Small Town Problems: Chapter 13 -Part 1/2


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I never was a morning person, but Robert took it as a thing we had in common and that seemed to make him happy. In truth, the darkness reminded me of home. When I left we were in the middle of a three-month-long night cycle and being able to enjoy the darkness in safety helped me overcome the loss of my friends. Since that first night at Robert’s house, I opened my bedroom window and crawled out onto the roof. There was a sense that I would roll off the first few times, but I quickly came to terms with the angle. And since the sky changed with each season here, I never grew tired of studying the stars and trying to see if anything looked familiar. I think I’ll leave Robert with this connection, just in case I don’t come back from this mission.

Robert would be up soon and he planned for us to have a “breakfast of champions” as my send-off. I sighed contentedly, the cool air providing another connection to my home, and headed back inside. I looked over my supplies I laid on the bed and went through my checklist one last time: bag one with clothes and toiletries for several days, bag two with a spare oxygen concentrator, case one with vials that could last a month, and case two with my crystalline tool. Robert thought I was being overly cautious with the number of vials, but I was uncertain how long it would take and we needed extra in case I needed to share. Fortunately, the air exchange was highly efficient and each vial lasted three days. Most of the case’s size was from the padding as each vial had its own snug pocket. I left an empty case here and instructions for Robert on how to fill more vials in case I needed a refill while we were out on the road.

The case for the crystalline tool had its own similarly padded case, of course, there was no back up for it. Thanks to Shannon’s help, I was familiar enough with how to change its functionality outside of its design parameters. Robert asked if he could have a similar case for his rotary hammer drill as it was “hella expensive” and needed some extra protection. They were roughly the same size, so we just needed the raw materials to make one since the case pattern was already in the tool. I told him he could pay for it out of his shares of the garlic harvest, but Shannon and I had already been working on it for him. I looked over at the clock as I heard noses come from the direction of Robert’s room. I decided it was a good time to sit down and write my final letter.

Before we started training and before our final takeoff, each member of the crew was directed to write letters to their family and friends in the case of something going wrong. I didn’t have that many to write this time, but I spent last night writing ones for Doc, Ryan, Eleanor, Sue, Bobby, and finally Robert. Surprisingly Robert’s was the easiest since we never really shied away from talking about most subjects. But this morning, I needed to write one for Shannon. I spent most of my thoughts staring at the night’s sky on her letter. She meant more to me than I felt could be done justice by mere words on a page. At times like this I wished I had listened to my mother and read more from our poets, perhaps their wordsmithing would have provided a spark for the words I needed to tell her. Should I tell her my fears and what I will miss about her? I pictured her hands shaking and her eyes filled with tears as she read the letter. My hand started to shake in sympathy as I tried to put pen to paper. I took in a deep breath and tried to listen to my heart.

Write of hope, of the things to come.

“What does that even mean? Did you guide the poets of old with such vagueness?” I muttered to myself, tapping the pen on the table. I stared out the window, the twinkling of stars matching the ferocity of my firing synapses. “Ah… yes!” The words burned as pen met paper, passions branding to permanence my dreams for us. Such few words, but I could not think of anything more hopeful. I sealed it in an envelope and wrote her name on the front, then placed it with the others in the large manila envelope. I laced the string around the raised hooks, an odd way to close it in my opinion, and brought it downstairs with me.

Robert was hard at work making breakfast and I took a seat at the bar to watch him. He was wiping eggs to use for french toast and eyed the manila envelope I placed on the counter.

“What you got there?” 

I recounted the tradition of my people for him and he nodded in understanding. “The final part of the process is to leave the letters with a trusted individual. And seeing as how I don’t have much time to find one, I am leaving them with you instead.”

“Ouch! You have learned well, grasshopper.” 

“Grasshopper? What does that mean?”

He battered some bread and put it on the griddle. “I don’t think I have time to explain it all, so let’s just say it’s a nickname for a student.” He checked on what appeared to be a bacon, egg, cheese, and hashbrown casserole and looked back at me. “I appreciate the honor and I hope I won’t have to fulfill it. I’ll put it in the safe after breakfast.”

