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Excerpt for The Curious Waitress - One Hour Aboard the Elissa by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

One Hour Aboard the Elissa

A Novel by the Curious Waitress


Copyright 2005 Janet Marloe

Published by Janet Marloe at Smashwords







Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





The Curious Waitress: One Hour Aboard the Elissa

#

PROLOG

"Failure, weakness and fear overwhelm joy, any elation of surviving, or defying death. It's little solace in the face of a disaster to be a survivor. It takes about an hour after you're safe and the dangers over, to become fully aware of how precarious life actually is, how chance and fate forge heroes and victims with a single stroke of the same brush.

There's one question that defines our fate after a disaster, the one that can split our faith and our conceptions of good and evil right down the middle, or make whole all the shreds of doubt. Every survivor learns it, every survivor asks it.

"Why me?"

Not everyone gets an answer. Sometimes a fool just gets lucky.

My name is Leslie Anne Brennemann. I am a waitress at the Historical Hyannis Hotel Restaurant just off Highway 2 in Hyannis Nebraska. I am the daughter of Loretta Lynn Brennemann and Dory Azod, this is the story of my Moms. There is nothing in the world more humbling, than having all your expectations, your realities, ripped from their moorings and tossed asunder, and that is what happened to me when my Mom passed away five years ago.

Just so we're clear, I have to differentiate my Mom from my Mother. My biological Mother used to be my Aunt Dory. It gets complicated. Growing up, I did not look like an Irish Viking, but that was the hard sell my family put on me. My friends said I was kidnapped as a baby, and when the poo hit the fan, I really would have preferred that. It's a tough row to hoe, when you chose your own direction at fifteen.

My story is not an easy one, at least from my perspective. I had built up an entire world to go to war against, and when I thought I had won that battle, I found myself truly alone. Alone with the thoughts of what a fifteen year old kid thinks about when she finds she was adopted. I didn't know my Mom had a life before me, and frankly I didn't care at the time. I was just too stupid.

Five years of learning about my Mom have only brought out all my own shortcomings. You see, it took a while for me to understand what she had done, and even longer to understand what an impact her actions had made. You see, I had a ton of notes about my family in little note pads that I kept with me, notes about my Meemaw, my Grandma, and my aunts and uncles, I had notes of our family meetings or tribunals as we called them, where I recorded who attended, who spoke and what we had to eat. I did it to teach myself shorthand but it turned out to be incredibly accurate and of great historical value, but virtually nothing in my notes talked about my mom's previous life, and I knew even less about my Aunt Dory. Except that my Aunt Mary hated her.

This story began for me at her funeral. Federal Agents showed up, along with people that had survived an infamous disaster and even local news people. I had just learned about being an investigative reporter from one of the very best in Metropolis, Louis Lane, but it still took me a while to put all the pieces together. I was turning 15 and I had already seen a lot of life changes. It was hard to make sense of it all at the time, but God handed me certain gifts, and like any good superhero, I was learning how to use them.

The second trip I ever took in my life away from my home was to Sutton Coldfield England, to meet Jesop Beamon before he passed away. My first trip scarred me for life in Houston Texas, and I don't want to talk about it. Jesop was my Godfather, whom I knew nothing about, and as it turns out he was with my Mom during the final moments of the Elissa. He was the key to me understanding how a rancher's daughter from Hyannis Nebraska, went into space and saved 1300 people. Even the Federal agents that came to her funeral could not answer that one, and they knew her too.

The story begins with Jesop. The look on his face when he told me of the moment they first met, still haunts me. It was not what I expected, and we cried together, something that made his departure even more painful for me. He died shortly after my Mom did, from a very similar malady, but not before filling me with stories of life on board the ship with his best friend, in a world that he did not belong. On some weird level I related to that man more than anyone I had ever met.

This is the story of one fateful hour aboard the Elissa when an impetuous decision saved more than half the passengers and crew, and sealed the others in a metal tomb that would drift through space for eternity. My mom was not a spy, or a ninja, or some kind of superhero, she had just graduated high school and started her first job far away from home. It is a miracle of circumstance that placed a rancher's daughter, Loretta Lynn Brennemann in the right place at the right time.

#

5.4 Astronomical Units from Earth

Jesop Beaman’s arms and legs drifted upwards as he finally began to relax. Many would consider him a hero for disarming a bomb, but no one knew what he had accomplished, or what he had gone through in the last hour. Trained to activate some kind of mission that the passengers could accomplish to help them calm down and adjust to their new surroundings, Jesop put on the pajamas, and attached himself to the wall where he could sleep.

It worked.

Per his instructions, the 11 survivors in his charge inside the small capsule, stowed their atmospheric suits, donned their pajamas and found themselves a small place to call their own. A simple three hour ordeal in the weightlessness of space, not easily accomplished for the passengers that had never experienced zero gravity before.

For the beauty, perhaps just morbid curiosity, the survivors packed against the portholes to watch the escape pods scattering like pigeons in a courtyard. The tiny metal containers striped down the middle with a bright blue light belt, reflected in the eyes of the elated passengers and crew. They reacted like watching fireworks, but the chaos, the awkwardness, and the nervous laughter that had filled the escape pod earlier, dissipated, replaced instead with shame.

Virtually everyone in the aft half of the ship had died instantly, and only Jesop knew of their chances of rescue now they had separated from the ship. The sight of all those life pods filled with people, flying off into different directions broke something inside him.

He knew that recovery of a disabled craft and its passengers would prove difficult but possible, if the disabled ship remained within shipping lanes, if the escape pods stayed nearby and stationary. The Elissa, however, had begun to spin off course hours ago, and the escape pods traveling in different directions at the farthest reaches of human contact would inevitably expend all their fuel attempting to regroup.

