by: William C. Burns, Jr.
Two men hunkered in the desert heat, oblivious to the searing noon-day sun. The older man observing as the younger man ladling a rainbow of different colored sands into the intricate medicine-pattern on the ground between them.
Hours later, Grey Hawken looked up from the matrix of curved
lines, swirls and circles that he had completed in the red desert dust, and regarded the elderly man he called ‘grandfather’. Grey’s sable black hair was tinged with dust and his brownish-red swarthy complexion was silvered by the sweat of his exertion. There was a peaceful and centered look to his aquiline face. Both men smiled.
After a moment’s silence, Grey gazed from horizon to horizon and concluded that he had finished the ritual at just the right time. The Sun Father, arrayed in blood crimson robes, was just touching the western horizon. The full and pregnant blue Moon Mother had just cleared the crest of Hawk Mesa to the southeast.
“Never again will such a conjunction happen, my son.”
the ancient man said without particularly looking at Grey.
“Never is a long time grandfather, maybe in ten thousand years. Perhaps we will sit together and watch it again,” the younger man offered with a serious face.
“I’ll make a note of it in my calendar,” chortled the elder, his throaty laugh, flute-like in the dusk. They chuckled in the twilight until, at last, they were silent. Both sat without movement or conversation. They were witness to the sky and it was enough.
After the Milky Way was clear in the jet black sky, the elder nudged Grey in the ribs, as though awakening him. Grey smiled again in the dim light, until he beheld the expression of the elder.
“What is it that troubles you grandfather?”
“A time is coming and you will leave us to take up your bow and walk the skies.” The night air was silent for several moments. “There is more to you than most men see,” he continued. “Do not think that you have deceived me my son. I know who you are.”
“Oh, take no offense, Grey. I can see this revelation troubles you and that is not my wish. Your secrets are your own and that is as it should be. Besides, I have adopted you and I will always protect you as a father should. Do not forget the father-son blood ritual so quickly. We are kin, both with a few secrets. My son you are a great warrior who has not chosen to reveal himself in this time, and I have always felt that there is a deep and abiding wisdom in this. I have been proud to be your grandfather, and I can not betray you.”
Grey returned his heart beat and breathing to normal rhythm, but remained alert.
“There are many things in nature that most common men do not
understand. They fear all things natural. It is as though they believe man was set in eternal battle with the elements. The warrior is different, he understands. He knows the hawk is wise and keen of sight. The coyote is good when it courts the moon. He knows the sky is a good thing and as is the night. I know this, because I am a warrior, and trust nature’s wisdom.”
“However, there is a thing in the sky, in the vault of stones, and though it is natural, it is not a good thing. It is the silent brother of our friend the sun, but it is not good like the sun. It gives no light for the day, nor does it bring rest in the night. It is a harbinger of bad things.”
“Why do you tell me this grandfather?”
“I have been told in a vision that you must be alerted to this thing. I do not understand this vision, but a dark thing comes and you will set your hand against it. Tomorrow you will leave. I will tell Cat-hunting. You must tell Raven.”
“But grandfather, how can I leave you?”
“All things proceed in circles my son. You will return.”
“But you may die in my absence.”
“In your heart, my son, you will return to me always in your
Grey realized that in four thousand years he had never met a man like this grandfather, and that he would miss this old man.
Grey sighed and watched the glimmering silver stars as they walked back through the desert to the house in silence. Grandfather had delivered a fair description of the Sole’s dark star brother, Nemesis. Whenever it happened to be in the neighborhood, it disturbed the Ort cloud surrounding the human Solar system and new comets would fill Earth’s sky. This greatly increased the danger of planetary impact. In fact it was about time for the old boy to make his presence felt. There was only one thing wrong with the old man’s prediction, Angel Station had not notified Grey of any such impending disaster. He pondered in the night.
Later, after dinner, grandfather had taken Cat-hunting out to the porch swing. Grey, stood in his bedroom and packed the few possessions brought with him from the University of New Mexico. It had taken him a long time to pack, even though the whole process finally amounted to only a small bundle, which he could easily carry on his bike. He heard the television in the living room and sighed. In all the many years he had managed many things, but he had never managed to find an easy way to say good-bye, especially to a child like Raven. She was so easy to love. He felt her eyes on his back as she peered around the door frame to see what he was doing. He smiled, though his heart was breaking.
