Mayfly, Trout, Hook
Excerpted from the Journals of
Candidia Maria Smith-Foster:
Yes, Posterity, your Humble Historiographer does feel guilty about thisbut 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 againPlucky 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 enoughfor 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 are 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 funclasses: 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 withprobably most entertaining of allpersonal 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 crèchelike 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 Washingtonthe 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 decisionthence 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 a function of psychic feedback spawned by own upcoming brash actions echoing back down 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 expectedcertainly never intendedever 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 Adventurer,1 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 race-driver 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 Landfillor, 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 fondlyor has any difficulty not raising hand, joyously caroling “Again . . . !”
But damn, Posterity! Reallywhat 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-doorwhere 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 is probably 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 diminuendoas 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 meand 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., Hyacinth Macaw), Terry can read my mindand 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 smarty-mouth id’s 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 six months to put together another 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 executionfor another six solid months . . . ?
Received news with enthusiasm of hungry trout rising to fat mayflyand 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, arguingeven beggingadults to reverse what they regard as well-thought-out decisions generally has single practical effect: Spills beans concerning own intentions; opens door for inconvenient advicepotentially, 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 ferventlythen, 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 unmatched 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”; and, 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, okayobviously, such gatherings chiefly for my benefit. No, don’t really believe Kim, Gayle, or Danni [older women, allmid 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 (more than 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, adultseven 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-beingbut 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 yetstill 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, where Yours Truly is concerned, Wallace can’t help himself: 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 indigenes 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 himand thereby is linked to me, though in her case contact seems limited to empathy: sensing emotions, feelings, etc.
Threw together necessities for trip: weapons, 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 sounding 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, SiberiaKazakhstani/Russian Urals beyond.
Six months in-bleeping-deed . . . !
This semi-stream-of-consciousness opening passage is typical of the journals kept by young Candidia Maria Smith-Foster, as preserved in the Homo Post Hominem Genesis Library. Typically, when possible in the field, she has updated them at least daily.
In an earlier volume (informally titled Seeking), Candy indicated a preference (only partially, we suspect, tongue-in-cheek) that her memoirs be accumulated and maintained in an institution to be known one day as the Smith-Foster Post-Armageddon Historical Library and Archives. Obviously, it is too soon in the brief history of our budding species’ civilization to divert those kinds of resources to the construction of a one-person library. However, if her contributions to the survival and perpetuation of our kind continue at the level of her past activities, such an institution is almost inevitable. . . .
Candy has kept her journals in the condensed, cryptic, “pothook” symbols of the once nearly extinct written language known as Pitman shorthand. And though some of us have come to employ it personally nowadays, and its use is spreading, we have translated the original texts into English and typeset them for general consumption.
For a classically trained archivist, this has not been an entirely comfortable process . . .
First, Candy’s narration employs a terse, telegraphic-style sentence structure, omitting almost all but the most necessary of pronouns, adjectives, conjunctions, and adverbs, eschewing what she refers to (with perceptible contempt) as “flowery academese.”
Then, consistent with that compressed-text philosophy, while she does spell out numbers from zero to ten in accordance with conventional stylebook practice, for eleven and above she employs actual numerical digits.
Worse, she not only overuses et cetera, a lazy, almost sloppy literary device at best, but insists upon using the abbreviated form, etc., rather than spelling out the full Latin phrase.
Worst of all, with some regularity, she even (heaven help us all) employs actual ampersands when stooping to her own, invariably initial-capped, often sideways fractured variations on customary clichés, such as the “Thud & Blunder” novels mentioned above.
Now a personal note: As an archivist who, prior to the holocaust, had obtained his Ph.D. summa cum laude in library science from Yale, a university with generally acceptable academic qualifications, I am also accustomed to functioning as a copyeditor, assisting contributors in the production of clear historical records.