Earth had ejected many spacecraft in the last 20 years that still drift somewhere in space, broken, frozen and forlorn. Jesop knew it. The passengers knew it. Everyone knew it. It became clear in the empty stares of the people in the pod.

Jesop could not escape the complete despair that enveloped him. A young girl in an evening dress standing there in the chaos, the smoke and heat of the pod bay filled his mind, a memory that just kept repeating over and over. He watched her fighting for her life, so random, so unjustified, and so unsettling, Loretta Lynn Brennemann, so blissfully unaware of her surroundings, just so in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Nothing in the world can compare to the oppressiveness of guilt, especially the kind that crushes the air from a man's chest from the inside, like a black hole consuming light. Jesop spotted the danger, he knew she could get killed, but at that moment, inexplicably he just stood there, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to save her.

That scene remained so incomprehensible yet so clear to him, the image of her lying there on her back in the pod bay, so brave, so alone and so utterly shattered. The crowd, the evacuating passengers, poured onto the scaffolding like the relentless waves of a tsunami, and they stumbled over her and fell on her and consumed her in the chaos way before he could ever reach her. That remained the last he saw of Loretta Lynn Brennemann.

He thought they had left her there.

#

A full moon hung low in the sky, bright and huge, a soft yellow flavor like butter. Loretta Lynn Brennemann dropped her bicycle and became filled with awe, while the other girls began making their way into hiding, Lynn stood at the edge of a long flat meadow and squinted into the horizon.

Her eyes widened and a grin began to grow.

The green grasses swayed sweet smelling from all the rains, and tall, and as the wind came like the hand of God, she could see it, a shadow, a wave pushing the meadow in a long line across the field, curling towards her. It passed over her softly, like her mother touched her when she put her to sleep.

“Lynn, get down.” A terse whisper forced her to duck, and she crouched down.

Her friends closely knotted together, up against an old barn that the pioneers must have made, with sun bleached wood planks warped and jagged, peeling paint and splinters from a long battle with time. Her delicate pale fingers slid along a board softly, releasing chips of paint that fell behind in a wake of broken color.

Loretta Lynn playing in this yard as a child, searching for lizards, and running from the chickens, the skin of the old building had changed so much, only today had she finally recognized it. Years had passed since she played in this backyard, a long time since she had touched the old garage.

In the distance, the soft rumbling and whale like song of a freight train echoed from miles away with a distinct familiarity, and it hung softly in the air like lace on the shoulders of the night sky. The cold licked her hands and she curled then into her pockets.

Four visible windows of the single story home stayed dark and still, and the girl’s faces one by one peered out into the yard at them, brightened by soft beams of moonlight. Lynn looked, but the night stained the yard so badly that even the moonlight could not help her determine what lay tufted under clumps of field equipment and sunken below tall grassy mounds. She couldn’t remember what lay hidden there, maybe a chunk of machinery from the combine, it really didn’t matter.

A flash of color rushed for a moment under the light of the moon to a large flatbed truck that sat in the driveway. Lynn turned. A whitewashed picket fence that had chicken wire secured to it with bent nails, ran down the drive to the edge of the front of the house, part of the yard that had the chickens in it years ago. Now, just three hens lived under a tarp by a long wooden coop that had collapsed upon itself.

Lynn swallowed with difficulty and shuffled to the thick front bumper where they concealed themselves again and waited. All three faces turned around in unison to Mary, while Celeste climbed inside. Lynn, boxed in by her friends, trained her eyes upon the team commander, Mary. Mary older in her demeanor, but not the oldest of the group, a big girl, the tallest of the bunch, never shrank in defense of her friends.

Every boy at school feared her. She had her opinions about everything and if you ever crossed her she would cut your balls off. Mary would take a bullet for anyone of them, and probably poop it out in a week.

She knelt before them like a Drill Sergeant, peering over the hood of the truck, holding them steady with an opened palm, while her other hand disconnected the power coupling and tossed the cable into the grass just like a mechanic. Lynn just stared at her, her big fuzzy afro pulled back tightly by a bright yellow rubber band so she could keep her hat on.

Lynn heard a click, then a shuffling inside the cab of the truck, and then a boot hit the dirt. Celeste come back into view and handed Mary a big plastic key.

Mary quickly manipulated a box by the headlight and inserted the key, unlocked the safety mechanism and then motioned to Celeste inside the truck. This simple step allowed them to disengage the electronics inside and put the truck manually into neutral, without any electronic bleeps or noises, a tip Celeste had seen out in the field once, when the hands needed to move the truck backwards after the battery died.

The transmission went into neutral with a soft ‘thump’, and then the moment came. Mary’s hand began moving wildly.

Everyone turned quickly and jumped into motion, pushing against the truck. It did not move at first, and they all tried harder, until suddenly it began to roll down the driveway. The truck moved faster and faster, and then into the street at a pace faster than the girls could keep up with. Lynn stopped running, watching the old flatbed slide away from her like a ghost into the darkness with Celeste at the helm.

It kept going backwards down a sloping hill, towards a gully where the road crossed over a dried creek bed. Just like the drawing.

"I love it when a plan comes together." Mary jogged past, towards the truck, in a semi display of her victory dance. Natalie and Cynthia rushed past also, but Lynn did not quicken her steps. Instead she looked over her shoulder. She detected no movement in the old house, in the curtains at the windows, or at the front door, all still dark.

Celeste got out in a rush and took the key from the front grill. Lynn jumped into a full sprint and darted passed Natalie and Cynthia, and slipped through the opened door next to Mary. Celeste and Mary looked greenish blue from the light of the dashboard. Celeste adjusted the touch screen buttons on the flat panel display like a seasoned trucker. She set the engine core to run on battery for the first two miles before engaging the hydroelectric motor. Something no one had the expertise to do but her.

