CONTACT IS NOT JUST A COLD AND
Creek, as a child, loved jumping-off-things.
first his parents and his older sister Alexi thought it was cute.
Hal jumping from the arm of the sofa into their laps. From his
bed onto strewn pillows. From the kitchen table to the faded yellow
spoiled the cuteness of his jumping-off-things for the family
was four year old Hal's leap from his second-story bedroom window
into a pile of multicolored autumn leaves. Or perhaps it was seven
year old Hal's leap from the roof of the garage into the neighbors'
three-foot deep doughboy pool.
it was 11 year old Hal's Fourth of July leap, with a full laid
out back flip, off Rooster Rock into the raging Columbia River.
the time Hal Creek was 16 he had leapt off every bridge within
30 miles of Portland, Oregon: off the Troutdale Bridge into the
Sandy River, off an unnamed concrete bridge into Oneida Creek,
and off the Steel Bridge into the Willamette River.
18th summer, recently graduated from high school, was spent in
Acapulco, executing swan dives off the cliff by day and brain
cells with tequila at night. At Portland State, he pole vaulted
to two consecutive NCAA Division II titles for the Vikings. After
college, a bachelor's in Elizabethan Literature, Hal searched
for other things to leap from, eventually joining the outfit with
the coolest platforms: the United States Air Force.
leapt from helicopters, no parachute, into swamps, marshes, fens,
and bogs. From various aircraft, with parachute, he landed in
the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, and on every continent,
the biggest, scariest, most important leap Hal ever accomplished
was, by necessity, from the bowels of the Deep Probe 9 into black
and frigid outer space.
The Bandler Deep Probe 9, America's
most technologically advanced and effective deep space explorer
was, frankly, shaped much like a penis. Granted, the DP-9, 249
feet long and bright yellow, would never, in almost anyone's
fantasy be mistaken for the actual human, male reproductive organ,
but with twin, testicular 37-foot-in-diameter geodesic observing
modules nestled together at the DP-9's base it certainly bore
more resemblance to a trouser trout than it did to, say, a huge,
flying yellow daffodil.
The DP-9 also, for aerodynamic reasons,
was lopped, chopped, moyled: in a word, circumcised. Right
now, the circumcised DP-9, containing a crew of four and commanded
by Captain John Wryght, USAF, drifted dangerously without power
or lights. Until...
the lights," said Lt. Hal Creek. He flicked off his Maglite
and stuffed it in his belt.
just happened here, Huevos?" said Captain Wryght.
said the DP-9's co-pilot, Martin Huevos, "while we were without
power, we drifted at one third normal speed on roughly the same
course, we'd be drifting away from any known source of radiation
at 16,012 miles an hour." Huevos absentmindedly fondled the
gold crucifix he wore outside his blue NASA jumpsuit. "Basically,
John, I don't know."
stuff," said Hal Creek. "I thought we were dead."
not alone," said crewman Phil Watts.
Wryght punched a button on the DP-9's control panel. "There
is no indication of what might have zapped our power supply. Look,"
said John. The crew huddled around the DP-9's Captain as he pointed
to the screen.
Martin Huevos, with a mouthful of teeth that gleamed like the
grill on a 1966 Pontiac LeMans, said, "Look at what?"
encountered it here" said John.
said Hal. "It could be a them."
if frogs had wings," said Watts, "they wouldn't bump
their slimy green butts when they jumped."
Hal is saying," said Huevos softly, "is that God works
in mysterious ways."
come all you beaners are so religious?" said Watts.
do all you Scots," said Huevos, "wear plaid, drink beer,
and cohabitate with sheep?"
up and help me here?" said John. His fingers punched the
proper buttons in the proper sequence and the DP-9's computer
re-created the last 65 minutes of its deep space sojourn. "We
encountered them," he winked at Hal, "here. But
the next entry on the computerized log is not until an hour later.
There is an hour-long hiatus in the readings."
said Hal, "we remember that hour."
is creepy, man," said Huevos.
radio crackled to life, the first sound it had made in 73.2 minutes.
