Candidia Smith-Foster is still as adorable and deadly as she was in Emergence. Now she deals with Neo-Nazis in the post-apocalyptic world she found when she Emerged from the bunker her dad left for her.
Meet Candidia Smith-Foster, Homo post hominem, the next step in Mankind’s evolution. She’s an eleven-year-old genius with a Black Belt, and last summer she saved all that remained of her struggling new branch of humanity. Since then she’s been training under an ex-Mossad assassin. She’s just learned who’s been holding her Daddy and now she knows where they are…
In David Palmer’s long awaited sequel to Emergence, Kid Genius Candidia Smith Foster kicks ass from California to the Russian heartland, where evil Nazi wannabes plot the destruction of all that is good and decent.
Tom Easton, Reviewer Emeritus,
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Author of Sparrowhawk
Nearly 30 years ago, David R. Palmer’s startlingly Heinleinesque debut novel created an action adventure protagonist who made Die Hard’s John McClane look like a wimp amateur…At last she’s back, still 11, still adorable, still sudden death with both hands, and this time she’s in real trouble. With even higher stakes.
co author, with Robert A. Heinlein, of VARIABLE STAR
Candy is one of the most memorable people I’ve ever known, on or off the printed page, and David R. Palmer one of the most engaging and skillful storytellers.
Author of The Coming Convergence, Editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Excerpted from the Journals of Candidia Maria Smith-Foster:
Yes, Posterity; your Humble Historiographer does feel guilty about this—but what was Teacher thinking? What did he expect? What else could I do . . . ?
Oops, forgetting manners. (There’s a surprise.) Sorry. All right; let’s start over:
Hi, Posterity; Candy Smith-Foster here again—Plucky Girl Adventurer, Intrepid Girl Aviatrix, Spunky Savior of Our People, etc., etc.—at your service.
To all appearances (with single, gastrolepidoptrosis-inducing exception), day had begun normally enough—for one of my days . . .
F’rinstance, had wakened, as usual, looking forward to almost spiritual fulfillment intrinsic to starting day at chow hall, wrapping self around one of my Adam’s routinely world-class breakfasts.
(Hmm . . . That sounded possessive, didn’t it. Well, am his “discoverer.” Adam second living human being turned up during post-Armageddon exploration. Plus boy is my favorite proof-of-concept, show-and-tell exhibit for proposition that Y chromosomes can be A Good Thing. And between times, exhibiting no hint of teasing, Adam does refer to me as “my woman.” Not to mention, unblinking gaze, on occasions when holds me close, causes tingly sensations in interesting places.)
Naturally, not every morsel of food emerging from kitchens actually product of cleverest-boy-genius-in-whole-wide-world’s own incredibly talented hands, but clearly finest of coequals in charge of food preparation these days; ergo, have every confidence will have influenced production, thereby assuring, at minimum, all dishes represent gustatory perfection.
Plus, under normal circumstances, Adam times culinary duties to make possible spending most meals with me, breakfast included, which never fails to launch day on endorphin high. . . .
On top of which, being focus of unambiguous love radiating from entire population of recently adopted-into Homo post hominem community, all of whom (tiresome but true) owe Yours Truly their lives, does enhance outlook generally.
Normally, positive attitude established by breakfast flows seamlessly into day’s real fun—classes: academics (usually one-on-one instruction in college-level math, physics, chem, geology, agronomy, psychology [normal and ab-], etc.), as well as practical mechanics, electronics; regular proficiency-maintenance and/or additional type-rating flight training sessions; plus daily advanced karate instruction (currently honing sixth-degree Black Belt skills; seventh still well beyond horizon) coupled with—probably most entertaining of all—personal tutoring in selected elements from Mossad field agents’ mayhem manual.
Apart from routine expectations, however, this morning not remotely normal. Awoke to ominous realization that that vague, recurrent disquiet, which, despite fiercely protective, almost crechelike environment in which have been enveloped since medical discharge (following treatment for side effects stemming from most recent round trip across River Styx) was back in force. Last time awoke to such depths of foreboding was morning of Daddy’s departure for Washington—the day before Khraniteli turned capital, surrounding suburbs, into fine, black, glowing-in-dark ashes drifting in breeze, ending World As We Knew It, as well as reign of H. sapiens.
Clearly, in retrospect, from moment eyes opened today, chain of events resembled ballistic curve: foreordained progression, leading directly from bed to Teacher’s announcement to Yours Truly’s reluctant but immutable decision—thence to current AWOL status.
Well, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s . . . etc.
As turned out, however, anarchic decision, subsequent obviously proscribed actions, took healthy bite out of unease dogging heels since morning’s first awareness. Perhaps qualms more function of psychic feedback spawned by own upcoming brash actions echoing back up timeline rather than intangible warning of yet another impending doomy threat.
In any event, Posterity, been some time since our last travelogue, hasn’t it. Truthfully, though, hadn’t expected—certainly never intended—ever again to do another travel, much less logue.
And not without justification: Even briefest reflection upon Yours Truly’s conspicuously absent vital signs, to say nothing of generally bent, broken, and/or toasted medical condition by conclusion of events chronicled in most recent volumes of The Journals of the Life & Times of Candy Smith-Foster, Plucky Girl Adventurer1, should motivate thickest observer toward sober deliberation regarding wisdom of such endeavors.
Take, for instance, side effects of saving Adam from wrecked, flaming automobile: Psilly pseudo Walter Mitty had achieved spectacular crash while indulging racedriver fantasies on deserted downtown Baltimore city streets. Ultimately, hysterical strength overuse required to extricate comatose boy from four-wheeled pyre, carry him at a dead run draped over shoulder to van, remain conscious long enough thereafter to suture young idiot’s sliced femoral artery, resulted in your Humble Historiographer’s heart joining ranks of flatlined.
Granted, own willful disregard of onrushing metabolic burnout symptoms spotlight descriptive limitations of reckless. Still, extra effort seemed warranted at the time: Had reason to fear lad might be sole other surviving human being on Planet Earth.
Happily, wasn’t. Quite.
However, barely recovered from physiological deficits incurred during that girlish prank before found self in spacesuit, flambéing like lobster while being battered to pulp by unyielding interior structural members of decidedly non-passenger-rated, End of Days-bomb-carrying, Khraniteli winged missile during programmed-in, high-g, evasive acrobatics portion of incandescent atmospheric reentry. This event, too, capped by cessation of Plucky Girl Adventurer’s cardiac functions.
Clearly, campaigns offering such potential direness not to be undertaken lightly. Odds too high that Closing Credits may have to be superimposed over marker under which bones have taken up residence at Our Lady of Perpetual Dandelions Memorial Landfill—or, more likely, just strewn willy-nilly across terrain, wherever carrion-disposal fauna lose interest.
In any event, none of those experiences ranks high amongst memories back upon which your Humble Historiographer looks most fondly—or has any difficulty not raising hand, joyously carolling “Again . . . !”
But damn, Posterity! Really—what was Teacher thinking . . . ? I mean, right after breakfast, even before leaving chow hall, practically skipped up, beaming ear-to-ear, gave me big, happy hug, and, straight out of blue, announced, “Candy, the Urals scouting expedition got in last night . . .”
Okay, I knew that. Actually, everybody knew that: Hominem community, slowly growing around Mt. Palomar blast/earthquake shelter, still in no danger of challenging New York, Moscow, Beijing for title of World’s Majorest Metropolis (even after H. sapiens’ effectively total extinction). As spin-off benefit of settlement’s cozy dimensions, airstrip located practically next-door—where seismic-level thrust-reverser sound effects from pair of C-17 Globemaster IIIs (aviation’s answer to Monster Trucks) braking to stop just after sundown not that readily overlooked.
So standing alone, beloved pedagogue’s breathless proclamation hardly qualified as news, let alone bombshell. Still, enthusiasm level suggested other shoe already in pattern, probably on final, if not actually preparing for touchdown . . .
And indeed was. Radiating what, for him, equated to gleeful intensity of Olde Tyme TV game-show host introducing prize lineup, Teacher continued, “And while they were there, they acquired information suggesting that your father probably is still alive, as well as where the Khraniteli may be holding him.”
All right, Posterity; that part exceeded “bombshell” threshold . . . !
In fact, as joyous revelation’s universe-reshuffling internal echoes faded, Terry expressed concern from habitual perch on big sister’s shoulder by swinging head around to front, turning cranium upside down, peering one-eyed up my nose.
Fortunately, however, this time retarded adopted twin brother limited comment to wolf whistle’s long, low, closing diminuendo—as opposed to customary practice of sharing sapient sibling’s innermost cerebral contents with world at window-rattling volume.
Shushed silly symbiont by reaching up, gently stroking tiny soft feathers on head, cheeks, upper neck area just under huge clamshell beak.
And focused ki flow into effort required to maintain calm thoughts, serene, interested expression as world rocked, spun around me—and abruptly, cause of, solution to, morning’s amorphous disquiet snapped into sharpest focus. . . .
Even if Terry hadn’t felt elder sister turn to stone, Posterity, I knew featherheaded twin unfooled. Birdbrain alone, out of planet’s entire remaining population (okay, arguably Lisa, too), equipped fully to appreciate shock Teacher’s announcement had delivered. No one doubts anymore: Foster twins share one-way telepathic rapport. Despite being Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus (i.e., Hyacinthine Macaw), Terry can read my mind—and from quite a distance: last count, 32,500 miles; geosynchronous orbit height plus Earth’s full diameter.
All of which demonstrated conclusively a few months ago when Intrepid Girl Astronaut found self trapped in orbit aboard crippled space shuttle (while saving all that remained of Humanity, she tossed in casually). On that occasion, thoughts apparently passed through planet’s substance as if so much vacuum.
In any event, notwithstanding id’s smarty-mouthed internal sarcasm, Teacher now had Plucky Girl Savior of Our People’s undivided attention. But then, with typical clueless preoccupation borne of Overlapping Deep Thoughts, complicated by Weight of Responsibilities, dear old thing continued blithely, “And at this point, it looks as if it won’t take much more than another six months to put together an expedition back into the area to check into it. . . .”
Really now, Posterity.
As long as Teacher’s known me (what?—almost whole life?), could not have expected favorite (known to be impulse-control-challenged) student to hear that, then just sit around, waiting patiently while Daddy languishes in Khraniteli dungeon, no doubt being tortured, probably scheduled for execution—for another six solid months . . . ?
Received news with enthusiasm of hungry trout rising to fat mayfly—and reached decision even before Teacher completed recital.
But. While Yours Truly may not be sharpest bulb in quiver (or is that brightest pencil in drawer?), have managed, during short, busy lifetime, to identify certain fundamentally human behavioral principles every bit as applicable to H. post hominems as H. sapiens; key among which: Objecting, arguing—even begging—adults to reverse what they regard as well-thought-out decisions generally has single practical effect: Spills beans concerning own intentions; opens door for inconvenient advice—potentially, even, orders: “Don’t do that.”
Clearly, last thing Plucky Girl Adventurer needed at this point was to trigger suspicions.
What was called for, however, was factual, mission-specific information: “intel,” if you will. So smiled beatifically, hugged, thanked Teacher fervently—then, moment sweet man out of sight, switched on stalker mode, tracked down Danya Feinberg, AAs’ number two special-operations reconnaissance/infiltration/intelligence-gathering/sniper.
Prior to Mankind’s End, Danya had been top Mossad field operative; specialty, “proactive threat elimination”—euphemism for assassination. All too appropriately, since given name translates to Judgment of God.
(Which has always bothered me: How could parents have known? I mean, really, so soon after birth, to look down at freshly hatched, sweet-faced baby girl happily blowing bubbles against mother’s breast, announce to world, with perfectly straight face, “This child will grow up to become the instrument of the Judgment of God . . .”)
Moot question, of course. Did. And now, with other AAs, Danya works for Teacher.
Incidentally, number two ranking amongst AA spooks mostly result of coin toss. Wallace Griffin (describes himself as out-of-work Navy Seal) unabashedly admits his field skills fall short of hers, but even Danni agrees Wallace’s gift for strategy unrivaled among hominem ranks. (In fact, with apparent seriosity, Number Two says world missed unmatched opportunity to experience Genghis Khan redux when Wallace opted not to focus talents on Dark Side.) In any event, according to Teacher, even in pseudomilitary structure, someone has to be in charge.
