Unlikely Things

by T. Gene Davis

“I can dream, even if I can’t sleep.” -Ishmael, Borne at Sea

 

“Help me get convicted.”

“No.”

“You don’t feel I need to go to jail?”

Ruby groaned. “Being a defense attorney shouldn’t be this complex.”

“I will die if they put me back on that ship. How would that make you feel?” Ishmael’s plump face projected patience and interest, rather than fear and hope.

“I know you are innocent, and if I prove you are in court I’ll never forgive myself.”

“I agree. You can’t tell them what I’ve told you. You have to get me convicted.”

She threw her pile of legal documents across the room, spreading papers and breaking tablets. “I hate you! I’ll be disbarred for this! I hate you!” She glanced up to see the prison guard looking through the observation window inquisitively. Ruby discreetly wiped her eye, careful not to smear any makeup. Satisfied that he did not need to intervene, the guard disappeared from the small window.

Ishmael leaned back in his aluminum chair, crossing his arms with a broad smile. “Thank you.”

Distant shouts of “Fire! Fire! Fire!” reached Will and his first mate.

“Do I care?” he asked his first mate.

“Nah. We turned off the oxygen enrichment this morning.” The first mate gently stood a domino on the table along their preplanned line. “Burn baby, burn.”

Captain Will Finch looked over the domino strewn table, each ready to topple at the slightest touch. The hatch door opened, groaning under the planet’s gravity. Seven-hundred-year-old hatch doors tended to groan a lot.

“Someone ate my chocolate!” The voice was Jenna’s.

“I find that unlikely.” Will said, accepting a domino from his first mate. “Jenna, please tell my first mate that you didn’t set my ship on fire.”

“I had to. He was mocking me.”

The first mate coughed. It might have been a something-else-disguised-as-a-cough, but Will never asked. The cough knocked over one of the dominos. Will stood erect looking down at his wife in her freshly synthesized 19th century garb. He adjusted his archaic spectacles. They pinched his nose too much.

“My ship is a she. Space vessels are always she‘s, and I assure you that the Borne at Sea has never mocked you.”

The mate attempted to stop the fall of dominos.

“The person that ate my chocolate mocked me. He mocked you, too.”

“The crate of chocolate in our personal cargo closet?”

Jenna shoved a wrapper with a crude portrait on it into Will’s hands.

Will turned it over and handed it back. “He has your eyes.”

“If anything, I’d say he looks like you, except with hair and he’s fat.”

Will adjusted his thin black hair self-consciously.

“Who is he?” the first mate asked, somewhat distracted by the dominos.

“No one,” Jenna produced a lighter from her apron and lit the wrapper. “This person is not one of the settlers. The other wrappers had drawings of you and me in cryosleep … creepy … also, landscapes and pictures of a dog.”

“Whoa,” Will confiscated Jenna’s lighter. “You know the rule about non-nineteenth-century tech.”

The mate ask, “Then it’s just an imaginary face?” He gave up on containing the falling dominos.

“Maybe it’s some cosmic vagrant,” Will mumbled loud enough to share. “He came on board, ate Jenna’s chocolate, then left.”

“Way out here? You make fun of me for saying he’s mocking us?” Jenna dropped the still burning wrapper on the table and headed for the hatch. “Talk about ‘unlikely’ things.”

“I’m sure forms of space travel have improved since we went into cryosleep.” Will watched Jenna clear the hatch, ignoring him. “He may have even come from Earth. He probably died hundreds of years ago of a stomachache on some distant planet.”

Jenna was out of sight. Will took a deep breath and blew out the still burning wrapper on the table of fallen dominos. He turned to his mate looking more serious than he had let on with Jenna in the room.

“This is a very big deal. Those cargo locks are coded to genetics. Even our AI can’t open them. Only family can. Find out who got in, and find out who else’s personal cargo was pilfered.”

Jenna left the Borne at Sea without lighting any more fires. She walked along the stadium-sized ship, careful to remain in its shadow and out of the hot spring sun. Finally, forced out into the sun, she followed the newly cut road south toward the first-phase cottage Will and she shared. Jenna nearly tripped over Adolfo in his wheeled chair.