“You’ll miss your show,” Grey said without turning to face her.
“I’m taping it. You know that. How come you talk to me without looking at me?”, she asked.
“I’ve been doing that for a long time now and you never noticed before,” Grey said, turning at last to look into her huge brown eyes. She had advanced into the room two steps.
“I have too noticed. I just haven’t said anything about it. I notice lots’a things,” she retorted in her high pitched voice, twisting at the hair of her rag doll.
“What have you noticed, Raven?”, Grey asked sitting on the bed. She was just beyond arm’s length and he could see tears welling up in her eyes. She wiped her nose on her sleeve and looked away.
“Grey, are you leaving me?”
“Do you have to go?”
“Yes, I have important work to do.”
“But I don’t want you to leave.”
“I know, doll.”
She ran the remaining distance to him and hid her face on his shoulder. There was a long silence filled with her sobs as he held her shuddering little body. He stared at the windows, black as obsidian. Over the years he had often felt that words were not adequate conduit for the passions of the heart. He had learned that the best way to break someone’s heart was to simply tell the truth and wait. Perhaps not the easiest thing to do, but always best.
“Will you come back?”
“Come Hell or high water, I will come back to you. Never doubt it,” he said lifting her face to meet her eyes. He smiled and she heaved a heavy sigh.
“Will you bring me somethin’?”
“Depends on what you want. How about a nice dress?”
“Don’t be silly, Grey. I get clothes all the time. I want a toy, something special, that I can play with, you know.”
“I could bring you a star in a box, a rainbow in a glass ball or how about a real live unicorn?”, Grey said with show-man like flair. Raven laughed. His comic expression softened and he said, “I’ll get you something very special, doll. Cross my heart.”
“Will you miss me, Grey?”
“Like life itself, angel.”
Again there was silence.
“Shouldn’t you be getting your shower?”, Grey asked.
“I’m watching my show.”
“Am to!”, she exclaimed skittering across the floor toward the door. She turned just outside his door to look mischievously back at him. Grey threw his pillow at her, missing by yards.
Afterward, he stood in the darkened silence of Raven’s room and bent to kiss her sleeping face. She twitched. He hefted his bag and walked through the living room to the front porch where grandfather and Cat-hunting rocked in the swing. The night was dry and the wind was laying down.
“Take care of that one,” Grey said to both of them, indicating Raven’s window. They nodded.
“Grandfather . . .”
“There is no need for words, son. Raven is cared for. I don’t understand why you think you can fool me. I know about the deals you have made with the grocery store, and the others. I
have not unearthed the full extent of your conspiracy, but I know of your intent.”
“You can be a very nosy man, grandfather. I didn’t want to insult you by offering money, and you are far too stubborn to ask. That one in there, she will need many things.”
Grandfather stood and moved to stare directly into the Grey’s eyes in the porch light. Without a word, he handed Grey a small hand tooled leather sack and they solemnly shook hands. With that he went inside and turned on the television.
“Mostly she needs to know that you will come back.” Cat said. She looked across the porch, searching for a glimpse of his eyes. The darkness hid his facial expression. His voice came across the porch as if it traversed eons across the desert rocks. “Cat, I will return, you have my word.”
“Your word is good to have and hold, but I would rather have you.”
“A kiss for luck?”
The sound of Grey Hawken’s Harley echoed across the empty desert and lingered with the woman on the porch long after his tail lights disappeared.
On an isolated mountain just off I-40, the soft, blue light from his instrumentation painted Grey’s worried face. There was no mistake, the number of cometary bodies on random vectors in the Earth’s solar system had increased far beyond any normal distribution. Star Fall was in progress and the probability of a comet striking the Earth was increasing exponentially. There was only one conclusion, Nemesis, dark dwarf star brother of Earth’s sun, was disturbing the Ort cloud. Grey had been expecting it, but after thousands of years you can lose track of time. Besides the alarm had been set. Angel Station, orbiting in the Earth-Venus LaGrange point, had not relayed Star Fall alarm to the tiny device behind his left ear, or any of his instrumentation. Angel Station, the only artifice capable of tracking and deflecting the menaces away from Earth, had malfunctioned. It had failed once before in the story of Earth and the dinosaur genus had been destroyed.