Lynn studied her long slender pale fingers, someday she wanted to do that, she wanted to drive. The heater came on, Celeste adjusted the temperature and the lights popped up in perfect silence.

Natalie and Cynthia fought at the door and then Cynthia won the battle and jumped in. The commotion finally drew Lynn’s attention.

"Damn it!" Natalie grumbled and then disappeared. She climbed onto the bed of the truck.

Celeste barked at Cynthia, "She's gonna freeze back there." They stared at each other.

"What?" Cynthia pretended not to understand.

Everyone waited until she cracked. Cynthia always cracked.

She moaned and popped open the door, "Nat? Come sit on my lap."

She said it like it she invented the idea.

Cool air poured in, and Lynn adjusted her socks. In a burst of movement, Natalie slipped inside and sat on both Cynthia and Lynn. They struggled for a moment, everyone’s hat banging into everyone else’s hat. Mary pushed Lynn’s hat off her head.

“OW! My God, you have a bony butt!” She elbowed Lynn, “Move over!”

Natalie laughed and tried squishing between them, when the truck bolted, and moved past the old house with just the sound of the tires on the pavement. Lynn, sitting on her side, instinctively marveled at Celeste.

Celeste registered as a designated driver by her fingerprints, the only one of them authorized to start the old truck. Unauthorized use, much like stealing a piece of pie, meant you could ask and get told no, or you could swipe it and eat it and then get in trouble later, but at least you got your pie. You had to go to confession, and you had to do penance for a week, but you got your pie.

Unauthorized use differed from actually getting caught driving the truck by a factor of up to ten years. Grand theft, stealing a truck would end the whole affair for all of them. Loretta Lynn could think about nothing else.

She pictured it in her mind, seeing Jason Elam’s Dad taking them to jail again. In Hyannis, Jason Elam knew the records of every kid in school. In Hyannis you could go to jail and not get arrested, if you knew Jason Elam. Well actually if you knew Jason Elam’s Dad, the Sheriff, and he knew every kid in Hyannis.

There weren’t that many anymore.

Celeste, brash and bold, her beauty trumped Mary’s toughness any day. Celeste regularly talked them into doing something crazy, even somewhat stupid, but again, her beauty just seemed to make the inane plausible. She could wink at a Denver cop and get them out of a pickle, or touch a doorman and giggle and get them all inside past the bouncers.

Lynn just studied her every move.

She changed gears to the hum of the electric motor and the dance of lights in the dash. She drove like the cowboys and hired hands that they had grown up around.

The old farmhouse to downtown Hyannis, a fifteen minutes journey, took them along winding dark roads. Downtown, not quite what it sounded like, but closer to school than where they lived, would serve as the starting point, the place where everyone would meet up.

The truck slowed, and turned off onto Manderson Avenue, familiar territory, and Lynn instinctively looked down and rubbed her neck. Celeste could have gone another way.

Mary noticed Lynn fidgeting through the corner of her eye. She nudged Lynn in the ribs, “Is that St. Joseph peeking out the window?” The giant orbs from the headlights splashed across the All Saints Catholic Church as the truck turned the corner.

Lynn grinned slightly out of guilt. They had just gone through a debacle at school that started at church. Everyone went to church there, everyone except Cynthia. Not long after they grouped together as a team they began to detect a pattern. If you went to confession after Lynn you got 50 Hail Mary’s. No one would ever admit to telling Father Joe anything, even if they made a pact before they went on their adventures, but miraculously, if you went after Lynn, he somehow knew exactly what to ask you.

Part of her penance depended upon her confessing to the principle what they had done, and she did. She put an anonymous note on the principle’s desk, explaining that the dead shrimp came from the cafeteria, and she also told him where they could find the rest of the missing shrimp in the sliding lock mechanisms of the lockers of the people that appeared on their hit list.

She did not realize at the time that the anonymous note she gave Mr. Anderson also doubled as the back side of the title page to her biography of Winston Churchill. Criminal experts say that some criminals subconsciously want to get caught.

Celeste eased down the street and crossed over the yellow stripe, sliding to the left and climbing over the sidewalk to an old abandoned brick building. Next door, in an empty space that smelled like pee, two girls leaned up against a propane tank. Wearing jeans and long sleeve shirts without a jacket meant you looked cool, you'd freeze, but you looked cool.

The two girls had snuck through the fence behind the Post Office, through a foot path that went to the gas station where they could get their beer, and one of them had a hip flask of Schnapps. They came out of the shadows and piled onto the back. Natalie got out of the cab without a word and climbed onto the back with them, then Cynthia snapped the door closed quietly.

Celeste made a wide U-Turn to avoid driving directly past the courthouse and the sheriff's office. They cruised silently down highway 2 to the high school, passed a few homes to a dirt turnoff where they could get over the embankment and pull in behind the football practice field. The perfect spot, meant they could remain hidden from prying eyes behind the berm line all night long.

The lights of the truck shone into the grass ahead, and eerily illuminated some other kids already there. All boys, chasing each other and wrestling in the flashes of light, their white T-shirts glowing brightly. Celeste dimmed the lights too late.

Everyone paused and turned to look at them entering the secret hideout, and they looked like mannequins frozen in different acts of play. They prepared to bail, ready to bolt off in different directions if the truck had resembled a sheriff's car. It only took a second for them to recognize the girls and return to their guy stuff.

"Look ma, idiots." Mary snapped and took a big swig of beer. It brought a quick reaction.

"Stop it." Celeste barked terse but friendly, and she struggled to maneuver through a clearing to their happy spot. The truck came to an abrupt stop.

