Issue #5 - August 2014
Season 1, Episode 5
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Previous can be found here.
“The Skip” by Clint Spivey
“Zip” by Emma Osborne
“Going Solo on a Goldilocks” by Mary Alexandra Agner
“The Cure” by William Delman
“That Place Betwen Déjà vu and a Memory” by J. Daniel Batt
“Mirror of Stars” by Frank Smith
“Nestmaker” by Jared W. Cooper
“Sanctuary Farm” by Garrick Fincham
Just to give you a taste...
by Clint Spivey
Lauren had been a proper skip jockey for little more than six minutes. She'd seized the controls, the bridge crew and captain dead at her feet, and guided the stricken ferry out of the near-light velocity transit corridor. She saved seventy-eight lives that day. In the following eight minutes, over 19,000 would die.
Ahead of the shock wave, thrown by the ferry upon departing the corridor, lights shimmered in their thousands, illuminating the vacuum from beneath the clear, nano-weave hemisphere atop Destino Station. Were those faces, watching their death approach through lighted windows? Frantic parents whispering their love to children, who implored with their eternal question of 'why?'
Destino's myriad lights, like its inhabitants, were soon to be snuffed by the ravenous shock wave blasting towards it. Unable to speak, Lauren reached toward the cockpit window with a trembling hand, and watched Destino die.
Blurry images fought through Lauren's narrowed eyes. The doorbell's piercing buzzer shrieked as late afternoon sunlight slanted through her blinds at a low angle. Lauren's glass, having fallen, lay unbroken on the floor. Tiny channels of vodka irrigated the gaps between the hardwood planks. The buzzer continued its insistence.
She rose to a sitting position and paused. Nobody visited Lauren. Her parents, already advanced in age when she began skip jockeying, hadn't lasted long following the disaster. A media frenzy coupled with death threats produced such effects. Her father passed first. Her mother mere weeks later.
The buzzer sounded a third time. Lauren recovered her glass and reached for a nearby bottle to refill it. Labeled with a bear and unknown Cyrillic script, it matched dozens of others strewn about her spacious living room. Spent shell casings from the slow suicide her cowardice allowed. Did Russia possess stills enough to accomplish that which she lacked the courage to do herself? Room temperature drink in hand, she answered the door.
He wore blue jeans and a white t-shirt. His dark hair was trimmed neat, with an approaching gray frost creeping from the roots. He stood a good head taller than Lauren. Nothing unusual there. Such short stature had served her well in the confines of space vessels. She waited in silence for him to speak.
"I moved in next door," he said. "We will be neighbors."
"That's great," Lauren said.
"I'm Martin," he repeated, his expression unchanged.
"Great, Martin. It's a nice area."
He looked past Lauren, into her apartment, making no effort to conceal his curiosity.
Whatever remained of her dignity was irritated at such blatant snooping. The scattering of empty bottles plain to see, she revealed her glass from behind the door and took a drink.
"Like what you see?" she asked. The emotion had passed. Genuine disinterest with this man's judgments took hold. She let the silence drag on, hoping his discomfort was worse.
"I'm Martin," he repeated. "Martin Reslin."
"Don't worry about mine," she said. "It's not worth knowing." Still looking him in the eye, she stepped back from the doorway, took a drink of her vodka, and closed the door.
Lauren stood on her tiny balcony. The lights of the city twinkled in the distance. Beyond, in the forested hills of the Pacific Northwest, there was only black. Her breath fogged in the cold, December air. Watching it wisp away, she was reminded of the last time she saw Captain Deleres. Her corpse had been stored in the ferry's galley freezer. Lauren's breath had fogged then, too. When she said goodbye to the captain after the accident. A fast friendship cut short.
"You'll make a fine skip pilot one day," Captain Deleres had told her, leaning over Lauren's shoulder on one of her qualifying shifts a few weeks before the accident. "Only three hundred more flight hours on the night watch and you're there," she laughed.
"I'll love every minute, Ma'am," Lauren said.
"Please. I left the military years ago. Call me Sasha. You're doing great, by the way."
