Subway to the Universe

Solar Subway Systems invented a way to stretch a wormhole between two points, allowing near-instantaneous travel not only between any two locations on Earth, but also between the planets and satellites of the solar system. SSS VP of engineering Charles (Scotty) Hays and Chief Scientist Robert (Bobby) Taylor, along with field service genius Carol (Kaley) Sellers, have built SSS into a major, multi-billion-dollar corporation, accidentally triggering an invasion by aliens they call the Bugs. The Bugs start a war of aggression which doesn’t go well for them, and the Earth humans seem to win.

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Solar Subway Systems invented a way to stretch a wormhole between two points, allowing near-instantaneous travel not only between any two locations on Earth, but also between the planets and satellites of the solar system. SSS VP of engineering Charles (Scotty) Hays and Chief Scientist Robert (Bobby) Taylor, along with field service genius Carol (Kaley) Sellers, have built SSS into a major, multi-billion-dollar corporation, accidentally triggering an invasion by aliens they call the Bugs. The Bugs start a war of aggression which doesn’t go well for them, and the Earth humans seem to win.

With the Bug threat lessened, the inventors of the portal technology are starting to look at colonizable planets in other solar systems, with an eye to getting in first on second homes on what they were calling Earth Two. Scotty Hays and his new and quite pregnant wife Kaley have just settled down for an after-dinner drink when the doorbell rings, revealing a woman who looks just like Scotty’s dead wife, Glennis.

While Scotty’s attorney investigates Glenna and her claim to Glennis’ estate, the colonization of Earth Two moves on swiftly.

Glenna turns out to be as nutty as Glennis, and Scotty and Kaley are dealing with that. And then the Bugs come back.

Chapter 1: Exploring

Bobby and I were sitting side by side, in armchairs, exploring the universe. Okay, technically it was our galaxy, AKA The Milky Way, but after all, the Milky Way is part of the universe, as well as the home of Earth and its solar system. How could we explore the universe from armchairs? So glad you asked. We stared into the shielded, origination-end of a single-ended wormhole maker, also called a compound portal. The other end opened to space some eighty-seven hundred lightyears away, near an unnamed sun which had a nice family of planets circling it.

Said sun was not visible from Earth, being in a dense portion of our home galaxy that was shielded from view by the dust-and-gas-strewn center of the Milky Way, which we passed through with our portal, achieving the other side and pausing to enjoy the sights. One of those was the solar system family of a yellow sun, around which spun thirty-five planets, in a plane broader and more heavily populated with satellites than our own sun.

Not only did it have a lot of planets, but this system held not one but two Earth-sized planets with oxygen-rich atmospheres, both in the “goldilocks zone.” That is, in that area not too close to the star and not too far away, in which region water would be liquid over at least part of their surfaces. A veritable bonanza of unexplored and, so far as we could tell, unpopulated real estate.

My friend and partner, Dr. Robert Taylor, whom I call Bobby said, “Scotty, I hereby nominate these two worlds as the first to be colonized.”

“I don’t think we get to make that call, but I agree they’re suitable,” I said.

Bobby regarded me with mock outrage. “Who’s to say we don’t? We discovered them. We’re the only ones combing the galaxy for new homes for humankind. Why not us?”

“If you can convince the powers that be, I’m all for it. However, I’m pretty sure that not only does IC not have that power, but according to United Nations regulations, neither does the US government.”

IC, or Intersolar Command, the US scientific exploration organization for space operations, and our biggest customer for portals, those wormhole-generating devices that made travel between planets and moons not only possible, but easy and routine, was an operating unit of the US military. Though the US had the biggest presence on the outworlds, no country in our world had “control” of space, either in or outside our solar system.

The new portal generator had been set up in our lab, in a secluded corner that had in a former life housed unused equipment racks and electronic modules cannibalized from experiments in portal technology. It wasn’t a small portal. About one meter in size, it could better be described as “teeny-weeny.” The power, including the very large magnetic field currents was supplied from a single rack. A full-sized version was under construction and nearing completion—maybe as soon as tomorrow. Right now, all we had was the small one.

The small, single-ended portal generator had only one use. It made a superior spy telescope, which allowed us to peruse the Milky Way, or any component part thereof, from as close as we chose.

In this case, our viewpoint lay about a hundred forty million kilometers from said yellow sun, and roughly ten thousand kilometers from the closer of the Goldilocks worlds. That world was, to use an ancient expression of my dear, departed grandfather, a peach.

