Empty Sky Chapter 11 – Dr. Lupicen and Ann

We have children so we can admire ourselves in someone else.

Read Empty Sky Chapter 10 – The Arctic Night


Dr. Capoçek Lupicen sat at his desk in the dark, an oversize computer screen’s dim afterglow lighting his face. His left hand arched over the keyboard, his long, thin fingers resting on a large red trackball. A switching panel stood to the right of the screen, its red lights reflecting off his glasses making it appear that an ovoid headed demon with large red eyes stared at him from his computer. Other labs had virtual displays and keyboards. Dr. Lupicen preferred the human touch keyboards, screens, and trackballs afforded him..

A small, old, worn, black and white photograph of two boys — one about ten years older than the other and with similar features — in a silver frame held pride of place, standing between his keyboard and screen. He’d check something on his screen then look at the two boys smiling out of the photograph, gently tap the older boy’s face, smile then return his gaze to the computer screen, as if confirming the screen’s information with the boy in the picture before continuing.

He cupped his narrow chin in his right hand and reread what he’d entered in his journal, evaluating every sentence, every thought. He’d release his chin and cup his ear, letting his fingers beat a mindless staccato on his short gray hair as words were considered, phrases whispered, accuracy determined. When a passage dissatisfied him he’d lift his glasses from underneath and massage his sharply etched pince-nez. Often he would adjust himself on his seat as if a slightly different position clarified his thoughts. The sharp citrus and pine aromas of laboratory cleaning solvents tinctured his nose and he’d exhale sharply. Sometimes the scent of the stronger, industrial solvents would waft through his lab and he’d pull back, hurry to pull a handkerchief out of his pants pocket before he sneezed, wipe his nose, absently return the handkerchief to his pocket and continue writing and editing.

Each night he came here to enter the day’s events into his journal. Each night, after all the postdocs and grad students and assorted degree candidates and research associates had left and the sun had set, he quietly unlocked the door and tiptoed in as if he had no right to enter the lab his research funded. He would look right then left then right again, looking first through then over his glasses as if the clear vision they granted might prove a lie. He never turned on a light, all old habits from an even older part of the world, from a place and time when silence and stealth were the secrets to life itself.

Satisfied with his entry, he sat back and put his hands in his lap.

Footsteps approached in the hall. That would be Mr. William Murphy — the janitor the students referred to as “Wild Bill” because he was often slightly drunk, dressed like a woodsman regardless of season or weather, and sang to himself quietly but offkey — working slowly, methodically, intentionally, all things Dr. Lupicen admired and approved of. Sometimes, when he’d finished making his entries early, he would invite Mr. Murphy in to chat, to sit and share some tea. Mr. Murphy was a good listener, smiled and nodded at things he couldn’t understand, then said thank you, cleaned, dried and replace his cup on the shelf above the sink, shook hands and went about his ways.

Lupicen appreciated the quiet friendship.

But not tonight. Dr. Lupicen sat motionless until the casters under Wild Bill’s wringer bucket, the sloshing water, swishing mop, and Wild Bill’s own nasally singsong voice and the sharp smells of his cleansing chemicals echoed away.

Lupicen turned his chair to look out his lab’s western facing windows. His lab was the largest in Vail Hall, in the last cluster of academic buildings on the north side of the Dartmouth campus, and occupied the entire west side of the second floor.

A few cars could be seen under the lights of the parking lot behind the building. Trees created a small woods extending past the parking lot down several hundred yards past some roads and eventually to the Connecticut River. Across the river he saw the glow of Norwich and Thetford, Vermont, and beyond them the eastern faces of the central Green Mountains.

The faces were lit by the moon rising over in the east. On the night his staff worked late he would take a moment from observing the people sleeping in the chambers he’d designed to watch the moon slide down behind those mountains.

The moon in the mountains.

Turning back to his computer, he tapped the trackball and the screen flickered to life. He logged out of his PC then toggled a switch on the panel beside the monitor. Its connection, along with the connections to the trackball and keyboard, went from the PC to the APS System 70v3 computer, resting like a plexus between the sleep chambers, its cables like the webbing of a fat, dark spider in the center of his lab.

