Book Two of Far Freedom: Cryptikon
Prologue – Kansas 1986 – Plan B
“Why the hell should I care?” I said to him. “Why the hell do you care? The universe doesn’t care. If it did, babies wouldn’t die.”
He said to me: “It’s a miracle it works. It’s a miracle we haven’t killed each other.”
I said: “I like misery. That’s why I married you.”
These and other bitter utterances I had memorized: good tools for mashing myself into a deeper funk.
I had managed to maneuver myself into the bathtub without any bloodshed, I thought, until I saw the pollution in wispy pink clouds. I wasn’t injured. It was my monthly curse, leaking from that area of numbed orifices. I wept.
I had flushed the damned pills!
I wept and floated, hardly touching the tub walls. Could I sink under the water and drown myself, or would some natural reflex prevent it? I let my head go under and then I could at least not feel the tears. I swore again that I would never cry again.
It is such a difficult task to live the unexamined life.
I hated tub baths. I hated floating, feeling the strange polarity of wetness and nothingness.
Where had Sam gone?
“Out out,” he said.
The thing about floating is that nothing touches you except the water. No one touches me. I needed…
With a little imagination I could usually make his gentleness a caress, even when he lowered me and my ugly withered legs into the tub, or onto the bed, or into the wheelchair. I think he sometimes held me a little longer than necessary, to accomplish a chore of caring for his crippled wife.
Why did I try to notice? Why did I want to be a woman? Why didn’t I want to pay the price?
When had there ever been truth between us, outside the arena of science? When had I ever not lied to myself? It was only my damaged mortal flesh that wanted to be touched, that wanted other biological functions the mathematician would never miss, except when knowing it was the wrong time for miracles that normal people could have at any moment.
To hell with normal people.
So, here I was, thinking the right thoughts at the wrong time, wanting the right things at the wrong time, trying to lie to myself at the wrong time. I was scared and that was the truth.
Sam said: “No matter how crazy you are, the universe is always stranger than you can imagine.”
He also said: “I’m beginning to think that, if you can imagine it, you can do it.”
So, I sit here in my damned wheelchair with this thing hidden in my lap, next to a hospital bed that’s too high for me to see him except in profile against the lamp light, and I imagine that I love him. If I imagine it, can I do it? I am crazy, and it is a stranger universe than I can imagine.
I’m a stranger in a strange universe.
Where was I?
I couldn’t possibly love Sam. I had simply been flattered into marriage, or I wanted help with the inconvenience of my damaged flesh. When I first heard he was wounded, I had argued like a madwoman to be brought along. Then I was laughing at myself, feeling so weird about how I was reacting, wondering if it was just a quirk in my warped personality to suddenly think the improbable and feel the impossible. What am I doing? I kept asking myself all the way here. The instant I saw him and realized how real the danger had been, I knew I was just a normal woman, capable of loving…
“Why are you here?” he asked in a voice so somber.
There was nothing in his words for me, no recognition of my recognition of my theoretical feelings for him. How illogical could I be? How would he know?
I refused to believe I had wasted my emotions on him. There had to be something strong between us beyond equations and hypotheses. The bitterness of our personal arguments was perverse evidence of that.
“I’m your wife,” I said, as sweetly as I could without crossing the sarcasm line.
“Karl and Joe are dead,” Sam said. “And probably Ed. Karl for sure. He bled to death right next to me.”
I was shocked. Big Bird hadn’t told me. I now understood the tone of Sam’s voice was aimed at himself, not me. I saw Karl in my memories and began to ache at losing him. He had outlawed me from the poker games, said I cheated. It surprised me how much noble emotion lumped my throat. No more wisecracks from Karl. God, how we needed that!
“Are you crying?” Sam asked. “Good. I’m glad you cared about Karl and the others.”
“Are you in much pain?” I asked, mostly to stall more tears.
Of course he must be in pain!
“All kinds,” he replied. “I was lucky. No bones or arteries damaged.”
“Have they given you anything for it?”
“Some pills. Injections. Nothing yet to ease the shame. Why are you here?”
He had asked it again, this time with honest concern. It was my chance to confess. I looked for my courage. It was a hell of a time to know how stupid I had been for so long.
I wiped my eyes and saw his hand reaching toward me from under the bed rail. I rolled as close as I could and took his hand. He tugged the hand and I released it, thinking I was hurting him, knowing he was hurting me. Then his hand returned to me and stroked my face and hair. I looked up at him and wondered.
“God, how I love you,” he said.
“How many pills have you had?” I asked, immediately regretting the sarcasm it implied, but I guess my tone of voice told more than words, because he smiled.
“Just enough, apparently,” he answered, “because I can say it again. I love you. I always have.”
I was shocked at his words. Why was I so surprised at how wonderful that made me feel? It thrilled me! I wasn’t here in this hospital room with the thing hidden in my lap just because he was my research partner and I was concerned about the future of the Hole. I was here because he was the man I loved, and the longer he stayed here the greater the chance he would be killed or kidnapped.
I took his hand again and held it, squeezed it, wanting to say all the things I should have said years ago.
Someone knocked on the door. We turned loose of each other as though we were teenagers caught necking. I knew my face was a mess but I would wear it proudly. Big Bird entered the hospital room.
“Are you all right?” Colonel Duncan asked me, surprised at the emotion I displayed.
“I’m two legs short of perfect.” I sniffled. “How did Plan A go?”
“Plan A did not go. The sheriff wants answers we can’t give him. It doesn’t help that your husband looks like a foreigner here in the farmbelt.”
“And we can’t call in the cavalry?” I asked.