“Next time IC calls us, I’ll nominate it,” I said. “Or you can. Mmm. Haven’t heard from IC in a while.”

Bobby grunted. “Last time I remember any interaction with McKissack was, like, late May. No wonder. They don’t need us to spring into action to save their asses.”

He stood, and when there’s six feet and nine inches of human being rising, it takes a moment. His chocolate-brown arms extended in a stretch that reached almost to the ceiling of the lab. “When we’re needed, which I am sure we will be sooner or later, we’ll hear from them. What’s today? October twenty-fifth? That’s five months. It shouldn’t be long now.”

Talk about a prescient comment. My personal chimed. As Bobby and I weren’t in our joint offices, whoever needed to talk to me had pinged my on-body communication device. I pulled it out of my shirt pocket and glanced at the screen.

“Speak of the devil. It’s McKissack.”

Bobby’s eyes widened as he glanced down. “Really?”

“Yep. You are hereby appointed as my personal prognosticator.” I pressed the answer key. “Kinsey, I thought you’d forgotten us.”

Of course, it was his aide. “Please hold for the admiral.”

I glanced at Bobby. “Naturally not the admiral—he’s way too important for anything as mundane as putting a call through. He’ll be on in a minute.”

And he was. “Scotty, how’re you doing?”

“Fine, but I gotta tell you. When you have an aide get an important person like me on the line and then make me wait for you, those are billable minutes.”

He roared. “Goddam, I am getting too important for my britches, aren’t I?”

“I’ll make an exception in this case. How can I save your ass today?”

Yeah, I know it’s a sassy way to address the three-star commander of IC, but we’d gotten to be good friends over the last year. Bobby and I had saved him, IC, and the rest of the world more than once, at considerable cost to my own body at least one of those times.

He barked another laugh, then said, “Scotty, you could end up saving the world another dozen times, but for not for me. I am leaving IC at the end of the month.”

That shook me. I might rib him some, but I had terrific respect for McKissack. If he was moving on, that was a shame.

“Don’t tell me you’re retiring. You’re way too young.”

“No, I’ve been kicked upstairs.”

That stumped me for a minute. Upstairs? Kinsey had only made three-star a few months back, and “upstairs” from IC commander, there were very few slots. Then I got it. “Holy crap. I read somewhere the CNO might retire. You got a fourth star. The commander-in-chief gave you the Navy.”

“Hey, nobody gives the US Navy to anybody, but I am CNO the beginning of next month.”

I repeated my thought. “You got a fourth star.”

“Yesterday. Those epaulets are getting heavy.”

Stunning news. Doubly stunning in fact. McKissack had not been a vice admiral but a few months, so he had less time in grade than most of that rank, of which were damn few. CINCPACFLEET was a full admiral as was the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) himself, but there were damn few four stars. That meant McKissack had leapfrogged the four-stars beneath the CNO to take the CNO’s place. I knew his performance in ridding the world of the Bugs put McKissack in line for the promotion, but I had to believe that his peers might not all be that thrilled with his jump-up-the-line change in responsibility.

“Wow. Does that mean I have an ‘in’ if I want tickets to the Army-Navy game next year?”

“Absolutely.” He laughed again. “Especially since I need a favor as I move on. Admiral Overton will take my place.” Another shock. Overton was a good man. We’d fought the Bugs together. He’d been only a 1-star so it sounded as if he was getting a big bump as well.

“Holy lovin’ . . . He getting kicked all the way to three-star?”

“Not for the present. Remember, I commanded IC as a two-star for a while.”

“So you did. Any favor you want is yours, given I have the power to grant it.”

“I understand through those profs at UT Dallas you guys have pretty well perfected the single-portal systems. I chartered Bill Overton to get an IC exploration initiative under way to begin long-range exploration of our galaxy, with an eye to establishing an outpost in a solar system removed by a considerable distance from our own system. How quick do you think we can identify a planet and begin to explore it, set up a regular dual-portal system, and perhaps initiate colonization?”

I laughed out loud. “How about today, Admiral? I think we’re good to go.”

“You’re kidding.”

“For once, I’m serious. Bobby and I have a small single-ended portal in the lab now. We identified an Earth-type planet eighty-seven hundred lightyears from Earth. It appears to have copious flora and fauna, but so far as we can tell, no intelligent life. We’ll do more checking, but if you charter it, or Bill Overton does, we could have a settlement in place in weeks, maybe, and a regular portal in place almost immediately.”

