing, where applicable, produced results indistinguishable from similar tests performed on random members of the “parents’ ” species. Further, except for the 29 cases where the adoptive parents were of a species possessing rudimentary hands (apes, monkeys, the two raccoon incidents; to a lesser degree the badger and the wolverine), the children possessed no awareness of the concept of grasping, nor did it prove possible to teach them any manual skills whatever.
Finally, most authorities (note the citations in the File) are agreed that Man is born devoid of instincts, save (a point still in contention) suckling; therefore, unlike lesser animals, human development is entirely dependent upon learning and, therefore, environment.
This principle was deeply impressed upon me during the years I spent studying a number of these children; and it occurred to me to wonder what effect this mechanism might have within human society—whether average parents, for instance, upon producing a child possessing markedly superior genetic potential, might raise such a child (whether through ignorance, unconscious resentment or envy, deliberate malice, or some unknown reason) in such a manner as to prevent his development from exceeding their own attainments; and if such efforts took place, to what extent the child would in fact be limited.
Then followed narrative of early stages of investigation, solo at first, but producing preliminary findings so startling that shortly was directing efforts of brilliant group of associates (including Daddy!), whole project funded by bottomless government grant. Object of search: reliable clues, indicators upon which testing program could be based enabling identification of gifted children (potential geniuses) shortly after birth, before retardation (if such truly existed) began operation.
Efforts rewarded: Various factors pinpointed which, encountered as group, were intrinsic to genetically superior children. Whereupon study shifted to second phase. As fast as “positives” found, identified, were assigned to study group. Were four:
AA (positive/advantaged), potentially gifted kids whose parents were in on experiment; guided, subsidized, assisted every way possible to provide optimum environment for learning, development. AB (positive/nonadvantaged), potential geniuses whose parents weren’t let in on secret; would have to bloom or wither, depending on qualities of vine. BA (negative/advantaged), ordinary babies, random selection, whose parents were encouraged (for which read “conned”) to think offspring were geniuses; also received benefit of AA-type parental coaching (and coaches didn’t know whether dealing with AA or BA parents), financial assistance. And BB (negative/nonadvantaged), control group: ordinary babies raised ordinary way. Whatever that is.
As expected, AAs did well in school; average progress tripled national norm. Further, personality development also remarkable: AA kids almost offensively well-adjusted; happy, well integrated personalities. BAs did well, too, but beat national figures by only 15 percent. Were also generally happy, but isolated individuals demonstrated symptoms suggesting insecurity; perhaps being pushed close to, even beyond capabilities.
ABs also produced spotty results: Goods very good, equaling AA figures in certain cases. However, bads very bad: ABs had highest proportion of academic failures, behavior problems, perceptibly maladjusted personalities.
BBs, of course, showed no variation at all from national curves; were just kids.
Study progressed cozily; all content as confirming evidence of own cleverness emerged from statistical analysis, continued to accumulate (Teacher, in particular, basking in glow emanating from vindication of theory), when suddenly Joker popped from deck:
It became obvious that AA and AB children lost vastly less time from school through illness. Further breakdown, however, showed that approximately one third of the positives never had lost any time, while the balance had attendance records indistinguishable from the norm. Detailed personal inquiry revealed that these particular children had never been sick from any cause, while the balance had had the usual random selection of childhood illnesses. It was also determined that these unfailingly healthy positives were far and away the highest group of achievers in the AA group and constituted the best, worst, and most maladjusted of the AB group.
At that time study blessed by convenient tragedy: AA “healthy” child died in traffic accident. Body secured for autopsy.
Every organ was examined minutely, every tissue sample was scrutinized, microscopically and chemically, and DNA/chromosome examination was performed. Every test known to the science of pathology was performed, most three, four, and five times, because no one was willing to believe the results.
And thereafter, quickly and by various subterfuges, complete physicals, including x-rays, and biopsy samples of blood, bone, skin, hair, and a number of organs, were obtained from the full test group and compared.
The differences between “healthy” positives and the balance proved uniform throughout the sample, and were unmistakable to an anthropologist . . .
Shock upon shock: Folksy, humble, simple Teacher was Ph.D.—three times over! Physician (double-barreled—pediatrician, psychiatrist) plus anthropologist. Predictably, renowned in all three—qualities leading to Tenth Degree not confined to Art.
. . . but none was of a character itself to attract the notice of a physician not specifically and methodically hunting for an unknown “common denominator,” using mass sampling techniques and a very open mind; nor would they attract notice by affecting the outcome of any known medical test or procedure. The single most dramatic difference is the undisputed fact, still unexplained, that “healthy” positives are totally immune to the full spectrum of human disease.
Difference proved independent of race, sex: Makeup of AA, AB “healthy” kids 52 percent female; half Caucasoid, one third Negroid, balance apportioned between Oriental, Hispanic, Indian, other unidentifiable fractions. Breakdown precisely matched population area from which emerged.
The conclusion is indisputable: Although clearly of the genus Homo, AA and AB “healthy” children are not human beings; they are a species distinct unto themselves.
Quite aside from the obvious aspect of immunity and the less obvious anatomical characteristics which identify them, these children possess clear physical superiority over Homo sapiens children of like size and weight. They are stronger, faster, more resistant to trauma, and demonstrate markedly quicker reflexive responses. Visual, aural, and olfactory functions operate over a broader range and at higher levels of sensitivity than in humans. We have no data upon which to base even a guess as to the magnitude, but evidence to this point suggests a substantially longer lifespan.
A study was begun immediately, a search for clues which might help to explain this phenomenon of uniformly mutated children being born to otherwise normal, healthy human couples. And these couples were normal: To the limits of our clinical capabilities to determine, they were indistinguishable from any other Homo sapiens.
However, it was only very recently, after years of the most exhaustive background investigation and analysis, that a possible link was noticed. It was an obvious connection, but so removed in time that we almost missed its significance, due to the usual scientific tendency to probe for the abstruse while ignoring the commonplace.
The grandmothers of these children were all of a similar age, born within a two-year span: All were conceived during the rampage of the great influenza pandemic of 1918-19.
This “coincidence” fairly shouts its implications: Sweeping genetic recombination, due to specific viral invasion, affecting either of the gametes before, or both during, formation of the zygotes which became the grandmothers, creating in each half of the matrix which fitted together two generations later to become the AA and AB “healthy” children.
Personally, I have no doubt that this is the explanation; however, so recently has this information come to light, that we have not had time to study the question in detail. And in science, suspecting that something may be true—even a profound inner conviction—is not the same as proving it. I hope you will one day have the opportunity to add this question to your own studies. It needs answering.
After much reflection, and despite the fact that doing so technically violates the naming conventions of taxonomy, we named this new species Homo post hominem, meaning “Man Who Follows Man”; for it would appear that the mutation is evolutionary in character, and that, given time and assuming it breeds true (there is no reason to suspect otherwise—in fact, chromosome examination suggests that the mutation is dominant; i.e., a sapiens/hominem pairing should unfailingly produce a hominem), it will entirely supplant Homo sapiens.”
Wonderful thing, human nervous system; accustoms quickly to mortal shocks. Didn’t even twitch as other shoe landed—or perhaps had anticipated from buildup; just wondering how would be worded.
Very nice; no fanfare, just matter-of-fact statement:
You, my child, are a Homo post hominem. You are considerably younger than your fellows among the study group, and were never involved in the study itself. Your identification and inclusion in our sample came about late and through rather involved and amusing circumstances.
The Fosters, as you know, had long desired a child and had known equally long that they could never have one. When your natural parents died, it was entirely predictable that they lost no time securing your adoption (which is certainly understandable; you were a most winning baby).
Neither Daddy nor rest of staff thought to have me tested; had been exposed to months of “unmonitored parentage”; was “compromised subject.” Besides, Daddy wasn’t interested in studying me; wanted to enjoy raising “his little girl.” Professional competence crumbled before gush of atavistic paternalism. Most reprehensible.
Momma disagreed; felt determination of potential would provide useful child-rearing information. But in keeping with formula long established for maintaining smooth marriage, kept disagreement to self; however, Took Steps: Prevailed upon staff to test me—all unbeknownst Daddy.
Tests proved positive, but follow-up determination as to “healthy” status not performed—didn’t occur to discipline-blindered scientists, and Momma didn’t know any better.
You were a genius; she was content. And she thereupon took it upon herself to see that you were raised in the same “advantaged” manner as the rest of the AAs—with the exception of the fact that the doctor did not know this was taking place. He continued to enjoy his “daddy’s little girl” as before, prating endlessly about the advantages of “sugar and spice,” etc. And as for the rest of us, after swearing each other to secrecy about your test results and our involvement, we forgot you. You were, after all, a “compromised subject.”
Was almost five when next came to their attention. Had soured “sugar and spice” by glancing up, commenting living-room wall “. . . looks awful hot.” Was, too—result of electrical fault. Would have burned down house shortly.
Remember incident clearly. Not that caused any particular immediate fuss, but Daddy spent balance of evening trying not to show was staring at me.
The doctor had spent much time during the previous few years observing children whose visual perception extended into the infrared and ultraviolet; and, as shortly thereafter as possible, without letting Mrs. Foster know, he had you examined and tested.
Oho! Finally—explanation of what triggered Daddy’s reaction that day—and of friends’ inexplicable night-blindness, even during summer. Of course, could understand difficulty seeing at night during winter; is dark outside on cold night. Only perceptible glow comes from faces, hands; and, after short exposure to cold, cheeks, noses dim perceptibly.
And do remember also that testing session. Salient feature was expressions of other staff as repeated tests done on previous (conspicuously unmentioned) occasion: utterly deadpan.
It was only after the tests (performed fully this time) identified you as a Homo post hominem; after the doctor had diffidently broached this fact to Mrs. Foster and she, giggling helplessly, confessed to him; and, finally, we also came clean, that further testing demonstrated that you were substantially more advanced in intellectual development than the profile developed by our studies suggested you should be at that age.
How nice. Even as superkid can’t be normal; still genius. Is no justice.
Detailed analysis of this phenomenon brought forth two unassessable factors: One, you had experienced several months of unmonitored parentage; and two, your subsequent upbringing had been AA from your mother but BB from your father. Since we could neither analyze nor affect the first of these, we chose to continue the second factor unaltered, observing you closely and hoping that in some way, then unknown, the whipsaw combination of indulgent spoiling and accelerated, motivational education you had received to this point would continue to produce these outstanding results.
Momma’s death terminated experiment; but before she left, made Teacher promise would take over overt management of education, keep pushing me as hard as would accept while Daddy (apparently) continued classic BB father rôle. Momma felt hunger for knowledge already implanted; abetted by Daddy’s careful negative psychology, seeding of environment with selected books (Ha!—always suspected something fishy about circumstances surrounding steady discovery of wanted, needed study materials, always just in time, just as finishing previous volume [not complaining; just wish planting had gone faster]), would carry on through interim without lost momentum. Was right, too—but now know how puppet must feel when wires too thin to discern.
Phase Two of scheme hit snag, though; was not anticipated would take four years for Teacher to extricate self from public complications attendant profession(s), “retire.”
Fortunately the delay appeared to be without consequences. Mrs. Foster’s opinion of you was borne out: Dr. Foster reported that you located every book he planted—and not a few that he didn’t. He said it was rarely necessary to “steer” you; that you were quite self-motivated, distinctly tenacious, and could be quite devious when it came to tracking down knowledge in spite of the “barriers” he placed in your way.
By the time I managed to delegate those of my responsibilities which I could not manage remotely to others and devote my entire public attention to you, your advantage over other AAs had increased impressively. There were only a very few individuals showing anywhere near as much promise. And by the time the blunderings of our late friends behind the Iron Curtain put an end to all such research, you were—for your age—quite the most advanced of our hominems.
If I seem to harp on that point, it is because you must remember that this study was initiated some 20 years ago. You are ten years younger than the next youngest in our group; and, as advanced as you are for your age, you still have considerable catching up to do—see that you keep at it.
Yes, I know; in the beginning, the exigencies of solo survival will occupy much of your time, but do not neglect your studies entirely. Cut back if you must, but do not terminate them.
Now, if I may presume to advise a singularly gifted member of an advanced species, there is security and comfort in numbers. You will doubtless find the preservation and extension of knowledge more convenient once a group of you has been assembled. Within the body of the Tarzan File you will find a complete listing of known Homo post hominems. I can anticipate no logical reason why most should not be alive and in good health.
Pawed through File with shaking hands. Found listing referred to: collection of minidossiers. One had small note attached. Read:
It is now almost time for me to leave, and a number of things still remain undone, so I must be brief.
The subject of this dossier, Peter Bell, is the direct, almost line-bred descendant of Alexander Graham Bell (would that I could have tested him). A measure of his intellect is the fact that he, alone of our hominems, deduced the existence and purpose of our study, the implications regarding himself, and most of the characteristics of his and your species.
To him, not long ago, I confided your existence, along with my impressions of your potential.
As well as probably being your equal (after you reach maturity, of course), he is also nearest to your own age, at 21; and of all our subjects, I predict he is the most likely to prove compatible with you as you continue your unrelenting search for knowledge in the future—in fact, he may give you quite a run for it; he is a most motivated young man.
However, I was unable to reach him following the attack; therefore he does not know that you are alive and well in the shelter. The burden is upon you to establish contact, if such is possible—and I do urge you to make the attempt; I feel that a partnership consisting of you two would be most difficult to oppose, whatever the future may bring you.
Hands shook, blood pounded in head as turned back to first letter. Balance consisted of advice on contacting other hominems—AAs from study.
Cautioned that, based on (terribly loose) extrapolation of known data, should be perhaps 150,000 of us on North American continent—but virtually all must be considered ABs, replete with implications: high proportion of maladjusteds, discontents, rebels, borderline (or worse, after shock of depopulation) psychotics, plus occasional genius. Plus rare occurrences of surviving Homo sapiens.
Teacher suggested moving very deliberately when meeting strangers: Evaluate carefully, rapidly, selfishly. If decide is not sort would like for neighbor, hit first; kill without hesitation, warning. No place in consideration for racial altruism. Elimination of occasional bad apple won’t affect overall chances for lifting species from endangered list; are enough of us to fill ranks after culling stock—but only one me. Point taken.
Well, time grows short. So much remains to be accomplished before I leave, so I had best hurry.
I leave with confidence; I know the future of the race is in hands such as yours and Peter’s. You will prosper and attain levels of development I cannot even envision; of that I am certain. I hope those heights will include much joy and contentment.
I might add this in parting: When your historians tell future generations about us, I hope they will not be unduly severe. True, we did not last the distance; also true, we did exterminate ourselves, apparently in a display of senseless, uncontrolled aggression; equally true, we did many other things that were utterly wrong.
But we did create a mighty civilization; we did accumulate a fund of knowledge vast beyond our capacity to absorb or control; we did conceive and aspire to a morality unique in history, which placed the welfare of others ahead of our own self-interest—even if most of us didn’t practice it.
And we did produce you!
It may well be that we were not intended to last more than this distance. It may even be that your coming triggered seeds of self-destruction already implanted in us for that purpose; that our passing is as necessary to your emergence as a species as was our existence to your genesis.
But whatever the mechanism or its purpose, I think that when all are Judged at the end of Time, Homo sapiens will be adjudged, if not actually a triumph, then at least a success, according to the standards imposed by the conditions we faced and the purposes for which we were created; just as the Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal, and Pithecanthropus—and even the brontosaur—were successful in their time when judged in the light of the challenges they overcame and the purposes they served.
Single page remained. Hesitated; was final link with living past. Once read, experienced, would become just another memory. Sighed, forced eyes to focus:
Candy, my beloved daughter-in-spirit, this is most difficult to bring to a close. Irrationally, I find myself grieving over losing you; “irrationally,” I say, because it is obviously I who must leave. But leave I must, and there is no denying and little delaying of it.
It will be well with you and yours. Your growth has been sound, your direction right and healthy; you cannot fail to live a life that must make us, who discovered and attempted to guide you this far, proud of our small part in your destiny, even though we are not to be permitted to observe its fulfillment. I think I understand something of how Moses must have felt as he stood looking down that last day on Nebo.
Always know that I, the doctor, and Mrs. Foster could not have loved you more had you sprung from our own flesh. Remember us fondly, but see that you waste no time grieving after us.
The future is yours, my child; go mold it as you see the need.
Good-bye, my best and best-beloved pupil.
Soo Kim McDivott.
P.S.: By the authority vested in me as the senior surviving official of the United States Karate Association, I herewith promote you to Sixth Degree. You are more than qualified; see to it that you practice faithfully and remain so.
Read, reread final page until tears deteriorated vision, made individual word resolution impossible. Placed letter reverently on desk, went upstairs, outside onto balcony porch: Teacher’s favorite meditation setting. Settled onto veranda swing, eased legs into Lotus.
Terry understood; moved silently from shoulder to lap, pressed close, started random-numbers recitation of vocabulary in barely audible, tiny baby-girl voice. Held twin nestled in arms as pain escalated, tears progressed to silent, painful, wracking sobs. Sibling’s uncritical companionship, unquestioning love all that stood between me and all-engulfing blackness, fresh awareness of extent of losses threatening to overwhelm soul.
Together we watched early-afternoon cumulonimbus form up, mount into towering thunderheads, roil and churn, finally develop lightning flickers in gloom at bases, arch dark shafts of rain downward to western horizon; watched until fading light brought realization how long had sat there. Brighter stars already visible in east.
Reviewed condition with mounting surprise: eyes dry, pain gone from throat, heart; blackness hovering over soul mere memory.
Apparently had transcendentalized without conscious intent, resolved residual grief. All that remained was sweet sadness when contemplated Daddy, Momma, Teacher; were gone along with everything, everybody else, leaving only memories. Suddenly realized was grateful being permitted to keep those.
Cautiously moved exploratory muscle, first in hours. Terry twitched, fretted; then woke, set up justifiable protest over starved condition. Arose, shifted twin to shoulder; went inside, downstairs.
Picked up Tarzan File, Teacher’s letter, went back to Daddy’s house. Fed birdbrain, self; settled down, skimmed File’s contents.
Presently concluded Teacher correct (profound shock, that): Peter Bell doubtless best prospective soulmate of lot. Very smart, very interested, very conscious; educational credits to date sound like spoof (nobody that young could have learned that much, except, uh . . . perhaps me—okay); very strong, quick; very advanced in study of Art (Eighth Degree!); plus (in words of Teacher): “Delightfully unconcerned about his own accomplishments; interested primarily in what he will do next.” And, “. . . possessed of a wry sense of humor.” Sounds like my kind of guy. Hope turns out can stand him.
Sat for long moments working up nerve. Then picked up phone, deliberately dialed area code, number. Got stranded after a few moments’ clicking, hissing when relay Somewhere Out There stuck. Tried again; hit busy circuit (distinct from busy number; difference audible—also caused by sticky relay). Tried again, muttering in beard. Stranded again. Tried again. Failed again.
“That’s bad!” offered Terry enthusiastically, bobbing head cheerfully.
Took deep breath, said very bad word, tried again.
Got ring tone! Once, twice, three times; then: “Click. Hello, is that you, Candy? Sure took you long enough. This is Peter Bell. I can’t come to the phone right now; I’m outside taking care of the stock. But I’ve set up this telephone answering machine to guard my back. It’s got an alarm on it that’ll let me know you’ve called so I can check the tape.
“When you hear the tone at the end of my message, give me your phone number if you’re not at home—don’t forget the area code if it’s different from your home—and I’ll call you back the moment I get back and find your message. Boy, am I glad you’re all right.
Caught agape by recording. Barely managed regroupment in time to stutter out would be home; add if not, would be at farm, give number before machine hung up, dial tone resumed.
Repeated bad word. Added frills tailored specifically for answering machine.
Did dishes, put away. Refilled twin’s food dish, changed water; moved stand into study, placed next to desk, within convenient head-scritching range.
Settled into Daddy’s big chair, opened journal, brought record up-to-date. Have done so. Now up-to-date. Current. Completely. Nothing further to enter. So haven’t entered anything else. For quite a while.
Midnight. Might as well read a book.
∞ ∞ ∞
Awoke to would-be rooster’s salute to dawn’s early light. Found self standing unsteadily in middle of study, blinking sleep from eyes, listening to echoes die away. Glared at twin; received smug snicker in return.
Took several moments to establish location, circumstances leading to night spent in chair with clothes on. When succeeded, opened mouth, then didn’t bother—realized bad word wouldn’t help; no longer offered relief adequate to situation.
Casual approach had worn out about one a.m.—by which time had read possibly ten pages (of which couldn’t remember single word). Featherhead snored on stand; nothing within reach to disassemble, had lost interest.
Yawning prodigiously myself by time abandoned pretense, grabbed phone, dialed number.
Got through first try. But was busy!
Repeated attempt at five-minute intervals for two hours or until fell asleep—whichever came first.
Have just tried line again. Still busy. Better go make breakfast.
∞ ∞ ∞
Contact problem no longer funny. In two months since last entry have averaged five tries daily. Result: Either (usually) busy signal or transistorized moron spouts same message. One possible explanation (among many): Recorded message mentions no dates; could have been recorded day after Armageddon, yesterday—anytime.
Not that am languishing, sitting wringing hands by phone, however; have been busy. Completed move to farm; padded supply reserves; shored weaknesses; collected additional livestock, poultry. Have electrified fences, augmented where appeared marginally dogproof; trucked in additional grain (learned to drive semi, re-re-re-replete with 16-speed transmission—truly sorry about grain company’s gatepost, but was in way; should have been moved long ago); located, trucked in two automatic diesel generators, connected through clever relay system so first comes on line (self-starting) if power fails, second kicks in if first quits. So far has worked every time tested, just as book said.
Have accumulated adequate fuel for operation: Brought in four tankers brimfull of diesel (6,000 gallons each); rigged up interconnecting hose system guaranteeing gravity feed to generators—whichever needs, gets. At eight gallons hourly (maximum load), should provide over four months’ operation if needed. (However, farm rapidly taking on aspect of truck lot. Must think about disposing of empties soon; otherwise won’t be able to walk through yard.)
Overkill preparations not result of paranoia. Attempting to make place secure in absence; improve odds of finding habitable, viable farm on return, even if sortie takes longer than expected. Which could; is over 900 miles (straight-line) to File’s address on Peter Bell. And he’s only first on AA list; others scattered all over.
Have attempted to cover all bets, both home and for self on trip. F’rinstance, chose vehicle with care: four-wheel-drive Chevy van. Huge mud/snow tires bulge from fenders on all four corners, provide six inches extra ground clearance, awesome traction. Front bumper mounts electric winch probably capable of hoisting vehicle bodily up sheer cliff. Interior has bed, potty, sink, stove, sundry cabinets—and exterior boasts dreadful baroque murals on sides.
Though might appear was built specifically to fill own needs (except for murals—and need for build-ups on pedals), was beloved toy of town banker. When not pinching pennies, frittered time away boonies-crawling in endless quest for inaccessible, impassable terrain. Bragged hadn’t found any. Hope so; bodes well for own venture.
Personal necessities, effects aboard. Include: ample food, water for self, Terry; bedding, clothing, toiletries; diverse tools, including ax, bolt cutters, etc.; spares for van; siphon, pump, hose for securing gas; small, very nasty armory, including police chief’s sawed-off riot gun, two magnum revolvers, M-16 with numerous clips and scope. Not expecting trouble, but incline toward theory that probably won’t rain if carry umbrella.
Leaving this journal here in shelter for benefit of archaeologists; keep separate book on trip. Can consolidate on return; but if plans go awry, this account still available for Posterity.
Well, time to go: Unknown beckons.
But have never felt so small. Awfully big world waiting out there.
Volume II Seeking
Hi again, Posterity. Happy to see me? Or just surprised? Wish could be happier to see you. Should be, of course, and perhaps one day will be again. But just now view prospect of commencing this record with less than enthusiasm.
Appreciably less: Present overdue status not question of mere sloth, inefficiency; delay product of sober consideration, sound reasoning. Entirely deliberate: been stalling.
But before condemning dilatory scribe out of hand, please attend, one, all; explanation follows, to wit:
Scared. No, not shaking-in-boots scared, not blood-turns-to-cottage-cheese scared; more an ominous-disquiet scared, two shivers qualmier than knock-on-wood scared. Leery of tempting fate.
See: commensurate with tenacious optimism expected of journeyman-grade Pollyanna, intend this record (together with previous journal [Vol. I], plus all subsequent memoirs) for future study by, ultimate benefit of, future generations—if any—tended in respectful, unhurried fashion by historians, students, archaeologists in suitably dignified setting: Smith-Foster Post-Armageddon Historical Library & Archives.
Fond aspirations envision lots of subsequent volumes, eventually amassing truly impressive collection covering very long timespan; accumulated in orderly manner by Library courtesy of Yours Truly through regular donations, personal delivery. (Key words here are regular, personal: Want no gaps—and especially don’t want final volume dropped off by unwashed, travel-weary, buckskin-clad, intrepid explorer-of-unknown, plucked from God-knows-where.)
Foregoing tidy scenario intrinsic to present emotional well-being; implying, as it does, long-range goals; own demise postponed many, many years hence; arriving (if ever) long after achieving revered status as beloved, silver-haired, old counselor; authentic sage, oracle senectutis causa, expiring gracefully in own bed amidst tearful mob of properly devoted descendants, admirers.
However (follow logic closely now): Longer journal commencement deferred, longer am able to ignore alternate possibilities—perhaps even probabilities—that impending events may interrupt record midchapter. Even midsentence. Until begun, this volume cannot be last in series. (Cannot be discovered incomplete amongst own bones somewhere on depopulated planet.)
Which is uncomfortable notion at best. Much prefer waiting until events justify more positive outlook, reasonable expectation of survival, living Happily-Ever-After.
(Curious behavior, must admit, for certified genius.)
However, personal problems are no excuse to compromise record; responsible historiographer must face darkest prospects squarely, do job. True, this journal meant for proper delivery to proper audience and, if such be assured, could be prepared as well after the fact, at leisure, as minor adjunct to activities comprising Happy Ending. But if not—assuming worst: found under grisly circumstances by fellow involuntary ragtag wanderer—even he entitled to complete account, within limits imposed by conditions.
Not least of which: very real doubt typical Bold Explorer able to decipher Pitman shorthand. But would be no record in longhand: So inefficient, agonizingly slow; results bulky, burdensome to carry.
Besides, not my problem: Shorthand system identified on cover, together with author, subject matter. Texts available at any library (most should stand, protect contents for centuries). My notes clear, straightforward; without unusual briefs, nonstandard phrase linkages. Given time, motivation, legible to anyone.
And must demand some effort from Posterity (regardless of whom may consist). Being furnished, after all, valuable detailed information on End of World. Not available at every corner newsstand.
As may be.
Peter Bell trustworthy, reliable, responsible (according to Tarzan File—along with brilliant, sensitive, witty, handsome). Distinctly not sort to ignore constantly ringing phone. Or 50 messages on answering machine. To say nothing of known damsel (distress or otherwise quite immaterial; evidence suggests ain’t many of us). Would have returned call had been home, gotten message. Since didn’t, wasn’t.
Certainly. I knew that.
But human—pardon, mean Homo post hominem—psyche surely most perversely useless corner of entire mind. Unreasonable beastie, downright illogical. Makes no sense at all for naked-eye confirmation of months-ago deduced fact to precipitate funk.
Move-out deliberate, unhurried, thorough; signs unmistakable: Doors, windows neatly shut; closets emptied, personal effects removed; utilities switched off at fuse box. Obviously had business elsewhere, went; had ample time to. Nothing about absence to create ominous doubts, assumptions, speculations. Simply moved. Period.
Granting which, enigma remains: Candidia Maria Smith-Foster, superkid, prize intellect in or out of research project—coldly analytical, logical, rational, etc., etc.—agitatedly pacing through Peter Bell’s empty house; repeatedly peeking into empty closets, endlessly ransacking empty drawers; playing back empty answering-machine tape over, over again; wringing hands, streaming tears, sniffling, blubbering—
For almost three solid hours . . . !
Disgraceful performance: Behaving like maiden forsaken at altar. Atavistic. No justification.
Terry endured in relative silence, occasionally moving from one shoulder to other, shifting weight, intermittently shrugging to settle feathers. Comments limited to single low whistle when we entered obviously vacant premises, occasional “How ’bout that” as time passed. No doubt embarrassed for me.
Wait. No justification?
Correction, please: Atavistic, true, but partially justified. . . .
Justi-damn-fied all to pieces!
Why not upset? Months of hopes, anticipations, expectations; long, hard trip—for nothing! Nary a clue—not even faintest hint remains to suggest destination, whereabouts.
Some superman . . . ! Inconceivable could go off without leaving note—self-respecting five-year-old human would expect me on doorstep eventually (if alive), leave forwarding address.
But perhaps being too harsh. . . . Should take comfort instead from apparent discovery that certain fundamental behavioral principles transcend interspecies gulf; continue unchanged, intact, eternal; intrinsic to new race as was old. Datum no doubt scientifically fascinating in own right; of great satisfaction to researcher. But frankly, until now never troubled head over whether new species might boast thoughtless, self-centered, imbecilic male twits!
Oh, dear. Just look—ink hardly dry following wallow through well-intentioned (if debatable) solicitude for plight of hypothetical NonScheduled Reader (NSR) and already hip-deep in tirade comprehensible only to proper audience. So sorry; will try to do better. Really.
By now NSR probably wondering what H. post hominem might be. Or Tarzan File. Or perhaps who Peter Bell is. Or Teacher. Or Terry. Or (at very least) me.
All right. Fair questions; deserve straight answers. So shall endeavor to bear in mind possible audience other than intended: Fellow survivor, perhaps—but demonstratedly better at it—someone lacking vantage of orderly progression from Vol. I (left in shelter library beneath address on cover, Index No. 1.1.1). Viewed in that light, however reluctantly, introductions are in order:
Name: Candidia Maria Smith-Foster. (Note: Nothing “sinister” about “bar”; used here proudly to honor adoptive parents together with kin.) Born 11 years ago to Smiths; orphaned months later; adopted by Dr. Marshall and Megan Foster—Daddy and Momma. Been known as Candy since first breath.
Beyond that (briefly): Homo post hominem is new species; originating during great influenza pandemic of 1918-19 through viral recombination of unborns’ genes; apparently immune to all “human” disease, plus smarter, stronger, faster, etc.; discovered accidentally by researchers headed by Teacher (next-door neighbor, genius), aided by Daddy, while hunting for clues identifying genius-level children as newborns; emerging to inherit Earth after H. sapiens eliminated selves in short, efficient, bionuclear war.
Tarzan File Teacher’s record of said research; identifying, profiling, locating all known hominems.
Peter Bell H. post hominem associated with Teacher’s research project; closest of project hominems to own age; best prospect of lot for future soulmate, according to matchmaking Teacher in letter constituting Last Words.
Terry is own adopted twin brother (full name Terry D. Foster—initial stands for Dactyll); identical but for mental retardation and being Hyacinthine Macaw.
Am myself Homo post hominem. Rode out war in Daddy’s marvelous shelter; now engaged in walkabout, searching for fellow survivors. Of which reader must be one.
There. Clear enough?
No? Complaints—from NSR? Too brief? More confused now than before explanation?
Some nerve! If reader truly nonscheduled, then writer almost certainly dead . . . !
Wait, please don’t sulk; surely can’t expect sympathy from corpse—should be grateful for simple courtesy. . . . True, could repeat entire background each time begin new journal—of course, volumes soon rival Tarzan File’s bulk even before commencing new entries. But then why bother writing Vol. I in first place? So shan’t; have better things to do.
Now: Tarzan File lists names, addresses of all AA, known AB hominems. But specifically, Teacher referred me to Peter Bell—AA superkid, smart as me (intimated might be smarter; hurled gauntlet to prove him wrong). Had told him about me, too. Suggested I get in touch.
Obviously, current scope of interest in “future soulmate” limited at this point to practical matters: food, shelter, protection, survival—short-term essential stuff; deferring obvious racial continuity issue until puberty, completion of glandular development, make pertinent. (And probably unavoidable—have no valid basis to doubt will be just as tiresomely boy-crazy, once plumbing commences normal function, as next ingénue. But can hope.)
However, long experience (relativistic expression, of course, considering modest life span thus far) amply justifies habit of equating Teacher’s least hint with Revelation From On High. Certainly adequate incentive to make attempt. Phone system still functioning in many portions of country (according to aural evidence: Ring tone obtainable using most area codes, random numbers); so tried number listed in Tarzan File.
No luck. True, answering machine camped on line picked up phone, spouted message for me; but Peter never returned calls.
For two and a half months!
(Oversensitive soul might, by this time, ponder reciprocity of interest. Might even [given modest encouragement] contemplate feeling neglected, unattractive; launch into spate of mouthwash, deodorant changes; file teeth, fluff nails, polish hair, etc.)
Nonsense, of course. Endless possible explanations: Defective answering machine, talking but not recording; phone system itself finally disintegrating (not unreasonably: six months without maintenance—even in system based on hydroelectric power, with computerized call routing automatically diverting calls around trouble spots, time must come when trouble spots constitute norm, system collapses). Perhaps, too—certainly equally likely—Peter simply not home, for own good purposes. No more reason now to wallow in morbid speculation than during months since initial contact attempt frustrated.
Though, granted, too busy then to spare attention for proper moping. Not easy, in only two and a half months, to locate suitable farm convenient to Daddy’s house (and shelter treasures beneath); catch up all chores necessary to improve chances that livestock, structures survive Wisconsin winter’s ravages.
Nor did trip from Dairy State heartland to Peter’s Cornell campus (New York State) residence provide much time to reflect unsettling possibilities, generally inequitable nature of life. Physical fragility of human civilization becoming evident after only six months’ neglect: Road system in sorry state, getting rapidly worse. Trees down here, there; poles broken, lines draped elegantly in inconvenient places; surprising numbers of washed-out culverts, impassable bridges.
Four-wheel-drive Chevy van wonderfully capable, easy to drive—with lifts on pedals to accommodate own modest stature. High ground clearance, awesome traction make easy work of marginal terrain. Solved many blockages simply by driving around—through fences; across fields, small streams; up hill, down dale, etc.—but spent fully as much time on shanks’ mare, cutting, prying, winching, digging, etc., as driving. (Educational travel mode: Really get “feel” for countryside—feel it under nails, in shoes, tangled in hair, embedded in clothing. . . .)