As suspected, caught up with Danya at base showers. Following return from three-week, living-off-land, intel-gathering recon in Urals, existing mostly as solo marauder/gleaner, Momma Spook spending substantial portion of first morning home reveling in leisurely, luxurious, catch-up soak under virtually inexhaustible, solar-heated, steaming hot water.
Parked Terry on adjacent showerhead feeder gooseneck, turned on water. Manic twin promptly launched into joyous series of upside-down, furiously flapping bathing gymnastics; continuing objective: Spread as much water as widely as possible, without actually coming into contact with any, except very tip of bill.
Shucked off own clothing, stepped under shower, then paused to regard Danni with usual carefully concealed resentment . . .
Visualize stereotypical barbarian warrior princess from vintage, heroic, Boris Vallejo cover painting for epic Thud & Blunder novel: long, flowing, glowingly dark hair. Supermodel’s face, with flawless brow, cheekbones, chin; perfect, gleaming white teeth. Eyes so blue, they seem to catch, amplify, reflect light across darkened rooms. Technically, only five-five but tall nonetheless, with almost rangy frame boasting deceptively sleek, well-developed musculature, marathoner’s utterly dimple/jiggle-free, hard little glutei maximi, all wrapped in golden, line-free suntan. Presentation capped by secondary curves whose firmly assertive proportions sneer at Newton’s second law. . . .
Total effect (according to Adam) “reduces men to idiots”; from own experience, inspires less well-assembled females to engage in thoughtful deliberation regarding pros, cons of pacts with devil. (Eternal damnation . . . hey, how bad could it be . . . ?)
Eighth Degree Black Belt, unmitigated death in bare feet, since my arrival Danya has taken me under wing; have become, in fact, her favorite pseudo-Mossad apprentice. And few aspects of life these days deliver more sheer fun than training under Danni’s supervision: Very most advanced levels of hand-to-hand combat; nonstandard weapons; plus special-operations skills (infiltration, silently taking out sentries, sniping); undercover work; interrogation; etc.
Danni even managed to introduce element of humor into hysterical strength tap, concerning whose use Yours Truly has become almost phobic (not unreasonably, given death’s recurring prominence in medical history): Persuaded me to replace original cumbersome, four-word, self-hypnotic prompt phrase (“chocolate, cabbage, caterpillar, puck”) with quicker, more classically appropriate, single trigger word: “Sha-zam . . . !”
Plus, along with other two unofficial sisters, Kim and Gayle, Danni really fun snicker-buddy at whispering/giggling-about-boys get-togethers.
(Okay, okay—obviously, such gatherings chiefly for my benefit. No, don’t really believe Kim, Gayle, or Danni [older women, all—mid 20s, at least] regard boys as giggleworthy subjects per se. Not even Adam [who really is]. Still . . .)
Withal, no matter how hard I try on occasion, Danni difficult person to dislike. Except when forced unavoidably to compare her to . . .
Me: Candy Smith-Foster; months short of 12th birthday; still whole inches shy of five feet tall; hardly more than pro forma female thus far—
Never mind; among pointless exercises in frustration, self-flagellation over unavoidable surely ranks near list’s apex. . . .
No point beating around bush with Danya, Posterity; respected her too much even to make attempt. Plus (not peripheralest of considerations), fact that, while superspook claims not to be actual mindreader, is way too smart for slow-dancing subterfuges; would spot oblique approach in heartbeat. And by this point, not arousing grownup suspicions regarding immediate plans for information’s application had taken on vital importance.
So got right to it; wide-eyed, unaffectedly enthusiastic as any other kid who’d just learned long-dead father possibly not: “Danni,” I demanded, “Teacher says you guys heard something about Daddy during your recon. Where is he? Who’s got him?”
Mentor regarded me thoughtfully before replying. Does that a lot. Depending upon circumstances, can generate sensations akin to those no doubt experienced by bird trying to stare down hungry snake.
“We don’t know that anyone’s actually got him got him,” Danya began eventually; “at least at this point. While scouting Serdtsevina Rasovyi, the base outside their big shelter under the Urals, just north of the Russian/Kazakhstani border, I questioned a Khranitel who admitted to being part of the Bratstvo group who snatched Dr. Foster out of Washington just before they vaporized it.”
Honest, Posterity, really tried to restrain self, but couldn’t have held tongue at gunpoint: “So he is alive!”
“He was alive then,” Danya corrected sympathically. “He didn’t die when Washington did; we know that. He—“
“Did your contact tell you where he is?” I pressed.
Danni hesitated again; then: “You have to understand,” she temporized, “this was not a contact per se; not a friendly conversation with a helpful local. I made this man disappear from the base in the middle of the night.
“And he was of course a Khranitel; by definition, a zealot. He did not wish to tell me anything. I had to . . .” paused again, obviously trying to choose words with care, “. . . encourage him . . .” Paused again, eyed me with detectible concern, then finished in rush, “—quite a lot.”
Yet another pause. “And while I did want to hear more about Dr. Foster, my mission was to learn what I could about the Khraniteli’s current military situation: strategy, assets, technology levels, agent deployment . . .”
A final pause. “His mention of Dr. Foster occurred early in the questioning. About all this man told me was that they had taken your father back to Serdtsevina Rasovyi. In addition to housing their headquarters, that’s where one of their larger, better-equipped laboratories is located.
“The Khraniteli wanted to pick his brains. Apparently they’ve come up with the notion of using gene-engineering to try to develop a bug we hominems aren’t immune to. They correctly surmise that, as probably the world’s leading expert in combating biological warfare before the Holocaust, today he’s the only real expert in existence on how one goes about developing such microbes.
“By the time I was certain I’d gotten everything from this fellow I could pertinent to my mission objectives, it was . . . he was . . .” Danni trailed off tastefully, eyes averted.
Nodded silently to convey understanding, hint of sympathy for unpleasant necessities. But behind otherwise carefully nonreacting expression, had difficulty not grinding teeth: Whenever so-called grownup topics (e.g., killing, torture, generic mayhem of any description) intrude upon discussions, adults—even Danni, despite ongoing special-ops training’s patently lethal focus!—tend to walk on eggs in my presence; act as if somehow, despite short, blood-soaked history, am still vulnerable innocent, needing to be protected from realities of post-apocalypse life, death.
Sweet little self-deceptions like this no doubt helpful to adults’ emotional well-being—but damned nuisancy for people who have things to do, places to go, people to rescue. Interferes with efficient information-gathering.
So bit lip; maintained grateful, cheery smile; thanked her effusively. Finished shower; departed at apparent leisure.
—And immediately set out to track down Wallace Griffin. Happily, found officially number one spook not in shower.
(“Happily”: Though for majority of younger hominems, skinny-dipping down at lovely little creek-fed pond between housing and airfield pretty much routine, Wallace not one of Teacher’s actual AAs; not even of their generation; instead, one of those anomalous older H. post hominems who had emerged previously, differences unnoticed at the time by World at Large. Sweetly old-fashioned in so many ways; and, when too much skin involved, age/gender distinctions tend to distract, possibly even distress him.)
Found head spook in office, door open, informally closeted with Peter Bell, de facto number two hominem after Teacher.
Peter also (though don’t think he knows this) subject of dearest leader’s first delicate matchmaking suggestion for me.
This, of course, prior to my meeting Adam: unrivaled electromechanical genius; world-class pianist; universe-class chef; amateur EMT (who has restarted my heart twice thus far); frighteningly intelligent; side-splittingly funny; ruggedly handsome (for someone who doesn’t shave yet—still sticking to age-18 story [but, sh-h-h, early on I found birth certificate; boy really only 13]); and actually (when not crashing cars), world-class driver; pilot, too . . .
Sorry, Posterity; yes, have been told I tend to digress.
Like most fundamentally innocent, older hominem males, Wallace can’t help himself where Yours Truly is concerned: unambiguously dotes upon very ground I tread.
Usually I go out of my way not to, but this was special occasion: Took shameless advantage of slack grownups all cut me (cute little Selfless Savior of Our People, etc.) to interrupt intelmeister, pump dry: Gleaned everything he’d heard, deduced, divined about Daddy’s purported/potential whereabouts. Got away with interrogating him in far greater depth than would have dared attempt with Danya. Even coaxed him into giving me copies of his, Danni’s field reports.
Thanked him; hugged ’til eyes popped—
Went straight home.
Despite protests, dropped off Terry. Though would miss baby brother desperately, avians, even large ones (actually, especially larger ones), simply too fragile, too vulnerable to impact. Plus birds in general horribly susceptible to even faintest traces of airborne toxins. (Remember coal mine canaries?) Besides, exotic tropical species tend to be cold-sensitive, and nippy conditions definitely in travel forecast. Withal, unnecessary exposure to potentially fraught situations simply not rational.
(Additionally, in Terry’s case, way too loud for covert enemy stronghold infiltration, recon. . . .)
However, also had mission-specific reason (selfish sounds so negative): Leaving Terry home ensured that, notwithstanding circumstances, as long as manage to remain more or less conscious, even if just barely, will be able to “phone home” from anywhere on planet. Given destination, not to mention likelihood of encounters with indigines of unrivaled bloodthirstiness, malevolence (those are adversaries’ good qualities), Terrylink communication might well prove vital: for Daddy, if there (if alive), not to mention Intrepid Special-Ops Girl herself.
Made sure birdbrain’s stand provisioned for day. Unworried about featherheaded sibling’s care, feeding, need for snuggles during projected absence; knew family would love, care for him. Especially Lisa: Adores him; vice-versa. Plus Kim’s baby girl shares my mental connection with him—and thereby is linked to me, though in her case contact seems limited to empathy: sensing emotions, feelings, etc.
Threw together necessities for trip: weapons, ammo, tools. —Oh, yeah; also food, water, clothing, toiletries, etc. Loaded swag into van.
Left note: pro forma apology to Adam, Danni, Teacher, Kim, Gayle. Assigned Lisa responsibility for taking care of Terry. Suggested they might consider keeping eye on baby brother; take notes if babbling begins to sound relevant.
Adjourned thereafter to airfield. Noted, with relief, no one around. Skimmed hurriedly through maintenance logs covering hominems’ small fleet of STOL turboprop Helio Stallions. Identified plane with “youngest” engine; i.e., fewest operating hours since major overhaul. Preflighted ship; everything came up green.
Transferred duffle, necessities from van. Fired up, lifted off.
Headed north, bound for Canada, Alaska, Bering Strait, Siberia—Kazakhstani/Russian Urals beyond.
Six months in-bleeping-deed . . . !
1Archivist’s note: This is a reference to Volume III, Part III, Finale, from the first collection of Candy Smith-Foster’s journals, which have been assembled under the overall title, Emergence.
Arguably, Posterity, descriptives borrowed, departed, perhaps oversimplify circumstances surrounding expedition’s commencement. But needed plane. And needed at least as much not to be noticed, stopped.
Now, historical record amply demonstrates Plucky Girl Aviatrix’s world-class ultralight piloting skills. Not to mention multi-dozenteen hours logged “flying” shuttle simulator prior to suicide mission to geosynchronous orbit, plus checkout flights in most ships in AAs’ air fleet—okay, not C-17s . . .
More pertinently, however, only two weeks previously had availed self of propinquitous opportunity to accumulate just shy of two hours’ pilot-in-command Stallion time when Lennel Palindrome (how can parents be so cruel?) delivered Adam, Kim, Lisa, Terry, Tora-chan (Adam’s cat), Plucky Girl Explorer herself, up to Sequoia National Forest to retrieve my unstoppably Adam-breathed-upon, four-wheel-drive van, boy’s own luxurious, much-modified travel-trailer, our various camping/travel gear—including (oh, frabjous day!) his favorite gourmet cooking pots, pans, utensils, plus collection of herbs, spices, other possibly alchemy-based additives which may explain some of the difference between his offerings, those of other, merely world-class chefs.
After intense coaxing, cajoling, wheedling, and persuasion (whining imputation, however, rejected as undiluted calumny), Lennel let me fly takeoff, outbound cross-country leg; even coached me through float-down-like-leaf, short-field-mode, practice landing on turf next to runway at destination airfield.