Huevos bounded to his station, donned earphones and tuned it in.
"John," said Huevos, "it's Powers Air Force Base."
that," said John. He took the headset from Huevos, tangling
the short cord in his graying, Rasputinesque beard.
switch to intercom, John," said Huevos.
said John, extricating the wires from his beard.
in, Powers Air Force Base," said John. "Over."
had a problem," said Alexi Creek from the intercom, "with
our instruments, DP-9. We lost you for 73 minutes. Over."
Control, can you tell us what happened? We were absolutely inculcated.
asked Alexi. "Over."
know what I mean, Alexi. We lost radio, lights, power." said
John. "Everything quit on us. Over."
is Bandler, Over," crackled the radio.
lovely to hear your voice, Simon," said John.
my DP-9 okay? Any hardware damage?"
running a systems check," John nodded at Hal, who initiated
the systems check from another console. "But the DP-9 seems
needs to talk to you."
him on, Over."
soft-spoken, reticent and shy voice said, "Hello John."
up Brad? Have you run a remote?"
said Brad, barely audible, "radioactive or otherwise is likely."
three, including shit, more than likely," said Brad.
"Probable. I've never seen anything like it."
can have a rescue vehicle up there in 72 hours," said Alexi.
"I want you to abort the mission. Over."
way," said Bandler. "Bring my DP-9 home. I want that
buggy back. End of conversation."
there's evidence of contact and" said Brad.
transmission went dead.
said John. "Come in? Powers Air Force Base? Alexi? A rescue
vacuole, ah, vehicle would be a splendid idea. Over."
seconds passed in silence.
had a conference," said Bandler through the returning static,
"and I won. I want that $1.3 billion Bandler DP-9 back at
said John. "Over?"
sis," said Hal, "mom and dad will be pissed if you don't
get me home; a rescue vehicle or even a vacuole would be
a fine idea. Over."
said Alexi, through increasing static, "I have something
important to tell you."
ahead, Over," said John.
not about the DP-9," said Alexi.
it have anything to do with" said John, just as the
DP-9, once again, lost its lights, power and radio communications.
we go again, boys and girls," said Watts.
crew, simultaneously, flicked on their industrial sized Maglites.
said John, "can we go to auxiliary power?"
trying John," said Huevos.
slashed at Huevos with his flashlight, "Come over to the
dark side, Luke."
your light over here, estupido," said Huevos.
said John, "can you at least raise the radio?"
not," said Huevos.
Christ Almighty," said Watts. "What's that?" He
pointed at a vague, diaphanous light that pulsated, shimmered,
and gleamed around the twin geodesic observing modules.
said Hal, "I'm going out there."
way, Lieutenant Creek. That's an order."
going out there," said Hal.
waited all my life to make contact," said Hal. "I'm
going out there. Contact."
not," said John. He stared at the light that tickled
the DP-9. It wasn't a light that was being shined at the DP-9;
it was like a massive amoeba whose essence isn't a gelatinous
mass, but a smear of diffuse luminosity. "If anyone is going
out, Hal, it's me."
if you get snuffed," said Hal, "who pilots this puppy
back to earth?"
is right," said Watts. "The best any of us could do
is set the autopilot and cross our fingers. We'd probably"
up on reentry," said Hal.
going out there, John," said Hal.
stroked his beard and shrugged: he'd known Hal long enough to
know that once he'd decided; changing his mind would be like trying
to get pee out of a swimming pool.
slipped his Maglite into his belt and cupped around his ears and
said to Huevos: "Yoda senses danger, Luke."
DP-9's airlock was located between the two Geodesic Observing
Modules. Lt. Hal Creek, minus his helmet, was prepared for a Spacewalk/Alien
Encounter. John, from a rack on the wall, removed a SpacePaddle.