Well, journal commencement, however belated, yielding usual result: Hurt, rage, disappointment discharged on paper; blood pressure lowered, practical state of mind restored—along with perspective: Crying over spilled milk null exercise; benefits neither spiller nor spillee.
Okay. So Peter Bell not here. Elsewhere. Gone. Now what?
Prime objective obviously unaffected; unchanged from very first day we stuck nose outside shelter following expiration of predicted maximum contagion factor after World Ended: Find somebody else.
Somebody smarter, bigger, stronger; with broad shoulders, laughing eyes, windblown blond hair; font of wisdom concerning all aspects of establishing bright new civilizations for fun and profit. (Be nice, too, if knows location of Yellow Brick Road.)
But Teacher’s statistics project only 150,000 hominems on North American continent. (Entire continent—8,795,052 square miles [National Geographic World Atlas figures.]). Another perspective, same problem: 58.63 square miles per person.
One solution: Rule off continent graph-paper style, in squares 7.6575 miles per side; pick square at random; stand at center; yell through bullhorn. Then repeat—150,000 times.
However viewed, awful lot of elbow room. Population spread terribly thin. Accidental meeting probability effectively zilch—which fact may, upon reflection, be disguised blessing. . . .
Don’t really want to meet ABs; not until securely ensconced within bosom of AA community. Hate to sound prejudiced, but am; can’t forget Teacher’s opinion that majority laboring under some form of emotional problem, high percentage downright pathological. Not unreasonable, then, to assume every contact but AAs, absent convincing evidence to contrary, possibly hauling unsecured payload—potentially dangerous.
Which revives burning issue: Peter Bell not here; no hint of how long gone, where to. May even be dead—from available data, likely as not. Speculation pointless.
But I’m alive. Very much so. Firmly resolved to maintain trend. Ergo, logical next step: Pick another AA from File. Doesn’t matter which; only Peter Bell personally recommended, described. Others only represented by impersonal File entries. Okay, but faceless.
However, close to 100 AAs recorded, scattered all over U.S. No assurance any address still valid and random visits could take forever, or longer. Only reasonable procedure: Plot locations on map; lay out most efficient meander touching all bases, shortest time, distance—reserving, of course, right to fly off on wild tangent should events offer even most tenuous clue.
Intend just that. Tomorrow morning, though; not now. Tired. Disappointed. Probably still vexed, too, if had energy. Even Terry subdued—for him. Perhaps senses mood. Perhaps just bad day: too long, too many expectations. Too much letdown.
Never mind. Tomorrow is another day—Pollyanna lives . . . !
∞ ∞ ∞
Good morning, Posterity! Night’s sound sleep; huge, well-balanced, delicious breakfast (prepared by gourmet chef, with—or despite—intensive assistance of manic twin [laughing hugely, grabbing at everything in sight]) produced usual result: Energy, optimism restored—along with independence:
Who needs Peter Bell . . . !
Plenty of fish in sea; Tarzan File full of alternatives—or failing that, might well be more fun to go out, locate, stalk, capture indigenous AB buck in native habitat; then housebreak, domesticate, teach rudiments of coherent thought, civilized speech. Why not? Might work. (And if not, gently separate cervical vertebrae to discourage kiss-and-tell [wouldn’t want to acquire “reputation”]; throw back, try again.)
True, simpler to find AAs, settle again into secure little-girl/student role; allow others to make important decisions, feed, clothe, house, protect. (Sometimes wearisome, being master of own destiny. Worse than being genius. Lonely, too. Need hug.)
Enough! Used up whole year’s sniveling ration yesterday. Brace up chin! Square off shoulders! Forward ho!
So this morning, following breakfast, scrounged campus (carrying crowbar, sledge hammer—implements intrinsic, these days, to serious pursuit of scrounging trade); located large-scale U.S. map, plotted AA locations, connected with straight lines.
And discovered predictable trend: All grouped about top-line schools, leading research centers. Harvard, M.I.T., Johns Hopkins, etc., on East Coast. UCLA, U. of California (Davis), etc., on West. Kansas State U., U. of Minnesota, U. of Colorado, U. of Illinois, U. of Chicago, etc., etc., about Midwest. Plus AEC, NASA, JPL facilities all over country. Appears nation’s recent progress muchly traceable to AAs. (Hope didn’t also figure in downfall.)
Okay. So much for short-term strategy: Hunt proceeds hence by-the-numbers.
But what about long-term? Good point. What if, at last, search comes up dry? As might. . . .
Indeed—what if . . . ? Not most comfortable premise for dyed-in-wool Pollyanna to contemplate, but valid. Every coin has two sides. Rankest stupidity to ignore possibility might lose toss; fail to plan for exigencies lurking on dark side.
Very well. Reflecting as pessimist, grimly: Wise to leave notes all over, wherever might stop, pass through, visit; where other survivors (of whatever stripe) might find. True, probably—certainly—come to attention of itinerant ABs. Can’t be helped.
But so what? Candy Smith-Foster, youngest-ever wearer of Sixth Degree Black Belt, uneasy at prospect of meeting strangers? Even potentially dangerous strangers? Yes. (But pretty potentially dangerous own self; harbor no genuine doubts about ability to cope with aberrant behavior as necessary. Will reach peaceful understanding, accommodation with fellow survivors; will live in altruistic, gentle harmony with neighbors, whomever may be, whatever background. Or else.)
Happily, college utilities mostly still working; administration building well stocked with communications media toys—of which few operational, of course, following EMP effects accompanying air bursts: two electric typewriters, one photocopier, etc.
No computers. . . .
Still, convenient opportunity; shall take advantage, spend next few days here; compose most utterly bare-bones, boiled-down condensation possible: message to leave about countryside during travels.
Content giving pause. Should identify self—but within limits. (No point, for instance, mentioning age, sex, dimensions. Teacher’s caution firmly in mind; well aware that whatever response in numbers, substantial percentage bound to be maladjusted. No point slanting advertising toward weirdos.) Should describe resources, advantages of hometown area, farms (omitting shelter mention; my little secret for now, until familiar with recruitees, confident of intentions.). Must include invitation to visit, partake in mutual deliberation over whether acceptance into community advantageous both ways.
Have also concluded, after initial hesitation, message must contain explanation of H. sapiens/post hominem situation, etc. Facts, evidence clearly documented; Teacher’s conclusion unaffected by scoffers—but doubt will care much for neighbors lacking minds sufficiently open to appreciate data, understand implications, and (most of all) accept necessity of next step:
Central industry in my community to be AA-type upbringing, education of children (to degree possible in ruined world). All else secondary, supportive. No compulsion, pressure; volunteers only. But dissenters need not apply. Big world; can live elsewhere.
Granted, noble resolve most conveniently parallels own selfish desires (so much to learn!); but if Dark Ages follow collapse of H. sapiens’ civilization, won’t be my fault.
∞ ∞ ∞
There! Not so tough: Mere three days’ full-time, unremitting labor—writing, rewriting, trimming, condensing, paring, slashing, distilling, rooting-out, re-rewriting, etc., etc.—and leaflet complete.
Masterpiece of brevity: single page (legal size, double-sided; uniform 1/10-inch margins top, bottom, left, right; 15-pitch type) says everything necessary in only 5,768 well-chosen words—plus metaphoric extra thousand implied by tiny map sketched at end.
Initial small stock produced on nifty both-sides-at-once Xerox.
(Wonderful machine; some benefits of old civilization must be saved for Posterity—10,000 copies, three hours!)
Shall affix to doors of food, hardware, sporting goods, clothing stores, etc., as ride along. Pass hundreds every day; been taking local roads rather than interstates. (Esthetic choice; admittedly not logical: Interstates doubtless better condition, easier driving; but somehow lonelier [said wasn’t logical], more depressing.)
Not terribly original plan, but I forage constantly, almost daily; reasonable inference holds other survivors do likewise. And certainly have generally similar needs, “shop” same places.
Final analysis—becomes question of numbers: Post enough leaflets, bound to catch eye. Somebody’s eye. Someplace. Sometime. Probably.
Tomorrow leave for Boston. Harvard-M.I.T. area, home for five AAs: Herman Smith, Mario Ling, Gayle Kinnart, Theron Parker, Rex Hollister.
Parker, Ling, Smith deeply involved (according to File) in project combining M.I.T.’s space research center, computer center, nuclear reactor, magnetics lab, Harvard’s medical school, biochemical facility, seismographic station. Wouldn’t discuss objective, but spin-off breakthroughs, inventions, products so numerous, administration declined to push it.
Hollister working at Harvard only, but at medical research, anthropology, biophysics, geology, political theory.
Kinnart’s Ph.D.s in nuclear physics, oceanography, computer science, meteorology, astronautics. Worked when, where, with whom, on what she chose. Taught, researched, invented at will. Delighted in shaking up Establishment’s institutions, the crustier the better; CLEPed Juris Doctor in spare time, over organized opposition of Bar (disapproved failure to utilize proper law-school channels). Sued pro se won, obtained J.D. by Supreme Court decree. Also holds Seventh Degree Black Belt. (If consciously, actively seeking role model, girl could do lots worse—hope she likes me.)
Enough woolgathering. To bed now. Far to go tomorrow; much to do.
Calmly, however, coolly; optimistically but with caution, discipline. No more paralytic disappointment, hysteria, tears—no matter what. If trail proves cold, will play hand as dealt: Study facts as materialize; proceed logically, efficiently as indicated.
But can hope. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Silly me. To think, really expected to make Boston in single day (seemed reasonable goal while studying map: only 275 miles, straight-line distance).
But not crow, not flying. Driving. Slowly, cautiously. Through heavily wooded, very hilly (almost mountainous) terrain; numerous small towns, villages; over narrow, winding, bumpity road obviously surveyed, installed by larcenous paving contractor whose sole ambition (well and truly realized) was smothering in concrete most expensive distance between any two points.
Together with previously observed uniform deterioration of highway system, conditions generally less than ideal for rapid transit: Downed trees, abandoned vehicles, landslides, etc., do little to speed progress.
Then final unexpected barrier: Hudson River. Not anticipated as problem; maps show bridges all up-, downstream.
True, are many bridges; however, those encountered thus far quite impassable: Some blocked by horrendous traffic jams; some visibly unsafe, spans sagging, etc.; some actually collapsed, lying in, under water. Several boast combinations of all of above. (Prefer not to think what must have been like when refugee-laden bridges, loaded beyond designers’ worst nightmares, came down.)
Camping tonight on romantic west bank, at lush forest’s edge, under clear, star-studded, moonlit sky. Doubtless be more favorably impressed if conducting appraisal from other side.
Tomorrow will head south along river. Bridge frequency increases as approach New York City. Bound to get across sooner, later.
∞ ∞ ∞
Delete previous pearl of wisdom. Written by idiot, without consideration of facts, human nature. Indeed, bridges more frequent to south. Also bigger, wider, more capacious. However, increased population more than made up difference.
Drove south all the way to Newark, Verrazano- Narrows Bridge to Brooklyn. All blocked, damaged, or both.
Jams on surviving spans exceed belief. Example (not worst): Faced with immovable crush of vehicles parked on George Washington Bridge, obsessed beyond reason, control, someone elected to leave Manhattan—in large bulldozer, over top. And so tightly packed together were cars in path that most occupants unable to open doors, squeeze through windows, etc., flee in time. Predictably dreadful results. (But someone coped: Operator, crawler both dead; stopped halfway across, perched like giant carnivore on mashed vehicles beneath.)
Camping again tonight on romantic west bank of Hudson River, same place as night before last—same lush forest, under same clear, star-studded, moonlit sky, etc.
(Bah . . . !)
Tomorrow will head north along river. Population density decreases considerably that direction. Bound to get across sooner, later. Or drive around damned thing.
∞ ∞ ∞
Murphy would have snickered, said, “. . . told you so.” And been right: Very first bridge north of where quit exploring, three days before, stood wide open, unobstructed, safe.
Crossed without incident; continued through New York State, into Vermont, east-southeast across Appalachian Mountain spine into Massachusetts—into more bridge trouble: Connecticut River.
Pretty stream. But wide, impassable due to bridge damage. Lots of bridges, lots of damage. Appears to have been heavy flooding earlier: Barges flung about like toys; presence of bridge supports in paths presented little hindrance.
None daunted but wiser now, headed north immediately, upstream. Mere 150 miles sufficed to bring us to intact span.
Across and flushed with confidence, headed again southeast—toward Boston, with no potential geographical obstacles visible ahead on map.
Be there by noon tomorrow, barring untowardnesses.
(And not getting excited. Waiting to see what lies ahead. Calmly, coolly, objectively.)
∞ ∞ ∞
Nothing lies ahead! Or sits, stands, hops, skips, jumps. And getting mighty fed up with whole business.
Once is nothing more than random incident, dice cast, crumbled cookie, flopped mop. Twice probably coincidence, without statistical significance; no doubt concerning to pessimist, but not alarming to rational intellect. Three times could still be coincidence, but scary coincidence; probability laws bent way out of shape.
Four times is trend. No doubt about it; worry is appropriate response.
And six times—conclusive. Utterly so.
Nobody home. Again. All signs point to orderly move-out. Again. No clues suggesting possible destination, whereabouts. Again!
Performed most thorough going-through of homes, offices, labs of all five M.I.T.-Harvard-area AAs. Turned up nothing. Simply vanished. Carefully, efficiently, without loose ends.
Kinnart’s house first stop; then office. Scene at house duplicated Peter Bell’s; office equally barren: Everything personal, if even faintly portable, gone. Results at Smith’s, Ling’s, Parker’s, Hollister’s similar, equally dismaying. No affirmative data; all evidence negative, inferential, based on what not found.
Returned to Kinnart’s house for night. Lovely place: Even stripped of personal touches, still homey; retains comfortably feminine ambience.
Great relief after weeks of living in van, sleeping on bunk, cooking with charcoal, Sterno. Electric power out, but gas, water still work. Easy enough to run extension cord in for evening’s lighting.
Decision to spend night under civilized roof met twin’s approval. Loves travel, but bon vivant at heart; wallows in luxury at every opportunity (believes anything worth doing worth overdoing). And apparently concluded time ripe for good wallow: Hurled self into project with glee (mere fraction of which, publicly displayed in times past, sure to result in involuntary hospitalization). Participation included: assisting carrying tee stand in from van (me carrying; manic sibling gripping crossbar with toes, wings flapping at max); unpacking food (container-opening one of brother’s pettest passions—problem arises confining enthusiasm to appropriate time, place, object); setting table (loves this part: Waddles joyously about tabletop, seizing plates, utensils—anything not nailed down—laboriously carries/drags to edge; surreptitiously peeks around to see if observed yet; then heaves over side, watching fall, bobbing head, chortling under breath as impact occurs—then back for more).
In especially rare mood today; having wonderful time: talking, warbling like trained chainsaw, assisting until seemed must be three of him. Finally became necessary—to retain own sanity—to banish him to stand, order him, “Stay!”
Feelings unruffled by rebuff, of course. Within moments had discovered refrigerator handle within reach. While doing sideways chin-ups, indicated continuing willingness—nay, eagerness—to help clear table. Before meal was over.
Had turned on gas first thing on arrival, lit water heater. Have put clean sheets on firmest bed in house. Looking forward to indescribable pleasure of hot shower, followed by best night’s sleep in weeks.
Looking forward intensely—helps keep mind off AAs’ disappearance. Impossible six people could vanish so utterly, without any clue.
Well, perhaps morning will bring inspiration: Maybe subconscious noticed something so-called “conscious” missed while worrying.
∞ ∞ ∞
Eureka! (Sort of.)
Upon waking this morning, realized search not thorough as should have been. Oh, thorough enough regarding not missing single drawer, looking under beds, examining every inch—but was looking for things; paying no attention to what might be missing. Stated in yesterday’s entry, “. . . all evidence negative, inferential, based on what not found.” But made no effort to determine what not found; haven’t inferred worth darn.
So following breakfast (found old-fashioned campfire waffle iron in basement; works equally well on kitchen gas range—results wonderful with maple syrup after so long) adjourned back to Kinnart’s office; conducted repeat search, this time with eyes, perception, mind open. And learned:
Remaining lab contents limited to stock equipment, scientific goodies available anywhere. Nothing visible appropriate to work of most brilliant researcher in five (un?)related fields. Vacant table space suggests missing equipment, but not much. And no clues as to what.
However, one artifact obvious by absence—her First Microscope. (Every student scientist and/or doctor receives as gift or purchases in school a First Microscope. Sometimes powerful, sophisticated instrument; sometimes Woolworth’s Student Special—but always treasured for life; always prominent in office, whether used or not.) Absence significant.
But not as glaring as lack of any scrap of work product: notes, memoranda, programs, floppy disks, photographs, printouts, results—in short, irreplaceable stuff, without which any research reverts back to square one.
Went back then; reinspected homes, offices of other four Boston-area AAs; confirmed similar conditions. Physical gear remaining wondrously varied but limited to catalog stock; nothing custom-made, no records. And no First Microscopes!
So much for available facts; now for inferences: Left, probably as group; went somewhere already physically equipped to continue studies, taking more specialized, irreplaceable tools, notes, records, etc.
(Granted, premise requires quantum leap past logic; but given reasonable parallel between their thinking and mine—assuming also work in progress [and opportunity]—only tenable conclusion.)
Besides, evacuation necessary: Had, while ruminating, forgotten Armageddon side effects. No possibility hominems, with olfactory sensitivities far transcending H. sapiens’, could have remained in population-dense Boston area during months immediately following species’ end. Or any large, heavily peopled area. Own experience in tiny Wisconsin hometown proof enough: Had not spent first three months sealed in shelter, breathing own recycled air, would have been driven away.
So—again—what now? Conclusions interesting, probably valid—almost certainly valid. Also, in practical terms, next to useless. Even were conclusions confirmed—all Tarzan File AA addresses in fact obsolete—so what? Who cares? Equally pointless is speculation over why gone. Ringing question is where!
Without some hint—positive data, not accumulation of negatives—search deteriorates to pure exploration. Futile on face of it; continent simply too big for random poking about. Too much area; too few targets—and even methodical search won’t improve odds. Not really. AAs might well move into section just covered, remain undiscovered forever.
Besides, what (beyond wishful myopia) limits scope of search to North America? Whole planet now available (excepting only several extremely radioactive areas in Asia, where [according to Daddy’s secret papers] U.S.’s displeasure over attack most intensely expressed). Surprising if AAs failed to capitalize on all available resources, natural or man-made, wherever extant, to found, secure, develop community from which to gather, store, preserve, ultimately extend knowledge base accumulated during H. sapiens’ sway on Earth.
Hmm. . . . Uninformed observer might suspect pattern developing here: Seems every time central question (“What now?”) crops up, somehow vanishes again beneath welter of irrelevant detail, philosophy, speculation.
Goodness. . . . Candy Smith-Foster subconsciously refusing to face facts? Perhaps because answers unpalatable?)
Nonsense! Nothing subconscious about it. Plain as day: scared to death. And with best of reasons: answers stink!
Consider remaining options: One, can assume—not unreasonably after six consecutive strikeouts—Tarzan File truly dead end; set off blindly into wilderness, playing entirely by ear; distributing leaflets widely, collecting ABs catch-as-can, if at all.
Or, two, ignore six-ply coincidence; play out hand as dealt by Tarzan File, follow through to conclusion; not so much expecting dramatic results as sticking to scientific method, ensuring resultant fine-tooth examination of homes, offices overlooks not least clue suggesting whereabouts.
Then set off blindly into wilderness.
Or silly-season stuff, among which least hair-brained notions include: Acquiring necessary knowledge (not impossible, considering formidable reading speed, comprehension retention level); constructing, activating powerful omniband radio station; broadcasting endless worldwide appeal for company.
Or how about skywriting? Attention-getting, certainly; and effective each time over huge chunks of geography. Given H. post hominem mind, reflexes (far quicker, better integrated than predecessors’), how difficult could it be to learn aircraft operation basics? Memorize book, absorb theory; then apply practical. (Shucks, Wrights only human, managed without theory.)
Probably neither truly silly-season ideas. Farfetched, yes. But not totally beyond pale, given sufficient impetus (i.e., desperation—cornered rat apt to try anything).
No, not really silly—silly is debating whether might be possible very quickly to breed special strain of mosquito (limited to drinking hominem blood); securing very small notes to tiny collars, sending out to spread word.
Now, that’s silly. . . .
And demonstrates lengths will go to to avoid facing “What now” question. Not that have any real choice: Big world; only information even potentially helpful is Tarzan File, whether current or not. Must be verified, unto bitter end if necessary. As well might be.
So. Six down, 93 to go. Next stop: Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University; Barbara, James, Frederick Harper. No, not related—family: Idyllic ménage à trois of several years’ standing. Harpers, according to file, enjoyed benefits, protections of marriage laws, without violating them but without common-law togetherness risks, by simply cohabitating; defining responsibilities toward one another, to heirs, regarding assets, etc., by forming corporation, incorporating into bylaws useful provisions from marital, probate law. Reported very happy. Perhaps all three being doctors, dovetailed specialties, helps.
Discovery piqued curiosity. Checked further through File. And learned plural living arrangements not uncommon amongst AAs: Fully one third involved in family units of more than two. Largest such encompasses five.
Intriguing. But not sure my cup of tea. Earliest memories pervaded with gently intense love emanating from, between, all around Daddy, Momma Foster. Couldn’t have spent formative years basking in glow always surrounding, enveloping them, anyone near them, without being imprinted to some extent with bias toward general wonderfulnesswonderful ness of twosome life—joy of being single most important thing in life of Someone Wonderful.
Hope Harpers at home. Apart from obvious, interested in observing daily workings of family life; see whether they glow together. (If so, at what intensity in which combinations.)
Off tomorrow to Baltimore—or perhaps “toward” more realistic preposition: Though only 427 miles, according to map, know about map distances now (been through that before, haven’t we). So don’t expect to make it in single day. Or even two, three.
For one thing, must retrace path around much of Connecticut, Hudson rivers—doubles distance right there. Additionally, frequent stops to post leaflets in promising locations takes time. Finally, map shows two additional major rivers between here, there (Delaware, Susquehanna); both so convenient to large populations, almost certain downstream bridges useless.
Can’t take less than week. Maybe two.
If possible at all—for very different reason: While hasn’t been hint of residual radiation heretofore, Baltimore very close to Washington. Capital one of few targets across land scheduled for broken windows: According to Daddy’s secret papers, favored with many direct hits. Quite conceivable D.C. area still hot. Equally probable, Baltimore unsafe as well.
Been testing ambient background radiation periodically with geiger counter from shelter (recent design: lightweight, quite sophisticated [nine-tenths of capabilities completely over head]). Will step up checking frequency as approach Baltimore area.
Bedtime again—after another deliciously hot shower. Then to that firm, cool bed.
Tomorrow beckons. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Yes, Posterity, derelict again—sorry. Trying to do better, really. Sometimes difficult to muster energy. But trust me: Missed nothing through failure to enter daily progress from Boston on regular basis. Omissions, if any, not substantive in nature—events not substantive; absence from history books not world-shaking.
Because mostly dull. Indescribably so. Hundreds of miles. Some on roads, some not. Thoroughfare varied from expressways to pasturelands; passability from utterly not to unobstructed. Myriad get-out-and-copes. Engaged four-wheel-drive lots. Cleared path with winch frequently. Doubled back often.
First break in routine came while working southward through rural portion of Pennsylvania, apparently egg-farming region. Accidentally rediscovered old source of fresh meat: Hit chicken.
Happily, not going very fast; killed cleanly with bumper instead of mashing flat with tire. Stopped, cleaned immediately; roasted over charcoal for early dinner.
Delicious—thought so myself—but Terry transported beyond ecstasy: Waded in with gusto; split, pulverized bones; cleaned out every scrap of marrow, gristle. Long time since last chicken dinner; poor baby probably in throes of withdrawal.
Experience profitable long-term as well as short. That night switch clicked in brain, disturbing sleep. Old switch. Primitive circuit.
Found self suddenly awake, staring into darkness. Pictured clearly in mind’s eye was T-shirt seen on tourist several years back: cartoon of hungry vulture glaring down from tree branch, muttering, “Patience, hell—I’m going to go kill something . . . !”
- sapiens not scavenger. Was, in fact, puny physique notwithstanding, deadliest predator on planet. Any reason for successor to be less forthright about satisfying appetite? Moral issue, perhaps? Should H. post hominem be vegetarian, as philosophical principle?
No . . . ! Nothing philosophical about vitamin deficiency, creeping malnutrition. Granted, probably entirely possible for hard-working, full-time agrarian to raise sufficiently diverse crop to constitute balanced meatless diet. But for explorer, nomad, simply not practical.
So next day, again feeling carnivorous (anticipating brother’s vote if asked), stopped van, caught chicken in footrace. Issue considerably in doubt at first. Prey ran to, fro, dodged about squawking. Wondered for time if might have to resort to gun.
But finally zigged when smart money all on zag; fell victim to feral pounce to gladden heart of primalest hungry raptor ever admitted to guild—which, in fact, by then apt self-description (though neither growled during chase nor stood with foot on kill afterward, beating chest, screaming mangani victory cry).
Dinner that night especially tasty. Perhaps calories expended in pursuit honed appetite; perhaps enjoyment on more atavistic level. Hard to say—and don’t much care: If reverting, will enjoy it.
Began edging westward to flank Delaware River while still far enough north that detour of little consequence. Finding passable bridge never became issue.
But same not true of Susquehanna; another matter entirely: long, extending far northwest, very wide. Bridges encountered during initial exploration all collapsed. Began to think might have to circumnavigate after all. Until came to railroad trestle.
Stopped van abruptly. Stared. Deliberated at length, with distaste. Reconnoitered on foot, all the way across. Took careful measurements.
Yes, was possible—probably not even actually dangerous. But uncomfortable notion: Span between tread centers and track separation identical; giant mud/snow flotation tires fully 15 inches across tread face, providing perhaps four inches’ grace either way before risk mounted. And even if did allow vehicle to slip off rails, wooden ties sufficiently closely spaced to permit crossing completion by bump-bump-bump method, assuming care, deliberate progress.
(Rather not slip off rails, though, thank you. True, walked entire span; inspected structure for apparent faults. But layperson; key word is “apparent”: Not versed, personally, in abstruse skills required to determine at single glance which tie sound, which rotten. And cantilever loading provides severest test of strongest member; little doubt that bump-bump-bumping whole way across surefire system for substandard tie detection. Quick, positive detection.)
However, longer debated matter, less attractive became alternative. Judging by map, dearth of bridges upstream, mountainous contours of land, can’t-get-there-from-here character of roads, less appealing became prospect of driving around Susquehanna. Looking at thousand miles at minimum; probably more, considering present-day road conditions. Did not care to spend another two weeks getting past dumb river.
Therefore backtracked to last small town. Located hardware store; scrounged to good effect, assembling components necessary for Rube Goldberg device intrinsic to rash solution: Mirror, mounted out at end of tripodish boom secured to front end of roof rack, both ends of bumper; with control rod permitting accurate positioning from driver’s seat—lash-up enabling direct observation of front tires’ actual ground-to-tread contact point, removing seat-of-pants element from precision driving required to remain on tracks.
With mirror boom in place, control rod tested, working properly, next step was getting van perched on tracks. Accomplished well back from trestle, on solid right-of-way.
Front wheels easy; went where pointed. Mostly. Were, of course, encountering rails at fairly acute angle. With four-wheel-drive engaged, transmission in first gear, transfer box in low-low, released brake, eased out clutch, crept forward inch by inch. Right front wheel climbed first rail effortlessly, dropping to roadbed between tracks. Double contact next; doubled weight also—and doubled resistance, as smooth steel/rubber coefficient attempted to hoist weight of van’s entire front end. Progress first limited to sideways, tires glancing off rails’ shoulders, sliding along tracks without mounting. But finally corners of big mud/snow treads caught, drew front end upward. Moments later, following careful steering adjustments, front tires centered on rails.
Rears another matter, however: Right rear stubbornly dragged against left track for 30 feet before bumping up, over onto roadbed between rails. Then for good hundred feet both rears clawed ineffectually, unable to gain purchase.
Finally, with bare hundred yards remaining before commencing trestle ascent, gave up. Set brake, exited. Employed shovel to pile up small gravel ramp against rail ahead of each rear tire.
Primitive solution (employing engineering principles well regarded in Pharaoh’s day) but serviceable: Five feet beyond, all four wheels poised neatly on rails.
Astonishing, after all that effort, how quickly enthusiasm for project (product of own cleverness) waned:
Ten feet out on span, to be precise. Just far enough for hitherto-unnoticed breeze, unimpeded now by aught but trestle’s cobweb structure, to seize ample sail area presented by van’s slab sides and nudge. Gently but perceptibly.
(In retrospect, doubt actual chassis movement [limited, of course, to slight suspension yield, tire sidewall squirm] exceeded quarter inch in any direction. Then, however, felt like major tectonic adjustment.)
Was suddenly conscious how very different trestle had looked from on foot: wider, solider, much more secure.
And wooden ties projecting from under tracks on either side appeared shorter now when viewed through windshield from driver’s seat, with river as background beyond, below—far below. Tie ends not visible, for instance, through side windows—nothing visible through side windows. Except distant ground, river.
Noticed van had stopped. Wondered briefly if due to wind also, until discovered (looking past white-knuckled hands gripping steering wheel) both feet apparently trying to push brake pedal through floorboard. Had forgotten clutch; engine dead.
(Probably just as well. With engine dead, could not yield to rash impulses: Could not attempt to back up. Mirror not placed to permit observation of exact rear-tire/rail relationship, nor could envision any practical means of doing so. Further, geometry inherent in reverse steering precluded making attempt to regain solid ground astern: Small angular changes at rear are product of large lateral displacements at front. Would have led to immediate bump-bump-bumping. Or worse.)
Became aware was perspiring all over. Felt spontaneous aching sensation in soles of feet, palms of hands. Eyes began to burn, tear. Noticed also mounting sense of suffocation.
Memory chose that moment to call up, play back life-long accumulation of admonishments concerning Bridges, Premature Burning Of; Corners, Painting Oneself Into; Leaping Before Looking, etc. Cheeks grew hot; glad Teacher couldn’t see star pupil then, frozen at wheel amidst predicament created solely by own failure to consider all aspects of problem before charging in.
But wait—what if Teacher were watching . . . ? From Above. Wouldn’t do to let him see funk continue. Momentary startlement probably barely excusable, considering circumstances, provided not carried beyond limits of good taste. If watching, Teacher would expect to see constructive signs of recovery soon. Or would look sorrowful; make entry in notebook.
(Said recovery no doubt expected to include movement of portions of completely paralyzed body—that would be hard part.)
With effort almost physical in nature, managed to wrench gaze from river below. Turned perceptions inward, initiating code sequence leading to transcendental state. And reaped prompted dividends: Upon closing eyes, cause of optic discomfort immediately evident—probably hadn’t blinked for whole minutes! Likewise, shortness of breath alleviated by resumption of respiration. . . .
And as meditative discipline took hold, thought processes again began to acquire semblance of coherence; acted to clamp down, brake churning emotions, restore control. Heartbeat slowed, perspiration subsided.
Opened eyes; focused on mirror, at point at which rail disappeared under tire. Noted was perfectly centered under tread. Directed attention to left hand. Tried three times before fingers unclenched from wheel, shifted grip to mirror control rod. Readjusted mirror to inspect other tire, rail. Also centered.
Okay. Everything. Under. Control.
Returned mirror to left tire, rail. Without angles to allow for, offered more direct observation, clearer perspective.
Returned left hand to wheel. Eased right hand’s grip to point where feeling returned to fingers; moved to ignition switch. Took longer to get left foot from brake pedal, depress clutch. Turning key required act of raw will.
After being clutch-killed, engine started raggedly, settling into lumpy, galloping idle as gas-soaked plugs shorted, fired, shorted again. Torque reaction, transmitted through engine mounts to chassis, produced motion almost as scary as wind.
Ignored it. Moved right foot from brake pedal; placed gently on accelerator. Eased clutch out (had never taken out of gear); applied hint of gas. Forward motion resumed.
Applied fraction more power. Small fraction. Proceeded deliberately. About two-thirds mile across trestle, but in no hurry. Plenty of time.
Quickly learned driving not that difficult: Merely question of keeping eyes fixed on rail disappearing beneath tire tread; steering precisely to keep centered; ignoring van’s frequent wind-induced shrugs. (Ignoring also scenery and own position relative thereto.)
No, not difficult at all. But rather tense work. And as initial session dragged on, began to feel effects of prolonged concentration; decided might be wise to stop, take breather. Did so, looked around—discovered had come barely hundred yards!
No, wasn’t difficult. But took best part of three hours to complete crossing.
And when finally cleared trestle, solid ground under rails beneath all four wheels (waited until could confirm in rear-view mirrors to ensure wasn’t being fooled by optical-mistic illusion; do something silly while rear end still overhung void), wasted no time turning sharply off tracks, bumping over rails, driving down embankment to level ground.
Stopped, got out; walked back to cliff edge, breathing hard. Suddenly rubbery legs seemed to suggest another time-out. Sat abruptly. And as stared out over valley, down at river, up at bridge, found was reviewing incident in detail: Had saved minimum of week’s travel; and barring ever-present potential for untoward development arising out of mechanical failure (and despite recurring apnea episodes during crossing), probably not inherently dangerous. Reflected at length, totaling pluses, minuses.
Finally concluded: stupidest damnfool stunt have ever pulled . . . ! What was all-fired rush? So might have had to spend another week circling river. Or month, for that matter. So what . . . ! Not as if on schedule . . . !
Mechanical-failure risk real; but only then, sitting at brink, contemplating vistas conquered, did practical implications sink in: What would have done had tire gone flat mid-span? Or engine quit? Or steering came adrift . . . ?
Sum of potential failures through which could have been stranded or pitched into space at least equals, probably exceeds, total number of parts of which van constructed. Madness to hazard position in which ten-cent part’s failure could cause other than fleeting botheration.
Now, loss of van not disaster per se; replacements endlessly available, one form or another. But inconvenient; much semi-irreplaceable equipment aboard. (To which considerations might be added inconvenience attendant to dropping self, Terry into river, some bunchteen dozen feet below.)
