Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Chapter 21: September 24, 2031 Transfer Student

Garth was settling into his new room in the Naropa Extension Service organic interest cooperative at Colorado State University, with his fellow transferees from Denver Community College Students, and roommates, Wesley and Razib.  The room was designed for two, but space was short and the program was popular this year, so they he upgraded one of the corner rooms from a double to a triple.

Despite thirty-five degree lows, the blast of heat from the miscalibrated radiators was so intense that the three young men had opened up all of the windows to let the overheated air out, and stripped down to shorts and slick thin night shirts in reflective white.

Razib's desk was dominated by a real time, three dimensional projection of his animal lab.  Snakes slithered, rats scampered, and fluorescent insect colonies advanced across the surface offer food and a mild toxin to prey that might be inclined to consume them in excess.  Butterflies flitted back and forth above the scene, in an airspace they shared with fruit flies, Africanized wasps, and two inch long bats. Maggots slithered in and out of carcasses, and below the surface, worms writhed.  Piranhas and leaches filled the water runways of the lab.  Dart frogs perched on the low lying foliage.  Pharming products, like anti-fungal age enhancing plant nectars,and dopamine enhancing mushrooms, grew in small, well tended lots. Overlooking it all was a fishbowl with a small octopus equipped with eight simple tentacle controls that allowed him to manage the process.  Razib's octopus was called Krishna, for his many arms and sometimes profound wisdom.  If everything started to spiral out of control, Krishna would panic and alert Razib.

Wesley's desk was less cluttered.  A silver tone flute lied atop a large, month at a glance calendar filled with rehearsal times, project deadlines, spare doodle filled vacation days, and times reserved for videocalls with his grandmother in Bhutan.  The only animal in his third of the room was a three dimensional paper dragon in the image of Bhutan's nation symbol.  He picked up the flute and played an intense eight bar phrase three times and then put it down and then took his pen and continued to expand his latest composition, occasional music for a school play.

Wesley's girlfriend, a six foot two Masai woman from Kenya, she went by Kinda although her full name was longer and more complicated, sprawled out on the area rug in the center of the room captivated by his every movement, licking her lips, and softly swaying as if he were still playing his latest musical riff.

Garth hardly noticed, as he balanced the cooperative's checkbook on his tablet computer, sitting on his bunk since it would have been impossible for him to sit at his desk with everyone else in the room. 

The total wasn't right, of course.  He'd been embezzling from the cooperative for two almost a month now, creating a fake entry for sale tax expenses on the cooperative's food purchases, even though they were sales tax free.  The funds, through a couple of intermediary steps, were accumulating in a debit account in the name of a shell corporation putatively owned by his department chair at Colorado State University, with which he planned to finance a trick that would make the youthful incidents of animal torture that had forced him to become a "supervised person" look like the child play that they were by comparison.  A diversion of animal euthanasia gases to the biochemistry laboratories would teach them true fear.

In the meantime, he watched Kinda sway on the carpet and wondered how many pints of blood it would be possible to extract from her if she were properly bound and tapped.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sharing

Eunice met Jerrica at the back door, and the sisters hugged in the kitchen.  Washing dishes and doing laundry for a house full of unmedicated crazy teenagers wasn't the best job in the world, but it helped pay the bills that Jerrica and Duncan shared, and it came with a little locker, not accessible to Duncan, where Jerrica kept her uniform, spare tampons, a hair brush, and the small, but growing stash of cash that Eunice gave her every now and then for emergencies.

Eunice liked Duncan well enough, although she didn't much like knowing that they were all over each other every free minute of the night and day, but you couldn't be too careful.  She'd heard enough stories from her father's tenants about boyfriends using money for drugs or prostitutes or gambling or man-toys to be a least a little concerned that Duncan might do the same.

Even though Jerrica was staff, rather than a resident (the Anderson family could never afford it), and was a performer rather than a visual artist, her wild zest and age helped her to blend in with everyone else.  The uniform was different every week, as part of the regular duties of the residents with an interest in fashion.  Jerrica spent a few hours a week modeling for them in addition to her more mundane duties, and she loved it.  Nothing could make her happier than to have a room full of people admiring her beauty, even if they were artists whose technical skills weren't always superior.  Today's outfit looked like a flapper dress that had experienced an unfortunate run in with a lawn mower.  It was full of long slits in places you wouldn't expect them to be.  On her head she wore a matching Fez.  Her makeup, as usual, was dramatic.

Jerrica popped one tray of buffalo streaks, cooked very rare, after the other, alternating them with peppers, onions andd mushrooms to roast.  Clearly, her cooking had improved from what she'd made at home.  Last visit, she'd said that she made a sit down dinner every night for Duncan and her, complete with tablecloths, napkins, and candles.  At home, it had been hard to convince her to cook up some ramen for herself.

The improved cooking had not shown up in her figure.  Jerrica still had a lithe dancer's figure, and she had made Eunice swear she would never tell their parents, worked every other afternoon as pole dancer at a cocaine club favored by African immigrants that somebody had set up in an old speakeasy, although she claimed she never used the stuff herself.  To them, she was exotic.  Eunice wasn't convinced that Jerrica was telling the truth about not using, but she made a point of trying not to pry, even though it was her job to pry into everyone else's lives.  Eunice had asked about getting a job bussing there once or twice a week, even though she didn't need the money, so that she could listen to people talk when their guard was down.

"How's dad?", Jerrica asked.

"He finally got a ladder to take down your pictures from under the Cathedral ceiling shelf this week.  Saying your name aloud, even to mom, provokes a top of his lungs roar.  He's been drinking more lately.  And, half the time he pretends that even I don't exist, maybe because I remind him of you.", Eunice answered.

"That bad, huh?"

"He's talking about converting your old bedroom into a kennel for pets left behind when tenants are on vacation."

Jerrica turned her back to Eunice and made a sound that was some sort of mix between a sob and a snort.

"How's it going in the love shack?"

"Duncan's getting more and more shifted by himself now, and I sit behind the counter while he's working on client's machines in the garage when I can.  Lots of the customers and all the vendors know me now.  The boy is really good with his hands, you know . . . ."

Eunice's hands shot up in a stopping motion before too much information was imparted.

"We part of a softball team made up of motorcycle repairers and their girlfriends and office girls that competes against other work related teams around the city.  We're up against the dentists and dental hygenists this Saturday at Lowry if you want to come and watch."

Eunice nodded, despite knowing that there was almost no chance that she would actually come.

"Gotta go," Eunice said, as they hugged and she stuffed a thin roll of hundred dollar bills into her sister's cleveage, and out she walked into the sultry night air for the long trip home to Highland's Ranch.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Chapter 20: August 20, 2031 Recentering

When Lily woke up again, Cass was gone. 

A glass of mango juice with a celery stick in it next to a small container of Tabasco sauce, and a salt bagel were neatly placed on the bar on the kitchen next to a note on the back of a dry cleaning receipt in big letters in his clean, almost childish print, saying he'd check back this afternoon when he could take a break. 

On the bar stool was a big fluffy white towel, trial sized bottles of a strawberry and cream shampoo and conditioner (although not the kind Lily usually used, she needed a special swimmer's formula or chlorine in the pools she swam in destroyed it), a little athletic brand women's deodorant and a hair brush made out of gun metal blue molded metal in a quirky abstract design. Hanging from the track light aimed at the mango juice was a thin, floral print sundress with a pair of strappy pink sandals dangling under them.

Taking the hint, Lily was soon fed, showered and dressed.  It felt good.  Cass had clearly learned something about how to make a woman feel pampered at some point in his life. 

She looked at clock on the oven.  It was eleven o'clock according to the time and temperature screen, and a sultry ninety-four degrees outside already.  A glance out the window revealed that there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  Her boss at DeVeaux's had given her the day off.  It would be hours until Cass could take time off work.  The last thing on Lily's mind was a swim.

A flash of her motorcycle sinking into the South Platte flashed in her mind's eye, but Lily was not about to let dealing with that start her day off on the wrong foot.  A visit to a seriously brain injured little girl in the hospital was also not the right place to start her day, Lily decided.

Lily almost started to collect her thoughts to think about what to say on a call to her dad.  Maybe she could introduce him to Cass.  How many years had he been dead now?  Clearly, she wasn't quite as fully recovered from yesterday evening as she thought. 

But, the thought wouldn't go away.  Lily wasn't religious, but her grandmother had often brought her along for Japanese Grave Cleaning Day in the Spring, fifteen days after the equinox, every year, as they'd done all over Asia for twenty-five hundred years or more.

It was a couple of hours drive to dad's spot in the cemetery on the plains of the Front Range near where she grew up, next to mom's.  When dad was alive, she'd gone every year.  Since the funeral, she'd visited once or twice, but it wasn't something she did regularly.  Her life in the city was full enough.  Lily wasn' the sort of person who had long conversations about what she wanted to do with her life with dead people.  She didn't have a shrine to her parents in her bedroom.  The only god worshiped there was the one who found the pyramid of unwashed laundry on top of her hamper sacred.

After leaving a short video message for Cass on the recorder in front of the refrigerator, Lily headed out on a walk to Sakura Square.  Rather than overwhelming her, the intense heat and sun and still air seemed nourishing.  Her grandmother had lived in Sakura Square forever, so it was comforting and familiar.  She walked into the Mercantile Exchange.  Ignoring the teenager at the front counter, she made her way to the produce stand at the back, where the wizened old woman who owned the place was arranging lettuces and daikon.

"What would you recommend that I bring to my parents' grave to introduce them to a young man who has become important to me?"

The shop owner looked deeply into Lily's eyes and was still for a long time.  She didn't say a word.  But, ten minutes later, she had a brown bag with a bouquet of flowers sticking out the top and was headed in the direction of DeVeaux's.  Her insurance agent, whom she had picked for convenience of location rather than minimum premium was on the way.  She explained what happened, signed a statement her agent prepared, and was told that she'd receive a form letter with more questions in a few days.  At DeVeaux's, the front room was empty and the delivery van was not out back.  She didn't make a sound and no one came up.  She took some flowers from the day old bin behind the counter, fashioned a little tiara of flowers for herself, did a fashion check in the mirror, and strolled out again. 

She picked up a baguette on the rest of her walk back to Cass's place.  She could have gone back to her own apartment, but felt no emotional draw to it. 

He called the apartment at about three in the afternoon.

"Are you O.K.?  You look better than I could have hoped in that dress.  You look like a faerie queen.", he said.

"I'm very well, thank you, Cass.  You are the most considerate gentleman I've ever known.", Lily replied.

"The Navy made kind of a big deal about that, and I did grow up in the South."