"Thanks. You can almost feel the corridor thrumming beneath us. Feel it carrying us along." Lauren turned and looked at the woman standing behind her. "Sorry. It probably sounds silly, doesn't it?"
"Not at all. It took me months to accept there was a tangible sensation to skipping, no matter how many times they told me in flight school. If you're already day-dreaming about the skip, well, hell, you'll soon be after my job."
"Sorry, Sasha. No way I'm getting stuck puddle-skipping to Sirius. I mean...no offense."
Sasha laughed. "None taken. I used to skip missile-frigates so I can understand wanting something a little faster. But that's best left for kids like you. I'm fine out here in the burbs. Besides, my daughter moved to Destino. I've got grandkids barely three days out from Sirius."
A chill returned Lauren to the past. She was glad her first and only captain had died in the initial accident. It spared the woman the sight of her grandchildren's killer.
No stars shone from behind the cloudy skies. It was one reason Lauren had settled there. She no longer cared for their light. Pesky reminders of when she used to climb among them, she preferred the clouds.
"It's called quiche," Martin said the next day, standing in her doorway holding out a sealed tupper container. "It's like an egg pie."
Lauren didn't care much for clocks, but the horizontal sunlight piercing her blinds implied it was morning.
"I know what that is," she said, sipping breakfast from a smudged glass.
"I wasn't sure if you liked meat or not. So half is with chorizo—that's sausage. The other half is with potatoes and onions." His hands remained extended. Only the dish crossed her threshold.
Lauren placed a hand on her hip and finished her drink. "You'd have better luck trying some of this." She jingled the ice in her empty glass. He'd gotten the hints and turned away in defeat the few times previous she'd refused his food offerings. This day he seemed determined.
Perhaps it was pity that caused her to fold this time. Lauren didn't know. She jerked the tupper from him with a scowl, angry he'd finally overcome her obstinance. It was warm in her hand.
"It's fresh." He nodded and left.
Lauren supposed she was hungry and, moving to her long unused kitchen, cut a slice from the steaming yellow pie. She finished almost half of it in ten minutes. She looked toward the wall separating their apartments, and wondered, not for the first time, about the man on the other side.
"Three years house arrest," Lauren said. Martin was beside her on her sofa, sitting straight and proper. "I liked it so much I decided to stay." She raised her glass and smiled.
He'd come by, like clockwork, the day after the quiche. Perhaps the food had caused her to relent. She was unsure if the route to a female heart was similar to a man's, but his sitting beside her offered compelling evidence.
"What happened?" he asked.
She looked into her glass. "Something bad."
"Have you been out at all?"
Lauren shrugged. "A few times, sure. Doctor's visits. Went shopping once or twice." She looked towards the window. "Not much of a point these days. You can get anything brought to your front door."
Condensation sweated a ring on the table around his untouched drink. "I know a restaurant," he said. "The food is rumored to be excellent." He stood. "I'll come by tomorrow around six. If you want to join me for dinner, we can go then." He exited without another word.
She would like to think she'd become accustomed to her self-inflicted solitude. Yet, that day, she'd babbled on without even being prompted. Though she was careful not to mention Destino.
She refilled her glass and took a long pull. Some hermit she had turned out to be. The first desperate, idiot neighbor comes around to chat and she can't shut up.
While it would be her first date in many years, it wasn't her first since the accident. There had been one other. After it, she'd abandoned the enterprise altogether.
At the time, dating seemed a good idea. Lauren hadn't achieved her status as a trainee skip pilot at 26 years old through idle hands. Following the accident, and after her house arrest, she'd been determined to rebuild something of a life.
"So you're a pilot," the man sitting across from Lauren said. He was younger than her by a few years, and despite his smooth cheeks, he'd managed a thin mustache.
"I used to be," she said, holding her coffee mug with both hands. The bistro was mostly empty. Only a few patrons sat at the tall, round tables.
"Sweet, sweet," he said. "I've got a pilot's license. I'm rated for air-cars all the way to turbo-props." He gave her a look, that, in a professional setting would qualify as leering.
She offered a little smile. "Turbo-props. That's great."
"Maybe we can go up together sometime." He winked. "Or down."
Lauren looked outside. She couldn't expect her first online dating excursion to be a success. She'd need to narrow the parameters of her profile beyond just pilot.