Everyone climbed out of the cab, except for Lynn. She took a deep breath, and her eyes followed the crowd. Everyone ready to party, hyperactive from of the cold, jumped out and ran around like kindergartners in the first winter snow. Lynn took a big swallow of beer bubbles and bitterness, and then reluctantly began scooting to the door.

Slowly her long legs stretched towards the ground, while her jeans rose up high on her calves, letting the cold air rush in over her boots. She took another deep breath and another big gulp of beer to finish off the can.

Her boots pressed into the soft dirt and she could feel it sticking to the cuff of the heel like dung. Mary and Natalie had jumped on the truck already and she looked at their boots hanging off the side. They had obviously avoided the mud.

Something caught her eye and she looked over her shoulder.

Celeste ran towards the pool buildings. Like a bad horror movie she already began shedding her over shirt. Mary and Natalie’s faces turned in unison, and Lynn’s gaze followed. Celeste’s lover climbed down from a billboard on the ridge in a big hurry.

Natalie's long blonde hair flowed freely in the breeze across her face, "She's gonna get pregnant."

Mary took a big swig of beer just like a cowboy, her lip curling up in disgust. She took off her hat and let it drop to her side. "That's all they ever do."

Unceremoniously Lynn climbed onto the bed of the truck, pulled a big green comb from Mary’s back pocket and pulled the band from her hair, releasing the crazy.

Mary backed into the truck between Lynn’s legs. Lynn began combing and pulling her hair back in giant clumps, holding it steady and tight with one hand.

Mary would grumble with each stroke of the comb, “Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.”

She could see the bull riders roping each other, the geeks hanging off the back of the billboard like monkeys and the stoners in a station wagon wedged in the bushes, where Cynthia probably went, already long gone.

The smell of weed wafted thick in the air.

Moments later, with several empty beer cans stacked behind them, Celeste came running up from the shadows. She smiled and laughed and carried her plaid over-shirt by a sleeve, dragging it in the grass. She slowed down and stepped up, her breath flowing in large white puffs of steam that caught the light from the cracks in the billboard.

"Beer me!"

Natalie tossed her a beer, and she placed it next to Lynn. She put on her shirt while her teeth chattered loudly, and glanced around, squinting to see that nothing had changed.

Lynn turned back to the boys throwing what looked like a pillow at each other. Dennis, Celeste's lover and boyfriend, came walking out of the shadows, joining his friends in the clearing. His shirt still off, his pants low on his hips, his pale white skin glowing eerily in the moonlight.

Lynn instinctively looked over at Mary to find some joy in her reaction.

Mary’s eyes became two disapproving slits, beaming a laser of disgust to the skinny apparition, until her expression changed slightly. She cringed just a bit and it looked like she trembled uncontrollably.

Lynn smiled.

Dennis, the skinniest, and the most pale, unattractive male in school, did not compare to Celeste, one of the prettiest in the county. They had higher expectations for her, yet she clung to him like fungus on wet. Lynn regarded him carefully for a moment, then glanced back at Celeste who grinned from ear to ear. She watched her lover just as goofy as ever, while her lips poised to sip her beer.

Lynn took off her hat and lay down, putting her head on the dirty old truck bed. The bright moon made the few clouds in the sky glow eerily while they moved by at a good clip. Her fingers began getting stiff, and they ached already. Cold air pushed against her legs and through her hair, while the air smelled of transmission fluid, green hay and cow manure.

Her teeth chattered.

One by one the other girls began to lay down around Lynn, their faces almost bright in the moon light.

"God I’m sick of this shit." Except for Mary who sat slumped over, and Lynn sat up to listen to her. Mary wore her discontent on her lip. Her head began to weave back and forth slightly as she stared at her beer. Lynn softly grinned. Mary would go through the same routine shortly after five beers, and you could read her thoughts by where her hat pointed.

Natalie sat up sluggishly, her shirts hanging off her shoulder, her eyes half open, "I can see us doing this same crap in five years."

"Oh, hell no." Mary rolled her head back and forth like it had just come loose, she tossed her beer down, "I'm not gonna be here in five years. Screw that!"

"What's wrong with you guys?" Celeste moved her legs onto the truck and faced them.

Lynn’s head rolled around like a loose watermelon. She turned to Celeste. "What're you gonna do?"

Without hesitation she pointed with her beer, "I'm gonna marry that guy." Celeste nodded and winked at Lynn like a pirate bent on treasure, her grin as big as the night sky and lit up by the moon.

Lynn smiled and immediately heard Mary's disapproving grunt, "Ah, shit."

Lynn's head rolled the other way just in time to watch Mary's face wilt rancid with disgust.

Celeste’s smile dissipated and she glared at Mary, "What are you gonna do?" The tone in her voice changed, tainted with a drop of contempt.

"I'm gonna be a crack whore, what are you gonna be Nat?" She looked over her shoulder.

Mary planned to teach, she wanted to go to Texas, to St. Thomas, but her Dad stressed so much about the property she finally got the hint. Lynn just kept grinning, watching the routine again.

"I'm gonna be some politicians' side bitch." Natalie had not moved off her elbow, and struggled to gulp down some more beer as soon as she finished speaking, then she tossed her beer can over her shoulder.

Lynn shook her head. Natalie a real egghead, a straight ‘A’ student, dreamed of going to MIT, but alas, she screwed up the joke, "A Mistress?" Lynn asked, her face filled with interest, and a big smile.

Natalie turned and looked directly at Lynn, her eyes glazed and confused, "No... A floozy."

Everyone grinned, and then after a moment or two, all the faces turned to Lynn. She lay back down, and her big brown eyes looked off into the night sky.

"What are you gonna do?" Mary nudged her, almost serious.

Natalie answered for her, "She doesn't know."

Lynn's face slowly began to change.

“You should be an instructor.” Celeste offered with a bubbly and eager smile.