The Paddle, a combination weapon-sensor-radio, resembled a cross
between a kayak paddle and a giant red-and-white Q-Tip.
and John secured Hal Creek's helmet while Watts stood idly by,
scratching himself. Hal pushed a button on the SpacePaddle and
"Mary had a Little Lamb,
That's what she gets for sleeping in the barn."
voice echoed through the airlock and John gave him the thumbs-up.
a leg, man," said Huevos.
careful out there, asswipe," said John. "And don't lose
that SpacePaddle. We need a reading onwhatever." Again
he fiddled with his beard. "To ascertain if, whatever it
is, is ambient or
amplified voice re-echoed in the chamber, "Maybe ambulatory
know what I mean."
do," said Hal, "and that's what frightens me. Just promise
that you'll make an honest woman of my sister."
been trying to get Alexi to marry me for 10 years." John
whacked him on the helmet and nodded through the window to the
menacing yet beckoning and alluring black void. "You know
that." Hal smiled as Huevos and John backed out of the airlock
and secured the heavy door behind them. Lt. Creek, scared and
excited at the same time, breathed deeply and depressed a switch
on the red-and-white SpacePaddle. It beeped three times; Hal had
armed himself for interstellar bear. He attached his lifeline
and used one end of the Q-Tipped SpacePaddle to hit a button.
airlock door popped open and revealed the million-billion stars
in that corner of the universe. "Beautiful," said Hal.
Hal Creek took the most important leap in his life, connected
to the penile spacecraft by only a tenuous, flexible, aluminum
bleeding testicles of Christ," said Hal. "I knew we
asked John. "You been out there for two seconds. Over?"
were waiting, John. Waiting. Exuding patience and salutation.
And I ain't got no spare; I ain't got no jack," said Hal.
"I don't give a shit, because I ain't coming back."
talking crazy," said John.
"I'm talking crazy, Mister
calm. Calm and peaceable."
careful Hal," John Wryght's, voice echoed tinny and small
inside Hal's helmet.
late for careful, John," said Hal. "These things know
me. I know that they know. They can see inside of me. Jesus, they
are running my memories like a videotape: reverse-pause-fast
video?" asked John. "Over?"
Apparently a cheap porno minus the cheesy saxophone licks,"
said Hal. "Oh, that's me. I'd forgotten about her.
That must've been the summer I'd been self-medicating in Mexico."
come in," said John. "You're babbling. Come in."
got me, Johnny. They got me. Too late for me. Abort the mission,
John. Flush it, pull the plug, and abort. They are on me and in
me. Vaya con Dios, Huevos. Screw you Watts. Goodbye John, tell
my sister goodbye."
opened the airlock, Hal," said John. "Get your ass in
ya," said Hal. "They've got me, but here, maybe this
will tell you something." Hal tossed his SpacePaddle at the
DP-9. Tumbling, slowly, end-over-end, it caromed off the top of
the airlock door and landed safely, like a ricocheted slapshot,
in the DP-9. "See you later. I know that I will see
lights on the DP-9 flickered, faded, and then disappeared. Through
the airlock's window Huevos and Captain John Wryght watched Hal,
smiling beatifically, enveloped and caressed by a gossamer Glow.
An amphioxus and amorphous Glow that was, apparently, an alien
lifeline snapped and he was escorted, spirited away to death and
beyond by the Glow.
Creek's last thought as he suffocated and turned a cupric, cyanotic
blue was, as is proper for an Elizabethan Lit scholar, from Shakespeare.
He mumbled: "William always referred to the orgasm and as
The Little Death. Benedict said to Beatrice in Much
Ado About Nothing: I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and
be buried in thy eyes. Shakespeare was right again."
lights returned to the DP-9 as the Glow swirled away into space,
with Hal Creek and his muttered thoughts of Shakespeare in tow.
The crew waited in silence as an atmosphere was re-created in
the airlock. The green light signaled that entry to the airlock
was safe. John opened the door and inched into the chamber, breathing
motioned to the crew that everything was OK.
and Watts stood with John over Hal's SpacePaddle. Huevos picked
up the instrument and handed it to John.
up a paddle," said Watts, "but no Creek."
Watts," said John. "Right freaking now."
said Watts. "It was a joke." Watts flipped off John
behind his back and exited.