However, when scrutinized under gimlet microscope of hindsight, incident not entirely devoid of redeeming aspects (apart from obvious: Yes, am across that river). No question now: Been blundering along, gripped by curious form of mental myopia. Tight grip, too: Even when glimmer of sense raised head (in form of blithering panic ten feet from safety), never entered head to abort—set brake, seize Terry, abandon ship through rear doors.
Few bridges thus far encountered standing actually physically impassibleimpassable—to pedestrian. But for blinder-mindedness regarding van, could have walked across, carrying gear; then picked new vehicle on far side. Certainly no dearth of replacements.
Sure, would take several trips to move whole inventory. Probably hard work. But quicker than driving around each river found sprawled across path. (And surely easier on nerves than emulating Wallendas.)
But, incredibly, this was first time concept crossed mind, even as most fleeting of notions. (Curious behavior for certified genius—perhaps should just resign gracefully; avoid humiliation intrinsic to being found out, summarily drummed from corps.)
Okay! Was stupid—lesson learned. But water over dam; no benefit accrues from brooding over mistakes (besides, sackcloth itchy; ashes hard to shampoo from hair). On notice now—van expendable; shall keep fact in mind.
(But perhaps, in exercise of reasonable foresight, new policy implementation unnecessary. Ever. Because not truly fond of idea—not through fuzzy sentimentality, irrational attachment to inert mechanism, of course; practical considerations only: supremely capable on-/off-road vehicle; quirks, limitations of which now second nature. Also capacious: lots of gear aboard, stowed neatly; everything in its place, readily at hand. Further, after pedal-lift installation, shift-lever extension, seat relocation, fits me—not insignificant factor from four-foot-ten-inch perspective. Besides, finally have galley in shape: cabinets, drawers organized; stove, oven properly broken in. Hate to go through that again.)
So van expendable, true. Fact now in mind. But “expendable” not synonymous with “consumable”: that fact in mind, too. Next question, please.
Which (from serious historian, student) must be: Did you find anyone, anything, in Baltimore? Answer: Of course not. Yet. Just got here. (Apart from happy discovery that, proximity to Washington notwithstanding, ambient radiation still reads within normal limits.)
Harpers not home; no surprise there. House displays usual signs (which have come to know, hate) of methodical move-out seen elsewhere. No clues immediately apparent; fine-tooth search must await morrow—been long day.
But first, another wallow in civilized decadence. Power out along much of East Coast, but Harpers’ house totally solar powered, plus has own deep well—utterly independent of local utilities. Flip switch, electricity restored. Water standing in system already hot from automatic convective functioning of calorie collector on roof; with electricity working again, pump stands ready to replenish water as used. In brief: Hot shower time again!
Which is practically first thing did upon investigating house. Supper preparation, consumption next; only then turned to present journal update. (Sorry, Posterity; itchy, smelly skin and empty belly come first.)
And delays aside, now appears have done duty: Noteworthy observations, activities memorialized. Time for evening’s revels to peak:
Three beds to choose from. Not difficult decision, though: King-size unsuitable (truly, have walked on marble floors with more resilience). Queen-size fitted with ten-inch foam mattress (into which unwary sleeper might sink beyond hope of rescue). Twin bed, however, is Just Right.
Good night, Posterity.
∞ ∞ ∞
Goodness . . . ! Hard to know where to begin. So much to relate, but must keep tight rein on impulses lest record become even less coherent than usual. Strictly, therefore, by chronology:
Arose well rested. Indulged in another long, hot shower. Prepared breakfast with usual hilarious difficulty; fending off, with effort, assistance intensively volunteered by jovially ravenous sibling (surely most trying aspect of relationship: Seems the earlier the hour, more unbearably cheerful becomes).
Performed usual half-hour kata to settle breakfast, loosen up musculature.
Thereafter went through house. Thoroughly. Negative result pattern confirmed suspicions previously formed: Deliberate, preplanned exodus; whether prior to H. sapiens’ demise or immediately thereafter, unknown, immaterial. Lingering question still where.
Finished house examination; time to extend sweep to offices, general work environs. Packed, adjourned to van. Dug address list from Tarzan File, placed on dash next to wheel. Cleaned, refilled Terry’s water, seed dishes—
Of course bringing twin: Wouldn’t dream of leaving birdbrained innocent alone, unprotected. Besides, what if failed to return? Ever. Food, water soon run out. Consequences inevitable; details (how end arrives, how long takes) simply don’t bear thinking about! Yes, retarded brother’s constant companionship high in nuisance value (often downright maddening), but necessary to peace of mind.
Found city map at nearby drugstore, oriented self, located destination; set forth in general direction of Hopkins campus; specifically, doctors’ office park adjacent to teaching hospital.
Never got there.
Everything happened at once, in slow motion: One moment was driving west (had overshot, going first to Harpers’ home) down medium-wide downtown arterial (four lanes, no parking; high-rise buildings jutting from sidewalk edges to form concrete canyon), slowing to turn north at next corner. Next moment, just as moved wheel to begin turn, caught glimpse (same instant heard engine’s bellow, tires’ shrieking) of gold-trimmed, shiny black blur already entering intersection from north, turning east: Full-race Trans Am (wide wheels, tires; unmuffled chrome headers; heaven knows what else) flailing into corner almost sideways, on radius which, requiring entire width of both streets, terminated somewhere between own vehicle’s headlights.
No time for cleverness—instinctively stamped on brakes, threw hand up to brace Terry, stiffened other arm on steering wheel to brace me, gritted teeth, awaited outcome.
Trans Am driver did react, somehow: Sensed, rather than saw, front wheels twitch outward; heard engine’s thunder falter, almost gasp, then redouble. Hurtling vehicle’s sideways approach around corner abruptly changed radius, momentarily flattening curve, missing van’s left front corner by merest fraction of flinch.
Progress thereafter less clear: Observation limited to what could make out in mirrors.
Trans Am apparently completed slide around corner (and own frail self) by slapping right rear wheel into curb, with front wheels still pointed sharply to right. Sliced immediately across sidewalk into storefront.
Vehicle, building, both erupted in shower of fragments, dust, sudden plume of flame. Remnant of car ricocheted from impact cloud, spinning like dervish, shedding parts en route, to recross street. Smote that building tail first with horrendous thump, triggering yet another debris explosion, considerably more flame; from which emerged still spinning, appreciably smaller, still shedding parts, now gushing fire in earnest; recrossing street to crash again. And still again. And—oh, never mind.
Would be nice to report own reaction at this point cool, efficient, intelligent. Can’t. Wasn’t. Intellect momentarily shut down completely. Forgot existence of large, fully-charged CO2 extinguisher; forgot about Gel-Coat (flame-retardant, wet-chemical-soaked blanket with whose protection could have bathed in burning gasoline for five minutes without discomfort); forgot about Hurst gasoline-engine-hydraulic rescue equipment (capable of ripping open any door, shearing off roof posts, unpeeling vehicle crumpled like ball of foil to extract occupants); crowbar, sledge—all languishing in lockers in rear of van. Forgot even to set brake, shift transmission to neutral before taking action. (Didn’t matter; had killed engine again in heat of moment.)
Only knew had finally found somebody—possibly very last other soul on Earth—and might be dying before own disbelieving eyes.
Sprang from driver’s seat while accident still unwinding (seemed to take forever). Landed in dead run. Forced to hurdle several gasoline trails left burning as careening wreckage crossed, recrossed street between impacts.
Overtook accident at Trans Am’s ultimate resting place, half buried in display window some hundred yards beyond van. Arrived as building material cascade tapered off; rubble piling high on roof, hood, trunk, littering nearby pavement.
And since kamikaze slide’s final yards were backward, vehicle now resting on own gasoline track; flame pond spreading slowly about wreckage, storefront, as contents gurgled from ruptured fuel tank (rescue growing more complicated as stood there, shielding face from heat [painful even at ten yards], squinting through inferno for glimpse of occupant).
But not last-desperate-second, screaming-crisis emergency; merely grim. No flames yet visible in interior; reasonable to assume passenger compartment intact (underneath, at least; topsides a mess: Glass gone, along with bumpers, fenders; front windshield posts both torn loose; roof at angle never contemplated by styling engineers).
Cooked occupant inevitable but not imminent; had time to secure from van equipment appropriate for crossing gasoline lake safely, forcing probably jammed door, extracting victim, retreating in good order.
(Never mind exploding gas tanks—exist only in fevered imaginations of irresponsible, sensation-oriented Hollywood screenwriters: Fire Marshal Hathaway [Daddy’s friend, neighbor; lived just down street] said so. Claimed film industry’s endless fueling of myth fostered needless widespread explosion-fear. Marshal Hathaway considered filmmakers’ behavior quasi-criminal—certainly reckless negligence: Public saw so many crashes-followed-by-explosions on TV, in films, believed it; and more peoples’ injuries compounded when unprofessionally dragged from wrecked cars—burning or not—by Good Samaritans fearing explosions following accidents than recordable. Liquid gasoline doesn’t explode; only gasoline vapor, correctly mixed with oxygen, explodes—and only if confined and ignition delayed until precise moment ideal mixture [and pressure] achieved. Burning cars don’t explode.)
None of which rambling bears on fact driver in fair way to roast if not gotten out promptly—gasoline fires hot!
Therefore steeled heart, clamped down emotions, blocked from mind distracting awareness of real stakes at issue; concentrated dispassionately on tactical evaluation, selected tools, commenced organized rescue effort . . .
Well, not exactly. (Mind still shut off.)
Took short run, dived headfirst. Passage through flames too brief for more than hint of real heat. Felt only momentary, intolerable, oven-like sensation; had barely time to be startled as breath sucked from lungs in reaction. More startling was incredible roar as flames licked at face, hair, clothing: From distance imperceptible; at heart of conflagration sounded like freight train.
Sailed through left front side window, fetching up in disarray on far side against door. Raised head to look around, discovered was gasping for breath: Already pretty warm inside.
Untangled limbs, crawled to driver—sprawled under dash. Examined gently as commensurate with haste, thoroughly as possible under conditions; determined no condition apparent taking precedence over fire: Bleeding from various lacerations ranged from inconsequential to serious, but no fracture grossly evident—though spine distinctly separate question, not determinable under present conditions. Would have to cross fingers.
(Of course qualified to render opinion: Fair-haired only baby girl of best doctor in whole world! Thoroughly, properly instructed in advanced first aid; more knowledgeable in emergency medicine than EMT.)
Once assured rescue itself probably wouldn’t kill him (him?—HIM . . . !), turned attention to getting us out: Really getting hot in there.
Especially floorboard, now that had moment to notice; not ideal storage environment for victim while figuring out next step. Braced self, hauled limp body up one end at a time, dumped on seat.
Cast about interior for inspiration. At first found little cause for optimism. Then attention fixed on rear seat cushion: Ripped from moorings, lay skewed across interior, one end almost protruding from rear window. Recognized possible solution.
Tried left door. Disappointed but not surprised when refused to budge. Didn’t bother with right door; solidly wedged against wall in which vehicle embedded.
Indulged in moment’s worry: Required little imagination to visualize consequences of attempting to push cushion through window, positioning to bridge pooled gasoline; climb through window dragging victim—amidst 20-foot-high flames . . . !
Options (few at outset) evaporated as gasoline lake outside spread, temperature inside mounted. In fact, as practical matter, single avenue remained. But regarded with trepidation: somewhat risky.
No—damned risky. For self (until now personal safety never at issue; could have aborted, exiting same way arrived, exposure limited to possible superficial scorching, crisping around edges) as well as for rescuee: If failed, both dog meat. (Well done.)
Indeed might fail: Strength required far beyond that usually at command. Plus considerable endurance.
Now. Strength available. But endurance most iffy.
Surely everyone remembers stories of 92-pound housewife who, witnessing car fall off bumper jack onto husband, performs 100-yard dash in three seconds flat, lifts car with one hand, extracting hubby with other. Or hiker, confronting grizzly without warning, who subsequently finds self standing 30 feet above ground; on lowest limb of tree too big to have encircled with arms, legs; with no memory of how got there. Etc.
Less widely known: Many such stories true.
Solution arcane but not supernatural. Straightforward biochemistry: Given protein machine (assuming well-toned musculature, ample lung capacity, sound heart, circulatory system in good repair), energy expenditure limited to rate at which fuel metabolized; muscle cells nourished; heat, waste removed. Reserve stored in muscle tissues negligible.
Cells of which muscles composed contract not in unison but take turns; work in relays. System allows each cell a rest period to recharge during even most strenuous exercise; also means only tiny fraction actually participate at any moment.
Now, if stimulus encountered which simultaneously triggers substantial majority of cells in given muscle, awesome feats ensue (along with real potential for popped ligaments, tendons, fractured bones—system designed for shiftwork operation).
Own karate training, as with any advanced student, had covered Hysterical Strength, Unleashing & Management Thereof; had gone, in fact, beyond routine analysis, theoretical discussion—into practical: Teacher included hypnosis in curriculum. Planted within psyche posthypnotic code to loose Beast Within at ultimate need.
Present quandary seemed to fall within definition: Needed more strength than possessed; else would die. Clear enough, even allowing for Teacher’s dire warnings.
For nothing magic about transaction. Simple arithmetic: X calories produced, available within Y length of time. Rigidly controlled by inverse proportion rule: Double consumption, halve duration.
During tests had seen own strength increase tenfold. Briefly. Followed by crushing fatigue: in strict accordance with tanstaafl principle.
But saw no alternative.
Lay back on front seat, fanny close to door. Gripped steering wheel with one hand, top of seat back with other. Drew back legs, knees on chest. Concentrated inward. Gathered forces; focused ki flow into, through legs. Transformed trigger phrase into kiai, intensity of scream hurting throat, and
Astounding results: Door burst open, whistled through arc, crashed against hinge limits; welds failed, door flew down sidewalk, bouncing end-over-end.
Instantly air vanished inside vehicle as heat flooded through door opening; searing lungs; desiccating eyes, nasal passages; scalding exposed skin. Smelled burning hair; never doubted was own.
Time of essence now as never before: If couldn’t get victim, self, safely beyond flames before metabolic supercharge ran down, likely wouldn’t—unconsciousness only seconds away.
Organizing actions to avoid waste motion suddenly acquired desperate importance. Snatched rear seat cushion over into front; thrust through door opening (through which flames now licked, beginning to char headliner), positioning to bridge infernal moat. (Or almost bridge—just lacked length to span, with pond still spreading.)
Seized driver, propped up into approximately seated position, slumped against seat back. Loosened jacket, pulled up over head, zipped shut. Shoved limp arms down into pants; tightened belt to hold in place.
Shrugged own jacket upward, retracting head like turtle. Placed shoulder just below victim’s beltline; tugged, felt weight roll onto back as torso collapsed forward. Slid arm under thighs; lifted, jogging shoulder to center load in fireman’s carry. (And marveled at own strength—while dreading impending consequences of reckless squandering: Sustained consumption rate surely four, five times norm; probably more.)
Straightened experimentally: Bumped roof to gauge relationship between victim’s fanny, own shoulders—crouch needed to clear upper door frame.
Fixed seat cushion’s location indelibly in mind’s eye. Took deep breath, held it; closed eyes, pinched jacket shut over face. And
Time stopped as again felt blast-furnace ambience envelop whole body. Seemed to hang motionless midair; conscious this time of flames probing, digging, seeking access through flimsy coverings. Oppressive heat, pervasive roar blanketed all other sensations.
Feet blindly seeking landing, but impact somehow unexpected, surprise. Cushion yielded underfoot as knees bent, absorbing extra weight; then airborne again, leaping for fire’s boundary—and heart stopped as cushion skidded away from legs’ thrust, robbing jump of power needed for distance, throwing balance off.
Eyes snapped open, head jerked forward, trying to get clear of jacket; even at risk of optic burns, needed to see, reestablish orientation—mustn’t fall while still within holocaust!
Dragged fabric clear of eyes just as cool air washed jacket, over clothing, into lungs; as landed, stumbling briefly, on flat, dry, cool pavement.
Shrugged victim to ground; conducted hasty inspection for burning clothing—mine, his. Used own jacket to smother small blaze on victim’s left pants leg.
Then attention riveted by rapidly forming pool of blood under leg: bright red—arterial stuff. Probably femoral, judging by amount. Must have been lying such that position created pressure block, preventing loss in car. Moving eliminated obstruction. If femoral, had as little as 20 seconds left—less whatever time had been bleeding in car since first moved.
Heavy denim parted like cobweb before preternatural strength: Tore pants leg open from ankle to crotch; then ripped entirely free from garment. Turned victim over; confirmed suspicion immediately:
Deep gash from medial upper thigh to anterior knee—spurting.
Twisted denim strip into rope; looped about thigh above wound. Looked around briefly, wistfully—no sticks within reach. Slid fingers under bandage, made hard fist; partially stood, stepped three fast turns around body, using own hand as stick, tightening tourniquet very nicely, thank you, but cutting off blood to fingertips in process.
Seized collar with left hand, right still lodged in tourniquet; swung victim back up over shoulder into fireman’s carry.
Staggered then, beset by flash of vertigo; suddenly aware of warning twinges as muscles all over body threatened to cramp.
Conscious also of perspiration abruptly streaming from body in rivers as autonomic system belatedly noticed calorie-consumption rate, tried to do something about mounting internal temperature. And breathing affected now, too: coming in deep, tortured gasps.
But couldn’t complain; not unexpected. In fact, remarkable aspect to condition is why symptoms so long deferred—no idea how was still functioning at all. According to data, painfully garnered through previous supervised (and conservative) experiments, activity level sustained during past few minutes flatly impossible. Should have achieved coma long since through massive fatigue products build-up, with vital organs shutting down from systemic shock; death imminent, barring only most profound life support, treatment.
However, seemed less than opportune moment to question blessing. Set off for van at dead run.
Arrived still conscious but deteriorating: Heartbeat thundering inside skull; lungs afire; cramps attacking in earnest now; black patches flickering across vision; clothing dripping, saturated with sweat.
Terry greeted with “Hello, baby; what’cha doo-in’?”; but couldn’t spare breath, time to respond.
Threw open side doors, slung victim into own bunk. Then found couldn’t reach tool locker door from bedside. Frantic visual search located crowbar on floor near door (had used earlier to enter drugstore). Made long leg, snagged with foot. Dragged within reach of left hand; substituted for right in tourniquet—with relief.
Stumbled to refrigerator, shaking life back into fingers. Rummaged through stored food; found quart of Gatorade, plastic container of yesterday’s chicken soup. Gulped about half Dr. Cade’s elixir in single swallow; put away equal portion of Yiddish cure-all.
Worried somewhat over possible consequences: Food, drink not easy travelers in stomach during, right after sustained violent exercise. Especially cold. But knew needed something immediately to start replenishment after huge energy drain.
Couldn’t afford collapse then; didn’t have time for own problems. Victim about to lose leg—plus certainly in shock, doubtless sinking moment by moment: Even if somehow failed to die as direct result of injuries, shock could finish job—would, untreated.
Returned to bunk. Apprehensively called again upon unnatural strength. Found, to surprise, enough remained to lift foot of bunk one-handed; hold elevated while inserting prop (Gen-Coat kit—flameproofing goodies which should have been used to eliminate much drama from rescue). Would have been easier to elevate legs conventionally, with pillow; unfortunately, supine position unworkable due to wound location: Needed victim prone to treat.
Located Daddy’s Number Two black bag, saline I.V. kit from medical supply locker. Rooted through bag; found stopwatch, sphygmomanometer. Took pulse, checked blood pressure: fast, strong, respectively.
Lifted eyelids, flicked sunlight across pupils with hand mirror. Were unequal, nonreactive; plus unmistakable twitching movements: nystagmus—concussed certainly.
Then froze, transfixed.
All this time—while examining in car, on sidewalk; lifting, dragging about, carrying; attaching tourniquet, checking vital signs—had dealt with discrete anatomical components. Never connected dots; never mentally assembled into whole person. Never saw face. Until then.
Was kid . . . !
Little, if any, older than self.
Comprehension dawned suddenly: Had thought was dealing with adult; carrying, in addition to own compact tonnage, perhaps three times again own weight (heft difficult to judge when heart is pure, strength is strength of ten). In fact, apart from peak efforts (unsticking door, traversing flaming moat with piggyback passenger), exertion level hardly more than doubled. Could have accomplished most heroics almost as well without metabolic short-circuit. (Well . . . maybe.)
However, with understanding came chilling realization: Clinical picture even less rosy than first appeared. Healthy blood pressure reading but snare, delusion in child when hemorrhage a factor. Young cardiovascular systems amazingly resilient when challenged; simply pump faster, harder as blood volume diminishes, maintaining adequate pressure the while.
Right up to sudden, catastrophic, final dissolution; total failure.
Viewed thus, pulse rate most disquieting: Suggested important fraction of total blood supply already gone. And quick review of wound confirmed loss still in progress, though slowed by tourniquet.
Agonized for endless moments, poignantly aware of limitations of own training; indecision compounded by mental processes blunted by physical, mental fatigue. Knew, of course, what needed doing; but shrank from unavoidable conclusion regarding by whom.
(Granted, possessed requisite knowledge. Inescapable, since Daddy [pathologist or not] one of only two doctors in town, often called upon to perform emergency-room care, usually in own home, invariably at odd hours when no one available to assist but Yours Truly. Watched closely then; listened attentively to accompanying lectures. Even, at proud paternal urging, acquired skill at certain limited surgical techniques, practicing on animal cadavers. But never—alone, unaided—so much as placed Band-Aid on person.)
However, time—blood—wasting. And own condition now serious impediment to concentration, precision work. (Maybe wasn’t burning energy at quadruple usual rate; couldn’t know what overload factor consisted of. But knew was exhausted; never experienced such fatigue before.) Nor, without long rest, much nourishment, was condition likely to improve. Which ruled out usefully immediate future. Unless . . .
Weighed options carefully—shuddered. But saw no way out. Closed eyes, directed consciousness inward. Took deliberate, deep breath; held briefly; released slowly, exhausting tension with it.
Then—for second time in only minutes—triggered hysterical strength tap.
Like magic, felt vision clear, hands steady, cramps abate.
But not fooled: Heart still hammered; still fountaining sweat; breathing, though no longer paroxysmal (regular now, slowed to point where wouldn’t affect dexterity), still amounted to panting. Condition unchanged: Beneath veneer, still totally exhausted. Tried not to dwell on probable cost when came time to pay Piper. Hoped benefits of sufficient duration—surely wouldn’t work third time.
Took seat on campstool at bedside. Bent over leg; drew wound lips apart to assess damage extent, severity. Blood volume made visual structure identification impossible. Removed saline baggie from kit; extended I.V. tube, chopped off end. Squeezing bag to provide pressure, used as hose to irrigate, cleanse area. Worked pretty well, but relief only temporary: Adjoining tissues full of slowly oozing bleeders; and at very bottom of gash, visible now, gaped slice in femoral artery, welling gently afresh with each systole, reflooding area with bright red blood.
Which wouldn’t do at all; had to see to work. Pondered briefly; then cranked another turn into tourniquet. Uncomfortable about solution: First Law of Tourniquets holds must be loosened every 12 minutes, 18 at outside. Failure to comply results in tissue death downstream, autolysis, ultimately gangrene.
But here question less clear: Two-inch rent in artery wall complicated equation; hydraulic principles demanded concern at least equal to other factors. (Probably more than equal, as continued to debate matter: Blood geysering out through least resistant path certainly of negligible value downstream—and even if somehow beneficial, advantages accruing to leg moot if body to which attached promptly expires as side effect.)
But knowledge that choice impending if artery repair not completed within time limit acted as incentive to speed work. Fell to; gathered, set out, organized equipment.
Hosed down wound again. Scrutinized closely; breathed sigh of relief: Tourniquet now achieving desired result; arterial flow stopped. Virtually imperceptible seepage remained from vascularity in surrounding tissues, but makeshift lavage spray adequate remedy.
Next juggled odds quickly, unhappily. Time most critical, true; but upon reflection, concluded potential shock consequences justified investing whatever time necessary to start I.V. before undertaking actual repair.
And if Daddy watching from Above, made him proud: Had I.V. inserted, taped in place, saline flowing—all within single minute. (Practice on long-suffering arm simulacrum [paramedic training aid] paid off: Found vein first try.)
Performed necessarily abbreviated scrub, using drinking water, soap, finishing off with alcohol slosh. Squirmed into rubber gloves with difficulty—not easy, solo, while maintaining asepsis.
(Mostly unworried about infection per se; Teacher’s opinion holds H. post hominems immune to known human disease. But key words, even if Teacher’s very own, are “opinion,” “known,” and especially “H. post hominem” [of which victim surely must be one—but don’t know that]—and would be humiliating to perform repair successfully; then lose patient to toxemia through preventable gross sepsis. So within limits imposed by surroundings, did best to adhere to sterile procedure.)
Tore open first packet, containing pre-threaded fine needle, suture (offered up silent thanks for modern medical technology as did so; would never make good stereotypical female—were own life at stake, couldn’t thread needle in fewer than 20 tries).
Picked up two hemostats. Stared down into wound. Took deep breath. Seized needle with finely pointed jaw tips of right-hand hemostat. Commenced.
Proved less difficult than feared. Following initial shock (as discovered live patients warm inside), technical fascination took over, supplanted apprehension; permitted training to emerge, do job properly. Hemostats gripped needle surely; resultant control wonderfully precise, even down in cramped quarters at bottom of wound. Artery cleanly slit; edges straight; stitches went into place neatly, evenly, closely spaced, just as had when practiced similar repair on hog cadaver under Daddy’s direction.
(Sure wish had practiced oftener; developed semblance of professional competence, speed—sealing high-pressure artery called for such tiny stitches; so little time remained and seam so long. . . .)
But wasted none glancing feverishly at watch; concentrated on task at hand. Mind already made up, subconsciously at least: Would not risk boy’s life to save leg. True, be nice if managed to save it, too—indeed, striving mightily to accomplish repair in time to prevent limb death.
(Mightily—but not quickly; never realized vascular surgery so time-consuming.)
For one thing, one-legged comrade poses significant liability in present-day, survival-oriented environment. For another, despite pretensions toward calloused pragmatism, must confess to certain esthetic prejudice in favor of physically sound partner—perhaps even, should circumstances so devolve, mate.
(But repair was taking so long.)
Finally, even granting advantages intrinsic to performing amputation at leisure in Hopkins teaching hospital’s modern operating theater, amidst latest, most advanced medical wonders (who cares—lacked even faintest notion of how to operate them), odds slim for patient surviving procedure. Above-knee amputation serious business, truly major surgery; approached with due respect by most veteran of doctors—likelihood of happy outcome, given amateur-level ministrations in procedure so intrinsically fraught, seemed less a question for serious assessment than object of gallows humor.
(But not laughing; was going to find out unless got move-on—taking too long!)
And didn’t want to cut kid’s leg off! Even if somehow managed to avoid killing him in process, would never be able to meet eyes without cringing inside. Yes—despite full knowledge that dummy’s own maniacal driving brought on disaster; that consequences on his head alone; that own role limited to saving fool life—would still feel guilty. . . .
(Damn—taking too long . . . !)
Stole glance at watch—at least 16 minutes gone (guesstimating from crash) and good half inch yet unrepaired. What to do . . . !
Discovered mind not made up after all. Convictions wavered, crumbled at moment of truth. Should continue repair, cross fingers for dispensation from immutable metabolic laws? Or gamble on holding blood loss to tolerable minimum with local pressure now that wound largely closed.
(But how much is tolerable minimum—considering losses to present; mitigated by, thus far, just under pint of saline? Further, how effective is local pressure apt to be on femoral spurting—even if wound largely closed?)
Wait. Perhaps another way out. Not cornered—maybe. With luck.
Solution required judicious hemostat placement: Was necessary to grip, pinch together remaining open edges of sliced artery walls with curved jaws; lock handles, sealing shut.
Now could ease tourniquet temporarily, safely
. . . If hemostat secure.
. . . If stitches adequate.
. . . If no other significant bleeders in wound.
. . . if abruptly releasing balance of blood supply into previously substantially drained extremity didn’t trigger final shock collapse through major blood pressure drop. . . .
. . . If—oh, hell! Simply couldn’t stand it any longer—released tourniquet, poised to take action as required.
Wasn’t. So glad.
Took time then for breather, suddenly aware of first hints of returning fatigue. Peeled off gloves; finished Gatorade, soup.
Removed patient’s shoes, socks; inspected toes as circulation resumed. (Should have at outset: color, temperature key clinical signs to circulation status in leg, foot.)
Sat back, eyes closed, relaxed; breathed deeply, modulating oxygen intake just at fringes of hyperventilation symptoms, hoping to get running start on replacing stores before disintegration set in in earnest. Knew wouldn’t really help, but beat waiting idly for collapse—for which still didn’t have time.
After five minutes, retightened tourniquet, donned second pair of rubber gloves, released hemostat. Lavaged site again, flushing away seepage accumulated from surrounding tissues. Resumed needlework.
And marveled: Delicate stitchery, tiny knots suddenly easy—now no longer racing clock, impeding own efforts through tight-collar syndrome.
Soon last stitch in place; femoral repaired. Only closing-up chores remained, housekeeping incidentals: Rejoining severed muscles, closing skin layers; assembling, installing homemade pressure bandage incorporating splint to prevent knee flexion during initial healing process. Much easier going—nothing life-or-death. And could use larger stitches.
Then followed quick, apprehensive review of own condition. No serious portents detected; so stripped limp body (yes, completely; potentially fastest bleeding tissues on male body concealed by shorts; no shrinking damsel I—besides, modesty lousy reason to lose patient through negligence); examined head to foot, identified additional serious (relative term, this, compared to femoral) lacerations; closed with stitch here, tuck there, bandage where appropriate. Finished by covering with blanket, slipping pillow under head, connecting fresh saline baggie to I.V.
Whereupon, quite without warning, found self facedown next to bunk, viewing world through darkening, flickering mists (viewing two worlds, point of fact), while breathing transformed abruptly into agonizing gasps, heartbeat stabilized at tachycardiac level, every muscle in body knotted into single huge cramp. Couldn’t even cry out. And wanted to.
Could have ended pain by triggering posthypnotic relaxation sequence; but sleep—akin to coma—sure to follow immediately, and couldn’t afford yet; important details remained undone:
Van’s right-side double doors gaped wide; driver’s door hung open, too, just as had left it when leaping out. Knew must remedy before letting go: Bound to be dogs in area (have not forgotten [will never forget] dog-pack encounter shortly after emerging from shelter); pooches would be pleased indeed to discover van standing open—and ready access to three helpless occupants.
Besides, Terry’s water, food dishes not filled since leaving Harpers’; no telling how long oblivion might last. Plus urgent need to stoke own fires before going under; nourishment deficit almost as critical as fatigue.
All of which posed problem:
Body on strike. Brain apparently still operating at what passes for normal function, but commands ignored as burnout reaction intensified, symptoms worsened. Try as might, couldn’t elicit so much as purposeful twitch from any voluntary muscle, even unto least finger.
Too busy twitching involuntarily; spasming, in fact: Body jerked, convulsed, shuddered in response to multiple random cramps attacking, releasing, attacking again from head to toe. Ravages flopped body about like chicken recently deprived of head (uncomfortably apt simile; brain quite as unable to communicate with body as if physically separated).
Thrashed for timeless, endless interval. Several seconds at least. Then subsided into gently quivering heap, face-up, limbs intertwined in Gordian disarray; cramps abated, muscles relaxing, going limp—pain easing toward residual ache. Would have sighed with relief if such possible, but breathing not among voluntary functions then.
Besides, knew relief was only fool’s paradise: Could feel heat; knew face was flushed. Could feel perspiration volume increasing, sweat streaming from entire body; dripping where possible, collecting in hollows elsewhere—one pool quickly threatened to overfill valley formed by nose, cheek; invade eye. And breathing rate such that nose began to run.
Suspected was not pretty sight, but not encouraging to realize Terry, intently peering down from stand, actually had nothing to say. Just made big, round, worried eyes; stared first one eye, then other. And know what it takes to dismay my brother.
But worry surely nullest of exercises. Understood problem; knew only solution was food, sleep. And knew must finish chores first.
So again turned perception inward. Concentrated. Groped for ki within soul. Felt it stir. Created channel, felt flow begin. Gently guided into right arm. Willed dead meat to move.
Terribly pleased to note response. And not a little amazed.
Expanded control zone. Levered body into sitting position; then rolled over onto hands, knees. Moving most carefully (nothing worked without painstaking, step-by-step supervision), crawled forward to driver’s seat.
Where paused momentarily, mulling options, calculating odds. Shortest route involved climbing into seat to reach door handle. But never seriously considered as solution (as well might have been mountaintop). Or could go around; between seats, past engine cover, under steering wheel. Farther to travel. But level.
Even so, had to stop en route, rest. Twice.
Eventually, however, fingers closed limply around door handle. Marshaled forces for effort—pulled door shut hard enough to secure latch. Barely. (Noted, gratefully, front windows rolled up far enough for safety; all others swing-out construction, couldn’t open far enough to pose security risk.)
Then—somehow—managed to turn around under steering wheel, avoiding getting snagged on pedals in process; set off on return trip amidships.
Arrived in due course within reach of side door handles. Again assembled energies (what remained), swung door shut—even remembering to close in proper order: rear first, then front, so overlapping latches engaged instead of rebounding, negating efforts. Experienced profound thrill, sense of accomplishment, from having done it right.
Considered taking brief time-out for rest but realized wouldn’t help. So heaved self upright on knees, ignoring tendency for surroundings to orbit own vertical axis. Scooped up saucer full of parrot seed mix from container on counter; lumbered (still on knees) to stand, prepared to dump contents into sibling’s food cup.
And stopped, confused: cup full. As was—now visible at far end of perch—water cup.
Set down saucer carefully. Tried to think problem through, but not easy: Data input too fast; of such anomalous, almost contradictory nature; mind functioning so slowly. Shook head—regretted at once: No one in such condition should move head quickly. Ever. Pain obscured vision momentarily. When receded, found self leaning against side doors, head resting against window glass, eyes closed.
Solution obvious, but reached only after labored deliberation: Of course food, water untouched: Had embarked from Harpers’ this morning—several lifetimes prior—something under an hour ago! (Indeed, Albert knew whereof spoke: Time is relative; truly flies when having fun. . . .)