Lynn wilted, “Oh God.”

“She doesn’t want to be an instructor. Hell, she’s the only karate kid in Nebraska that doesn’t want to be an instructor.” Natalie lay back down.

“There’s only five people in the county that go to class.” Lynn’s head wobbled on the bed of the truck.

“What about in Denver?” Celeste offers still eager.

"You could be my pimp." Mary laughed, not a good happy laugh as much as a gesture.

Lynn just smiled again, and concentrated. "No... I wanna be the night manager at the Burger Barn..."

"Ah, yes! A professional." Natalie saluted with a fresh beer from the box, and everyone congratulated Lynn with a mumble of some kind.

Celeste watched with a keen interest. Suddenly she jumped in, "I'm gonna be a Centerfold Girl."

Those words silenced everyone, and their faces turned to her like stone.

"What?" Celeste became offended by everyone's reaction, "Why’s it funny when you guys do it?"

Mary's head became unhinged again, and it caught Lynn's eye. "Because... You could do it." She raised her voice in anger.

Natalie chimed in softly, like a mumble, “She probably would.” A tiny shard, a possible betrayal of a secret code, glistened in her voice.

Celeste, taken aback, torn between confusion, and disbelief, asked kindly, "What?"

Everyone agreed. Lynn nodded at her and motioned with her beer, "Your boobies."

"What's wrong with my boobs?"

"Gad woman!" Natalie sat up. "You have great big giant boobs."

Celeste smiled proudly, "That's because I have a man suck on them."

Again everyone became livid, beers flew.

Mary toiled to unleash her wrath, "You better not have some man sucking on them, I'll call the cops."

"What?" Celeste studied them genuinely confused. "It’s Dennis."

A complete lack of surprise and interest washed across their faces. Mary cut to the chase, "Oh, I thought you said a man."

"Shut up." Celeste moved back into position and lay down with big pouty lips.

Natalie handed Mary a beer with a nudge, and struggled to get another free of the cardboard container. "I got the scores, but I think I'm gonna go to community college in Lincoln."

"Your Dad wants you to go to community college in Lincoln." Mary turned around and dug out another beer from the carton. Now she had two.

Lynn studied the pissy mood of her body language, then snatched one of the beers and stuck it back into the carton.

"Well... That's where I'm going." Natalie turned her back on everyone.

"I know." Lynn grinned at her, "I guess I'll go with you."

Mary blundered onto the truck and collapsed onto her back. She used the unopened beer as a pillow and her face focused on the stars. "That's where I'm going."

“I thought you were headed to Houston...”

Mary just squinted into the sky, her finger generalizing towards space, "I'm going right there."

Everyone wanted to go into high tech, get a job in space and leave Hyannis, maybe participate in the world. Lynn looked all across the sky at the Milky Way that went on forever.

"Why'd you wanna go so far away?" Celeste balanced her beer on her jacket, on her left breast.

Natalie jumped. "Oh shit, what the hell?"

Lynn recognized an odd thump, an abnormal sound for sure. The girls sat up.

“What the hell was that?” Celeste asked.

Lynn struggled to see. She glanced at the girls and traced their stare, and even then, it took a few moments before she spotted it. Her eyes grew larger at the sight, "Holy Shit..."

Mary shook her head. “Dumb ass."

Several boys raised another kid up into a sitting position in the dark. She squinted and could make out something black all over his face and shirt. "What happened?"

Natalie began to laugh, "I think he hit himself with a rock."

Mary put her hands on her hips, her back to them, glaring at the boys, “Beercan.”

"Jesus. Is he dead?" Celeste began to look around for her lover.

Dennis watched from the hill by the billboard, his pale shirtless body glowing like a night light.

Natalie squinted too, "Who the hell was that?"

"I dunno, we better get."

"Yeah, it's 2:30 already"

"Cynthia!" Mary barked at the bushes, and Cynthia sat up with four arms under her shirt, and she struggled to get away. "We leaving?"

Mary climbed down, "Let's go."

Cynthia pushed herself into her bra and turned just in time to bounce into the cab of the truck like a gazelle, ahead of everyone else.

“She’s the one’s gonna get pregnant.” Lynn gulped down the rest of her beer and tossed it into the bushes. Reaching into the case, she pulled out one of the few beers left, and slid up against the rear window of the truck.

"I'll ride out here."

No one tried to stop her, and as soon as she sat down the truck lurched forward. Lynn skidded and struggled to regain her position, focusing on her boots and the clumps of mud that weighed them down. Then unexpectedly, the truck stopped, and she slid back into the rear window.

The other girls climbed on, while Lynn fumbled to pull the carton of beer up next to her. As the truck jumped forward again, the headlights swiped over the boys in the grass.

"Yep, that's blood." Celeste moved the truck back out onto the road in a hurry.

The mud from the wheels flung into the air, like fireworks, glowing in the red light from the back of the truck. Mesmerized at the sight, Lynn stared open eyed, wobbly and unsteady.

The girls next to her curled up as tight as they could to protect themselves from the cold, but Lynn just stared, lost in some thought that had come by and never left. She stared as they drove by church again, and pulled to a stop by the Post Office.

After the girls had climbed off, after the truck began moving again, and after Lynn realized she sat alone, the tears began to flow, “I don’t want to work at the Burger Barn.”

The truck banked into the driveway of the old farmhouse and Lynn lurched into action to stop herself from flying off the flat bed. Her beer leapt out of her hand and tumbled onto the lawn way too fast for her. It had earned its freedom. The rest of the carton under her keep, stayed close under her tight grasp. She watched the house slip by in perfect silence, then she jolted to a stop. The girls tumbled out of the cab, giggling and stumbling in the grass. They bumbled behind the garage and disappeared. Lynn however just sat there.