Alexi on the radio. Patch her through my quarters. She's the only
one I can talk to."
you," said John. "Jesus, amigo. We just watched Hal
said Huevos. "I just hope I'm smiling like that when I exhale
for the last time."
walks into a bar," said John to no one in particular. He
burped into his hand. He sat at his desk in the Geodesic Observing
Dome surveying the distant stars and the deadly GLOWs flitting
back-and-forth between the DP-9's domes. A triptych on his desk
sported three pictures: first of Alexi and John beneath a wispy
weeping willow; second of Hal and John in front of the DP-9; third
of John and his mother standing proudly in front of the family
brewery, beneath the sign: Fourth Generation AlesThe
slurped his beer and repeated, again, to no one in particular,
"Okay, Nostradamus walks into a bar. The bartender says,
Hey Buddy, what are you drinking? Nostradamus smiles and
says, I knew you were going to say that."
people laugh with their eyes, lips, and a portion of their lungs.
s laugh started in his intestines and riotously, peristaltically,
crept up through his viscera, into his nervous system, scrambled
his brain and explodedalmost always accompanied by mucusthrough
his nose. "I knew you were going to say that!"
John rattled, rumbled, snorted and laughed again.
John Rutherford Wryght, USAF, had been drinking.
first laugh had sprayed the computer and radio headset on his
desk. The detritus from John's second guffaw almost reached the
pressurized tank that held his zero-gravity-experimental-homebrew.
his fifth mission on the DP-9, was John's latest attempt to bioengineer
a designer brewer's yeast. Top fermenting ales, which take from
six to eight weeks to ferment, could now be brewed in 12 hours.
Extra Special Bitter in 12 hours!
had perfected, after several attempts, the most important innovation
in the history of brewing. He would be a multi-millionaire in
a month once he returned to the earth with his Wryght Stuff Yeast.
John drew another beer from his pony keg. "To you, Hal."
drank and wiped his beard clean.
the yeast I could do," said John. He laughed at his
stupid-ass pun, this time, spraying the entire desk and tank with
atomized boogers. John drained, and then refilled his stein. He
raised a test tube full of yeast marked D and examined it in the
light. "Amazing. Hal, I suppose, to these perambulating little
beasties we're indecent and intrusive aliens bending their lives
for our own porpoises." John burped and drank again. "Pardon
me. Purposes." With the precision of a grandmother
applying her initials to a recently finished, intricate needlepoint
design or a drunk with the exaggerated mis-control trying to remove
his license from his wallet while a state trooper loomed at the
driverside window, John zippered the unbreakable plastic test
tube marked YEAST D into his jumpsuit. "Got you, you
little yeastie-peckerhead-bastards." He looked out the observing
porthole and spoke to the GLOWs that now tailed the DP-9. "And
you got one of us."
drank, refilled his mug, and said, "Fuckers."
family's brewery, Fourth Generation Ales, was located on the outskirts
of Alexandria, VA. It was one of the few, if not the only, brewery
to survive prohibition. Like several California wineries which
weathered the prohibitionist storm by making sacramental wines,
John's grandfather, (Brewmaster of, then, Second Generation Ales)
outlasted the ban on alcohol by brewing sacramental beer for a
sect of Sumerian grain worshipers in upstate New York. Even though
these grain worshipers had supposed ties to several families in
Albanywhose names ended mostly in vowelsthe bootlegging
charges never stuck. John's father, like John, had been groomed
and prepared to run the brewery since his childhood. Both Wryghts
were Cavalier chemistry majors at the University Of Virginia.
John's father had an appreciation for beer or that straddled the
borderline of self-indulgent and decadent. "What is beer,"
David Wryght used to say to anyone who would listen, "but
grains, water, and yeast? And what is bread? Again, grains, water
and yeast. Ergo, bread is solid beer, and beer is liquid bread."
virtue of this logic, it seemed perfectly reasonable that David
Wryght would start his day, every morning, with a sixpack of "toast."
This continued until David's 42nd year, when the Brewmaster tumbled
into a vat of stout and drowned, although family legend has it
that he climbed out twice to go the bathroom.