“I’m so sorry Doctor Adolfo. I should have been looking where I was walking.”

Adolfo attempted to raise his head from its slouched position, but only managed to tilt it sideways, releasing a stream of drool down his brown cheek. He made a gurgling sound which passed as his only form of communication since reviving from cryosleep.

Jenna used her apron to wipe the drool off Adolfo’s cheek. She crouched down so he could look in her eyes.

“How did you get out here all by yourself?”

He looked at her with intelligence in his eyes.

“Maybe you’re starting to improve?”

More drool and gurgling.

Jenna wiped his cheek again.

Adolfo looked at her as if begging.

“I can’t believe your wife didn’t notice you running off. Is it okay if I help you home? It’s on my way.”

He closed his eyes with a look of relief.

Jenna moved to the back of his wheelchair, and began pushing. The road fought back with rocks and mud.

“It’s amazing you managed to get this far down the road by yourself. You must be improving.”

Jenna maneuvered Adolfo around a large puddle.

“I know they themed this settlement after 19th century Europe, but couldn’t they have given us a good road, instead of this horribly lumpy mud one?”

A rock stopped the wheel on Adolfo’s chair with a jolt. Jenna backed it up a couple of inches and, with a grunt, began moving the chair forward again.

“You should see Will. The cryosleep messed up his vision and they handed him a set of spectacles—the captain, and they won’t even let him have contacts! He does look fine in his wool suit, I’ll admit that much, and I kind of like the spectacles.”

They came to the front yard of Adolfo’s one-room cottage. It had an actual picket fence preventing newly incubated livestock from wandering off. Everything in Adolfo’s yard was small and newborn. His yard looked like a petting zoo.

“Nell?” Jenna shouted toward the cottage.

“Behind you!”

Jenna turned to see Nell carrying a piglet from the fields.

“I see you found him. Thanks.”

“Not a problem. He was near the ship.”

“I would have tracked him down, but he left the gate open when he left. I still have two piglets to find.”

“Can I help?”

“No. Just leave him there. He and I will have a talk after I find those other two piglets.”

Jenna crouched down in front of Adolfo.

“Thanks for the chat,” she said looking into his dark brown eyes. “We’ll talk again later. You rest and get better.”

She smiled, said a polite good-bye to Nell and walked up the lane touching each white picket on their fence until she ran out of fence, and just trudged the rest of the way home.

Will found Jenna outside their cottage just before sunset. She busied herself in front of their one-room cottage playing in the dirt. As he walked down the fresh-cut dirt road, she drew circles and lines all around the front yard of their little cottage. Jenna gripped a long stick and traced a line in the dirt in front of Will, parallel with the road. He stepped over her line to stand by her.

“You’ll put my white picket fence right here, then you’ll put a slide and swings right over there.” She threw the stick like a spear at a place between the cottage and the white-picket-fence line. The stick landed in a pre-traced dirt box. Rather than impaling the ground, Jenna’s stick tumbled and fell flat, rolling a little. “Our kids and grandkids will love swings and slides, so you’ll have to build them to last.”

Will shoved his hands deep into his pockets and pursed his lips. Jenna looked at his stance and took a deep breath. “What’s the matter?”

“You set fire to our ship.”

“No. I set fire to my chocolate bar wrappers that should have been filled with a lifetime-supply of my chocolate.”

“We barely turned off the oxygen enrichment this morning.”

“So?” Jenna picked up the stick marking her posterity’s swings and slides, stabbing it into the ground close to the center of her dirt box.

“You could have killed everyone on board, even those still in cryosleep. The counsel wants to punish you.”

“They can’t. I’m the captain’s wife.”

“They’re talking about forcing you back into cryosleep.”

Jenna left him in the future front yard, shutting the cottage door gently behind her. Will stood looking at the unpainted door, and tried shoving his hands deeper into his pockets. He kicked the dirt, and wandered over to Jenna’s upright stick. He paced around it, imagining the road and sidewalk in front of his house and all the children and grandchildren playing right here on the slide and swings.

