Hasty, and rumpled, Yon Raulyn was surely not apt to entertain the Irish praetor, many times ordained the consul of the pub, but amenable, in fact, agile, to better spirits. The consul was entirely gregarious, seldom contained by a bright green apron, hefty and also bald, to be sure, and leaning at the jamb of a heavy brown oak door, weighing him with his eyes for a bouncer, a sullen fellow, charged, and hardly stirring beneath a flat herringbone cap. Yon mumbled past the greeter and partly up to the door, mumbled about cash; the Celt praetor queried into the hallway after him, “What’s your pleasure, laddie?”
The Irish pub was this side of the Oceanworld aquarium, and much else, and it was, additionally, on Earth. Raulyn was anyways incredulous, and wished to be sure, and he asked them, regrettably, “Is this Earth?” Yon Raulyn, also know as “Sawbones,” surveyed the premises while awaiting the Celt’s response. Sawbones couldn’t read the sign, but summoned good nature and a dose of couth, and read the last word of the sign aloud, which seemed to be “Beag.” The sign was a verdant green, with unmistakably white letters, painted so loudly “it hurt his ears.” The building had caught his attention many miles southward; “scintillating,” he had also remarked, but “fulgid,” it illuminated his operose trek. Yon did utter the word “ghastly” about the color, but much was also ghastly; the sign was “ghastly,” the footslog “ghastly,” the weather wasn’t ghastly, but the gravel road was “ghastly,” and the pub’s color, well, – yel-ler.” No matter, it might have been the Taj Mahal, and it would not have pleased him just now. Yon Raulyn’s ardor, and viewpoint was dreadfully confused, and promoting grander objects, such as possibly Guinness. The pub remained in situation by the corner of a shannon, and with patrons months ago dispensing, and contently adopting to caricature, besotted with the pub’s in-of-doors, and how it swiftly diminished life’s A-Game. Their guardian, the perhaps sullen bouncer, who had been eyeing, and reckoning Yon, put a rough, and meaty hand upon his shoulder. “You’re in Dingle, lad,” the bouncer tried to hearten him, having decided Raulyn was wrestling some form of a shock, informing Yon Dingle, which is in Ireland, was irrevocably Oz, and Sawbones assuredly now had found it.
“Is that on Earth?” Yon asked, if one recalls, and it seemed rhetorical. Yon, weakened to a grin; and hoarse, possessing the salt of the sea in his throat, wondered of margaritas. His voice was dry, and scarcely heard in the clamor. Yon resisted digesting the name of any place plausibly called the “Beag,” concluding it was merely another of the many chapels of Dingle, and perhaps Dingle, alas, was a democratic mirage of the farm lands, presently emerging from the Middle Ages.
“This is Earth?” Raulyn asserted, a last time, recalling the mettle of his crew in leagues of confidence, long and short, upon these azure grounds.
The greeter loudly proclaimed, “Much of the time!”
Yon Raulyn had visited the pub in Dingle, and hence Dingle, in the distant past, – he puzzled to remember it, it related to an oil painting of some kind, – but his mind could recall just the oil, and the colors, the fading sort of mahogany, in a stabler beige; and, less troubled, had stepped on to the gravel road towards Dingle, a road of otherwise vast, vast knolls, and, also, more knolls. He explained generally to the bouncer, redacting the finer parts, – if there was, in fact, a bouncer at all, and this was not a dream during the day, sopping away the pain of an unknown injury; his circumstances, and memory faded as hastily, – well, more hastily, – than he ever could recall; was it a “stun” of amnesia? He told them he had “a lot” of money, Yon said, and forasmuch in light of his comment, they surmised he’d probably lost a lot of money, and thus allowed him to enter the pub with snugger guffaws. The denizens afforded him solace in a dark corner, against the back wall, the kitchen clearly in his view, and Yon pondered his karma, and the perplexing comportment of minor events, mishaps, humorous or not, a few stellar misdeeds, the dry comments, unknown knowledge, and the more familiar paranoias of a life-long crook. Something had happened, certainly. He was not supposed to be toasting Dingle; beforehand, Yon did not fully realize everything, not as yet, as everything was unreasonably astonishing, and rather out of place. Yon had nettled about it, at the royal, beaming sky, asking it, finally, “W–what?”