Silence. For once, I thought, I’d dumbfounded the new Chief of Naval Operations for the United States Navy.

“Hmm.” That was all that came over my personal speaker for a moment.

Finally. “Okay, you’re serious and you have pinpointed a target Earth-type planet for settlement. You must have read my mind.”

“Not really. Just checking out our prototype single-ended portal system, we happened to latch onto a solar system at random. It has two, count ‘em two, Earth-type planets, but we picked the slightly cooler and somewhat smaller planet. It’s about ninety-six percent of Earth diameter, with a solid oxy atmosphere and maybe few percent less gravity.”

“It sounds perfect. You think we can have a settlement started in a short time?”

“Yeah.” I thought a minute. “Understand, that assumes approval on your end for a budget. I can imagine that it could take a few years or more.”

McKissack grunted. “If we had to go to Congress, yes. In my new job, I’ve got a bit of discretionary money. How long till you’ll have a full-size one-ended portal ready to go?”

“Next week. We’ve been on it for a couple months.”

“You could fire it up, and after checkout, make a connection to that world in a day or two?”

“Once checked out, we could make a connection in minutes. We’re putting down coordinates of interesting locations like this new world right now. The coordinates change regularly, because everything in our galaxy is on the move, with about five or six separate velocity vectors that make up the collective motion. Once coordinates are pinpointed, the movement is slight.”

“A whole new world to colonize.” Another silence as the admiral processed. “This is the kind of thing that could create a whale of a lot of excitement with politicians. You realize with that sort of a lure, Congress might cough up billions to the company that makes the connection. Could be very lucrative for you and S-Cubed.”

“Not sure how the company could claim a planet, but I’m game if I can get away with it. After all, we built this new technology, and the new single-end, full-sized portal, completely with Triple-S money. We’d be glad of financial support, but as it stands, don’t you think we could make a pretty good claim to own the planet?”

McKissack digested my no-doubt surprising information. “I have no idea. You’d have in interesting claim, I must say.” He paused. “One other thing.”

“Your wish is my command.”

“Sure, so long as I bring copious dollars.”

“Well, yeah, but you know, hurray for free enterprise.”

“This isn’t about your business. You know that we continue to get random portal dial-ins occasionally, even though we terminated the last known Bug threat in our solar system.”

“The Bugs are persistent.”

“So they are. However, in addition to those dial-ins, we also continue to receive sporadic reports of Bug ship sightings.”

“Really? Where?”

“All over. More from sparsely populated areas in the US, Europe, and China, but they continue to show up. The recent number of Bug fighter sightings in China, especially interior central and easter China and southeast Asia, have skyrocketed. Using the scanning software your colleague Dr. Taylor developed, we have not been able to verify any authentic Bug location. However, although we haven’t identified an existing base, sightings continue to increase.”

“What can we do?”

“Nothing, right now. I wanted you to know there is the potential for a Bug base in interior China. If we need your eyes on this, I’ll let you know. I wanted you to be aware of the situation.”

McKissack said a rude word to himself. Aloud, “Well, crap. I’ve got a meeting in, let’s see now, four minutes. Overton will get back to you.” He hung up.

Bobby had been a party to only half the conversation, so I filled him in on the possible Bug sightings first.

“I can do a little snooping if they want me to.”

“McKissack said he’ll call if he needs us. I’d say let it lie for a while. Now, here’s the juicy scoop.” I explained about the exploration initiative.

His eyes got wider.

“Hot damn. With McKissack the CNO, we can move fast on funding.” He looked across the lab at the dark, silent corner where the new full-size portal sat. We needed parts, due any day, that would let us complete its assembly. “Hell, we get that portal shield and the new FlucGen unit in on schedule, and we could have a portal on our New Earth in a couple days.”

“Yes, we could, if that were all there were to it. Opening a portal to a new planet will have to be done with care. There are interesting biological issues we have to address.”

Bobby grinned. “Oh, sure. I can dream. If that world is as free of intelligent life as we think, and if we can get a few permissions, we could put together a settlement in no time. I wonder how soon we’ll be able to buy property on the New Earth?”

“Depends. As I told McKissack, we’d have a good claim to own the planet, but I have a hunch the old U S of A might disallow our claim.”