"Cass?  Is there any way that you could take some time off this afternoon?  I know your work is very important, and if you can't, I'll understand."

"Let just double check for a second. . . . No there isn't anything I can't have rescheduled.  Your wish is my command.  I can be at my apartment in fifteen minutes."

"I'd like to take you some place that's important to me right now for some reason."

"See you soon, my queen."

* * * *

The sun was setting over the country graveyard and the drone of the insects in the grass had begun.  Lily was sitting Indian style in front of the grave marker.  They had cleaned it off and set out the flowers and lit the incense and set out the cup of water and pieces of fruit when they'd arrived.  Cass was behind her, his hands resting lightly on her thighs, letting Lily do the talking.

"Dad.  Mom.  This is your daughter Lily.  I'd like to introduce you to someone.  He's very important to me.  His name is Cass. . . . He isn't like anyone we ever knew when I was growing up, but I think that you'd approve of him.  He's smart, and brave, and considerate and well, you can look for yourselves to see what he looks like.  He takes care of me more often than I'd like to admit and keeps me out of trouble.  Can you imagine that your delinquent daughter has a straight laced soldier in her life?  I know.  It seems strange to me too.  I have a job too, and I rescue people sometimes in emergencies when they slip too far under the water.  I don't think I realized how much I've missed you."

Lily wept a little.  Cass kept his gentle hands on her thighs and breathed deeply and quietly against her as she recovered herself.  She did, and then she was still and breathed deeply herself for a long time as the sunset ended and it grew dark.

"Goodbye.", she said, and they rose.

They were on the way home when Lily asked.

"Cass, I think I've decided.  I'd really like to move into your home and share my life with you for . . . for a . . . for now until . . . . until whenever . . . maybe a long time.  Indefinitely.  Am I welcome?"

Cass smiled his biggest most sincere, glowing smile of pleasure and delight.

"I think I know a guy with a pickup truck."

He pulled over to the side of the road.  They kissed for a very long time in the dark as cars and trucks rushed by on the highway and farmer's fields stretched out forever beside the road.  Then, they caught their breath and Cass drove them back to their home.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Chapter 19: August 19, 2031 A Picnic Missed

The picnic was almost ready.

Above every picnic table the gossamer wings of radio controlled aircraft, about the weight of a small piece of paper flew, shimmered as they flew in figure eights, keeping away the flies.

The last the four lawn mowing robots was slowing down from the burden of a full mulch bag as it made its final swath, while the rest had already made their way back through the open lower half door into the lawn shed.

Not far from the lawn shed, a roast pig was turning on a spit, under the watchful eye of a chef who split his attention between the spit and a long row of turkey drumsticks keeping warm dangling on strings over dim coals.

Hundreds of fireflies were waiting in their jars, out of sight, ready to be released over the patio, just after sunset, when the releases are triggered by light sensors.

With a press of a button, the remote ignition in all six of the chimineas set strategically amidst gathering places of benches and chairs across the patio ignited, starting to warm those spots on a chilly late summer evening.

Another button released a subtle miasma of flowery perfume, matched to the mix of flowers in the garden, but more intense. It mixed with ozone blown in from the dry thunder in the distant foothills.

Every four minutes a gentle mist sprayed out from the tree tops, taking the edge of the dry summer air. Prisms hanging at the end of wind chimes sent rainbows twirling all over the garden, every time the sun peeped out of the overcast sky, and each little gust of breeze filled the air with tinkling.

The fountains were bubbling and their basins were alive with carp jostling about their confines. Ice buckets, strategically placed in pools in the cool artificial stream connecting the fountains from one end of the garden to the other, waited full of bottles of chardonnay and pinot noir, until the wine stewards arrived to open them.

Six valets were lounging in the entryway, ready to deliver guests cars to a reserved section of the homeowner’s association’s underground parking lot in a few minutes.

The trellises full of ripe grapes with broad green leaves spreading out in their full glory obscured the city streets five stories below, while remaining low enough for a good view of the crests of the Rocky Mountains in the distance and the sharp peaks of the Denver Art Museum between the condominium complex and the mountains, its titanium sheath gleaming dully in the evening sun. Noise cancellation speakers positioned along the perimeter muted the low rumble of traffic that would otherwise fill the space.

The freight elevator was held at the garden level, ready to carry discards down to the garage basement, where catering trucks waited ready to take the discards and refill the picnic tables with hor d’oeuvres waiting in the industrial sized refrigerators in the catering trucks there. Also waiting in one of the refrigerator trucks was a giant ice sculpture on a cart so large that it just barely fit on the freight elevator, another of Lily’s masterpieces.

The public elevator was at the ground floor, waiting for guests to arrive. Balloons festooned the entry doors. A red carpet led guests to the elevator door. A lipstick arrow on the metallic elevator controls pointed to the button for the garden level. A low profile security guard sat at his station where a computer was ready to compare photos of the incoming guests to photos of the individuals on the guest list, and divert elevators containing suspicious individuals to a lounge three floors below the garden level, or to the basement level in the garage if it appeared they were armed, to be interrogated before joining the party.

Lily waited just outside the cooler, plopping whipped cream onto Jell-O cups enhanced with a new olfactory enhancer compound that hijacked your brain’s ability to see in color and converted it into an enhanced sense of smell particularly attuned to human pheromones. Her main reason to be at the picnic was to escort her ice sculpture and say a word or two about it, if the opportunity presented itself, but while she was around, she had to make herself useful. Right now, plopping whipped cream onto Jell-O cups was what had to be done.

She was, however, on call for the Metropolitan Denver Volunteer Dive Team again. She’d been on call two shifts a week for a month and a half now, and had been called in only once – to recover a radio controlled boat which had been carrying a pricey anniversary ring across Smith Lake in Washington Park before it succumbed to an attack by a pair a geese who were not pleased to have their mating dance interrupted. Not exactly the emergency that she had trained for, but it was good practice.

Her motorcycle, siren and all, was waiting in the pedestrian mall between the art museum and the condominium complex. Her swimsuit was invisible beneath her thigh length floral dress with ruffle filled half sleeves. But, by now, the anticipation had faded.

Lily joined the Jell-O Cups en route to the garden level, and had started transferring them to picnic tables where the earliest guests were starting to survey the spread when she heard the Jaws Theme music in her right ear. Shit! The snorkel earring pager was giving her the alert. She scanned the scene until she saw Fiona carrying wreath hung with pineapple chunks to the head table.

“I’ve been called in. Gotta go. Tell people what’s up,” she told Fiona in a loud whisper as she walked very quickly to the emergency stairwell.

Fortunately, health activists had insisted that stairwells not be fitted with alarms. Before the door had fully closed on her, Lily was pulling her dress over her head, trying her best not to snag it on her pager earring. She’d worn sensible shoes, so that wasn’t a problem. Once she was freed of the dress, which she left on the landing, she roared down the steps three at a time.

As she burst out of the building, it turned out she was on the opposite side from her motorcycle. She raced around the building in her navy and red striped swim suit and flats, past tuxedo and evening dress garbed party guests. As she mounted her motorcycle and put her finger on the ignition pad, the navigation screen identified the location, and a crawl at the bottom explained the situation – a six year old kidnap victim tossed from Platte Bridge while the kidnapper made their escape; she was struggling and starting to go under when the 9-1-1 call came in. The call was now almost two minutes old.

Lily turned on the sirens, racing across the plaza, stopping traffic on 13th Avenue, dodging the sculptures on display between the library and the old part of the Art Museum, and cut across Civic Center Park on a pedestrian walkway, nearly knocking over a drunk with a bottle in a brown paper bag. She dodged traffic on Colfax and rushed down 15th Street swerving in between cars, trucks and buses pulling aside or stopping upon seeing motorcycle’s flashing lights, except for one small car that fled as fast as it could down Stout Street nearly hitting a young couple in the 16th Street Mall in the process.

As she came to Commons Park, she jumped the curb, sending turf up behind her as she crossed the field to the bridge. Bystanders were pointing. An older man with a long stick was trying to reach out from the shore and cautiously wading out into the deeper water. Following their focus, Lily caught a glimpse of the little girl, blue in the face, three feet or so under the water in the center of the South Platte River, snagged on a jutting piece of old concrete. The river was running fast and high with rain from the foothills and the storm was starting to break in Denver. There was no time. By now, it was almost five minutes since the call came in, and the girl had probably spent most of that time under water. This girl’s life was worth her motorcycle.

It was oddly peaceful as the motorcycle careened off the sidewalk at the foot of the bridge and into the air.

“Look out”, the bystanders screamed at the old man, who turned in time to duck out of the way.

The sirens wailed, distorted somehow by the movement as the machine fell away from her as she dismounted in midair, aiming to land feet first as close to the girl as she could manage.

Lily could feel the goose bumps on her bare legs.

Splash. The river was cold. Lily collapsed her legs as she made impact, just as she’d trained to do, but the impact still stung. She was underwater. She flexed her legs. Her head and shoulders cleared the foamy water. She scanned back and forth frantically to get her bearings.

So many people were shouting at once that she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She saw her motorcycle sinking into the water, flashing lights not yet giving out, sirens muted and garbled. She stopped listening and watched and saw the place where she’d caught a glimpse of the girl before. She was still there, a few yards away.

Lily half-swum, half-walked to the girl, reached down and grabbed her. She was blue in the face and wasn’t breathing. Lily hauled her upside down as best she could to drain the water from her, and then started rescue breathing, the girl in her arms, as she made her way to shore. Air in, release, air in, release. The mouth was cold. Lily was feeling for a pulse as she administered breaths. Nothing. She stopped the breathing and ran as fast as she could for shore, stumbling, regaining control, stumbling again. The old man and two younger men reached her and steadied her.

“CPR”, Lily said. She needs “CPR.”

The older man frowned.

Child still in her arms, steadied and in shallower water, Lily made for a sandbank, placed the child on the ground as gently as she could manage in case the girl had a back injury, and started rapid compressions.

“Get a blanket or a towel,” Lily said, “We need a back board. She needs an ambulance now!”

Someone draped a blanket over both Lily and the girl.

Lily focused on nothing but compressions. It seemed like an eternity, when a fire-rescue team managed to bring a stretcher from the road to the bridge, and then a backboard down to the sand bar. The firemen transferred the girl to the backboard, strapped her down, and another fireman motioned to her that he would take over the compressions. They made their way up the hill, where the fireman doing compressions got on the stretcher and continued as it rolled to the waiting ambulance.

Lily collapsed back onto the sandbank as the stretcher moved out of sight.

The screams returned.

