Editor’s Notes: This “Selection” originally appeared on Tumblr, here in July 2018, and, for a short time on Medium, the second most visited story in the collection, according to SEO data from Google Search.
Author Soda Tom commented, about Presage, “That was the fifth of the collection, which will be more than forty-five, and it was kind of a railroad platform, or a hook: People who decided they liked it tended to follow it from there. It has a couple of integral aspects, one literary to classic forms, if people are interested in those; and “Coda,” which lines up the plot.”
The “Selection” is presented below in the original format. (The next “Selection” is scheduled for September 28.)
ACT I | Aji 11 July 2018
Mature Audiences Est. Time: 90 Minutes
Welcome to The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories by Soda Tom. We present today Episode 5 from the first volume of the trilogy, “The Shadows.”
Episode 5 | Presage
< Just now it’s unfair to mention Griffin, particularly to Krakow, the glum macaw futilely tapping his beak upon a glass abyss in Coney Island, a heavy, Depression-era, double-pane window hollow in the midst; maybe mundane, or drab, depending on the casted sky, it was dumbly imperious, open at the sill ostensibly for air. The bird pestered about his perch, an addled wooden bar, gibbering at last: “Creeps! Creeps!”; and renewed his friendship with a young Hetzi juniper whose branches periodically tapped, and often scraped the jalousie.
Krakow then issued a trifling frown, glancing narrowly at a vintage television set glaring at a news channel, and tweaked his subtle ears to the window to overhear more chatter from the street; it was his hobby, a default, and a daily passion. His wings fluttered; — the macaw scowled at the street: “New York weather, every nine minutes!” and then, ducking under the sill: “Fish! Fresh fish! Fish!”
Aji swayed at a corrugated plastic table in a weatherized American Legion trailer, set in a lonely diagonal in a desolate section of the camp at Sombrero. She spoke to him in a live hologram, never a preference for reception, but remarkably clear, if a grainy display upon the front glass of his microwave oven. He was bereft, sitting in the kitchen of his flat in Coney Island, New York, wont to remind her “on Earth.” She conveyed the weather: “Any kind of storms or any weather at Sombrero is actually famous. It is the chorus of a great song from the Tin Era of 2260’s, – Le Presage Anneux de Saturne, ‘The Rings of Saturn.’”
“It was a dreary croon, yes,” Aji smiled. “The sad blues of a wretched man suffering through a dramatic lighting storm at Hydra. Of course, his girl lived at Sombrero. He is to warn the girl of the omen rings. Ever heard of the omen rings?”
“No,” he said.
She said, “We have no real sky at Sombrero, or Hydra, for that matter. We have a reflection of orbits, rings, a gold, yellow couleur. There’s gravity, but it rises in waves during updrafts from the valleys to the mountains. Layers of gray clouds dump rain in fearsome swirling squalls. It is hard rain, and de cote, – sideways, – and it is either far too warm, like boiling, or way too cold – freezing. But it’s the weather. It’s what we have. It’s dark, gloomy today. I’m watching for strikes of lightning. Yes, and omen rings.”
“Onion rings,” he offered, inimically opening a stack of mail with a plastic knife.
“The rings of Saturn, the omen rings, my,” Aji commented. “It may be true, possibly a natural design. If a person is about to die, life begins to contract into circles, like the bands of a hurricane, a gyre, shrinking into orbits, and circles, – omen rings. They were named for the majestic rings of Saturn, a planet in the Milky Way.”
He brushed imaginary dust from the top of the kitchen table. Aji surveyed the flat remotely. “I love your tea room,” she said. “Driftwood tables, a settee, all the chrome; black bar, white specks.”
He poured another mimosa.
The last ten days rankled him, despite the outré setting; it was inexplicable. He sipped with resilience. “Why are you bothering me?”
Aji’s answer was hurried. “There is lawful duty at issue.”
“A duty to Pandora?”
“Mankind,” she said. “The laws may be different. But a harrowing breach has put us into peril.” Aji waited for a response, and continued, “We need to cover some things, a primer, like the legend of Coda. Interested?”
“No, ma’am,” he said, eyes raised from the glass, “There’s are probably a great many people searching for this Bud, or Will Adorjan. I’m just not one of them.”
She challenged him. “Do you recognize this number?” He inspected Aji’s widget sticky note, posted on the microwave glass in dot-matrix: 78 89 54 65 32 12.
She explained, “It was conveyed to Sombrero last spring. We traced it to a New York University mainframe. I was able to pin it to you from a purchase at Coney’s Corner. (Pause.) It’s the type of matter always reported immediately to the authorities, but I said you could be persuaded to help the Legion.”