The cold bike ride home awaited her.

She could smell the chicken dirt, she could taste the hay rolled into a giant spool by the garage. She turned and swung her legs off the bed of the truck.

A creak or squeak of some kind came to her attention with some difficulty. Lynn froze. She could not associate that sound with bicycles slithering away. She sat transfixed, listening. It took a few moments for her to realize she had heard that sound before, the rusty spring of a screen door stretching open into the cold night air.

She turned to see shadows, her friends slipping away in the night. They each had dirt paths to take to get home, and they wasted no time. Lynn’s bike rested somewhere in the dark, hidden from the light of the moon by the shadow of the barn, too far away, and she had the rest of the beer under her arm to contend with.

Lynn accepted her fate and slid off the truck to a wobbly and unsteady stance. She pulled the almost empty beer carton off the metal bed with complete disregard for the noise, and dangled it against her leg. She turned around and came face to chest with a big man.

His kind eyes stared down at her as she looked higher and higher until she could see his face.

"Lynn... Have you been drinking?"

Lynn handed the man the beer and staggered, her voice ringing with sadness, "Yeah."

He studied her for a moment, then his shoulders sank, "You drink all night, you dance all night, and then at 3 in the morning you're right back where you started..."

"Uncle G," Lynn swallowed and her voice began to crack, "...I don't have any place to go."

"Nonsense!" He put his arm on her shoulder and hustled her towards the house, "I'm freezin. What do you mean you have no place to go? You can go here."

"Everybody's leaving." Lynn sounded like a police siren going off as she began to cry.

Grant pulled back the screen and opened the door for her. She stumbled through and stood still, wavering back and forth in the mud room. While he closed and locked the door behind them Lynn fell onto a bench against the wall and pulled off her boots.

They each fell to the floor with a burst of black Earth and a thud.

Grant quickly moved her inside, sat her at the kitchen table, then closed the door, and pulled out another chair for himself.

"Where do you want go, eh?"

She continued to cry and moved into his lap. He gently put the beer on the table and held her.

"I don't know." She wailed.

A soft light came on in the hallway and a woman appeared. Lynn looked, recognized her and jumped up. She abandoned Grant and moved to her Aunt, and fell into her opened arms.

Grant shrugged.

"All your friends are moving away now?" Lynn's Aunt Lenore struggled to find Lynn's face buried in her shoulder as she cried.

Grant got up and counted the beer left in the container and slid it into the refrigerator. "Family doesn't count as much as friends huh?"

Lynn cried louder.

Lenore frowned at Grant and began moving Lynn through the kitchen. "You'll find something. What does your Daddy say?"

"He wants me to do something, but I don't know what to do..." Lynn showed her face wet with tears, her mouth gooey and bubbly, "Aunt Lenore, nothing interests me. Why am I so dead inside?"

"Dead inside? Oh, my goodness Lynn, you're not dead inside." She began to lead her into the spare room, "You’re a little seed waiting to sprout, like a pumpkin."

Grant stepped up just before they reached the room and he kissed her on the head. "Goodnight Loretta."

Lynn reached out and hugged him, "I love you Uncle G."

She fell into the bed where she would stay, asleep almost immediately.

#

Loretta Lynn Brennemann walked along the edges of a large pond behind her house. Subtle differences in her face marked the changes from schoolgirl into a lady, but she had not taken advantage of them yet. Her graduating class, smaller than the one before it, indicated how badly the state leaked its youth. Everyone left Hyannis, and they never came back, and that thought would not leave her mind.

The wind tugged on her wet brown hair.

She glanced to the table where all the booze sat almost completely undisturbed, under a bright blue sky and a summer heat of almost 84 degrees. Her eyes kindly regarded everyone’s faces, gathered for one of the very last chances to get together, or so they thought. They all showed signs of change, subtle things that only a friend would notice.

“Loreeeeeetta...” A voice called from the water.

The slightly confused look upon her face dissolved and a wide smile returned. She slowly looked towards the sound and spotted a young man floating blissfully with his toes pointing into the air.

“I'm naked! C'mon in!” He had a look of complete and utter pleasure with himself.

“You had better not be naked Dennis!” Came Celeste's shearing young voice from not far away.

Lynn turned back towards the party, while everyone turned their attention to Dennis, their expressions bright, their movements so alive, their very existence an example of a close bonding friendship.

Lynn looked carefully at Celeste, nestled between Natalie and Mary, with their mouths open watching Dennis. In their hands they each held a Neapolitan ice cream sandwich, frozen in midair in front of their faces. Natalie started with the chocolate side, Mary always started with the strawberry, both of them careful to keep the wrapper torn off just enough to get at what they wanted, and protect their fingers. Cynthia worked diligently on her hot dog, and paid no attention to Dennis.

Celeste, the only one who had fallen in love, bubbling gibberish, hands moving wildly, building a hot dog for the rebel in the water. Lynn could only stare. They had gotten married in secret, during an excursion to Bingham, and even Mary had begun to soften up about Dennis.

Mary and Natalie turned their attention to Lynn and she looked into their faces. They had not dated much either, and that common trait helped them form a special bond between them, no boys around to distract them like Celeste.

Natalie and Mary saw their college hopes dashed systematically week by week. Money issues plagued everyone in the valley, so the kids could not leave town or they would destroy the family. Literally. Both girls sat on the edge of the bench across from Celeste, both in bathing suits and wearing their Hyannis High School 'Longhorn' T-shirts, waiting to get back into the water. Their butts, somewhat larger and rounder than those normally in bikini’s, burgeoned over the edge of the picnic table seats, but it didn't matter.

Their faces had the same look, a look Lynn knew well. Lynn glared right back at them with wide eyes and an ever growing smile. She turned back to the water.