Lily looked up.

A wave of water was coming at her. The storm had produced a flash flood.

She scrambled for the bank, getting hold of some grass.

The water hit, ripping her downstream with a handful of grass.

Lily fought to stay afloat and managed to grab a tree root. It held fast. She hung on tightly, too exhausted to do more right away.

She heard a dog bark. A huge white sheep dog peered over the bank. The man who owned her followed a moment later. He released the dog’s leash and offered it to her to pull her up. She held on and tried to help climb out. Soon she was collapsed on the bank as the lightening continued to flash over the city and the rain built up even stronger.

Lily’s instincts told her that she shouldn’t be under a lone tree in a thunderstorm, but she was too tired to protest or leave what little protection it provided from the rain.

“Probably not the best time for swimming,” the man said.

* * * * *

The coffee at the fire station was weak, and the cream in it was almost spoiled, but it was hot and that made up for its deficiencies. It took some cheek to have a Cubs mug in a Denver fire house, Lily thought.

The search crew had arrived moments after the man and his dog had helped pull her out of the river. They, at least, had the benefit of knowing which direction the river was going to take her, and a good guess about how fast the river was flowing.

Her pager earring was lost. Her hair was bundled up in a towel. She was wearing one of the smallest fire fighting suits at the station, still several sizes too large for her, and had a blanket wrapped around that. A fire house mutt was curled up at her feet.

Several of the firemen were sitting on the bumper of their ladder truck, watching the rain come down. They seemed to agree that pre-teens wanted to wear entirely inappropriate clothes to start the school year with this year.

Her first call on the station house phone was to the dive team coordinator. She explained that she was all right, if a bit in shock, and that she’d done all she could.

Her next was to her boss at the DeVeaux catering. She explained that she’d had to go in, that she wouldn’t be coming back to the picnic, and that she’d probably be in late the next day.

“Take tomorrow off, on me, as an extra vacation day. Consider it my civic duty,” Mr. DeVeaux said.

Her third call was to Cass.

“Please come get me. I’m at the downtown fire station,” she said.

“I’m coming,” he replied, and that was the end of the conversation.

* * * * *

The next morning, Lily called Denver Health and inquired, explaining how she was involved. The girl hadn’t died. She had no memory of what had happened. It was clear that she had suffered permanent and serious brain damage. But, she hadn’t died, and she wasn’t a vegetable.

Lily cried for a long time.

Cass watched, and, after a while, held her hand while she cried. A little later she fell asleep again.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chapter 18: July 16, 2031 Annual Meeting

The co-operative‘s motto, “DON’T TRY TO FIX ME I’M NOT BROKEN”, was scrawled in lurid dripping red over velvet black on the glossy cover of its annual report to the foundation. Only twenty or so were produced each year, and no expense was spared.

Inside, the paper was hand made from rags, with texture. The front page was a charcoal portrait of the co-operative’s director, Ben Lee. The wrinkles in his face showed his age, not a day short of sixty. His wispy goatee, shoulder length hair, and hoop earrings revealed why the co-operative loved him. The penetrating eyes and ironic half smile showed how much he loved them.

The next two page spread recapped the twenty-four covers that had graced the other annual reports since the co-operative’s inception. Each shared the same words and an extreme artistic sensibility that fit its time.

The text, tables and fill art that filled the rest of the interior could easily have been mistaken for a college recruiting brochure, or thin high school yearbook. The rear cover featured a haunting black and white photograph of the huge Victorian house at 301 S. Emerson Street, which housed them all, framed by lightning, with a half-visible moon reflected in the picture window beneath the soaring angle statute that rested atop the gable over the front door.

Ben had chosen a dark corner of the Wellshire Inn to make his presentation. Murky cocktails rested on the thick oak table that sat between Ben and the three committee members who stood across the table from him.

Ashley Athanapolis, daughter of the foundation’s founder and a borderline manic depressive, who’d lost her own daughter, Ruth, to suicide while her daughter was in college, had always been Ben’s surest supporter. Without Ashley, there would be no co-operative, although few co-operative members even knew she existed in anything but the most abstract sense. Ashley was frail now. An oxygen tank next to her chair fed the thin tube that ran under her nose. Her skin was mottled with age spots. Her thin wrists looked like they were made of balsa wood and spider’s silk. Her cocktail shook, ever so slightly, and her hands trembled, as she brought it to her mouth. Five tiny black ribbons, one for each husband she’d led to the grave, accented her silver hair. Her ankle length dress shrouded how thin she’d become everywhere else.

The chairmanship of the committee had fallen to a portly man in his 50s, who was dressed in a business suit and wore a conventional red necktie. Seth Waxman had been an associate attorney fresh out of law school when the foundation had been established, who had known the founder shortly before he died. Now, he made monthly payments to the widow of the attorney who was once his boss, and he occupied the corner office. This year, as he did every year their Lloyd’s of London policy came up for renewal, he reminded Ben that half of the co-operative’s endowment income each year was sucked up by liability insurance for this extremely risky venture. As always, Ben reminded Mr. Waxman that giving up the insurance was impossible -- several suits had been settled since the co-operative began, but the steps necessary to reduce the costs of insurance would be directly contrary to the cooperative’s mission. In a house full of unmedicated, mentally ill young adults, disaster will inevitably strike from time to time. Ben also pointed out that the cooperative’s creative properties, while not sufficient on their own to keep the cooperative afloat, did pay for two-thirds of the cooperative’s operating expenses.

Dr. Martin Wilson, a thirty something psychiatrist wundkind who spent his days running the psychiatric research center at the Fitzsimmons medical campus in Aurora was a new and unwelcome addition, imposed by the Foundation’s full board. Today, he’d managed a golf shirt and linen slacks, instead of his usual hospital scrubs. His stylish pager ring, with a large cubic zirconia ruby that glowed when he was needed, matched the red on the front of the annual report. He was a minority on the committee, so he couldn’t shut the cooperative down, but his distrust of the venture, which was against everything he’d been trained for, and his through knowledge of psychiatric ethics, which he could twist to his liking if he wished, made him a threat. Ben parried that threat with Dr. Wilson’s curiosity. The cooperative was an experiment that mainstream psychiatry would never dare to try, and the idealistic core in Dr. Wilson, that had lead him to his specialty in the first place, left him with a suppressed but palpable desire to know what results the study had produced.

“I didn’t set out to do this.”, Ben told the committee, reviving the cooperative’s history. “I started out as a school psychologist at the Denver School of the Arts. I figured I’d spend most of my time dealing with hypocondriac drama queens with attitude. I’d read the studies that had described manic depression as the poet’s disease, but hadn’t taken it to heart. I hadn’t expected some of the schools most talented students to be the most afflicted. I hadn’t expected to see sixteen year olds struggling between their muse and the drugs that could make them live ordinary, stable, productive lives. These kids had a much better sense for human passion than I ever will.”

“And then there was Ruth.”, Ashley chipped in.

“Yes, Ruth. I’d worked with her for two years. She was on the right drugs. She’d come to the school to develop her creative writing and acting. She’d stopped hurting herself. She’d stopped writing. She flunked poetry. The only dramatic part she got that last year was in the chorus of a Gilbert and Sullivan show. But, she was clean, and neat, and well behaved, and had even found a clean cut boyfriend from the George Washington High School football team who lived down the block. She’d talked about transferring back to GW. The day her still life had come back with the note from her art teacher, ‘Technically perfect, but uninspired.’, she snapped. She threw away the drugs, grabbed an old friend, drank the better part of a fifth of vodka, and disappeared. She was found three days later in a thin black night gown, dead of hypothermia, beneath a stunning chalk mural under a bridge. She was posthumously awarded the art prize that year for her mural, and an oversized color photograph of it still hangs in the trophy hall. You spent many long days talking to me about what happened in the Spring after it happened, and soon, the cooperative was born. Her mural, with its motto, “Don‘t Try To Fix Me I‘m Not Broken.” was the cover of our first annual report, it’s on page two of your report.”

When the drinks were emptied, the committee signed the paperwork Mr. Waxman distributed unanimously. Another year’s funding was secure, and they’d even approved a budget for an increased retirement stipend for Ben, and a part-time staff member to help him locate a successor for himself so he could actually retire and get that stipend. Ben paid the tab for everyone. It had been a worthwhile investment.

Chapter 17: June 7, 2031

Giant miller moth shadows rushed across the nearly bare stage at the Fillmore. The stage was a judge’s eye view of a courtroom. Seven microphones and three instruments, for the chorus and the trio that would accompany them, sat on a rail in front of a church pew that symbolized the jury box. Two tables with chair flanked a lectern. A raised dais, the witness stand, took center stage. Each seat in the house had a card one side white, the other black. On the “white” side of the stick was the evening’s program “The People’s Case”, “Intermission“, and “The Defense Case and Verdict.”, followed by the names of the leading cast members. On the reverse side of the stick were the chorus, orchestra, and back stage credits.

A banner over the proscenium proclaimed the show, “The Little Opera: Bowers v. Hardwick.” Liner notes on copies sheets of paper on each sheet, in pink, proclaimed that the opera was based on a true story that led to an early, anti-gay U.S. Supreme Court case originating in Georgia, which was overruled seventeen years later.

The Fillmore’s cooling system start up hadn’t been scheduled for another week, but summer had not decided to wait. The half filled seats contained a crowd older than a concert, but younger than for a typical play, fanning themselves with their guilty-innocent cards. Many glanced nervously at pagers custom designed to like their children. The baby sitters, nannies and grandparents had the number for the devices, and every one of them dreaded the prospect of a red glow from within their unit. The rest of the crowd was busy ordering cocktails and h’orderves. Most of the cocktail orders included the addendum “on the rocks.”

Cass and Lily, of course, didn't need pagers. Cass, with his usual knack, had managed to have a server deliver the gourmet mini-hotdogs (allegedly with an authentic Southern hot sauce) and martinis on the rocks the moment they walked in the door. Cass had learned better than to wear his dress uniform by now, but his white linen suit and bow tie was probably more out of place than his uniform would have been. Lily wore a sleveless, backless gown out of a new synthetic material which felt like silk but looked like clouded ice crystals, with the diamond earings and pearl necklace that Cass had bought her. It was suitably cool. She had just a touch of a perfume designed to make those who smelled it come to attention and feel alert. She'd tucked her ID under her dress, but didn't bring a purse. Why bother? Cass always paid and she wasn't the type to adjust her makeup at the intermission.

The lights flickered. They took their seats, guilt cards in hand.

* * * * *

When the final applause came down, and the last encore had been sung, Lily was dumbstruck. Once again, on a date with Cass, she'd experienced a performance she'd never imagined was possible.