His fingers moved the trackball as if he were cracking a safe. The screen lit up and a blue door appeared centered in a deep ocean background. He opened a drawer and pulled out a HUVRSA, a Heads Up Virtual Reality Sensory Accumulators helmet, two cybergloves and a cybersuit. He undressed and slid his mantis-thin body into the tight fitting head-to-toe cybersuit. His cybergloved left hand made a knocking motion in the air. On the computer screen his knocking became a cartoon balloon with the word “knock” repeated three times on the surface of the door.

“Ann? May I come in, dear girl? Hmm? May I come in?”

Nothing happened. He looked at the ’70’s dark display, then spoke directly into the HUVRSA’s voicelink. “Are you awake, Ann?”

***

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Empty Sky Chapter 10 – The Arctic Night

It may be cold but you’re not left out in the cold

Read Empty Sky Chapter 9 – Earl Pangiosi


Tom, Jamie, and Shem followed Jack through the upper level of the Lake Shore Limited’s SuperLiner Snack Coach. “Come on, gang, it’s not much further to the Viewliner. That’s where we’re sleeping.” Some five steps behind them, a nurse and two attendants followed sipping rootbeers and munching potato chips from crinkling cellophane bags.

Tom sneezed at a sudden whiff of diesel fumes. Everyone stopped. With no rhyme or reason to his narcolepsy, everyone prepared for another cascade.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” His head fell forward and his eyelids fluttered. The attendants hurried forward as Tom straightened up. “Ha! Gotcha!”

The attendants smiled. Shem wagged his tail at the sudden activity. Jack muttered “Asshole” and Tom whispered back “Shithead.”

Jamie remained silent.

Jack reserved the last Viewliner rooms for the seven of them. The one closest to the rear door and the diaphragm-engulfed platform between cars — Jack explained it prevented people jumping or falling from the train when they moved between the cars — was a bedroom suite for the attendants, base medical and ambulance grade EMT supplies and equipment. Jack took the furthest in-train of the four, a standard bedroom. Jamie, Shem and Tom shared the next in-train, another bedroom suite. The nurse had the bedroom suite between the McPhersons and the attendants. The suite also contained a Lexicor MedTech NeuroSearch-24, 19 AC-coupled amplifiers, an Autonomy’s Frontalis recorder and more dedicated neuro diagnostics than most hospitals could afford.

Jack refused to take chances. When Tom slept he demonstrated intermittent trains of rhythmic spiked morphology waves. Tom’s body slept but not his brain. He closed his eyes and his fronto-orbital regions lit up like aircraft landing lights desperately seeking safe ground. When no such place appeared Tom’s brain turned the lights on brighter, intent that it existed and waiting to be found. That much neural horsepower required his autonomic nervous system to take over body functions completely. No distractions, nothing to interfere with making the search. Not Jack, his team nor anyone he shared the data with had seen anything like it.

Tom stopped at the door to his suite while Jamie and Shem walked in. He smiled at Jack. “Alas, to sleep. Perchance to dream.”

Jamie, already in bed with Shem beside him, watched Tom clean up and get under the covers. He listened for changes in his father’s breathing as Tom drifted off, wanting to be sure his father was there when he woke up, until the train’s steady ruddaRump ruddaRump ruddaRump rocked him to sleep, Shem curled up beside him.

***

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Empty Sky Chapter 9 – Earl Pangiosi

Is it “evil” if it’s all you know how to do?

Read Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Joni and Honey Fitz


Earl Pangiosi sat in the Empire Builder‘s Superliner Snack Coach’s upper level, a pillow behind his head and a blanket covering his legs, peering through dark, wraparound sunglasses at people’s reflections in the round, full length domed windows. When someone nodded off, he’d dip down his glasses and peer at them briefly, purse his lips then shove the glasses back up his face. Once in a while he’d catch his own red-haired, high colored reflection as he followed people walking past.

Earl liked being around people so he could practice. He had his own car — disguised as two back-to-back LandSea containers on a flatcar and marked “US Mail” — further back in the train. It brought a brief smile, the change in rail regulations that allowed all trains to transport freight and passengers simultaneously. It made his private car’s subterfuge possible.