“Too bad. It’d be nice to stake a claim to a few thousand acres.”

I had to laugh. “Angling for a vacation home?”

“Why not? I know you love the cabin in Estes Park, but why not build a second home on Earth Two? Could be a heck of a place to retire.”

Trust Bobby to dream big. Well, after all, why not? “Forget it for now,” I told him. “Let’s get the rest of this exploration done. When the Navy comes with questions, we want to have a lot of answers.”

We resumed our remote exploration, and Bobby, bless him, began to note areas of the new Earth that might make good real estate investments.

Chapter 2: A Man’s Dead Wife Rings His Doorbell . . .

We didn’t call the exploration quits until around eight. Bobby’s single, although he’s been dating our CEO, Virgil Oliva, but tonight he had no plans other than to get to bed at a decent hour, something that didn’t happen often for either of us. I wasn’t sure my wife Kaley would be home in the evening, so neither of us had been anxious to call it a day.

Passing my desk, I saw a message from our admin, Margie, taped to my computer display. She more than likely had made a pass by the lab first, but when Bobby and I are hard at work, we can be oblivious to the world.

Kaley had called, to tell me she’d be late but would be home. That brightened my day. I went down to the underground parking garage and headed out in my new electric SUV. The old one had been on its last legs, so Kaley persuaded me to spring for a new one. I was driving in style, including leather upholstery, real wood trim on the dash, if that’s what crossfire mahogany means, and the latest in autodrive control. The stereo system is better than the one in my old house, which we’d sold.

That meant home was Kaley’s house, which she bought four or five years ago. I ditched mine because after my ex-wife Glynnis accidently killed herself in a guest bedroom, living there one more night more was impossible. Kaley’s house was smaller, a smidge over five thousand square feet, with comfy furnishings because Kaley had a good eye for making a house homey. We were still musing over what would come next. Keep her house as-is? Re-do, add an office for me and maybe a pool? Since Glynnis died, we’d just been too damn busy even to get a decent night’s sleep, let alone make significant decisions about living quarters.

As I pulled into our garage, Kaley’s car was already in residence, which meant she had actually beat me home for once. The garage opened to the kitchen, and there was Kaley, cooking, of all things. She met me half-way to the range-oven, grabbed on tight and kissed me soundly. She held it long enough to encourage me that she was feeling amorous. Sometimes, we were both so tired, finding our way to bed took all the combined effort we could muster.

“Yum,” I said, as we broke. “I got dessert first.”

“You might get a bit more later, but food first. I got in a domestic mode and passed by the grocery store, got French bread and fresh pasta. If all goes well, we’ll have spaghetti, garlic toast, and meat sauce in about twenty minutes.”

“Yum again.” I kissed her nose. “Not only are you beautiful, sexy, and the best field rep in the solar system, you can cook.” Not entirely true. Kaley will tell you she is not accomplished in the kitchen, but what she can cook, she cooks well.

“Go change and mix us drinks. By the time you’re done, dinner will be ready.”

She went back to the pan of bubbling sauce on the cooktop, which gave off a hunger-inducing aroma of garlic, tomato, Italian sausage, and miscellaneous herbs. I stopped in the doorway to watch her.

Kaley has a delicate face, with a strong nose and chin, her features surrounded by an old-fashioned, dark, bubble hairdo that she’s worn ever since I met her. She’s a few years my senior, but you’d never know to look at her, with her smooth face and neck and flawless arms. I sport wrinkles around my eyes, and I have yet to see forty. Some people just have better genes, no doubt about it. She moved easily around the kitchen, checking the pasta boiling in salted and seasoned water, the aromatic sauce, and occasionally taking a quick glance into the oven, where garlic toast had just begun to brown. After one last glance, I went to change into my “home clothes”—almost exclusively sweats and sneakers—returning just in time to get the drinks. Wine for her, of course, with Jack Daniels Black Label, a splash of water, and half a teaspoon of sugar for me. She turned as I approached, brushed back a rebellious strand of hair, and, instead of taking the glass permanently, took a hefty sip of Beaujolais, and directed me to take our glasses to the sofa. With a last look at the sauce and pasta, she turned off all the burners and joined me at the couch, claiming her glass.

With a quick kiss of my cheek, she said, “Let’s just relax a second and enjoy our drinks. The pasta needs to sit for a couple minutes, so we can just relax.”