Candy, however, has been quite emphatic that each of her words, her every punctuation mark (or deliberate omission thereof), and even her formatting have been chosen with care: Each sentence, phrase, and/or word, initial capped or lower-case, is the precise assemblage of letters which conveys her exact shade of meaning. The actual wording of her instructions in this regard was devoid of ambiguity: “Don’t mess with my text.”
By all accounts, Candy Smith-Foster is a sweet, well-mannered, and particularly well-intentioned child. Each of her instructors report that, in their fields of expertise, she is one of the most attentive, most responsive, and, without exception, fastest learning students they’ve ever had the good fortune to mentor.
However, in areas in which she herself possesses a demonstrated competence, she does not lack for conviction. And she has a history of getting what she wants, despite the quality or quantity of opposition.
I am an academician. Though a hominem, I do not possess a Belt, black or any other color. Accordingly, I prefer that she not become cross with me. Wherefore, I must include this disclaimer:
Other than basic translation, transcription, and typesetting of the text from Pitman shorthand into Englishand notwithstanding the inherent redundancy of one of her favorite all-capped, ironic self-descriptives, “Plucky Girl Aviatrix”2nothing in this record has been “messed” with.
Now, from a practical standpoint, Candy’s merger of Pitman shorthand with telegraphic-style sentence compression and simplified basic formatting cannot be argued with: The result is a compact, easily transportable, original physical record. More importantly, of course, an expert Pitman writer like Candy can memorialize her thoughts substantially in excess of two hundred words per minute, which encourages detailed journal-keeping, even under the most difficult of field conditions.
This, of course, typifies how many of her previous journal entries were made: One entire volume, for instance, was written sealed in a spacesuit, in darkness relieved only by a flashlight, while riding in the belly of that earlier-referred-to bomb-carrying missile.
Now, the reader will note that these journals are replete with what, at first glimpse, appear to be impulsive, almost reckless decisions, but which, as events develop, are revealed to have been as well thought-out as the press of circumstances permitted.
In this instance, of course, the controlling “circumstances” were that, since Teacher had informed her that it would be another six months before we would be able to mount another expedition into the area where her adopted father was reported to have been held, nothing short of imprisonment, behind actual solid bars, possibly in chains, would have prevented Candy from departing immediately to follow-up on that lead to his whereabouts. And even a cursory review of previous journals would suggest that even that might not suffice to stop her for long.
Now, for those who may not have had the benefit of earlier volumes, the background basics: We Homo post hominems are the heirs and successors to Homo sapiens. Multiple theories have been offered to explain our abrupt, simultaneous emergence upon the scene at a rate of roughly one of us to every twenty-nine hundred H. sapiens births worldwide.
It was Soo Kim McDivott, our discoverer (and world-renowned pediatrician, child psychiatrist, and anthropologist; known, of course, as Teacher to every hominem the world over) who proposed the current favorite: Since the grandmothers of these children were all born within a two-year span, conceived during the rampage of the great influenza pandemic of 1918-19, the “coincidence” fairly shouts its implications: sweeping genetic recombination due to specific viral invasion, affecting either of the gametes before, or both during, formation of the zygotes which became these grandmothers, creating in each half of the matrix which fitted together two generations later to become us.
In addition to an apparent complete immunity to the full spectrum of “human” disease, we’re stronger, faster, more resistant to trauma, and possess quicker reflexes. As well, visual, aural, and olfactory functions operate over a broader range and at higher levels of sensitivity than in H. sapiens.
As with all of us hominems, Candidia Maria was born to normal Homo sapiens parents. Those parents, the Smiths, were killed in a car accident only months later. Before day’s end, she was placed temporarily with Marshall and Megan Foster, who moved formally to adopt her as soon thereafter as the system permitted.
Candy’s identification as a hominem came about through amusing circumstances: At not quite five years of age, she glanced up and commented that the living-room wall looked “. . . awful hot.” Testing the surface with his hand, Marshall discovered that she was correct; that a wiring fault was on the verge of burning down the house.