Probably smiled as arrived at conclusion. Which expression surely faded as eyes opened, focusing on glare from holocaust surrounding Trans Am, mere hundred yards behind van. Building in which vehicle embedded now well involved: Smoke, fire gushing from windows many stories up, obviously spreading rapidly.
And given shoulder-to-shoulder nature of downtown concrete-canyon architecture, only matter of hours before entire block ablaze—in fact, as flames gutted high-rises, structures’ collapse sure to follow; filling, bridging streets with burning debris, spreading conflagration from block to block. Only few more hours before entire city engulfed in fire storm.
Implications percolated slowly but with finality. Knew taste of defeat: truly bitter—age-old cliché accurate, but woefully inadequate.
Not that had given up. Though slowed, dulled, mind still functioning more or less coherently; knew if passed out now would never wake: Van’s destruction, together with frail contents, guaranteed as blazing walls crashed down to fill street where parked.
But problem deeper than mere awareness of threat, unflagging resolve. Body pushed too far; was finished: Utterly in grip of fatigue-toxin-overdose-induced myasthenia-like collapse, paralysis. Not a single cell from voluntary musculoskeletal group responsive to brain’s commands—doubt house-current application would have elicited so much as twitch.
Tears began to trickle from under lids as eyes closed, body slid limply down door, crumpling onto floor to lie unmoving. Final thoughts were fading jumble fuzzy with disappointment, regret, outrage: Had come so close; felt so cheated—
“Hel-lo, baby . . . !” wailed Terry in anguished tones.
—and horror: Hoped smoke, fumes, big piece of falling debris would find us before flames; couldn’t bear thought of retarded twin, gorgeous feathers ablaze, rolling about floor, struggling, screaming. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Waking was nice: gradual, luxurious process, allowing time to revel in same cozy lack of urgent purpose which always attended first awareness on summer mornings during school vacation. Bed was lovely: firm; made up with cool, clean-smelling sheets; light, soft blanket. And from somewhere floated lilting chords of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata.
Once got around to opening eyes, saw that surroundings comprised large, cheerful, well-appointed bedroom, simply reeking of restrained good taste.
Had no idea where might be, how got there, or why; and didn’t much care. Was sufficient that felt marvelously rested, deliciously comfortable—until essayed first lazy stretch.
Accompanying yawn brought cognizance of tube up nose; a discovery so startling, almost distracted from surprise of learning right arm immobile, apparently strapped down. Deliberate swallow confirmed tube also present in esophagus. Unpleasantly so.
Followed tube with eyes to bottle hanging on stand at bedside. Didn’t need to read label to recognize Isocal HCN, first choice among medical community for endogastric feeding of comatose patients.
And next to Isocal hung partial baggie of Ringer’s lactate—saline with electrolytes added. From it ran tube to I.V.—plugged into right arm.
As pondered these phenomena (with rapidly dwindling enthusiasm), yet another anomalous sensation intruded amongst already churning thoughts. Or perhaps lack of sensation more accurate: For first time in living memory, had awakened without awareness of overfull bladder. Which realization flowed without pause into dawning perception that Something Was Amiss in that region as well.
Began immediate left-handed exploration to determine quality, extent of damages. Was dismayed to learn attire consisted of overlarge (knee-length) T-shirt—and diaper . . . ! Complete with safety pins. And, speaking as expert baby-sitter, quite professionally executed. (Strategically located slit in crotch of mortifying garment admitted [as suspected] Foley catheter.)
Further exploration revealed substantially absent eyebrows, lashes; head hair appreciably shorter in spots than remembered it. Had obviously been brushed out, breaking off scorched, shriveled ends—
Oh! Memory returned in bewildering rush. Bringing with it sudden dread, rampant curiosity: Where was Terry? What about kid? What happened? More particularly, who happened it?
Reasonable questions, to be sure. When last participated in events, score was Candy zero, Grim Reaper nine—in ten-point match. Lethal probabilities abounded; situation, without exaggeration, dire.
Known on-site cast included Terry; concussed kid (with stiff leg, profound blood loss, stitches all over hide); and, of course, Yours Truly—plucky neighborhood zombie. Terry didn’t get us out of fix; get me cleaned up, plugged in, plumbed, drained. I sure didn’t—and kid was . . .
No! Enough. . . . Without facts, speculation worse than nonproductive; downright maddening . . . !
Had to find out for self—couldn’t lie quietly in bed, waiting for someone (whomever!) to walk in, in own good time, and fill in blanks (selectively—telling patient “only what’s good for her”). Had to know—now . . . !
Doggedly returned to self-examination. Found tender areas of pinkish skin on forehead, hands, ankles—another few seconds and would have been serious burns. Determined all muscles, while weak, again responded to wishes. (Almost unbearably relieved: Daddy had recited cases where muscle overuse resulted in permanent burnout.)
Concluded, at length, was sound enough to dispense with life-support toys; return to transacting personal business personally. Could eat faster, absorb protein, calories more efficiently orally than through tube (certainly enjoy it more). Further, examination demonstrated no clinical evidence of dehydration; no point, then, to retaining I.V. And could damn well go potty myself!
Okay, no reason couldn’t get up—just matter of unplugging tubes. (Straightforward-sounding, simple statement of intent: easy to say.)
Effectuation, however, less so. Sensations accompanying do-it-yourself nasogastric tube removal unlikely to find place in catalog of experiences without which life is not complete. Same for catheter. Neither truly painful coming out. Actually. Exactly. Quite. But felt horrid. . . .
I.V., on other hand, did hurt. But over quickly; slight bleeding stopped immediately with momentary pressure.
Then addressed question of standing. Knew was weak, but fairly certain could manage. With care, slowly, taking very short steps.
Question of very short steps, however, proved premature. Spent appreciable interval sitting on edge of bed, head between knees, waiting for room to stabilize. Which did, eventually.
Whereupon, gingerly stood, paused briefly to verify balance in working order; then employed selfsame care, very short steps, to navigate slowly to door.
Hall in which found self was higher-ceilinged, wider than those in houses which constituted experience during formative years. Décor, too, beyond what have come to recognize as norm.
Piano now into first measures of unfamiliar solo transcription of Wagner’s Rienzi overture. Stood briefly, listened.
(Daddy included in shelter collection essentially entire Andre Perrault international catalog; CD/LP collection upstairs in house almost equaled. Have myself spent important fraction of short life exposed to, absorbing, enjoying classical music. Plus Daddy once took me to Horowitz concert in Chicago, where, in three too-short hours, artist demonstrated all he’d learned about playing piano over perhaps 70-odd years of training, practice, dedication. Have, despite youth, acquired discerning ear.)
This pianist good. Possibly even that good. But didn’t recognize touch. Wondered who might be; when recording made.
Followed music down hall to balcony—from either end of which descended wide, sweeping staircase (of sort on which Cinderella lost slipper), arriving in foyer into which Daddy’s whole house would fit without crowding (if tucked to side to miss chandelier).
Glided down nearer staircase, feeling like figure in dream. Music coming from partially open door on far side of foyer. Crossed room, silently pushed door open.
Terry’s tee stand stood next to gleaming ebony concert grand at center of library/study whose shelves held books in numbers rivaling perhaps even Daddy’s shelter library—and all hardbacks, most leather. Hairbrained sibling himself (alive!) relaxed on one foot, raptly watching, listening as my erstwhile patient, leg bandaged but now unsplinted, played and music flowed through room, filling heart, crumbling barriers behind which had thought those emotions safely locked away forever.
Moved silently into room; held out arm. Twin’s eyes snapped wide; almost leaped in eagerness to swarm aboard. Settled in chair just behind, to side of oblivious musician. Terry discharged immediate hysterical gladness over reunion through series of head dives, cheek rubs; then snuggled down in lap, pressed close, sighed, closed eyes. Held my baby brother tight in arms.
And, soundlessly, cried. Cried for Mamma, for Daddy; for unknown, unremembered flesh-and-blood parents; for Teacher; for all my friends; for acquaintances; for whole world of strangers—cried for all dead.
Cried for Terry, miraculously alive when should have burned to death. Cried for boy—another person!—incredibly still alive in spite of crash, terrible wounds, my bumbling treatment, fire—sitting now at piano, playing as composer only might have dared to dream.
Cried for me—for grief, for relief, for joy.
Cried for past. Cried for future. Cried for hope. . . .
Cried while boy finished Rienzi, swept into Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Brahms, many others; all from memory, most full orchestral works somehow transcribed for piano alone; all played as if keyboard itself were come to life, complete with soul demanding outlet, expression.
Boy finished Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique with marvelously cacophonic climax whose violence quite made up for missing orchestra; tiptoed with startling gentleness into Pachelbel’s Canon in D. And into resultant sweet tranquility he spoke; voice low, tightly controlled: “I thought you were dead.”
Didn’t reply—correction: Couldn’t.
“Terry woke me trying to rouse you—he and I have become friends waiting for you, and I’ve had time to read your journal. He was down from his stand, scrambling all over you, flapping his wings, pulling at you desperately, nuzzling you, screaming at you. That’s what woke me up.”
Lapsed into silence for long moments, music flowing without pause. “The whole block next to us was in flames. The heat was incredible and wreckage was coming down all around us. The street was filling up with burning debris and the building on the other side was starting to go as well—it looked like something out of an old movie of London during the Blitz.”
Again fell silent, moving bandaged leg restively, but music never hesitated. “I had a hell of a time getting into the driver’s seat with my leg in that splint, not to mention maneuvering the I.V. hose and pouch; and I knew I’d better leave it in place—I was weak as a kitten, and the blood all over the place made it obvious why. Finally I hung the I.V. pouch on the rear-view mirror, stuck the leg out the window, and used my right leg to drive. It wasn’t easy, shifting an unfamiliar transmission without using the clutch. I don’t think I hurt it.
“I got us out of there and came home. I thought you were dead.” Music soared gently, filling lengthening silence with beauty, while boy’s breathing rate mounted visibly, settled gradually. Only quarter profile visible from own vantage, but wet cheek’s glint unmistakable. Yet when resumed, voice was still almost conversational.
“You looked dead. You were grayish-white and you didn’t appear to be breathing at all. Terry wouldn’t let me touch you at first; he crouched on your body, wings half-spread, feathers fluffed to make him seem three times life-size, neck outstretched, that huge hooked bill open and threatening, and making a noise in his throat that . . .”
Voice trailed off, but fingers never faltered.
“. . . that reminded me of the sound my mother made when she found my father’s body. He was the first to go in the plague.” Tendons stood out in neck, but music continued unbroken.
“I thought you were dead; so I concentrated on trying to comfort Terry, soothing him, getting him to accept me, to come to me. Only after that was I able to attend to you—and notice that you were still perspiring. I had never heard of a dead person perspiring—I’ve never seen anyone sweat like that—so I brought you inside, got you cleaned up, and put you to bed.
“You were running an astonishing temperature for a live person—the books I’ve read suggest that people don’t survive at 109 degrees, and it didn’t seem very likely that you’d manage it much longer—so I packed you in ice and started an I.V. to put back some of that water sluicing off you. I wired you to our EKG—
“Oh, yes, we have a fully equipped emergency room here in the house. This was the kind of neighborhood, back when we had lots of fussy, hypochondriac old neighbors and relatives, where one couldn’t afford to be without one; it would get you talked about, at the very least, and more likely disinherited. All the house staff were required to be fully conversant with the use of all the equipment, just in case.
“And while there was a stigma attached to people who possessed those skills—menial work, you know, performed by the ‘servant class’—and even though I’ve never been sick in my life . . .”
Bingo! Heart skipped a beat—never been sick . . . !
“. . . I judged that it was the sort of thing that might well come in handy someday. So I kept my eyes open—and bribed several of our retainers, incidentally—and became a pretty fair EMT, if I do say so myself. But you . . .” Narrative faltered again; music bridged gap as breathing discipline labored to restore control.
“You were my valedictorian exercise.” Declaration followed by long breath, uninterrupted music. “Keeping you alive called for everything I learned from our staff, extensive study on my own, and more luck than anyone has a right to expect—yours or mine, I’m not sure.
“You were a mess.”
“Thank you.” Blurted reply after boy’s last four words but before content registered. Experienced momentary pang of dismay lest he take it wrong, be offended. How could he know how slowly own thoughts functioning; how far behind utterance comprehension lagged.
But mattered not. Hadn’t heard. Probably not listening at all; wrapped in own thoughts. Monologue continued without pause:
“Your heart stopped twice. The first time I managed to restart you with CPR alone; the second time it took three jolts with the defibrillator paddles and an injection of adrenaline directly into your heart. That’s something the staff didn’t teach me. . . .”
Without bidding, hand drifted to chest; fingers sought, found tiny bandage just to left of sternum, between fourth, fifth ribs.
“Between the ice—courtesy of the industrial grade icemaker in the bar in the ballroom—and the I.V., I got your temperature back down somewhere near normal and restored your fluid level. That took most of the rest of the day.
“But still you were fading almost as I watched. For some reason your tissues apparently were consuming themselves, as happens in extreme starvation, but faster—which made no sense to me as you were in good flesh and apparently healthy otherwise. So I intubated you gastrically and started you on the Isocal. And to save time, to start nourishing your cells immediately, without waiting for you to metabolize the Isocal, I briefly piggybacked a filtered solution of it into your I.V. and changed you from straight saline to Ringer’s.
“Fortunately, I had to answer Nature’s Call myself at about that time, and that started me thinking: All that fluid had to go somewhere. You had stopped perspiring; logic offered but a single alternative: If your sphincter held, you would rupture your bladder.
“So I catheterized you. Yes, that’s something else the servants didn’t teach me. But according to the book, I probably did it correctly—you didn’t bleed and haven’t shown signs of infection.
“And you confirmed my suspicion promptly by filling the first container in a single nonstop gush. I had to mop the floor after fumbling the container change on the fly.
“You probably don’t want to hear the details of how I coped with your bowels; but I can attest that you were marvelously regular until you emptied out what you had eaten before and were down to the Isocal residue; of which—I’m glad to say—there’s almost none. But that’s why you’re in a diaper. And I’ve been transferring you back and forth between two beds as cleanup demands necessitated changing them. And you.”
Shook head, almost shuddered, but music never wavered. “Ever since I attained puberty and learned what it implies, my primary ambition regarding girls has revolved around getting their clothes off. Et cetera. That has not been the case with you; I’m not into necrophilia, and a catheter is not conducive to romance: There was no ‘et cetera.’
“And though I have acquired an exhaustively detailed, painstakingly thorough, unflinchingly intimate familiarity with your every tangible aspect—in fact I learned more about you physically than any girl in my experience—I must admit that I would have traded gladly every success I’ve enjoyed in the past in that respect at any moment during these six days for the privilege of getting you dressed. You have not been a fun date.”
Can’t say just when lost track of soliloquy; drifted off into own blissful, music-filled reverie. Didn’t have to listen; details irrelevant—had found somebody . . . !
Months of accumulated desperate tension drained from soul like sand spilling from ripped sack, leaving slightly limp, giddy euphoria suffusing entire being. Wouldn’t have been surprised had started glowing from head to foot. Was supremely happy.
And not without degree of justification—not leaping to conclusions; some data in already (sketchy, obviously preliminary, but [beyond mere fact of his being] encouraging): Appears to be good prospect. Hominem beyond doubt: Obviously intelligent (piano talent alone points toward genius-level intellect; and when coupled with resourcefulness displayed in keeping me alive, plus syntactic evidence apparent from first words, leaves little room to doubt quality of brains). Further, demonstrated gentlemanly instincts. Additionally, sound physical specimen, apart from wounds (apparently healing nicely); with pleasant, well-bred features.
Finally, was good to helpless birdbrain, and idiot twin likes him (Terry spends bulk of waking hours rowing with only one oar in water—but is never wrong about people).
Not perfect, of course: Will be period of adjustment; may require gentle retraining (at bare minimum, driving habits need attention!).
But issue not impending. “Ever-after” is long time, and too young now myself for twosome involvement; while boy (implied conquests notwithstanding) hardly year, two years older. Question resolvable at leisure, without deadlines.
Because doesn’t matter now . . . ! Teacher was right—really are other people out there . . . !
Hominems—my people! Perhaps 150,000, according to Teacher. Maybe more, maybe less—who cares!—numbers immaterial. . . .
And we’re going to find them.
Together. . . .
Volume III—Part I Quest
Surprise, Posterity, here I am again . . . !
Gracious, who’d have thought, only months ago—still alive (knock wood) and everything.
Not crowing, mind you; must admit, have been lucky. Quite lucky. Incredibly lucky.
For one thing, ultimate war’s bionuclear efficiency imparted breathtaking new scope to definition of “overkill”; for another, rigors intrinsic to existence in subsequent environment doing much the same for “unforgiving.”
In fact, until quite recently your Humble Historiographer brooded over eminently defensible, ever-deepening gloomy conviction that own small self constituted Earth’s entire remaining sapient population.
Under such circumstances, “mere” survival ranks as clearly epic achievement—whether due in any part to own feeble efforts or not.
No, certainly not crowing. Pleased. And not a little surprised.
But pleasure, surprise, now secondary to almost inexpressible relief: Have found somebody!
Finally—a real live person . . . ! That he happens to be intelligent, able-bodied, sensitive, not unattractive, brilliant musician to boot—all immaterial.
Quite suffices is alive!
For, therefore (ipso facto, and in conjunction with dogged faith in Teacher’s opinions [as set forth in Final Letter], together with own unquenchable optimism), presence of one proves are others, too.
Somewhere. . . .
However, have no intention of rushing headlong into romance, even if does turn out to be only game in town. Am only 11, after all. Shall indeed “carry out duty” for species’ benefit when time comes, should ultimate necessity manifest; but much prefer relationship growing from mutual attraction, compatibility, respect.
Not that would be all that difficult (apart from initial strain intrinsic to meeting under present coercive circumstances) to become attracted to new acquaintance. Possesses many good qualities, few (at first blush) unforgivable faults. Not bad specimen, viewed objectively.
Which is not to suggest totally lacks peculiarities, fair number of which would not be missed. For instance: Don’t know his name . . . ! Won’t give straight answer; merely offers sidelong glance, elevates near-side brow, smirks knowingly, replies, “Think of me as ‘Adam.’”
Now, not prude, nor naïve; don’t mind entendres, of whatever multiplication factor, but that’s old! Bet Eve thought so, too.
(Wonder, sometimes, why always seems necessary to make so many allowances when dealing with 12-, 1l3-year-old boys [approximate real age, silly straight-faced assertion of 18 notwithstanding]. After all, I’m 11ll—is it so unreasonable to expect from boys of comparable vintage demeanor at least as balanced, reasonable, logical, dignified?)
Secondly, is genuine maniac behind wheel: Ambition, prior to End of World, was to become Grand Prix driver; campaign through Europe, world; win World Championship. Even days, that is; on odd days wanted to join NASCAR circuit, tour U.S., bumping fenders with “Good Ole Boys” at 1l95 miles an hour on superspeedways in Grand National stock cars—which nearly describes how we met: at downtown Baltimore street corner—avoided collision by hair’s-breadth.
(What? Regard unlikely only two people in city would “meet by accident”? Think again—better still, ask neighborhood insurance-history buff about famous 1902 claim wherein only two cars in entire state of Ohio involved in intersection crunch.)
Adam’s third peculiarity is he . . . he . . .
No. Can’t say it. Excerpt from conversation at breakfast first morning post-hibernation sufficiently illustrative.
Were bringing each other up-to-date on life stories. Adam had distinct advantage of me: Read Vol. II while I lay in coma.
(Another indication of quality of boy’s brains, incidentally: To decipher contents, necessary to teach himself Pitman Shorthand theory—did so in single day [took me two!]).
Have, of course, exacted blood oath not to exercise newfound skill by violating this journal; thoughts immortalized in diary constitute—must be regarded as—privileged communication between writer, History.
Anyway, since my knowledge of Adam then quite meager (sharp as tack, clever at EMT work, good cook, brilliant pianist, and drives like mishap studying to become catastrophe) boy necessarily carried bulk of conversation. Was filling me in on high points of existence prior to Armageddon:
Parents unlikely pair: mother state senator, all-around busy, important person; father music director of Baltimore Symphony. Adam divided time between studying Muse, eavesdropping on Moving & Shaking within state government.
Determined early on art more fun than politics. And magnitude of talent soon emerged: genuine prodigy on piano; first public recital, age seven. “Father was so proud; mother too. And I was tickled by all the adulation—amused, really, that something so easy should generate so much attention.
“But it didn’t go to my head; I didn’t have time for such foolishness. I was obsessed with perfecting my skill and committing to memory more and ever more selections. And while I did try to devote equal attention to all the great masters, I gradually found myself spending more and more time studying the works and methods of one in particular. In a remarkably short time I came to be known not so much as a prodigy but as a Bach-ward child. . . .”
See? Down through centuries we women have put up with menfolk who caroused; stuffed faces without thanks; missed baths; littered floors with cigar butts, ashes, smelly socks; nobly marched off to war, leaving us to fend for selves (brought home loathsome diseases, often as not); beat us; and, not infrequently, simply abandoned families altogether, because responsibility proved too much trouble.
Okay. Can cope with that. If absolutely must. One way or another. Possibly with diplomacy; more probably to detriment of male in question. But can cope.
This, however, another matter entirely! Lad inexhaustible font of misused words. Delights in puns of every description, lower the better; also in perverting familiar constructions to own depraved ends: Assembling engine is “mantling”; accumulation of scattered components is “persion,” competent person is “ept,” etc. When I made mistake of suggesting words existed which did job more precisely, without requiring listener to perform involuted dissection, analysis, Adam replied was fond of Bach-constructions.
Truly is: Can dredge up Bach-related adjectives to mis-fit any occasion; more inapt or strained the usage, happier seems to make him. For instance, past girl friends’ phone numbers listed in Little Bach Book; smug about Bach porches, his Bach-alaureate, skill at Bach-gammon; swimming Bach-stroke in Bach-waters during laid-Bach vacations at cottage in Bach-woods, etc.
But peripheral consideration; usually unexpected, often funny (sometimes over head), only occasionally irritating. A plus, generally. I think.
However, further problem exists, presenting complications of another order of magnitude entirely: Adam interested in initiating repopulation project. Immediately or sooner. Wants to get me on my Bach. (Actually, “obsessed with” probably more accurate descriptive than “interested in.”) If, at given moment, somehow fails to be in midst of straightforward proposition, is hinting. Broadly. Constantly.
Initially broached (figuratively speaking) subject while describing rigors of growing up rich (still at same first breakfast—as I sat there, hardly 16 hours postcoma; barely alive; pale, thin ghost of former self):
“. . . so even after both the grand jury and congressional committee absolved me of responsibility, the school withdrew permission to park the Lamborghini in the student lot, I had to be driven to class every day, everybody knew, it was terribly embarrassing, how long will it be before you’re recovered enough to sleep with me?”
Paused; glanced from corner of eye, then quickly away; waited for reaction. And waited. And waited. . . .
Because object of affection having difficulty making mouth work. Reaction complicated: First, was dumbfounded; totally unexpected conversational turn, straight out of blue. Second, genuine no-foolin’ proposition something with which, at my age, have had little—oh, all right!—no experience. Third, blasé expectation—nay; cavalier assumption—of automatic assent quite took breath away—haven’t even decided to keep him yet . . . !
Went from startlement to shock, directly thence to offended feminine sensibilities; but hesitated momentarily, reflecting before venting feelings—all in space of single breath. Concluded, after brief deliberation, probably not Adam’s fault. Entirely. From wrong side of tracks, after all; can’t be expected to behave like normal person. Besides, is young, healthy; male puberty in full cry, bursting with urges. Doubtless views me as Heaven-sent solution; perhaps even hard-won prize, considering effort invested in saving life—of which notion shall promptly disabuse him . . . !
(But consider parallel situation: If, when puppy does Terrible Thing in house, is immediately shot, replaced; is owner likely to end up with properly housebroken pet? Ever? Similarities existed here. Adam entitled to benefit of doubt during probationary training period. Decided to let him live—pending. . . .)
So closed mouth firmly; took deep breath, released deliberately; declined, with thanks.
“Oh, come on!” he coaxed heartily. “We’re both healthy young adults . . .”
(Historiographer’s Note: Actually said “adults.”)
“. . . we like each other, and it’s just not healthy not to have a proper outlet for our tensions.”
Now, recognize would be considered “old enough” in certain (now departed) cultures. Granted; not disputing point (nor implying that was reason departed). Further, addressing question from purely mechanical perspective, am very probably “big enough” as well.
However. Pragmatic as do try to be in every respect, find I cannot narrow down viewpoint; regard this question as solely practical matter—to say nothing of notion of debasing currency to point where becomes no more than casual recreation, temporary ennui remedy. True, not entitled to advance own opinion as expert—lack firsthand knowledge. Must rely upon instincts developed through exposure to Momma, Daddy, Teacher; their unvoiced opinions reflected in conduct toward selves, one another, world at large—and especially me.
No, cannot put finger on precise dates, times, places; nor words, acts underlying own attitude. But do know that ingrained into very being is conviction that sex is small-but-important part of very complicated whole; blending liking-respect-tenderness-caring-need-love-coitus with implied lifelong partnership-family commitment, babies optional.
Am not ready for babies: not physically, not emotionally—not now! Nor commitment. Yet. And if can’t cope with package in toto (including deliberate election to proceed to motherhood or not), then strongly misdoubt wisdom . . .
Well, can work up to it, step-by-step. And undoubtedly will (if do keep him). But not beginning with that step. Period. No matter what “practical considerations” might seem to dictate!
So initially sought to counter Adam’s enthusiasm with logic: Reminded him of age: Probably not fertile yet; and even if wanted to conceive at 11—and don’t!—well-known amongst OB-GYN trade is fact that excessively young mothers produce generally frail, sickly offspring.
“I’m sure that was true of Homo sapiens women,” Adam replied with irritatingly comfortable superiority, as usual ignoring objection’s nontechnical aspect; “but how much data has been accumulated on us?”
(One of boy’s less appealing qualities: Instantly pounces on flawed reasoning; zooms in for kill without hesitation; gives no quarter, takes no prisoners.)
“No, I don’t know if it’s true of us,” I admitted. “How could I know? How could anybody know? Who would have had time to assemble a database on us? Only a few hundred people knew about us at all, even before; and they didn’t have time . . .”
“Besides,” Adam interjected smoothly, “if you’re not fertile yet, then what does it matter? The only question we need to consider is whether it’s good for us; whether it will increase our chances of survival by improving our mental, emotional, and physical condition—which it will, you know; all the texts say so.
“But if even the possibility of conceiving, and the potential effect of your age on our child, really bothers you that much and you’d rather hold off starting a family, that’s easily dealt with. So there’s nothing to prevent us from enjoying the benefits of an active, healthy, satisfying physical relationship. See . . . ?”
Opened mouth to reply. Stopped. Noticed bottom-line issue well on way to vanishing amidst mechanics of debate. Quickly reviewed dialogue immediately preceding; concluded misdirection not accidental.
(Obviously Adam exposed to unsavory influences during impressionable years [perhaps too much time spent in company of mother’s state government cronies]; had picked up verbal shell game skills—plus who knows what other tools comprising basic political arsenal.)
Realized then: Might be well to watch step around Adam conversationwise. Always heretofore considered concept of “promise” sacrosanct, orientation which may prove liability: Would rather not find have agreed to something which, through failure to understand, follow transactional semantics to proper conclusion, binds me to something contrary to expectations, intentions.
So switched to more direct approach: “I don’t care whether it’s true or not. That isn’t the point. I’m too young—I’m not going to get involved in sex. Not now . . . !”
Like most H. post hominems, Adam has extremely sensitive hearing. But can be quite hard of listening: “Don’t get your Bach up,” he soothed. “I know, I know—this all has hit you pretty suddenly, and you haven’t had time to think it through. But you know as well as I do that there’re only the two of us. We don’t have a choice—we need each other. And even though ‘need’ is an awfully broad term, the heart of it, under these circumstances, is sex—I need you . . . !”
“I don’t want to,” I repeated, somewhat more firmly (possibly because “need” touched nerve, eroded conviction). “At least not yet. I don’t doubt that one day I may want to—at the very least, I will cooperate to the extent necessary to rebuild the population.
“But I don’t have a need yet—and I bet you don’t either; though I’ll grant you’ve probably got a pretty urgent want, the same as any adolescent male. We’re both too young—certainly I am. But even if we weren’t, I’ve never heard of celibacy killing anyone, so I don’t think we’re in any immediate danger; at least not from that quarter. And if it’s physical tensions you’re bothered with, you know the solution to that just as well as I do.
“For Heaven’s sake,” I finished impatiently; “look at me—I’m almost still a boy . . . !”
“I have looked at you,” he replied with a knowing grin; “in the most minute detail, for six long days while you were comatose; while changing your diaper, bathing you, and maintaining your catheter.
“No one would mistake you for a boy anymore. You are somewhat unfinished here and there, but you’re very pretty. And I’m beginning to regret having been such a gentleman while I had you at my mercy. Did I miss my golden opportunity?”
“I thought you weren’t into snuggling with corpses and found catheters unromantic.”
“I’m not, they are, so I didn’t. But looking at you was very pleasant, in spite of your condition. And you aren’t unconscious now, and there’re there are no tubes in the way. Frankly, I don’t understand your attitude—I’d think gratitude alone would be enough to motivate you, if not compassion for a suffering fellow survivor. . . .” This last delivered in tones of hurt puzzlement; wearing a trusting, wide-eyed, cocker-spaniel-puppy expression.
(Adam shrewd at picking apart others’ arguments, but reckless about leaving opening for riposte. Always a mistake: No one who knows me would doubt willingness to snub slack once victim has rope enough to hang himself.)
“I’m glad you feel that way. That means you do understand how I feel about it, and you’ll be happy to quit pestering me—if not from compassion, then out of gratitude.”
“Gratitude . . . ?” Adam’s expression fell. Belatedly realized he’d violated logic matrix, blown argument; but too stubborn to admit it, change tack, quit with grace.
“Yes, ‘gratitude.’ Who pulled you out of that fire and stitched up your leg?”
“Who got in the way and made me crash in the first place?”
“Who was driving like a lunatic?”
“Oh, yeah . . . ?”
Have been several conversations like that since then; all revolving around oldest disputed topic; all concluding in same general vein.
Apart from that, though, Adam seems pretty neat so far. Which is part of reason have not taken sterner line with him regarding nonstop campaign against my “virtue.” Could, certainly, and would bring results. Knows my karate ranking from reading journal; knows am well able to enforce wishes, if so choose.
But don’t choose. Yet. And truly hope never becomes necessary. Only five when Momma Foster died, but had managed by then to impart to me her appreciation for fragility of male ego; care required to preserve from unnecessary bruising. Have encountered nothing during subsequent years to suggest wisdom of altering view (indeed, quite to contrary).
Key word, of course, is “unnecessary”; would not hesitate to warn of impending consequences, employ force as required. But ever been possible for perceptive, intelligent woman to avoid direct confrontation while still getting own way: Merely question of discerning where buttons located, cataloguing effect of each, pushing in proper sequence—without getting caught at it. . . .
To that end, am studying Adam: Feeling out responses to subliminal suggestions; learning what psychological knee jerks exist, where kept, how triggered; reactions to my emotions, etc.
But proceeding carefully. Not uncomplicated lad, nor at all stupid (difficulty compounded by political psychology absorbed at mother’s knee); will spoil everything if suspects manipulation attempt in progress. At least two probable consequences foreseeable: One, will realize am trying to avoid controlling him by force; and two, thereby have nose rubbed in very fact that I can.
Heart of problem, of course, is fact that Adam, while surely hominem, not member of AA group—I know: All names, addresses in Tarzan File. And everyone else alive today on planet, by definition, must be considered AB—must be regarded, absent substantial evidence to contrary, potential hazard to own life, limb, property. Wherefore, despite uniformly favorable data accumulated to present—including Terry’s opinion—still reserving judgment; maintaining slightly watchful attitude where Adam concerned.
(True, beginning to feel something of an ingrate by this point; but learned through experience: Teacher not busybody; not in habit of volunteering superfluous suggestions. On rare occasions when did go to trouble of offering advice [particularly when so unambiguously phrased as to constitute, unmistakably, Considered Opinion], proceeding notwithstanding recommendation almost inevitably followed by Consequences, usually regrettable in nature.)
Have known Adam (consciously) only two days. Most of what have learned thus far limited to hearsay (his) or adduced evidence (own conclusions, based on observations). Have not, with own eyes, seen anything concrete enough to justify abandoning caution entirely—or confirm, for that matter. But preliminary impression favorable; rather suspect will cancel alert shortly; embrace (figuratively speaking) new acquaintance as companion, friend, partner—perhaps even (conceivably, someday, should events so devolve) mate.
Which will be distinct relief: Paranoia most wearing perspective for extended use; tiresome way to go through life. Trust more comfortable outlook—except when blows up in face, of course.
But doubt this apt to. Have often, during brief lifetime, entertained self by “people-watching”; plus always took advantage of opportunities to meet, get to know, as many people as possible. Thereby acquired something resembling competence at picking friends (at least those whom so labeled never betrayed trust). And while do perhaps weight Terry’s judgment more heavily than should when forming own impressions of strangers, am not myself totally helpless in that regard.
And without being able to put finger on any specific event or reason why, feel comfortable around Adam. Have from first meeting postcoma. Almost as if have known him forever . . .
(Note to Significant Discovery Department: Just this moment realized—have felt this way with precisely three other people in whole life: Daddy, Momma, Teacher. Wonder what that means. Sounds like sort of question probably best not delved into too deeply just now. Or resolved in haste.)
Well, haste unnecessary; will have ample time to debate imponderables. Expect to be here several weeks at least, resting, eating prodigiously, exercising: Rehabilitation after physiological burnout amounts to substantial project; side effects no joke—not kidding when said almost died; did really bang-up job on self. Adam weighed me as part of initial diagnostic procedure; based on his data, had lost nearly 20 percent of total body weight, between water, tissue.
No, not sort of experience one bounces back from overnight. And still long way from even first bounce.
In fact, now that I think about it, this is quite enough for first effort: I’m tired . . . !
Good night, Posterity.
∞ ∞ ∞
Help . . . ! Adam trying new approach: devious, insidious, unexpected—fattening!