“Who put’s a swing-set in the front yard?” he muttered. “You put things like rosebushes in the front yard—things you want to show off.”

He watched the sun set, then went into the cottage to talk to Jenna.

Will returned home at noon the next day, hauling a wagon full of metal parts. Three of his staff helped him position the wagon in the front yard and unload it, then his staff left, taking the wagon with them. After the staff left, Jenna came out of the cottage in jeans and a t-shirt.

Will laughed. “That’s not even remotely nineteenth-century themed.”

“Why do you think I hid in the house?”

“Help me out with this.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a swing set. You know, … for the thousands of kids and grandkids we’ll be having? Being the captain’s wife does have a few benefits.”

“So they’ve dropped the talk of re-freezing me?”

“No, but I have good news.”

He paused to examine some assembly instructions.

“And? Good news?”

Will looked up at Jenna. “You look good. Where did you find denim?”

“I have friends.”

“Don’t show up at the ship like that. I’m still having a horrible time getting the council to stop the process of putting you back in cryosleep.”

“Jerks.”

“Pyro.”

Jenna laughed.

“You were right about the guy,” Will commented.

“Which guy.”

“That portrait. He’s not a member of the crew. We found evidence of alterations to security footage. We’ve only recovered one video so far, but it was of that guy being arrested for ‘cultural contamination.’ No joke. There was an entire SWAT team on our ship while we were in cryosleep.”

“So the guy who stole my chocolate went to jail?”

“And got ruffed up quite a bit in the process.”

Jenna smiled ear-to-ear. “Good.” She threw her arms around Will and it was his turn to smile.

Later, when they got back to assembling the swing set, Will asked, “Have you seen your stomach?”

“What?”

“There’s a scar on your stomach. It’s not very noticeable, but it’s there below your belly button.”

Jenna rubbed her stomach. “I don’t feel anything.”

“It’s there.”

“It’s probably from when I was a kid. I just don’t remember getting it. If it was a problem, Doctor Adolfo would have brought it up before putting me into cryosleep.”

“No. I’ve just noticed it since we’ve been here. It worries me. We’re both scheduled for checkups next week. Have the med-tech look into it.”

“Doctor Adolfo didn’t …”

“Doctor Adolfo is a vegetable, now. Cryosleep destroyed his nervous system. Please? For me?”

Jenna relented. “Sure.”

The next week, the med-tech summoned Will to the clinic. Will did not see Jenna in the waiting room. One of the staff was straightening up chairs. Will approached the receptionist. He did not introduce himself. Every settler knew he was the captain, and every settler knew Jenna for other reasons.

“Is everything all right?”

The receptionist disappeared through a hatch, returning with the med-tech. He motioned Will into a side room and shut the hatch behind them.

“Find your wife. I’m worried for her.”

“What happened?”

“I asked her one question about her medical records and you don’t want to know what happened after that.”

“What question?”

“She asked me about the scar on her abdomen, and I said ‘that would be left over from your hysterectomy,’ and I asked, ‘Have you been having any pain associated with your hysterectomy?’ And that’s when she lost it.”

“She’s never had a hysterectomy.”

“No. Her medical records clearly show a hysterectomy. If she chose to keep that from you, I probably shouldn’t have shared that information. She needs someone. She’s very upset. I just assumed that she would have shared that with you.”

“I’m telling you, she’s never has had any operation, … ever.” Will grabbed his comm, contacting his first mate. He looked up at the med-tech and said, “Don’t go away. We’re going to need your help with this one.”

Will let himself into his candle lit cottage sometime after midnight. Jenna lay on their bed, fully clothed with her back to him.

“Are you awake?” Jenna’s breathing made no change. Will watched her sleeping form for a minute or two then sat on his side of the bed with his back to her.

“I ordered a full sweep of the medical databases. We found records modified by Doctor Adolfo. You had life threatening medical issues in cryosleep. The ship’s AI woke him and he performed an emergency surgery on you. He saved your life. Then for some reason, he did everything possible to destroy or change all records of the surgery.

“The frustrating thing is he can’t ever explain why he altered the medical records.”