David's body had been fished from the vat, Third Generation Ales
became Fourth Generation Ales but John, as a book-wormish only
child, was always more interested in the theoretical rather than
the practical side of the brewer's art and turned over the day-to-day
operation of the family business to his mother. John, after graduating
from the UVA, began his research into bioengineered yeast. While
developing a computer generated prototype of his super yeast,
John met Alexi Creek, who was writing deep space navigation programs
fell into bed, and shortly thereafter into love. Then they began
traversing the almost impossible tight rope of living out two
full-time careers. Even though John realized they needed to, without
the specter of marriage hanging over them, fulfill their respective
career goals he had proposed repeatedly to Alexi over the past
decade. For Alexi marriage wasn't exactly on the back burner.
was nowhere near the stove.
It wasn't even in the kitchen.
career timelines and ticking biological imperatives were complicated
when John's National Science Foundation grants ran out on the
day before his 29th birthday. That's when Alexi and John decided
to extend their engagement indefinitely. John joined the Air Force,
became an astronaut and took his zymurgical experiments and theories
into orbit. Zero-gravity, as it turned out, would be the final
tweak the yeast experiment needed to be successful.
continued her career with NASA. This DP-9 mission, the first time
they had worked together, had been, mutually decided, to be their
first and last joint effort. It hadn't been decided which of them
was to retire, but one of them would call it quits, with marriage,
familial responsibility, and the big 40 hovering on the horizon.
John, of course, wanted Alexi to retire because she would be pregnant.
Alexi, of course, wanted John to retire from the Air Force because
he had the job as Brewmaster at Fourth Generation Ales waiting.
both of them, of course, were right-and-wrong.
John's mother Mary never remarried and ran the brewery patiently,
like Penelope weaving, as she waited for her son to return to
The Cavalier State, take over the day-to-day operations, get married,
make her a grandmother and eventually rename the brewery Fifth
Generation Ales. Although she enjoyed running the small brewing
venture, she often said, "The only way a microbrewery can
compete with the big brewers is if the President of the United
States called the Attorney General and made Fourth Generation
Ales the official beverage of the United States of America."
announced, from the radio, "I've got Alexi, John."
you think we're pulling the plug?"
can't return to Earth. We've been contaminated. Do you know a
prayer that can help us?"
hesitated. "No. And I know a lot of freaking prayers."
me through to Alexi."
said Alexi, "we lost you again. Over."
said John. "We did the big fade again."
checked his instruments and told me you've been contaminated.
You can't return to earth."
Hal is dead."
you hear me?" John drained and, once again, refilled his
just went for a stroll? To get a newspaper and a bagel?"
went out to investigate"
this glowing cloud just zapped him. Like, 10 seconds after he
exited the DP-9. It snapped his lifeline and sent him hurtling
into space. I'm sorry."
did he go out there? Why didn't you stop him, John?"
anybody knew Hal, you did. When he made up his mind there was
no stopping him." John drained another stein of zero gravity
did you know?"
tried to respond, but couldn't. He realized that he did, for whatever
reason, speak more properly with some booze in his blood. "Shit,
Alexi. Your brother is dead. The whatever that killed him
has contaminated the spaceship and is following us. I'm downloading
all the encounter information for NASA to collate and examine.
Make sure Brad sees it; maybe he can make some sense of it. As
soon as you acknowledge receipt of the data I'm nuking the DP-9.
drained another stein; then poured yet another.
sobbed quietly, mourning the loss of her brother; and anticipating
the loss of her lover. "I love you, John."
I love you."
fingers flew across the keyboard and downloaded all the encounter
info from Hal's SpacePaddle. John's computer bleeped once, twice,
thrice; then it whirred and clicked. "Honey, the download
is complete. It's my duty to pull the plug."
do it, John. John?"
no way around it. It's not only my duty as a commanding officer,
but as a citizen of earth. I'd jeopardize humanity returning home
after having made contact. I can't bring whatever killed Hal back
grandpa used to say that life is like licking honey off a thorn;
the sweeter the taste, the more you're likely to hurt yourself.