Aji was body-building at the Sombrero base, and caught her breath in a number of stages, adding reps of precarious stretching. A mixture of oxygen from Earth was latent in her system, and troubled her, as it contained carbon; heavy-breathing exercises were required for aeronauts after missions at the commons, and part of her daily training; she faithfully completed them. There were no hitches in her heart rate, and there were no irregular patterns. A halting frown was conspicuous, but not material to her health; something of a glower, it was focused at part of the pod’s stainless steel, which is to say SUM. Aji espied, and despised the innocuous sensibilities of the LifeRaft® computer, which was resting, but never really at rest of its mundane smugness; “SUM,” the Selective Unit Monitoring system, the practical brain of the LifeRaft®, the unsnide, and pedantic soul of it. It was certainly still watching her. Aji gave a resolute glance to SUM – it noticed her, blinking in red lights – and a new, black script, like a gasoline receipt, printed in SUM’s antic dot-matrix, a lettering SUM reserved for her; the tear-off scrap lay solitarily on a counter top. She wondered if note from SUM was more about her demeanor than any cosmic matter. SUM had changed it. Saturn was “stable,” it told her, and she had crossed her eyes, hollered something inexplicable, and did not want to entertain it; her Sisyphean task, a fact SUM easily computed, was to interpolate this new condition, and decide if it was good news, if it was bad news, if it was merely an infuriating exercise, or maybe even the product of a new operator in Hydra. Aji issued a second request; it was nagged her throughout her exercises until SUM eventually blurted a new scrap. She ceased her reps, tore the receipt from the machine, glanced at it, and put it carefully on the counter. Still read: “Saturn is stable.” Aji was certain somehow SUM had extruded a tongue, and a cheek. She crumpled the note in her hand, and not betraying a measure of fury, cast it to the waste basket under the eye of the pod’s mainframe. “Not funny,” she grumbled, distracted. Eighteen light-months of daily reports contained nothing more assured as the celestial status of Saturn, – “unstable.” It was supposed to be unstable. It was a regular alm at Sombrero, and Hydra, and a quip about ex-wives, husbands, the state of the sky, like “right as rain,” on planets without any precipitation. Aji was intellectually livid, and SUM reported her stomping another kilometer on the treadmill. “We’ll run the veil past Saturn,” she told SUM, finally, shook her head, and blew her hair in honest frustration. But it’s a ruse, she decided, some sort of ruse.
Another looming hindrance was a recent conversation with Nap, her U.S. Navy sponsor; in the dithers of any obvious responsibility, and substantial skepticism, he decided to curtail any more liaison, or support. The problem had been a physician from Brooklyn, who sent a strange discovery, – an inscrutable bell pepper, found by someone in Alley 13, near Coney Island, – to the Agriculture Department, which labeled the submission “sapless, and banal,” and brought it to the attention of Nap’s superiors at the naval base. Aji told him the pepper was irrelevant to her mission. It concerned “gravity,” Nap replied, with tedious gravity, “and therefore had to do with Aji.” He regretted, “All of this is over, has to stop.” Her phone dropped the rest of the call, perhaps intentionally.
“I don’t know how it got to Alley 13,” Aji had told him. “It’s just a pepper.”
Nap asked her, “Is a pioneer?”
“A pioneer? No. You’re misunderstanding Pio.”
“They’re weighing an alert,” Nap said, soberly. “I’m the guy on the Martians.” She imagined a thin grin spreading from a flex of his jaw, and slowly clapped the cell phone in her hand.
The bell pepper, a green, Capsicum annuum, was a regular, sweet pepper, but not your everyday pepper, as it goes; it was “dynamic pepper,” according to the report of a befuddled Brooklyn physician; it was green one day, another day red, another yellow, and the pepper grew in size, and got smaller; the exams showed the interior of the pepper contorted in various of shapes, and countless forms, causing speculation it actually might not be so terrestrial, and was trying to adapt to a new atmosphere. Dr. Rhys, the Coney Island physician who filed the report, was most enamored with the pepper in the moribund days of his orderly life approaching retirement. He first viewed the pepper in a CT scan in the Emergency Room of a Brooklyn medical center, and believed it contained a human embryo; the next day, it looked like normal seeds in side, the regular form of a pepper; and the next day, it was hollow. He was a teetotaler. He looked forward to the response about the Capsicum from a friend at the Agriculture Department. It remained unclear how it appeared in evidence. The story was the pepper rolled to a final stop in the city at Alley 13 in the sight of a young Hispanic boy, who claimed to the police the Capsicum had fallen from the sky, and bounced against the brick wall. The boy failed to convince the gendarmes the bell pepper was not a prop for illegal activity, or absconded from a local market. “I’m not shoplifter,” the boy protested, but it made him to laugh, about everything, and it sealed his immediate fate. The bell pepper’s prognosis arrived in a package for Dr. Rhys from a messenger of the U.S. Postal Service in the ER. He was handed a tiny envelope, a cablegram, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The physician was used to calamity. His dispatch about “dynamic alien vegetables” was not likely to invite too much more of it. He had given the pepper an ultrasound. Dr. Rhys opened the official government envelope, shook out the yellowed grayscale communique, and flummoxed it into a full-size page, donning reading glasses from the chest-pocket of a white coat. “This looks like something from the forties,” he complained. The message was succinct: “This is a capsicum, a Capsicum annuum. It is a ‘Bell Popper (sic).’ There is no evidence of human DNA. There is no embryo. The seed core is currently red.” Written in blue marker in a diagonal margin of the page were the words of his old friend, who advised Dr. Rhys to — “plant it.” The doctor folded the letter, with a wince, and put it in his pocket.