He tolerated the miasma of greasy hamburgers and soggy fries, of too strong coffee and unwashed bodies, of screaming children and louder screaming parents, and the occasional whiffs of diesel to indulge in a pastime he enjoyed since his childhood; watching people’s reflections in glass.

It was a early Fall night much like this one that he first noticed his gift.

Dad, suit and tie and freshly shaved and mustache neatly trimmed, drove their new, ’59 burgundy Lincoln Continental back to the old neighborhood. Mom sat opposite dad, wrapped in her furs, wearing her best clothes. Dad told her she wore clothes too tight sometimes but she told him to never mind, didn’t he want everybody to know what he had every night?

Mom and Dad left the old neighborhood a year before and never told Earl why. But once a month, maybe twice, he and Mom and Dad would get in the car and go back north to the old neighborhood with presents for everybody. Dad was in the meat business and he’d hand out steaks and chops and roasts and cutlets and hotdogs in summer and hamburger and ground pork if somebody wanted to make meatballs. Everybody was so grateful and Mom would smile and nod as she stood beside Dad, his hands reaching deep into the coolers in the dark of the trunk, coming back into daylight, his hands full of brown paper wrapped meats neatly tied with butcher’s twine. They asked questions about the new car and Dad would tell them it was a Lincoln and Mom would correct him with “Lincoln Continental.”

They drove home, the coolers empty and tucked in the trunk, heading south on a clear, moonless Sunday night. Earl saw the Rhode Island border sign. Soon Dad would slow for the Providence traffic and take the Federal Hill exit.

An only child, Earl had the entire backseat to himself. He could lie down and take naps if he wanted to. Now he sat hands folded and face pressed against the rear passenger’s window, his knees pulled together and tucked under him because he had to pee but Dad said they weren’t going to stop, they only had a little further to go and Earl was a big man and could hold it, couldn’t he?

Sure, Dad.

Except Earl really had to pee. The leather seat sent shivers of cold up through his bare knees and that didn’t help. He had bare knees because he wore shorts. Shorts, a winter jacket and a hat Mom made him wear even though his cousins all wore long pants.

They already laughed at him because he had different color eyes; the right brown, the left blue. Mom didn’t say much and his cousins and some aunts and uncles said that made him a freak. She made him wear dark sunglasses and told people Earl had sensitive eyes.

His cousins would dance around him. “Earl has sen-si-tive eye-yiis. Earl has sen-si-tive eye-yiis.”

He caught his reflection in the window as his exhalations frosted the glass. Mom’s and Dad’s reflections, too.

He’d never noticed them before. Maybe reflections were something you only got in a Lincoln Continental? The dashboard gave off so much light.

He watched his father’s profile as they drove. Mother said things and Dad occasionally winced on the side mom couldn’t see, like somebody was jabbing him with a little knife.

Mom would go ya ya ya and Dad’s nose would twitch and his mustache would rise a little then go back down. Mom would go da da da and Dad’s eye would wink shut quick and then back open to watch the cars on the road. Mom would go sa sa sa and Dad’s lips would move forward and back like he wanted to spit something out.

Earl watched his father and something happened in Earl’s head. His father stopped being a person and became a book, a map, a reference, something easily read. He tasted what his father felt. He did not know the word but he understood the emotion: despair.

“You don’t like what Mom’s saying, do you, Dad.”


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Empty Sky Chapter 8 – Joni and Honey Fitz

You didn’t do yourself any favors with the beer and pizza, Joni

Read Empty Sky Chapter 7 – Al and Doc Martin


Joni stood across Beacon Street from the Brookline Abortion Clinic staring at the sign’s red and gold lettering.

What betesticled marketing moron came up with those colors for an abortion clinic?

Two buses, one with a Boston’s Pro-Life Action Network banner and the other unloading Operation Rescue “sidewalk counselors”, formed a phalanx from the sidewalk to the clinic doors. Ever since John Salvi III opened fire here and at its sister clinic about a mile away, and now with most red states sending bus loads of safe sex refugees north, this stretch of Beacon Street became one of the safest most dangerous places in the greater Boston area. Police cars patrolled routinely. Male and female undercover cops chatted up anyone and everyone walking anywhere near the clinic.

The Supreme Court had created a safe zone for people wanting to enter and exit the clinics and this safe zone included quite a bit of the sidewalk and street surrounding the clinic. People on their way elsewhere learned to stay on the other side of the street, thus the only people nearing the clinic were those having business there.