Historiographer’s note: To ensure accurate Record for Ages (not to mention quell malicious gossip), Lennel’s decision to yield controls prompted exclusively by lad’s own big-hearted impulses, innately magnanimous nature. Completely unconnected to my rumored promise not to hurt him next time I conducted his Second-Degree Black Belt karate classes . . .
Mere coincidence, also, that, since equity demanded helping with preflight inspection, refueling upon arrival, postflight maintenance, etc., such activities enabled concurrent sucking of Lennel’s brain generally regarding Stallions’ care, feeding, idiosyncracies, etc.
Now, unlikely as may seem in hindsight, at that point your Humble Historiographer actually had nothing more devious in mind than wallowing in adrenaline rush stemming from controlling big, powerful new toy. Ultralight’s maximum takeoff weight, 525 pounds; with full fuel plus Intrepid Girl Aviatrix aboard, tips scales at barely 400. Stallion, on other hand, grosses 6100. Not to mention unmitigated epinephrine thrill—at full throttle, big bird accelerates like rocket, climbs as if laws of physics suspended.
However, at least as compelling, like Mr. Kipling’s Elephant’s Child, Yours Truly always on lookout for opportunities to feed ’satiable curiosity. Pursuit of knowledge never wasted effort.
Which maxim’s truth never more conclusively demonstrated than today . . .
Recently reresurrected Helio Aircraft Company’s latest edition of Stallion bush-plane is big, gangly, awkward-looking bird: only a whisker less than 40 feet from prop spinner to strobe-capped tail cone, wingspan slightly wider still. Towers nine feet high on extra-tall, so-called conventional tail-dragger landing gear, supported in front by two huge, fat, soft-terrain-flotation tires.
(Clearly, conventional reference in this context purest anachronism: Nosewheel-based tricycle gear, as seen on jetliners, military aircraft, etc. [including ultralight, aboard which Plucky Girl Aviatrix acquired initial experience], has long since replaced tail-dragger layout as norm, but two-big-tires-in-front/small-one-at-rear configuration still preferred by experienced bush pilots for soft, rough, short, unimproved fields).
Technically, Stallions rated for two-person flight crew plus eight passengers; in fact, since solo pilot suffices for operation, can transport nine actual passengers.
For this trip, however, prior to departure, unlocked, took out, left behind six rearmost seats in favor of resultant unobstructed floor space, bulk cargo room, extra payload weight allowance.
On downside, seat removal provided convenient access to cargo-drop belly doors. When opened, yawning void useful for air-delivering supplies, etc., should such activities appear on agenda. However, on occasions when must walk across, stand on them in flight, doors’ presence underfoot generates very real (regardless how psychosomatic) sweaty, achy sensation in soles of feet, palms of hands. (Odd reaction, given fact am not particularly phobic about heights per se.)
From Plucky Girl Aviatrix’s perspective, however, Stallion’s primary benefit is advanced aerodynamic technology: Pop-out Fowler slats extending virtually entire length of wings’ leading edges, combined with root-to-tip flaperons (ailerons doubling as flaps) produce astonishing slow-flight qualities: minimum controllable maneuvering speed only 37 knots, or 42.5 mph; actual stall lower still. Most planes that size already falling out of sky at 70 or better.
Which slow-flight characteristics, when combined with 750-horsepower turboprop engine, huge, variable-pitch, reversible, three-blade prop, produce incredibly short takeoff/landing ground runs: just under length of football field; hardly more than needed by tiny ultralight. STOL: Short TakeOff/Landing—indeed.
Aforementioned sophisticated aerodynamic engineering features combined to produce slightly wobbly takeoff; borderline maladroit performance no doubt exacerbated by haste. Had someone noticed preparations, asked entirely reasonable question, “Candy, what are you doing with that plane . . . ?” would have had awkward time coming up with answer sufficiently disarming to send snoop back to minding own business.
(And really hated thought of having to pummel friend to make good escape.)
So took advantage of plane’s STOL characteristics to minimize interception probabilities: Took off more or less directly out of hangar door.
Stallions particularly well-suited to such highjinks. For all intents, purposes, turboprop warms up instantly. Hit starter, engine spins up to minimum ignition rpm in seconds. Light torch—thrill to nifty jet-engine wail as, within moments, rpms come rest of the way up to operational speeds.
Sound level, however, not exactly stealthy; so prior to engaging starter, had already set prop pitch, flaperons, trim tabs for departure mode: everything in short-field-takeoff configuration.
Wherefore, advanced throttle to stop, released brakes, eased yoke forward. Tailwheel off ground before Stallion fully out hangar door; plane lifted off without further pilot intervention only two, three seconds later—almost before clearing apron.
Banked immediately to establish climb-out parallel to active runway, just in case actual conflicting traffic might be present. (Not likely; airstrip boasts three, maybe five non-training-session operations per week.)
Once clear of traffic pattern, climbing away from field (with guilt feelings waning in direct proportion to distance covered), didn’t take long regain feel for controls. Stabilized, trimmed for standard cruise-climb.
Upon reaching manual-listed maximum-efficiency altitude of 13,000 feet, netting 175-knot (201 mph) cruise, burning roughly 50 gallons per hour, leveled off, switched on autopilot.
Left ship’s radios turned very much off. Same with pair of borrowed satellite phones. Little doubt what family, friends would have to say. Even less doubt—common-sense arguments, emotional entreaties alike would have no effect on decision.
Redundant GPS units operational; even more satisfying, agreed amongst selves. Teacher says most GPS satellites can be counted upon to remain on-station, on-line for years to come; long enough, he feels, for hominems, led by AAs, to develop own space program based on lightweight Rutan-pioneered technology; take up global-comm maintenance duties; plus, in time, embark upon further exploration out into Big Dark.
Unbuckled, adjourned to improvised navigational station just aft of pilot’s seat. Had “borrowed” one copy of each paper chart covering proposed route up U.S./Canadian/Alaskan west coast, straight across inland Alaska to Bering Strait, along with most of eastern, central, western Asia, eastern Europe. Plus had full collection of applicable GPS-linked 3-D topographical satellite-photo DVDs to load into Garmin moving-map “glass cockpit” big-screen primary flight-information display.
Spread out first chart. Rather than following westerly-then-northerly-curving coast all the way to Seattle area, point at which Canadian coast bends westward further still, had decided to plot inland-angling, less Pacifically scenic but shorter, geodesic “great circle” course.
Quick glance showed route workable: regularly spaced general aviation fields within reasonable detouring distance on both sides of track.
Returned to pilot seat. Inserted first DVD into Garmin. After brief delay while system loaded, digested data, full-color moving map appeared, with cute little you-are-here airplane icon just below screen center. Quick glance out windows confirmed on-screen picture matched geography below.
(Amazing, what scientists can accomplish when not coming up with ever more imaginative ways to eliminate whole sapient species. . . .)
Even without electronic goodies, Stallion’s panel more than adequate to fly through soup. However, have no intention whatever of attempting IFR (instrument flight rules) operations. Yes, have demonstrated acceptable degree of proficiency, both in simulators as well as while wearing don’t-peek, instrument-practice hood in real planes.
However, absent, at minimum, up-to-date weather information from ground-based air-traffic controller, pilot has no idea whether cloud one is driving through is merely local phenomenon—or perhaps zero-zero conditions exist all the way down to unplanned right-of-way dispute with unyielding minerals. Only way to be certain is to fly only when ground visible, meaning VFR operations for me exclusively, thank you very much.
Planned to fly short legs only, topping up tanks by halfway point whenever possible. If specific airport turns up dry, will have plenty of fuel remaining to move on.
Had had variety of planes to choose from back at Mt. Palomar; some smaller, others larger (all the way up to Globemaster IIIs!). However, while Stallion larger than would have preferred, advanced aero technology actually simplifies piloting, maintenance chores; minimizes odds of potential mechanical failures.
Lennel says turboprops way more reliable than reciprocating engines. Oversimplifying proposition to almost comical degree, turboprop consists of only one moving part: turbine/compressor shaft. True, that single piece drives gearbox, which slows 125,000-plus rpm turbine shaft rotation to 2000-2500 rpm-ish prop speed, as well as driving peripherals such as alternators, etc.
Adam agrees with Lennel; says far fewer modern propjet engines and/or gearboxes fail than piston engines’ exhaust valves—to say nothing of recips’ other 11 moving parts per cylinder (minimum); plus all those components in common, such as crankshaft bearings (or crank itself), connecting rods, camshaft, pushrods, rocker arms, valve springs, magnetos, distributors, sparkplugs, etc.
Of course, regardless which engine type, any failure beyond most minor of causes shifts expedition to Plan B in big way—substantive engine repairs simply beyond 11-year-old ingénue-type capabilities.
Wish had Plan B . . .
And sure wish had dared try to bring Adam. Merrily wicked, irrepressible good humor, coupled with our fundamental compatibility, would have made trip much more pleasant. Plus, of course, boy so useful: Even limited to campfire or crudest gasoline-fueled camp stove, routinely produces culinary miracles; and, though major aircraft engine blowup might crowd even his talents (at least without access to fully equipped aviation repair shop), can fix pretty much anything.
However, company simply not in cards. No question, Adam would have responded to invitation with attempt to stop me. Probably would even have stooped to irrefutable common-sense arguments. When that failed to work (as if!), favorite boytoy in whole wide world would have dug in heels, shifted to transcendentally superior Male Authority mode: Forbidden Me To Go.
(And according to leading relationship experts, tying, gagging, locking Significant Other in closet prior to departure appears nowhere amongst top ten recommended couple-bonding strategies.)
Still, would have been nice to be able to count on intelligent, resourceful, fearless backup In The Event Of . . . Particularly someone so familiar with the frequently out-of-boxly way Plucky Special-Ops Girl’s brain operates—coordinated efforts, when working as team, sometimes leads family, friends, associates to accuse us (probably no more than half-kiddingly) of reading each other’s minds.
Hmm . . . No way to soft-shoe around it, Posterity; that was digression. Back to Stallion:
At least as important as reliability for traveler forced to glean necessities en route, turboprops’ diet of choice: Jet-A/JP-4—staple of civilian passenger/air freight industry/military air fleets. Millions of gallons still conveniently available pretty much worldwide, even at modest-sized general aviation and/or military airports.
Toward which end, on-board tool inventory also includes pair of industrial-grade fuel-transfer hand-plumps, with hoses, high-tech filters to remove condensed water, screen out particulates, algae, etc.
In interests of historical accuracy, however, Dauntless Girl Flying Ace must confess: Deserve no credit for equipment’s inclusion; not product of own foresight. Each of hominem community’s planes carries them, since even officially condoned flights mostly involve refueling far afield.
Plus, even more critical for under-five-foot-tall airplane thie—er, borrower, inventory includes lightweight folding stepladder. No kidding: Fuel filler caps on this ship recessed into upper wing surfaces, tippy-tip-tops of wingtip tanks—all over nine feet off ground . . . !
Also brought along additional pieces of equipment necessary to accommodate Yours Truly’s “special” requirements: Firm, three-inch-thick, foam block on pilot’s seat enables vision over instrument panel in level flight. More comfortable, as well as lighter (and surely more professional looking), than phone book, which had used during earlier flight with Lennel.
Lastly, homemade rudder/brake pedal lift blocks, transferred intact from pedals of own van. Neatly mini-C-clamped into place, pads enable leg-length-challenged pilot (hey, I resemble that remark!) falling outside designed-for specs, to steer, coordinate flaperons/rudder for smoothly banked turns; operate brakes when circumstances mandate.
Teacher’s bomb dropped just after breakfast. Ferreting out necessary details on Daddy’s probable whereabouts took almost ’til noon. Packing required another two hours.
All Stallion maintenance logs kept in pigeonhole shelf unit mounted on hangar wall, so plane selection took only minutes. And since unwritten Mt. Palomar “air force” protocol states, “You fly it, you service it,” could be certain that, unless red-tagged, all ships present fueled, flight-ready.
Transferring gear (including pedal blocks) from van to plane took 20 minutes; preflight another ten.