Aware of the newly emergent species from his long friendship and professional association with Soo Kim McDivott, the implications of a child whose vision extended into the fringes of the infrared spectrum could not be missed. They had her tested immediately, and indeed she did prove to be an H. post hominem.
Regrettably, however, also just before Candy’s fifth birthday, Megan’s long-in-remission leukemia returned with a vengeance. Medical science was unable to stop it, and she soon died. As a result, the child’s bond with Marshall tightenedand vice-versa, we might add: She became, and remains to this day, very much a “Daddy’s girl.”
Candy’s phenomenal rate of intellectual development remains an anomaly. She was reading entirely on her own by age two. By three she understood basic mathematical relationships, and could add, subtract, multiply, and divide three-, four-, and even five-digit numbers.
Teacher suspected that the whipsaw effect of Marshall’s original heel-dragging desire to raise a stereotypically sweet, “normal” little girl, “full of sugar and spice,” quietly opposed by Megan’s determination to supply as much information (over or under the table, as necessary) as Candy could absorb on any subject about which she expressed an interest (and apparently she was interested in everything), offers at least a partial explanation of why, according to every benchmark, her progress was well ahead of his experience with members of Teacher’s original AA study populationthemselves a substantially accelerated group compared to H. sapiens norms. Accordingly, upon Megan Foster’s death, Teacher moved in next-door and assumed her role as facilitator, while Marshall continued to pretend to act as the public brake.
In addition, as one of the few Tenth Degree Black Belt masters of karate on the planet, Teacher also took her on as his personal martial arts pupil. Under his instruction, her progress in this field was as phenomenal as her rate of education: She earned numerous championships in her age/weight group.
By eleven, her age at the time of the holocaust, she had acquired the equivalent of an advanced high school education with some college. She had mastered math through calculus, some chemistry, had acquired a strong foundation in physics, and had made a good start on college biology. Her progress in karate had progressed to the limits of Fifth Degree Black Belt advancement; Teacher was in the process of grooming her for Sixth when the Bratstvo struck.
Candy rode out the bionuclear attack that ended the reign of Homo sapiens in the large underground shelter beneath their Wisconsin small-town home, which Doctor Foster had built in secret, both for their protection and as a repository for copies of most of the accumulated science and art of mankind. The attack found her reading down in the shelter, alone except for Terry, her macaw, whom she regards, again we suspect only partially tongue-in-cheek, as her retarded twin sibling.
The day prior to the attack, Marshall Foster, publicly a practicing small-town pathologist, but in fact a covert top government biowarfare consultant, had been requested to go to Washington to discuss the deteriorating world situation. Since Washington was one of the few locations on the planet where surface-targeted missiles were used in quantity, Foster was assumed to have been killed outright, along with everyone else within about a thirty-mile radius.
Learning after the attack that she was herself a Homo post hominem, Candy set out across a depopulated America to find us, the now-grown young adults of Teacher’s AA group.
At this point it occurs to me that, while I’ve used the term, AA group, several times already, I have yet to clarify what it means.
As a result of Teacher’s exposure, early in his career, to the mixed results obtained by those attempting to rehabilitate children lost, adopted, and raised in the wild by animals of various species (real-world examples of Kiplingesque children like Mowgli, the wolf-boy), Teacher found himself drawn to the age-old debate about “nature versus nurture.” He wondered whether ordinary parents, upon producing markedly superior children, might somehow tend to prevent the kids’ development from exceeding their own attainments; and if that occurred, to what extent the child would in fact be limited.
He began a study directed toward identifying gifted children shortly after birth, before this theoretical environmental retardation could begin to have its effect. Various factors were isolated which, encountered as group, proved intrinsic to potentially superior children.
Once a sufficient population of them had been identified, the study shifted to phase two. The “positives” were assigned to two of four study groups.
