by T. Gene Davis
Most parents impose on their grown children by asking them to run to the store and buy green beans at a quarter past midnight. The dutiful adult child having just begun a restful doze is awakened by the cell they did not dare turn off, and the request is made among reminders of how much labor the parent suffered on the child’s behalf.
My father puts all these parental units to shame. You see, he’s been a widower for years, and feels the need to make up for the missing parent’s requests. So, when he makes a request it isn’t by vocalization but by outrageous, though terse, 140 character commands.
“Matt joined the crew of a space liner. Go get your brother back.” My father’s text implied the unwritten, “Or, don’t come back, either.” So here I stood, facing this close-to-light ship floating in the bay along side normal sea freighters wondering how I’d find Matt on a ship that size.
She hummed. All 700 tons of her hummed. I looked up at her shimmering body that even light slid off of. I could enjoy getting lost on that ship.
“She’s a beaut, ain’t she?” My brother shouted slamming his palm down vise like on my shoulder. I slipped out of his grip while spinning to see him and must have tripped on a shoelace—those pesky aglets are always getting under foot. Either way, I—with as much dignity as anyone sprawled on a dock could muster—greeted my biggest brother.
He offered me a hand up, returning my cheery greeting, “Good to see you too, Ed. Are you interested in a tour? We don’t leave until they finish assembling a crew.”
He was all smiles. Matt obviously felt no remorse shipping out for 90 years and leaving Father to inflict the shoe shop on John, Esther, or worse yet, … me. John and I did not spend eight years at college to sell shoes for the rest of our lives, and there was no way Esther would drop out of college for a life of shoe sales.
Matt went into a lengthy one-sided technical conversation about the ship that luckily did not require any attention from my end. The glow of excitement about his face told me he wasn’t going to come easily. I didn’t have the strength for this task. I texted John to immediately come to the dock. I didn’t exactly use the word “intervention,” but a smart guy like John wouldn’t need much prompting. Between the two of us I was pretty sure we could drag Matt off this dock. John was nearly as well built as Matt. We could handle him.
“Matt, I’d love that tour.” I interrupted him mid-sentence. He seemed reluctant to break off the topic of flux capacitors (or some such nonsense), but I was more than happy to change course. “Could we wait for John? I know he’d love a tour, too.”
“That’s even better. Let me go arrange it. You wait here and I’ll be back.
I paced the pier praying John would come to my rescue quickly. John, good man that he is, arrived before Matt returned.
“Ed. You sounded like your life depended on me.”
“Look!” I waved my hands at the aircraft carrier sized close-to-light ship. It glistened like Neptune’s trident itself.
“Yeah. I couldn’t miss her. You know they say she makes the run in 90 years, but you only feel like your away for two months.”
“Exactly.” I was so relieved that he saw the problem. Those eight years of college were not wasted on him! No not one semester wasted on good ole John.
Matt timed his return for that moment. He had a very professional looking tour guide in a tie and a nice pair of oxfords tagging along. The tour guide came complete with clipboard, name badge, and combover.
“Matt!” John shouted wasting no time grabbing Matt’s shoulder. I was game, and went to take the other shoulder, but the tagger came up beside Matt on my side, and it seemed rude to push such a sharp dressed fellow out of the way. John hadn’t started pulling Matt to the car yet, so I felt a short hesitation was in order.
“John. Ed. This is my handler. He’s just needs two more crewmen, and we sail.”
“Matt speaks highly of you two,” said the man in the oxfords. “I’d be glad to sign you two up for a tour.”
“Matt. I am shocked. I did not know you were signed up,” John shouted in his excitement. This was a perfect time to drag Matt back to the car. I just waited for the signal from John. Maybe a tug in that direction. I’d follow his lead. I might be able to grab Matt’s feet if John held his arms.
“I’m willing to go on Matt’s word,” spoke the man in the oxfords. He sure had those oxfords shined up real nice. I could almost see my reflection in them.
“I haven’t brought any clothes,” John said to the shoe man, “and I’ll miss my sister’s birthday call. Her birthday’s today, you know.”
“What?” I didn’t quite follow.
“We provide uniforms, and you can holochat with your sister from the ship. You only need to come on board and sign. We’ll take care of storing your personal effects in your absence, … free of charge of course.”
John wrapped one muscular arm around my shoulders almost knocking me down. “Ed. You’re the best!”
Matt grabbed me from the other side. “He is. I never thought I’d see you two again, and here he arranges to have us ship out together.”
The oxford clad man led the way onto the ship, and I with one brother on each side found myself—legs dangling an inch above the pier—following in a state of shock.
Later after sending a “Happy Birthday!” to Esther, I found myself laying on my bunk in a newly fitted uniform. I received a text from Father. I deleted it without reading it.
T. Gene Davis writes speculative fiction, poetry, articles, books, and computer software.
He enjoys a good tale told with multiple levels of interpretation.