We did, Kaley sipping her wine and me enjoying the Jack Black. Her right hand crept into my left, and we simply sat and—miracle of miracles—relaxed.

Neither of us said a word. Sometimes, for a brief and special moment, silence is golden.

After five minutes or so, she pulled me back into the kitchen and said, “I’m starving. Grab that mitt, hold out the plates, and I’ll serve right here.”

“Sounds good.”

She ladled spaghetti and sauce on both plates, and I carried them to the kitchen table as she filled a plate with toast and another bowl with extra sauce. Her kitchen, both long and broad, housed a table for six, but we sat at one end and Kaley said the blessing, something she never misses. Two places were set, with water and ice in tall, frosty glasses.

I dug in, as I hadn’t had anything for lunch except peanuts from the vending machine. The spaghetti was every bit as good as it smelled. We ate in silence for a few minutes.

As an old married couple of nearly five months, we have a routine at dinner. She asks me about my day, and I summarize it, including only those items that are significant or may have particular interest to her. Good field service support to our customers being crucial to our company well being, she gives me a more detailed memory dump on how things are in the field. It might sound boring, but not to me. As VP of engineering and field service, I need details, especially if we have a customer who is unhappy.

I mentioned the exploration but not a lot of the details. I turned it over to her.

“Wandered all over hell and half of Georgia today,” she told me. “Bets handles most of the Earth-based calls. I try to take care of off-world, because I know IC wants lots of special attention.” By “Bets,” she meant Bettina Greer, second-in-command in the field service management chain. She shouldered a good deal of the field service load, had an assistant, and in general was second only to Kaley in expertise, speed, and excellence in customer relations.

IC—Intersolar Command, McKissack’s former command and basically the entire outer space operation of the US Department of Defense, had off-world portals on the moon, Mars, Mercury, Ganymede, Titan, Io, and Rhea, with a new portal planned for at least one other Saturnian and Jovian moon.

Due to what was now referred to as the Battle of Ganymede with the Bugs a few months ago, the base was in the midst of a complete rebuild. They took a lot of handholding from Triple-S. Kaley spent hours each month on-site as they rebuilt the smaller portal and repaired the jumbo.

“Who went with you and where?”

She grinned. “I dragged Kyle and Leticia She’s the new service rep to help unload all the Earth calls. I need Bets back to help on the outworlds. I’ve convinced Kyle to take a lead role on Earth, with Leticia as his assistant.”

“I hate it when you go gallivanting all over the outworlds. It’s dangerous, and you’re gone at least two days.” That was me, feeling sorry for myself.

“Poor baby. Doesn’t get to have sex every night.”

“I don’t want sex every night. Just nearly every night.”

“Nearly? It’s a good thing I had that GB, or I’d be even more exhausted than when I do extra travel.” When she’d turned fifty, Kaley underwent a full genetic boost. Not so much because she wanted to remain beautiful (which she was) or desirable (ditto), but because her schedule as the premier field service expert at Triple-S meant that she logged more hours off-world than the next four field reps lumped together. That was before she had even conceived of any new romance in her life. In those days, she’d still been mourning the death of her first husband, Dan, who had died in a shuttle accident.

“You know you’d be hurt if I didn’t at least suggest a bit of romance each night.”

She leaned over to peck my cheek. “It is nice to know that your hubby thinks you’re hot, even if he is a horn-dog.”

I kissed her back. We’d eaten as we talked, so our plates were close to clean. As I finished up, I asked, “How’d you like to buy a retirement home on a planet in a new solar system?”

That got her attention. “Yeah? How much would it be? Eighty-jillion dollars?”

“Maybe less. I told you how Bobby and I were exploring via the new portal and found a likely planet. McKissack thinks his last action item before he moves to Washington will be to authorize a permanent new portal there.”

“You’ve got a cabin in the mountains. Any nice beaches?”

“Don’t know yet where the government will authorize a settlement, or how to reserve or buy land, but there are spectacular ocean views. We—that is, the company—may have to buy a franchise for a big, big parcel of land, and sell all but a small part of it to developers. We might make a few bucks in such a deal, although it wouldn’t be my prime goal.”

She stood. “One after-dinner drink on the den sofa.”

That sounded like a hint for some later romance. “Sounds good to me.”

I helped her clean the table, load the dishwasher, and, as it had reached capacity, started a wash cycle.