When they finally got outside the theater and breathed in the evening air, the slowly walked to his car. Despite the fact that they'd been dating for almost half a year, every few weeks, she'd never been to his house, she'd never spent the night with him.

He asked: "Would you like to spend the evening in my abode?"

Lily just smiled and got into the car.

Chapter 16: May 26, 2031

Fiona and a couple of the other employees of DeVeaux catering were in quarantine. None of them were sick. But, a tourist from Arkansas at the U.S. Virgin Islands resort they’d spent their vacation at last weekend had died of flea borne hemerrogic fever. The authorities traced the FHF case to a dog that a U.S. serviceman had brought to the resort while he was on leave from his African posting. So, all hands were on deck for the Denver Car Art, Detailers and Enamellers Society convention while the company was short handed. This included Lily Matsunaka, who had planned on taking at least one day off this weekend.

The Denver Coliseum parking lot was full of cars, trucks and motorcycles covered with the flower patterns, fairy scenes, dragons, patriotic displays, every manner of crosses, Memorial Day weekend flags, and abstract patterns. Crowds with tattoos to match their vehicles waited at the front gate. Lily had no doubt, as she maneuvered her motorcycle to the staff entrance, that this was the DECADES convention.
On the way in, she saw the small ice sculpture she’d made yesterday of a Centennial Edition Model A Ford, which had been redesigned to be street legal in the 21st century. It was delivered from the shop freezer to the collector’s vehicles pavilion without any mishaps. A crowd of staffers gathered in to admire it.
Soon, Lily had donned her white apron over her biker’s leather. She was distributing unicycles with orange slice wheels, street car shaped buns and cocktails that looked like motor oil, in the motorcycle and street car area. She surveyed the booths before the show officially opened.

A graceful man emerged from a motorcycle repair shop’s booth that was pitching laser designs to display inside your wheels. He abandoned his booth to cross the hall and embrace a teenage girl who looked glad to see him. They kissed so long, Lily was starting to wonder if they were stuck, although their hands gripping each other tightly in strategic places belied that notion. Someone in another booth whistled at the sight.

A Nigerian man sat at a body shop booth advertising its ability to match secondary market colors. He was immersed in an Arabic language newspaper with a picture of a woman being stoned to death on the front page.

The woman at the Biker’s For Jesus booth was wearing an outfit that made it look like she’d been run over by a flower truck. She was selling religious decals and design sheets. She asked every passer by “Have you been saved?” even though fifteen minutes before the shoe opened this consisted mostly of staff working the show.
Lily herself was hoping she’d get a chance to make a sudden exit. Joe and Lily had completed their dive rescue training over the summer. Today was her first shift on call. She had her swimsuit on under her clothes. A newly fitted siren, used only in practice so far, was mounted on her motorcycle. The snorkel earring she was wearing for the first time today was ready to page her at any moment.

Chapter 15: April 19, 2031 Airship

Major Jon Guzworth watched his latest load depart from the window of his Ft. Carson, Colorado office next to the airship tethers. The jungle green airship extended half a city block and stood four stories high. A spring rain the night before was rising from the field around the airship in a low mist, and the airship’s synthetic fabric skin was damp. Laden with a full load of cargo it looked like a giant watermelon with saddle bags. Its belly proclaimed it the U.S.A. Sargasso, the U.S.A. stood for United States Airship, in ten foot high white block letters. A cabin full of windows, not much bigger than a large Army tent, hanging from the front part of the airship’s belly, held the airship’s crew. Army Captain Wendy Two Feather, the pilot and chief weather officer, Sergeant 1st Class Gordon Snipes, the chief mechanic and reserve pilot, Corporal Simon Beaupres, the assistant mechanic who was also responsible for monitoring weather alerts when Captain Two Feather was off duty, and Private First Class Jesus Gallegos, a cargo handler and airship janitor, ran the ship.

The airship lurched in the direction of the slight breeze from the Southwest when its final tether line was released. The Sargasso’s cargo, several armored vehicles fitted with multiple rocket launchers, and several huge nylon sacks of fuel, spare parts, ammunition and rations, sagged straight down as the airship slowly rose at a rate of a several feet per minute.

It was the moment of truth. About seventy-five percent of airship accidents happened on takeoff, and half of the rest happened upon landing (most of the rest of the accidents were due to bad weather). If the cargo had been mispacked or misweighed by the ground crew, the Sargasso either wouldn’t fly at all, or would upend itself. Or worse, a cargo line could have tangled in a propeller and caused a crash that could have ignited the hydrogen bladders that gave the Sargasso lift, caused a rapid loss in altitude or sent debris into the cabin. Sometimes it couldn’t get altitude quickly enough to clear buildings and trees if it was overloaded and the wind made it hard for the pilot to maintain position. Accidents weren’t common, but it was standard operating procedure to keep an ambulance on hand for all takeoffs.

There could never be a Hindenberg type accident again. Most of the fire in that famous case was caused by a skin treated with a compound closely related to jet fuel; hydrogen fueled fires, in contrast, burn quickly and send flames straight up with a pop. The Sargasso’s hydrogen is encased in dozens of flame resistant, super thin bladders treated with a puncture sealing goo that rest loose in a main compartment full of helium. It was designed so that small arms fire from below, or a minor spark from a mechanical failure could not set off a chain reaction igniting the entire hydrogen supply on board in a massive explosion, while maximizing the airship’s lift by using hydrogen instead of helium. But, a fall from several hundred feet could still do serious injury and flying debris from a damaged propeller system could be just as dangerous as a grenade.

The takeoff this time was perfect. The lines dropped away properly. The Sargasso, laden with its cargo, was well balanced and the cargo lines ran straight. In twenty minutes, at about one hundred feet of altitude (comfortably above trees and most buildings in the vicinity of Fort Carson), the airship’s rotors shifted and the airship began to turn. Ten minutes later, it was on almost a straight course from Fort Carson to the U.S. Virgin Islands, its last stop before Nigeria. There it would fly at its maximum altitude (higher in the low altitude forests of Nigeria than in the Rocky Mountains near Colorado Springs), and pick a course away from major roads, rivers, and population centers to minimize the risk of sniper attacks. The propellers shifted again and the airship began to pick up speed. It was approaching its cruising speed of seventy knots of airspeed as it vanished over the horizon fifteen minutes later.

Weather permitting, the Sargasso would end its four day trip to central Nigeria in an open field with a tether pole erected by Navy Seabees a year ago, called Port Cowpat, a hundred miles from the nearest fighting. The cargo would take at least a day to unload, and loading up the Sargasso again with its scheduled cargo of several joint strike fighter carcasses that were being returned home for classified salvage operations would take another two days. The Sargasso’s usual round trip was two weeks, with the crew taking a three day leave when they returned stateside. In Nigeria, the crew let the local ground crew unload the Sargasso with only Captain Two Feather supervising, but the entire crew participated in the reloading operations personally.

It wasn’t high speed transportation, but airship lifts were a lot cheaper and carried a lot more cargo than a fixed wing plane airlift. The week it took to pack up, ship the cargo and drop it off, was at least five times faster than the combination of sealift, rail transportation, and travel by convey to a base near the front lines that could have been used instead, probably even longer given the lack of good roads in Nigeria. And, the savings in time and money that came from not having to build airstrips at every supply base was not insignificant. Training airship pilots was cheaper than training fighter pilots, and the airships themselves were cheaper to build than either cargo planes or sealift ships.

An airship lift also kept the cargo away from the Air Force and the Navy, something Major Guzworth appreciated at great deal. Every time Major Guzworth tried to arrange a sealift with the Navy, or an airlift with the Air Force, they treated him like he was a private just out of basic training, instead of an experienced ranking officer. Fortunately, although, the Air Force had initially objected to giving the Army jurisdiction over airships, it backed down when its pilots explained that they didn’t want to fly them because an airship pilot was a glorified truck driver. The Air Force had a need for speed and an airship was not fast. The Navy had also raised concerns, but had never seen sea lift as its most important mission, and also appreciated the fact that airships shifted the discussions over the “sitting ducks” in the military from the Navy’s surface fleet to the Army’s airships.

Wendy, Simon and Jesus watched the scenery now, because Colorado’s mountains were more interesting to watch than the Great Plains and vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean which lie ahead for them. Simon had spent the night before drinking hard on the last day of his leave and made his way to his bunk and slept off his hangover once they were underway. He would be sober long before they landed, and was a competent enough mechanic when his head was clear.

Chapter 14: March 24, 2031 Blizzard

“Fourteen hundred soldiers at Camp Mudhole were quaranteed after twenty suspected black pox cases were discovered in their encampment in central Nigeria. Initial indicators point to a prisoner of war who may have been intentionally infected before surrendering as the alpha case. About ninety percent of those infected with this bioengineer hybrid of highly contagious small pox and deadly Ebola virus die. The quarantine will continue until two weeks pass with no new cases. Ultimate casualties are expected to reach the hundreds, but initial indications are that the outbreak will be contained to this camp, which was on an extended counterinsurgency mission. A biohazard containment team has been deployed to the area. Troops have been confined to their tents and are subsisting on combat rations.”

“Meanwhile, in local news, spring snowstorms have extended construction road closures in the C-470 corridor, in addition to causing minor accidents throughout the city. The death of a ninety-nine year old man who slipped and fractured several bones while shoveling snow has been attributed to the storm.”

“Scandal has put the future of Purity Beef Corporation in danger after a Wild Foods official discovered an elaborate system of bribes and deception used to pass ordinary genetically modified beef off as organic, natural bred beef, causing Wild Foods to cancel its contract. Purity Beef’s attorney claims that the alleged bribes were in fact legitimate travel reimbursements for drivers and has promised to bring suit for a breach of its supply contract.”

“In sports, the Colorado Rapids have, for the first time, surpassed the Denver Boncos on a per game sales basis boosted in part by its nine and two record, something the winless Denver Broncos after their third coach this season would have welcomed in reverse.”

Lily turned off the news and stared out at the snow falling. Several people who’d had appointments to plan proms and weddings had already cancelled their appointments. Joe’s delivery for the afternoon had been postponed, so he was reading one of his textbooks. Their boss, Mark DeVeaux, was in Morocco for a trade show. Their Spring Break party event was still on, but the trays were already neatly stocked in their carts, ready to roll out of the freezer and into the truck.

“What in your studies today?”, Lily asked Joe.