“What can you tell me about Washington?” 

“I doubt you’ll have time for sightseeing, so I’ll have to take you some other time for that. It’s been a while since I was up there, but I think you’ll like it. It’s cooler this time of year and you might even see snow as you go through the mountains. It’s a beautiful part of the country with a massive amount of trees and mountain-fed lakes.”

“And what of the cities?”

“There are a good number of nice and quiet towns like this one, but our cities have nothing on Seattle. I know I’m biased in this, but it’s too noisy and crowded. It has a few neat things and the people are nicer than what you’d find in New England cities, but I would not want to live there.”

“I thought you’d only been to airports in New England?” He shrugged, “Didn’t Doc say you can’t judge a people based on their airports?”

“I meant what I said… I don’t care what Doc says…” Robert scrunched up his nose and jerked his head back and forth with each word.

“Ok Robert,” I chuckled, “we’ll just have to go visit an actual city up there so you can prove it.”

“Nope. Not gonna do it, wouldn’t be prudent.”

That was a favorite phrase of his, but I didn’t know why. Dissecting the origin of common phrases had become a new hobby of mine thanks to the speech lessons and I mentally added this one to my list. “I won’t give up.” I assured him as he handed me breakfast. He just ignored me with a smirk and as he put powdered sugar on the french toast.

There was a heaviness as we both seemed to realize how little time we had left. He mostly picked at his food and sighed a number of times, probably talking to Maggie about things in his head. That habit of his was harder to get used to than his others. The whole concept of speaking not just to, but with, a deceased person was so foreign to me. I thought he was just thinking things through in his head, but the other person seemed to be there in their entirety. It made me wonder if such a thing was possible or if he just knew them so well that the conversation acted more like a computer program that analyzed and provided answers from the other perspective. My father would have enjoyed diving into the sociological implications of this specifically and of humans in general. I chuckled to myself as I imagined the grin on his face after one conversation with Robert and could almost hear him say, “We are a diverse species, but these humans… by Jarel’s eyes… they are odd!”

“What’s so funny?” Robert asked.

“Oh, just something made me think of my father.” 

He narrowed his eyes and waved his fork at me, “I keep telling you it’s not that odd of a behavior.” I shook my head and laughed under my breath. Many things are odd about this world, my friend.

I left shortly after breakfast to meet Shannon. I’d be back after talking to her and Robert didn’t want to spend a lot of time saying goodbye anyway. I appreciated that since my tribe practiced curt farewells as a point of optimism that we would see the fellow th’ople in due course. 

The bumpy road did not help my concerns for the upcoming road trip. Back home we only suffered rough terrain if we had to venture into an undeveloped area, mainly for research purposes in my case. All trips of even a moderate length were accomplished by any number of hovercraft models, mostly of the mass transit variety. I wished I would have taken some basic transportation science courses, as my father asked me to do repeatedly growing up, as I think I could have retrofitted one of these landlocked vehicles into an aerial transport. At least short-range, I don’t think I could have made the necessary power core for long trips without further education in that realm. 

I pulled up to Shannon’s place a few minutes early, which I still didn’t understand why she called it an apartment. From my research on human dwellings, it would most appropriately be labeled a house. In longer explanations, she did describe it as a rent house since it was a self-sustained one-bedroom dwelling with its own kitchen, laundry, bathroom, living room, small private driveway, and was located on the same property as a normal multi-bedroom house occupied by a younger couple with small children. I came to accept it as a colloquial term since this town did not have anything that could be labeled an apartment building. Too often, my mind drifted on the drive and I meandered through other topics. I spent most of my life traveling with others and engaging in conversation, but traveling alone proved more distracting. I started a practice of showing up a few minutes early for appointments so I could focus on the reason for my being there, but often dissected my arrived surroundings based on recent studies, which in this case would be language. Fortunately, Glenn and Cassie came walking out of the main house with their children and waved at me, breaking my train of thought on unimportant matters. I waved back and got out of the car.

* * * *

Continue to Chapter 13 Part 2! Coming February 1!

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