t e m p o r a l
d o o r w a y
The day is warm and hazy, with some cumulus building to seaward. The dome of the Corellan J-340 heavy lifter carefully swallows the metallic disk, its waldos pulling back like mandibles, gleaming in the suntube light. From a half mile across the concrete launch field, Clu and Marie watch the activity.
Clu feels tense. A major chapter of her life is ending and change is inevitable. "I wish you wouldn't do this." she continues.
Marie smiles and lays a hand on Clu's arm. "I can't see how I could avoid it. Imagine the advertising!" She waves her hands, "Once you're back, you'll have some appearances to make." She laughs. "And, aside from that, thanks to your flights in the prototype, sales are looking good."
"It's a big present, Marie."
"It is. And it ought to give you the edge, as long as you're careful. Don't break it. You're far from our service center out there. I'd have to charge for the pickup."
Clu laughs. "I wonder if I'll dare fly it."
They turn and head back into the hangar. Thunder is slow in the distance - not a storm, but the engines of the J-340 spooling up for action. The door rolls closed behind them, shutting off the space outside, bringing a certain quiet.
The room is nearly empty, with only a few items of furniture and a scattering of decorative objects. Clu looks around, picks up her pouch from an end table, and slings the strap around her shoulder.
She walks slowly toward the windows for a last view over the sea.
The door chimes. The sound is hollow and echoes slightly with the emptiness. She turns back, wondering, distracted.
"Yes?" she asks.
"Ivo" the door intones.
She gestures it open. "Hi, Ivo."
Ivo stands in the doorway, waiflike in a loose, soft grey pullover atop thin dark leggings down to slippers. Her eyes seem a little too dark in her graceful narrow face. "Hi, girlfriend." She looks around the room. "This is empty," she remarks gravely.
Clu nods, wordless. "Looks like it looked a year ago..." Her voice is flat.
"You know, I don't need to accum the funds, you could have left every bit." It is a repeat of a conversation they had before.
"Storage is fine. I may not be back. It wouldn't be fair."
"I'm not letting it out - I'm waiting for you and Lan. You'll need a place. Don't forget."
"I won't." She looks longingly at the porch, but thinks What's the point? You'll either see it again or you won't. "Ready to go? You still don't mind driving my car back?"
"Sure. Listen, go take a walk on the porch. After all, you want to remember what you're coming back to. Just delegate the car to me, and I'll bring it around."
The road to the dock slips into a chasm and the spirals under the ground. Clu drives with her usual expertise, enjoying the response but with a harsh gorge rising in her throat at the thought of giving all this up for uncertainty. Ivo sits silently beside her, mostly looking out the window and occasionally at Clu. Her voice restlessly finds things to say, never settling for long. But Clu answers mechanically, with her mind half on driving, and half on the future.
Finally, the Lustran emerges into the vastness of the port cavern and slips into the wide traffic stream that leads around the boundary toward Dock Strachan.
Fortunately, she has a reserved area for the Lustran - because today there isn't a spot in the rest of the yard. Clu sits silently for a moment as the engine spools to silence, head back against the seat while Ivo waits, watching her respectfully. Finally she stirs and delegates the Lustran to Ivo with a shared gesture between them. Her eyes mist for a moment. But then she opens the door onto the sound and business of the field and steps out, claiming her large satchel from the rear and then closing the car for the last time.
The gritty, semi-transparent walk has a sharp edge that drops down into the abyss of the dock. Ships rise like abstract trees and mountains across the chasm, and her eyes, as always, suck in the spectacular view. But always, sooner or later, they rove ahead, to the comparatively small Zadar that waits down around the middle of the row, parked nose toward the guardrail, with a walkway out under the forewing to the personnel door.
She starts down the stairs and suddenly realizes that the plaza is exceptionally crowded. In fact, there are all kinds of people from all kinds of worlds filling the plaza. Festive floaters with decorations drift slowly over the crowd or cluster above their owners, and the hum of voices is audible even over the shift and clang of the shipyard. She doesn't notice Ivo, who touches finger to ear and whispers. Then she glances over and asks, "What is this? A party? Must take a lot of money... We should have taken the shuttle tube direct to the dock."
But Ivo is grinning and the sound from below changes from conversation to a complex texture of applause, rising to a crescendo of clapping, rattling and cries of every tone and pitch. Then Clu realizes that they are all, a thousand or more, looking at her. Ivo takes Clu's arm and walks her down toward the crowd, which arcs back in front of her in a natural politeness.
Celine steps into the open space, with Luke right behind her. "Well, honey, you didn't think we'd let you go without a full-sized goodbye, did you?" But Clu is speechless, mouth slightly open, and the applause is so deafening she might not have been heard anyway.
But then Ivo tugs her arm and shouts, "C'mon, there's food and music down here, and Del's playing."
"Were you ever in Goslin?" the teenager asks. "Before?"
Clu grins at the enthusiasm, but then the memory rains down on her of a gleaming metal and glass tower crumbling above her like a crystal in an earthquake. "Yes, I lived there once," she replies. "But I was really young. A lot younger than you." Her age seems a long complex tunnel behind her.
"Maybe you'll get to go back there? And maybe you'll see my brother? If you do, could you tell him I saw you?"
Her eyes get hard and her heart thunks hard - once. "Sure. Let me see what he looks like", she replies. They exchange gestures and Clu can see the image of a young man standing in front of a small domed house, of a kind popular almost fifty years ago in the uplands of Nicomen. She snags the current image of what she is seeing from her log and attaches the image to it, placing it in a to-do index.
Then Ivo appears and takes her arm. "C'mon, Del's going to solo..."
But Clu's eyes are still on the boy, who somehow reminds her of a long past version of Lan.
"Tell me your name," she asks. He does, and she smiles sadly, linking it to the image. "I'll remember," she says....
And then follows Ivo to the orchestra area.
At the edge of the circle around Del and his ensemble...
Clu finishes - "... he lost his brother. I lost my mother and father. Lan lost his mother and father. I lost Lan."
Celine sighs and looks down the dock. "Cocteau... the planet of the lost and the missing. On its way to being a trashheap, and everyone left seems to have lost half of what they were, one way or the other."
Clu looks over at her. "And you?"
Celine meets her eyes, but she transmits only a cold isolation. "There are plenty of stories. I don't fool myself that mine is special. I have Luke."
"You could go back. Do something."
"No, anything I would do would be too massive, too dangerous, too uninformed. It's not my place anymore. I've been here too long to go back."
They sit together, bathed in the sounds of cello, viosip and blanaree... and of starship engines, but their silence is companionship, not tension.
Copyright © 2004 by Mark Cashman (unless otherwise indicated), All Rights Reserved