I asked, “What drink for dessert? Brandy?” It was the only liquor I liked other than bourbon.

She mulled. “Okay on the brandy, but I want a Brandy Alexander.”

That sort of shook me. A Brandy Alexander had been one of ex-wife Glynnis’s favorites.

“No.”

“Yes. But I want the dessert kind, you know, with ice cream.”

At least that made more sense, as a sweet after-dinner drink sounded better in that context. I knew Kaley kept Hennessy in the pantry, and she probably had nutmeg on her spice rack. “You got creme de cacao?”

“Yeah—should be next to the brandy.”

It was. Retrieving brandy and creme de cacao, I checked the freezer in her massive Subzero fridge, and she had gallons of Blue Bell Vanilla, the national ice cream of Texas.

“What about whipped cream?”

She snorted. “Listen, I am not going to whip up some fresh for you. There is some aerosol whipped cream in the refrigerator.”

And there was. Very quickly we were on the den sofa, sitting close to each other and drinking enthusiastically enough that I got whipped cream on my nose.

“Yum,” my bride commented.

“Double yum. I’d suggest a second one, but if I did, I’d go to sleep right here and you’d have to carry me to bed.”

“Ha, ha. As if I could manage—”

The doorbell cut her off.

“Who in the hell could that be?” I asked us both.

As the time was post-10:00 PM, it probably wasn’t Girl Scouts hawking the latest cookie varieties.

“Enjoy your drink,” I told Kaley. “I’ll get it.”

The illumination of the streetlight at the corner outlined a single figure, rather small, through the cut-glass.

I crossed the foyer, flipped the porch light switch, and opened the door. “Good evening, how can I help—?”

My sentence strangled in my throat.

Standing on the welcome mat, her face lit by the coach lights on either side of the front door, was my dead ex-wife, Glynnis.

Chapter 3: A Carbon Copy?

Two parts of my brain seemed in direct confrontation. One part began to scream “It’s Glynnis! She’s dead but she’s alive!”

The more rational part countered with, “Glynnis is dead. This is merely someone who resembles her.”

I stood in silent shock as the contentious match behind my eyes continued until the rational mechanisms told the primitive to shut the hell up.

The woman smiled slightly. I was to find out she registered all emotions slightly—several degrees of restraint above my ex’s emotional control, which itself had been quite strong.

“I’m terribly sorry,” she said, voice as soft and alto-pitched as Glynnis. “Seeing me must have been a shock. I should have called, I suppose, but I had to look up your address, which took some time, so I thought I’d just pop over for a brief visit.”

Still taken aback, way, way, way aback, I managed to say. “Sorry for the confusion. You resemble my former wife.”

“I should,” she replied. “ We were identical twins, although we were raised separately.”

I gawked again. “You and Glynnis were . . . ?”

As I trailed off, she said, “Yes, twin sisters. If you don’t mind, could I come in? I live in Florida and didn’t bring any warm clothing. I thought Texas would be like Florida, but tonight is chilly.”

“Uh, sure.” I backed into the foyer to let her inside. A small SUV, probably a rental, was parked in front of the house.

She held out her hand. “I’m Glenna Patterson. I’ve lived most of my life in Fort Meyers. Glynnis and I connected shortly before her death.”

It occurred to me despite the impact of the earthshaking revelations I just heard, I needed to be polite.

“Would, uh, would you like to join us the the den? My wife and I finished dinner, but I could offer you dessert or a drink.”

“No, that’s fine, I ate earlier. I do need to talk to you a few moments, if you have the time.”

I turned, saying, “Please follow me,” and headed to the den. As I entered, I said, “Kaley, prepare to be shocked. We have a visitor who is a relative of Glynnis’s.” I walked in, Glenna directly behind me.

Kaley stood. Perplexed at my warning, her brow creased, she spied Glenna, and her complexion lost a couple of shades of color.

Kaley couldn’t help herself. “Holy shit.”

She didn’t say anything else, so I filled the vacuum. “This is Glenna Patterson. She is Glynnis’s identical twin. The girls were adopted by different families, so they weren’t aware of each other until recently.”

Kaley appeared to absorb that, so I told Ms. Patterson, “Please have a seat.” I indicated the overlarge reclining chair to the left of the couch.

Glynnis’s sister seated herself. After a few seconds, Kaley said, “Would you like a drink or a snack?” She stuttered a bit, which showed she felt as bolluxed as I did.