Lifted off, finally, at about three p.m., leaving only about five hours’ daylight.
Night flying? Thank you, no. Hominem vision extension into infrared fringes not adequate substitute for runway lights during night landings. (Okay, if had really good reason, might be persuaded to take shot during warm, cloudless, full-moon-lit night.) Upon reflection, have decided to flight-plan for solid, two-hours-before-sundown cushion, just to be sure.
Flying weather perfect: Glorious, haze-free, clear blue skies, intermittent fluffy, sparklingly white cumulus puffies (a few reminiscent of animals) above, below flight level; gorgeous panorama of forested mountains, rivers, lakes passing beneath, all the way from Palomar to Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Where redoubtable World-Class Ultralight Pilot/Retired Space Shuttle Copilot redeemed self, reestablished confidence eroded during flying-clown takeoff, by floating down, executing (tragically unwitnessed) perfectly squeaked-on three-point touchdown.
Excerpts from the Journal of Kim Mellon:
Really, wouldn’t you think that by now we’d all have learned . . .
If there’s one quality which exemplifies Candy’s personality, it’s her decisiveness and determination. —Wait. Sorry; that’s two qualities. Her resourcefulness, decisiveness, and determination— Damn, that’s three. And—
Sorry; worry scrambles my brain, and of course I’m practically beside myself at this point, so naturally I sound like a refugee from a Monty Python Inquisition skit.
I think what I’m trying to say is that Candy isn’t like other little girls, not even other Homo post hominem little girls.
(At least I don’t think she is—or maybe I’m just hoping: Periodically, the recurring suspicion that one day Lisa may be just like her causes my blood to run cold.)
Prior to saving the world (and before dying even the first time), Candy had demonstrated a selfless courage and determination at least comparable to that of . . . of . . .
Of an adult, obviously.
But an adult what . . . ?
Sugar? Spice? Everything nice?
A warrior, of course. Though still essentially a child in appearance, and in her merry, uncomplicated devotion and loyalty to her friends and loved ones, the innermost core of Candy’s soul of souls cannot be other than that of a warrior. Yes, four feet, ten inches in height, preteen—nearly prepubescent, for heaven’s sake!—but clearly a warrior:
Repeatedly she’s faced death in defense of others; sometimes spontaneously, reacting almost without thought, as when she dived into that flaming car to rescue Adam. But that last time . . .
With full awareness of the consequences, making a rational, calculated, “needs of the many” decision—displaying a courage which to this day brings tears to my eyes to contemplate—she stepped forward and volunteered to die for her newly discovered people.
But she’s also killed. On the first occasion, she was hurried into mortal combat by a sociopath.
The second time, however, the killing was carried out in the coldest of blood: an utterly premeditated execution. Kyril Svetlanov, the Khraniteli agent, stood between her and the lives of those whom she had pledged herself to protect. Deliberately, efficiently, she distracted him with childlike tears, got close enough, and then, with a minimum of risk to herself and her mission, she invoked hysterical strength, twisted his neck, and killed his treacherous, back-stabbing, sorry Khraniteli ass . . . !
(Wow. Where did that come from? I must be even more upset than I realized.)
Anyway, certainly the courage and integrity are inborn, but those life-and-death experiences have . . . changed her. Since returning from space (and particularly, this last time, from death), Candy has possessed a certain . . . perhaps awareness would be the closest descriptive of her current outlook, though an adult-level element of confidence is part of it.
Now, whether that confidence is best described with the prefix over or not . . . I’m barely a First Degree Black Belt and I’ve never died, so, in the language of my engineering background, I lack the training, experience, and/or data necessary to express an opinion.
In any event, I should have recognized the signs: I actually heard Teacher tell her that they’d gotten a line on her adopted father. More importantly, I also heard him tell her it would probably be another six months before we could mount another expedition into the area.
Then I bumped into Danni coming out of the showers, and she told me how Candy had grilled her for everything she’d heard about Doctor Foster.
However, it was only at dinnertime, when most of us were assembling in the chow hall, and I looked up to see Lisa arriving with Terry on her shoulder, that the dots began to connect, and the first squads of goosebumps started their march up my spine.
“Lisa, honey, how come you have Terry? Where’s Candy?”
At six years of age and the product of a double dose of hominem genes (my beloved, dearly departed Jason almost certainly was one of us), Lisa is one of the most terrifyingly precocious children on the planet. An empath, having demonstrated beyond question her ability to tap into Candy’s emotions, both directly and via Terry’s mind, and almost as certainly mine and others, getting information from her which she feels might upset us can be an exercise in frustration.
She eyed me thoughtfully before replying. “Candy’s not eating with us tonight,” she said carefully. “So I thought I’d bring Terry.”
Mm-hmm . . . Not enough content to be a lie, and so not responsive to the question. (Daniel Webster would have gotten all misty-eyed with pride.)
I tried again, my voice dripping a warm, uncritical curiosity—knowing all the while that the tone was irrelevant; that she was picking up my mounting apprehension directly from the source: “Where is Candy eating?”
Lisa’s eyes hooded. Another classic null-A pause ensued which would have warmed the cockles of A. E. van Vogt’s slannish heart. This was followed by an even more painstakingly less informative reply: “She didn’t say.”
By this point, throughout the chamber all eyes were swiveling toward us. Conversation, after the briefest upward flurry, began tapering to a halt.
“Around eleven this morning,” Wallace Griffin contributed unhappily into the deepening silence, “Candy dropped by my office and pumped everything out of me but my bone marrow about what we’d gleaned regarding her dad. She even left with copies of our field reports.”
“Which would have been right after she’d wrung me dry,” interjected Danya, regarding Lisa with that unblinking gaze so reminiscent of a cobra.
Whereupon, my daughter found that stroking and scritching Terry required all her attention. Clearly, no further assistance would be coming from that quarter.
Another pause followed, increasingly pregnant, broken when Lennel Palindrome, our leading aviation maintenance guru, cleared his throat and rose awkwardly to his feet. “If I could see a show of hands of anyone who knows why one of our Helio Stallions executed a remarkably nonstandard departure around three this afternoon?” he asked. “And is still gone . . .” he finished apologetically.
The dearth of hands in response was equaled only by the depth of the silence which finally had descended throughout the room, unbroken even by the sound of breathing.
The crash of Adam’s chair toppling over ended it. Catapulting to his feet, he leaned forward, arms braced on the table, his face suddenly ashen. Wide-eyed, he glared around the room. “She’s gone!” he hissed. “You all know she’s gone! She’s going to fly to Russia all by herself, and then, single-handedly, she’s going to storm the goddamned castle . . . !”
Lovely area, Klamath Falls; could be talked into living here: Pretty town, prettier surrounding suburbs; located at southern end of large, lovely lake, amongst low, heavily forested mountains, rising higher to west. Whole area situated amongst eastern flanks of Cascades, some 60 miles south of Crater Lake.
Stallion’s resting angle so steeply nose-up, on extra-tall, conventional, tail-dragger landing gear, renders vision straight ahead over nose while on ground effectively invisible. So S-turn taxied (snatching alternating peeks right, left, to see what lay directly ahead) over to fixed-base operator facilities.
Identified half-full Jet-A fuel truck. Employed hand pump, filters (ladder!) to refuel Stallion.
Thereafter performed plane’s bedtime chores: checked oil, various fluid reservoirs, battery electrolyte level, tire pressures. Removed aerodynamic contamination represented by bugspot accumulations from propeller’s, wings’, tail group’s leading edges. Carefully washed windshield (formed from nearly bulletproof, but ever-so-scratchably soft, Lexan), etc.
Finally taxied over to pretty little grove of trees near airport perimeter. Deployed big T-handle wrench to twist tie-down kit’s coiled-spring stakes deep into ground; one under ringbolt in each wing, one at tip of tail; secured plane against unexpected wind gusts with strong, kit-furnished ropes.
In shade under starboard wing, cooked dinner on Coleman camp stove transferred from van; stuffed face until comfortably full. Cleaned up “kitchen” by burying non-breakfast-reusable leftovers.
Then pulled out duffle bag containing clothes, blankets, etc., set down next to big main-gear wheel. Planted tush on bag’s cushion, leaned back against side of tire. Closed eyes, composed, sent off wish-you-were-here-touristy message to family via Terrymail.
Wondered how much non-message-quality, random stream-of-consciousness, mental activity baby brother had already passed on. Probably mind-numbing duty for poor Terry-monitor—little doubt Teacher would have posted one already.
Which caused slight twinge of guilt: AAs perpetually short-handed; hated to inflict on them need to divert possibly essential personnel to remote baby-sitting duties. But then recalled: Decision to tiptoe off alone to Urals prompted in part by recognition, acceptance of fact could hardly expect Teacher to divert limited resources for mission just to rescue Daddy—assuming even still alive.
Viewed in which light, Terry-watching becomes bargain: nets Teacher additional realtime Urals/Khraniteli intel without personnel/matériel costs attendant to mounting, dispatching actual mission.
(Wow, sounds so reasonable, almost believe it myself.)
Settled down, brought journal up-to-date.
And suddenly found self temporarily at loose ends, with too much time on hands, reflecting on plans—and at that point could not avoid facing fact that killings almost certainly lay in future. In fact, assuming don’t manage further to martyr self in process, undoubtedly lots of killings.
More specifically, lots more killings: Yes, Posterity, despite chronologically tender age, your Humble Historiographer has already been forced to kill.
At which point, despite best efforts, horrific series of memories from astonishingly violent recent past floated before eyes . . .
On first occasion, Rollo Jones, brand-new acquaintance, had attacked Terry with big iron skillet. Impact would have crushed delicate avian skeleton like balsa-wood airplane model.
Now, to be fair, featherheaded baby brother started it. But to be even fairer, fact that situation had been allowed to deteriorate to that level was fault of no one but Yours Truly. On so many levels.
First, ignored portents: Terry hated Rollo. Instantly. On sight. And for years, had never known birdbrain to be wrong about people.
Even today, if silly sibling likes someone, invariably new chum proves to be Best Friend material. If not—
Wait. Come to think of it, haven’t encountered any nots since being invited into AA/hominem community. (Terry never met Kyril . . .)
Rollo had been charming, funny, obviously terribly smart. And while at least 30 years older than self, was indisputably handsome, in dignified, gray-templed fashion. Plus much of age difference had been spent surviving variety of hostile environments, working as M.D. during Peace Corps tours, amongst other adventures. By any measure, would have been asset.
Seemingly more important at the time, however, Rollo only third living soul to cross path since Armageddon; really had hoped would become friends. So shrugged off alarm bells sounded by Terry’s instant hostility; allowed acquaintance to progress from introduction to tentative, cautious friendship.
That evening, Rollo served dinner for us (Adam, self)—and on that very first “date,” proposed (or at least propositioned); i.e., suggested practical arrangement, as primitive societies had employed down through ages: Would pledge his loyalty, years of all-around survival experience, medical training—for access to your Humble Historiographer’s bed.
In process of deliberating pros, cons; actually on point of accepting, largely for Adam’s benefit (having doctor join expedition could have been of inestimable value). But just then Rollo came within reach of Terry for very first time since meeting—and birdbrain promptly bit living daylights out of him.
Injury triggered absolutely berserk rage; if hadn’t stopped him, Rollo would have killed featherheaded touchstone/prognosticator in heartbeat. Intervention had required karate, hysterical strength. But pain, frustration at being blocked by child had redirected Rollo’s fury from Terry to self.
Still might have restrained attacker without killing, but Rollo big, strong, pretty fast. Hurried me. Ultimately, encounter ended badly.
Reaction to killing was to go catatonic for better part of twelve hours, brood for weeks. Didn’t recover fully until Kim (who, with daughter, Lisa, were fourth, fifth live people encountered after Mankind’s End) took me aside, administered metaphoric shake, helped set head back on straight.
Then came Kyril: bright, fun, good company; also eminently cuddlable in sweet, fatherly sort of way.
But when dust settled, proved to be Khraniteli agent. His people wanted my people dead. Russian stood between me and mine: those whom had volunteered to die to save.