I'm glad we had the time together"
underwhelmed by your enthusiasm."
drank. "I'm supposed to happy I'll have a child that neither
Hal nor I will ever see? Sorry."
saying goodbye now. I'm not telling the crew; it'll be instantaneous
and immediate incineration; complete and comprehensive combustion."
you have been drinking. Such lucid enunciation."
Simply; goodbye." John switched off the radio. "It hurts
too much to say anything else."
fumbled for the key he kept around his neck, the key to the DP-9's
ENEMA: the Emergency Nuclear Eradication and deMolition Apparatus.
He removed the key from his neck, kissed the picture of Alexi,
the photo of Hal and himself, and the snapshot of his mother and
the brewery. John placed the pictures face down on the desk. John
took one last look at his brewing apparatus: the coils and tankshis
unborn child's inheritance.
breathed deeply, resigned himself to his fate, and offered a silent
prayer to God. All that remained was to insert the ENEMA key,
turn it to the left and see if there really is an afterlife. John
said, "Death. The final frontier." He inserted the key
and took one final sip of his beloved brew.
when an industrial sized black Maglite crashed down upon his cranium.
crumpled to the floor of his office, flapping like a trout out
of water in a puddle of the universe's finest ale.
Captain John Wryght regained consciousness he was duct taped into
his chair in the DP-9's control room. Huevos, taped to his chair
as securely as John said, "Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
the hell hit me?"
motioned with his chin to Watts, who was entering data into the
navigational computer. "Sorry John," said Huevos, "he
got the jump on me."
squirmed in his duct tape harness and said, "Lieutenant Philip
Watts, I order you to immediately relinquish control of the DP-9."
always admired your perverse sense of humor," said Watts.
started to speak as the radio crackled, "DP-9? Do you read
me? Over?" said Alexi through the static.
the plug, Alexi," yelled John. "Watts jumped Huevos
and me. Whatever we contacted is still with us"
contaminated," shouted Huevos. "Shoot us of orbit. If
we ever get back into orbit, blow us up."
you got to pull the plug!" screamed John.
silenced John and Huevos with a strip of duct tape over their
mouths. John struggled; kicking at anything within reach in order
to make some noise.
you read me, John?" said Alexi.
in," said Bandler from the radio. "Watts? Are you there?"
broke in, "Apparently they've taken their sleeping pills
and activated the ENEMA."
holding you responsible, Alexi," said Bandler. "Do you
know what the DP-9 cost?"
grabbed the mike, "Mr. Bandler?"
is under control. Over."
Bring her home."
do, Mr. Bandler. Out."
switched off the radio and said, "That should be it. We've
got a week before reentry. Just enough time, Johnny Boy, for me
to doctor the DP-9's log. Nothing terribly complicated, just enough
to show how you misappropriated NASA equipment and time for private,
unauthorized research. Yeast research. Just the addition of a
coupla hours here and there."
made withering eye contact and said, "Hmmmpf you!!"
be tucked into your reentry cocoons and on life support in about
an hour. The next thing you'll remember is splashdown." He
ripped the tape first from Huevos' mouth, then John's. "Any
have made contact," yelled Huevos. "We're contaminated.
The DP-9 can't be returned to earth."
said Watts. "We've experienced an electronic apparition.
I'm not dying up here because soon-to-be-former Captain Wryght
did Bandler promise you for returning his baby?" asked John.
pulled a hypodermic from the medical bag and thrust it through
the sleeve of John's jumpsuit into his bicep. He depressed the
plunger and said, "Say good night, Gracie."
breakfast sausages wrapped in pancakes, the crew of the DP-9 was
snuggled into their Plexiglas and titanium reentry cocoons. Periodically,
the DP-9 would lurch to the left or right as the autopilot adjusted
its path toward Earth. In their drug-induced, electronically monitored
slumber the crew didn't notice. The two Anglo crewmembers also
didn't notice when the mystically inclined son of a Guadalajaran
bus driver stiffened, convulsed, and although unconscious, clawed
at the gold crucifix outside his jumpsuit with both hands.
in the Throes of Religious Ecstasy, spoke in tongues and pawed
at the crucifix. Then he relaxed and released the cross: his beatific
vision, his enlightenment, was complete.
come face-to-face with the Godhead, the Lord, the Higher Power,
the Infinite Deity, Jesus, Yahweh, Shiva, Zarathustra, Buddha,
Toth and Isis, Zeus, Aphrodite, the Big Cheese, the Top Banana.
it was good.