As if to ensure their time together was as horrid as possible, her date texted on his ring phone. The bottom of Lauren's coffee cup couldn't appear soon enough.
"Your profile," she said, attempting to fill the silence, "said you're from—"
Several young men burst through the door shouting. A camera drone buzzed behind them, recording.
"Lauren Oaks!" one shouted. "Destroyer of Destino! You're on Fireline Live!"
She stood and looked to her date, thinking perhaps they'd escape together, or that he'd offer assistance. Instead, he flipped his fingers into some devil horns, and stuck out his tongue.
"I got her," her date said. "I roped the destroyer."
Her slap sent him to the floor.
"Get a picture," another said, draping his arm over her shoulder. She laid him to the floor with a knee to the groin. It didn't matter. They laughed and hooted and the drone caught it all. She pushed past them and ran.
Later in her apartment, against all better judgment, she searched for the video. Trending on several of the shock-gawker sites, it wasn't hard to find. She hadn't noticed at the time, but the video revealed it. She'd been in tears when she fled.
Despite that last dating disaster, Lauren accepted Martin's invitation. By the time they arrived at the restaurant, she was a wreck.
She worried the napkin with her trembling hand. Every patron suspected it was her. They hid it well, but she knew.
"The salmon is the recommended dish," Martin said behind his menu. "It's gotten the highest reviews."
Lauren barely heard him. Every couple hunched close in conversation, were discussing her. Whispering about the injustice of her walking the streets free. Plotting their confrontation.
"Have you decided what you want?" Martin asked, lowering his menu.
He looked at her without speaking. There was something about the way he watched her. Like he knew something about her that she'd herself not yet discovered.
"You can relax, you know," he said. "Look around. It's why I chose this restaurant. We're easily the oldest people in here."
Lauren took another look and saw he was right. Fresh faced twenty-somethings filled every table, absorbed in their own conversations.
Martin smiled. "If you want anonymity at our age, seek out youth. I doubt most of them even register our presence."
Lauren's menu shook less than the napkin. "Why don't you get the salmon, and I'll get the sole," she said. "We can try each other’s."
Martin nodded and smiled.
"Al-right," the cute sales attendant said, stressing the second part of the word with unnatural enthusiasm. Her young face beamed from Lauren's wall-screen. "I'm Kimber, your associate today. Let's get started, Ms. Oaks."
"I need a few new outfits," Lauren said. "I haven't been shopping in a while."
"Then you've come to the right place. La-la's has everything you need. How about this kickin sweater/skirt combo right here?"
With a wave of the girl's hand, a clip of a strutting model in a bright orange sweater with a silver skirt and black, knee-high boots appeared on the screen.
"I like the boots," Lauren said. "But the sweater and the skirt...do you have something less...bright?"
"Ms. Oaks, if you want to stand out, bright is in."
Lauren closed her eyes. She'd never much cared for shopping. Sure, she'd always liked to look nice, and kept herself in shape, but give her a flight suit and a knee-board and she stood out in the only way she cared to.
Unfortunately, her exile had left her in painful ignorance of the latest styles. Her recent outing for dinner had proved such. Her clothes had been just long enough out of fashion to stand out, yet not of significant duration to be retro. She had looked and felt quite out of place.
Lauren said, "Orange. Sure. Why not?"
"O-kay," the girl said, a dollop of market-research backed exuberance on the second syllable. "Here's another one that will have you stopping them on the street."
"Are...are those your kids?" Lauren's voice stuttered despite her weak efforts at nonchalance with the question.
"Yes," Martin said. His hard drive sat on her coffee table, piping the video to her wall-screen." That's Peter. And the girl is Maya."
The boy, who looked to be about six or seven, ran around a faux-grass covered yard. The girl, who was much younger, attempted to give chase on wobbly legs. Stars twinkled in the night sky above them.
Troubling scenarios raced through Lauren's thoughts. Beginning benign, each escalated as she considered. A divorcee. A still married man. A love nest beside her apartment. Its occupant looking for a simple fling. His bizarre behavior coupled with the gleeful children on the monitor struck panic in her thoughts.