No anger involved, Kyril’s or mine. Nor, on this occasion, stampeded into lethal violence, as with Rollo. Killing Kyril was coldest-blooded, most undilutedly deliberate assassination imaginable: product of thoughtful, if brief, calculation, planning; methodical execution.
No two ways about it: killing bad. And on indefinable levels, cost of having killed almost worse.
However, cost of losing genocidal war worse still. So whatever must do to defend my people, individually or as a whole, shall accept, pay price, whatever that may be.
Same holds at least as true for rescuing Daddy . . .
Well, gee, glad we settled that.
Finally found self reflecting on curious sense of accomplishment, depth of comfort imparted by simple activity of journal-keeping. Though begun originally as mere therapy, to drain off nearly suicidal levels of depression experienced while trapped in shelter right after End of Days, since then have more or less come to regard keeping up journals as responsibility—personal Duty to Future Generations.
Hmm . . . Hope Plucky Girl Savior of Our People not beginning to believe own publicity.
Yes, technically, this should be Day II entry, since being written next morning after having put journal to bed—not to mention minor detail that events about to be chronicled took place after midnight.
Having concluded Day I(a)’s journal update, relaxed, leaned head back, rested against tire sidewall, settled in to enjoy gorgeous, colorful, sunset lightshow display over Cascades.
Mind you, may even have rested eyes briefly; perhaps moment here, second there. But certainly not as if slept.
However, in view of sunset admirer’s certified non-sleeping status, startlement level delivered by gentle impact on lap from what at first impression appeared to be lightweight, inverted, plastic dinner plate seemed anomalous at best.
Eyes snapped wide. As nearly simultaneously as physically possible, looked left, right, and—
Found self locked in staring contest, at point-blank range, with cold, almost luminous, ghostly whitish-blue eyes of
—Wiley Coyote . . . ?
Kim Mellon’s Journal:
Unfortunately, Teacher’s attempt at calming Adam was begun with the observation, “Now, we can’t just go rushing off half-cocked . . .”
But Adam, clearly in the grip of that hyperintense, almost berserker-quality state of focused concentration I first saw the day Candy’s ultralight engine failed and she went down in the Sequoias, was already dashing out the door.
Unlike the rest of us, he didn’t hear Teacher say, “. . . however, Wallace, I have come to the conclusion that I may be in error. Though Candy’s tactics at this point are open to question, I think perhaps that her decision was strategically correct. We’ve done enough information-gathering, analysis, and reflection. It’s time we moved actively against the Khraniteli. If you’d please organize an expedition for that specific purpose.”
“My pleasure,” said Wallace with a wolfish smile.
“In general,” Teacher continued, “I’d like to reduce all their known bases, beginning with Serdtsevina Rasovyi, and the research-and-development facility located there. If possible, I would prefer to recover whatever data it may contain. However, regardless of whether that proves possible, I want it neutralized, and everyone connected with it eliminated as a future threat.
“We know that most of the installation is underground, in that huge, so-called indestructible shelter of theirs. If you feel the need to use one or more thermonuclear warheads, so be it.
“Of course, at some point Candy will undoubtedly need assistance in determining whether Marshall really is alive and extracting him, so while we’re at it—”
Bouncing up, I forced myself to interrupt (no one interrupts Teacher—not that he minds; it just isn’t done): “Excuse me, Teacher. I’ve seen Adam in all-out Candy-rescue mode before. He’s impetuous, but he’s not half-cocked: Before he cleared that door, he’d already decided what equipment he was going to need, and I’ll bet he knows where every piece of it is located.
“If we don’t stop him”—by this point I was already headed for the door myself, accelerating to a dead run—“he’ll have it all accumulated, and by sundown we’ll be missing another Stallion.” Jumping up, Danya and Gayle followed me.
“How ’bout that,” said Terry from Lisa’s shoulder. “Ooo,” he added, so softly that probably only Lisa and I heard him as I raced past her and out the door; “that cloud looks just like a giraffe. . . .”
Okay, Posterity, recognized new acquaintance as Border Collie almost instantly. Or as nearly instantly as possible, considering . . .
One: Fact that sun had quite unambiguously retired for evening; western horizon’s bottommost fringes barely even hinted at pinkish tinge. Which meant Hair-Trigger-Alert Sentrygirl had been dead to world for probably two hours or more; and . . .
Two: Dog almost entirely black; relieved only by minimal white feet, modest chest blaze, narrow collar, slender stripe from nose to just behind flop-tipped ears.
Utterly motionless in pool of deeper darkness beneath wing created by slightly oblate moon hanging in crystal-clear, star-studded sky, canine effectively invisible at that moment, except for faintest infrared glowing auras detectible from areas where coat was thinnest; brighter glow from naked nose, edges of eyelids, outlining—
Only anatomical feature really visible: spooky, light blue eyes—picked out by random moonbeam reflected back under wing from polished metal propeller blade.
Kim Mellon’s Journal:
Gayle runs faster than I do, but Danya is faster than anyone; she caught Adam only about a quarter mile from the chow hall. He had almost reached what I suspected was going to be his first stop: the armory.
However, when Danya really wants to speak with you, the sheer radiating power of her personality (even without an awareness of the potential for dislocated joints and broken bones to underscore the effect) makes it difficult to ignore her. Far more quickly than either Gayle or I could have managed, she gained Adam’s attention and suggested he return with us to what was obviously about to turn into our first expeditionary planning session.
“Don’t you even think of skipping out ahead of us and running your own operation,” she told him sternly. “Wallace is going to want to arm-wrestle me for you, but I’m asking first: I need your fix-anything, mad-scientist talents on my team when we go in.”
Danni is so good. She couldn’t have picked a better stratagem. No hint of the “You young idiot; you’re just going to get yourself killed!” mom-style, common-sense approach I probably would have tried—which would have fallen upon the deaf ears of a mission-bent berserker.
No; with a perfectly straight face, Danni addressed him on the level of “us professional rescuers,” one to another: Teacher had just authorized a preemptive strike, we were going in to carry it out, as well as to help Candy get her dad out—and, she, Danni, needed Adam on her team to make it all work.
I’ve never encountered anyone, whose construction included Y chromosomes and normal concentrations of testosterone, whether Homo sapiens or H. post hominem, who wouldn’t have responded to such a matter-of-fact request for assistance from someone who looks like Danni with other than improved posture, a significantly expanded chest, a piercing, look-of-eagles expression, and a heightened overall aspect of manly determination.
Of course, at least equally important, by “drafting” him as part of her team, giving him mission responsibilities, and letting him know that she and we all are counting on him, Danni has also minimized the likelihood that he’ll go charging off on his own.
Which is a relief. I love Adam almost as much as Candy does, and he’s a terrifically talented young man. In his fields. But the fact is, special-operations skills and hand-to-hand combat simply are not among them. He is nowhere near Candy’s level. Heck, even I’m better at it than he is. There’s no doubt in my mind that, if he tried to go in on his own, he’d get caught in a heartbeat.
Candy, on the other hand . . . Even before beginning to train under Danya, Candy had much the same focused, thinking-all-the-time quality to her gaze as her tutor; and the more time she spends with Danni, the more she reminds me of our ex-Mossadniki.
Since then Danni has repeatedly confided to me that Candy is a natural-born ninja: Her talent for special-operations work, such as infiltration and stalking, are unmatched. Danya says that, since taking her under her wing, Candy’s learned to move with utter silence and become virtually invisible in terrain offering less concealment than anyone she’s ever met.
As a Sixth Degree Black Belt, Candy was already approaching her coach’s skill level in hand-to-hand and non-firearm-type weapons; but according to Danni, our lethal little sister has become an even better shot than she, a Mossad-trained professional sniper/assassin, ever was, particularly with the big rifles at extreme long range.
In short, under normal circumstances, the thought of an eleven-year-old girl prowling the Urals, stalking Khraniteli in their own territory, would be terribly distressing. In Candy’s case, however, similes involving wolves in sheep’s clothing fall almost blood-chillingly short. A more appropriate comparison might be something on the order of a wistfully helpless-looking Golden Retriever puppy—which transforms in the blink of an eye into a tiger. Or perhaps more accurately—a velociraptor. . . .
Danni’s only halfway tongue-in-cheek term-of-art for this phenomenon is the exploding baby bunny surprise: an adult adversary’s momentarily confused, probably fatal, hesitation upon the sudden discovery that within this innocent-appearing, winsome, apparently vulnerable, small-for-her-age, preteen girl dwells a supremely well-trained warrior who holds no ruth whatever for our enemies.
Intellectually, based on the above, I know that her chances of pulling it off are comparable to those of Wallace or Danya working alone. Possibly even better, actually, on some levels, because of the Q-ship factor.
Except, of course, for the language: They speak it like natives, but Candy’s command of Russian is limited to about fifty words; with, I’m told, an atrocious American accent; most of it having to do with spaceflight and disarming orbiting doomsday bombs—an inventory of dubious utility on her current quest.
All of which raises the question: If she’s like this now, what’s she going to be like—Heaven help us all—when she grows up?
If she grows up . . .
Dwelling on 300-plus acres located not quite five miles outside Wausippi, small Wisconsin town where Daddy/Momma Foster—then Daddy/Teacher—raised me, Weldon Helmrick was independently wealthy gentleman farmer. As part of operation, Helmrick ran commercial milking parlor. Sort of. Yes, did raise cows. Yes, did market lactate output (Wisconsin was Dairy State, after all) to pay for upkeep on 200-plus really contented (some almost borderline-obese) Holsteins.
Mostly, however, Weldon pocketed huge governmental subsidies for not operating anywhere near capacity, lest someone in government have to figure out how to avoid feeding excess to Third World poor.
(Hmm . . . Really must stop getting diverted into these side issues. Not as if matters; those people all dead now—starving victims, soulless governmental dogs-in-the-manger alike.)
Point toward which your Humble-if-Scatterbrained Historiographer was tacking so obliquely, even prior to inadvertent digression into sociological-injustice rant: Weldon’s actual motivation for keeping cows in first place was so his Border Collies would have herd of their very own to play with. (Weldon called it “training”; may even have believed it himself.)
Breeding, competing in obedience, herding, agility, tracking, catching Frisbees, plus occasional foray into conformation breed ring, were focus of joyous dilettante agriculturist’s lifework.
As well, with such outlook, served as state coordinator for (surprise!) Border Collie Rescue.
BC population at Helmrick homestead seldom dropped below 15, 20: four, five of his own (more when one or more females had puppies on ground), plus 10, 20 rescuees being fostered, resocialized, retrained, in transit from/to old/new homes, etc. In point of fact, Weldon spent virtually every waking moment working, playing with, loving his dogs.
(Fair number of sleeping moments, too, based on Yours Truly’s experience with Alpha, oldest daughter. [Yes—Heaven help them—Weldon named kids in order of arrival, as if two-legged pack members. He and wife had made it up to baby girl Epsilon(!) by Armageddon time.] Seldom did any family member, or overnight guest, experience less than “three-dog night”—and can testify from own experience, actually pretty cozy arrangement during frigid Wisconsin winter nights. . . .)
Alphie one of my best friends. Helmrick farm seriously fun place; spent considerable time there. Got to know Border Collies well; formed favorable impression.
Confession (don’t tell Terry): But for potential risk to featherheaded twin posed by sharing abode with 45 pounds of spring-steel- and sinew-powered, obsessive-compulsive canine with herding instincts generally operating at Warp Nine, might well have worked on Daddy to get me BC puppy of my own.
Or, more likely, grownup rescuee. Weldon repeatedly told me would have given us Really Good Deal: his cost for one of his own pups—but free, if chose rescuee.
Weldon had much in common with beloved breed: unreasoning, monomaniacal focus on joys of pursuit of one’s passion. In his case, Border Collie ownership. In BCs’ case, monitoring/controlling movement of any-/everything nonstationary, heading off any single critter departing from group, gathering scattered components of whatever description together in one place, sorted by related subgroups, etc.
Weldon oblivious to demands in time, training, personal attention (beyond what most people could begin to devote) required to keep intrinsically hyperactive breed happily, constructively—i.e., nondestructively—occupied. Felt no one should be without BC of her very own; several would be better. . . .