Dennis used to pinch their nipples, he ate dirt, and he grew so skinny he looked like a walking X-Ray. “I'm BUCK NAKED!” He showed everyone his pink toes again.

Lynn darted off, running into the water as the other girls dropped their ice cream and began to run with her. The crowd dove into the lake together screaming and raving at Dennis.

As the laughter continued a soft breeze passed under the trees and ruffled the paper tablecloth where the others remained. Celeste stood up to watch and sighed.

Cynthia mumbled without looking, her mouth filled with hot dog, “This is not how I wanted to remember our last party together.”

Celeste sat back down. “Well, it’s not like our LAST party... Since no one’s actually leaving anymore...”

They both looked towards the lake.

Cynthia swallowed and cleared room to speak, "True that... True that."

White foaming waters marked the point at which all the girls converged in an explosion of movement and laughter. Dennis tried to get away but within just a few moments one of the girls raised his shorts into the air triumphantly.

#

The high pitched squeal of wind rushing through the air vents and the hum of lighting fixtures breathed the only sound of life into a long empty corridor. The Elissa’s personnel had gone into stasis.

At the far end of a long corridor a figure appeared, a woman with short dark reddish hair, and a quick stride. She kept her face down as she moved quickly through the pools of light on the carpet, her hands deep in the pockets of her fluffy white vest.

She stopped at the security keypad in front of the only door in the entire corridor. She flicked her wrist towards a spot on the wall and the computer scanned her face. The name Dory Azod appeared, and her picture popped up on a small square, next to an L.E.D. that prompted her for a password.

The picture, slightly doctored to make her look younger for sure, her cheek bones raised slightly, a simple modification invisible to the human eye. The alteration done to evade detection, the difference just enough so the system could detect her, and just enough that other systems would not match her to any existing picture.

She typed in her pass code and the door parted quietly. Dory slid inside the room and stood still for one tense moment, with her back against the door.

The traps laid down in precise patterns remained unchanged; the computer interface sitting atop the console desk remained in the correct position, slightly left of center, the chair facing the door, and an atmospheric suit dangling on its hanger.

Quietly she moved into the chair, and displayed her tattoo again, this time towards the screen. The monitor began to glow, and returned her to the same place she had left it. She pulled the wide screen towards her and made it a desk, unbuckled her watch from her wrist and lay it on the screen. The edges of her eyes and lips held traces of a maturity far greater than her stated age of 29 on the ID card.

She pulled a few images around, off of the big screen and stacked them to one side on the desktop by her keycard, and waited. Her pale white face turned towards the hatch, her hazel green eyes remained wide and alert, while a finger unconsciously tapped the tabletop softly.

12:02 AM.

A simple beep set her into motion. She pressed a button in the image, and the watch, and the screen became busy. In just a flash an image went out, and a message came back.

Dory knew it would prove possible for someone to detect her transmission; unless the message went out at the exact same time the ship began to mirror its updates to the dock. She would use the simple carrier frequency to mask her existence, and she knew exactly when she would have to act.

She put the watch back on her wrist, and a small message appeared on the band. She read it and stared, grinding the bits of information into a powder that she could ingest. After a moment of staring at the information she asked herself, "What the hell's happening on Tuesday?"

She twisted her wrist at the screen, "What is X21,I21?"

An image began to form, the diagram of the ship, and a blue line began to draw from her location to a deck below, a holding area, the gate at the external entrance to the cargo hold. She sat back.

"13:50?"

She wiped her hand across the screen and the image went blank, the message disappeared.

"O.K. So at 1:50 next Tuesday, incoming gate 21." She closed her eyes and said it again, "At 1:50 PM next Tuesday, incoming gate 21. I guess I should be there."

Dory began to retrace her steps on the computer, making sure the fake file size stored on the system had not changed. She stacked the other images back on top of each other, and slid them back into place on the big screen, then slid the monitor back into place, slightly left of center.

She stood up and adjusted the chair to face the door.

On her way out, she turned to read the room one last time. Her pale hand softly pressed a smooth plastic mushroom to unlock the door, and it slid open with the click of a magnetic seal. Another glance, and she slipped away.

#

A crowd of computer technicians had begun to gather. Each one held a small plastic screen in their hands and mumbled into the circle of people without looking up. Technicians crawled out of the woodwork from every corridor and doorway like children lining up for recess, joining the conversation as if they got invitations. They converged anxious and eager, rambling on in geek speak like they knew what they talked about.

Jesop Beaman leaned with his back up against the bulkhead, and next to him stood Daniel Martinez, a heavy set young man from Texas who always seemed to get in the same predicament. Jesop listened to the geeks on parade and stood with Danny as an act of solidarity.

Then someone uttered the words, "Martinez did..."

Several faces turned to them. One of the young computer technicians asked Daniel again, the same question that pissed him off in the first place, "Did you sign in properly?"

"How can you tell you’re authenticated?" Someone else asked.

Daniel did not respond, his glare just changed from person to person as he stood there with his hands on his hips.

Jesop could feel the tension building. They treated Daniel like a lesser person, when none of them had the right to do so. It infuriated him. He had just met Daniel and had just started working with him, but right away he realized the tech world regarded him and Daniel with the same malice.

He stepped between Daniel and the coagulation of tech, "He's authenticated or he wouldn't have gotten to that screen Eggbert." Jesop targeted one of the real weenies, a short dark haired girl.

"My names not Eggbert, Dickhead." She had never liked Jesop, and she beamed lasers at him with her eyes.

Victor Herrera stepped between Jesop and the weenie, from the other side of Daniel, his hands waving, his accent undeterminable, "Guys. Guys! I was even authenticated,” He showed them his wrist, “The system was in sync as of thirty minutes ago. I browsed to the message server by Aladiana, and I saw it without a problem."