Also wonderful: Who would expect servant-raised and -educated, musically-gifted, apparently-hedonistic, smooth-talking young stranger to be competent cook—no, cancel that—inspired master chef? Can’t imagine where he finds this incredible variety of makings—meats, fruit, vegetables, etc. All prepared with genuine magic touch. . . .
(Manufacture same dishes myself; results merely adequate. But let Adam walk through kitchen, stop at stove, sniff pots’ contents, somehow Something Happens—something wonderful!)
And in present condition, trying to regain lost tissue, cannot begin to take objective view of offerings: Anything failing to bite me first goes to stoke fires (Adam has already used expression “feeding frenzy”; smiled when said it [but doubt really kidding]). In short, am ravenous; appetite running amok; not responsible for actions in presence of food—any food. But especially this food . . . !
Example, breakfast today: two homemade whole-wheat pancakes, dripping with real butter, drowned in clover honey; delicate two-egg/ham-cheese-mushroom omelette; four-ounce filet, crisp outside, medium-rare inside; hash-brown potatoes; 10-ounce orange juice, 16-ounce milk; megavitamin mineral pills; huge bowl of fresh strawberries! (Where could he possibly have found fresh strawberries . . . ?)
Midmorning snack: half dozen hot, fresh, blueberry muffins with thick pat of butter melted into each; big bowl of chocolate mint ice cream dripping with thick homemade hot fudge topping, sprinkled with nuts, buried under blanket of real whipped cream, capped with cherry; 16-ounce glass of homemade eggnog.
Lunch: large green salad covered with Adam’s own bleu cheese dressing; two-inch-thick slice of rare standing-rib roast smothered in mushrooms, gravy; baked potato (skin crisped, suitable for crunching like cookie; insides removed, cream whipped, butter blended, replaced); tender cauliflower swimming in exquisite cheese sauce; side dish of applesauce; fresh hot rolls; another 16-ounce glass of milk. Plus dessert: incredible something combining best features of angel food cake (laced with chocolate chips), vanilla pudding, covered with (so help me) miniature hot-toasted marshmallows.
Midafternoon snack: two slices of completely egg- and-milk-saturated French toast, sprinkled with cinnamon, powdered sugar, liberally paved with butter pats, and dripping with maple syrup; colossal chocolate milkshake.
Whew . . . ! Isn’t time for dinner yet; don’t know what’s planned. But doesn’t matter; merely reviewing day’s menu thus far imparts great sense of confidence for future (plus makes me hungry again): Know full well that whatever may be, will be work of sheerest culinary artistry. (Will taste good, too . . . !)
Obviously this is tough life: Gradually wake somewhere around midmorning to aromas wafting up from kitchen as Adam prepares breakfast. Ring to let him know am back among living.
Somehow puts preparations on Hold. Appears instantly in room to help me from bed (can walk myself, but balance not reliable yet; still awfully weak) to potty for morning dump. Thence into tub (which previously filled without waking me); turns on Jacuzzis, administers massage to get blood flowing again. Bathes me gently yet efficiently; impersonally, without “taking liberties” (neither teasingly nor in earnest), despite intimate contact necessarily involved (and notwithstanding undisguised libidinous ambitions). Assists me from tub, dries me with huge, thick, bath-sheet towels; dresses me to extent required by day’s schedule (usually robe, slippers); dries, combs hair. Then, steadied by his arm, I walk to kitchen, where he completes breakfast, somehow picking up preparations where left off without even hint of difficulty.
After breakfast, again leaning on shoulder, I take quarter-mile hike (once around house, inside—no kidding!) for exercise; then lounge in library, reading while Adam practices piano. (In times past people world over paid money to hear poorer keyboard work than I get daily as private Muzak while enjoying fruits of most impressive book collection have ever seen.)
Adam wakes me when time to return to kitchen for midmorning snack (invariably fall asleep on couch); then back to library for more music, reading (as long as eyes stay open).
And then time for lunch. Afterward we repeat therapeutic hike; following which I nap until afternoon snack-time. Generally manage to remain awake thereafter, reading, until dinner.
After dinner Adam gets serious: Plays the Good Stuff; each work straight through rather than, as in practice, taking run after run at trouble spots. Makes it count. For that I stay awake. Don’t even read.
Evening finally winds up with modest bedtime smackrel (no more than 1,500 calories or thereabouts); and so to bed, perchance to dream (generally of food).
Despite nursing schedule, Adam finds time to keep himself clean, groomed; kitchen spotless; do laundry; as well housecleaning (dusting, carpets, etc.) for those areas of house I get to see; and still is as conscientious about taking care of Terry as would be myself if able.
Finally, manages—somehow!—to find, prepare that astonishing variety of wonderful food! (Where could he have found those strawberries . . . ?)
And throughout remains uniformly considerate, optimistic “. . . cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean . . .” etc. Having person like that around could get habit-forming. (Probably what he’s up to—auditioning [would make some lucky woman terrific househusband]).
Only, if continue to let him wait on me hand and foot—never mind feeding me like this—in six months will be too fat to move. (Suppose that’s what he’s up to . . . ? Perhaps likes his women ample?)
If so, have long way to go. Only week since coma ended. Been eating, sleeping with remarkable devotion to duty ever since; and condition improving, true—color back to normal, no longer dehydrated, metabolic balance restored—but haven’t begun to gain weight; still pretty puny example of Womanhood in Flower. If had any competition, doubt Adam would give me second glance. No, strike that; would look, but sympathetically: awfully nice person—for adolescent male, of course.
And is adolescent male, let’s not forget. Far from perfect. (I mean—anyone who can be that cheerful in morning . . . !)
Further, he . . . No, can’t go on. Quote from breakfast this morning (breakfast, mind you) quite damning enough:
“. . . was the loneliest summer of my life,” he mused pensively. “Mother was seized by this notion that I should learn something resembling discipline involving areas beyond music. She decided that I should work mornings in her office. She reasoned, I suppose, that this would force me to get up early, which in itself would be Good For Me. Besides, discovering what it meant to work in a proper work setting, earning a minimum wage, would ‘be good for your perspective.’ That’s what she said—I thought my perspective was fine just as it was.
“So I became an office boy. Not just an office boy; the junior office boy—the lowest of the low. I was given responsibility for sorting, storing, and checking in and out the innumerable little IBM type-balls, or elements, of the various sizes and fonts that Mother used in her official correspondence—it was a big office and there was a bunch of them.
“The work was boring and seemed without real value. However, I determined to put the best possible face on the situation and went about my duties cheerfully, earnestly, and doing my best to be nice to everyone.”
Adam smiled, eyes going distant. “In particular, I did my best to be nice to the secretaries; of whom there were a considerable number, and each better looking than the next. True, some were slightly older than I; but that had never stopped me before—I’ve been out with many women in their twenties. In fact, some of my most interesting and, uh, productive dates have been with older, more worldly women. It looked as though the summer was shaping up nicely, apart from the job itself, of course.
“So you can imagine how disturbed I was when, after better than a week there, I had yet to get one of these ladies to respond to anything beyond the most businesslike inquiry: ‘Thank you for returning that Orator-10 element, Miss Peach, and here are your Elite-12 and Italic-12. Have a nice day.’ ‘Thank you, Adam.’ Beyond that—nothing . . . !”
Had no idea where he was going with this; didn’t particularly care. Good company, diverting conversationalist; lived interesting life to date, related it entertainingly.
But didn’t distract me from food.
“It was terrible,” Adam continued plaintively. “I began to wonder if something was wrong with me: Maybe a postnasal infection had left me with an unspeakable variety of halitosis, of which only I was unaware. Or maybe I had deodorant failure. Or perhaps someone had circulated a vicious rumor that I had herpes—or worse, perhaps Mother had interdicted me . . . !
“I asked her about that and she denied it. Now, to my knowledge, she never lied to me. She was a fine lawyer and a consummate politician, true; and it was often necessary to listen closely to make sure that the words one heard carried the meaning they seemed to on the surface—but she never lied. . . .
“Well, by the end of the first month I was completely at a loss. I didn’t know what to do; which way to turn. I had discharged my job duties flawlessly. I had kept track of all the elements without error; given them out, taken them in, ordered new ones from IBM; all in the most charming, helpful, personable manner possible—and I am my mother’s son: I know my social psychodynamics.
“All to no avail, however: The ladies simply would not socialize with me, no matter what I did or didn’t. My self-esteem was in shambles; my reputation as a roué was crumbling.
“Finally, at wits’ end, I sought advice from one of Mother’s senior advisors. He was a wily old fox, versed in the intrigues of political life—but more importantly, he knew people.
“I told him my problem. He smiled paternally and patted me on the shoulder. ‘Adam,’ he soothed, ‘don’t let it get to you. It’s nothing you’ve done, or can do; it’s your job.’
“‘My job?’ Now I was more in the dark than ever. ‘All I do is keep track of the—’
“‘Elements,’ said he. ‘Of course they won’t associate with you. Don’t you understand? You’re taboo, the element boy. . . .’”
Silence echoed through kitchen. Froze, glaring, fork halfway to mouth. Adam’s expression a study in puzzled innocence.
Terry picked up vibrations; emitted long, low whistle; said, “How ’bout that.”
After counting to ten, slowly, again became aware of blended aromas rising from feast spread before me. Weighed benefits, liabilities. Carefully. Violence such a transitory satisfaction. Decided to let him live.
But just imagine: If do decide to keep him, will spend whole rest of life never knowing when something like that due again—but positive out there, somewhere. Waiting. With my name on it. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Surprise! Adam just asked to accompany us when search resumed for AAs—instead of baldly declaring intentions, per usual practice.
(This, standing alone, offers hope: May be making progress; perhaps housebroken status achievable within foreseeable future.)
So agreed. But with conditions. . . .
First: Must understand agreement embodies no implied secondary (read “sexual”) acquiescence. Will be partners; sharing resources, proceeds, risks, hardships—period.
Second: Pooling brains, agreeing wherever possible on course to be followed—but with me ultimately setting policy. My decisions final. If time allows, prior discussions permissible; but if crisis looms, or events move quickly, orders must be carried out without hesitation.
Pecking order necessary: Present-day environment unforgiving; indecision, inexperience, lack of teamwork—all erode chances for survival. Despite Adam’s slight age advantage, am more experienced in survival in world-as-is; been knocking about, self-sufficient, for months. Plus own education vastly broader, again despite age difference; for have devoted bulk of waking hours to emulating Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (“Run and find out!”); trying to learn something about everything, become “generalist” before settling down to specialty.
Adam, by contrast, has learned lots about very little; narrowed interests too early: From own observations, is unparalleled at keyboard, in kitchen; first-rate EMT; efficient domestic (lord!—entire ancestry, along with ghosts of most of Baltimore’s Upper Crust, must be spinning in graves at that summation!); plus shrewd student of people.
Clever also, according to hearsay, at mechanics, electronics. Demon inventor, tinkerer: Most stereo equipment throughout home product of Adam’s handiwork; plus garage contains (says he; haven’t been out there yet) numerous highly-modified automobiles, none of whose designers would recognize, all of which boast performance, mileage, handling, durability far exceeding manufacturers’ specifications.
But since Man’s Passing, has existed (notwithstanding brash persona) as conservative stay-at-home, scavenging as need arises. Explorations limited to forays about already familiar (to him) city, suburbs. Totally unprepared to set off into wilderness.
Therefore, final condition: Must apprentice to me as karate student. Two reasons: First, we will encounter inimical ABs en route—utter certainty, this. Would be comforting to know partner competent to guard my back (plus will feel lots better knowing Adam able to take care of himself should something happen to me—certainly not least probable outcome in post-Armageddon conditions).
Second, instructing him good therapy for me: Am wreck; going to take weeks of rest/food/exercise to restore me to combat-readiness, and sparring only training better than kata.
Into second week now. Stronger; can walk unaided, bathe self—though in habit of sociable morning soak by now; luxuriating to Jacuzzi-driven hot water, massage, lazy pre-breakfast conversation, laughing at Terry: Silly goose decided if we can, he can—and conducts most energetic baths imaginable at poolside (tubside—tubside [size blurs distinction!]); perched carefully on rim, grabbing huge beakfuls, slinging all directions, flapping violently, squawking ecstatically, drenching everything within ten-foot radius—all without getting more than tiniest sprinkle on feathers.
Have begun Adam’s training. Initial work revolves around exercises to enhance balance, flexibility, coordination, strength, reaction time, speed; aiding student to recognize feel of own ki; learning to concentrate flow; focus, direct through body to attain instantaneous, automatic (preferably correct!) reaction, counterreaction, striking power.
Adam is, of course, quick study (suspect all hominems natural athletes, barring prohibitive physical defects). Mastered principles underlying balance in record time (yes, quicker than me here, too); same with footwork, physics governing striking power. Working now to establish basic group of hyperalert, hair-trigger reflexes which constitute foundation of martial art; “secret” of blindingly fast, shockingly violent, concentrated frightfulness.
Competent, well-trained student reacts without thought. Interlocking, interdependent, multiplex daisy-chain of yes/no decisions, once programmed into subconscious, form “combat computer”: conditioned-reflex matrix which evaluates degree of threat, determines quality of response. Most takes place too quickly for conscious thought, formation of don’t-hurt/hurt/hurt-lots/kill intent.
(Which explains why throwing surprise mock punch at karate student, especially relative beginner, such folly: Newly keyed-in responses imperfectly integrated; subconscious misjudges seriousness of threat, overreacts. Before playful intent apparent to cerebrum, foolish acquaintance has paid price. Particularly risky game if done quickly—hurrying even most proficient of masters surefire ticket to own funeral.)
At this stage, however, all proceeds with deliberation, precision. Though weak, am able to perform necessary instruction. And drilling with Adam of immeasurable benefit to own condition: Each day can feel strength returning; body ever more ready to respond to demands.
And while lack even semblance of combat-readiness thus far, my response speed, accuracy, power, have Adam’s complete attention. Demonstrated in beginning that, slowed and weakened as I am, he cannot land blow of any kind; can block anything he throws, hand or foot; don’t even look rushed. Yet can touch him anywhere, anytime, with any limb, despite his best efforts.
Brooded initially about effect on Adam’s psyche (Momma Foster’s caution again) of revealing how far beyond him am in combat skills, but proved needless concern: If sensitive about being bested by “mere female,” conceals it well; responds to challenge like Thoroughbred to touch of whip—most competitive soul have ever met! Uniform reaction to every demonstrated weakness (after eyes grow round) has been to knuckle down, do flat-out damnedest to match me.
And know from own lessons: Demonstrated superiority necessary for effective teaching: Student’s appreciation of instructor’s prowess must approach level of awe. Progress in karate matter of conquering own frontiers. Regularly necessary to issue outrageous pronouncements calculated to hype student’s self-confidence (subliminal autosuggestion one of karate instructor’s most effective tools) to enable performance exceeding then-assumed limitations. For as each new threshold crossed, matters little whether task once impossible (as well may have been, without overstimulated neuromuscular responses): Karate, at journeyman levels, hinges at least as much on psychology as finely honed physiology.
Felt good to get back into training. And better to have sparring partner. Doing us both good: Adam enjoying workouts; benefit to me simply incalculable.
Of disadvantages, only two immediately apparent: One, believe it or not, appetite actually increased (compounding Adam’s awe!). And two, between meals, drills, sleep constantly . . . !
Good night, Posterity.
∞ ∞ ∞
Preserve me from well-meaning innocents . . . ! Naïveté on this scale cannot be coincidental: Creator Himself must have planted Adam in my path, together with circumstances mandating adoption.
Follow: “You know, Candy,” he began this evening as we finished dinner, “I’ve been thinking . . .” (and cosmos trembled) “. . . you’re going to be fit enough to travel pretty soon now.”
“Well, I’ve been looking over your van . . .”
“And . . . ?”
“It’s small. Three of us living in that little thing will go mad.”
“It’s not so bad,” I assured him. “Certainly it’s not as roomy and comfortable as living here, and it will be more crowded with you along; but it’s adequate, once you get the knack of how to use what space there is, and when to spill outside for cooking, dressing, bathing, and whatnot.”
“If you say so.” Dubiously. “But”—hopefully —“we do have an alternative, if you’re interested.”
Was; so Adam led way to garage. First time there since coma. Impressive as rest of home. Could have stored Daddy’s house in there, too. Several times. With local-stations TV mast erected.
Also much taken with contents: astonishing variety of automotive toys. Lamborghinis are neat. Especially in red. Especially that red. Ferraris not bad either. Nor Maseratis. Nor Porsches. Never had much use for Lincolns, Cadillacs, limousines generally (bulky, clumsy, inefficient things—besides, who wants to be driven everywhere?); on other hand, Rolls(es?) could grow on one (is such a thing as elegance, after all).
But Adam brushed past four-wheel jewelry to far (perhaps “distant” more appropriate adjective) corner where stood what I took, at first glance, for garage wall. Wasn’t. Goodness. . . .
“This is how we traveled before,” he announced, with proud sweep of hand. “Neat, huh? It’s a converted Greyhound chassis.” Surely was; large, economy size; obviously capable of sleeping, feeding, entertaining regiment. Vehicle was Adam’s mother’s solution to visiting constituents statewide without having to (shudder) sleep in motels. Appointments bordered on sybaritic.
“And you have to see the kitchen,” he enthused. “It duplicates the one in the house, in miniature. Anything I can cook there, I can make here: It’s got everything!”
Telling point; mouth started watering at mere thought of Adam’s cooking.
However . . .
Silly thing was 45 feet long! Over 12 feet tall, not counting air-conditioners jutting from roof. Nine feet wide. Barely six inches’ ground clearance (got down, looked). And of three axles, obvious that only forward tandem driven; rearmost merely load-bearing idler; very front, steering only. Plus, GVW plate listed maximum weight at 16 tons!
Cast about briefly for means to pop Adam’s bubble tactfully—was so proud of self, solution. Still merrily burbling on about juggernaut’s wonderful qualities; taking my silence for enthusiasm, no doubt. Pondered variety of alternate approaches without satisfying requirements.
Finally concluded no help for it; might as well plunge ahead, rain on parade without sugar-coating—disappointments exist in present-day reality; must face sooner, later. Perhaps dose of disillusionment good thing; maybe yanking rug from under mobile Pleasure Dome’s apparent usefulness helpful in conveying rational perspective of real-world conditions.
Opened with slow curve: “Boy, this is great!” Then fast break: “But something this size must have a really powerful winch to get across soft terrain. Where did they hide it?”
Adam ground to halt; looked puzzled, also faintly offended. “They don’t put winches on a top-of-the-line land yacht,” he explained, with slightly exaggerated patience.
“Oh, I see; all three axles powered then—must be just about unstoppable. Good thing; sure would hate to try to ford a stream otherwise—without a winch.”
Adam hesitated, looked unsure for first time. So reminded him, while off-balance, of tribulations set forth in Vol. II. Asked if cared to try balancing across railroad trestle in this, as I did van. Agreed was not enticing notion.
And that was that. Adam nobody’s dummy. Chief failing consists of important gaps in background; ignorance of things obvious to anyone but cloistered genius reared amidst wealth, excess material advantages. Given hint, moves on quickly to grasp problem himself.
But still not satisfied with prospect of three of us living in van; determined to find solution. (Hope successful—really will miss that kitchen. . . .)
∞ ∞ ∞
Hello again, Posterity. Please be patient; must proceed cautiously; maintain tight control lest emotional state bollix record through omission of pertinent, possibly vital, details.
Something Important happened today: Found clue . . . !
Happened like this:
Feeling pretty good past few days. Thinking seriously about resuming search. However, work undone right here in Baltimore: On way to examine Harpers’ premises when originally bumped into Adam, got sidetracked. Logic dictated completing that before moving on.
Told Adam intentions; asked if familiar with area. Was; volunteered to take me there—correction—take us there:
(Terry so happy to have me healthy again; really bored during recuperation. Likes Adam lots but is my baby brother, knows it; expects to help me with daily chores, explorations, etc.)
Found Harpers’ office easily; gained access (Adam as proficient at prybar locksmithing as self), commenced examination. I explained were looking for clues suggesting AAs’ final destination, explanation for uniform disappearance; tangible or intangible—anything found, or deduction based on identification of something missing. Then went at it.
Adam proved quite good at fine-tooth search; was in fact he who found clue.
Took it calmly when he said, “Is there likely to be more than one Soo Kim McDivott associated with these people?”
Adam tore sheet of paper from printer; held out. Snatched from hand; pored over it feverishly, and
. . . PAY DIRT!
Fragment of message to Harpers—from Teacher . . . ! Content ambiguous, due to apparent computer malfunction. But faded print on remaining portion read:
“. . . imple as it first appears . . . Telemetry . . . their ‘contingency solution’ . . . already in place . . . oblem not resolved when it’s ‘over.’
“The authorities still refuse . . . must be scrapped. Meet me . . . Palomar facility as soon as . . . and please bring everything!!!
“Love to all, and good luck getting here.
“Soo Kim McDivott.”
That was all. But more than enough. To anyone who knew him, fragmentary missive shrieked starkest urgency. If had not seen with own eyes, would never have believed Teacher would end sentence with three exclamation points. Fabric of Universe hardly less flappable than Teacher.
Heard him express urgency only once. Happened perhaps six months before World Ended:
∞ ∞ ∞
Though retired, Teacher still member in good standing of town’s medical “reserves.” Often babysat practices when Daddy, Jorgé Curaçao, G.P., (town’s “other” doctor) needed time off. On one such occasion (genuine “must” seminar for every physician) Teacher volunteered services to enable both to attend. Set up shop in Daddy’s office (front of our house).
Both gone less than two hours before hysterical truck driver pulled up in front with flat-bed trailer carpeted with casualties from high-school bus capsize (ran over hog—basic rural no-no). Forty-some injured; ten, twelve critical; balance varied between minor broken bones, cuts/scrapes/bruises, acute self-pity.
And in keeping with rules governing such events (known in some quarters as Murphy’s Law), every EMT in 35-mile radius tied up working train wreck two towns to west—yours Truly only semblance of nurse/medical assistant then available. Flitted about, trying to be three of me: diving in, out of rubber gloves to hand instruments, operate retraction, tie off; fetch, install bandages; mop blood, etc.
But Teacher faster yet; moved quicker than ever saw outside dojo—seemed everywhere! Worked miracles: Sorted patients by degree of crisis; stabilized some critically wounded apparently by force of will while worked on others even more so. Somehow coped without losing anyone (and some critical really were) until reinforcements finally began arriving from County General, three towns to south.
Was busy hour. During course of which urgency such that Teacher omitted saying “please.” Twice.
So three exclamation points . . . !
∞ ∞ ∞
“Important, huh?” Adam could hardly fail to note shaking hand holding paper.
Nodded wordlessly, thoughts churning.
He waited decent interval; then tried again, still gently: “I read it, but I don’t understand the significance. Is this McDivott your ‘Teacher’?”
“Oh . . .” Returned to surroundings with a start. “Sorry. Yes. This is from Teacher, I’m sure; telling the Harpers to meet him somewhere; probably just prior to the attack, though maybe right after. And he’s worried about something—I don’t know what, but apparently something that will be a problem even after Mankind is gone—even after he’s gone himself, poor dear; Teacher was like that: Always worried more about others than himself.”
“Any idea what ‘it’ he was talking about?”
“No. And ‘Palomar’ is pretty vague, too—unless he could mean Mount Palomar, near San Diego. But I can’t imagine any connection between Teacher, the AAs, and an observatory. This doesn’t furnish much information.”
“Enough to get your hopes up, but raising more questions than it answers. . . .”
“Exactly. Just enough to send us off on what will very likely end up a wild goose chase and waste a lot of time.”
“Not really; even if nothing turns up, there are plenty of AA addresses out there. You’ll just be revising the order in which you visit them. You’re looking at a potential gain, even if it’s a long-shot. You can’t lose, no matter what.” Smiled beatifically. “I don’t see the problem.”
Adam never so irritating as when correctly stating obvious, particularly when I’m the one overlooking it (correctness always delivered with such cheerful assurance). However, took deep breath, swallowed retort poised on tip of tongue; agreed was little choice: Any course other than proceeding to check out “Palomar” manifest nonsense.
Should, however, conclude sweep of Harpers’ office. No telling what else might surface.
Did so. Predictably, without profit.
And en route home afterward, Adam observed: “Seems an unlikely sort of coincidence. Are two of the Harpers married, and the other’s their son; or is it a husband/wife/brother thing, or what?”
Glanced across at him. Engrossed in driving; expression devoid of clues usually accompanying dead-pan teasing. Possible he didn’t know? Had read Vol. II, glanced through Tarzan File, but perhaps missed that. Decided to accept question at face value.
“No, they’re married.”
“All of them.”
“Oh,” he replied disinterestedly; drove on. Several minutes later head snapped around, eyes narrowed in good-natured suspicion. Demanded, “What?” Then relaxed. “Oh, I see. It really is a coincidence: All separately married; no relation?”
“No, not related at all. Nor married separately. Married.” Couldn’t help smiling as watched Adam juggle possibilities. He noticed; grew truly suspicious.
Easy to tell when figured it out: Jaw went slack, eyes round. “All three of them . . . ?” Adam exerted manful effort to be debonair; but expression—indeed, total aspect from head to toe—very embodiment of shocked disapproval.
(Naturally, have no idea whether men’s relationship extends beyond shared wife, but not about to let Adam off that easily.)
Smiled. Added helpfully: “Sure. Of course they’re not the only ones; lots of AAs are involved in group marriages. You mean you didn’t know?”
Didn’t. Tee-hee. Wolf in wolf’s clothing. Lecher, profligate, lady-killer, rake, debaucher, libertine, playboy. Swath-cutter amongst Baltimore’s fair sex. Any and all of above. Says he.
Well, maybe. But just discovered mile-wide chink in macho armor: Adam dyed-in-wool, card-carrying, soapbox-standing, old-fashioned sexual conservative! Face-to-face encounter with evidence of honest-to-goodness ménage à trois leaves him breathless with scandalized, bluenosed shock.
Hope exists for Adam after all. Gladder I found him by the day. Glad is coming with us. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Adam not kidding about hating prospect of three of us living in small van. Nor about mechanical/electronic ingenuity, ability. Has been busy past few weeks; all to good.
Example: Now attached to van’s rear by heavy-duty, load-equalizing hitch is lightweight, self-contained, 25-foot travel trailer. Clever notion: Enjoy luxuries without disadvantages intrinsic to vehicle unwieldy enough to carry them—in pinch, can drop trailer, proceed in van alone.
Adam sprang it as surprise: Went through Yellow Pages, visited dealers, located suitable unit; found, mounted hitch; hooked up, brought home. Then installed kitchen equipment matching that in parents’ land yacht. (My taste buds thank you, my appetite thanks you, I thank you . . . !) Quiet, multi-kilowatt, 120/240-volt, engine-driven Honda alternator replaces LP tanks on trailer’s A-frame tongue; powers everything.
Then he went through van with mad-inventor’s eye, determined weaknesses, corrected. Rebuilt engine, replacing nearly every moving part, all with what described as “competition specs” (sounds impressive, but don’t ask me). Same for running gear.
(Whatever. . . . Bottom line, boy; don’t care how watch built—what time is it? Speak English! [Verbal inquiry worded more politely, of course. Some.])
“Okay, okay,” he agreed. Tone impatient, but eyes alight; clearly pleased with self. “What I’ve done will make the engine and drivetrain more reliable under load, and shifts the useable power range downward, which gives it more torque—makes it more powerful at low RPMs, and gives it much more traction so it can pull the trailer more easily and climb steeper grades.
“And it’s more efficient now; goes farther on the same fuel. Since we have to rely on finding cars to siphon from, which may or may not have enough to bother with, or a gas station whose tank caps we can force, that’s insurance.
“Sounds as if it was a lot of work.”
“It was,” he nodded. “But solving mechanical problems is fun; I’ve been doing it for years as a hobby—along with the electronic stuff.”
“How did a well-bred, artistic type like you pick up such a physical sort of interest?”
“You mean ‘rich and spoiled type’ and ‘filthy sort of interest.’” Adam grinned; displayed fine hands now covered with cuts, scrapes, bruises; embedded with dirt, grease. “It grew out of what you might call the ‘flip side’ of growing up terribly rich, with parents too wrapped up in their careers to spend time with me.
“I stayed busy. Even I could practice piano only so long; and I’m as quick a study as you, so academics took even less time. I whiled away a good bit of the rest following around my favorites among the house staff and learning their jobs. That’s how I discovered that I love cooking—and where the EMT training came from, of course.
“But that still left a lot of time. Now, I’d gotten a taste for approbation from performing on the piano, and I’d noticed that people were impressed by fast cars and people who built and drove them. It looked like an entertaining hobby and a good way to show off. Naturally anything material I wanted, all I had to do was ask; cost was never discussed. That’s where the Lamborghini, the Ferrari, the Porsche, and the motorcycles came from—and, of course, the Trans Am I splattered.
“They hired Gus Wilson to take care of them. He was a proud old mechanic who used to run what he called a model garage. I became his shadow, and he did his best to teach me everything he knew—it tickled him to discover that a rich, spoiled brat was genuinely interested in learning his craft, and didn’t mind getting his schoolgirl-soft hands dirty doing it. Gus taught me my rule-of-thumb engineering, mechanical, and electrical skills.
“However, in the process, he taught me one of the most important lessons I ever learned: You can fix anything—if you want to badly enough. Sometimes what it takes is knowing where to find special tools and parts; sometimes it takes being able to figure out how to make special tools and parts.” He grinned again. “Sometimes all it takes is a bigger hammer—you’d be surprised what you can accomplish with naked force.
“Back then, of course, all it took most of the time was to throw money at it. But anything can be fixed if you need to badly enough. Somehow.
“For instance—remember how you crossed the Susquehanna,” he said abruptly, apparently out of blue.
Statement, not question. Do indeed; experience intrudes into dreams with regularity. Wish wouldn’t; wake up with racing heart, clammy palms. Balancing van on tracks on single-width railroad trestle at altitude barely inside Earth’s atmosphere not fun.
“Look . . .” Adam squatted down, pointed to double-scissor-hinged frames bolted to van’s, trailer’s undercarriages; “. . . this is my masterpiece: I fixed it.”
Perplexity must have shown on face.
Adam smiled, said, “Watch”; operated cranks protruding from underside of van, trailer, respectively—and additional sets of wheels lowered to ground. Tiny metal things, barely ten inches in diameter; located ahead of front, behind rear, wheels on van; just aft of tandems on trailer.
But even with demonstration, at first couldn’t divine purpose—and really wanted to: Adam’s expression appropriate for having solved Mystery of Universe. That he expected praise obvious; but would spot bluffing, and understanding nature of accomplishment prerequisite for intelligent head-patting.
Then light dawned; indeed understood—and pretty darned pleased own self: Wheels’ flanges match rails’ spacing, engage inner edges—singlehandedly Adam devised, manufactured rig permitting use of rails without drama, effort: Line up on level crossing, lower guide wheels—unnecessary even to steer.
“I reread that part of your journal after you pointed out the problems with the land yacht,” Adam explained. “I got sweaty palms myself, just thinking about it. I figured there had to be a better way.
“I remembered reading about railroads modifying cars and trucks like this for their own use. I drove down to the railyard, found a truck outfitted this way, and studied how they did it. Didn’t seem all that difficult a project, if you don’t mind getting out to crank the wheels up and down—the truck had hydraulics; the railroad people wanted to be able to deploy and retract theirs without getting rained on.
“After that it was just a matter of cannibalizing a couple handcars, and a little fabrication. Anyone could have done it.”
“I couldn’t,” I replied positively. “It never occurred to me even to pull a trailer.”
“You could if you were in my shoes,” he grinned. “We needed more room without incurring a permanent weight penalty; a trailer is the obvious solution. And the rail-riders are equally obvious: Without them, if we absolutely had to cross a railroad bridge, we’d have to abandon the trailer. I just couldn’t see leaving behind all my best tools and music and everything.”
“Not to mention your kitchen!”
“And hot showers and a warm, clean, roomy bed.”
“Whose . . . ?”
Daddy often voiced opinion that those in habit of giving in to knee-jerk responses usually best described by omitting “knee.” Here was textbook example. Regretted immediately. But too late.
Adam’s smile unchanged, but no longer included eyes. Realized, then, suspicion unfounded; sex farthest thing from boy’s mind. For once attention limited to demonstrating fruits of own technical brilliance. Offended, no doubt about it. And rightly so.
Without further comment, Adam led me to bedroom at rear of trailer. Accommodations consisted of twin-size bunks positioned fore-and-aft, one either side of room; dresser between at extreme rear; hanging closets on either side between door, foot of each bed.
Adam stopped, about-faced so abruptly almost ran into him. “I’m going to sleep in one of these,” he stated loftily, with over-the-shoulder thumb indication. “You may have the other or you may, each and every night and morning, go through the trouble of making up the dinette or the couch in the salon—your choice; both convert to full-sized doubles. But when I’m tired, I’m going to go to bed, without going through the unnecessary nonsense of making it up. Suit yourself.” Brushed past, started to walk away.
Already in throes of contrition; required little effort to appear more so. Pulled at lower lip with teeth; allowed eyes to fill, almost overflow; “impulsively” reached out to catch arm, stop him. “Adam, I’m sorry!” I blurted. (And found really was—astonished to discover how much!) “That was a rotten thing to say. I shouldn’t have taken it that way. I’ve got a hair-trigger installed on that one subject, and I don’t know how to fix it. I’m trying . . . but . . .”
Adam unexpectedly magnanimous in victory: Paused, took deep breath; then turned back, placed hand gently over my mouth, damming apologetic flood; said, “Hush, it’s not your fault; I haven’t said two words to you without one of them being a proposition.”
(That much certainly true; but managed [for once!] to curb shrewish tongue, avoid getting in deeper. Fortunately. For Adam not through; further surprises in store:)
“Neither of us is at fault. Not really. This is hardly an ideal situation for comfortable boy-meets-girl-ing. We may be the last couple on Earth, and you are both intelligent and responsible; you understand the inevitabilities of our situation as well as I do: Unless we find someone else whom we like better, we’re going to have to get on with making babies—in a primitive society children are necessary; they’re our social security, all we’ll have to take care of us in our old age.
“I’ve known all along that you feel pressured. It could hardly be otherwise, even if I never said a word about it.
“You know it, I know it, and I know you know it—and I haven’t allowed you the courtesy of adjusting to the idea in peace. But I couldn’t help it, and I’m sorry.” Confession so sudden, caught me quite off balance. But looked, sounded really sincere.