Grey lifted his eyes and watched a meteor rend the velvet black sky. With tears he closed the instrumentation and returned it to the saddle-bag on his Harley. He lifted the Tocsin instrument and tried once again to speak-far with his partner, Angi.
Grey Hawken scanned the Los Angeles phone book with mounting frustration. “Angi, where the hell are you?” The night was close, dark and the alley behind the booth, reeked of over ripened dumpsters, L.A. at its finest. Mists snaked in off the bay and wondered the streets at random. The punker that stepped out of the shadows in front of Grey looked bored, reckoning him as just another target, in a night full of such targets. He extended his hand. “Don’t make trouble, OK?”
Grey shifted his weight and straighten his shoulders. The punker, provoked by this, tried to slap him, shouting “I’m crazy man! Don’t fu…” A gurgling sound crept form the part of his
throat that Grey held. Next, there followed a fit of life and death thrashing, ending with Grey’s inhuman grip still locked on the prone mugger’s throat.
Placing a knee squarely on the man’s chest Grey moved to glare into the punk’s eyes. “In town less than an hour and I have to put up with the likes of you. I figure the world is getting dark for you right about now. Don’t say anything, just nod if this is true. Good, no, don’t move! I am not enjoying this, you know. I’m going to ease up just a bit to let you catch your breath, and then you are going to tell me something. Be good, that’s it. Local band, calls itself Angi and the Fire Warriors, where’s it playing?”
Finding the address at last, Grey braked the Harley to a stop in front of the up-scale watering hole, the “Uptown, Downtown”. He paused, regarding a somewhat over confident valet.
“You ride, Smiley?”
“Its worth extra to me if you park my bike where you can keep an eye on it and make sure no one touches it.”
The valet all but clicked his heals.
Grey stood regarding at the facade of the building, shaking his head slowly. Shrugging, he climbed the stairs and entered. An adequate tip bought temporary membership at the club of his cohort’s most recent gig.
With some apprehension, he navigated the cluttered, dusky pathways behind stage. Several of the denizen watched as he passed, but none chose to interfere. The dilapidated door bearing the band’s logo sported a brass star hanging loosely by one point. He opened it without knocking.
A trim, blond haired man, with a roguish cast to his features, reclined in a barber’s chair, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar. Beside him a young, scarlet crested woman of hostile intent scowled at Grey. Every muscle in her small, lean body, stood taunt. Her coal black leathers creaked as she shifted her stance. Grey stared directly into the eyes of the woman. “You will have to excuse us.”
“Hey Angel baby, who’s this guy?”
“Sally, this is my cousin, Grey Hawken. We go way back.”
“Angi, we need to talk.”
“Right impatient . . .” she started.
“Angi . . .” Grey interrupted.
“All right! All right Grey. Sally, go check the lighting before we start the gig, OK?”
“Angel, I don’t like this guy. He’s gonna talk you into something, something bad.”
“Go check the levels.”
“OK, OK, I’m going. I still don’t like him.” The door clicked shut behind her.
“Friend of yours Angi?”
“Bodyguard, confidant and one hell of a bass player.”
“You like that?”
“And the hair cut?”
“Strictly her own idea.”
“You haven’t answered the Tocsin.”
“Grey, four thousand years and I’ve never answered that thing. You’ve been camping out in the mesas too long. Look, what’s your problem?”
“We’ve got Star Fall.”
“Wrong. You and I are both wired with enough fail-safes to light up a Christmas tree. Mine has been real quite.”
“Have you checked?”
“No, Grey and why should I? Look, I’m getting more than a little sick of your attitude.”
“Any time you think you’re god enough to reprimand me . . .”
“Hey, hey, hey, calm down supreme commander. What’s wrong with you this is totally out of character . . .”
“Perhaps you didn’t hear me, Star Fall Angi, its Star Fall, and its happening right now.”