The glow of the pulsar, viewed in any terms, was spectacular, by any measure, the celestial gleam of an object compelling to both time, and space. The thought of it robed Yon Raulyn with dreams of radiance, and diamonds. Raulyn’s ship emerged from the orbital spheres of İo, and ziplined south in dijection through a veil nebula in continuous delight. The outlaw troupe from Lazarus Taxa, a Sombrero outpost, included Sawbones, “D.W,” the dire wolf, Yon’s second, Tune, and a crocodylinea named Slack, and traversed forty light-years from Earth. They had been arguing about why Slack never lied flat on the floor, like a normal alligator, and Yon dismissed it, nonsensically, “Because he’s a crocodile.”
The dire wolf, D.W., on the mantle place, rolled her eyes. “Can you explain why are we going to The Ponds? I hate The Ponds.”
The Ponds was named for its great, sundry lakes, and the sandbars once rich in vegetation, and coral reefs. Yon assured them, “There’s is a good reason,” as he continued to admire the diamond pulsar on the LIfeRaft® radar; the diamond planet was their ultimate destination, “a great Orb,” he called it; it was comprised of crystallized carbon.
Slack rolled in a hammock. “Those – are diamonds, Slack,” Yon reported, inspecting the pulsar. He was animated. “The pulsar is going to explode one of these days,” Sawbones commented. “We need to land on it long before that.”
D.W. said, “We probably won’t be alone.”
“I disagree,” Yon replied. “But if we have any trouble, well, Slack salivates about wise guys.” He petted the croc, agreeably. “Tasty, tasty wise guys, Slack!” he encouraged the dile. “Mm-mm-mm!” He was still wide-eyed about their stunning approach to the streaming pulsar, which was surrounded by stardust, and loomed in the shield of their pod. Yon saluted it, “Hello, PSR 1719-1438 b!”
A peripatetic crocodile, Slack began the journey in a chaise lounge of the galley, and moved to his own hammock near the front of the LifeRaft®, which the croc guarded zealously, and thus far never had to defend it. He opened and closed massive jaws in a show of general pleasure. The dire wolf admonished the crocodile, “He needs a better name. Why not Muddy, or Slab?”
Yon was overwhelmed with lust by the gleaming diamond pulsar, close, too far away to land, not too far for the day’s excursion. Sawbones ignored them, admiring, “The whole star is one big diamond. Where, oh where, will we put it all. Why should we do anything else?”
The pod continued on a course to officially land on 55 Cancri E, the name of the exoplanet. Yon rued, “It just can’t be this easy.” He ruminated about the potential obstacles, or drawbacks, with the obvious arising in his mind. Devoid of most virtues, except those of outlaws, Yon did possess one or two occasional values, and one was about poaching, or being seen as a poacher. “A poacher’s a birdbrain,” he told Tune, in the course of his previous training, and Tune remembered it, too.
Tune reminded him, “We still have to go back for a minute.”
Yon snapped, “Yes, yes. Right, right. Back, back. For a minute!”
The Hydra computer had issued an alert to all transiting LifeRafts® about a change to the status of Saturn, a planet in the Milky Way. It provided a perfect excuse to avoid any aspersions the troupe might engage about the habit of poaching, even as pilfering, or mining Cancri was actually poaching. Sawbones calculated at the LifeRaft® controls. He said, “We’ll have to be bright. No one will suspect we’re here to mine the diamond orb, Cancri, if we’re bright.” D.W. amused to the word, “bright,” a word Yon could never fit in a proper sentence. Illegal mining, and any type of poaching, attracted the hardest of hardball Hydra wardens, the ones who took it personally, with a dim and dimming view, typically expressed with some sort of chewing tobacco, and repetitive flexing of the chin. The law allowed the wardens to restrict the tiniest, most minute aspects of voyagers suspected of illegal mining, and to refuse to allow them fuel, parking, and purchase rights for dry goods. Sawbones considered the breakfast cereal, Wheaties, and frowned.