Caught by surprise then by intensity of affection suddenly upwelling in response. Hidden behind Adam’s brash façade is genuinely likeable human being. Possibly even lovable. When lets himself be. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Hey, Posterity . . . ! Vacation over: Back on the road again; we leave tomorrow morning.
And about time—though would have been madness to set off into unknown again with me in less than contest-ready condition. And of course will drill twice daily as we travel, both for physical conditioning and to continue Adam’s training.
Speaking of which, progress confusing: Brilliant mastery of every technique demonstrated. Form excellent; power, speed outstanding. Has assembled kata of unrivaled violence, grace. Have never seen such flawless performance in student below black-belt level. But . . .
Has not established basic reflex-matrix program. Plans, directs every step consciously. True, conscious reactions very quick—combined with execution skills, probably a match for any two, three untrained opponents right now—but not as fast as correctly programmed, subconscious combat computer. Perhaps problem is subliminal fear of letting go; perhaps doesn’t trust reflexes to operate without cerebrum at helm. If so, don’t know how to help him. Problem never arose during own training; programming took hold, settled in as if conscious mind wanted out.
Further, Adam’s subconscious evidently resisting hysterical strength tap programming. Explanation obvious, of course: After nursing me through misuse sequelae, not eager for firsthand experience. But will never achieve full journeyman/Master status without; certain techniques possible only through at least momentary burst of focused preternatural power.
Remember clearly Teacher’s induction formula; plus Adam good hypnotic subject: Achieves deepest somnambulistic trance-state easily, first under my direction, later through own autohypnotic concentration. Listens quietly while in trance-state; apparently absorbs programming formula. But posthypnotic triggering ineffective; available strength never exceeds norm.
Well, all I can do for now is maintain present training format: Continue kata critique, guidance; daily sparring; penetrate guard at will, while he can’t lay finger on me. Perhaps subconscious will get message.
That’s one problem; another is packing van, trailer for trip.
Adam obviously graduate (sigma cum load) of school of scientific packing; only possible explanation of how managed to cram so much stuff into so little space. This, after several day’s agonizing over what constitutes excess; boiling down to present two, three tons of irreplaceable possessions.
Actually, I exaggerate. A little. Maybe.
For example, managed to cram entire toolbox (five feet tall, four feet wide, two feet deep) and contents into heretofore unnoticed empty corner of van’s interior (don’t know how—certainly no room to spare before). Converted one living room wall in trailer into electronics center: all-bands, two-way radio of own design; stereo system—plus thousand-plus-CD/DVD music collection, of course. And found room for much-modified Moog synthesizer keyboard and processor (plays through stereo speakers; amazing tone—can’t tell whether hearing electrons putting on airs or genuine concert grand from library). Also stowed incidentals: food, weapons, clothing, Terry’s stand, etc.
Plus final mysterious touch: 25-foot-long bundle of aluminum tubing wrapped in brightly colored cloth, secured to trailer roof rack. No idea what. Not only won’t Adam say, but being smug about it: Says is surprise; something which, when need arises, will be indispensable. Probably; spends awful lot of time being right. But if keeps this up, may not live to announce “I told you so” when time comes!
Oh, something else—promise not to tell. . . . Serious business now—really promise! Requires hold-breath-and-spit, used-sweat-socks-on-your-tongue-if-you-tell oath. Okay. But into really dangerous territory now—have learned “Adam’s” real name.
Not surprised, of course—for first male encountered since end of H. sapiens really to be named “Adam” would require unlikely stretching of probability. And knew came from old family; knew parents influential. But never, in wildest imaginings, suspected depths of boy’s dreadful secret. Wouldn’t have dreamed aristocracy willing to perpetrate such patent cruelty—to no apparent end beyond snooty continuity.
While prowling house, snooping into rooms heretofore unexplored, on lookout for last-minute stuff (sort of thing one always forgets and later wishes hadn’t), stumbled into what proved to be Adam’s parents’ bedroom. Not hard to identify: Walls, bureaus covered with pictures of them as couple, from wedding portraits on; plus baby pictures dating all the way back to wet, thoroughly dissatisfied, red face glaring from birth canal (family went at baby-picture-taking in big way!). Poked about until found album. Opened, looked at title page . . .
And there it was:
Melville. Winchester. Higginbotham. Grosvenor. Penobscott-Jones.
The Fourth. . . .
Can you imagine? Terrible thing to do to cute, defenseless baby! (And was cute baby, too, once pointy-headed newborn syndrome subsided, wrinkles smoothed out, expression moderated to one recognizable as ancestor of present calculated innocence.) No wonder chose new name earliest possible opportunity.
Well, identity safe as far as I’m concerned. Nor will “Adam” ever learn I possess truth from me: Some knowledge simply too dangerous . . .
On other hand, blackmail long a respected component of diplomatic toolkit.
And “never” is long time. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Greetings, Posterity, from Beautiful East St. Louis. Having wonderful time; wish you were here. And other clichés. (Actually, trip quite dull [i.e., uneventful—may it so continue. . . .].)
Adam, reckless propensities under control, proving marvelously smooth, precise driver when not showing off (or perhaps satisfying show-off urges by displaying different aspect of motoring skills): Operates van-cum-trailer rig as though born with shift knob in mouth instead of silver spoon. Glides along roads without drama; slips through holes between obstructions where I would have sworn wasn’t room. Possesses uncanny eye for solidity of terrain; plus flicks neatly in, out of four-wheel-drive, low-low range, without stopping, losing momentum: Haven’t used winch at all—despite added load, trailer.
Must admit, however, fact we spent bulk of time slicing across continent in nearly straight lines, tooling effortlessly along railroad tracks at 60 mph, bypassing highway clutter altogether, may have bearing on ease of travel. Adam’s invention works just as advertizedadvertised: Line up rig on grade crossing, lower guide wheels, set speed control, insert selected CD, lean back, relax, enjoy watching scenery unfold.
Terry delighted to be back on road. Does so love riding in cars. But for first few miles on tracks, wasn’t at all sure he approved of no-hands driving. Stood uneasily on stand, shifting weight, bobbing head suspiciously, flitting to settle feathers. Peered out windshield with first one eye, then other. Occasionally muttered “How ’bout that” in worried tones. Seasoned traveler; knows improper driving when sees it. . . .
Hard to believe, after own experience at post-Armageddon cross-country travel: Adam and I arrived in East St. Louis—just under thousand miles—only three days after leaving Baltimore! Could have made it in one, but not hurrying; rising when feel like it, eating well (love that kitchen!), performing kata, sparring, scrounging, quitting early, giving Adam time to practice on Moog, etc. But even at this rate we’ll be at Mount Palomar in another week. Isn’t that great?
Good night, Posterity.
∞ ∞ ∞
Good morning, Posterity. Reality back—with a vengeance: Don’t know how could have forgotten how much fun rivers can be. Evidence suggests Ole Man Mississippi took advantage of flood-control engineers’ absence to flex muscles this spring. Must have been some thaw: One bridge left—clogged solidly with cars, trucks. High-water mark suggests crest wasn’t all that high, but something sure took rest out. Perhaps river recruited help—string of fully loaded barges careening along in melt-swollen current would fill prescription, and plenty available. But . . .
Adam cut speculation short by pointing out that figuring way to remove obstructions from bridge more relevant issue on which to focus curiosity—please pay attention.
(Been unbearably pleased with himself since rail-riding rig proved successful—and “unbearably” surely operative word. Despite this, haven’t destroyed him yet; treating situation as opportunity to strengthen character, exercise in self-control. So far.)
Good night, Posterity.
∞ ∞ ∞
Bridge cleanup not so tough! Though surely looked as if might be to begin with: First vehicles in way all had dead batteries. Then refused to start upon being jumpered. Adam suspected watered gasoline—condensation from temperature changes, length of time abandoned.
(His reaction to frustration entertaining: Unaccustomed to failure [classes experience with me as “work in progress”]; regards even possibility might not triumph as personal attack on vaunted resourcefulness. Looks vexed. Grows a little defensive. Sometimes even pouts. But never gives up.)
Presently climbed onto commuter bus roof, surveyed problem with hands on hips. Shortly got down, looking smug. Claimed had answer. But wouldn’t tell me plan; wanted to “surprise me.”
Located East St. Louis Yellow Pages, flipped through to “Machine Shops.” Underlined half-dozen addresses, visited in order. Found what was looking for at third stop: steroid-fed forklift truck—really big.
Managed to get monster running; returned to bridge (not quick trip; shop some miles away). Adam directed me to follow in rig as he assailed blockage. Ran forks under first car, lifted, set to side, moved on to next.
Progress quicker once got up onto bridge approach: Adam simply hoisted, tilted forks, pitched over side. Didn’t waste time, efforts: Cleared single-width path just wide enough for van, trailer. Soon into rhythm of forklift operation, drilled rapidly across bridge. Started crossing near noon; descended into St. Louis before dark.
Too late to continue then, so spending night on riverbank. Adam plans to locate railyard, pick up maps, get us “back on track” tomorrow (something about phrase seems to make him happy; wonder if be offended if I tore out his tongue. . . .).
∞ ∞ ∞
Goodness gracious—what a day! Whole complexion of travel now changed. Should have anticipated this; certainly would feel same way if in their shoes. But shock, just the same.
All right—enough rambling; on to proper, orderly narrative while events fresh in mind:
Adam disappointed to learn St. Louis, despite (or because of) role as national-rail-network hub, impossible to get out of by rail. Same problem often encountered on roads near big cities: too much dead traffic. Endless switchyards, switch after switch set wrong; stopped trains, locomotives, isolated cars and/or car strings everywhere. Simply no room to move.
So found city map; began working our way out via streets. Not difficult, considering past experience, but not quickest travel thus far enjoyed. Adam’s driving skills even more apparent here, as squeezed around, between abandoned cars, trucks; popped into four-wheel-drive, low-low, to climb curbs; bypassing obstructions down alleys, along sidewalks. Necessary to use winch only once; then only to haul another car out of way, not unstick us.
Not bad, by and large; and afternoon found us well into semiresidential area, past worst of downtown congestion. Adam finding this type of driving sufficient challenge even at low speeds; plus remains ever conscious of trailer contents’ scatterability, fragility. Accordingly, were proceeding at entirely reasonable pace when, trotting in preoccupied manner from between two buildings, came rhinoceros . . . !
Prepoceros? Of course! But precise moment rhinoceros, size of house, discovered ambling across street directly in one’s path, bad time to debate probabilities.
Adam reacted well: Cut hard left, tried to dodge behind—and stupid clot stopped! Nowhere to go—slammed on brakes, skidded to stop nestled intimately against beast’s shoulder. No impact, just nudge.
“How ’bout that,” said Terry in awed tones.
Rhino turned head, squinted disapprovingly down over shoulder with mean little pig eyes. Snorted. Horn about four feet long. Looked sharp.
Adam calmly, deliberately eased van into reverse; backed slowly away, concentrating intently on trailer, visible in mirror. Kept rig lined up. Kept going.
Rhino stared. Snorted again. Louder. Then frowned. Turned. Pawed ground. Lowered head.
Calm, deliberate sternway gained momentum, acquired salient characteristics of earnest retreat—then precipitous route as rhino took several quick, purposeful steps.
Fast reverse driving not easy with trailer; requires concentration. Covered perhaps 200 yards without jackknifing before rhino slowed, snorted, veered off between buildings, disappeared.
Adam stopped, sat immobile, breathing like Thoroughbred after crossing finish line. Encounter spanned perhaps 30 seconds, but boy wringing wet at conclusion. Eyes blinked rapidly. Knuckles white where hands gripped wheel. No sound emerged when first tried to speak. Had indeed been concentrating.
Presently Adam took deep breath, held momentarily, released in tremulous sigh. Then tried again: “Wouldn’t you think a city this size would have a leash law?” Grin unconvincing. “Where do you suppose that thing came from . . . ?”
And just like that, I knew answer. Obvious, really; should have anticipated. And amazing thing is this was first encounter.
Rhinoceros trotting down city street, two miles from St. Louis Zoo. Coincidence? Haw! Isolated, unaided breakout? Not likely.
Trade places with zookeepers—warm, conscientious people who, if didn’t love animals, could make lots easier living, much better money, elsewhere. Utterly certain own deaths impending, how would react to animal friends’ prospects, locked in cages? Do nothing? Ensure agonizing deaths through starvation, thirst?
Not in million years . . . !
Safe assumption, therefore, most—possibly all—zoo animals now at large throughout country, probably world. Suggested as much to Adam.
“‘Lions and tigers and bears—oh, my!’” he quoted, with shake of head. “I’ll bet you’re right. Shall we detour and find out?”
Not keen on idea, but logic inarguable: Deliberately remaining ignorant of opposition bad strategy.
Proceeded to zoo. Conducted preliminary examination while driving, circling buildings. Exterior cages empty, but inconclusive: All connected to interior. Could have been bodies inside.
Only one way to find out.
Reluctantly dug out, loaded M-16s, magnum pistols. Slipped holster belts around middles. Exited together, Terry on my shoulder (if failed to return, wouldn’t want him locked in either).
Not elegant performance; probably looked like Abbot & Costello, engaged in burglary: back-to-back, tiptoeing with exaggeratedly sneaky steps, spinning one way, then another, trying to cover all directions at once (I was; Adam maddeningly at ease). Cautiously we scouted every building, rifles at ready, set for fully automatic fire, safeties off—so keyed up that, had even Daddy appeared suddenly, I probably would have cut him in half.
However, no untoward encounters; merely confirmed my very worst fears: All—repeat all—enclosures open, empty.
Even cobras. . . .
“Good grief, what kind of person can manage sympathy for cobras . . . ?” I wondered aloud, trying to walk without placing feet on ground.
“Nice people,” Adam observed, peering around interestedly. “Cobras have feelings, too.”
“Well, yeah, maybe. . . .”
Returned to rig; departed immediately.
Discussed development en route: “The ecology of the planet will never be the same,” I ventured. “Lots of those beasties will do just fine in their new homes.”
“Do you think so?” Zoology not one of Adam’s specialties. “I suppose animals from temperate climates will do all right, but what about ‘lions and tigers and bears’ from the tropics?”
Settled back in seat, took deep breath, delivered thumbnail zoological history/geography lesson:
Cobras (while notion made my skin crawl) unlikely to be enduring problem anywhere temperate or cooler. Poisonous snakes in general not gregarious lot; tend to be solitary wanderers, seeking food, shelter alone. Rodent population explosion following H. sapiens’ demise guarantees all species’ small initial populations’ wide dispersal in totally strange environment; ample food available wherever might roam. Further, tropical foreigners incapable of lying dormant; never survive winter.
Odds practically nil for compatible meeting, mating, species’ perpetuation before all dead of cold, old age, hunting accidents. Even given warmer climes to south, threat exists few years at most.
Warm-blooded predators, however, constitute distinctly separate problem: General rule suggests anything furry capable of producing winter coat. Know for fact, tigers found from rain forests to well above Himalayan snow line. One kitty actually named “Snow Leopard.” Lions roamed portions of Europe mere centuries ago; disappeared from Turkish mountains since Ottoman collapse.
Besides, most zoos housed relatively large big cat populations; and are gregarious, particularly lions: Band together in prides, breed like rabbits. Perpetuation assured.
But pussycats not only problem: Grizzlies, wolves, cougars all native North Americans; absent Man, make selves at home anywhere.
And what about Kodiak bears? Comforting notion: 1,800 pounds of appetite. And polar bears—11 feet long, preternaturally intelligent, incredibly persistent; hungry all the time. Both regarded among deadliest carnivores on planet.
Vegetarians potential problem, too: Hannibal brought elephants across Alps; mammoths here before people. Doubt will enjoy winters, but most probably survive, multiply. Rhinos, too. Neither overtly aggressive; not truly dangerous per se (barring stupidity—not ideal subjects for teasing), but undesirable neighbors: To farmer, visits equate with earthquake, flood, drought, locusts. Hope attentions dissuadable without bloodshed.
Sundry antelope types probably manage winters well as local ruminants—undoubtedly fare better in relations with new predator mix.
All of which certainly complicates outlook. Careful thought required for future. Must assemble projection of potential competition; learn strengths, weaknesses, formulate plans to cope.
During interim, M-16 probably adequate coper if cornered: Unlikely anything still standing after fully automatic setting empties 50-shot clip (expanding slugs) into ticklish spots. Other advantages: lightweight, accurate, reliable; spares, ammunition endlessly available; familiar now with teardown, maintenance drill.
Plus final advantage: Doesn’t knock me down (petty detail, but personally satisfying). Basic physics, of course: Violence going that way usefully limited (given 70-pound shooter) by violence coming this way. Equation rules out .457 Weatherby Magnum Double, African guide’s favorite equalizer.
“And if all else fails,” offered Adam, when I paused for breath, “we can try a stern expression and an assertive tone of voice: ‘Shoo!’”
Didn’t dignify by responding. Said, “We need to tighten up our travel habits.”
“Oh, yes, we’re guilty of the French traveler’s mistake.”
“I think we should start wearing sidearms from now on, and keep the M-16s close at hand—what?”
Adam smiled. “You’re right; we do need to tighten our travel security habits. We’ve committed the classical French traveler’s error. You know: Too loose la trek. . . .”
Favored him with glare. “No more solitary wandering,” I continued firmly. “We go everywhere together . . .”
“. . . and we go armed.”
“Be serious!” Adam’s lack of concern more worrisome than newly-discovered neighbors. How could be so casual, surrounded by slavering man-eaters . . . ?
“I am.” Smiled again. Watched me, waiting expectantly.
Opened mouth for scathing retort; then hesitated, closed again. Performed quick review of events since rhino hove into view—especially own conduct. Cringed at conclusion: Not once assembled, processed facts with brain switched on. Typical “fluttering, fragile ingénue” of worst gothic romance would be embarrassed to take credit for my performance past couple hours.
Ground teeth. Adam right. Again. Easily his most offensive habit.
Except for zoos’ immediate areas, chances of adversary encounter with escapee compares favorably with odds on lightning strike. Possible, yes. But for first few years—until get spread out, established, build up populations, risk factor simply doesn’t justify going to lots of extra trouble.
Yes, probably should carry M-16s whenever poking around inside strange buildings; yes, probably should cut out solitary explorations, period; yes, probably should take extra pains not to discard food scraps close to campsite where smell might attract predators. Yes, should take commonsense precautions, in other words, practiced by any intelligent camper; but not lose head. . . .
Initial reaction doubtless based on too many Class-D movies—plus absence of rational thought. Product of small-town living: Every Saturday evening throughout summers, Town Fathers stretched improvised movie screen (assembled from stitched-together bed sheets) across one end of grassy natural amphitheater in park; ran freeshow for migrant workers’ children: endless succession of marvelously bad old movies, always preceded by cartoons, oft-spliced old science-fiction horror serials. Probably have seen every Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movie ever made; along with Bomba, the Jungle Boy; Sheena, Queen of the Jungle; Tim Tyler’s Luck; Osa, Martin Johnson’s pseudodocumentaries about exploring “darkest Africa”; (plus Zombies of the Stratosphere; Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers), etc., etc. And everyone (freeshow attendees anyway) knows jungle predators exist only to sink fangs into trembling flesh of heroine (nice girl, usually, most of whose problems brought on by disregarding instructions, behaving stupidly).
Almost as stupidly as self.
Spending night in outer suburbs. Judged proximity to zoo increased risk to point where additional security advisable. Adam concurred. Pulled whole rig into commercial garage; closed doors, windows. Verified (together, armed) nothing large enough to pose threat lurked in darkened corners.
Spending night with trailer door, windows closed, air-conditioning on. Structure probably sufficiently porous to eliminate CO threat, but Adam slipped hose over alternator exhaust, led out roof vent anyway.
∞ ∞ ∞
This morning Adam checked Yellow Pages, located nearby burglar-bar service. Drove us over after breakfast. Dug through inventory, selected assortment of wrought-iron grilles, installed over van’s, trailer’s windows. Even windshield.
Over yesterday’s jitters (all right, hysteria) and agree with Adam: Bars silly overkill precaution.
On other hand, intangibles difficult to evaluate. Bars’ sturdy appearance reassuring when contemplating future possibility of looking out at something hungry looking in. Improved sleep quality, duration, might prove critical during future non-animal-related crisis.
(Evaluation particularly difficult when consists largely of rationalizing decisions already made based on gut feeling rather than logic.)
∞ ∞ ∞
Oh, Posterity, please be patient. Probably most difficult entry have ever faced. Emotional control fragile as crystal, unstable as if balanced on pinpoint. Forgive rambling if occurs. Will do best, but subconscious probably try to steer me away from subject.
Now camped on grounds of Mount Palomar observatory, southern California. Haven’t kept up journal since leaving St. Louis, ten days ago. Inexcusable conduct for historiographer, true. But couldn’t write about what happened that day so soon after—and been unable to think about anything else.
First thing after bar installation, Adam identified rail line going proper direction. Soon on our way again, speeding cross-country, insulated from deteriorating road conditions, clutter. Interesting how rail system seems to have fared better than roads following Man’s End. Perhaps essentially flexible nature of steel mounted on wood, laid on equally flexible fist-sized rock roadbed . . .
Well, didn’t take subconscious long to start diversionary tactics. Sorry.
Were perhaps hundred miles from St. Louis, passing through small Missouri town, when heard eerie wailing sound. Adam, alert for defective track or open switch but otherwise relaxed, abruptly sat bolt upright, peering into mirrors. “What the hell . . . !” he muttered. Braked heavily, bringing us to quick stop.
Equally quickly, was out door, running toward rear. I saw nothing in right-side mirror, but exited as well. Ran toward trailer’s rear, intending to meet Adam, gain insight into curious behavior.
However, as rounded trailer, all became clear: Stopped behind us, lit up like Jefferson Starship stage, was state police car, driver’s door open. Man—tall, thin, seedy-looking, long-haired, -bearded, breathlessly wild-eyed, teary-but-very-happy man, age indeterminate—sliding from behind wheel. Stranger fell sobbing upon Adam’s neck like long-lost brother, alternately hugging, pounding back, pumping hand as if never intended to let go.
(Proud of Adam then: Notoriously averse to emotional displays [even more so to long-unwashed B.O.], but accepted mauling nobly—remembered his own feelings upon first discovering not alone in world after all. Hint of long-suffering forbearance betrayed by posture apparent only to me—and only because know him so well.)
Presently man’s eyes fell on me. Stared for long moments, then gasped, “You’re a girl . . . !” Took quick step in my direction, reaching out as if to sweep me into embrace also—and stopped short. Glanced down at self, abruptly conscious of grooming deficits. Released Adam; drew back. Looked embarrassed.
“I must present quite a sight,” said in apologetic tone. “And smell,” added with grimace.
Continued earnestly: “It’s been quite a while since I’ve had anyone to dress up for. I’m afraid I’m out of practice. I’ll shower, shave, and change as soon as we get home.” Earnestness intensified, hysterical edge crept into voice: “I’m really a very respectable person once I’m cleaned up and wearing decent clothes. And I’ll cut my hair. You will come home with me, won’t you? We have so much to talk about. Please? Please . . . ?”
Unexpectedly then, suddenly as had aborted initial lunge toward me, man clamped mouth shut, cutting off accelerating verbal torrent almost midword. Closed eyes; took long, slow, deep breath. Drew himself up. Disreputable air wavered, then evaporated: Clothing notwithstanding, self-assured, dignified gentleman stood before us. Voice, when resumed, was low, well-modulated; delivery cultured, articulate: “Sorry; I must sound like a complete psychotic, raving on like that. I’ve been alone a long time. I was sure I was the last man on Earth.
“I’m Rollo Jones. My house is about 20 miles back. I’ve been chasing you since I caught a glimpse of you going by the shopping center.” Flashed sudden boyish grin. “You have no idea how uncomfortable a pursuit it was. Railroad roadbed is not made for high-speed driving in cars, even in something as durable as a patrol car.
“May I ask your names, ma’am and sir?”
Transformation amazing. By now could almost forget appearance, aroma—excusable anyway, under circumstances (though Adam hadn’t let self go, nor I). Before our eyes, frenetic derelict metamorphosed into educated, refined, eminently likeable person.
Introduced ourselves; ran through briefest mutual biographies. Rollo listened attentively; displayed genuine interest. Then surprised us: Owned recordings of Adam in concert, though never saw him perform—and knew both Daddy, Teacher, professionally: As small-town medical-school president, physician, prior to Doomsday, had rubbed shoulders with both during seminars, etc.
And had never been sick.
Caught Adam’s eye, crooked brow. He nodded. On behalf of both I accepted invitation with thanks; agreed had much to discuss.
Continued on rails to next level crossing; retracted guide wheels (which Rollo admired extravagantly, to Adam’s embarrassed delight). Rollo familiar with local roads’ pitfalls; led way to his home. Drive took perhaps hour total.
Lived in huge, old but comfortable-looking house set amidst sprawling grounds of university; once nicely landscaped, now gone to seed. Rollo apologized for condition; explained house, upkeep furnished by school. Wife’s pride, joy; without her for inspiration—maintenance crew to do work, had little interest in appearance.
Met at curb by large, gaunt, battle-scarred, notch-eared, yellow- and black-striped tomcat, who greeted me with gruff courtesy but went into ecstasies over Adam: Head-dived at ankles, twined around feet until could hardly walk. Accompanied him to door, offered to follow inside. Rollo drew back foot; cat darted into bushes, favored him with unflattering personal remark.
“Sorry,” he offered, noting my expression. “That’s Tora-hhi, my late wife’s cat. Tora-hhi means ‘Tiger-breath’ in Japanese.”
Caught Adam’s slight headshake, but couldn’t spare attention to find out what he wanted. Sudden crisis in progress; required full attention:
As Rollo walked past, Terry growled deep in throat, hunched shoulders, fluffed plumage, bobbed head, narrowed pupils to pinpoints; then lashed out in great roundhouse swing, obviously with every intention of carving divot from whatever portion of man’s anatomy he could reach.
Astonished at normally blithe sibling’s reaction; first time ever saw him take dislike to obviously refined, well-educated person on sight. Probably the smell, raggedy appearance. (Couldn’t blame him, really; long time since Rollo had bathed, changed clothes.)
Intended victim hadn’t noticed. Still apologizing for treatment of wife’s cat: “I’m not a cat person myself, and it’s never liked me either. It’s considered us rivals over Sally ever since it was a kitten. The dispute never escalated to open warfare; we just settled, over the years, into a pattern of mutually respectful antagonism, which became a family tradition. By now, that cat would be horrified if I displayed unseemly solicitude or affection toward it. It would view it as a clear violation of the armistice.
“And since Sally died, I haven’t been able to allow it in the house, because it—well”—Rollo grinned ruefully—“it took to expressing its opinion of me—on my pillow . . . !
“Besides, I didn’t think it would be fair to ‘spoil’ it in view of circumstances. If something happened to me, it would be better off already accustomed to foraging for itself.” Rollo eyed the cat appraisingly. “So I booted it outside and tapered off feeding it. It’s doing pretty well so far; I haven’t fed it in months, and it’s still in pretty good shape.”
(Matter of opinion, I thought; but decided to keep lip buttoned for once. Also wondered at use of impersonal pronoun: “It” seemed unnecessarily rude.)
Really do like cats myself, though not rabid “cat person” per se: Terry comes first, period; and cats, birds, uneasy bedmates—not that idiot twin afraid of, particularly at risk from, normal domestic housecat. Has encountered before. Generally clicks bill loudly, suggestively; settles feathers in menacing fashion; cat remembers pressing business elsewhere, departs unhurriedly. All very civilized. Has even been friends with one well-behaved neighbor cat over the years.
“I really can’t imagine why it still bothers to hang around,” Rollo continued. “Our relationship is quite limited. Whenever I leave the house it glares at me—no, amend that: Sometimes it sits on the window ledge and glares in at me, too.”
Adam surprised me. Never had pets while growing up; no experience with cats. Last person would expect to be cat person. But abruptly blurted, “I don’t know what ‘good shape’ means in a cat, but he looks awfully thin to me. Could we bring him in, just for the evening, and feed him? I’ll watch and make sure he doesn’t do anything he shouldn’t.”
Rollo debated momentarily, glanced at me, then smiled. “Sure, why not.”
Once inside, Rollo disappeared to clean up. I returned to van briefly to fetch Terry’s stand; set up in living room in unused corner. Then we waited for Rollo.
Tora-hhi jumped into Adam’s lap without hesitation. Adam looked surprised as cat butted him authoritatively in stomach, performed three formal turnarounds, then settled down firmly to accompaniment of soft, rusty-sounding purring. Volume increased by full order of magnitude when Adam hesitantly scritched under chin. Sounded like cement mixer.
(Knew then Adam genuine cat person; has “touch”: One of those people who unerringly scritch right place every time. Tora-hhi knew, too: Adam hooked.)
“‘Tora-hhi’ doesn’t mean ‘Tiger-breath,’” said Adam softly. Expression, as scritched cat’s neck, chin, stroked here, there, in response to unconscious clues, invited comparison with mother in Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child.”
“I competed in the Ozawa Competition in Tokyo a couple years ago. I never got fluent at Japanese; I just learned enough to get by. But we kids did learn all the wrong words. ‘Tiger-breath’ would be ‘Tora-kokyū.’ I think ‘hhi’ means ‘fart.’ I wonder if Rollo knows he’s got it wrong. I’m going to call him ‘Tora-chan.’ That means ‘Tiger-dear.’”
Broke off to scritch particular spot behind cat’s left ear. Tora-chan responded by snuggling even closer, stepping up already impressive volume, closing eyes as expression of total satisfaction overspread diabolical visage.
Smiled to myself: Adam unaware, of course, but had just announced intention of adopting crusty old warrior, regardless how relations might go with Rollo. Of course, had little real say in matter—such decisions belong to cat alone.
Waiting for Rollo to reappear, Terry and I wandered “public” areas of huge house, followed by Adam (with Tora-chan twining around ankles): library, living, dining, family rooms; admired bric-a-brac, artwork, etc.—from which kept birdbrained twin without conscious effort.
Notwithstanding grounds’ neglect, home’s interior virtually spotless. Walls festooned with dozens of family photos: shots of a cleaned-up Rollo with very pretty, smiling young woman on arm. Despite obvious youth (at a guess, decades younger), almost certainly wife: In several photos, matching wedding bands visible.
In addition, apparently girl had been collegiate athletics star. Difficult to tell in which sport; just a string of pictures of her with big, shiny trophies—but clearly a physical pursuit; in several smiling photos, makeup failed to conceal all traces of rodent’s shadow beneath eye, plus nearly every shot evidenced bruises on arms, legs, neck, etc. No doubt played soccer or something equally punishing.
(Such rough sports never interested me; karate tournaments offered sufficient pounding to fulfill all my masochistic fantasies. And then some.)
Host materialized about an hour later, announced, “Is this better?” And received no answer because both Adam and I were staring open-mouthed.
Yes, had seen civilized appearance in photos, but difficult to relate pictures to appearance, olfactory presence of real-life, unwashed Rollo. At this point had accomplished nothing less than transfiguration: Clean, smooth-shaven, hair cut roughly but adequately; wearing clean, quietly stylish, casual clothing. Smelled good, too: aftershave (Coté’s musk, I think).
Appearance now matched demeanor: Rollo poised, elegant; tall, slim, quietly handsome; perhaps mid/late-40s; touch of grey at temples; high forehead, cheekbones; firm, dimpled chin; astonishingly blue eyes; lots of laugh lines.
Withal, cut singularly impressive figure. Told him so. Looked pleased. Then suggested we adjourn to kitchen; intended to whip up festive dinner. Followed, bringing Terry’s stand.
Rollo turned up leftover can of cat food in pantry; Adam fed Tora-chan, who ate until sides bulged. Thereafter host produced old litter pan from broom closet, filled, placed in corner. Tora-chan glared, but took advantage. Adam fascinated by performance: Had not realized cats bury own waste. Also, Rollo added by way of information, bury anything too spoiled to eat, garbage in general.
Presently Tora-chan noticed Terry. Jumped up on counter next to stand; sat, stared. Twin clicked bill several times; fluffed, settled feathers; stared back without rancor. Tora-chan considered pros, cons; decided had better things to do. Returned to Adam’s lap. Then pooled energies with bird, glaring as Rollo hustled around kitchen, making dinner, small-talking nonstop (over long months’ isolation, had built up substantial conversational pressures).
Couldn’t understand Terry’s attitude; Rollo so nice—apart from not being cat person, of course. And even there, had—well—not totally unreasonable justification for conduct. Perhaps brother’s opinion based on startle factor from initial appearance, smell (very first encounter with seriously grooming-challenged person); or spur-of-moment approval of cat—then offended by Rollo’s treatment of new friend at door.
But, though heretofore had never known him to be wrong about stranger, inclined to be less conservative myself now that meeting Adam turned out well; now I had partner, reliable backup if crisis developed.
Besides, wanted meeting Rollo to turn out well; embodied most qualities good friend should have: intelligent, understanding, good-humored—funny (for five dreadful minutes he and Adam engaged in pun-ishing contest; Adam won, but issue in doubt right up to final groan).
Plus, as predinner conversation turned into dinner conversation, developed that Rollo had been everywhere, done everything: Peace Corps physician for years in Africa, India, South America. Spent year traveling as resident physician with Ringling Brothers’ Circus. Vacations included photo expeditions through Malaysia, Australia, Alaska. Had driven race cars in Europe (Adam’s eyes bugged; could tell was already assembling list of questions), semis during summers while in school; flown sailplanes in Lee Wave over Minden, Nevada; snorkeled Caribbean, South Pacific; climbed K2 in Himalayas. Wrote textbooks, had own TV show on local station, had been two-term state house representative. Finally got into private practice, teaching, then administration. Both Daddy, Teacher had guest-lectured at his school at one time or another.
This led to discussion of Teacher’s work, H. post hominem theory, physical characteristics of new breed. Rollo listened intently to précis of events leading to species’ discovery. Asked occasional questions. Finally shook head in amazement: “Damn, I wish I could have participated in that study. McDivott invited me to take part years ago, but I was just heading off to Save the World in the Peace Corps. Wonderful. . . .”
Then we got into my, Adam’s survival, meeting; trip to this point, zoo-animal problem; clues unearthed thus far, purpose, hoped-for ultimate destination.
