Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Step Forward - Part 3

Al sat on his side of the bed he once shared with Susan. He was reading another report on the hunt for the Hidden Mullah by the light of the lamp on the night stand.

Sonya came into the master bedroom. She was wearing a robe. And as far as Al could tell, nothing else. Not even the wig and makeup she used to cover her burn scars.

Sonya and her production team had been standing outside of the city of Jerusalem when the attack on the State of Israel began. She had provided a literal play by play account on the air as the Israeli anti-ballistic missile system tried to intercept the in incoming warheads.

One got through.

Even though she was outside of the city and there was something solid between her and the point of ground zero, she still received serious burns in the attack.

“I put Anson to bed.” She said.

“Okay.” Al replied.

When she was rescued from the smoking ruins of Israel, Sonya was allowed to stay at Allen and Susan’s home. She effectively knew it like the back of her scarred hands.

Sonya climbed onto the bed and knelt beside Al.

“Why are you on my bed?” Said Al.

“I don’t like to sleep alone.” Said Sonya.

“Neither do I.” Said Al.

This is too soon. He thought.

Al set aside the report and brought the remains of his left hand to the back of Sonya’s neck. He gently pulled her head down and he kissed her. They continued to kiss. And then they went beyond kissing.

When they were finished, Al turned off the lamp.

It was, even by the standards of the present day, an indecently short interval had passed between the funeral of Susan and Alice, and the wedding of Allen and Sonya.

Allen married Sonya in a civil ceremony, which was performed by a Federal Judge and in the Presidential Residence in Omaha. John and his wife were present, of course. But neither Al’s Mother nor members of Sonya’s family were present. Al’s Mother had responded to the invitation by writing that she was too ill to travel. And Sonya’s immediate family, her parents, brother and sister, had died with the city of Jerusalem.

Allen, Anson, and Sonya went on the honeymoon together.

Al decided, for obvious security reasons, to stick to the English speaking part of the world. Even though London had been effectively erased during The Final War, the remainder of the old United Kingdom was open to tourists.

Al got to go into the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where The Beatles once played. Al also had to explain to his son who The Beatles were.

They also got to see the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank.

“What are they listening to?” Anson asked.

“Everything.” Al replied. “Stars, planets, galaxies, black holes, lots of things.”

Then Al remembered something.

“But the big mystery is, where is everyone else?”

“Everyone else?” Said Anson.

“Yes, everyone else.” Said Al. “It is generally expected that there should be other worlds like our Earth in the universe, and on these other Earths there should be people very much like ourselves.”

While Anson was listening intently, Al continued to speak.

“And these people should have a civilization very much like what we have here on Earth, and a civilization like ours should give off all sorts of radio noise.”

Sonya jumped into the discussion.

“There should be radio and television stations, communication satellites...”

Then Sonya thought of something.

“The electrical power grid!” She exclaimed.

“Yes.” Said Al. “If someone were to listen to Earth on their radio telescope they would hear the hum from our power grid at sixty cycles a second.”

“Except here in England,” said Sonya, “where their system runs at fifty cycles a second.

Anson had another question.

“Why do the English use a different...um...”

“Frequency.” Said Sonya.

“Why do the English use a different frequency?” Said Anson.

Al was a bit embarrassed to answer.

“Why do the English insist on driving on the left side of the road?” Said Al. “As far as I can tell they insist on being different, really different, and they’ve been bloody militant about it ever since they were brought into The Federation.”

Eventually Allen, Anson, and Sonya returned to Minneapolis, to begin to prepare for their journey to Mars.


It was another morning, and with it, another day of preparations for the journey to Mars.

On the previous day Al and Sonya were going through their personal libraries and choosing the books that they would would physically take to Mars, and those which would be electronically scanned and copied.

From his own personal collection Al chose to bring along hardcover copies of the complete works works of Ayn Rand, and her successor as the Leader of the Objectivist Movement, Leonard Peikoff, and rest of the official Objectivist Canon. He also chose a work by Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers.

Al also chose to bring along a a really old and beat up copy of a paperback novel.