His face paled. “Those are lottery numbers. Mega-millions.”
Aji asked, “Did we win?”
He said, “The machine wouldn’t print it. It added a zero to every digit – 780, 890.”
“Did you try it again?”
He gasped, “No! I would. I wouldn’t. But they didn’t … well.”
“Very few know about it,” Aji demurred, “But you’re summoned to duty, yes, like jury duty. We could inform the state of New York.”
“As near as I may gather,” she said, “there was a virus trap, a burn code. It was meant to infect anyone who put data into the machine under unclear circumstances. Surely a crime. A type of mischief. But this very gag, your gag, commenced a complex series of events; somehow the logic dispatched a linear notice to us through a gaggle of channels: Simply — There had to be an accessory from Sombrero. Another part for my mission.”
“Seriously. An outer space e-mail?”
“A trap. A virus. This message, yes, a set of numbers from Earth, went to the Pandora Cluster as an open call, a 9-1-1, yes!”
He related, “My neighbor thought if it. It didn’t win! Total dud.”
“You are ignoring the point,” Aji said, “It had a visionary concord, centuries ahead of this space-time.”
“Not for me.”
“Tell me,” Aji said, allaying, “What is the bother?”
She became terse, dawning a military composure. “It was a microwave transmission from Earth.”
“We could focus on the computer,” he allowed.
“No,” she said. “I cannot interval space time. This is why I require the duty; your help. I must presume the line is open, like a black worm. It is open. We have kept it open to allow transit from Sombrero, which is to say, I’ve got an open case. I can act upon this I-O, input-output, only once, and just once, but the matter provides a certain degree of latitude, providing there is a set of relevant sacrifice. Duty. Like your duty!”
“So far, all mine,” Aji said. “Mine — for the Navy, and the American Legion, of our Pandora Cluster.”
“You’re from New York somewhere, right?” he said. “This is another kind of prank.”
“This is obviously not New York,” Aji disquieted. “This mission may take years of my life. Try to understand, it reveals to us a disconcerting flaw in space-time. A route of death. It connects Coney’s Corner to a most alien part of the universe: to Coda. Adorjan is the man I must find. He’s not just a celestial hero. His mission is in question.“
Nap, a captain in the US Navy, reiterated, “Ten to twelve hours?”
Aji said, “I’ll need ten, twelve hours; not consecutively.”
“To find the Adorjan family, their ancestors on Earth, minimally. It’s about Coda, but this is not familiar to this Era. His ancestors lived on Earth. It’s a first step. “
Nap objected, “To close a worm hole.”
“Maybe, but not likely. A black hole. A magnetic cycle, with the physics of a tornado. It’s not even that simple. This open parallel must be closed, and reversed, – in opposition to space-time. It may take twelve hours of real time, yes. A lifetime for me, — quite possibly. Plainly, it can’t be allowed to remain.”
“Plainly,” Nap sympathized. “It sounds like a terrible commitment, but I can’t authorize anything. Maybe a different shift.”
“Isn’t that cynical; this is a link!” Aji said. “A link to knowledge of centuries from today. Five centuries. U.T.!”
He asked, “Why are you interested?”
She said, “You can’t explain duty. I have a duty to Will. Adorjan.”
Aji observed an obscure figure, who was jogging north along the shoreline of the Florida beach; it was a blur with a prosaic hue of green, and no definition; it appeared to be a jumpsuit. She noticed the colors of military ribbons; within range, she called, “Hey!”
The figure was a man, who nodded, but didn’t speak, signaling the secret liaison with a choppy wave. “My name begins with an ‘N’.”
Aji squinted, “Napoleon?”
“Aji, yes,” she said. “Captain?”
“Yes. You’re a colonel.”
“Right,” she said, and asked, “My name. How is it pronounced?”
“Aji?” he said. “A-jeye. Incorrectly is A-G.”
Nap said, “Sorry, I can’t help you, colonel.”
“But I may stay, yes?”
After a moment, Nap responded, “Well, I can’t stop you, either.”
Nap resumed his sunrise journey. He muttered, “It’s a wonderful life: Computer Hail Mary. We finally make First Contact, and it’s U.S. Navy.”
“Am I a ghost?” Aji asked. “You never did answer. It’s simple logic: I either am a ghost, yes, or –”
“There are no French ghosts,” he said, “And you are French. This is New York. Be a ghost.”
He observed, “Of course, your hair has grown a little in forty minutes. Who am I to complain?”