“Only as a last resort,” Duncan said. “We’re not supposed to exist, you know.”
“Plan B, then,” I said, amazed at the determination I felt but also noting the trembling in my hand as I probed for the thing hidden in my lap. “Let me talk to the sheriff.”
Colonel Duncan opened the door. The nurse came in and I eyed her suspiciously until Duncan rolled me out into the hallway. I never trusted nurses – they’re always sticking things in you.
I saw Big Bird had a standoff going between four of his tech noncoms – dressed up and armed to look like combat soldiers – and a handful of local police. Our regular troops barely had the security clearances to even see us in person. I spotted the sheriff and cut him out of the herd. He stood chin-to-chin with Duncan, until I got his attention by rolling into his shins.
“Ma’am, I’ll have to ask you to back up!” the sheriff barked. “You’re assaulting a police officer.”
“I need to speak to you,” I said.
I didn’t back up. The sheriff did. I moved forward. The sheriff was a big, thick-bodied man with a scowling, red-flushed face. He wore all the adornments of police power and even without them he would have been imposing. He was the kind of officer I would avoid at all costs – and I was trying to bully him? It helped that he looked a little bit like my dad.
“Ma’am, I’m warning you! I didn’t have to let you see your husband.”
“Oh, let’s just cut the crap,” I said.
I pulled the grenade from under the blanket in my lap.
“Jesus!” Duncan exclaimed, realizing that my Plan B was a bit less diplomatic than he had assumed.
I knew I had kept my little green friend around for a better purpose than a very messy suicide.
The sheriff froze for a second, until he could put his eyeballs back in their sockets. He started to dive for the grenade in my hand but by then I had pulled the pin. He had to settle for yelling at everybody to clear the area.
“I’m sure the colonel has told you there’s a chance for further violence if you continue to hold my husband in a public hospital,” I said to the sheriff, as soon as I had his attention again. “I’m your first chance for violence and your last chance for peace. I’m a little crazy today. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but my actions seem to be dictated by you.”
“Someone has to be held accountable for destroying half a town in my county,” the sheriff said.
“These are all the facts you need to know,” I said as heroically as my trembling would allow. “Someone tried to kidnap or assassinate my husband. He and his bodyguards resisted. There was collateral damage to the town. We will provide funds to clean up the mess. We are innocent, we are important to national security, and we are in danger. You don’t need to know why.
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep the handle down on this grenade,” I continued, sounding just as desperate as I was, “so I hope you can move my husband to the exit, starting right now. Here, you hold the pin. I’ll hold the pineapple.”
“Lady, this is not the right way to deal with this situation,” the sheriff said, taking the pin, his eyes glued to the grenade in my shaking hand, “but you made your point. We’ll be getting back to you on this, you can bet on that.”
I sat by the sheriff as two of the colonel’s men fetched Sam from the hospital room. They carried him on a stretcher. I stayed some distance away from them – just in case I accidentally blew myself up – as we journeyed through the small hospital to its main entrance. The sheriff bravely stayed close to me – no one else did.
Outside in the cold evening air I saw that a crowd had gathered: television crews, photographers, reporters, many ordinary people drawn by the flashing lights of more than a dozen police vehicles. How the hell were we going to clean up this mess and erase the publicity?
They had our black Suburban trapped by the curb in front of the hospital. I could sense an extended resistance by the local authorities. Police units seemed to have arrived from surrounding counties and towns. It was an impressive sight for this rural county seat town. The sun was setting and the flashing lights were getting brighter and more numerous. The sheriff shouted orders but mainly to keep people away from us.
“I don’t suppose you’re in any hurry to clear a path for us,” I said to the sheriff.
“Do we have a Plan C?” I asked Big Bird. “I’m getting a cramp in my hand. And I’m about to freeze to death.”
“Is that a live grenade?” Colonel Duncan asked.
“Do you keep dummy grenades in your little armory?”
“Jesus,” he said again.
Duncan spoke into his radio. Urgently.
“Is Sam warm enough?” I asked, waiting for the next thing to happen.
I carefully shifted the grenade to the other hand. My hands were strong but the tension of the situation made me squeeze that grenade harder than was necessary. I shook my hand to get the knots out.
“Put him in the vehicle,” Duncan ordered his men. “We’ll have transport in about three minutes.”
We soon heard the big helicopter beating its way across the flat land, the thumping of its heavy rotors echoing off the walls of buildings. Soon enough it was directly overhead, hovering just above the top of the flagpole, whipping the stars and stripes mercilessly. Cables and mechanisms descended from the beast and the colonel supervised attachment to the Suburban. The four airmen jammed themselves and their gear into the vehicle and Big Bird came back up the steps for me.
“I’m very sorry about this, Sheriff,” I shouted at my hostage over the noise and wind of the helicopter. “I would never have harmed anyone. I just got crazy when I learned my husband was in danger.”
The sheriff leaned close to me and said, “I think you enjoyed this just a little bit. You are the good guys – right?”
“We think we are,” I said. “Be careful, Sheriff.”
“I’ll take care of it,” he said, taking the grenade very, very carefully.
I loved the swinging, under-the-helicopter ride in the front seat of the Suburban. We played the radio. Rock and roll.
Chapter 001 – Simple Pleasure
“I’m surprised you would allow me into your presence again.”
“Why wouldn’t I, Doctor?”
He walked beside her and didn’t care that he felt. He felt, but it didn’t show. It was too much ingrained in his every conscious activity, the need to not show any reaction to whatever might cause him to feel. It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to let any reaction show. However, this woman would test him. She made him feel.