Will listened to Jenna’s breathing for several more minutes behind him.

“The only reason you left Earth, your sisters, and everyone you ever knew was so we could legally have a family. Jenna, I wanted to be surrounded by grandchildren when I was old, just like you. Now we’ll be lucky to have a few cats.”

He listened to a few more of her breaths.

“I’m so sorry. I talked you into this trip. I promised you we would be surround by so many grandkids we’d have to build two houses just to have family parties.” He half cried, half laughed. “I wish I could tell you when you’re awake just how sorry I am. I just don’t know how.”

He quietly stood and left. Jenna blinked her open eyes in the darkness, and rearranged her pillow to move her face out of the damp spot that was forming under her cheek. After an hour or two in the silent dark room, she fell asleep.

In her dream, Jenna saw an hourglass running out of sand. She didn’t know why, but if the sand ran out someone would die. She desperately sought a place to hide–a safe place. She ran through the Borne at Sea, checking every locked door, finally standing in front of her cargo room. She placed her thumb on the key pad and, in great relief, the door slid open. There, resting on her empty crate of chocolate, sat a skull. Its empty eye sockets stared into her own eyes.

She woke bolting upright. Predawn light filled the room. She found Will with bloodshot eyes sitting on a swing in their front yard. She sat down on the swing next to him and kicked her legs until she felt the wind in her hair and the squeak and vertigo of each arch.

A crew member came panting up the road.

“Captain! Captain!”

Jenna put her legs down, stopping the swing. Will stood, blinking.

“Come quick. We’ve found more. You’ve got to see it.”

The crew member waved for them to hurry, then ran back down the road as the sun crested the horizon. Will took Jenna by the hand and they walked calmly after the crewman. The first mate greeted them at the ship. “You really have to see what we found.”

Jenna looked at the mate. She realized, she didn’t even know his name.

“What did you find?”

“I’ll show you in the conference room. It looks like after that SWAT team raided our ship, they sent in cleanup crew to remove all evidence they had boarded us. They didn’t fully understand our backup systems, though.”

Jenna, Will, and the first mate entered a conference room where the crewmember from earlier was manning a display.

“We believe this video is of the techs on the cleanup crew.”

The crewman tapped a screen and a video of two men in white jumpsuits played.

“That guy they caught?” 

The tech speaking sounded young. Their backs were to the security camera.

“Yeah. Ishmael.”

The other tech had a strong accent that sounded unfamiliar.

“The ship AI and ship’s doctor raised him. He’s a settler. They set him up.”

“Don’t care. Doesn’t matter.”

“We’ve got to tell someone.”

“Who?”

“Someone.”

“Why?”

“He’s going to jail. He’s innocent.”

“So? If you like your job, put a lid on it—sweep it under the rug.”

The video cut out. Jenna’s forehead creased.

“No,” she spoke. “That man is not a settler.”

The first mate’s face brightened.

“This is the amazing part. We figured out that he was. You’d better both sit down.”

No one moved to sit down. Jenna still held Will’s hand. They waited for an explanation.

“Captain. You told me to look into how the thief got into your cargo hold. We checked the records thoroughly. He did it will his thumb, just like you and your wife would. It seemed like too much of a cosmic coincidence that some stranger on board our ship could match the genetic traits of any settlers, so after we looked into your wife’s medical records, I had the medical staff search for any erased settler records. We found one for an Ishmael Finch, son of Jenna and Will Finch. It was created by Doctor Adolfo and deleted by the same.”

Jenna sat down. She still held Will’s hand. Her nails dug uncomfortably into the back of it.

Months later, the captain and his first mate once again busied themselves with dominos in the captain’s office when sirens and red lights began flashing. The captain set down the dominos in his hand and took a deep breath.

“Please tell me this has nothing to do with Jenna,” he whispered to himself.

The mate overhearing the whisper said, “I’m sure it isn’t. She’s never set off the shipboard alarms before.”

A crew member rushed in shouting, “Incoming! On collision course! Two minutes to impact!”