Golden Gate Bridge is the Jack Kevorkian of bridges. It is the
symbol which not only represents the City and County of San Francisco,
but the hopes of potential suicides worldwide. Before dawn, sharing
the bridge with patchy fog and sporadic traffic was Corky McCorkle
and his dog, Pudd.
dog was a full blooded, AKC registered Irish Setter.
Corky was a full blooded Irish immigrant,
slightly over one century old. He had outlived two wives, six
of his 10 children and all his friends, which is why he was considering
the mighty leap to the briny deep. He was beyond lonely; having
outlived the entirety of his peers he was unaccompanied, solitary,
and isolated. Members of Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation,
except for Corky, existed solely as history. There was no soul
on earth who could commiserate and recall being bruised and battered
by emigration and then the Depression, frightened, challenged
and elated (having won) by WWII, and resultantly thriving as the
cream of the Great Society they had created. "It was the
morning of my 17th birthday," he explained to Pudd, "the
first day I was allowed to work upon this structure. I'd been
sitting in the Paddy Chorus for nearly a month."
stopped to crap on the Golden Gate Bridge.
took this as a sign of interest and continued, "The Paddy
Chorus was one of the few ways a young, wayward, backwater Mick
such as myself could get a job in those days. The Darkies had
all the railroad jobs, the Dagoes worked the docks, and the Japs
and the Spics worked the fields. So myself and my Celtic brethren
showed up every day to labor on the bridge upon which we are now
perambulating. The work gangs were set and the only way to get
hired was to wait, right over there, until someone broke an arm
or leg, or, with any luck, plummeted to his death. It was a reasonable
and honorable arrangement. We'd honor each other's place in the
line; respectful of each other's seniority. We'd sit for days
on end, drinking and singing Irish songs, waiting for someone
to take a tumble so we'd obtain the opportunity to work and put
a little bread and cheese on the table. I must admit that it was
with a tear in my eye that I took my place on the high steel,
replacing my older brother William. But a job is a job and that's
all history now."
adjusted his Donegal tweed cap and petted Pudd. "It's a cruel
and funny world, my friend. The only time in life you acquire
a little perspective and perspicacity is when you're too old and
tired to utilize it. I'd end my life in a minutetake the
plungehappy with the manner in which it has unfolded, if
only I could see a sign from above."
Voltaire said that God is a comedian
playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh. As seeming
proof of this theory, at that instant, the DP-9 reentered the
earth's atmosphere, a flaming fireball over the Pacific off the
coast of Northern California. Corky McCorkle saw the man-made
meteor and said, "Holy Mary Mother of God. A sign."
And then he jumped from the bridge to his death. In his haste,
hurtling over the side, his cap made of Donegal tweed flew from
his head and landed at Pudd's feet. The setter, always obedient,
took the hat in his mouth, whimpered twice, and jumped over the
railing, following his master into the depths of San Francisco
the delay?" shouted Captain Grieg, United States Coast Guard.
Grieg stood on the bridge and bellowed through a bullhorn. The
DP-9 perched on the rear deck of Captain Greg's command, the U.S.
Brown, a NASA technician, helmeted and shrouded in a radiation
suit, said, "The delay is, if I'm wrong, all your testes
are going to shrivel up like little ripe purple raisins and fall
off. Raisins. Shriveled, sere, desiccated raisins. Got it? And
it won't do my ovaries a hell of a lot of good." She resumed
her examination with the Geiger counter.
on," said Grieg. "Helluva job, Brownie. Good job. Carry
DP-9 still steamed slightly in the foggy morning air. The lights
of San Francisco still glistened in the distance. "I know
this ain't right," said Lisa quietly. "But my instruments
What the hell, I'll just keep my suit on."