“Psychiatric emergencies.”, Joe responded. “My professor opened his lecture yesterday with a projection of an old tree on Park Avenue with a knot as big as its trunk. He said the knot formed when the tree tried to work around the growing grubs of an invasive insect species. It lived, but it was grossly deformed by the experience of trying to control the invasion. He said that minds are like that too. If a traumatic idea embeds itself deeply enough in just the right place, it can warp the entire mind. The mind may live, but it will be grossly distorted in the process of trying to protect itself, as ordinary growth processes are distorted by the trauma. Most of those distorted minds end up going through emergency rooms and getting treated by EMTs like I’m training to be, before they see a psychiatrist, if the ever do.”

“What do you think?”, Lily asked.

“I’ve seen some pretty crazy people, even just volunteering in the E.R. few a few months. There was one guy, he was brought in from hypothermia after the cops had picked him up drunk in an alley. He was convinced that he had assassinated John Lennon, even though he was 50 years old and Lennon was dead before he was born. He’d sobered up by then, and I was helping him fill out his discharge papers, so we wasn’t shivering any more, but I’d swear that he believed it even though it was impossible. I don’t know what makes people turn out like that.”

An e-mail message came in, and the computer chirped in acknowledgment. Lily looked at the screen. The roof had collapsed at the old church where the Spring Break party had been scheduled, so the event had to be cancelled. She motioned to Joe who looked for himself.

“Want to join me on the trip to the shelter?”, Joe asked.

“Sure.”, Lily said.

The thirty homeless men at the church at 6th Avenue and Inca had some of the finest fajitas, fish tacos, guacamole vegetable dips, and pineapple-escarole salads available in Denver that night. And, even the man who thought he’d killed John Lennon, who happened to be staying there that night, didn’t complain that the Purity Beef Company steak in the fajitas was not actually organic.

The Go Between

The doorbell rang at about half past seven, after dinner. Fatima’s little brother, Abdullah, put down his crayons and ran to the door to answer it. He pulled the door open without even looking first.

An African man in a business suit, with an Arabic style white head covering and a box wrapped in decorative paper under his arm was standing there.

“Is your dear mother home little man?”, the visitor said in polite Ibo.

“Mom! The wedding mail man is here.”, Abdullah yelled out in English.

“I’m coming down, my son, please have Fatima make some tea for us.”, Fatima’s mother said in English.

Mother escorted the man into the otherwise never used parlor. Her other arm carried a bundle of Fatima’s vellum packets, with a two page list of destinations on top written in a fine script on handmade paper. The bundle was wrapped in raffia. As usual, mother was dressed in the rational house robe that she wore after she got home from work. But, she had thrown on about a pound a necklaces, bracelets, anklets, nose rings and earings on the way to the door. The man put his bundle down on the coffee table and introduced himself.

“I am Saddam Ugawe. I’ve been asked by certain acquaintances of yours to bring the news of their families to you personally.”, he continued in Ibo in the scripted formal traditional phrase.

“I welcome you into my home, Saddam Ugawe, my husband who is here with me and I, appreciate your thoughtfulness.”, mother said in Ibo, respecting tradition again, even though Fatima’s father was in fact away late at a business meeting and would not be home for another hour.

They were still while they waited for Fatima to come. Pouring tea for three into the cups that were always waiting from the thermo pot that was always full only took a moment. But, Fatima had to take a few minutes to decide how to dress for this very important meeting. She kept the loose black slacks she wore to school, more conservatively than her American classmates, and added a loose sweater with an African pattern and her most colorful headscarf. She wore no jewelry and took off her watch-phone before leaving her room. She entered the parlor gracefully and served the guest and her mother before she took her own seat. She smiled broadly the entire time.

Mr. Ugawe opened his bundle and give a brief speech as he delicately laid out each portfolio, breaking from time to time to sip his tea. This was by far the largest bundle yet to arrive at the Kwam house.

Mother pushed her bundle towards Mr. Ugawe and give her own little speech about Fatima. The glowing description was all true, although Fatima was not terribly pleased that descriptions of her chin, eyes and cooking aptitudes were discussed at length, while her remarkable academic talents were reduced to “she is a good student at South High School in Denver from which she is expected to graduate this spring.” Her top five class rank in a class of two thousand, scholarship offers, admissions to the science honors program at the University of Colorado and Space Club Presidency apparently did not warrant any mention with this audience.

Mr. Ugawe looked carefully at Fatima to confirm the veracity of everything being said which he could see, and quizzed Fatima on several intangible points, to confirm that everything was bona fide.

“I’m sure you will incur some expenses in our journey, so I’ve left an envelope under the first pages of the first portfolio for you.”, mother said, concluding the traditional script.

Formal goodbyes were said, and the man left to hand deliver his packages, sometimes with the help other go betweens across the world.

Ecology

Colorado State University had one of the world’s premier ecology departments, rooted in its earlier history as an agricultural college. Majors could specialize in restorative ecology, closed systems ecology, paleo-ecology, microecology, evolutionary ecology, ecological policy, or inorganic ecological interfaces. The philosophy department offered a concentration in ecological philosophies.

In addition to ordinary faculty, each program had a corporate endowed chair, a post-doc or two, a few PhD students, a dozen Master‘s degree students, and dozens of ecology majors specializing in the program. A Wyoming coal company sponsored the chair of the restorative ecology program. Boeing sponsored the chair of the closed systems ecology program. The paleo-ecology chair was sponsored by Dreamworks, one of the major Hollywood studios. Microecology was sponsored by Eli Lilly, the drug company. Xcel Energy sponsored the evolutionary ecology chair. Wild Foods sponsored the ecological policy chair. And Honda sponsored the inorganic ecological interfaces chair.

Every major was required to take an introductory biology and ecology core, math and computer science courses in statistics, dynamic systems and systems simulation, an intermediate class from a majority of the programs, a core of senior level classes in a program, and a year long field work project in our program. The student assistance center was always full of upper class students working as tutors to explain food webs, ecological niches, boom-bust predator population models, the carbon and nitrogen cycles, the ecology of the human digestive system, and invasive species to freshman and sophomores completing their core requirements.

Espirt de corps was high. Clothing with messages like “Ecologists love complex women.” and “Restore the Great Plains!”, filled the campus. Alpha Omega Alpha, the honorary society for the department, was the sponsor of the annual fox hunt, in which the ceremonial fox was hunted, in full British regalia on horseback, by students and faculty alike, armed with tranquilizer guns and specially bred fox hunting pigs that tracked but did not kill their quarry. The spring equinox hunt brought national press coverage every year. Micoecology graduates routinely were admitted to John Hopkins University and found internships at the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Center. A long forgotten Congresswoman had managed to locate the United States Ecological Warning System of the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Fort Collins where scientists set priorities under the Endangered, Threatened and Invasive Species Act of 2013.

Fort Collins was also believed by the Homeland Security domestic counter terrorism office to be the headquarters for at least three ecoterrorist groups, among them the Earth Liberation Front, one of the oldest and most destructive of the leading ecoterrorist organizations. It was widely assumed on campus that there were several undercover agents on campus trying to infiltrate these groups, and every few years an upstart group or cell of an established organization was shut down. Several professors were suspected of sponsoring ecoterrorist groups, but the federal government had never managed to find any proof that would hold up in court, despite several wiretaps, library searches, and sneak and peak searches.

On the afternoon of December 2, 2030 the ecology department's admission committee met. Up for consideration was an application from a certain Garth Woods, with a criminal record, but also clear evidence of being completely reformed. He wanted to enter as a junior transfer student starting with the Spring Semester. The discussion took about five minutes. The vote to admit him was unanimous.

Chapter 13: December 2, 2030 Dive Team

The next day, Joe came into work in the afternoon, as he always did on Tuesdays, so he could take classes at Auraria.

“How as class?”, Lily asked.

“Two hours of emergency tracheometries on dummies, could be worse.”, Joe replied. “Then, on the way back I stopped by the department offices to get next semester’s course list. I was this flyer and I saved it for you.”

Joe handed her a flier for the Denver Metro Dive Rescue Team.

“It’s all volunteer and after yesterday afternoon, I’m sure you have the right stuff for the team. Didn’t you say you used to do some scuba with relatives in Louisiana?”

Lily smiled a small pouty smile, “It’s nice to know that somebody listens when I blather on. I still have all the gear.”

“Will you give it a try?”, Joe asked.

“I don’t know. I won’t know anyone. I don’t know if I’m confident enough to presume to go on call to save people.”, Lily said.

“O.K., let’s go in together. Their next orientation meeting is Monday night.”

“O.K.”, Lily said, not sure what she’d just committed herself to.

“Bring your gear.”, Joe said.

The Denver Metro Dive Team Rescue Orientation Meeting was at a pool at D.U. A wirey man in his thirties in a Speedo presided from the diving board.

“Since you’re here, I’m going to assume you’re interested in joining the Dive Rescue Team. We’re all going to start with a brief warm up, then a swimming skills test, then a scuba skills test, and then we’ll regroup after the practical tests and talk about what the team does, what responsibilities members have, training requirements, and a few other questions. O.K. Let’s start with stretches.”

A woman on the deck in a dive rescue team t-shirt and suit led the stretching. Volunteers were lined up at each of the six lanes in the pool for the swim test. About a third of the applicants had washed out on the first swim test, a 1000 meter swim. A few more didn’t make the underwater swimming requirement. One more person couldn’t handle the object retrieval, and another failed the blind swim. There were still a dozen people left, however, when everyone started putting on their dive gear. Lily and Joe, however, were both still in the running.

The first dive test was a surprise. After a one minute explanation, everyone had to carry a CPR dummy, while in their dive suit, across the natatorium, up the ladder to the high dive, back down again, and then underwater all the way back across the pool with a clock running. Lily and Joe again passed the test, but four of the remaining twelve orientees didn’t finish in the requisite six minutes. They headed off to a debriefing volunteer who offered the rejected applicants free t-shirts and a videotape for trying.

Lily nudged Joe as she saw the scene.

“Maybe we should quit while we’re ahead.”

“No way Lily. You are here with a purpose and nothing is going to get in your way.”, Joe said.

There were a couple of deep water exercises, an equipment check which disqualified an applicant, and a high dive requirement, which disqualified another applicant. The six remaining applicants of the original twenty proceeded to a lifeguards’ room off the pool area, matched one on one with the volunteers.

Each volunteer sat down across from an applicant with a questionnaire. The woman who had led the opening stretches was interviewing Lily.

“Name?”

“Lily Matsunaka.”

“Age?”

“Nineteen.”

Lily proceeded to give her address, phone number, place of employment, work phone number, veteran status, and state that she had a driver’s license and working vehicle.

“Criminal record?”