Rollo impressed: Offered long, low whistle at narrative’s conclusion. Opined were braver then he, out exploring by ourselves. His reaction to tragedy had been dig hole, climb in, pull in after him: Withdrew, feeling sorry for self, grieving over loss of wife.
Rollo had met her there at school. Twenty years his junior, she “. . . kept me young and interested—and our sudden marriage caused all kinds of entertainingly wicked gossip for the first few months. When nothing materialized, it all petered out on a disappointed note.
“We never did have any children—much less that nine-pound preemie everyone expected. It wasn’t a question of age; 20 would have been a fine age for Sally to begin bearing children; and, by microscopic examination, it looked as if I’d be fertile until they hammered down the headstone. We were waiting for me to retire so we both could be full-time parents. I had a bunch of investments that would have matured in another two years. We did take the precaution of freezing a quart or so of my semen, just in case my prognostications proved overly optimistic . . .
“Which brings us to our next topic . . .”
Leaned back, sighed, patted his tummy, still amazingly flat despite quantity put away. “Golly, that was good. I wonder what I did right.” (Adam stared vacantly at ceiling; Rollo hadn’t noticed him sniffing pots during preparation.)
“. . . which is, of course, Candy.” Rollo smiled fondly at me. Smiled back; such a nice man. Turning then to Adam, Rollo sat up straight, folded hands on edge of table, assumed serious mien.
“Sir,” he began, “it appears that you are in sole possession of something we both want. In the absence of law, it becomes necessary to settle the matter between us personally. The question is: Shall we resolve it like the gentlemen we purport to be, or must we fall back on the time-honored method?”
Adam’s expression the very picture of noncomprehension.
Rollo regarded him soberly. “In other words, will you share Candy with me, or must we fight over her?”
Adam’s eyes snapped open. Understood now—and so did I . . . !
Mouth open, retort quivering on tip of tongue; but Adam beat me to it. Did good job, too; covered every point would have raised myself, plus angles hadn’t thought of (and language more diplomatic than I would have employed): “Candy is not my property. She is no one’s property. I doubt if she ever will be anyone’s property. I have no authority over her, nor is my permission required for any arrangement anyone might or might not reach with her. If you want to discuss sharing anything with her, you will have to talk to her.”
Rollo pursed lips thoughtfully. Then nodded approvingly. “Fair enough, sir. And spoken like a gentleman. Thank you.”
Turned to me. “I’m sorry; I misapprehended the relationship between you. I think I have it now.
“All right; are you willing to share Adam with me, or must we fight over him?”
If Adam startled before, completely dumbfounded now. Mouth flapped soundlessly. And surely doing no better myself.
Situation static for long moments. Rollo stared, aspect implacably serious, waiting for reply. Then eyes twinkled. Seconds later snickered, went directly thence to belly-laughing. Tears running down cheeks before managed to stop.
Personally saw nothing funny, but held counsel, pending explanation.
“Oh, I am sorry,” he puffed at length. “I wish I had a picture of your faces just then.
“Okay. . . .” Rollo sobered finally; mood darkened, became almost somber. “I gave you both a shock. I did it deliberately to make sure that I had your undivided attention. I was teasing, of course; sex is the Oldest Funny Subject, and it’s easy to get sidetracked. Besides, it sometimes helps to joke when the issue is serious. And this is very serious.
“You two are too young to understand just how serious sex can be in an adult world. But believe me when I tell you: No subject lies closer to the raw, untamed primitive in every man. Men have killed, and will kill again, over sex. Sex is serious business: That’s a boiler-plate given; an unalterable fact of life. Don’t forget it. Ever.
“Now, I don’t know whether you two have become sexually involved yet or not. Frankly, I don’t care. That’s history; it’s none of my business.
“What is my business is the fact that I am a healthy adult male. I’m in the prime of life. I was married for five wonderful years to an equally healthy adult woman, whose sex drive was as well-developed as mine. We enjoyed an enthusiastic, extremely active, and marvelously fulfilling sex life. . . .”
Paused, eyed me bleakly. “I miss her—and it—very much.”
Adam later reported was tossup whether my eyes or mouth open wider.
Rollo nodded sympathetically; continued gently: “Yes, that’s precisely what I’m getting at. And yes, you are younger than anyone with whom I’ve contemplated sexual relations. But not by much.
“I got involved with a girl almost your age during the time I was stationed in Ujjain. She was a street child: no parents, no means of support, starving, regularly raped. I took her in to protect her—that’s what I told myself. And for a good two months that’s just what I did. Then one night she turned up in my bed and matters continued predictably from there. She claimed she was 14 when we first became intimate—I have my doubts. ‘Love’ was not involved on either side; we were merely very fond of each other and had complementary needs: Hers were for food, shelter, and protection; mine were for companionship, someone to take care of, and a sexual outlet.
“When I was transferred, two years later, I left her with friends, a good family, with a trust fund to take care of her—in India, back then, it didn’t take much money to accomplish such things. Thereafter she married well and, by the time of the attack, had three children. I’ve never experienced any guilt at having ‘taken advantage of a child’; and if she harbored any resentment, she never gave any indication of it—then or since, and we corresponded regularly.
“In fact, she brought the subject up herself once in a letter shortly after the birth of her first son—women’s lib hadn’t gotten very far in India by then; sons were important. She observed that she had me to thank for her happiness: her husband, her son—her very life. It bothered her that she would never be able to repay the debt she felt she owed me; it disturbed her even more that she could never make me understand the magnitude of that debt.
“I mention her as an example of the variability of the concept of right and wrong, depending on place and time. That was there and then: It was socially acceptable.
“Now, before the attack—here and recently—I’d have been leading the tar-and-feather brigade myself if I got wind of someone my age suggesting sex with someone your age: It would have been wrong within the social structure that existed.
“However, this is here and now. That social structure no longer exists—and with it have disappeared the laws and mores of which it consisted. Right and wrong no longer have meaning except where specific individuals meet and apply them to issues affecting them both. All that remains is the principle of enlightened self-interest, when dealing with reasonable people, and superior-versus-inferior force otherwise.
“One of the key elements of enlightened self-interest is the principle of supply and demand. Anyone possessing a commodity for which there is a demand is in a position to set her own price.
“But price is a very delicate question, and requires knowledge of all the factors potentially bearing upon the transaction. One of the more important of those factors is the presence or absence of competition, and the importance of your offering to the marketplace. If your commodity isn’t particularly critical and there’s plenty of other outlets, setting your price too high merely means no demand. However, where you have a monopoly, you can set any price you like; and if it’s a really vital commodity, your customers will manage to scrape up the price, somehow.
“Or . . .” Rollo fixed me with gimlet eye; “. . . if they perceive that you’re taking unfair advantage of your position, they may simply take it from you. By force.
“I’ve started out discussing abstracts,” he continued quietly; “but you know as well as I do that we’re talking about two specifics: you and sex. Like it or not, to every male over the age of ten you represent supply—a commodity. It’s not fair, I’ll grant you, but it is a fact: Through no fault of your own, you are in the position of holding the key to satisfying a need—an extremely urgent need. Unless you administer that commodity in a manner perceived by your market as fair and reasonable, you’re going to find yourself in frequent trouble, at best—at worst, and much more likely, you’re going to find out what it’s like to have control over your commodity taken from you. Yes, by force.”
Rollo noticed me slowly edging chair back from table. Possessed no inkling of real capabilities, intentions, should events continue in direction indicated; probably thought was preparing to bolt. But immediately sought to quiet fears:
“Please don’t get the idea that I would use force,” he stated emphatically. “I wouldn’t—ever. Sex with Sally was such a joy, so much just plain fun for both of us—I got at least as much pleasure from her enjoyment as from my own physical sensations—that I’d rather give it up entirely than have an unwilling partner, or even a grudging one.”
Paused then, eyes closed. Expression unreadable, but impression of an empty space somehow materialized next to him. Briefly Rollo looked terribly alone.
Moment passed. Opened eyes; shook himself all over. “But,” he continued resolutely, “I am certainly in the minority in that regard. Hell, I’m probably unique.” Smiled wanly.
Assurance had desired calming effect: Relaxed, settled back in chair, watching alertly. Never truly concerned over outcome had Rollo offered to supplement advocacy with violence, but happier knowing demonstration unnecessary.
However, still on guard. Lecture circular so far, but surely headed somewhere. Had feeling already knew punchline.
“Now, during the brief time I’ve known you, I’ve come to several conclusions: One, you are the de facto leader of this little expedition, despite being a few years Adam’s junior; because, I suspect, you know more about survival and life since the attack, and because you have specific goals in mind. Right?”
Adam nodded slowly, face a mask.
“Two, you’re terribly intelligent—both of you are; you’re at least as bright as I am. My advantage is limited to education and experience, and I wonder how much of an edge they really are. I’m pretty sure that you’ve already sized me up and you were thinking of asking me to join you in your search for the AAs—at least you were before this discussion began. Now you’re having second thoughts. But you know I’m widely traveled; have a broad practical background in life in general and survival under primitive conditions. You also know I’m a doctor. You know how valuable I’d be as a member of your party.
“Now, I would like to join you and help. However . . .” Rollo paused, choosing words with care; “I cannot and will not endure your company on a celibate basis if, after speculum examination, it is my professional opinion that you are physically capable of accepting me as a lover. If you can’t, fine; if you wouldn’t enjoy it, neither would I. Then I’ll take care of my physical tensions as I’ve been doing since losing Sally, and conduct myself as a member of the party anyway—and without reservation.
“But if you can and won’t, the distraction of your presence, constantly near and unattainable, will simply drive me around the bend; and I’m not going to subject myself to that kind of frustration.
“Yes, I know: If I had a decent bone in my body, I’d wait a while. The fact that you met Adam, and now me, lends credence to Soo Kim’s thesis: There are people out there, somewhere, and surely there’ll be women my age among them; it’s just a matter of finding them. But who knows how long that might take—I could be dead tomorrow. You, on the other hand, are here now; and I’ve been a disciple of the ‘bird-in-the-hand’ school for a very long time.
“I know that’s not a chivalrous attitude, and I’m not proud of it; but I am a realist, and I know myself.
“Mind you”—he grinned ironically—“there’s nothing particularly personal in this. Yes, I do like you, so far as I know you, and I admire you even more. Added to which, you’re cute as a button and can only get prettier. But—and I’m sure this won’t do your ego any good, and I’m sorry, but I’m not going to lie to you—under these circumstances any live, functional female would have the same effect.
Rollo paused again, fixed me with those earnest blue eyes. “So if, after due deliberation, you feel that my presence as a widely traveled, all-around-experienced man-of-the-world, who has considerable background in dealing with the new wildlife problems, and my training as a doctor, would be of sufficient benefit to you in your travels to justify the cost, I’m yours—with all that implies: I’ll come with you, and stay as long as you want me to—for life if you choose—and fight and die for you if it comes to that, or for Adam—but only as your invited, wanted consort. And I’ll accept any reasonable time-sharing arrangement with Adam that you might dictate.
“Nor will I insist on assuming leadership of the party, merely because I’m oldest and, therefore, presumptively the wisest. I’m not at all certain that I am wiser than you. More experienced, better educated, yes. And I’ll share it with you if you ask. But wiser? Insufficient data.
“Now, I would suggest to you that it is the right of every woman to establish the value of her consent. Every woman since Eve has. And I defy anyone to fault her for including practical considerations in the transaction. Down through the centuries numberless women have determined that a pledge of support, companionship, and security—which translates as ‘protection’ in primitive societies—for themselves, their children and/or brothers and sisters, constituted a fair exchange. Many, if not most, assuming the man involved possessed even a vestigial sense of honor, lived happy, fulfilled lives. It was not uncommon for such women to come to love their partners in these marriages-of-convenience very much, and to find themselves ultimately quite satisfied with the bargain.”
Could see Adam out of corner of eye, face expressionless. Probably mentally kicking himself—wishing he had thought of this approach . . . !
“I’ll add one more thing; then I’ll shut up and abide by your decision,” said Rollo finally. “I’m good husband material: I’m gentle, understanding, and thoughtful; and nothing makes me as happy as making my woman happy, in or out of bed. As a single husband, I made Sally happy; as Number Two of two, I’ll do my best to make you happy.
“As far as sex is concerned, if you come to me in good faith, you’ll enjoy yourself. That sounds conceited, I know, but it’s an honest opinion based on long experience—and if you don’t like it after a fair trial, I won’t insist that you continue: That would eliminate half your attraction for me. And I’ll stay with you anyway, as long as you want me to. But I’m confident that you will enjoy it: My specialty was gynecology and sexual counseling—there’s very little that I don’t know about evoking and satisfying the female sexual response.” With which Rollo did shut up.
Well!—how’s that for subtle . . . ? Most outrageous proposition ever heard about, read, let alone encountered.
And how about “nothing personal” angle! Or “any live, functional” etc.!
(Though is better than being lied to. I suppose. Probably. Maybe. Hmm. . . .)
Well, consider matter logically: Was gentleman about it, under what must be profoundly trying conditions (could just have hit Adam over head, had me all to self [surely thought so anyway]). But fact did think so made genteel approach all the more commendable. Yes, Rollo basically good person; possessed most qualities prefer in friend. Plus versed in survival skills; knew way around life-in-wilderness; bumped heads in past with immigrant carnivores. And doctor—presence invaluable, if not downright critical, in situations all too easy to envision.
But hate logic . . . ! What right had logic to butt in at time like this . . . ? None—that’s what! Yes/no decision supposed to be matter of emotion alone, uninfluenced by crass realities. Logistics supposed to work themselves out afterward, as part of Happily-Ever-After scenario—everybody knows that. . . .
However, “everybody” not faced with my problems, responsibilities. Nor this choice. Oh, dear, such difficult choice, too. If alone, would have declined with thanks, without hesitation. But Adam to think of, with whom share Chinese obligation—mutual, true; but mutuality doesn’t discharge debt; if anything, reinforces.
Debated question from every angle. Weighed pros, cons. Reviewed argument in detail. Had to admit was tidy, matter-of-fact, economical, pragmatic—and eminently correct, however offensive correctness might be in this setting! Looked for out—looked hard. But while couldn’t quite bring self to agree with pat reasoning, neither could find anything to get teeth into to disagree, at least not legitimately.
Presently realized question not really debatable; not for conscientious, responsible partner. Benefits potentially accruing to Adam of having intelligent, experienced adult (and doctor) join expedition placed personal reluctance in perspective: a bargain; no other conclusion possible. After all, no big deal—every girl does it.
Just a question of when.
And with whom. . . .
Well, having made decision, resolved to give it best shot. Simple question of equity: Rollo’s commitment total; pledged time, efforts, plus contributing wealth of knowledge, experience. Doubtless find life in jeopardy before events reach dénouement. Entitled to fair return on investment.
(Harbored no genuine doubt as to physical ability to deliver own side of transaction.)
And never once considered possible out offered by suggestion would lose interest if I didn’t enjoy. Cheap-shot evasion. Fair is fair; promise is promise. Would try to be as merrily enthusiastic a partner as fondly-remembered Sally.
Maybe better. . . .
(Oh-oh . . . ! Occurred to me then [speaking of fair]: Could hardly accept Rollo’s attentions, continue to exclude Adam, whom had known longer, and of whom, by this time, was very fond.)
Took deep breath, released slowly to establish control over emotions, voice. Stood, took another deep breath, opened mouth . . .
And before could announce decision, became suddenly, shockingly, horribly moot. Rollo, bustling about kitchen, cleaning up after dinner, got too close to Terry’s stand. Twin’s head shot out, huge bill halves closed, chopping golf-ball-sized gobbet from right tricep, shirt sleeve and all. Bobbed head gleefully, eyes glinting in malicious triumph, as flung bloody mess across kitchen; then crouched, wings half-spread, red-splattered bill gaping wide, poised to strike again.
Rollo gasped, eyes widening in shock. Spun, roaring with pain, rage. Drew back left fist—containing heavy iron frying pan . . . ! Would crush fragile avian skeleton like eggshell—Rollo about to kill my baby brother!
“Time slowed” ancient cliché. But happens—and happened then: Suddenly everything happening in slow motion. Had ample time to study every tiny detail as situation developed. Time enough to notice sequential tensioning of Rollo’s muscles, starting with abdominal, then chest, neck, shoulder, upper arm, forearm, as lethal swing began, pan accelerated in arc toward helpless sibling. Time to notice Adam’s expression of growing horror, mouth slowly opening to shout warning, protest: “No-o-o—”
More than enough time to feel, then hear hysterical strength trigger code rip from own throat in form of kiai, realize body suddenly in motion—combat computer, conditioned-reflex matrix, had engaged.
Crossed nearly ten feet separating us midair; landed in stable cat stance between Rollo and bloody-faced twin. Right hand intercepted, closed about grownup’s fist; frying pan halted abruptly as if had encountered bedrock outcropping.
Momentary flicker of puzzlement crossed Rollo’s mask of rage as first attempted to complete swing, then pull away. Neither worked; despite best efforts, frying pan remained as immobile as if cast into bridge abutment.
Rollo blinked, eyes flickered, neck corded, beginning motion that would shift rage-contorted features from twin to me; then threw entire weight into jerking arm free—
Just as I released hand, stepped back. Result: unopposed, Rollo staggered back, fetched up solidly against wall.
Pulling himself erect, glared down at me with sheer madness in eyes. Hissed, “You need to learn respect, girl!”
Experienced sudden flashback to wall-mounted family album pictures—so many of which displayed bruises. . . .
And belatedly, numerous disparate elements abruptly snapped together—realized just who, what was dealing with . . .
Yes, obvious from first, Homo post hominem AB sociopath—with all that implied.
But much more importantly, now understood, clearly facing actively practicing member of least emotionally evolved, most contemptible suborder of male gender—wife-beater . . . !
Frying pan already drawn back—where it had wound up as result of unopposed herculean yank—now started toward me, gaining speed as roundhouse swing developed.
Spent majority of first several milliseconds evaluating level of threat: Though patently untrained (based on stance, balance, movements), Rollo still hominem—inherently quicker than H. sapiens; and, as full-grown adult, ultimately lots stronger than self.
Plus one of most pernicious forms of sociopath, in throes of killing rage.
Clearly necessary to minimize chances of accidentally allowing opponent to gain upper hand: Could not risk “pulling punches”; needed to bring matters to prompt conclusion.
Launched, spinning. Heel intercepted Rollo’s forearm; limb folded in unnatural place, direction. Pan ripped from fingers, continued tangentially, well clear of intended target.
Eyed opponent warily as landed, hoping against hope injury had sufficed to drain enthusiasm.
But Rollo still in grip of berserk rage—perhaps even more so now: Muscles governing still-functional right arm twitched; with surprising speed for untrained combatant, hand snatched up big, long, triangular-bladed carving knife from counter, began another roundhouse swing.
Already wasn’t there. Stepped under, in past weapon; side-kicked spot just below hip. Femur broke with report like snapping ax handle. Impact drove Rollo back against wall, position from which could not fall away from blows.
Which continued as blocked fist holding knife with forearm, ducked back under to front, drove knuckles into knife wrist, slapped weapon from paralyzed hand; then unleashed hail of alternating lunge and reverse punches to sternum, each powered to break bricks.
Rollo began sideways movement to right, falling along wall toward damaged leg; but combat computer interpreted motion as possible flanking attempt. Clockwise spin-kick swept legs from under, sundering left knee at point of impact. Back-fist lashed out from continued rotation, impacting alongside jaw. Maxilla, mandible disintegrated with grinding sound.
Resumed conscious control, put on brakes just as combat computer finished up triphammer series of right-handed front-fist blows to upper thorax. Braced against rebounding from impacts by wall down which was sliding, Rollo absorbed blows’ total force internally; ribs snapping like balsa; underlying structures turning to pulp.
Time resumed normal pace. Tail end of Adam’s cry echoed through kitchen: “—o-o-o . . . !” Rollo arrived on floor with mushy squish. Pan impacted far wall, clattered to floor; knife landed on floor, skittered across room.
Terry bobbed head, said, “How ’bout that!”
Shakily I uncoiled, staring at ruin at feet. Looked up to meet Adam’s gaze. Stunned expression mirrored my own.
Essayed speech: “He was going to . . . I didn’t mean . . . but then he . . .”
Tora-chan stood, stretched, approached. Sniffed along broken length, head-to-foot; inspected mashed face. Then moved off-side front paw along floor toward body, flipped upward: Same motion employed when covering mess in litter pan.
Finished, glanced up with unmistakable cat smile. Purred. Performed luxurious head-dive on my ankle.
Next thing I remember is waking, fully dressed, following morning in own bed in trailer. Hugely depressed, but several minutes before remembered why. Adam supplied intervening details: Went into shock, catatonia—whatever: nonresponding, physically inert, eyes-open stupor. Adam concluded immediate elimination of evidence, separation from scene best therapy.
Wiped Terry’s bill, placed bird on shoulder. Picked up stand, called Tora-chan.
Then, moving cautiously, watching closely lest Weapon still armed, took me by hand, led to trailer. Stripped me, pushed into shower, washed off blood, adhering meat scraps. Dressed me in clean clothes. Debated old outfit briefly; judged icky beyond salvage (plus now probably haunted). Pitched in toto.
Placed me in van. Then drove as if demons pursued. Continued far into night, until accumulated shock, nervous exhaustion, fatigue called halt—nearly conked out at wheel.
Put me to bed; started to get into own. But delayed reaction arrived then: Pitched such hysterical fit that Adam (hasn’t said, but probably at considerable personal risk) sedated me. Finally climbed in with me, held me until asleep before adjourning to own bed.
Ten days now since killing. Beginning to come to grips with guilt.
Adam big help: Pointed out, and cannot disagree, am no more responsible for Rollo’s death than unfamiliar firearm with which had managed to shoot himself. Am Sixth Degree Black Belt. And female. Terry my sibling/child-substitute.
Rollo’s murderous lunge triggered maternal protective instinct, which in turn set off conditioned-response matrix at starkest level. Might not have reacted with such single-minded, nonstop efficiency if merely had swung at me—but started with my retarded baby brother . . . !
Besides, had hurried me.
Okay. Absorbed that; do believe it. Intellectually.
Problem is, haven’t resolved it yet on gut level. Still hurts.
Lots. Apart from wife-beating issue, Rollo probably basically good person—certainly no saint (clearly, wife-beating constitutes fundamental flaw, but little doubt, once alerted, could have trained him out of it without killing).
Frank about what he wanted, yes; made straightforward offer, value-for-value, yes-or-no, my choice. No doubt would have lived up to his end.
Adam thinks Terry sensed Rollo’s uncontrollable temper; hence instant antipathy. Possibly. Equally possible: Just plain terribly painful bite—sure looked it.
Adam disagrees; been hurt accidentally himself by people, once seriously. Managed without going musth.
Granted. But even if true, character flaw only; not capital crime. Nothing for which deserved to die. And could have prevented harm to Terry without killing, but for allowing programmed responses to run course.
Therein lies hard-to-swallow part: Killed (mostly) innocent person—unnecessarily. No getting around it: Unnecessarily. Unavoidably, true, given circumstances; but still unnecessarily.
And still dead.
Worse, nagging little voice in back of head keeps wondering whether outcome completely unavoidable; whether subconsciously wanted to let programming run amok, not just because of threat to Terry but because had me cornered. Don’t think so, but disquieting notion.
In any event, will not happen again. Been drilling past ten days with modified kata, sparring routine. Working to eradicate all automatically lethal responses. Original programming deep-seated; will take time to effect changes. But am walking time bomb as things stand; waiting to explode, kill people upon cue—even inadvertent cue! Lots of work involved, and accomplishment not without risk.
But necessary: Intend never to kill again . . . !
∞ ∞ ∞
Have gone through Mount Palomar facilities with great care. Nothing about contents to suggest AAs’ presence in recent past. But sweep not entirely unproductive: Found Cal-Tech staff directory in one office—containing name, address of Tarzan File AA living in Pasadena! Will follow-up on that tomorrow morning, unless . . .
Posterity, you simply won’t believe what Adam did today. Remember bundle of tubing, cloth, traveling on trailer roof? Well, found out what it is.
I had complained, following search of observatory, that if AAs’ secret rendezvous only hundred yards off road, would never find it in densely-wooded, mountainous terrain. Suggested we track down U.S. Geological Service and Forest Service section maps; uncouple trailer, explore logging roads in van alone. Might turn up something.
Adam agreed in principle, but said had better idea—and did . . . !
Whereupon, removed mysterious bundle from trailer roof and, in space of probably 30 minutes, unfolded, unrolled, then assembled airplane—full-sized, man-carrying, aluminum-tubing-and-fabric ultralight. Disappeared briefly into trailer; emerged carrying breadbox-sized, metal-bound wooden case from which took miniature engine, propellerpropellor, snapped into place.
“Another benefit of growing up rich and neglected.” Eyes twinkled as mixed gas, oil; filled tank. “‘Mom, all the other kids have ultralights this summer!’ It was an election year, you see; she didn’t have time to check into the story—which was true . . .” continued impishly, squirming past fuselage tubes, settling into pilot’s seat; fastening five-point harness; strapping on helmet; checking control surface movement as wiggled stick, pedals, “. . . depending on what neighborhood you canvassed and what numbers you considered a representative sample.”
Yanked on pull-cord; engine snarled into life with literally deafening racket (started life as two-stroke motorcycle engine; Adam, per usual practice, had modified for additional power, reliability; replaced muffler with “tuned” megaphone exhaust—result sounded like steroid-fed chainsaw). I jammed fingers in ears. Tora-chan dived under trailer; nothing showed but two orange-glowing spots of outrage. Terry’s reaction, on other hand, surprisingly mild: Merely flapped wings to indicate disapproval—usually that much noise inspires featherhead to go for help.
“Actually,” Adam yelled, pulling down goggles, “I think she thought an ultralight was about three feet long and flown by radio-control.” With which he rammed throttle to stop, pulled back stick, accelerated to about human running speed, lifted gently from parking lot, soared out over Cleveland National Forestlands, leaving me standing wide-eyed, chin resting on toes.
Managed to follow part of flight with binoculars: Brightly colored midge visible for many miles from catwalk encircling 200-inch reflector’s dome. Adam checked every logging road, cowpath, nature trail within 25-mile radius of observatory. Looked especially closely for indications of isolated structures—facilities not accessible by road, or whose construction and/or placement suggested attempted concealment.
Gone three hours, but eventually floated lightly from sky, touching down at walking pace, gently as falling leaf. Killed engine, removed helmet.
“If they’re out there, they’re well hidden,” he shouted into silence; then added more softly, “Am I talking too loudly? I usually do after flying this. You’re supposed to use acoustical earplugs, but I always forget.”
Too close to dark to continue by time he returned, so spending night in observatory parking lot.
Adam glowing all over; simply irrepressible: bursting with puns, teasing, good humor—never seen anyone appreciate own cleverness so much. . . .
Oh, well, minor irritation, really. Of more concern is change in self: Since watching Adam fly ultralight, have felt unaccustomed longing, yearning, wish, want, desire, yen, attraction, need, craving—no-holds-barred pathological obsession! For first time, understand Mr. Toad’s reaction to initial sight of motorcar. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Oh, Posterity, been such exciting two days . . . ! But shall adhere to historiographers’ discipline; set down events as transpired, without giving hints, muddling chronology—possibly losing later-important details in process.
So: Departed Mount Palomar early this morning; set course for Pasadena. Got as far as Riverside before routine shattered:
Adam rounded corner in usual gentle fashion—and small child on bicycle shot from behind abandoned car, directly into path, mere yards from bumper. Adam yanked steering wheel; almost simultaneously locked up brakes. Somehow missed child; stopped partially jackknifed on spot kid had occupied heartbeat previously.
Child continued across street, darted between two buildings, out of sight.
As one we sprang from van, landed running. Adam, well in lead, covered good 200 yards, calling out reassuringly, before misjudging height of obstacle, snagging toe mid-vault, crashing heavily to ground. And since karate training still not implanted in reflexes, fell wrong: on left elbow. Bone’s snap even louder than anguished gasp, curse.
Arrived on scene. Cautioned, “Don’t move”; restrained bodily. Adam’s karate discipline manifested then; late, but still useful: White, sweating but calm, lay still as examined. Explored as gently as possible, but still elicited grimaces, gasps. Upper arm visibly shorter, plus had grown extra elbow.
“Humerus,” was verdict.
Even in agony Adam couldn’t resist: “Not to me,” he puffed through gritted teeth. Then spark faded, leaving only pain: “I thought so. Can you set it?”
(Rollo could, mocked little voice inside skull. But ignored it; concentrated on Adam, fixing broken arm [challenge enough without compounding problems by indulging in guilt trip].)
“I know how to do it; I’ve never set one myself, of course. And you aren’t going to enjoy it. The ends are overriding; you know what that means.”
Adam knew. Grew even whiter.
Helped him to feet, supporting arm to immobilize. Returned to trailer. Strapped upper arm temporarily to torso; then adjourned to nearest hospital. Located plastic splint—and mouthpiece.
Helped Adam onto table, strapped down. “I don’t know anything about anesthesia. I’m more likely to kill you than not if I give you anything.” He nodded, staring at ceiling, already sweating in anticipation.
“Now, the only way I can overcome the muscle spasms holding those bone ends overlapped is by tapping my hysterical strength. Once I start, I’ll have to forge ahead and finish in one pass, regardless how much it hurts. Otherwise I’ll burn out and you’ll end up with a short, crooked arm, or worse.”
“I know,” he replied tightly. Inserted mouthpiece, set teeth. Took deep breath, closed eyes, indistinctly grunted, “Do it!”
Placed knee in armpit. Grasped elbow firmly in right hand; clamped forearm under own armpit. Placed left hand over break, and . . .
Hesitated, struck by idea. Might work or not. Never tried before. But success depended on Adam believing: Positive attitude intrinsic to execution.
Assumed confident aspect, said, “Whoa . . . ! Adam, we don’t have to do it the hard way . . . !”
Adam opened eyes, peered up at me cautiously. Removed mouthpiece; bodily tension eased imperceptible fraction. “How else?”
“Hypnosis!” I announced in what hoped was triumphant tone. “I forgot—you’re a great hypnotic subject. We’ll just put you under and anesthetize your arm. You won’t feel a thing.”
Adam looked dubious. “It hasn’t worked with the hysterical-strength tap.”
“Of course it hasn’t worked; you’ve been fighting it,” I stated positively. “You know you have—you’re scared of hysterical strength because of what happened to me. You achieve as deep a trance as I do, but you block the suggestion. If you want it to work, it will.”
Relieved to see hint of hope nudge in alongside pain in Adam’s expression. Knew seed planted, taking root; but didn’t give him time to think about it. Kept momentum building: continued sales pitch, preinduction psychology:
“Remember my telling you how Daddy did double duty, working as a GP as well as a pathologist? Well, he didn’t like drug-assisted deliveries because of the effect on babies; he used chemicals only when a woman absolutely couldn’t reach a useful trance-state in classes during the months leading up to the delivery. Otherwise he used hypnosis exclusively. I often helped during deliveries, and I never once saw a woman evince discomfort during delivery under hypnosis—and childbirth is the standard against which all other pain is gauged, remember.
“Now, you’re already past the hard part: You achieve a full somnambulistic-level trance. Unless you fight the suggestion, it will work!”
Adam visibly relieved. “You’re right. Only I don’t think I can do it myself, hurting like this; it’s hard to concentrate on anything but the pain. But I can follow your voice. Will you put me under?”
Of course would. And did. Adam responded immediately to preprogrammed induction code; slid into profound trance-state as promptly as if session merely another in regular series dealing with focusing ki, tapping hysterical strength. Pain-drawn features eased even before turning attention to anesthesia: Total concentration characteristic of deepest trance-state precluded sparing attention to notice pain.
However, could hardly count on incidental effects to protect against bone-resetting agony. So proceeded with anesthesia induction: Reminded Adam how sleeping in wrong position sometimes puts arm “to sleep”: complete sensation lack, plus motor paralysis. Explained acupressure point just under armpit responsible. Placed finger on supposed location; told him 30 seconds’ firm pressure there would put arm to sleep for minimum of two hours; repeatable as necessary.
Pressed firmly and—no wonder primitive societies regarded hypnotism as magic—whole body sagged as relief from pain canceled subconscious adrenaline alert.
More importantly, spasming muscles in damaged arm went limp; perhaps could perform resetting without triggering own hysterical strength. Only one way to find out.
Replaced knee in Adam’s armpit. Took elbow in right hand, left hand over break; again clamped forearm under own armpit. Then pulled, firmly but with control. Stretched limb until felt broken ends grind clear of each other, opposing bulges disappear beneath left hand. Eased tension, allowed ends to settle into what hoped was apposition.
Studied result. Reduction apparently successful: arm grossly straight, same length as right. But palpation ineffective in final determination, and no knowledge of x-ray. Hoped okay. Best I could do.
Slipped plastic splint halves into place. Strapped upper arm to side; bent elbow 90 degrees, strapped forearm across abdomen.
Gave wake-up code. Adam sighed, stirred—then froze, body tense, apparently awaiting pain’s resumption. When failed to materialize, opened eyes cautiously, looked around. “Done?”
“I think so. It’s straight and they’re both the same length. Ask me again in six weeks.”
Adam regarded me searchingly. “Are you all right? After what happened the last time you used hysterical strength . . .” Assured him metabolic supercharge unnecessary; had not suffered.
Unstrapped him from table; let sit on edge for while, waiting for residual dizziness, nausea to pass.
Presently shuddered: “That was not fun. It doesn’t hurt now, but it sure did before.” Eyed left hand where protruded from strapping. “This is like waking up after sleeping wrong. But it’s scary—I assume my hand will work again once it’s worn off?”
“As soon as you want it to wear off. You can keep it numb for as long as it bothers you by renewing the acupressure block. But you’ll be playing piano again as soon as the splint comes off.”
Adam nodded; then looked up abruptly. “We’ve got to find that kid. He was clean—that means he’s not alone: A kid that size doesn’t bathe except under duress.”
Good point. (Does have unique talent for isolating essential details.)
“I suppose we can drive up and down the streets, blowing the horn and yelling until we find them.”
Adam shook head. “A kid on a bike covers more territory than a tomcat—it would take forever.
“If it weren’t for this”—he indicated splinted arm—“I’d fly a search pattern. That would bring them out—I doubt if planes are a routine sight these days.”