She cleared her throat and engaged her radio. "All clear,
clear," repeated Captain Greig. "Prepare to welcome
opened the DP-9's escape hatch. Watts, blinking from the pale
morning sunlight, stepped onto the Bucher's deck. He saluted the
bridge and jumped out. Next, like a tumbleweed, Huevos bounded
from the DP-9 and cartwheeled clumsily across the deck. He clutched
his crucifix in his left hand. Hal Creek's SpacePaddle was clasped
in his right. His eyes glowed. He looked like El Greco's Christ
in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knelt and crossed his arms across
"I remained and I lost myself,
My face, I rested against my God;
All ceased, and I was left,
Leaving my cares, forgotten among the lilies."
rose and kissed Watts delicately on his lips. "All is forgiven,
brother. I've seen the face of God and he told me it were justly
so." He smiled and held his gleaming crucifix aloft.
he jumped, with the SpacePaddle, overboard.
overboard," said Captain Greig. "Crazy man overboard."
and various Coast Guard personnel sprinted to the rail and watched
Huevos, crucifix and Hal's SpacePaddle still clutched in his left
hand, swim sidestroke toward the City by the Bay. "That,"
said a Coast Guard Ensign to Watts, "was one looney chimichanga."
That chimichanga, thought Watts,
was the only witness. Now it's my word against Wryght's.
Watts turned and, again, saluted the bridge. Captain Grieg returned
the salute and bullhorned, "Where's your commanding officer?"
pulled data disks out of his jumpsuit. "Sir, I have here
information that proves our commander, Captain John Wyght, USAF,
is not only a thief and a liar, but a traitor."
repeatedly tried to destroy the DP-9, which would weaken our interstellar
research and defense capabilities. I barely escaped with these.
I was, by duty, forced to take command of the vessel and pilot
it back to Earth."
where is your traitorous commander?" asked Captain Grieg.
been tranquilized and placed under arrest. He is still aboard
Captain stared at Watts for a moment, then said, "Secure
Wryght, at that moment, much like Punxsatawny Phil, peeked his
head out of the DP-9 just in time to see three Coasties flick
the safeties off their M-16s. "Permission," asked John,
"to come aboard?"
said Captain Greig. "You are under arrest."
John rubbed his face. There was an
X of bare flesh in his beard where the duct tape had been.
under arrest pending investigation of charges of mutiny,"
said Greig. "Restrain that man. Then shave him."
Coasties pulled John from the escape hatch while the third aimed
his M-16 at his throat. "Thanks, Watts," said John.
pleasure," said Watts.
the Coasties cuffed and brought John below, the volitant, effulgent
GLOW, barely visible in the brightening morning light, licked
around the twin geodesic observing domes of the DP-9.
one saw it.
lifeboat from the U.S. Lloyd Bucher trailed Martín Huevos
as he swam through the whitecaps beneath the Golden Gate Bridge,
towards the marina at Sausalito. He still clutched the crucifix
and used the buoyant red-and-white SpacePaddle as a kickboard.
He had been joined by a full blooded, registered Irish setter
which swam beside him. The setter clutched in his mouth a cap
made of the finest Donegal tweed. A Coastie named Dale, from a
lifeboat following Huevos, said through a bullhorn, for the 117th
time, "Lieutenant, Sir. Would you very much, sir, mind climbing
into the fucking lifeboat?"
said Coastie Gómez. I've been on the radio back to the
Lloyd Bucher. Scuttlebutt says that they made contact. Up there."
might explain," said Coastie Dale, "why this guy went
scrambled cerebral cortex crazy."
might be contaminated," said Gómez. "Remember
what the chick from NASA said about our balls wilting and turning
I remember. Arid, juiceless raisins." They looked at the
distant Marina, then Dale raised the bullhorn. "Lieutenant
Martin Huevos," he cleared his throat, "Kick! Kick!