“An optical illusion, yes, on your side, thank you,” Aji said, tensing, and smoothing the skin on her face. “The sun bleaches it without gear.”
He asked, “How about my surround sound? Gabe says you could improve it. Maybe?”
“The CD player?” she said, sniffing in humor. “I fixed it. Remotely. Imagine my degree of skill? CD players are old in the year of your Lord. We can’t do free cable, no. Sorry. You are inevitable.”
He continued to grumble, partly due to his inability to approach anything near a valid subject for them. “Five weeks without satellite radio; my smart phone is dumb. What if I want to make…bacon?”
Aji smiled, “In the microwave? Yes. In fact, go ahead; it may take years. I suspect you’re becoming a little smitten. You haven’t threatened me with MacCheese. A dose of valor would be finer. I’ve had to learn English. And much, much history.”
“It was your transmission; maybe it shall never recover.”
“I tried the television set. You cut the cord. Fugitive.”
“Now wait – “
“You thought I was a porn service.”
“Eh,” he acceded. “What? Do-what-now?”
“My, oh my,” Aji exclaimed. “We begin with context.”
“May I ask obtuse questions along the way?”
“Certainly, it’s all obtuse,” Aji replied, silent for a moment, shifting folders on the desk. She pressed a button on a monitor. “Mon ami. I shall narrate this tape terribe for you. I can’t transmit it. It shows not the least arcanely the truth of the legend of Coda.”
Part 2 | Coda
vintage photo, Coney Island (nyfolklore)
He nodded. Aji exhaled, and began, “My first mission after training. Coda – the edge of the universe, in, well, very narrow terms; ‘the end,’ or ‘finis,‘ or maybe a pathway to a beyond. It could be a single place, many places, billions. The pessimistic ruse was it need not be the edge. We could die anywhere. Terrible, no?” She said, uninterrupted, “You may recall the early astronauts, the Americans who landed on Earth’s only moon. There was a strange message, a rumor. It was later discharged, but it is said when they radioed the NASA control base, one of the versions, – they described forms, people, life already on the moon. They feared it might be the Soviets, or surmised it could be aliens. None of the forms were visible in the video tape of the landing, or exploration. (Pause.) We believe now there were people, or life forms on Earth’s moon in the 20th Century. We say it was shadows of people, viewed in space-time; heat signatures; whomever, they arrived much earlier, and departed much later. Cynics label them outlaws; it may be true. Our Bud Adorjan, like Neil Armstrong, yes, was a role model, leading the many to safety at Hydra. It was unspeakable; perhaps history is always unspeakable, – but these were desperate trials of the men, and women before us, like explorers, colonists, the pioneers. The life of Bud became a saying. (Pause.) He would die in a simple entry narrow, ninety time years ago this September, our grand void of space electing to keep him. His son, Will, was more brawny, smarter. Hydra, today the leading galaxy, tasked Will to resolve Coda, and provide evidence; and, I must add, this meant finding the great Pandora Obelisk. The obelisk, the obelisk; it is like, something like, the monolith in Clarke’s 2001; as iconic as the U.S. flag on Earth’s moon. The great Obelisk is a symbol of our time, yet a dreadful symbol. The proper word requires the “O” to be italicized; it is to give a sense of the letter as toppling upon the rest of the word; imagine that?” She sketched the word – Obelisk — on paper, and showed him. “Now that’s famous. But it exists as a paramount sign of hope, and a warning of many kinds for posterity, in space-time. It is as if, – as if to say, ‘Here is the end.’” She sighed. “Will’s story is not entirely fable. He searched Virgo with another party for light years to find Coda; sixteen time years. There were the images of a monolith on Mars, thousands of snaps of the Hydra galaxy, Sombrero. His ranger mission too became an adage: – the sins of the father’s mission; like that; — oh, if I must, monoliths out of molehills; in the seventeenth year of Adorjan’s journey, the explorer landed at the single, most remote part of Pandora’s Cluster, the furthest west of Sombrero beyond a last mercenary outpost, the Taxa moon, so obscure real outlaws are largely safe; it was the very last place, or shape, with a velocity not precluding entry.”
“Last gas for miles,” he commented, concealing his interest.