Felt heart miss beat, but tried not to let elation show. Asked nonchalantly, “Does it take long to learn to fly?”
Adam regarded me thoughtfully. “No; flying is almost instinctive—though the ‘almost’ is important; the differences can kill you. But with your brains, reflexes, and coordination, you shouldn’t have a bit of trouble.”
Thought briefly. “We need to find someplace wide and flat. Most parking lots are roomy enough for ultralight operation, but an airport would be better for instruction.”
Checked couple gas stations, found Riverside city street map; then drove to airport.
With one-armed coach’s advice, assistance, unfastened bundle from trailer roof, assembled toy plane in about an hour. Adam explained, demonstrated controls, radio helmet (hadn’t bothered to point out base-station transceiver amongst goodies on trailer’s electronics wall when he flew; just let me worry!), verified operation. Strapped me in, started engine. Then coached by radio, step-by-step:
Slow taxiing first, gradually increasing speed to learn steering transition from differential braking to rudder; then high-speed taxiing to get feel of all controls biting airstream. Followed by more high-speed taxiing, lifting, lowering alternate wings to acquire feel of aileron/rudder interaction. Then still more high-speed taxiing, raising, lowering nosewheel to learn elevators.
Big Moment finally arrived: Allowed me to increase power fraction beyond setting used for high-speed taxiing. Main gear lifted from runway—was flying . . . !
Not high, of course; Adam kept me skimming up, down runways, yard above ground, for hours: lift-off, touchdown; shallow right, left turns—endless repetition. Never exceeded 30 knots. Slow-flight practice continued until could detect imminent stall power on or off; whether normal or g-induced, accelerated variety (cute phenomenon, that: stalling speed mounts as g forces increase aircraft’s effective weight); ease in, out of stalled condition without height, control loss.
(Fascinating, wrong assumptions otherwise well-educated person can harbor: From exposure to cars, had assumed knew what controls do. Not so. For instance: Fore-and-aft stick movement governs pitch, thereby airspeed—period. Had heretofore assumed increased, decreased altitude. Throttle setting does that. Likewise, did not realize ailerons initiate bank, then back-pressure on stick causes actual turn. Rudder’s sole function is to prevent yaw (skidding) caused by aileron drag—or induce deliberate yaw in sideslip when attempting to descend steeply without building up airspeed for short-field landing.)
Adam finally satisfied: For past hour had executed all maneuvers to perfection, plus (with more altitude under wheels) performed “unusual attitude recoveries” without incident. Gave me news by radio as concentrated on flying circles about point. (Tricky: To keep radius constant, necessary to increase bank angle when downwind, ease off upwind—adjusting constantly all the way around.)
Landed grinning ear-to-ear. (Mr. Toad correct: “Glorious, stirring . . . poetry of motion . . . only real way to travel!”)
We spent night at airport. Next morning I topped up fuel; Adam inspected ship minutely. Finally I launched to fly search pattern.
Adam navigated from ground: I reported landmarks below; he plotted position on city map, gave headings to fly. (Alternative was wrestling with three-foot-square sheet of paper in open-bodied aircraft—’tis to laugh.)
Flew at perhaps 300 feet; low enough to spot signs of current habitation: smoking chimney, laundry hung out, crop cultivation in midst of residential area, etc.
And flying was, as knew would be, marvelous (“Here today—in next week tomorrow . . . O bliss!”): In absence of Man, California skies now clear, crisp; visibility unobstructed, breathtaking (“Always somebody else’s horizon! O my! O my!”). Yielded to impulse; essayed snap-roll.
“‘O stop being an ass,’” Adam snarled, patience exhausted. “I read it, too. Pay attention now; if you kill yourself, I’ll never speak to you again.”
Promised to behave. Leveled off, headed for initial search area, where had almost run over child.
Adam’s map ruled off in grids. Examined each methodically, flying slowly, giving anyone on ground ample time to drop everything upon hearing rackety engine (loud indeed—acoustical earplugs genuine necessity), run outside, be seen.
Covered about six grids before happy discovery. Person ran from house as I passed, waving violently (do mean violently: jumping up, down, shrieking—actually heard faint cries at altitude, through engine noise, helmet, earplugs).
Circled back; pinpointed location for Adam, who jumped into rig, set off by road.
Then scouted landing conditions. Let down to 100 feet, performed slow flyby, studying surface; noting presence, absence of wires, poles, fences, ditches, etc. Detected nothing prohibitive; looked safe.
Set up approach assuming same wind direction, speed as at airport. Drifted down gently, skimming low over house at end of block, slowed to near stall, let big fabric wing float us down. Touched down 50 feet from very excited person—two excited persons: one large, one small.
Killed engine, unstrapped, extracted head from helmet, pulled out earplugs, stood . . .
And promptly swept off feet by hug-attack, replete with cryings, incoherent wet sobbings—more huggings, cryings, etc., etc. Managed to discern assailants both female. Happy to see them, too; but of course third, fourth encounters (respectively) with Somebody Else Alive: Old hat, you know; retained semblance of control.)
(Oh, all right; did get slightly teary. . . .)
Eventually emotions subsided enough to swap preliminary information: Bigger one Kim Melon, age 25; smaller, daughter Lisa, age six. Family survived depopulation intact—husband too, but accidentally killed shortly thereafter. Small boy seen earlier was Lisa (“I’m not a boy . . . !”).
Adam arrived; greeting hysteria resurged briefly. Adam bore up bravely . . .
(Have I described Kim yet? No? Perhaps summary helps shed light upon Adam’s fortitude. Kim could serve as Judging Standard for California Golden Beach Girls: “five foot two, eyes of blue.” Slim, willowy, long-legged. Waist-length natural Swedish-blond mane. Pretty face—correction, beautiful face—double correction, movie-star face. Plus last name describes salient physical characteristics with unintended hilarious accuracy. Pact with Devil not uncommon result when mortal female encounters Kim’s type. Heck, probably feel that way even if weren’t eleven; but as things are . . .)
Effect predictable: Adam suddenly very tall for his height; gained inches in chest expansion between one breath and next. Aged years demeanorwise in eyeblink. Casually mentioned (straight-faced) is 18 about half dozen times during first five minutes: “. . . the same age my father was when he met my mother—she was a few years older, too.” Etc.
Would have been proud of me, Posterity: Smile never faltered; not once offered to help by reminding of stray facts somehow omitted during suave repartee. Not even when, during one of those casual mentions of his age, managed to drag in mine, and that I was “. . . a wonderful young person, incredibly talented in so many ways, but of course not old enough for a serious relationship. . . .”
Glad chose path of forbearance, however: Later that evening, as Adam, beaming each time caught her eye, slaved away in trailer kitchen (invited to dinner first thing), preparing culinary triumph calculated to inspire wonder, dazzle palate (melt heart, dissolve inhibitions), Kim leaned close and, without moving lips, whispered, “I wish Adam would quit trying so hard. I’m sure he’s really a nice boy, but it’s awfully hard to tell. Any ideas?”
Several possibilities came to mind right away. Kim got giggles listening. Then offered own suggestions, most of which better than mine. Best of lot impractical at moment: Where would we get whoopee cushion on such short notice . . . ?
Think I’m going to like her.
∞ ∞ ∞
Know I’m going to like her, Posterity! We fit like peanut butter, jelly. Never had sister; never realized what was missing. But have one now. And doesn’t try to be big sister; not know-it-all; treats me as equal. Most comfortable person have met outside immediate family—but knew right away would work out: Terry adored both on sight. Tora-chan approved, also.
Especially Lisa: Tora-chan spends as much time lap-sitting with, purring at, following her around as he does Adam, his official new Daddy. And Terry thinks she’s neatest thing since frozen pizza. Watches every move whenever in view. Already picked up several phrases from her; letter perfect, too, complete with lithp in right platheth. Unusual: Normally requires couple months to polish up, tack on new word, phrase.
On other hand, baby brother may be turning into idiot savant: Not sure when this started, but recently noticed vocabulary expanding. Just this afternoon, for instance, produced brand new, quite elaborate word string, startlingly apt for circumstances—and can’t imagine when, where might have heard it.
Was inspecting Adam’s splint for proper fit, position, etc. Terry, on my shoulder, said, “Not too tight? Not chafing? How’re your fingers? Warm? Pink?”
Really amazing performance. And so appropriate. Always has had elephantlike memory for phrases, voices, related situations, of course. Maybe dredging past; perhaps something heard Daddy say.
Whatever source, am thoroughly impressed—practically took words right out of my mouth. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Been here about a week now, getting to know one another. Happy interlude, pleasant company.
Adam finally relaxed to point where presence isn’t embarrassing—and surprised to learn makes no difference to Kim: Likes him just as is (or perhaps despite). Treats as equal, too.
Finished basic history exchange; low-key story-swapping sessions as days passed. Adam told approximately same story I got; but sticking to age-18 bit. Kim accepted with earnest, wide-eyed gravity; so sincere, may even really believe him. Hard to tell.
But doubt it. Kim nobody’s fool. Top electrical engineer specializing in computers Before. “Show me proof!” her unspoken motto. Cheerful, optimistic soul, expecting best in everyone—but without shred of naïveté; enters into relationships with eyes open, missing nothing.
Both only 17 when married, still in high school. But continued education, with only briefest Hold for Lisa’s arrival two years later. Achieved prominence in complementary fields (Jason master programmer); worked closely together whole professional lives.
Neither ever sick.
Lisa, therefore, presumptively double-hominem—whatever that means . . . ! And according to Kim, been raised, albeit unwittingly, in purest AA fashion. Results predictable: terrifyingly precocious child.
Fundamentally too trusting, however—though slightly less so after brush with disaster. Stranger appeared one day not long ago while Kim out scrounging. Delighted to see someone new after so long, Lisa invited in. Proved, judging by subsequent behavior, classic AB sociopath:
Kim returned Just In Time—Lisa screaming, clothes off, man just at Point of No Return.
“I don’t know how I did it.” Amazement showed in voice. “Other than the War, and then losing Jason, I had led the most tranquil existence you could imagine up to that point; I never even had to raise my voice as a child! This guy was a foot taller than I and outweighed me by a good hundred pounds. But I saw what was happening and I grabbed him by the hair and threw him across the room—literally!
“He jumped up—I’ve never seen such an expression on a human face—and charged me. It was obvious that his intentions were the same; he’d just found a new victim—first victim . . . !
“I sidestepped his rush without thinking. And while he was turning around, I picked up a poker from the fireplace and hit him over the head with it. He fell and I kept hitting him until he was dead. It took a week to get the mess out of the carpet.”
Kim completely untroubled by lingering doubts. Eminently satisfied with cause, result of her killing.
Wished own case so clear-cut. Told her so. Then related incident.
Kim listened quietly, thoughtfully, sympathetically to facts. But cut off subsequent breast-beating soliloquy: “Stop that—stop it right now! You have nothing—nothing!—to feel guilty about! With your training, given his actions, you could have done nothing else—
“But . . . !” blue eyes flashed impatiently. “If you could have—if you had it to do over again and the only way you could save Terry was by killing Rollo—or someone else you knew no better—and you had time to plan every single action in advance, what would you do?”
Mouth opened, then closed without reply. Whole universe shifted on moorings. Most disturbing perspective, but question in that form completely self-answering, of course: Yes!—in hot millisecond would kill to save baby brother—dozen times over . . . !
“You don’t have to shout,” Kim remonstrated, smiling. “You’re only three feet away.”
Felt so much better! Killing weighed on me, even though had rationalized intellectually with Adam’s help. But Kim, with unerring instinct for bottom line, spotted flawed reasoning underlying residual guilt; skewered with single question; fixed it on gut level, where really counts.
Future resolve unaffected, however: Intend to do level best never to kill again. Still working to eliminate lethal automatic responses from combat computer. Rough stuff still available if circumstances mandate, but want use contingent upon conscious, thoughtful evaluation, decision. No more accidental discharges.
Kim disagrees. Stated emphatically, upon adding her (Lisa too) to training schedule, wants entire arsenal, undiluted. Feels minuscule accident risk inadequate justification for blocking instant access to most potent techniques. Haven’t argued; teaching them same program I learned originally, as requested. Even Lisa working on baby drills targeted (once acquires sufficient mass, strength, coordination) at unreservedly lethal potential.
But I’m not.
∞ ∞ ∞
Wish party included animal behaviorist. Perhaps could furnish simple, reasonable explanation; thereby preserve my sanity: Terry’s vocabulary still expanding in exponential increments: words, phrases, sentences—paragraphs—few of which could have heard often enough to implant in memory. Don’t know what to make of it. Always been good talker, of course (for Hyacinthine Macaw; not best-talking psittacines; just one of most loyal, loving, intelligent). And recent performance nothing short of phenomenal, no question. Maybe even anomalous.
But hardly justifies Adam’s present reaction: Has convinced himself is in on ground floor of major Unnatural Happening (as distinct from minor Unnatural Happening?).
Latest speculation: Terry and I mind-linked—“It’s the only possible explanation; he says almost everything you do half a breath before you get it out.”
Nonsense began day Terry spouted relevant new word string as I checked Adam’s splint. Observed patient’s awed expression then, but failed to recognize significance. If had, would have nipped in bud. Explanation obvious, reasonable, logical—mundane:
Of course anticipates me regularly: Been with me almost every waking moment since egg; developed sophisticated conditioned-reflex matrix based on my behavior. Picks up clues too subtle for observer lacking long-term close association; achieves fair degree of accuracy guessing what I’ll do, say next.
But missed boat; no letup since.
And driving me mad. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
At least Adam more at ease with Kim now. Signs unmistakable.
This morning she related experience with gasoline generator upon utilities’ collapse: Located, hooked up to house wiring; enjoyed benefits for two weeks—until failed. Checked, noticed oxidization buildup on commutator surfaces; attempted to clean with alcohol to no avail.
“Of course not,” Adam interrupted; “no generator will work after being doused with alcohol.”
Kim looked puzzled; advice clearly at odds with training. “Why not?”
“Because,” he pontificated, “a potched watt never toils.”
Kim joined me in retaliatory tickle attack without moment’s hesitation.
∞ ∞ ∞
We (Kim and Lisa, too; somehow inclusion into party never in doubt) proceeded to Pasadena, located AA address from Palomar Cal-Tech directory. Site examination produced sketchy clues pointing to Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Adjourned thereto, invested several days searching. Results ambiguous. Fairly recent activity evident, certain areas only: Footprints in deep dust contain shallow dust; elsewhere coating undisturbed. Plus Kim says much equipment she saw during recent touristy-style visit missing.
Oddly enough, only relevant information found by Lisa. Scrap of paper crumpled on office floor: Apparently someone’s crib notes of meeting at secret (ah-hah!) AA facility sometime after attack—meeting attended by all available AAs, families.
Attack no surprise to AA community. Knew how would be conducted but not when. Informed Defense Department to no avail. Though knew mechanism possible (Daddy’s research), and Other Side undoubtedly possessed technology, officialdom judged probability of use—and attendant implication that goal was worldwide elimination of everyone not within enemy’s own ranks—incredible: “That’s not war; that’s insane! We can’t base policy on that—nobody would do that . . . !”
AAs living out of suitcases for weeks prior to attack; irreplaceable belongings either already in shelters comparable to Daddy’s, boxed, ready to load, or lined up in orderly fashion, ready to snatch-and-run on moment’s notice. Instant missile phase ended, all on way to retreat—
(All but self . . . ! Daddy never hinted—other than How-Bad-Things-Are lecture, shelter checkout shortly before went to Washington. Likewise, Teacher knew attack would find me home alone—wonder why let me rot in shelter, and months afterward. Surely could have told someone, left message. . . .)
Per usual, nothing in document suggested location of AAs’ retreat. Apparently putting in writing contrapolicy. Frustrating, but makes sense: Is secret, after all. . . .
Contents little more than summary of regretful broodings about events leading to that point; checklist of writer’s immediate duties in data-, equipment-gathering expedition to certain installations about Cal-Tech campus, outlying research facilities, collecting stuff hidden When Balloon Went Up (to protect from random looting and/or vandalism). Plus intimation that booty would be awfully useful when things quieted down after “poor old H. sap” gone, and certainly critical during “instant emergency.”
But not a clue concerning how useful. Or where.
∞ ∞ ∞
Adam still at it: Watches Terry like Rhine Institute test monitor—or first-time séance attendee. Anytime baby brother utters anything unexpected, relevant, clever, complicated—whatever—Adam pounces immediately, blows all out of proportion. Has everybody else doing it now, too—i.e., Kim.
But Lisa to blame for current intensity of Terry-watching fever: All sitting around living room one evening, chatting about nothing in particular. More particularly, Kim and I ragged Adam as attempted to spin improbable yarn about past. Terry observed antics beatifically from stand while Tora-chan drowsed in Adam’s lap. Lisa ostensibly paying no attention, reading book.
“. . . was the loneliest summer of my life. If I worked for him, Father would allow me to solo occasionally or play with the orchestra during concerts. I got paid for performing, but not for the office work. I didn’t mind too much: As a performer, I was known; and most of the young ladies in the vicinity could be considered my groupies.”
Kim rolled eyes heavenward; Terry offered raspberry just as about to myself. Lisa giggled.
Adam continued unperturbed: “Unfortunately, I was assigned to conduct an inventory of the physical properties belonging to the orchestra—everything in the building. A lot of legwork was involved, but I had access to the computer so it didn’t look too difficult to list, categorize, and account for everything.”
“Have you read any good books lately?” Kim asked sweetly.
“NOOO-nooo-no-nonono . . . !” yelled Terry, bobbing head delightedly.
“Good stories are hard to come by,” I replied, controlling expression firmly: Intended beginning own response with “no.”
Lisa giggled again.
“After counting everything,” Adam continued, eyeing us severely, “and inputting the whole monumental collection into the computer, I started up the analysis and cataloging program. The system processed it; then suddenly erased all the data.”
“Gaw-awl-ly . . . !” quoth Terry. I blinked, closed mouth: Beaten to punch again.
Noted Lisa trying not to giggle.
“I called service; they came right out. The hardware man checked and pronounced everything healthy. The programmer analyzed the system’s behavior, reloaded the software, rechecked everything, and assured me that all was well.”
“Well, well, well . . .” intoned bird. Didn’t attempt to conceal reaction this time: Glared at featherhead; prefer to kibitz for myself.
Lisa engrossed in elaborate study of fingernail.
“I reinput the inventory, started the program—and exactly the same thing happened again!”
“How ’bout that . . . !” offered Terry. Adam, ostensibly staring preoccupiedly at ceiling, now watching bird out of corner of eye. Kim paying attention, too. All of which very funny: Terry’s reply that time his own for sure; hadn’t intended to comment.
“I called the service people back, and they did exactly what they had done previously, then left. I re-re-input the inventory and—”
“The same thing happened again!” Kim and I chorused—again half a breath behind Terry.
Kim’s, Adam’s eyes met momentarily. Lisa giggled again. I affected indifference.
“It happened six times in a row,” Adam continued distractedly, attention now wholly fixed on bird. “And I was getting pretty tired of it. But finally the analyst announced he’d identified the problem.
“Our system was running on their third-generation software, which apparently contained a glitch that only surfaced under certain conditions. Our inventory provided them.
“They’d just finished writing their fourth-generation software, and they decided to try it on our system. After loading it, they hung around and watched while I input the inventory one last time—I hoped.”
“Then what?” Chorus this time included only Foster twins, Terry still half a breath in lead. Kim sat this one out, watching.
Adam’s hesitation visible; almost lost track of story. Almost.
“That did it—or very nearly. It processed the inventory electronically and didn’t erase it, but wouldn’t print it.
“The programmer displayed an incomprehensible screen-full of numbers and symbols, studied it for a few moments, then nodded. ‘That’s it,’ he gloated. ‘You see’—he highlighted a section—‘this is assembly language, our fourth-generation software, and here’s the print program.’
“He went back into the third-generation program briefly and displayed the sort section. ‘Here,’ he said proudly, ‘is where that glitch resides that’s been wiping your library. It’s this command right here.’ He pointed to a single symbol.
“‘We intended to use that command, updated to fourth-generation, to order send-to-printer. But somehow we left it out when we actually wrote the program.’”
Adam radiated air of malicious anticipation. “I’m sure by now you’ve all figured out what the problem was.”
Had, embarrassed to confess. Kim hadn’t, though; result of gentle upbringing: Basically nice person; thought processes unaccustomed to such depravity.
Adam smiled cherubically, savoring moment; then began: “We needed the . . .”
“—heir of the byte that dogged us!” shrieked Terry, as I opened mouth. I glared as bird exploded in manic laughter, head bobbing gleefully, dancing back and forth on perch.
Adam’s expression went from wicked delight to outraged disappointment—then genuine startlement. Kim’s eyes grew round as well. Both stared at bird as if suddenly had started ticking. Lisa passed “giggle”; went straight to “belly laugh.”
“That didn’t come from memory,” Adam stated flatly.
“Nor from random word-string assembly,” Kim added apologetically.
“You guessed the punchline,” Adam continued darkly. “He got it from you.”
“He has been taking the words right out of your mouth a lot lately,” Kim offered uncomfortably.
Adam pressed on resolutely: “It hasn’t happened with me or Kim; you’re the only one he anticipates—or speaks in stereo with, often as not. That bird is reading your mind!”
“He is not,” I protested, probably somewhat peevishly. Explained again how years of close association had given baby brother private insight into clues pointing to imminent actions, words.
Adam began scathing retort; Kim placed hand over mouth. “But even if he had heard it before,” she said gently, “doesn’t it strike you as unlikely that he would pick just that moment to say it?”
Opened mouth to reply; then closed thoughtfully. Kim asks hard questions! “That’s kind of difficult to explain, I’ll admit,” I began. “But I’m sure . . .”
“This is silly,” interrupted Lisa, hands on hips, expression radiating undisguised impatience with stupid grown-ups. “Everybody knows Terry knows what Candy thinks. And if Candy thought about it, she’d know what Terry thinks, too.”
Palpable silence descended, broken, finally, by Terry’s comment: “How ’bout that.”
Adam now staring at Lisa: “‘Too’ . . . ?”
Lisa snickered; suddenly lost interest.
“‘Too’ . . . ?” repeated Adam. Glanced at Kim, whose expression showed sudden disapproval of new conversational direction. “You don’t suppose . . .”
“No, I don’t,” she responded firmly. Tone suggested wisdom of dropping subject.
But Adam on scent now; not deflected by subtlety: “She is a double-hominem child.” Paused dramatically; then continued in hushed tones: “Who knows what talents might be lurking behind those huge, fathomless black eyes. . . .”
Lisa glanced up, sighed, returned attention to book. Kim snorted inelegantly.
“That’s dumb,” observed Terry—as I opened mouth to say that very thing.
∞ ∞ ∞
Well, trail’s end: Treasure hunt fun while lasted. Nothing left for short term but fall back to Plan A: Resume address-by-address examination of AA homes, work settings.
Between Kim, Adam, self, have dreamed up bunches of alternative approaches for locating AA headquarters in long run: For instance, Adam and Kim putting heads together over trailer’s electronic wall innards; plan to hoodwink some innocent component into serving as band-searching beacon. Device to dial endlessly up, down spectrum, pausing briefly to spout message beseeching reply on specific wavelength, to which, of course, receiver tuned, with relay-actuated recorder poised in case nobody listening when response comes in. Are confident of success. Lack only couple more transistors, chips, whatnots.
But immediate options exhausted.
Have decided, following discussion, to follow AA trail up West Coast, loop over northern end of Rockies, touch base throughout Midwest, finally concluding initial search back home . . .
Shucks, by this time, after posting all those leaflets, lovely little town, surrounding area, probably completely repopulated—with AAs themselves, likely as not, having stumbled across advertisements. On arrival will surely find thriving, industrious, cheerful little farming community—all wondering what’s keeping me. . . .
∞ ∞ ∞
Here we are in Fresno—what’s left of it—and here we seem to be stuck. Despite distance from San Andreas Fault, earthquake must have been humdinger: Roads—even open country!—impassable north and west. Terrain broken, fissured, stepped, generally messed up something awful. Unless backtrack, loop all the way around Rockies, seems to be no way to get from here to San Francisco, Sacramento, etc., next AA addresses.
Kim keeps looking around, Giving Thanks lived no closer to epicenter—ride was quite rough enough 300 miles away in Riverside. Assuming managed to survive immediate tectonic violence (slim odds, judging by conditions hereabouts), unlikely would have had place to live. Not much left standing.
We poked up every road on USGS map, even set out across open country, cutting fences as necessary—got nowhere. Repeatedly. Every road and/or off-road compass bearing blocked by fault damage. Major displacements involved, too: Haven’t found passage for even van alone, never mind with trailer. Rock shelves jut 50, 100 feet high; bottomless fissures gape 100 yards wide or more—both running miles across terrain, usually intersecting with others to form impassable barriers, culs-de-sac.
Adam started grumbling about finding bulldozer, making own road; quit when couldn’t find one sufficiently intact to operate.
All of which finally led (“O bliss!”) to scouting by air. Just returned from second survey flight. News to west, north, all gloom: Simply no way through. Devastation astonishing. Would be difficult even afoot. Tomorrow will head east; perhaps find logging fire road around mess through Sierra Nevadas.
∞ ∞ ∞
This is Kim reporting: Candy is missing. She was close to eighty miles out, having traced a series of apparently usable fire trails well into Sequoia National Park, when she reported that her engine had lost power and she was losing altitude. She triangulated her location for us as well as she could by taking compass bearings on landmarks in the few moments before intervening mountains cut off her signal. Adam managed to get a bearing on her , as well, during that time, using the RDF processor incorporated into that amazing electronics wall of his, so we have a fairly good fix on her location.
However, if the coordinates are correct, she went down in an area that is both rugged and heavily forested with mature sequoias.
Jason was a Civil Air Patrol volunteer and participated in many high-country air searches. I have seen the CAP’s film on recommended techniques for ditching in trees. The theory is that if you land in the treetops in a full stall, impacting at about a forty-five-degree nose-up attitude, you touch down at the slowest possible speed, and present as broad an area as possible to the foliage, so that kinetic energy is used up in smashing through the branches on the way down. It is not uncommon for trees’ resistance alone to stop the descent, the ship ending up trapped in the branches. This is preferable to falling all the way to the unyielding ground, which entails a substantial impact even after deducting the retarding effects of the foliage. But either way, chances for surviving such a landing are better than one might expect.
Unfortunately, the film dealt with normal forest conditions, with trees between fifty to eighty feet tall. A mature stand of sequoias ranges between two and three hundred feet in height. Sequoias generally resemble enormously outsized pines: Trunks are massively thick, as much as forty feet in diameter, and lower halves are usually bare of branches. Top halves are sparse Christmas tree parodies, with gnarled limbs immensely thick for their length, and little secondary and tertiary branching.
The structure of a sequoia forest offers little hope for a successful treetop ditching: There is nothing resembling the approximately level “roof” of an ordinary forest; a stand of sequoias is a sea of huge, upward-jutting cones. And as bigger trees crowd out lesser neighbors by blocking their sunlight, victors in the competition are usually less closely spaced than normal trees. Foliage generally overlaps, obscuring the sky from the ground and vice versa, but only down in the mid and lower reaches. The branches which accomplish this are far too thick to break and absorb energy from impact with so light and fragile an object as a falling ultralight, except out at the very tips.
If Candy manages to locate a relatively closely-spaced stand of sequoias and achieves a letter-perfect pancake landing in the upper-middle branches, and if they slow and trap her plane without undue damage—and they might, as light as it is for its size—she has a chance.
Of course, that will strand her at least a hundred feet above the ground, at whatever point the branches cease. Her survival kit includes many things; but rope is heavy, and when dealing with ultralights, compromises must be made. So even if she is uninjured, getting down will be a challenge.
If she did not succeed in remaining in the treetops, however, I see no likelihood that she could have survived the passage through the branches, or the final free-fall to the ground. Repeated collisions with those huge, unyielding limbs on the way down would have demolished her miniature airplane like a balsa model. What remained would have plunged the last hundred feet like a stone.
I don’t know how much of this Adam is aware of. I have not discussed it with him yet. I can’t even think about it without crying.
Besides, this has not been a good time to discuss anything with Adam. Since this morning I have helped where I could and remained quiet and out of the way otherwise. Adam has been an absolute wild man: I have never seen anyone so quietly, intensely, efficiently, and constructively hysterical.
In the space of two furiously busy hours he located a generally undamaged private airfield, found an old Cessna 180 still intact, and, working like a one-armed tornado, with my small assistance, got it running.
During the next hour, operating the control yoke with his good arm and the rudder pedals with his feet, with me serving as his other hand to operate the mixture, throttle, prop-pitch, trim, and flap controls, he taught himself to fly the big old taildragger, accustoming himself to the considerable handling differences between it and the tricycle-geared ultralight. Then we assembled provisions, medical supplies, and survival equipment, including lots of rope, loaded it aboard, topped up the tanks, and took off—all five of us; we couldn’t leave the animals.
We found the location that Candy had triangulated for us. From that point we extended a ten-mile radius, and within that area we began a careful search, flying slowly only a few hundred feet above the treetops.
At the outset I risked suggesting to Adam that he not waste time trying to make out anything on the ground. Chances of spotting her there were minimal to nonexistent. From the air we could see only a fraction of the actual surface; the trees were just too thick. More likely was picking up a flash of color from that brilliantly rainbow-hued wing fabric snagged in a treetop.
Adam nodded absently. He was flying by conditioned reflex, his entire concentration below us, but I think he heard me.
We crisscrossed the area repeatedly, the three of us scanning the terrain until our eyes smarted, endlessly trying to raise her on the radio. After scouring the initial twenty-mile circle without detecting a sign of her, we doubled the radius. Later we tripled it.
I think Adam would have had us out there yet, peering down through the darkness, had we not begun to run low on fuel at about the same time that we ran out of daylight. As it was, even I forgot that it was going to take close to half an hour to get back to the field , and that sunlight lasts longer at altitude than on the ground. It was still possible to make out landmarks below us, but I was glad the old plane’s landing lights worked. We touched down in a gloom hardly distinguishable from dead of night. Utilities are out in this area so the runway lights no longer work, even if someone had been here to turn them on.
While I made dinner, Adam sat and glared unseeing into space. I have never seen an expression so bleakly, ragingly frustrated. His features contained no remnant of boyishness.
He ate what I put in front of him without, I think, knowing that he did so, and with no change in expression.
After dinner, Tora-chan vaulted into his lap and butted him in the stomach. When that failed to produce the desired chin-scritch, the cat upgraded his effort to a full formal head dive. Still nothing. Then he sat down in Adam’s lap, gazed up at his face with a puzzled expression, and said, “Mee-ow-oo . . . !” But the boy never twitched; he remained where he was, immobile, unresponsive to outside stimuli.
I debated jolting him out of it physically and was on the verge of giving it a try, when suddenly, unexpectedly, he stood, and, in a firm, decisive, completely rational tone, said, “Come on, let’s break camp. We can be at park headquarters by midnight, if those roads Candy reported really are passable.”
I was caught completely by surprise. I thought he was in shock withdrawal, but he was thinking, furiously, accurately; evaluating every facet of the situation, together with our options.
Almost incidentally, as we prepared to leave, he brought me up-to-date on his thinking: “Searching by air is a waste of time. It would take a miracle to spot her in those trees. And even if we did, we couldn’t help her from the air anyway. So we’ll save time by getting there on the ground as quickly as possible. The landmarks she used are unmistakable, and my RDF line hits the intersection of her compass bearings dead center, so we have an accurate fix on where she went down. We’ll get right up there and conduct a ground search.
“We’ll get some bullhorns at a police station—there are bound to be some still operational—and pick up trail bikes from a motorcycle shop. We’ll pull the trailer in as close as we can get it; then push on in the van. If necessary, we switch to the trail bikes. Or we walk—
“Oh . . .” Adam broke off, looking concerned in a preoccupied sort of way. Obviously this was the first time all day that my presence had even partly registered, beyond my potential usefulness in prosecuting his search-and-rescue mission. “This is going to be rough. I can’t drag you and Lisa into it. I’ll leave you at the park headquarters in the trailer, and come back for you as soon as I find her.”
He was still only half-aware of whom he was talking to or he never would have suggested anything so stupidly sexist. My reply put a stop to that right then, and got his full attention, as well:
“You and what SWAT team are going to leave us behind . . . !” I snapped.
Adam’s eyes focused suddenly. He saw me. I heard Lisa giggle behind my back.
“What . . . ? Oh, no-no, I didn’t mean—”
“I know you ‘didn’t mean,’” I replied more gently. “But Candy’s my friend, too. I’m entitled to help.”
“What about Lisa?”
Adam tends to be a little conservative, not to say naïve, when judging the fragility of those whom he considers “children.” Lisa was only slightly less forthright than I was about correcting him. “You’ll never find her without me,” she announced solemnly.
Adam stared. Then he smiled wanly. He interpreted her declaration to mean that he’d better not try to leave us behind, and thought she was trying to cheer him up.
But I know my daughter. That was not bravado or sloppy syntax; Lisa meant it literally. I found myself studying her thoughtfully. She pretended not to notice. She and I will have to talk about this, very soon.
We did arrive at the park headquarters shortly after midnight;
Candy’s advice about the roads was accurate.
I ordered Adam to bed as soon as we stopped. He didn’t argue, and he let me put him under, using the trance-induction formula that Candy had implanted. Once the trance had taken hold, I converted it to normal, deep sleep.
I wish someone could do that for me. One reason I’m making this entry is that I can’t sleep. I keep seeing Candy, riding that gossamer-and-toothpicks ultralight down into the sequoias, the airframe breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces as it bounces off those huge upper branches, one after another—finally plummeting unimpeded to the ground.
Another reason is that I write a pretty fair Pitman.
But the main reason I’m doing it is common decency: Adam can hardly be allowed in Candy’s journal while a chance remains that she’s alive. It wouldn’t be fair to let him peek at her intimate reflections, especially her opinions of him, when she may have to face him again. Yes, he would swear never to violate her confidence by looking anywhere but the page on which he’s writing, and he’d mean it and believe it himself as he promised. But I’m curious myself about what she’s written about me, and I’m not In Love with her; though I doubt if I could feel any closer to my own sister, if I had one.
Dear God—please let her be all right . . . !