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I waited for a minute after knocking and she opened the door, warmly inviting me in. Her cat, Jake, immediately started purring and rubbed against my leg. I picked him up and pet him as we headed into her kitchen.
She poured me a cup of coffee and seemed to try and hide a smile, “So, what was this big, important thing that you needed to talk to me about? Is it a question that has been weighing on your mind for a while now?”
“Not a while. I wasn’t even aware of its likelihood before yesterday. In fact, I thought it an impossibility based on all previous knowledge.”
“Why would you think it was impossible?”
“It just seemed statistically improbable.”
“That I would say yes?”
“Given previous instances, I thought it would be more difficult than that. Are you saying that you would have no issues?”
She held her hand to her heart, “Issues? I’ve been waiting for months!”
I looked at her puzzled for a moment, “Months? No one knew months ago. Gary was the first to know and he just informed Bill and me yesterday. Who told you?”
She sat down and bit her lower lip, “Hold on, what are you talking about?”
I slowly stammered out, “I’m talking about Diaz having one of my crewmates held captive. What are you talking about?”
Her face went flush, “Oh… nevermind… it’s not important.” She blew on her coffee and took a sip. “That’s horrible. Are you sure?”
“As sure as we can be.”
“Okay, so what’s this important question you have to ask?” she took a deep breath as if bracing for the answer.
“I have decided that my involvement in rescuing my colleague is imperative and Robert and Gary have come to agree.” I spent the next several minutes laying out my case and stressing how detrimental it could be if I didn’t help. She sat calmly and took it all in, showing no sign of how she felt. She continued to slowly nod after I had finished, but after a couple of minutes, I couldn’t take the silence. “Please, tell me your thoughts.”
She stilled for a moment and sat her coffee down. She grabbed her napkin and dried tears that started to fall. “I think… no. I don’t want you to go.”
“But, my nam’ya, I must have your blessing. I cannot go on this mission knowing that I do not have your support.” I reached out for her hand, but she pulled back.
“I almost lost you once and I can’t say I want that to happen again. You have to understand how much pain you’re asking me to invite into my life. I can’t do that at the drop of a hat. I just can’t…” She stood and walked over to the window above the sink.
“I thought you would understand why I have to do this.”
“I do. I really do, but understanding is not the same as condoning.” She turned to face me and patted her eyes again. “I wish you luck and I pray all of you return safely.”
I stood and started to walk over to her, “Maybe there’s another way I can explain this to…”
“No. You’ve been quite clear.” She sighed deeply and hugged me tightly. “I don’t like it, but I accept that this is something you have to do.” I leaned down to kiss her, but she turned her head and only allowed a peck on her cheek. “I’m sorry, I can’t. Not right now.”
“Are you certain there’s nothing I could say to ease your mind?”
“No… it’s fine.” The dreaded words that Robert warned me about echoed sharply. I found I was not prepared for them and had no response. I hugged her tight and said I would see her again, then left.
My drive home was void of thought, drowned out by the heaviness in my heart. It was a feeling I had never known before and one my logical mind could not reason with. An impenetrable barrier blocked every synapse that dared fire to breach the memory of what had just occurred and I cautiously turned on the radio to provide solace. Only a few songs were able to play through before I arrived back home and none of them gave me answers. I headed upstairs and sat among my bags for the next hour and waited for Gary to arrive. I noticed an envelope of money Robert had left me, pulled a couple hundred out for my wallet, and stowed the rest in my clothes bag.
A rapid knock came to the door and I grabbed my bags and headed downstairs. I turned slowly and took in the warmth my new home had brought me, then upon completing my rotation I opened the door and stepped onto the porch.
“I said to pack light. What’s all of this?” Gary scorned.
“Would you prefer I leave my extremely useful and advanced technology behind?”
He rolled his eyes and turned, “Put it in the trunk. Good thing we only need to pick up one more person.”
“There’s only going to be three of us?” I asked as I loaded the trunk.
“No, the others are just meeting us there.”
“How many others are you including?” My mind calculated the chances of getting caught in the background.