“But it can’t be. Right here,” he indicated a place behind his ear. “I know Star Fall is coming, someday, but the station can take care of the debris on automatic. Besides, we engaged the alarm. Any problem, Angel Station beeps me and I feel it right here. There has been no signal.”
“I know, mine hasn’t beeped either.”
“Problem solved, nothing’s wrong and we get on . . .”
“I’ve scanned the system, a full instrumentation scan. Something is screwing with the Ort cloud. There’s junk all over the system and its all on random vectors.”
“So, you’re trying to tell me, Angel Station is malfunctioning? On our watch? No, you’re serious. Angel Station is malfunctioning?” A cloud of doubt passed over his features and he was quiet for a moment. “I guess we could open a Way to the station and check the fail-safes, right after this gig.”
“No . . .”
“One more night isn’t going to matter that much either way. Besides Sally is cooking tonight and you’ll love her fajitas.”
Early the next morning the echoes of Grey’s bike filled the underground garage hidden beneath Angi’s condo. He found Sally and Angi striping a tarpaulin from an electric blue, mint condition 1948 Tucker.
“That’s inconspicuous.” Grey said, dismounting.
“Oh, and a Harley’s a real family car.”
“It gets better mileage.”
“Mileage, we don’t need no stinking mileage, ha ha.”
Angi busied himself under the hood of the auto. Sally, dressed in somewhat more travel worthy clothing, pulled two packages from a pile by the elevator and carefully loaded them into the trunk of the car. Grey retrieved three of the parcels as though they were of no consequence and handed them to her. She regarded him for a long time.
“He loves this machine more than anything, even me. And you walk in and he pulls it out of storage and puts it on the road. Who are you?” Grey didn’t speak, but instead retrieved another arm-load. “What are you going to do to him?” She demanded.
“Angi and I go way back . . .”
“Look, you’re trouble. I can tell these things.”
“Yo, Sally, calm down.” Angi approached, placing a hand on her shoulder as a reassuring gesture. She shook it off.
“Angi, is she pre-cog?” Grey asked Angi.
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here!”
Grey paused, staring deep into her eyes. “If you look into me young lady, you will see that I have no intention of bringing Angi to harm. He is more to me than a brother . . .”
“Oh, all right! You don’t want to hurt him, but because of you he will be real danger.” She flinched under Grey’s intensity. “And you’ll be in danger too.”
Grey turned to Angi. “Is she?”
“Pre-cog, yes, fairly accurate. Makes for a very efficient body guard. Sally? Sally what happens after the danger?”
She wept. “Don’t make me. I don’t want to see it.”
“Sally,” Angi’s voice was the very essence of soothing.
“I don’t know, something is interfering. I see a crack in the sky. I see . . . you and him gone and me alone, crying.” Her sobs painted the dank walls of the garage.
Three days later, after a side trip to visit Sally’s mother and various other errands in Sacramento and Portland, they encountered the Cascades and Mount Rainier was at last in sight. Due to unseasonably good weather, the sight was magnificent.
Once inside the park they sought out the ranger’s station and presented their prepared documentation and the geologic research mission proposal. They devoured dinner with the chief park ranger who helped plan their trek. That night they camped under the stars and consulted their instrumentation.
The weather remained clement and by noon the next day ranger Hestler had taken them as far as his hummer could manage. They took their leave then donned their gear. Without comment Angi assumed point followed by Sally then Grey. The path he chose meandered through exposed raw boulders and up treacherous rocky inclines. The wind picked up as they climbed, whipping at their hair, tugging at their clothing like a misbehaving dog. A storm was building.
Sally regarded the forked lightning rending the evening sky in the distance. “I was one of those kids who wasn’t much afraid of thunder and lightning,” she said as they walked. “Drove my mother nuts. Everyone else would be huddled in the house and I’d be . . . Hey. Hey! This storm is all wrong. It isn’t supposed to be here.” They halted. Angi glanced at Grey. “Sally,” he said, “we’ll need this storm. Grey is calling it.”
“Calling it? You don’t just whip up a storm.”
“He does. We’ll need it to open the Way.” She could hear the capitol W when he said ‘Way’.