AAs (positive/advantaged) were potentially gifted children whose parents were subsidized, guided, and assisted in every possible way to provide an optimum learning and developmental environment. The ABs (positive/nonadvantaged) were potential geniuses whose parents weren’t told of their children’s potential: controls, in other words.
At the other end of the scale were the BA (negative/advantaged) group: ordinary babies whose parents were encouraged to believe their offspring were geniuses. They, too, received the benefits of AA-type parental support and coachingbut of course the study was double-blind: None of the coaches knew whether they were dealing with AA or BA children.
And, of course, the fourth group were the BBs (negative/nonadvantaged); the true controls: ordinary babies raised by ordinary parents, without interference.
As expected, the AAs did well in school; their progress tended to triple national norms. Further, AA children were well adjusted, with happy, well-integrated personalities.
The BAs did well, too; however, they exceeded national figures by only fifteen percent. Most were happy, but isolated individuals demonstrated behavioral symptoms suggesting they might be being pushed close to or even beyond their capabilities.
Perhaps more intriguing were the ABs, who produced very spotty results: The best of them were extremely good, equaling AAs’ figures in certain cases. However, the worst were very bad: The ABs had the highest proportion of academic failures, behavioral problems, and patently maladjusted personalities. Apparently conventional upbringing and education reduced many of them to pathological levels of boredom.
The BBs, of course, showed no variation at all from national curves; they were “just kids.”
Thereafter, from the AAs and ABs, we Homo post hominems were identified.
Ultimately, following a series of vague clues, Candy located us AAs, ostensibly by “coincidence”: having managed to place herself in a location where, when she heard the sonic boom and glanced up, she saw the contrail of one of the few air expeditions to have been sent out, which led her straight to us.
As an aside, during subsequent testing Candy has demonstrated a much higher percentage of successful “coincidental” trackings-down of hidden people and/or objects than mere luck would explain. This has led Teacher to postulate the existence of a “tracker” gene. Given the largely unknown commodity that we represent at this point, that probably is as good an explanation as any. In any event, when Candy refers to switching on her “stalker mode,” once again, she’s probably only about half kidding.
Following that contrail, she found us all gathered at the Vandenberg space shuttle complex, feverishly working to launch the Nathan Hale, one of H. sapiens’ space shuttles, which we had renamed to reflect the tone of its mission.
We had learned that the Holocaust had been a product of Russian-based nested conspiracies:
First, the Bratstvo, or Brotherhood, whose devastatingly successful plot to use the Russian military’s bionuclear capabilities to wipe out all Homo sapiens other than their own membershipas a mere collateral benefit of the nearly successful effort to eliminate us Homo post hominems before our new species could get a toehold and emerge from its endangered status.
Then the Khraniteli, or Guardians: a group of suicidally fanatical Homo sapiens, “true human beings,” of whose existence we had never had a clue until Candy uncovered them and warned us, dedicated to the proposition that, not only were hominems not to be permitted to supplant H. sapiens, but only humans of the Khraniteli’s own ideologically pure membership would be allowed to survive. Concealed and working within Bratstvo organization, the Khraniteli subtly misdirected their puppets’ efforts, leaked their locations, and ensured that the United States’ thermonuclear response to the initial attack would eliminate every Bratstvo installation and operative.
This left the Earth to the tender mercies of the Khraniteli’s own, much more sweeping follow-up purge: Operating through the Bratsvos, they had left a doomsday device in orbitan unprecedentedly powerful strontium-90 bomb, programmed to commence reentry upon failing to receive a periodic coded signal, the next of which, according to intelligence reports, was due eleven days from then. Unfortunately, it seemed, the contents and radio frequencies were known only to the long-dead fanatics who had triggered the holocaust in the first place.
The Hale had been modified extensively in order to reach geosynchronous orbit, twenty-two thousand five hundred miles above the Earthseventy-five times higher than it had been designed for. The changes left it unable to return to Earth. The crew would reach the missile, disarm the bomb, and thereafter die. Hence the renaming: Nathan Hale“My only regret is that I have but one life . . .”