She reached for a glass which wasn't there, an instinct that persisted despite her recent, baby-step vow of drinking only after dark.
Martin said, "The world doesn't long dwell upon calamity." He looked toward her blinds. "Those of us left behind are forced to remember when others forget."
With a wave of his hand he ended the video. He stood and pocketed the hard drive before extending his hand to Lauren. Her mind still reeling with possible explanations, she took his hand. He squeezed it for just a moment. "Whatever has shut you in this apartment, know you're not alone." He dropped her hand and made for the door. He opened it, and, as if just remembering something, turned and said, "I like your outfit."
She poured a drink despite the sunlight still glowing behind her blinds.
"No, the pink one," Lauren said.
"You're really after that pink, huh?" Kimber, the sales associate once again filled Lauren's wall screen. "Oh, well. Let's give it a try."
She had another date. Martin had finally invited her to his place. She would have been embarrassed at how giddy the invitation had made her, if she hadn't been so thrilled. Seven years of solitude will do that, she supposed.
The revelation about his family had sold her. He hadn't once pressed for details on what she'd done, nor swamped her with his own sorrows. They both knew the other had suffered, and that was enough.
"Hey," Kimber said, "that's not bad."
Lauren was sliding white, patterned sweaters over the pink shirt that was displayed on the screen.
"That one," Lauren said as a sleek, blue, argyle pattern on white landed on the model onscreen.
"Look at you go, Ms. Oaks."
"Never doubt the argyle," she said. "I want to try it on." With a few waves of Lauren's hand, a representation of herself replaced the model on the screen.
Something had brought Martin to her. It was time to stop being a child. The world had forgotten Destino. Had moved on. Lauren wasn't some spinster locked away in this apartment. She'd been a pilot once. One with promise before the accident. And even though she felt she might not deserve to, it was time to live again.
"I need shoes," Lauren said. "And a belt. I'm thinking black."
"I'm thinking you're right, Ms. Oaks."
Lauren entered Martin's apartment with a smile. A sofa sat beside a coffee table. A dining room set with chairs beneath the long window that looked out on the same view as Lauren's. But where her apartment lacked clutter, his teemed with it. Books, papers, hard drives; every surface boasted some pile or stack.
It took a moment to register through the disorder. Before her breath left her like she'd been punched. The door clicked shut behind before she understood what it was she was looking at.
Photos. Physical ones behind lighted frames. News stories printed and blown up to the size of posters. Archives of the event flipped and scrolled on numerous tiles on the wall-screen. A single theme permeating them all.
"I must apologize, Lauren," Martin said. "I haven't been completely honest with you."
Her voice had fled, and she could barely breathe. A thousand images from that day surrounded her. Bold headlines screamed condemnations in enormous fonts. The faces of victims, tucked away in various corners of newsprint, spat silent curses at her. She caught her own face amidst the detritus. The same photo that had peppered a hundred news feeds that day. Her young, smiling face after graduating flight school.
"I had to meet you first, you see," he said, looking out his window. The apartment was identical to hers, but in reverse. Every room and hall on the wrong side. The memories of that day surrounding her twisted the space into a nightmare image of what had been her own sanctuary for so many years.
"I know what it's like to lose everything," he said.
Lauren edged towards the door, her new shoes giving away her intention with every clacking footstep.
"Do you know what the odds of that happening were?" he said. "Literally in the millions. One second sooner or later and the shock-wave would have barely jostled Destino, or missed it altogether. It would be difficult to reproduce such a series of events if one were trying to do so."
He was still looking out the window. Lauren was almost at the door. She wasn't sure why she hadn't simply ran. Why she felt the need to sneak out. The door was close, the handle almost within reach.
"You saved us, you know."
She stopped. "Us?"
Now he looked at her. "Yes. Had you not skipped when you did, the shear would have snapped the keel, tearing the ferry in two."
She'd known that. Had always known how close they'd all come to dying.
"What do you mean, us?" she said.
"Destino was only a three day trip from the departure lanes at Sirius. My family was on the station. I was going to meet them."
The door was behind her. She could exit in seconds. Before he could act. But she lingered.
"You were on the ferry?"