True, without qualification, BCs are most intelligent quadrupeds have ever encountered. Not just my opinion; according to literature (as well as Weldon), dogs from good working bloodlines (as opposed to ruined, brainless, bred-for-pretty-only breedring types) have IQs comparable to five-year-old human children (mind-bogglingly focused five-year-old human children): capable of abstract reasoning, deducing answers from indirect evidence, operating independently once assigned projects. From own observations, never doubted assertion for a moment.
Have also listened to many of Weldon’s horror stories—“hilarious anecdotes,” in Weldonspeak—of consequences of permitting Border Collies to succumb to ennui; each tale delivered howling with laughter at inventiveness, originality—sheer scope of mischief involved . . .
Narratives of owners who, upon waking from naps, found every single ball in entire house arranged in neat circle at feet. Or every kid in neighborhood tightly huddled in group at geometric center of front yard, most crying, all afraid to move. Or cats all clustered in living room corner, looking really outraged (yes, cats can be herded—by BCs).
Another dog, who turned out to be outstanding herding prospect, ended up in Rescue shortly after purchase by misguided housewife-lady owner, who only wanted nice, quiet house pet, but had heard BCs were “really smart.” Two weeks after bringing home nice, quiet (really smart) house pet, at last having been worn down by dog’s nonstop unblinking do-something-now stare (referred to by proud Border Collie cognoscente as The Eye—used by BCs to intimidate, work their will upon [i.e., bully] cows, sheep, goats, livestock generally [as well as cats, neighborhood children]), misguided owner put dog out in fenced backyard.
Alone. In empty yard. With no toys.
Nothing to do; nothing to hold interest—but especially no company; no one to play with . . .
Owner returned hours later to find vinyl siding all removed from house’s rear wall to uniform height of six feet. Apart from pulled-through nail-head holes, siding undamaged; just removed. And stacked.
Likewise, bark stripped to same height from every tree within enclosure; found in separate pile next to stacked siding.
Another farmer returned home to find barn completely jammed full of cows, with Border Collie still determinedly working to pack last few in.
On one occasion Weldon offered absolutely straight-faced opinion: Crop circles actually product of BCs relieving boredom.
And, of course, standard response to “How many Border Collies does it take to change a light bulb?”
“Only one; but while he’s at it, he’ll take out the garbage, empty the vacuum, defrost the freezer, upgrade your wiring, repaint your house, and defrag your hard-drive.”
This Border Collie regarded me with almost sapiently aware, analytical expression, hyperalert intensity, joyous expectation of Good Things to Come typical of sound working bloodlines.
Reached out hand, allowed dog to sniff knuckles. Then offered caress followed by scritch.
At first touch, dog trembled momentarily. Then moved forward, pressed against me. Lowered head into lap. Trembled again. Sighed.
Well . . .
No one who knows Yours Truly could have any doubt what happened next: Plucky Girl Adventurer dissolved; dog and I shared good cry together over her long-lost family. Held close, scritched, stroked her all over. (Her status confirmed during tummy rubs.)
Presently managed to get self together sufficiently to grope for, locate big, six-cell Maglight. Reset 38,000-candlepower beam from spot to flood. Inspected collar detected during snuggle session. Unsurprisingly, proved to be high-quality (i.e., expensive) leather, with brass plate, reading . . .
Fairwinds’ Supercharged Bagpipe Magneto
Ch OTCh, HCh, MAX, ATCh, TDX, TD
“Well, look at you,” I snuffled damply into dog’s ear, reveling in sensation of marvelously soft coat against cheek. “A celebrity overachiever: Breedring, obedience, herding—well, duh about that!—agility, tracking, even therapy, and, surprise, a champion at everything you do. So what’s your calling name, sweetie? Magneto—did they call you ‘Maggie’?”
“Maggie” lifted head; focused The Eye upon me with unblinking, suddenly mounting intensity. Opened mouth slightly, uttered soft, almost unvocalized bark.
“Ah-hah,” I replied; “ ‘Maggie’ it is.”
BC stood, The Eye intensifying further.
“So what have you been eating all this time, Maggie? Are you hungry? I feel ribs, but there’s some meat on them, so obviously you’re not starving. To stay even that well fed, I’ll bet you’re a terrific mouser and death on rabbits. Let’s see what we can find in the canned, not-running-for-its-life section . . .”
Took Frisbee from lap, set to one side; stood. Maggie snatched it up, backed up one step, watched intently. Began to drool.
Rummaged through supplies; dug out can of turkey Spam (no sneering, please; turkey variety actually pretty tasty). Removed lid, extracted contents onto paper plate, set on ground before her.
Maggie sat; directed The Eye up at me expectantly. Then more intently.
Expression grew concerned, then acquired overtones of outright worry.
Suddenly light dawned: Sometimes Weldon trained dogs to wait for permission; sometimes not. Individual decisions generally based upon dogs’ intensity levels; in particular, whether setting down dishes involved risk of fingers being swallowed along with first mouthfuls of food. Other breeder/trainers merely considered it investment in canine good manners.
Stroked head, said, “Okay, Maggie; take it.” Though a guess, must have been right words, or at least combination included enough of them to appease hungry dog’s conscience. She offered single appreciative wave of tail, carefully set Frisbee down next to plate—then didn’t so much eat as inhaled contents.
Improvised water dish for her from Frisbee. She drank gratefully. Then glanced up at me, picked up Frisbee, dumping remaining few drops. Walked back to my side, lay down. Set down Frisbee. Then watched me.
Eyed her thoughtfully in return. Clearly Maggie brilliant, superlatively trained dog. Could be significant asset on sortie like this—though figuring out what cues original owner used in training could prove challenge, given fact that BCs routinely learned upward of 75 individual commands, verbal as well as hand signals.
But also presented complications. For instance, air travel—on longer legs, with autopilot engaged, Intrepid Girl Flying Ace could use onboard potty located in tiny lavatory at extreme rear. Maggie could not. Her endurance levels might well cap flight durations. Plus would need to add appropriate canine food supplies to larder.
Not to mention worrying about her when on ground, lest she get in trouble with local wildlife—or even inadvertently betray me to Khraniteli once we get there . . .
Decided to give it a shot in morning, using some of Weldon’s standard commands: come, sit, down, heel, stay, go out, to me, etc., along with usual related hand signals.
Then could decide whether to keep her.
Was on point of inviting her inside plane for night when it occurred to me: Didn’t even know if new four-legged friend housebroken—having just eaten, drunk, might well, as Terry so colorfully expresses it, perform icky-pooh or piddle during night. Given physical perfection, obvious training levels, seemed unlikely in extreme; but if by-products managed to seep below deck, where couldn’t be reached for cleanup, would not improve plane’s ambiance during balance of trip.
Glanced around; noted weather: lovely, cool, clear night. Decided would sleep outside with her under wing. If still around come morning, would get serious about making up mind.
Pulled out sleeping bag, unrolled, slid inside, cushioned head on pair of folded jeans.
Glanced at BC. Seemingly before “Maggie, here,” cleared lips, dog already in motion: glided over, moving in that marvelously slinky, head-low, feral gait characteristic of breed.
She lay down close, leaned against me. Put arm over her. She sighed.
Briefly got all teary-eyed again, thinking about how long pup had been on her own, missing her people, after humanity vanished. Poor baby.
Maggie pressed against me, closed eyes, whimpered briefly, sighed again.
Indescribably frightful chorus of growls yanked me unceremoniously from dream-free depths of soundest sleep. Found self sitting bolt upright; eyes wide, staring, trying to focus; head snapping right, left, mentally scrambling to collect widely dispersed wits.
Slightly bloated half-moon had set long since; even darker now—but could make out half-circle of black silhouettes made somehow darker-looking by faint infrared glow highlighting noses, triangles of almost bare skin along edges of pricked ears, eyelids, outlining occasional baleful, greenish-yellow flicker. Beasties, whatever they were, glided back, forth some 20, 30 feet away.
And between them and me—Maggie: head down, shoulders hunched, looking twice actual size; shifting slightly back, forth; always between closest marauder and me—and making even worse noises than they were.
Eased Glock from low-slung, tied-down, special-ops (personally, regard it as “Lara Croft-style”), carbon-fiber holster as slid out of sleeping bag, mentally apologizing to weapon for earlier uncomplimentary sentiments regarding discomfort intrinsic to wearing heavy, lumpy thing to bed.
(Yes, small-frame Model 23 is better fit for 11-year-old’s hand than Grownups’ Gun, but even small pistol conclusively bars sleeping on that side, and not much more helpful turning over that direction. Not that silencer in fitted scabbard on other side likely to be mistaken for comfy improvement . . .)
Groped for Maglight with left hand, gratefully recalling hadn’t reset from wide-beam—much more useful at close quarters than spot. Flipped switch as rose to feet.
Dazzlingly white quartz-xenon flood bloomed out, picking out scene’s every detail in starkest contrast: five Big Bads, eyes glowing bright yellow-green in light—even smallest wolf twice Maggie’s size, but she never wavered, never retreated single step toward me.
One round in chamber, 15 in extended clip. Decided to risk single warning shot, in hopes flash, bang, sudden explosion of soil beneath leader’s nose would disconcert, inspire her/him to lead pack away, seek more cooperative larder.
Because really preferred not to kill wolves if could avoid. Exemplary, mating-for-life, environmentally beneficial species. Excellent parents; take equally good care of own, each others’ children.
And not withstanding childhood lore, not wanton, mass murderers of grandmothers or red-hooded children. Generally cull herds; take older, sicker, weaker specimens, or less-well-cared-for babies. (Hello, wolves!—do we look like any of above?) Actually, primary diet consists of mice.
Had no intentions, however, of participating in menu variation. Nor permitting Maggie to.
Seemed words barely forming on lips—“Maggie, here!”—before felt BC pressing against leg; simultaneously squeezed off shot at dirt just below leader’s nose.
Hydra-Shok 40-caliber slug drilled into soil, expanded in mere inches’ penetration to nearly ten times original diameter. Only direction energy could go at that point was straight up.
Dirt exploded into wolf’s face, traveling at many tens of feet per second. Undoubtedly broke skin dozens of places; no doubt burned like dickens.
Regardless, whether because of pistol’s roar, muzzle flash, or landmine effect under nose, leader yelped, leaped back.
Instantly I jumped forward to capitalize on broken concentration, yelling universally recognized sound of maternal disapproval—“Aaaah!”—and squeezed off two more earth-boring rounds under noses of next largest and/or most aggressive specimens.
Success: Attack terminated. Wolves broke off; retreated back across airfield toward woods on far side.
Dropped to knees, gathered Maggie in arms. Hugged trembling form; scritched The Place; rubbed/stroked head, ears, tummy; generally praised her to high heavens for saving skin. Was rewarded by appreciative slurp up cheek, happily wagging tail.
Well, all righty then . . . One-woman Eurasian supercontinent invasion force may learn slowly, but not complete dunce. Gathered up camping gear, tossed into plane. Threw sleeping bag in through door.
Turned back toward Maggie, intending to lift her aboard (door sill easily four feet off ground), only to watch her soar effortlessly over my shoulder, in through opening, carrying Frisbee. By the time managed to swing self aboard, Maggie sitting smugly in midst of tumbled sleeping bag, tongue lolling in doggie grin.
Closed, secured door. Checked time. Only two a.m.; lots of quality sleeping time ahead.
Pulled bag from under Maggie; BC heroine thought procedure quite funny: briefly crouched, pounced, tail wagging.
Only belatedly did happy thought occur to me: Maggie not gunshy; warm pressure against leg never so much as twitched in reaction to Glock’s repeated thunderclaps.
However, first things first: Before climbing into sleeping bag, popped out weapon’s magazine. Used cute little Glock-supplied, patented pry-tool to squeeze in replacement rounds. Slapped magazine back up into gun butt.
Debated briefly. Only three rounds used. With any luck, would be half past forever before needed to fire weapon again. However, combustion products, barrel deposits should not be allowed to fester. Decided to field-strip, clean in morning. Slid weapon back into holster.
Then dug out M-1 carbine. Older weapon, but fits me better than more modern AR family. And for normal shooting (i.e., targets this side of horizon), prefer it to giant, much heavier, Barrett 50-caliber super sniper rifle.