At almost the last moment, however, it was discovered that the small, powerful, homegrown robot handler that we had been developing to penetrate the missile and disarm the bomb was not up to the challenge. And because the missile’s nine-by-fourteen-inch internal hatches were too small to permit an adult in a spacesuit to reach the detonator and disarm it, suddenly it appeared that our species was destined to join the dinosaurs almost before it had emerged.
At that point, however, Candy stunned us all by volunteering to go on the suicide mission. She demonstrated that her diminutive stature allowed her effortless access to the warhead, and that her mastery of hysterical strength, gained during Teacher’s karate training, would enable her to disarm it.
Obviously, there was a chorus of protests over the notion of sending a child on a suicide mission, but even more obviously, if our species were to survive, there was no alternative.
Mission personnel totaled three: Besides Candy, there was NASA astronaut Harris Gilbert, the mission commander, and Kyril Svetlanov, a Russian Bratstvo defector. Having participated in the design and construction of the bomb, Svetlanov had apparently experienced a change of heart. He was going up to help disarm it, thereafter to diea most persuasive gesture of atonement.
However, once they arrived at geosynchronous orbit and matched orbits with the bomb, the Russian’s true colors emerged: He knifed Harris in the back, killing him instantly. Svetlanov was in fact a Khranitel.
We hominems had been fed persuasive false intelligence about the missile, a delta-winged dart similar in appearance to our own space shuttles, but constructed of the Khraniteli’s wondrously strong new material: Purportedly it was programmed to reenter the atmosphere, belly-land on the open ocean, sink to the bottom of the Murray Fracture Zone, seven hundred miles west-southwest of San Francisco, and detonate. This would set off a worldwide paroxysm of earthquakes, volcanoes, and a lethal rain of strontium-90 fallout on all unprotected H. sapiens and hominems alike.
In fact, however, the missile was targeted to land just offshore of the Vandenberg launch facility. And though the warhead was smaller than advertised, it was more than powerful enough to trigger a tsunami certain to wipe out all the Homo post hominems of Teacher’s AA group, assembled to launch the Haleyes, the misinformation had been tailored specifically to draw us there.
Unfortunately, the data regarding the strontium-90 fallout was accurate: Earth would indeed be uninhabitable by unprotected humans of either variety for the next two hundred years. Only the Khraniteli, in their huge Serdtsevina Rasovyi shelter under the Ural Mountains, massively constructed of the new material and provisioned for the duration, would survive.
Day-by-day, however, and despite her hominem heritage, Svetlanov’s admiration for Candy’s self-sacrificing courage and determinedly cheerful spirit had mounted during the week of intensive prelaunch training. With Harris dead, and after having disabled the radios, he felt reluctant to murder her as well, since he could envision no way that Candy alone could possibly complete the mission and block the Khraniteli’s plan from achieving fruition.
But Harris had never entirely trusted the Russian; he had deliberately kept him in the dark regarding Candy’s karate skills. And within moments of the mission commander’s death, she had distracted and disarmed the Khraniteli agent with tearsin her words, “surely most abjectly pitiable performance since Bambi calling for Mother in forest fire”broken his neck, and resolutely assumed responsibility for the fate of all remaining Humankind.
First, of course, she had to disable the bomb. This was the element of the mission for which she had trained, soapart from the challenge of navigating a five-mile spacesuited orbital transit between the Hale and the missile, for which she had not trainedthat was not a major problem.
But thereafter, somehow, she had to figure out how to warn us, on the ground, of the Khraniteli’s existence and their continuing genocidal intentions. The first solution to occur to her was to retarget the missile’s landing site and send a handwritten message down inside it, wrapped in three nested spacesuits for protection against reentry heat.