Ms. Patterson, Glenna, hard to think of her with that name, formed another weak smile and said, “Just a glass of water, please. No ice.”

Kaley fled the room as if pursued by demons. I didn’t blame her. I took my seat on the sofa and tried to converse a bit. “You’ll have to pardon us. My ex-wife created a great deal of problems for us, which left my wife shaken. Your appearance hasn’t helped her. Frankly, it hasn’t helped me either.”

She didn’t smile this time. “I read about the situation. Please forgive me if I have a hard time believing such things of my twin.”

I could understand that, but understanding didn’t give me much sympathy. In this first meeting with the woman claiming to be Glynnis’s sister, I did not feel constrained to hold her hand and whisper platitudes.

She eyed me for a moment, and I stared back. Just as Kaley reentered the room, I said, “Glynnis never told me she was adopted, or that she had any living relatives.”

Kaley set the glass on an end table by the chair, and sank beside me with a great deal of force, as though her legs had given out.

Glenna surveyed us a moment. “I think it would help,” she said,” if I told my story from the start.”

Made sense to me. I nodded, Kaley still and silent. “Please do.”

She cleared her throat. “I can understand,” she said, “why my sister might not have wanted to reveal her origins. We were born, as they used to say, out of wedlock. Our mother, whoever she was, wanted to keep us, but could not afford to support a family of three.”

Kaley and I exchanged glances. Her look still said, “What the hell?”

I agreed silently. To Glenna, I said, “So you’re both adopted. Since you didn’t know about each other, the adoption agency your biological mother chose couldn’t find a family who would take both of you.”

She nodded. “I’ve searched for our birthmother over a number of years, but I’ve never been able to discover her identity, or find a trace of her. I do know her surname was Truscott. Of course, by the time I started a careful investigation, nearly thirty years had passed since our birth, and I could find no trace of her. The original address given to the agency was in a modest neighborhood that had been torn down to make way for a large apartment complex.

“I had better luck with the parents who adopted my sister. That record led me, first to them and then to Glynnis.”

“I assume Glynnis was happy to meet you,” I said.

“She was as astonished as you. Glynnis had no idea she was adopted. Her parents never told her, since from their point of view, the information might not be to her benefit. She was equally ignorant that she was a twin.

“When I was able to contact her, only a few months before she died, she was surprised and didn’t seem anxious to meet. It took me several calls to persuade her. I think she agreed only because I told her I discovered we were identical twins.”

“Your parents told you you’re adopted?”

“Yes, when I was about ten years old. They did a nice job of telling me they wanted a child but my mother had been unable to conceive. They were sweet about it, told me that I was their great gift, and, I accepted the news and went on.”

“Did they mention you were a twin?” I asked.

“No. I don’t think they tried to conceal anything. I think they felt it wasn’t relevant at the time.”

Kaley stirred. “How did you find out?”

“They died in a car accident when I was in college. I have a degree in business from Florida State, and I’ve been working as a bookkeeper for a company in Fort Myers. My parents left me a modest inheritance, which I used to supplement my salary. A little over two years ago, I began to feel an imperative to find out a bit more about my origins.

“Some research in the city records led me to the discovery that my twin and I had been adopted shortly after our birth. As I said, no amount of research provided any more information on my birthmother. However, I did discover the family name of Glynnis’s adoptive parents, and I began a search for them. Although they were also deceased, I found the lead to Glynnis, and I made contact a few months before she died.”

Her story seemed plausible. So far as I was concerned, there could be no doubt the woman was Glynnis’s sister. Now that I had heard her speak, I could tell subtle differences between them. She was even more slender than Glynnis, verging on frail. Her voice, though a soft alto like her twin, seemed to be pitched a few notes on the treble scale higher, and her mannerisms were different. She used her hands when she spoke, whereas Glynnis almost never made any gestures at all, hands in her lap.

So, our guest wasn’t Glynnis, but she was a damned good ringer.

I regarded her for a moment, and marveled at the resemblance. “She wasn’t anxious to meet.”

Glenna nodded. “No, I think her curiosity got the better of her, when I told her we were identical twins. She had a business trip to Miami. After finishing her business, she flew to Fort Meyers to meet me. We talked for a couple of hours, but she was convinced. She marveled at our resemblance, told me it was like looking into a mirror. We had some fun about that, and I must say we spent a pleasant evening together.”