“You are following me, yes?” Aji said. “Hooray. Will steers into the atmosphere, a purple sky, to the point his radar – pardon me, I’m not to offend, but I’m using the utmost simplicity, – his radar shows a cairn, the term, or a caryatid, a word they had begun to use for ‘monoliths.’ Or Obelisk. Mindful, monoliths in history have largely proven to be like snowmen: They were boulders, often cliffs, sunsets, shadows. This is an obelisk. Adorjan puts down the craft down on a sphere, – a place now Coda. It is a half-mile from the cairn, the monolith; the first radar image. They leave the craft, and march towards it; now he can see it, – it is twice a man’s normal height, twelve feet high, and gray; six feet wide; it is planted in the cold ash of Coda between two river beds, deep inlets no longer with water; land sloped in each direction, east, west, north, south, there is an open space, a landing, in front of the obelisk.” She said, “The critical part of Will’s mission, my mission to monitor, my first, was the discovery of the Coda obelisk, and to record any inscription, determine who built it, when, and why; most importantly, was there evidence whatsoever of the fabled tale the obelisk somehow lay at the edge of space?” And “The two rangers stalked to the cairn by foot, a half-mile, with a camera attached to their suits. The images are live from Sombrero. I recorded them. We see Adorjan reach the obelisk, in one of the ranger’s camera. Will stands to a side, and now leans to a side. There is no inscription on the first edifice. A second ranger joins him. They both step past the obelisk to the west side: And there is caused a gust of magnetics; ash swirls! The rangers are desiccated – immediately dehydrated; – we see their suits, bodies, deleted, their heads, torsos, then legs de-materialize. They vanish.”
“My,” he said, dully.
“Yes,” she said. “Adorjan’s helmet camera does record the east side of the Obelisk before the gust: again, no inscription. The cairn is a blank. It is, clearly, man-made. We can see from the craft’s mount. There has never been a second expedition to Coda. We ascertained the Obelisk was not armed, or cloaked; the rangers weren’t beamed to a place, or shot with lasers; the official report said there was no foul play. The final consensus: the Obelisk lies in an unique natural field, a coda, as it were. Of some kind.”
“The edge,” he said, admiring.
Aji said, “The legend of Coda is this field may be an edge of the universe. This implies geometry, of course. There are many. It can’t be proven. It can’t be disproven. Certainly. It is not a geographic edge. It is theorized the obelisk, or Coda, is what’s called a guise; — a ripple in space. But it implies a larger notion for physics: the universe is not a space, but a shape; it may be permeable at any point.”
He said, “Or the edge may be my tub. My shower curtains.”
Aji nodded, briefly, “I’m not done, though. The strangest part: A camera aboard the platform is a half-mile from the Obelisk. I was saving the film, rather distraught, yes. I just as much gazed at the monitor, and it is still recording, locked, blinking red. It shows a group of aeronauts! It is impossible to tell their origin. They are wearing dark, green suits, unfamiliar to this era, or recent times. They are building it. The Obelisk! I swear: It is recorded by this tape! By aura; the entire Obelisk is built by military shadows, in the frames, one stone by one stone: heft, heft, heft! It is a lapse of four-point-eight minutes. But – (laughs) the last image is still; the cairn is built, but no one is visible in it. The landing is empty, but for the solitary Obelisk. No inscription.”
“Apple?” he greeted Aji, at the Coney pier.
“Pioneer fruit?” Aji asked.
“Nothing,” she replied.
“I’ve always felt suspicious of people like Galileo, or Isaac Newton.”
“He was a great 18thcentury physicist, Newton. He discovered gravity.”
“Yes, all about it,” said Aji.
They strode into a rush of cool air, then a mass of humidity; the city’s display of fireworks was beginning beyond the end of the pier; a scofflaw fired a mortar shell tube as an aerial salute; blue “willows” burst, and in a patter of “time-rain,” a jelly fish.
“Pretty,” Aji said, watching the willow unraveling in the sky.
“Maybe, as Melville said,” he commented, “it is of the ‘utmost importance’ to be simply present.”
“I wonder why Newton’s tree isn’t famous.”
“It is famous in Lincolnshire,” Aji said, rubbing the red of the apple. “Besides, the tree couldn’t do math.”
He said, “The tree didn’t need mathematics, didn’t need physics. Newton did. Maybe it’s a myth, maybe not. How many granny apples have actually dropped on a man’s head?”
“Surely, a good many,” smiled Aji.
“I don’t dislike Newton, that’s not my problem,” he said. “I love the tree.” He watched the Atlantic sky, a dahlia, and a white, brocade crown. ◊
Theme | “Flea Markets, No. 7” | playlist, nos. 1-15
“The Shadows” is one of three works by SODA TOM.
“The Shadows,” by Soda Tom, Vol. I of III,
from The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories
Copyright (C), 2018; 2017, ff., by the author
All Rights Reserved
Created by Soda Tom