“Just five in total.” I shut the trunk and we both got in the car. “They’re all specialists that I’ve used in the past. I didn’t think it was prudent to include any more, not that the list was very long to begin with.”
I grasped the handle above the window as we pulled out of the driveway, “I hope you don’t drive like a wild fotcha the entire way.”
“Why don’t you describe what that means and I’ll let you know?”
“On my world, fotcha mainly live in the wild among the frozen forest. When they sense warmth nearby, such as one of my people drawing close, they go into a frenzy and dart around and off of trees, as if they were in one of your pinball games, until they sink their claws into the warm intruder.”
“That doesn’t sound like me at all.” He sped up and passed an old tractor on the narrow two-lane road, barely missing an old farm truck coming the opposite way as he swerved back into our lane. “I’ve never hit a tree while driving.”
I gritted my teeth and clutched the handle tighter as he chuckled to himself. I felt a lurch in my stomach and wished I had eaten a milder breakfast. “I am not accustomed to such… sporadic driving. The rapid motion is unsettling and I believe if you do not give me time to compose myself between events, I will let loose my breakfast all over your car.”
I saw his grin disappear and he turned his head slightly to see me out of the corner of his eye. He let off the gas a little as we were coming up to another truck on the road. “I wouldn’t want to deal with that for the entire drive, so I will agree to your request.” He tapped the wheel nervously with his fingers, “I never liked driving here. There’s hardly anyone on the road and most of the pastures are fenced off, so you almost never have to look out for cows or the like.” He pulled a toothpick out of a small drawer in his dash and began to chew on it.
“I find it peaceful. The pace is steady, without any grand events, and the residents are among the most hospitable I have ever encountered.” I felt my stomach start to settle, but I still placed my hand on it and breathed deeply.
He held his breath and looked at me cautiously, “You ever taken Dramamine?”
I shook my head, “I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s for motion sickness. We’ll stop at a convenience store in a bit and pick some up for you.”
“I guess we can see if it will work. I haven’t had reason to take any human medications as of yet.”
“It better work, cause I’m going to be a nervous wreck if I can’t drive comfortably.”
“How is swerving about at high speeds comfortable?”
He sat still for a moment and I wasn’t sure he was going to respond, but he finally relented, “In my formative years, I learned to drive in a way that would leave me less likely open to ambushes and IEDs. Over the years I’ve been in similar environments for one reason or another and so the practice has only been reinforced. When you adopt a habit with the positive aspect being that it will save your life, it’s kind of difficult to justify breaking it.”
I nodded slowly, recalling stories that Bill told me about his warfare experiences. “I can understand that, but have you ever had someone complain about it or taken sick to it?”
“Only my ex-wives.” We made it over the bridge out of town and, with clear road ahead, he floored the gas again.
I gripped the handle tighter, only feeling a small lurch backward in my stomach as the coffee and casserole fought angrily with each other over which should come up first. I let out a slow belch as the gases bubbled up and a moment later Gary shook his head vigorously and rolled his window down.
“That’s horrible!” He held his hand over his nose, “That’s more than breakfast getting kicked around, what’s wrong with you?”
“The chemical composition of my air and the guttural bout have resulted in a rather rancid mixture, which is even giving me pause. I told you that I needed time to recover from your initial wild actions.”
He slowly removed one hand from the wheel and began to massage his temple on one side, “I’m already regretting my decision to bring you along.”
It wasn’t my fault that these things were happening, so I felt no need to apologize. “This shouldn’t be too long of a drive, right?”
“Aside from the short stop in Denver to pick up another team member, it’s only going to be about 30 hours… stuck in this car with you.”
“Oh. That is quite some time. Do you have any areas of interest we could discuss? Sports, hobbies, or philosophical explorations?”
“I’ve normally enjoyed dwelling in my own thoughts on long trips.”
“Oh, I see. So you could use a conversational prompt then to engage you?” He turned his head slightly to look at me while I thought, “What are your thoughts on the possibility of time travel? Do you have a preferred model based on scientific theories or even fictional representations?”
Under his breath, his only response was, “Thirty long hours…”
* * * *
Continue to Chapter 14 Part 1! Coming TBD (need a small break)!