Lauren said, "So now you've found me."
"I wish there were some other way. I've tried everything. This is all I have left." He stepped towards her.
"I had to meet you first," he said. "To make sure. I see now. They were right. There is no other way for me to be free."
The moment spread before her like a spilled drink, escaping from the broken shards of a dropped glass. She'd hoped for so much since meeting Martin. Dreamed. Wondered about this man who'd appeared in her life and ended her exile.
And she'd been right all along. Closing out a world that sought only vengeance against her for what she'd done. Vengeance flawlessly served by this man who had lulled her out only to strike when her hope reemerged.
A calm washed over her. Its source unknown, she relaxed against the door. Perhaps it was for the best. He'd come this far. Maybe it was time to let go. Time for him to do what she'd only tarried at doing herself through drink. Perhaps he'd end what she'd been too weak to do herself.
"I'm so sorry for all of this," he said, moving towards her.
"So am I," she said. She felt soft. Helpless. Her outfit, an object of such personal progress now seemed ridiculous, only adding to her vulnerability. Despite feeling so exposed, she was ready to submit. She hoped whatever he planned would be quick.
"I forgive you," Martin said.
"It was a terrible accident. Something unthinkable. I hated you for so many years. I resisted any thought of forgiving you my family's death. Until I saw there was no other way." He looked at her, "I swear, I forgive you, Lauren."
She was still. Unsure if this was simply prelude to whatever violence he had planned.
"You didn't look at me the day they removed you from the ship," he said. "I saw you. You didn't see me."
"There was nothing to see," her voice was quiet. "You got the better bargain. A pittance of survivor's guilt your only fee. Not bad considering the deal I got. A world's worth of hate for saving my ship."
He took her limp hand in his.
"That's a really nice outfit."
"I know. I picked it out."
"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I found you."
Did she share such feelings? An easy question only an hour prior. Now, what did she want?
"A rescue for a rescue, then?" she said. "I get you out of that corridor alive and you get me out of my apartment and the bottle?" She pulled her hand from his and looked at the floor. Saw her face reflected in her shiny shoes. "I don't know," she said. "I just don't know."
She left. Back in her own apartment, she didn't bother with any lights. She retrieved a full bottle from her kitchen. It thumped to the floor as she wedged open the front door with it.
She went to the closet of one of her unused rooms. In the dark, she rooted through first one, then a second box of clothes until she found what she wanted. She knew it by touch even without the lights. She returned to the living room, placed it on the coffee table, and sat on the sofa.
Martin joined her after only a few minutes. He slid his hand over the dimmer panel, bringing the lights to a glow no stronger than a single candle before sitting beside her.
"I never washed it," she said. "Just threw it in my duffel when I departed the ship."
Martin ran his hand over the bloodstained jump suit. "You were wearing this that day," he said.
She traced her hand over the stitching of her name on the left pocket. "It was easy for me to hide. Just lock myself away and never deal with anyone. It's not like people were beating down my door to offer assistance."
"I don't suppose they did." He took her hand. "I used to think I wanted to die," he said. "I didn't think there was any other way. I realized I wanted to live, but I didn't know how. In one of the many counselings I attended, someone mentioned a story from over a hundred years ago in South Africa."
Lauren looked at him and cocked her head. "What was it?"
He shook his head. "It's not important. Not now. But I learned that sometimes, forgiveness is the only way to truly move on." He moved closer to her. "I meant what I said, Lauren. And I hope you can believe this, but I truly feel like something has been lifted from me."
"Forgiveness," she said. "Maybe I'll try it sometime." She touched the bloodstained jumpsuit. "But it may be awhile."
Martin stood and picked up the flight suit. "I suppose there's no rush. We've both waited this long."
"Is that a souvenir?" she said, flicking the dangling leg of her old uniform.
"No. This is going in the garbage."
Lauren nodded. She wanted to sleep. "See you tomorrow, then?"
"Yeah," he said. "I think so."
Clint Spivey spent eight years as a meteorologist with the U.S. Navy. After finishing grad school he is currently teaching English part time at two Japanese universities. His work has appeared in The Lorelei Signal, Perihelion, and Liquid Imagination.