“Did you see her again?” I asked.

She nodded. “Just once. She invited me to come here. I stayed with her for two days. That was after your divorce. She took a few days vacation and showed me around the Dallas area. It was great fun for me because I had never been to Texas before.

“That was the last time I saw her.”

Glenna regarded me for a moment. “Now we get to the reason for my call. A week or two before her death, she sent me a letter. Not electronic, but a real paper letter. Very formal and dignified. It had been apparent my financial circumstances were nothing compared to hers. It’s not like I’m poverty-stricken, but even with my parents’ inheritance, I live within modest means. In her letter, Glynnis informed me she was making me her heir. She joked about it, said she didn’t expect to pass away anytime soon, but you never could tell. Now that she was divorced, she didn’t intend for you to be her heir.

“If anything happened to her, she wanted me to have her inheritance, which she made clear was substantial, even in the millions of dollars. I was astonished, called her and expressed my surprise. She laughed and said she expected to live to a ripe old age, but if not, she wanted me to have her estate.”

I mulled on Glenna’s statement. Shocking as it appeared, it seemed Glynnis had done something nice. For once.

Her expression serious, Glenna said, “That’s why I needed to see you, Dr. Hays. After I found out about her death, and I didn’t find out about it until weeks after she died, I waited for a call from her attorney, to verify what she had told me. No call came. I was able to find the name of the attorney, called him and asked about the inheritance. He informed me that although she expressed her intention to rewrite her will, Glynnis never made any changes.

“You can imagine my shock. For a while, I pondered the situation, but I finally decided to contact you. I’ve read enough about you to know you’re fabulously wealthy. I have come to ask you, to plead with you, to help me gain possession of her estate.”

Glenna opened her rather large purse and came up with a folded sheaf of papers. “This is the letter Glynnis sent me. It outlines the extent of her estate and clearly states her wish for me to be her sole beneficiary. I ask that you help me, as it appears to me you don’t need her inheritance. I’m quite desperate, and would even suggest, if you wish, that we share the estate. It would help me to be able to live a more secure life.”

Of all the things I would have guessed, the request was about the last on the list but it made perfect sense. I had no desire to inherit a single dollar from Glynnis’s estate. Giving it to her twin made a sort of crazy sense. I’d never bothered to have Glynnis’s will read or probated. My lawyer, Guy Smith, and I discussed it once, but life intervened. More than half a year after Glynnis’s death, I hadn’t taken a step to settle Glynnis’s estate. Guy had called me about it once or twice, but eventually subsided, noting that in Texas, I had four years from date of death to complete the proceedings.

Glynnis’s estate was substantial. Given her partnership at the advertising firm, investments, bonuses, and savings accounts, Glynnis’s legacy amounted to sixty million dollars or more, as an educated guess. Glenna was right, I didn’t need it. I was worth somewhere between fifty and a hundred times that much. I didn’t want one single damn thing, not money, stock, anything, that could be traced back to my conniving, psychopath ex-wife. I wondered if Glenna had inherited any of the personality traits of her twin. I hoped not.

I cleared my throat, then said, “On the surface, you appear to have a legitimate claim. Could I see the letter?”

Glenna reached into her voluminous purse again, coming out with a second set of papers. “Here.” She proffered the sheaf, and I took it. As I did so, she said, “That’s a copy I made for you. I wanted you to be able to see her exact words.”

She stood. “I know what I’ve told you is a lot to take in. I’ll be in the city for several days, at the hotel near here on Interstate Twenty. I wrote the room phone number on the front page.

“I’ve disturbed your evening. I’d like to call you tomorrow, or the next day, if you need time to process all this.”

“It is a surprise ,” I told her. “I do need to think this over. I know you need an answer in a reasonable amount of time. I expect you have a job to get back to. Please ask the hotel to call my office. You won’t need to pay for your stay here.”

My statement seemed to shake her. After a moment, she said, voice a bit wobbly, “That is very nice of you. I appreciate it.”

With no more comment, she turned and headed for the front door. I followed and Kaley brought up the rear.

Glenna turned at the door. “Thank you again. I know it must seem I have a great deal of temerity, but the money would be a great help to me. I do think it is what Glynnis wished.”

With that, she left, and I was too bemused to say so much as a “so long.” Reaching her rental car, she got in and drove away.

I closed the door and turned to Kaley. She repeated herself. “Holy shit.”

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