“Angel this is scaring me. This is the danger . . .” She turned away for them.
“Angi, maybe we could use a little more caution . . .”
“That’s not it!” she shouted.
Angi gently pulled her face to meet his eyes. “Sally, we have to try. If we stay here there will be Star-Fall. I am certain of that now. Earth would not survive, and Grey and I will have failed. We can’t let that happen.” Sally wept. Angi, in frustration hefted a hand sized rock and hurled it impossibly far. “Great, simply absolutely freakin great. This had to happen on our watch. Chronous and his bunch had all the breaks. We have to open the Way, open it tonight. Call the damned storm.” They continued to march in silence.
Close to midnight they halted at a rock face not far from the summit. Sally had recovered enough to watch numbly. Both men removed several items of extended instrumentation from their packs placing some strapping others on. Grey demonstrated several devices for Sally, including what appeared to be oversized headphones. Angi peeled several layers of protective wrapping from the mythical instrument, the precious golden Zry. He stroked playfully at the bizarre control surfaces. Lightning lanced the clouds close overhead. He stepped into a circle of stones.
“Storm’s rearing up, you ready Angi?”
“What about you Sally?”
“I have to say you’ve looked better.”
“Funny, real funny.
“Sally I have to do this.”
“I know . . . Are you gonna tune that thing?”
“No need, this baby never goes out of tune.” Angi struck a chord. Lightning leaped from the clouds, lashing the rocks around the circle. Thunder boomed the repartee.
“What the Hell was that?” Sally shouted.
“Don’t step near the circle.” She couldn’t read Grey’s expression well enough to tell if he was joking. He continued, “There is a matrix of nodes all through the mountain. In harmonic response to the Zry they capacity the energy of the storm into portal formation. When Angi reaches resonance with the underlying matrix of this place a Way will open between here and Angel Station.”
Angi struck a different chord, more intense lighting and a different thunder answered. Sally recognized the first two chords of Angi’s most prized progression, one he never played in public. She had thought perhaps it was her private song but now realized that it belonged to all of history. He continued. She covered the earphones with trembling hands, tears streaking her cheeks.
Multi-colored sparks flicked into and out of existence, snaking along the grain of the outcropped stone. One of the bolts struck too close and an entire flock of will-o-the-wisps sprang up, released to run wild in the night. “It’ll take us years to track those damned things down!” Grey shouted over the bedlam.
“I tell ya Grey, there is something funny here.”
“Can’t put my finger on it, but something definitely funny.” He struck the next chord.
“You want to stop?”
“No, I’m for Go.”
Silhouetted in stroboscopic lightning, Angi was a man in the eye of a maelstrom. Each chord sequence roaring the deep throated subsonic bellow of a thousand tornadoes. In harmony with the din a
distorted, insubstantial arch sputtered into existence in the rock face. Somewhere in the tumult there came a tooth gnashing discord that spiraled out of control. Then came a sudden clap of silence.
Angi collapsed. Grey dragged him away from the sizzling stones.
“Angi, what’s wrong?” Sally screamed. Several moments passed before the fallen man recovered enough to answer.
“We’re in big trouble Grey, real big trouble. The Way is blocked.”
Grey invoked several phrases that do not bear repeating, then said, “That can’t happen, try again.”
“Stress harmonics are building along all the up and down the matrix. We’re gonna break something serious, maybe even the Zry. I don’t have to remind you that if that happens there’ll be no way to get back to Angel station.”
Grey indulged in a few more creative curses then, “Try to trigger the ancillaries.”
“I knew you were gonna say that.”
Angi staggered back into position. A symphonic struggle of mythic proportion ensued resulting in the same clap of silence. “No good, even the ancillaries are down.”
“Great! Absolutely freaking . . . OK, make camp. Maybe we can figure out something.” Grey stormed off into the darkness.
“This is no small thing and he is hurting, let’s give him a few.”
In the dim light of dawn the next morning Grey found Angi gingerly clipping some rather interesting pieces of Earth technology to the Zry. Sally was not in sight.
“Missed you last night, you OK?” Angi asked.
“Must say I’ve been better. You’re not actually trying to augment the Zry are you? Earth technology has come a long way but I don’t think it’s compatible yet.”