Will grabbed a comm and ordered immediate evacuation of the ship. “Everyone put as much distance as you can from the ship within the next two minutes!” He and his mate rushed to the medical clinic to see to evacuations.

Will and several others from the clinic had just cleared the ship when a house sized fireball streak into view. Everyone present threw themselves to the ground, covering their heads with their hands. Will recognized the sound of a sonic boom, but no impact or explosion. He raised his head to see what looked like a futuristic spaceship the size of an SUV parked next to the much larger Borne at Sea.

A door opened and two young children jumped out and started running in circles around their small ship shouting, “Take us to your leader! Take us to your leader!”

A woman holding a newborn baby stepped out next, and shouted for her children to calm down. However, they continued running in circles shouting, “Take us to your leader!” until an man stepped out beside the woman and cleared his throat. The children quickly stood beside their mother making no more noise.

The man spotted Will brushing mud and grass off his uniform and walked briskly toward him. He extended his hand with a friendly smile. “I’m so glad to see someone I recognize. I’m a medical doctor. I’m here to check up on a Doctor Adolfo. Our records show he likely suffered neurological damage from thirty or more cryo-freezes. I’ve been authorized to treat him.”

“You recognize me?”

“Of course you don’t know about Ishmael. You and Jenna were his favorite subjects. You’re wife is as famous as the Madonna.”

“Ishmael?” The captain tried regaining some composure. “My son? Ishmael?”

“You know about him? His autobiography clearly states that …”

“We only learned about him recently. Um. Well. Why don’t you come to my office,” Will pointed at the Borne at Sea.

The visitor shook his head. “I don’t mean to impose, but can we go by your quarters? My wife and children so badly want to meet your wife. I’m not related by blood, but they are.” The doctor leaned in a bit to Will and quietly said, “My wife’s a card carrying member of the Daughters Born at Sea Society. I won’t hear the end of it if we don’t stop by your place and meet Jenna. Please.”

Will opened his mouth. Nothing came out. He had more success on his second attempt.

“Sure. Why not?”

Will gave his first mate orders to inform the counsel and unevacuate the ship. Then he and the doctor’s family began the trek to Will’s cottage. They stopped briefly as Doctor Adolfo’s cottage where the man proved a miracle worker and had Adolfo up, walking, and talking within minutes. Adolfo stayed with his sobbing wife, while Will, the visiting doctor, and the visiting doctor’s family continued on to meet up with Jenna.

To make conversation as they walked Will asked, “Aren’t you in danger of legal problems?”

The doctor looked at Will. “What do you mean?”

“Ishmael was thrown in jail for cultural contamination or something like that, wasn’t he?”

The doctor laughed. “Yes he was. Yes. Yes, he was. It’s amazing you know all this. Not so primitive after all, are you.”

“So?”

“Finch descendants have an exemption relating to this settlement. I also get the exemption because I am married to an Ishmael Finch descendant.”

“I’m sure that I can ask Doctor Adolfo later—and I promise Jenna will if I don’t—but why did he set my son up? Why have him arrested?”

“Your son gestated over two-hundred years during your wife’s cryosleep. After Adolfo saved his life, he discovered that your son had developed an immunity to the chemicals needed for cryosleep. He raised your son with help from the ship’s AI, waking himself from cryosleep every few months until your son reached adulthood.”

Will grunted. “Why not wake us to raise him?”

“You’ll have to ask him. According to Ishmael’s autobiography, it had to do with supplies. Either way, you’ve seen what repeated wakings did to Doctor Adolfo. That could have been you and your wife like that.”

Will met Jenna at their picket fence. She was applying a fresh coat of whitewash. Jenna wore her favorite t-shirt and jeans combination.

“I didn’t do it. The explosion had nothing to do with me. I’ve been working on the fence all day.”

Everyone laughed, except the children who had already made their way to the swings.

Notes …

T. Gene Davis writes speculative fiction, poetry, articles, books, and computer software.

Gene loves writing stories dealing with family placed in extraordinary situations.

Follow his daily exploits on Twitter @TGeneDavis or visit Gene’s blog at http://freesciencefiction.com on the web.

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