The technicians turned back to their screens, their backs returning towards Jesop and Daniel and now Victor.

Daniel’s glare grew angrier, his fingers coiling into fists in his folded arms.

Jesop could completely understand. The entire IT department felt a shudder in the force, and the bungholes of the highest order filtered out of their respective cracks and crevices.

"I had no idea it was such a big deal." Victor craned towards Daniel, stepping back to come even with his friends. He crossed his arms and glanced at Jesop.

Jesop wobbled his head for Victor, “The ship went outa sync right after a very important process. It’s not lethal, but it’s not normal,” he raised his voice, “...and what you saw had nothing to do with that, these cheese heads are trying to find the correlation.”

Victor spoke softly, tilting his head, "I guess you guys are done then?"

Both of them shook their heads. Daniel puckered, "Oh no."

"They'll tell us what to do here in a minute." Jesop nodded towards the group in a patronizing sarcastic gesture. He turned and studied Victor, his tall lanky frame and tight curly hair. He looked Hispanic but he did not sound Spanish, and what’s more, he hailed from Canada, and sounded French.

Suddenly Victor straightened up. He turned around and aligned his body in front of Daniel, his eyes focused on Daniel’s eyes, his arms folded tightly on his chest, his lips tight. He prepared to speak.

Jesop leaned closer to listen.

Victor took a deep breath, and his nostrils flared. He began his oration, almost stately in manner, "I Um..." He paused and glanced back at the crowd of technicians behind him, then turned and looked into the eyes of his captured audience, "I... I must crap now."

Daniel slumped over for a moment taken aback, then his body began convulsing in short small bursts of laughter. His arms dropped to his side.

Jesop smiled, "I'll call the paramedics." He began to laugh, his arms too dropping down from their folded position.

Victor slapped Daniel on the back and walked away, "Later!"

Daniel kept smiling, "Yeah, don't hurt yourself."

Jesop and Daniel put their hands behind them and leaned up against the wall in a kinder less threatened posture. Jesop looked up and stretched his neck, "It’s almost Miller time." He whispered.

Daniel turned to him with a jerk. "Let's go."

"They'll just page us and we'll have to come right back."

He leaned closer to Jesop, "Dude... Shifts over."

Jesop inquisitively cocked his wrist and the wall panel lit up behind him. His workspace showed the time at the top. "No kidding?" He waved it away.

He looked at the guys, "It’s Miller time... Hey Lisa."

All the faces turned to look at them, but Jesop focused on only one, "Not you Dickhead."

His nemesis waved him off with a gesture. "Eat Shit Beaman."

"We're off." Jesop put a hand up to Lisa, a slight wave and pointed at the computer on his arm.

Daniel pointed several times to his wrist, "Yeah, we're done."

Lisa, one of the chief software engineers that would not stay on board for much longer, looked at them carefully digesting what they said with a nod. She glanced at her computer to verify the time and went back to her conversation. A hand gesture ensured them that they could leave.

The two of them turned and walked to an elevator bank, and Daniel pressed the button, "I'll bet that crap’ll be there for me tomorrow."

Jesop nodded until he just had to speak, “Why do they hate you so much?”

“Oh, and they love you?”

“Well,” Jesop smiled, “They just show it in different ways.”

Daniel smiled as an elevator opened up, “You wanna grab a beer?”

“Here or topside?”

“The pub in the mall’s open.”

Jesop thought for a moment, “But the scenery... Just more of those guys.” His thumb flashed over his shoulder.

Daniel raised an eyebrow, “Good point. We should try and make a shuttle back.”

Jesop smiled. “Turn this into a three day!” His voice rose along with his enthusiasm.

“We’d be back just in time for the weekend...”

Jesop puzzled, “It’s definitely not possible to shuttle back to the Earth and be back for work in the morning. Right?”

“Or is it?”

They both seemed to calculate the time required in their heads.

Jesop turned, “You can always start at the nearest pub. That’s always a good strategy...”

“Yeah, let’s do that.” Daniel smiled and nudged him, not the rebel type anyway, “Thanks for the whole Dickhead thing.”

Jesop smiled and waved him off, “Oh, you never met Kiki before?”

“Well I never knew her real name. Where’re you from?”

“Well my parents are from England and Pakistan, I was born in California.”

Daniel nodded, “I’m from Texas. Family’s from Texas. We were there before the Texans came.”

“Do you speak Spanish?”

Daniel smiled, “Si. Do you speak... Spanish?”

“No I was just wondering, since you knew Victor...”

Daniel cocked his head, “So you think all Hispanics know each other? Wait, he’s Canadian. I don’t think he speaks Spanish.”

“Canadian? I thought he was a Mexican.”

“No, I think he speaks French.” Daniel stared at Jesop, focusing...

Jesop just kept smiling, "You can't think of anything can you? I'm part of everything, hell I even look Hispanic."

"I'll think of something, you don't frighten me, English Pigdog."

Jesop turned as if struck. He stared at Daniel and his smile grew even wider, even more genuine, "I'll fart in your general direction."

Daniel turned with a very happy face and began to nod. Finally he had someone that understood his sense of humor, at least the Monty Python part of it. "To Camelot?" He reached over to press the button on the elevator, his finger lingering over the number three button, the 3rd floor, where the bars lived.

"To Camelot."

#

A perfect silence filled the entire warehousing space, still empty after testing. It looked like a large underground garage, with poles staged strategically across the deck and tracks laid out for crates of equipment to ride. Motors hummed, like some kind of vacuum cleaner or something filtering in from a hallway somewhere, but he could not find it. Jesop Beaman stood on a two wheeled Dolly parked behind a column in the middle of the warehouse and listened.


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