“Monomolecular deposition alloy, the boys down at Cal Tech have proven extremely helpful. Beryllium tungsten molibnium alloy with microgrooves around the ports. Tuned them myself. I haven’t been wasting my time.” Angi flashed his best ‘who me?’ smile as he was wont to do when his industry was discovered. He continued, “As I see it, we really have only one option. We have to pry open our own Way to Angel Station.”
“You are good.”
“In fact the best with the Zry.”
“But even you have to admit to the difficulties inherent in hitting a moving station at this range.”
“Yeah, its gonna be a turkey shoot all right, but who would you rather have holding the gun? We can do this Grey.”
“But do we want to? We could always just stay here and go native.”
“Too late for that, besides its not in your nature.”
“You know this bares a very nasty resemblance to what Sally was talking about. Do you want to die?”
“Sacred honor supreme commander and all that stuff we swear to before a mission, and besides L.A. is perhaps beginning to be a bit boring. Shall I proceed?”
“Angel Station is malfunctioning and the Way is blocked. This is not supposed to happen.” Sally appeared at the edge of the forest moving toward the two men. “Angi, why did this have to happen on my watch?”
“Luck of the draw.”
“Zeus and his crew are never going to let us live this down. This is more than just a little embarrassing.”
“Has to happen every eon or so.” Angi picked up the instrument and stroked it gently, the resulting chord resonated through the stones. “You know if we don’t pull this off the big noise and resulting crater might inspire more than a few songs.”
“How long before the modifications are ready?”
“Call the storm. Make it a really big one. By the time it gets here I’ll be ready.”
Later Sally would have difficulty describing exactly how the music of the second opening deviated from the first, save that it was different. The lightning certainly was more intense and chaotic. Grey appeared even more tense if that were possible.
Perhaps her long exposure to Angi had sensitized her to some of the more supple aspects of his music. There was a searching, a longing, a primal need resonating deep within the note progressions, chilling her to the bone. Angi had clearly struggled to play the augmented Zry and bind it to his will. Everything had moved to the next level. It was increasingly clear to her that either something would happen or the top of the mountain would explode.
Amid the sparks and tumult a translucent membrane flickered into existence in the air before the struggling musician. “Grey, I’m having real trouble holding this Way open. The riposte on the far end refuses to engage.”
“I don’t think both of us can make it through.” Grey screamed over the din. “I’m gonna try the next time it gets stable. Once on the other side I’ll use the station instrumentation to make a Way for you.”
“Very dicey at best fearless leader.”
“Gotta try, give me a mark.”
“It’s coming up, be ready. . . Blast!” There was a turbulence in the music. “OK, its coming around again, Go!”
Grey leapt the into the Way, only to leap back out a moment later.
“Grey! You could have been killed coming back like that! What the . . .”
“Hull breach! Hull breach, Angel Station is filled with hard vacuum.”
In the silence after the storm Angi turned to Grey. “Call your friend at NASA. We’re gonna need a couple of suits.”
Two suited figures emerged through the membrane into a chamber of horrors. Everywhere in Angel Station wreckage and debris saddened the eye. Magnificent machines designed to last an eternity lay twisted and broken.
They turned and waved to Sally. The Way collapsed.
Without much conversation they unpacked the equipment they had brought through. They spent two days adjusting station spin and patching atmospheric leaks in the core. Then they popped their helmets, opened the larder packs and ate.
“Go ahead, admit it. You love Sally’s fajitas.”
“I’d better, there’s enough of them.”
“Ghostly. Really, this is more than a little spooky Grey.”
“I agree, never been in a station that was disabled. I miss the noise. Who did this?”
“You have enemies I should know about?”
“I can’t figure why they left the hull in tact. Amateur work.”
“Or they must have been in a hurry. Still, a properly placed deton could have . . .”
“Thanks Angi, that’s enough. I’m betting they thought we’d never make it onto the station.”
“Somebody from home.”
“Ever hear of anyone sabotaging a station? Maybe we are not alone.”
“40,000 years of space exploration and we’ve never encountered another sentient in species.”
“Always a first time.”
“I hate it when you say things like that.”