Incredibly, however, to that point she had been so utterly focused upon warning us that she hadn’t even considered her own survival. Only after safeguarding the message did it occur to her that, by riding down inside the missile herself, she might have an outside chance of survival.
Naturally, given the missile’s lack of heat shielding, and programmed-in, high-g evasive maneuvering, she barely lived through the heat and battering. Only the fact that Adam and Kim had belatedly realized that Terry’s increasingly nonstop, almost weeklong “spaceflight news coverage” monologue was in fact a direct line into Candy’s thoughts enabled them to follow the reentry drama and be there when the missile touched down at Edwards Dry Lake.
Braving significant scorching themselves, they extracted her from the still smokingly hot vehicle. In-flight pounding against the missile’s internal structure had severed her spacesuit’s life-support lines halfway through reentry, and she was clinically dead by that point: Both her respiration and heartbeat had stopped.
They removed her from the nested spacesuits and began resuscitation efforts. Ultimately, only Adam’s utter refusal to stop performing CPR, when it had become obvious to everyone else that she was past any hope of revival, saved her. Even Teacher, whose launch-site radar had picked up the missile coming in over the Pacific, and who, with his team of AAs, arrived in helicopters shortly after the reentry vehicle had touched down, tried to tell him that she was gone. But Adam persisted, and, to everyone’s astonishment, eventually her heart restarted.
Of course, in addition to clinical death, Candy had suffered multiple broken bones and extensive first and second-degree burns. Months of treatment, physical therapy, and resumed karate training led to her complete recovery . . .
And to the situation in which we found ourselves at the point at which the current journal commences: Candy had “borrowed” an airplane, and embarked upon what any reasonable person (lacking knowledge of her determination and skills) would regard as a Quixotic quest to find and rescue her adopted father.
Grand Theft Aero
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 multidozenteen hours logged “flying” shuttle simulator prior to suicide mission to geosynchronous orbit, plus checkout flights in most ships in AAs’ air fleetokay, not the 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 gearincluding (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, idiosyncrasies, 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 thrillat 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 bushplane is big, gangly, awkward-looking bird: only a whisker less than forty 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/Landingindeed.
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 for such highjinks. For all intents, purposes, turboprop warms up instantly. Hit starter, engine spins up to minimum ignition rpm. Light torchthrill to nifty jet-engine wail as, within seconds, 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 lateralmost 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 188-knot (201 mph) cruise, burning roughly 50 gallon 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 doubtcommon-sense arguments, emotional entreaties alike would have no effect on decision.
Redundant GPS units operational; even more satisfying, agreed amongst themselves. 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 phenomenonor 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 valvesto say nothing of recips’ other eleven 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 waysubstantive 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 among 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 operatescoordinated 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-4staple 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 thieer, borrower, inventory includes lightweight folding stepladder. No kidding: Fuel filler caps on this ship recessed into upper wing surfaces, tippy-tip-tops of wingtip tanksall over nine feet off ground . . . !
Also brought along additional piece 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/rudders 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 half hour.
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 flightplan 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 that 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 isor 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, preteennearly 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” decisiondisplaying a courage which to this day brings tears to my eyes to contemplateshe 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 curiosityknowing 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 that 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, among low, heavily forested mountains, rising higher to west. Whole area situated among 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-monitorlittle 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 Daddyassuming 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 plansand 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 was 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, an M.D., had been charming, funny, obviously terribly smart. And while at least thirty 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 during Peace Corps tour, among 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 trainingfor 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 meetingand 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 protect.
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 responsibilitypersonal 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 bednot 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 nonsleeping 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 Teachernot 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”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 eyespicked 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 runs 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 triedwhich 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 outand, 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 nonfirearm-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 puppywhich transforms in the blink of an eye into a tiger. Or perhaps more accuratelya 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 hesitation upon the sudden discovery that within this innocent-appearing, small-for-her-age, apparently vulnerable, winsome, 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 bombsan 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 likeHeaven help us allwhen she grows up?
If she grows up . . .
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