“A couple of traffic tickets, but nothing else as an adult. My license is still good.”

“Highest level of education reached?”

“10th grade.”

“Are you still in school?”

“I dropped out when my dad died and got a job as a florist in Sterling.”

A medium length medical history followed, with Lily able to answer no to almost all of the questions. Her only known allergy was to certain ear drying agents.

“Emergency contact?”

She gave her grandmother’s phone name and phone number.

“Any prior rescue experience?”

“I pulled a guy out of a semi that crashed into the South Platte last week with Joe Rodriguez’s help.”

“You’re shitting me. The police never identified the rescuers, and the guy was rescued before we got there. The hospital says if it had been any longer he would have died.”

“I say it was just luck that we could help. But, Joe convinced me to sign up.”

“Great! That’s all the questions. We’ll be back in a few minutes after we’ve gone over the questionnaires. Help yourself to some hot coffee or cocoa.

The volunteers huddled and the applicants waited. Everyone was tired after the skills tests and questions, so it was not a talkative bunch. A couple of people furtively pointed at Lily and Joe.

“Any hard questions? It seems a lot like the EMT apprentice qualifications I did last year.”

“Not really. Are you sure they take high school dropouts? I was a bit surprised that they asked about it.”

“Only one way to find out.”, Joe replied.

Before long, the volunteers came out and talked individually with a couple of the applicants again. They were escorted out. Presumably, the answers to the questions they’d given were not satisfactory. Joe and Lily were still there.

The leader stepped to the front of the room again when the volunteers had returned.

“Congratulations. Welcome to the applicant class of 2030. Each of you has passed the preliminary skills tests and screening. If you’d like, the City will pay to put each of you through a six weekend Colorado Dive Rescue Training with other applicants from across the state, if you agree to stay on the team and be on call several days every month for the next year. We going to assign you buddies for the training process, Joe and Lily, you’ll be one pair. Steve and Robert, you’ll be the other pair.”

Joe looked at Lily and gleamed with pride. Lily looked back at Joe with a half smile.

“Thank you.”, she said. “I guess I just needed a nudge.”

Supervised Person

A year ago, he’d been a minor celebrity. He’d been interviewed by four different TV stations for the nightly news. Three newspapers had interviewed him. He gone to lunch with the State Director of Social Services. The Governor and the CEO of Wild Foods had shaken his hand at a press conference later that afternoon. The City of Lakewood issued a proclamation in his honor. He was a rare success story and everyone wanted a piece of him.

It had all started twelve years ago. When he’d turned sixteen, he’d started acting a little different. Sometimes his school essays would have a truly mean spirited sentence or two in them. He slapped a girlfriend for looking at another boy. He started going to church every morning before school and told the pastor he was developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Sometimes he’d go out after dinner and not come back until morning, without an explanation.

A few days after his seventeenth birthday, the zoning inspector had contacted his parents and asked for permission to inspect his family’s garden shed. Neighbors had complained about the smell. He parents, suspecting nothing, consented. What the inspector found changed everything. Local naturalists had been concerned that a lynx might have moved into the area, even though there had been no sighting and no observed tracks, because a number of cats and dogs had disappeared in the past three weeks. One park ranger had even gone on the evening news with a set of tips on what to do if you encountered one. This theory proved not to be correct.

The walls of the shed were lined with seventeen mutilated pet bodies. Each pet’s name was written in its own blood the peg where its body hung from the wall. Female pets had objects inserted into their genitals. Male pets had weights hanging from theirs. Each pet had its vocal cords crushed. Most had holes drilled into their heads marked with acid that had eaten into their brains. They had burn marks on their limbs and razor blade cuts on their chests in lazy, intricate doodles. Some had eyes injected with motor oil. His initials were shaved into the fur on the back of each one.

He was arrested at school that day on seventeen felony counts of animal cruelty. His parents, themselves terrified, retained a high profile criminal defense attorney from Boulder, and sold his dad’s pickup to pay a retainer. His dad got on the phone that night to call a man he’d had beers with after hours when he’d been in the military as a prison guard at Levenworth. That man was now an endowed professor in the John Hopkins Psychiatry Department, and had been a young forensic psychiatrist at Levenworth.

As fate would have it, the Deputy District Attorney assigned to the case had been an undergraduate psychology and neuro-biology major who’d done a senior thesis on the criminally insane, but decided to go into law instead because his chemistry and math grades were lackluster. The family, the East Coast Psychiatrist, the seasoned defense attorney and the deputy district attorney held a case discussion conference in front of a seasoned mediator with a background as a social worker.

It was Garth’s first offense, and the Deputy District Attorney was eager to make a name for himself by being the first to invoke the new state “supervised person” law. The psychiatrist’s expert opinion made that easy. Garth’s maternal great-uncle had killed a family in Rifle after eighteen visits in twenty years to mental health institutions and that case had been a driving force behind a first, failed attempt to enact a supervised person law in Colorado. Garth‘s much older maternal cousin had finally been caught a few years before this incident, after a decade of unsolved pet mutilations in Denver. A blood test had shown that Garth had the suspect gene. The defense attorney’s private investigator had identified twenty-seven different witnesses to Garth’s increasingly unusual behavior in the past year. An innocent by reason of insanity plea involving a man with the same condition had been upheld in Arizona a few years earlier in a murder case. The psychiatrist’s opinion stated that taking a Proloffone pill twice a day for the rest of his life would cure Garth’s condition, but that failure to take the pill could result in repeated, more severe episodes.

His parents feared for his health if he went to prison. If he was convicted, he would turn eighteen just as he went to the penitentiary. He was a slight boy at the time, and preternaturally pretty for a boy. While he’d dated some girls, he’d also made overtures to one or two boys on an experimental basis. There was no doubt in the minds of either of his parents, or his defense counsel, that he would be a sex slave for a prison gang in a matter of months, if not days, if he went to the penitentiary. There was also little doubt that without proper treatment, he would get out, victimize someone or something, and come back over and over again.

At the disposition hearing, full of cameras after the pictures of the mutilated animals had reached national audiences through a leak in the police department, the Deputy Prosecutor announced that he was dropping all charges but a lesser included charge of disorderly conduct, in exchange for restitution, community service at an animal shelter, and an adjudication of Garth as a “supervised person” under the new supervised person’s statute. The prosecutor gave a little speech about how modern medical science and new Colorado law made it possible to prevent this case from being yet another litany of failures and repeat offenses. The defense counsel, the East Coast psychiatrist, the state’s expert psychiatrist, his family, and one or two of the victim pet owner’s families all came forward to support the decision. One or two pet owner families protested. The judge accepted the plea bargain.

Later that day, Garth was set up as supervised person number 0001. His finger prints, retina scan, DNA sample, blood type, and other identifying information was put in a registry. He was issued an new ID with an orange background that informed gun sellers, bars and liquor stores that they could not sell to him. He was assigned a case worker from the State Department of Social Services. Within a week he had reported to a halfway house in Denver. Every morning and every afternoon, he physically appeared in front of a male nurse and took a Proloffone pill. They found him a job sweeping floors at a local Wild Foods store under a work reentry program they’d signed up for as part of their social awarness regime, which also provided handsome tax credits. At the end of the first year, he’d gotten his own apartment in the same neighborhood, and only had to stop by in the morning and evening taking his pill. In the third year, he simply had to report for random weekly drug tests, at his place of work and interviews with his employer, to confirm that his behavior was normal and that he had Proloffone in his system. In the fourth year, the tests were made monthly, and in the fifth year quarterly. He boss always had an emergency number to call his caseworker to report any unusual behavior, but almost never used it. For the second five years before he was put on “inactive supervision” status, follow up had declined to annual visits with his employer, annual random drug tests, a computerized record review, quarterly phone calls, and an annual home and family interview.

The compliance after the first year actually wasn’t much of a surprise. Proloffone had an “inert” component, that was specifically designed to be addictive, even though it had no other beneficial effect. If Garth missed a day or two of the pill, painful withdrawal symptoms kicked in. Intense headaches, cravings, flu-like lethargy, a low grade fever, nausea, and more set in. The designer knew that this was a drug designed to be used for life, and that the consequences of missing a dose or two could be severe, and so planned accordingly. Only a few pharmacies in the state were authorized to dispense it, so overuse was also not considered a serious concern.

Proloffone, muted moods without making the patient sleepy, suppressed testosterone levels to female levels (leaving Garth with the same nearly hairless baby face he’d had at seventeen), and suppressed all intense mammalian brain activity. Situation induced fear, anger, panic, and lust were all suppressed. When he was on Proloffone, horror films, porn and action movies lost all their primal appeal. He’d kept in touch with family, and was technically fertile, but the drug had stripped him of any desire to enter into romantic relationships of his own. Some of his co-workers assumed that he was gay, and he might have been had he been allowed to develop regularly, but as it was, he simply wasn’t interested.

Garth got his GED, and then went to night school and successfully earned an associate’s degree in retail management, impressive for a young man who had never been a strong student even before his condition had hit. He was promoted from sweep up duties, to produce stocking, and then to produce manager. Three years ago, he’d been given a spot on the company’s organic standards review committee.

While in college he had gravitated towards environmental groups. He’d known better than to openly join a militant organization like Earth First or Greenpeace or PETA, given his supervised status, but had joined the organic foods co-operative and the Sierra Club. He liked taking hike, and he made connections with like minded people. One of the people he met in the organic foods cooperative, impressed by his devotion to animal and plant rights, apparently as atonement for the animals he’d mutilated and growing out of his service at the animal shelter, invited him to meet some ELF members. The Earth Liberation Front was one of the oldest and most secretive of the environmental terror groups. He had no desire to personally participate in the arsons and other actions the group was known for, but the cloak and dagger element and feeling of intense community in pursuit of an ideal that the group provided, filled a missing need in him. While the drug suppressed his personal desire to destroy, it didn’t affect higher level brain function and the seeds of destructiveness at that level were as much a part of his particular psychological flaw, as the more obvious violent outbursts. He started handling menial organizational tasks, and within two years, he had a cell of his own, one of the most violent in the entire network. His total lack of hands on involvement, and the care with which he hid his identity from his cell members, however, left him totally hidden from law enforcement, even when one of his cell members was caught in the act and interrogated.

Chapter 12: November 30, 2030

The November wind blew cold. The wind chimes in the window rang. The falling sun glittered in the glass and steel of Denver’s skyline. Looking East from the fifteenth story of Lily’s grandmother’s Sakura Square apartment, surprisingly little had changed since the day Lily was born. City lights peaked out through trees in residential neighborhoods. Red, yellow and white lights shone in little clusters as tiny car maneuvered city streets. If you looked just right, you could catch the image of the Remembrance Towers in some of the skyscrapers, but if you vision blurred a little, all you would see was the glow of the sun setting beneath the Rocky Mountains. Coors Field was silent, the regular baseball season was over, and the post-season was being contested in warmer climes.