Duct-taped two 30-round magazines together side-by-side, ends reversed, overlapping. Slid one end up into receiver. Yanked slide to charge chamber. Set safety. Placed weapon next to sleeping bag. Close.
Then slid in—and suddenly, without seeming to have moved, somehow Maggie lying next to me again, pressed close, chin resting on shoulder. Put arm over her. So close, could feel quivering, panting from residual fear, excitement, adrenaline.
Which pretty much summed up own feelings. Quite some time before fell back to sleep, holding My Dog. . . .
Day II (Officially)
Felt all cozy and not-alone this morning as drifted up from slumber. Noted that, though Maggie still snuggled against side, under arm, dog’s chin no longer rested on shoulder.
Suppressed smile. From Weldon farm experience, knew where chin was; knew what awaited me upon opening eyes.
Tried to get away with squinty cheat-peek, but didn’t work. Very instant eyelids quivered—busted: Maggie kissed me squarely on nose; prevented from expanding attentions only by quick head-turn, deployment of blocking/scritching hand.
Opened eyes fully to meet spooky, pale-blue, delighted canine gaze regarding me from six inches away. Unblinkingly. Intensely. Just short of manically.
Classic example of The Eye, trying to get me to get up! Do something! Visible over BC’s shoulder, happy tail waved gracefully.
Maggie definitely morning person.
(Though if anything like Border Collies of previous acquaintance, also afternoon person, evening person, night person . . .)
Before opening door, retrieved M-1. Told Maggie “Wait”; exited first. Performed quick 360-degree scan to make sure wolves not having second thoughts about breakfast. Heard Maggie’s feet hit ground behind me as got to ohk point in “okay”—and marveled: BC’s response time nothing less than incredible.
We adjourned to adjacent bushes. Smiled over Maggie’s uncaninely modesty. Then realized: Following wolf encounter, had completely forgotten housebreaking issue. Nice to know would not be issue.
Shared some more turkey Spam for breakfast: One can for new mommy, one for no-doubt-soon-to-be-spoiled-rotten kid sister. (Yes, human/dog familial references do tend to be confusing—or, if one thinks about them too deeply, downright disturbing.)
Used Maggie’s Frisbee for water dish again. She drank, but quickly snatched up when done, dumping balance.
Eyed her thoughtfully. “You’re really attached to that thing, aren’t you.”
BC spun, fixed me intensely with The Eye, projecting: Do it! Debated; seemed likely object of stare was hope big sister would throw Frisbee for her. Began, “Would you—”
Only to find dog already had executed perfectly aligned front-and-center, “tucked” sit (resembling four-legged version of stiffly “braced” ten-hutttt! posture so beloved by dearly departed military establishments), front toenails barely six inches from Reeboks. Arrival comprised of single, eye-blurring, twisting bound.
Nudged me in leg with Frisbee. The Eye intensified, sparkled. Tail wagged.
Grinned down at her. “I’ll interpret that as a ‘yes.’ “
Accepted proffered disk. Then wondered about her usual Frisbee drill. Did previous owner start her from heel—
Another blur; Maggie now sitting at right side, again perfectly lined up, but also leaning forward, almost quivering in anticipation.
Dog seriously proficient student of body language, I thought. Said, “So am I supposed just to throw it, or should I have you stay, throw it, then release you?”
Decided just (she crouched) to throw it.
Unlike majority, who use away-from-body, backhand Frisbee flip, am sidearm ace: Grip rim like pencil, between thumb, index finger; thumb on top, straightened index finger lying along curved inner rim groove. Sidearm motion spins disk off fingertip; generates much faster rotation, more lift, nets way more distance. But directional control can be tricky.
Drew back, let fly—and surprised to find Maggie already 50 feet along intended flight path, running flat-out, well ahead of Frisbee but headed for likely eventual landing site.
However, as often happens with sidearm technique, disk begin to tilt, then curve. Instantly, without looking, dog angled in correct direction. Must have been tracking flight path by audio ranging.
Maggie slowed to let Frisbee overtake her. Bore slightly off to one side; only then glanced up, snatched out of air with precise sidelong snap, slid to stop.
Concluded retrieve with another perfect front-and-center stop, practically dancing sitting still with joy, excitement.
Second time, momentarily held her with stay command as threw Frisbee. Upon release, Maggie accelerated like rocket, overtook disk maybe 200 feet out. With Frisbee soaring almost horizontally, some six feet above grass, Maggie launched skyward, nailed it midair; then raced back again.
Gave hereditary new Best Friend half hour’s worth of Frisbee chasing before announcing “Last one” prior to final throw.
(Another useful Weldonism: Formally declaring game’s end just prior to conclusion helps familiarize BCs with concept of limits; reduces likelihood of activity becoming endlessly obsessive/compulsive addiction.)
Thereafter, with M-1 leaning against leg, field-stripped, cleaned, lubricated, reassembled Glock.
Then slung M-1 over shoulder, dug out prybar, canteen; strolled across field to fixed-base operator’s facility. Sampled various vehicles; found aged International Harvester station wagon with charged-up battery, nearly full tank.
Checked yellow pages for holistic/organic pet supplies; amazed to find EarthPets outlet in such remote, if lovely, backwater.
Maggie loved riding in car: Not head-out-window type (wouldn’t have permitted that in any event; eye injury risk from bug strike outweighs fun), but sat up very straight on seat, watched intently as scenery went by. Smiled nonstop.
Pry bar proved unnecessary; store unlocked.
Surveyed inventory. Scrutinized food labels. Ultimately selected brand with artsy timber wolf logo (friendlier looking than last night’s visitors). Came in several flavors; primary protein nutrients listed, respectively, as bison, caribou, chicken, lamb, salmon, venison—and specified actual meat cuts; not hooves, hair—with rice, together with healthful, selected herbal mix.
More importantly, contained no ingredients impossible to pronounce, nor patently toxic preservatives (butylated hydroxyanisole [BHA], butylated hydroxytoluene [BHT], or ethoxyquin) furnished free with pet nutrition prior to World’s End by virtually all Big-Name grocery store dog food manufacturers—despite having been shown in studies to promote liver disease; related also to tumor production, dozens of other ultimately fatal conditions.
Likewise, since health-food doggie-din-din oven-baked, not extruded, contains no trapped, superheated-steam-generated, cumulative toxins.
Final additional benefit: Packaged in forever-airtight foil/plastic bags, ruling out hideously toxic aflatoxin mold contamination.
Offered Maggie taste-test on the spot. Bottomless mobile appetite put away heaping cupful; seemed to find flavor acceptable. Fixed me with roguish sidelong version of The Eye, hinting without detectible subtlety that additional samples would be at least as acceptable.
Tossed dozen 50-pound bags into wagon. Figured at three, four cups daily, ought to carry her for expected few weeks’ absence (with modest six-month reserve, just to be safe).
Gathered up bunch of containers of chewable vitamins, omega-3 complex fish oil capsules—figured if good for me (Teacher says so), good for new baby.
Also took along dozen plastic canisters of freeze-dried liver. Lasts forever, consists of nothing but little cubes of (surprise?) freeze-dried beef or chicken liver. Experience with Weldon’s dogs suggests most canines regard flavor as little less than spiritual experience. After test, Maggie concurred here, too.
Collected several easily cleaned stainless steel dishes for water, feeding.
Next, since could foresee circumstances in which might need to limit Maggie’s movement for her own safety, picked up selection of short leather leads, couple 25-foot “flexi” recoil reels, spare nylon buckle-on collars.
(Recalled Weldon’s multiple-national-obedience-championships-based opinion that no one who actually knows anything about dog training uses choke collars—and especially not potentially larynx-damaging metal-chain chokers!)
Finally, picked out nylon seat-restraint harness. Resembled sled-dog harness. Carefully adjusted straps to fit. Locked onto car (or aircraft) seatbelt/shoulder harnesses, would provide whole-body support in sudden stop.
Ultimately, Foster sisters departed Klamath Falls around noon, headed for Bellingham. Only two-hour flight. Last stop before departing lower 48.
Maggie untroubled by harness; perhaps reminded her of tracking leather. Required her to sit in seat, wear it only for takeoff, landing. Rest of time allowed her to wander cabin at will.
However, appears to like flying every bit as much as car riding. Spent majority of time sitting up in copilot’s seat, peering out windows, nudging me for occasional scritch.
Bellingham stop uneventful. Landed; fueled, serviced plane; ate.
Then experimented briefly with Weldon’s voice commands, hand-signals. Pleased to discover Maggie knew every single one; responded flawlessly, no matter what maneuver asked her to perform.
Pleased but a little surprised: Not unreasonable to expect itinerant, lost-and-found BC to have regarded some of Weldon’s commands as puzzling.
“Classical” herding system developed originally in Scotland; command structure tends to serve as boilerplate pattern worldwide. However, by the time trainers have brought dogs to Maggie’s level of performance, most will have developed own unique variations on theme.
But apparently Maggie’s owner/handler had trained under same grand master who had influenced Weldon; matched/followed Wisconsin dairy-farmer’s system to the letter. No foolin’; if had been working with actual sheep, cows, could have had them square dancing in five minutes. Maggie that good.
Rewarded BC thereafter by playing Frisbee with her for two solid hours before bedtime. Maggie breathing almost normally by conclusion, eyes still laughing. By contrast, elder sister’s throwing arm nearly ready to fall of.
Plan to take off for Ketchikan at first light. Tad over 600 miles; easy three-hour hop. Only challenges relate to potential pitfalls facing unlucky aviatrix in event of engine failure: Canadian west coast pretty much unsettled even prior to depopulation. Road count on nonexistent side of few. What towns existed were mostly water-/aircraft-dependent. Far between.
Terrain unforgiving: wrinkly, largely fjordic; multiple “arms of the sea” outlined by jaggedy cliffs, mostly low but heavily forested mountains.
Cruise-line-frequented waterway, euphemistically known as Bellingham-Ketchikan Marine Highway, wanders amongst mountainous offshore island chain extending from . . . well . . . Bellingham to Ketchikan. Most popular views from touristy ships related to whale-watching, glaciers, scenic cliffs, etc.
But darned little in way of emergency landing accommodations for distressed aviators driving non-floatplanes.
If get to Ketchikan in time to fuel, service plane by noon, Anchorage only four hours’ flight beyond. True, slightly longer hop; will burn two-thirds of fuel load as opposed to half. But still well within absolute, no-reserve, 1200-mile cruising range, and cannot imagine finding less than unlimited fuel at Anchorage.
Of course, if Ketchikan stop should take longer than expected, will just spend night there; move on in morning. Not as if have schedule. Only considerations are weather, daylight.
(Ketchikan. Ketchikan-Ketchikan-Ketchikan. Tee-hee—fun word. Ketchikan . . .)
Hmm. Guess am really tired.
Good night, Posterity.
Wonder if Northwest Canadians, Alaskans ever tired of being surrounded by gorgeous scenery 24 hours a day. Possible, I guess.
Personally, in no danger of satiation yet. Every time turn head, see something else just too darned beautiful for words: mountains, glaciers, forests, oceans, fjords, lakes, rivers—and more mountains, glaciers, forests, oceans, etc. . . .
Ketchikan experience rivaled do-it-yourself NASCAR pit stop: Brim-full Jet-A fuel truck with charged-up battery (even came with own ladder) parked right there on ramp adjacent to fully stocked parts department. Fueling took ten minutes; topping up fluids another three.
Except for potty break, lunch (and hour-long Frisbee session for you-know-who), could have been back in air in 15 minutes.
As was, departed Ketchikan by 11:00; touched down in Anchorage just before 3:00, where found another Michelin Guide five-star, stocked-way-beyond-frontier-class airport.
Spent three hours prior to dinner, even before Frisbee session, taking advantage of local, fully equipped, bush “airline’s” service facilities to give Stallion extra-thorough going-over in preparation for tomorrow’s 600-mile-plus flight over trackless Alaskan interior wilderness.
Destination: Wales, small town, smaller airport, at very point of Bering Strait (Alaskan Airports Guide describes accommodations as “basic,” but promises ample supplies of Jet-A).