Such as Joni, today.

Joni held a pencil in her hand as if it were a cigarette. She lifted it to her lips each time she felt her breakfast of barely thawed Brüdermann’s frozen pizza and cold Starbucks coffee coming back on her.

She belched. “Ugh. Morning sickness is one thing but you didn’t do yourself any favors here, Joni girl.” She checked her palm for escaping pieces of pizza. “I should never have given up smoking.”

She watched an obese woman with a video camera and two small children in tow from her safe haven of a sidewalk bench across the street from the clinic. The children orbited the woman more like satellites than offspring; the woman was large enough to warrant a small planetary system of her own.

All the other people, all the other protesters and contesters, all the police, all the counselors, all the passersby and traffic in between, evaporated until only this one woman, video camera in hand, her greater and lesser moons of Phobos and Deimos orbiting via unseen gravitational umbilicae, spun away from the others, walking and talking her way into a universe of her own.

She held vigil under an ash tree, a cat waiting for a specific bird to arrive. She kept telling her kids to stay there. At least it seemed she was. She might have been saying, “Stay here until I move five feet away. No more. Five feet, do you hear? Then come running after me. Scream for me. Clutch onto my skirt, climb onto my coat, pull me down into the earth with the weight of you. Make sure you’re loud and obscene enough for all others to see. We are here to show them what it means to be a mother.”

Joni’s hand went to her stomach. She couldn’t feel any life there yet. “Small comfort.” Instead she felt the pizza and coffee making plans for a violent escape. She wanted to be prepared.

How did the woman pick her targets? Did she only go for women like herself? Like herself in what way?


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Empty Sky Chapter 7 – Al and Doc Martin

Things come together when they’re suppose to

Read Empty Sky Chapter 6 – Jack Games


Al Carsons took off his shirt while Doc Martin read an official letter Tony sent to explain the situation. He placed the letter on top of Al’s folder and placed both folder and letter on the examing room table. Next he reached into his pocket and pulled out some Post-It notes.

“What are those, Doc?”

Doc Martin patted the examining room table. “Up.”

Al sat on the table. Doc Martin read the Post-It notes, nodding at each as he shuffled them, then put the bunch of them in the sink. “You smoke?”

“You know I don’t.”

“Wait here.”

He went to his office and came back with a small box of wooden matches, lit one and held it to the Post-It notes.

“Doc?”

“You would like to test for a Class 5 HazMat TT license. I am going to examine you to make sure there is nothing to suggest you shouldn’t test for that license, but which would not stop you from maintaining your Class 4 Construction Vehicle license. Do you understand what I told you?”

Al smiled. He and the Doc went way back. On his first visit, Al was a strapping, blonde haired, cowlicked buck fresh out of high school who’d just started working for the county and, in the middle of his union physical, confessed he’d just met a girl and wasn’t she pretty? Al remembered the Doc talking to him, confirming and denying things Al had heard about but never experienced, things about being “safe”.

Doc had been a tall, lean, man about fifteen years older than Al. Tall and lean and wiser than anybody Al ever knew.

Now Al had gotten a gut and what hair he had he cut close. Still thin but now not as tall, Doc seemed more like a pussywillow stick bent with the weight of the silvery puff on top. The Doc seemed to be getting thinner and more hunched these days.

“Why, sure, Doc, I understand, but — ”

“Good.” Doc reached into a drawer and came back with a reflex hammer. He whacked Al square on the forehead hard enough to open the big man’s eyes.

“Hey!”

“This test confirms you should not test for the Class 5 HazMat TT license.” Doc Martin raised the reflex hammer again.

“Doc!” Al lifted his arms and turned his face away.

“That’s what you should have done the first time.” He made a note on the letter then put it inside Al’s folder. “Now, what’s Tony talking about?”

Al kept his eyes on the hammer still in the Doc’s hand. “You talking about my sleeping in the truck cabs?”

“Are you just a damned fool or do you think there’s a sane reason for that?” Al hesitated and the Doc raised the hammer again. “You’re too damn old to have the cat get your tongue so tell me what the hell’s going on, Albert Carsons.”


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