Inside grandmother’s house, the only light came from candles and the odd indicator light attesting to the fact that some electric device was ready to obey any command directed its way. Grandmother had electric lights of course, but she always complained that they lacked the spirituality of flames. The candles were in blatant violation of the apartment fire control rules, but on a floor where everyone’s front door is triple locked and you are fifteen stories who would ever find out.

A bowl of steamed rice, drenched with hot water and adorned with long rectangular strips of boiled seaweed, accompanied by a small cup of hot, green tea sat, ignored, before Lily.

“It looks like you have something other than food on your mind, Lily.”, her grandmother observed.

“Yes.”, Lily admitted.

“Is it a man?”, her grandmother asked.

“Yes . . . no . . . I don’t know.”, Lily answered. “Yes, there is a man. No, strike that. There is more than one man I’m trying to make sense of. But, I’m also trying to figure out who I am. How can anyone want me when I don’t even felt like a grown up myself?”

“Hmmm.”, grandmother murmured. “Tell me about the men.”

“Well, there’s one man. He’s dashing and proud and he’s been dazzled by me since the first day he saw me do a sculpture at the governor’s mansion. He’s a military man. I think he’s an officer in the Navy. He’s trying to root out terrorists or something. He’s sent flowers to me at work, even before he knew my name.”

“Then, there’s this guy at the shop. He’s no Navy officer. He drives our delivery van to make money for college. He wants to be a firefighter. He fixes cars in his spare time. He’s always so sweet. And, he’s sure of himself too. Oh, the military man has purpose all right. But this man who drives our delivery van. He cares about everyone. He’s always helping a mother with a couple of kids lift her stroller over the curb, or helping neighborhood kids get their kites out of a tree, or whatever.”

“And, did a mention my boss? The way he looks at me sometimes, I just see bliss in his eyes. And, he is sweet. He never does anything blatant. He doesn’t want to abuse his authority, I guess. His only cares in life are to keep his business going and to make his patrons as satisfied with his catering as he possibly can, but everyone who knows him can see how desperately lonely he is. Every time a couple comes in to plan a wedding he starts to choke up a little. He has plenty of casual friends. But, every night he slinks off to his place in the Golden Triangle alone.”

“Hmmm.”, grandmother murmured. “Well, you will appreciate later in life how lucky you are to have choices in life. Eat up. Your food isn’t getting any warmer and you need some warmth in your belly on a day like today.”

Lily did as she was told. Afterwards she sat on the couch with her grandmother, where they took in the view and shared the silence. The next thing Lily knew, she was wrapped in a blanket on the couch, and the morning sun was in her eyes.

Sick With The Flu

Fatima Kwam was home with the flu. Medical science could cure spinal cord damage, transplant hearts, eradicate polio and make you immune to HIV, but it still hadn’t cured the flu. Fatima doubted that her scientific endeavors would make any progress on that front either. She was President of the South High School Space club and her eyes were firmly pointed towards the night sky. When the fever woke her at 2 a.m., she went to her telescope and watched China’s orbiter lazily making its way around Mars.

Here parents didn’t live in the 7th century, the way some of her cousins in Northern Nigeria did. The equipment her father’s worker’s used was pure twenty-first century. Everyone in the family had a computer. Fatima was permitted to have a telescope and was also permitted to interact with Americans wearing only a head scarf. Her mother actually got angry when she heard reports of women being unfairly stoned.

But, old habits die hard. The thermopot next to her bed kept six cups of tea made from some medicinal root from Nigeria at exactly 80.0 degree Celsius day and night. If she didn’t finish this better medicinal wonder by tomorrow, her mother would chide her all day. And it did help, although Fatima suspected that hot water alone would have been equally effective.

Despite Fatima’s hard science bent, she also wasn’t naive enough to think that getting the flu was simply a matter of having the bad luck to be exposed to a virus. At a big school like South High, where janitorial services were not always the top budgetary priority, Fatima knew she was exposed every day to viruses every bit as unpleasant as the one currently afflicting her. She’d even cultured them for AP Microbiology, last spring. But, just as a man’s sperm won’t get a woman pregnant unless her body is at the right part of the month to receive it, a virus only takes if your immune system is too weak to stop it. Fatima’s immune system was weak and she knew why. It boiled down to stress.

Stress is not an absolute thing. A full academic course load heavy with math and science was normal for Fatima, not a stress. Living in a family with more than the average one point six children was also not a stress. Fatima had never known anything other than a house full of brothers and sisters. The loneliness of being stuck at home with the flu while everyone else was out at work or school was more stressful.

But, not everything was normal. Homeland Security investigators asking endless questions of her parents over the kitchen table, about friends, cousins, co-workers and business associates was not normal. The basket full of vellum envelopes describing older Muslim men in her mother’s paperwork nook at the end of the hallway, balanced by a neat stack of portfolios containing glossy oversized photos of her, was not normal. Going to school and the library until late into the night to prepare her Mars landing presentation was not normal. Her father’s phone calls to business associates to find good Muslim homes where his daughter could stay at college were not normal. The way she felt about a Catholic boy who showed up to science club meetings, just to pad his resume, but who had a flair for poetry, was not normal. Neither were the anonymous cards with his writing on them that kept turning up in her locker, under her purse, and once even in her gym locker in the ladies shower room. And then, there were the anonymous letters in Arabic that she found when she picked up the mail when she came home from school that gently reminded the family, in script written in blood, that the punishment for traitors to the faith is death.

Yes, stress was definitely a factor in this most recent bout of flu.

Fatima had tried an appeal to Islam to control the madness.

“Mother, how can you send my pictures far and wide like that. It’s a human image. Isn’t that idolatry?”, she asked, knowing that mother was prone to strict readings of the Quaran.

“I’ll consult your father.”, her mother said, not wanting to misstep. Later that evening, she and her mother were summoned to father’s den.

“There are some people who say that all representational images are forbidden by the Quaran as idolatry. When Allah spoke through Muhammed about the matter, the only representational images in existence were Orthodox Christian icons, which are clearly disobedient to Allah, the one and the only God. But, Muhammed did not command his men to tear their maps to shreds, and the Califfs in Baghdad did not condemn doctors for illustrating their medical texts, or geometers from illustrating their proofs. Worshipping an icon is wrong, but pictures with practical purposes are permitted. Getting you married, Fatima, is a practical purpose, and so it is permitted to use your photograph to allow their mother’s to see what kind of woman your mother has raised.”, father almost recited, having clearly practiced his response.

“But any man who saw me would worship me, wouldn’t he?”, she said.

Her father and mother both smiled, hoping she was right. But, her father’s reply was a mild rebuke.

“Worshipping yourself above God is also against God’s will to which you must submit.”

“Yes, father.”, Fatima replied, dejected. “But isn’t it immodest as well?”, Fatima continued without really having thought it through.

“That is why we send the pictures to the men’s mothers, and not to the men themselves.”, her mother said, more comfortable in the field of modesty than idolatry. Silence followed.

The fact that Fatima’s father had not yet sent the enrollment deposit to C.U., because the deadline was in another month and he wanted to hold off “just in case”, also did not ease Fatima’s nerves.

Chapter 11: November 18, 2030

Cass and Lily took the metro to the Pentagon. Cass was in uniform and had a military ID. Lily wore a business-like light blue blouse and loose navy pants that she sometimes wore when she had interviews with customers at the shop about new commissions. Over it, she wore a seaweed green felt coat, which she needed in the face of the chilling autumn wind. On her shoulder hung a small, brand new, alligator purse that Cass had bought her that morning when he realized that she didn’t really having anything more formal than her tool satchel to bring with her.

Walking through the hallways, everyone seems so stiff. Even the walking was like marching. Cass responded to the environment unconsciously, falling into the silent rhythm of people’s steps, and a punctuated tone of voice. He didn’t even attempt to explain where they were going as he lead her through the long wide halls arrayed at odd angles. For all the importance this building had, the d├ęcor had not advanced much from the stark original 1940s office building aesthetic.

“No wonder soldiers aren’t creative, if they have to work in places like this.”, Lily told Cass. Cass had secretly felt the same thing more than once, but had never dared to express it.

Half an hour of maneuvering through the building later, Cass deposited her in a white, windowless room, with a table at which a man in a sailor’s uniform, right down to the sailor’s cap, sat. Cass promised to come back when she was done.

Lily sat. The man touched a control that darkened the room. I’d like you to look at the wall to your left. A picture of a man was displayed there for a few seconds, then it went blank and he turned on the lights.

“Could you paint that man the way you did before.”, he asked. He pressed a button, and a tray with coffee and cream, swizzle sticks, napkins and a placemat were brought in.

Lily paused for a few minutes, closing her eyes, and then looked at the blank placemat. She didn’t say a word. She started by dipping the napkin in the coffee. Then, she sipped a little. Bit, by bit, she drew a face in black and white. About forty minutes later, she looked at her work one more time and then stopped.

Then, the man asked Lily a few questions.

“Had you ever seen this man before?”

“How dark was it?”

“How much warning did you have? . . . A minute? Half a minute? Ten seconds? Two seconds? None?”

“Do you have any background in law enforcement?”

“Where were you born?”

“Were your parents born in the United States?”

“Are you a member of any political party?”

“Have you gone to art school?”

“What is your profession?”

Soon, he ran out of questions.

“Could I see that picture again?”, Lily asked.

“Sure.”, said the man.

Lily looked at the picture again and was satisfied with her work.

A couple of minutes later, the door opened, and Cass took her on the winding path out of the Pentagon and back to the nation’s capital.

Chapter 10: November 17, 2030 Air Taxi

Monday night, Cass called to make sue that she was still coming. Lily had assured him that she would be there in time for the 10:00 a.m. flight. He said he’d taken a later flight so that he could make his eight o’clock class in Boulder before he left.

Lily felt like a stupid little kid. She’d never flown anywhere except once or twice to visit family in New Orleans. Who could on a farmer’s income? Family vacations had meant trips to national parks or to see the stock show and shop at the malls in Denver. She’d certainly never been on a two day get away alone with a boyfriend in the middle of the week.

Her knowledge of the nation’s capital extended mostly to backdrops of evening news broadcasts and half remembered figments from junior high civics. She’d dropped out before she got to government in high school. She didn’t read the paper. She preferred dance music to news and talk shows. She’d passed on her first chance to vote last year.