Galaxy 666 by Pel Torro?” Said Sonya as she picked it up.

“Yes.” Said Al. “It is, by reputation, the worst science fiction novel ever published in the English language. It took a great amount of time and trouble for me to acquire a copy.”

“Surely, you can’t be serious?” Said Sonya.

Al avoided the obvious response but still answered anyway. He took the copy from her hands, opened it to a bookmarked page, and pointed to a paragraph.

“Read that.” He said.

The paragraph was an example of purple prose which illuminated the absurdity of using the word “terrain” to describe the exogeological features of the alien planet that the characters were walking on.

She read the paragraph.

Having become acclimatized to the pink-tinged light, which gave everywhere a strangely roseate appearance, and which had the effect of lulling their senses into a rather dreamy false security, the four explorers looked down at the ground beneath their feet. The ground beneath their feet was a very odd sort of terrain - - though “terrain” is not, strictly speaking, the kind of word that ought to be used to describe the ground of a planet that was not earth. Like so many of the old earth words, it has crept into the vocabulary of the empire. So they examined the terrain.

“Oh, my God!” Exclaimed Sonya.

“You could say that.” Said Al.

“Somebody actually wrote this?” Said Sonya.

“Yes. Under a pen name” Al replied. “His actual name is Robert Lionel Fanthorpe, he’s about five years older than my Mom, he managed to not get vaporized along with the City of London, and he’s still at it.”

“At what?” Said Sonya.

“Writing.” Al replied.

Sonya was stunned into silence.

Al had to say something.

“If I learned anything from reading it,” he said, “It’s to avoid science fiction novels written by bikers, martial arts instructors, and members of the Anglican clergy who are a bit short on cash.”

“And you’re going to take it to Mars?” Sonya said.

“Yes.” Said Al. “I’m bringing along the best works ever written, I may as well bring an example of the worst fiction ever published. It should take up no more payload mass than a good pair of socks.”

“Well, as long as they’re your socks.” She replied.

That was yesterday.

Today, in the office and library in Al’s home the telephone rang.

A diode in an unmarked button on the primary part of the phone emitted a red light. This indicated the the encryption system built into the phone had been activated. One other person in the world had a telephone that could do that to his phone.

Al picked up the receiver and spoke.

“Yes, John.” He said.

“We got the son of a bitch.” Said The President. “He’s being held in the Fort Benning Stockade. Everything else that you asked for is being arranged. A car is on the way to your house to pick you up.”

“Thank you, John.” Said Al.

The line went dead.

The first thing that Al did was to take a shower. He expected this trip to be a long one. The second thing he did was to pick out and put on a suit. He chose one that was basic and comfortable. He also decided to wear a shoulder holster under the jacket.

The last thing was to pick out a firearm.

He chose a M1911A1. It was a commercial copy of the weapon made by the Springfield Armory. And just because he thought it would be cool, he had three words in ancient Latin engraved on the top of the slide.


The ultimate resort of citizens.

He inserted a full magazine into the pistol grip. But he did not pull the slide back to chamber a round.

He placed the weapon in the shoulder holster.

Sonya came up the stairs.

“There’s a car waiting for you downstairs.” She said. “What’s going on?”

Al answered her.

“One last ride with the Special Unit.” He said. “Then it’s over, it will be all over.”

Al kissed his new wife and went downstairs.

Anson was waiting by the door. He had seen the car waiting in front of the house and reached the correct conclusion. That his father was going somewhere.

“Where are you going, Daddy?” Asked Anson.

Even though it would hurt like Hell to get up again, Al knelt on his knees on the floor to answer his son.

“I’m doing one last thing for the government, and when I’m finished with it, then we can go to Mars.”

He managed to tell most of the truth without mentioning any of the nasty parts.

His knees hurt when he stood up again.

The vehicle was a plain government issue Ford sedan. The ride to the airport was relatively short. The driver took the Hiawatha Avenue exit from Minnesota Highway 62 and drove onto the Minnesota Air National Guard Base.

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