Also stocked up with couple dozen cans of turbine oil, gearbox lubricant, plus hydraulic fluid for constant-speed prop, extra fuel & oil filters, igniter components, etc.; sorts of goodies unlikely to be found in abundance if find self nonscheduledly parked in unmarked clearing at heart of Alaskan outback, much less amidst desolation sure to encounter on far side of Strait.
Final step: Uncased, assembled massive Barrett 50-caliber sniper rifle. Had debated whether to bring huge, almost cartoonish weapon at all. Grosses, for heaven’s sake, almost half what Intrepid Special-Ops girl does herself: manual lists 34.6 pounds. Feels even heavier in field, but that’s attributable in part to five-pound contents of Wallace’s custom-fabricated 20-shot magazines, stuffed full of five-and-a-half-inch-long, quarter-pound cartridges. Standing on end, rifle only inch shorter than self: 57 inches from butt to muzzle brake.
Under most circumstances, less than ideal weapon for 11-year-old—all I can do just to hold it up, using classic freehand stance: standing, butt against shoulder, front grip supported (ha!) by left arm only. Can’t begin to steady sights long enough in that position to hit anything at any distance.
On other hand, weight not unmixed curse: All that mass, combined with recoiling barrel and extraction-action assembly cushioned against cleverly opposing spring and buffer mechanism, in addition to remarkably efficient muzzle brake, does sop up incredible amount of energy. Net effect only little more punishing than 12-gauge shotgun. Which is to say, plenty to dump unprepared 85-pound shooter on duff, as learned first time fired one freehand.
(Danni’s imperfectly suppressed smile more annoying than belly-laugh—never happened again.)
As practical matter, however, only way can shoot this (only technically portable) personal field-artillery piece accurately is prone or from bench rest, using built-in bipod muzzle support, or, standing, with height-adjustable post-and-crotch pole holding up noisy end.
However, notwithstanding gripes, really have come to enjoy firing Barrett. Under Danni’s supervision, have garnered modestly encouraging results: With big scope, no-wind conditions, shooting prone or bench, have repeatedly achieved three-inch groups at one mile; six inches at mile and half.
(Danya does her quietly frightening best to conceal inappropriate pride over preteen apprentice assassin’s previously unsuspected aptitude for reach-way-out-and-touch-someone-style homicide, but somehow always does seem to come up in conversations with colleagues.)
However, monstrous bangstick’s presence on mission not due merely to anticipated need for long-range slaughter.
Motivation far more basic.
Yes, Posterity; Candy Smith-Foster—Intrepid Girl Adventurer, Plucky etc., etc.—pathologically, deathly, just plain terrified of polar bears.
(Okay, can stop laughing now. Hey, not kidding—traumatized young person here!)
See, expedition’s itinerary calls for spending several nights in Ursus maritimus’ territory.
Now, to be fair, never been attacked by polar bear. Never, in fact, actually met one in person; not even in zoo.
However, over time, neurosis-motivated research has turned up far more information regarding big white eating machines’ attributes than ever wanted to know.
And for whatever reason, ever since earliest childhood, giant, flame-eyed, tusk-studded, saliva-dripping, shaggy white phantasms have starred in some of Yours Truly’s better, more lastingly psyche-scarring, recurrent nightmares. Few of life’s experiences are less restful than whole night spent fleeing in slow motion through pink, baby-blue, and fleecy-white cotton-candy arctic terrain (somehow always in neighborhood of towering, red/white-spiral-striped, candy-cane-style North Pole), with 11-foot-long, 1800-pound, highly intelligent, single-mindedly hungry carnivore nipping unstoppably at heels.
(All right; nipping unstoppably—usually wearing futuristic, wrap-around Foster Grants. Often with WWI flying ace’s silk scarf around neck. Sometimes adorned with jaunty beret; alternating with menacingly ghetto-style backward baseball cap. Once showed up on Plucky Girl Psych-Eval Candidate’s trail wearing classic Native American full war bonnet.)
But always smiling. Always drooling. Always licking lips.
And never more than three floatingly slow-motion bounds behind . . .
Practical bear-related consideration for lugging Barrett along on expedition, however, is fact that smallest, least motivated adult polar bear on planet could rip open Stallion’s lightweight aluminum structure easier than I used to pop open Happy Meal boxes.
(Ooo . . . could have lived long, happily fulfilled life without dredging up that image.)
Now, manifestly, odds on hitting charging white ursine freehand at any real distance comparable to winning PowerBall. (Remember? Back when lotteries existed?) But if should spot mobile appetite approaching in time, can use post-and-crotch support.
And even freehand, if target shows too much interest, gets scary close—absodamntively guarantee 20 two-inch-long, half-inch-thick, Hydra-Shok-type expanding slugs, each traveling at almost 3000 feet per second, will drain enthusiasm from biggest, baddest, hungriest (most stylishly attired) polar bear in or out of my nightmares.
However, regardless of explanation (rationale? excuse?), no doubt whatever, big gun’s presence—assembled, loaded, conveniently at hand—will render tomorrow night’s stopover at Wales (and subsequent three, four nights in northern Asia) more restful.
As will Maggie’s wonderful, ever-twitching canine nose, marvelously sensitive ears.
Held off departure until nearly ten to give ground fog time to burn off. (Maggie didn’t care: Leap, bound, gambol, frolic—crispy, cool mornings simply made for Frisbee.)
Finally launched into horizon-to-horizon crystal clear blue sky, settled down on course for Bering Strait, tiny seaside community of Wales.
Once again, Alaskan vistas simply breath-taking: Air so clear, snow-capped Mount McKinley & Associates in sight for over an hour; from shortly after takeoff to well after passed abeam, receded astern. Much gorgeous mountainscape to admire.
Thereafter, terrain began to descend, level, transition to endless expanses of solid forest, speckled with hundreds of lakes, multiple traceries of rivers.
By focusing attention narrowly (i.e., ignoring virtual nonexistence of safe potential emergency landing opportunities for non-floatplanes), one could regard landscape as very pretty indeed.
Now, technically speaking, turbines’ strictly rotary components don’t actually beat. Addressing issue metaphorically, however, Stallion never missed one. Leveled off at optimum 13,000-foot cruising altitude. Airspeed edged up to 175 knots, though GPS true-speed readings showed Arctic Circle tradewinds cutting into groundspeed by nearly 35 knots, making trip take longer, use more fuel.
Still, well within flight planning reserves as exited from tip of peninsula dividing Norton Sound from Norton Bay. Actual over-water flight no biggie; hardly 20 miles. From altitude, could have glided to dry landing from any point in crossing.
Comparable, in fact, to contemplated Bering Strait passage: Two potentially wet-feet legs of 24, 22 miles respectively, with pair of small islands, Diomedes, at halfway point. Followed by official Siberian Welcome Station: “All the seal blubber you can eat. . . .” (Okay, yes, made last part up.)
Anyway, barely an hour later found us circling Wales area at low altitude, admiring ramshackle collection of small buildings comprising pair of adjacent colorful (in desolate, barren, seashore-tundra sort of way) northern Alaskan small towns (Wales, Kingegan), cute little landlocked lagoon, tidy little airstrip . . .
(Oh, all right! Yes, scouting for polar bears. Happy now . . . ?)
Landing uneventful, apart from Maggie’s demonstration of how observant she is; how quickly picks up on even subtlest details of Life On (airborne) Road: Fuzzy sister dozed in back as I spent final half hour gradually letting down from 13,000-foot cruise to 500-foot height-above-ground altitude for local wildlife survey prior to landing.
But very moment decided to initiate approach, reached for flaps, trim controls to set up final descent, canine cohort returned to copilot seat in single bound; then, without coaching, settled tush on cushion, leaned against seat back, thereby assuming position for convenient harness reattachment.
Mind you, Posterity, only her third flight. Known people who didn’t learn that quickly. . . .
Based on geographic coordinates alone, Wales lies only four and a third longitudinal degrees farther north than Anchorage (65º 37′ N vs. 61º 13′ N). Turns out, however, geography and weather employ degrees in very different fashions—at least 30 real-world degrees colder here. Nippy temperatures combined with seriously raw onshore breeze to drill through every gap in clothing, real or imagined, moment set foot outside plane.
Though reasonably confident, following aerial recon, no polar bears immediately in offing, stood armed guard with M-1 in case of wolves, other smaller predators, while Maggie took advantage of convenient modesty bush for post-flight relief.
Shivering from head to foot by time made it back inside plane. Rooted through duffle, dug out first planned stratum of warmer clothing: flannel-lined denim jacket, pants; poofy thick socks.
Chilly temperatures hardly unexpected, given locales through which course necessarily leads, so have made advance preparations. As we skirt Arctic Ocean (for roughly next 2000 miles), will add additional layers to trousseau as goosebumps mandate: longjohns, flannel shirts, sheepskin-lined leather jacket. Several additional layers available, up to all-out Eskimo stealth mode: camo-colored, down-filled, hooded parka, matching pants; insulated snowmobile-type gloves, boots.
Maggie, on other hand, wasn’t part of pre-departure planning. Eyed her thoughtfully. Notwithstanding fairly widely held opinions of ignorant, uneducated (also questionably sapient and thankfully now dead) keep-’em-fenced-or-chained-outdoors pet owners of yore, nothing inherently cold-proof about dogs. In fact, as temperatures approach freezing, hypothermia becomes factor. Below about 20, foot protection becomes increasingly necessary to prevent frostbite.
Resolved to keep close eye on canine companion as mercury sags; improvise stylish puppy jacket from some of my stuff if necessary.
Smiled then. Wondered how temperate-climate-raised, fleet-footed, furry Best Friend would view chasing Frisbees while wearing sled-dog-style, fur-lined booties.
My reflective gaze returned by mischief sparkling from The Eye (technically, both of them). Maggie snatched up Frisbee. Wagged tail. Looked hopeful. Unblinkingly so.
For the moment at least, concerns clearly wasted. Capersome canine obviously finds current brisk temperatures invigorating, if not downright enjoyable.
(Of course, to be objective, Maggie finds wakefulness invigorating, worthy of unflagging, gleeful enthusiasm—unblinking stare. . . .)
Despite surroundings, potential unwelcome guest list—despite night spent clutching Maggie in one arm, Barrett in other—managed not to dream of polar bears.
However nattily attired.
Unfortunately, morning turned out to be not only below-freezingly brisk, but proximity to ocean, absence of breeze, combined to produce thick coating of hoarfrost: on propeller, wings, tail group airfoils; fuselage, windshield, windows—everywhere.
With no way to de-ice. Save by hand-scraping every square inch of aerodynamically active surfaces; not to mention windshield—which latter component would have emerged from experience scratched opaque beyond usefulness.
And while personally have never encountered icing conditions during brief if intense piloting career, Lennel, as well as (during week’s shuttle training prior to orbital mission launch), Harris and others with real experience, did share war stories; cumulative impact of which thoroughly canalized Plucky Girl Flying Ace’s psyche regarding Evils & Potential Consequences of Flying in Icing Conditions. Moral of every one of which could be summarized tidily: Don’t!
So waited until nearly noon for temperatures to rise sufficiently (if just barely) above freezing; first to melt, then evaporate every nubbin of frost adhering to every square inch of all flying surfaces: wings/flaperons, stabilizers/elevators, vertical fin/rudder, prop, plus windshield (the better to see through you, my dear).
By takeoff, a few patches still remained on ship’s belly. But not of aerodynamic significance; not about to wait forever.
Besides, really wanted to get Bering Strait behind us while weather gods smiled, however coolly. Retain unpleasant memories of pre-Armageddon TV special concerning hazards of commercial fishing in northernmost Pacific. Narrator described activities as most dangerous job in world:
Freakish, all but unpredictable, meteorological conditions—frequent below-fresh-water-freezing ocean temperatures, together with almost randomly shifting winds; waves so confused, due to many nearby land masses, as to all but moot expression, “weather patterns”—combine to make chances of survival in event of sinking, or even man-overboard, equate to wishful thinking.
Prognosis similarly bleak for passengers of aircraft forced down into wind-tossed, gunmetal-grey, frigid waters.
Nonetheless, with head held high (posture mandated partially by need to see over Stallion’s instrument panel), maintained stiff upper lip whole way across.
Though could not help trying to “sit lightly.”
While Maggie napped.