The day after Cass asked her to go, Lily had bought a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine and a tourists guide to D.C. Travel light, both sources recommended. But, what did that mean? Should she bring boots, in case it snowed, walking shoes to see sights in, or heels for dinner? Or, all three? Would the loft where they were staying have a hair dryer, soap and shampoo, or towels? Somehow, she kept herself to a probably too heavy backpack, that looked like she was bound for the Yukon, and a little blue purse in place of her usual satchel of tools. She decided to wear a bright blue silk blouse and jewelry under her leather biker’s jacket, in case the biker look scared him off.

The post-rush hour traffic was light as she rode her motorcycle up I-25 and turned onto the Northwest Parkway, on her way to the Jefferson County airport. Most commercial flights ran out of the Denver International Airport, but MMAT’s air taxis shared runways with private jets owned by doctors, lawyers and business chiefs with too much money. Flying MMAT was nothing like the trips to DIA she remembered from growing up. Instead of a full fledged terminal, a neat little one story brick building with a sign that looked like it belonged to a fast food restaurant or a gas station sat in front of a hanger, one of several at the airport. Parking in a lot the size of a small park and ride, in front of the building, was free. It was full of luxury cars and government issue vehicles. Several of the cars were attended by mobile maintenance crews, tuning them up while the owners were away. Lily parked her motorcycle a few steps from the front door under a small shelter that also housed several high end touring bicycles. When she walked in the front door it was nine o’clock.

The one official at the desk greeted her.

“Are you here for the nine-fifteen flight to New York? Or, for the nine-thirty flight to Chicago?”

“Actually, I’m here for the ten o’clock flight to Washington D.C.”

“Oh, you’re early. What is your name?”

“Lily Matsunaka.”

“And could I see your I.D.?”

Lily showed it to her.

“Could I take your backpack?”

“I could carry it on.”

“You don’t need to worry about any delays, we’ll have it right back to you as soon as you get off at Reagan National Airport. We could put your jacket with the luggage as well, if you’d like.”

“O.K.”, Lily said, and the gate person took her bag and her leather jacket, and put it into what looked like a motel laundry cart.

“Would you like a coffee, or juice, or a morning paper? Our table at the other side of the waiting room is well stocked.”

Lily looked, and it was indeed well stocked. She grabbed a donut and juice, but decided against the paper. It would be embarrassing to be caught by Cass reading the comics.

Lily had made several trips to the bathroom to adjust her makeup and jewelry by the time Cass arrived at ten minutes to ten. The waiting room bulged to six or eight people every few minutes, and then nearly emptied on the quarter hour.

“Hello, Mr. Jackson. You’re companion, Ms. Matsunaka is already here.”, the attendant said. The attendant didn’t ask for his I.D. He tossed his neat black flight bag into the cart bound for Washington, and then came up to Lily and gave her a peck on the cheek and a small hug.

“I’m glad you made it.”, he said.

Chapter 9: November 15, 2030 Fog

The meatballs and pasta for the retirement part at the envelope plant wafted into the front of the van. As usual, Joe was driving. Lily sat in the passenger’s seat. Her satchel of ice sculpting tools filled the footwell. Today’s assignment was easy. A head and shoulders portrait of the guest of honor. He’d gotten a job at the plant out of high school at eighteen and was now retiring fifty years later.

“In weather like this, we could just let him stop outside for a couple of minutes and save you a day’s work.”, Joe told Lily.

Joe and Lily agreed that freezing drizzle was the worst form of weather known to mankind. The freezing drizzle started to compound with fog as they descended down 15th Street into the South Platte Valley from Lodo. The sun was setting too and it was hard to see the stripes for their lane. Just as they came to Commons Park, they heard it.

Horns, crunching metal, breaking glass, and a splash. Joe hit the breaks and the horn. Lily braced herself. The van started to spin just as it hit the bridge. Car lights shot out through the fog at odd angles. A siren started to sound in the distance. Amazingly, the van stopped without hitting anything. The final stop was the last straw for the meatballs, however. The meatballs toppled over. Lily could see the guardrale for the wrong side of the road out her window. She started to unbuckle and get out, but Joe stopped her, putting his hand on hers.

“Hold on. Pileups like these are usually chain reactions. Stay in the van for a little while.”, Joe said as he hit the blinkers.

Joe hit the talk button the van phone and said, “Begin dial. Nine. One. One.”

“Emergency response. Please hold.” The moments took forever.

“Emergency response. How can I help you?”, a new voice said.

“I’m on the 15th Street bridge over the South Platte. I’m in a multiple car pileup in fog. I see at least five cars.”, another horn and a crunch interrupted Joe in that phrase, “make that six cars and an overturned semi that’s hanging over the bridge.” Lily hadn’t seen the semi, which was out Joe’s window, until he mentioned it. “I don’t know about injuries. My passenger and I are fine.”

A low metallic moan started to emanate from the semi.

“The semi cab’s going over.”, Joe continued to call the dispatcher, “it’s falling into the South Platte. I think there’s someone inside. I heard a horn as it went down.”

“Please stay in you’re vehicle. Fog accidents often lead to multiple pile ups. You’re safest in your car.”, the dispatcher responded.

Joe turned back to look for Lily. The door was open and her satchel was gone.

“Damn.”, he said.

Joe worked his way back to the cargo area of the van, grabbed the cord that he’d tied down the food with, opened the back door and warily got out.

“Lily!”, he called.

“Down here.”, Lily answered from a steep hill next to the bridge.

“Figures.”, Joe said under his breath.

Joe hopped the rail and followed her, half controlled, half slipping.

The cab of the semi was in the water, driver’s side down, in the middle of the South Platte. One of its lights was still on. The smell of gasoline was in the air. The water wasn’t all that deep, three or four meet maybe, but it was bitter cold.

“I’m going in after him.”, Lily said. “Tie the rope around me, in case I slip.” Her voice was steely.

“Lily, you’re nuts. You’ll get hypothermia.”

“He’ll die if someone doesn’t get him, and I can’t pull you in on a rope out of a current.”

Lily and Joe’s hair was already soaked.

“O.K. But, don’t be afraid to give up. I’ll pull you back in.”

Joe made a loop with the rope that wouldn’t tighten and put it over her shoulder. She said a silent prayer, jumped in, satchel and all. She leaned back and let the current drag her quickly to the fallen truck cab. She went so quickly she had to yell at Joe to give her more slack a couple of times.

The cab was off center. The bottom of the driver’s side door was on the river bed. The middle was on a small boulder. The driver’s side window was still under water, however, and the front window was facing downstream. Lily took a breath and went under the water to look through the drive’s side window.

The water was frigid. The quiet of being underwater was a change. The driver was tall and skinny. He was unconscious, bruised and starting to get blue in the face. His mouth and nose were underwater. No bones were obviously broken or out of place.

Lily came up. Joe yelled at her in the distance, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. She reached into her satchel and took out her ice pick. She let the water swirl into the space behind the front windshield and struck it while the momentum of the current was still carrying her. The glass broke. Lily swung the satchel with all her might to clear the broken glass. She struck the window and dragged, struck and dragged.

As soon as the space was clear enough for her she went in head first, stuck her head underwater and gave the man a kiss full of air. She clicked open his seat belt as she came up for another gasp. He sagged deeper. She took a breath, starting to shiver, and went down and gave him more air, mouth to mouth. As soon as she did, she grabbed him under the armpits and got his head above water. Gross brown liquid came out. She gave him another breath, it bubbled, and then she hit his back.

Her shivering was starting to get out of control and Lily was feeling weaker. She tried another breath. She could feel the cab slide a little on the rock and Joe’s call in the distance, an urgent yell.

“Get out! It’s moving!”, he yelled.

Lily kicked open the rest of the front window and dragged the man out. She gave the rope three short jerks and held the driver with both arms under his arm pits, trying to breath for him when she could.

“I’m freezing and I’m not sure he’s going to make it.”, Lily cried, her voice trembling.

Joe hauled them in as fast as he could. A siren blared in the distance. As they hit shore, Joe grabbed the truck driver, got water out of him with a Heimlich maneuver, checked the man’s pulse and started mouth to mouth and CPR. Another bystander put his jacket around Lily as his dog snuggled up to her. Lily felt faint and vaguely nauseous.

A woman at the top of the hill motioned to the EMTs getting out of the ambulance. A stretcher and the EMTS with equipment followed. Joe said a word or two, and then fell back onto the slope exhausted. Lily, Joe and another bystander were left alone under the bridge. Well, not quiet alone. A homeless man slept like a dead man under the bridge on the other side, oblivious.

A few minutes later Lily got up to return the coat she’d been given, but the benefactor was gone. Joe and Lily returned to the van. A TV crew had a camera pointed at the semi-cab, now a few feet further along in the river and crushed under a truck load of cement blocks that had spilled out of a the broken trailer that the semi had been carrying. The catering van, miraculously, hadn’t been hit by anyone else. Bright fog lights from a fire truck cleared the scene.

“. . . An unidentified man and woman dragged the driver from his cab, minutes before it was crushed by the driver’s cargo of cement blocks. EMTs rushed the man, whose breathing and pulse had been maintained with CPR, to Denver Health Center, calling his wounds critical and life threatening.”, a TV news reporter said into a camera set up at the edge of the collision.

Joe hit the button to turn on the van phone.

“Begin dial. Headquarters.”

“Hello Joe? What’s up? The factory said you didn’t come?”, Mark DeVeux said.

“Lily and I were in a little accident.”

“Are you guy’s O.K.”, Mark interjected before Joe could finish.

“Just fine. But, meatballs don’t make very good floor mats. . . .”

Joe and Lily decided to detour by his place in Lincoln Park on the way home. It was almost eight o’clock when they got in, and it was almost nine by the time they’d had hot tortilla soup and gone back to the van to mop up the meatballs on the floor filling several large trash bags. They’d collapsed on the loveseat in his living room, filled with his dad, him mom and several cousins and siblings as the ten o’clock news came on.

“A man pulled from the freezing South Platte by an anonymous man and woman is in stable and fair condition this evening at Denver Health. His pregnant wife spoke to us.”

“I don’t know who you are, but I don’t know how I can thank you for saving my husband. I don’t know what I would have done if he’d died. I love you.”

Joe took Lily’s face in his hands and gave her a long kiss on the lips in front of everyone.

“I love you too.”, Joe said.

A little later, Lily squeezed Joe’s hand, got up, and walked the couple of blocks home to the Parkway wearing the jacket she had acquired at the scene. When she got home she fell into a long deep sleep.