“Slack could handle the wardens,” Tune commented.
“No, – we’ll handle it,” Yon opted. “This is better. We can go to Cancri with a clear head. You go below, and see how many tons of diamonds we can store here. D.W., – we’ll need a helluva fence. See who’s available. The price is going to plummet pretty quick. But we’ll set it, we’ll set the price.”
Tune was worried. “We’ll get an alibi,” Sawbones said, still staring wistfully at Cancri, the diamond pulsar, now sparkling blue, and large in the screen, a truly gigantic gem, with the aura of white dust, “What we’ll do is make an emergency pass to inspect Saturn. Aeronauts will love us. They hate these milk runs. We’ll land at The Ponds, and we can diject easily from there to Saturn. Plenty of depots. It won’t take a hour.” He saved the exact location of Cancri carefully to the pod’s mainframe.
“Wait,” D.W. cautioned. “We can’t land on The Ponds anymore.”
Tune agreed. automatically, “True. We’ll bounce off the atmosphere, and careen back into space. It’s not possible.”
“That’s just another fallacy,” protested Sawbones, ineluctably. “I’ve landed there hundreds of times,” and, now lying somewhat, “I was there last week. We have to go. There’s a – a back door. I know where it is.”
The dire wolf was indefatigable. “We’ll all wait in the hatches, Yon.”
“Well, we can’t be seen poachers!” Yon said, self-righteously, banging the table with his fist, after double-checking Cancri, making sure it was still there, and resetting the controls. “Not if we’re going to bilk Cancri.” He sat confused in his captain’s chair. “We’ll be there – sixteen minutes. We’ll get groceries! You watch.”
The dire wolf, D.W., stared at Yon Raulyn, thunderstruck, and next to him, ready to operate a bilge, watching frantically while the LifeRaft® side-stepped one giant tidal wave of The Ponds after another. Yon maneuvered with success into the atmosphere of the Ponds; the waves presented the orb’s first attempts to repel them. He observed The Ponds, with his eyes keen on the pod’s direction. “Just a normal disturbance, just – bah, just a storm. Veer away!”
Sawbones grinned to D.W., “See, who is the greatest captain of all time. We’re landing on The Ponds!”
“Good, boss,” said Tune, warily strapped in a passenger chair.
The clouded atmosphere trailed them, but in the screen, the air was clear; there was brown gravel ahead of them. The horizon was strangely lush, but still lush, as lush ever. “You see, a back door!” Yon said, pointing to it all. “It’s all here. They’re just dummies, D.W., like we always said. You have to diject within a dijection. To another point, that’s all. Ride the waves. Ride the waves. All there is to it.”
Tune grumbled, “Brilliant, boss.”
Raulyn steered the LifeRaft® into a pumpkin field, which arose swiftly in the nose. “This stuff,” he said, at a full stop, groaning about at the bounty of vegetation. “Summer squash, green onions, broccoli. How much would they bring. Nothing on the market?”
“Pennies,” Tune commented.
“Pennies, is right,” Yon repeated, unstrapping the chair, and preparing his suit for a visit to The Ponds.
“We don’t have time. We’re going to go right back. But I want proof, a memento. Hah-hah! Yon Raulyn lands on The Ponds! Bunch of dummies. Tune, get ready to bank towards the pulsar! And – hey, we’re not poachers! Communicate our path to The Ponds to Hydra, D.W., and tell them ‘Captain Yon Raulyn’ found a new road to the great Ponds, after these years. That’ll cover us. Spruce it up, wolf. ‘It took – I dunno — years and years of hardships, and sorrows,’ I dunno – think of something.”
His voice trailed off in the hallway of the LifeRaft®. They heard the rampart of the pod creek into the cold, and thump into the gravel of The Ponds, and watched it spew dust on their shield. Sawbones took stairs one at a time, and sidewards. His voice arose on the panel. Tune rose from Yon’s chair, and D.W. raised the volume to hear him, querulous. Yon asked, “What do you want? Squash. Bananas? What about you, Slack?”
D.W. was dumbfounded, by everything, and Slack’s jowls rolled to a side. The dire wolf suggested, with dry caustics, “How about a salad.”
“Hate salad,” Yon objected. They heard him switch off the microphone.
“Veggies Slack, all we have is veggies, buddy,” Tune amused Slack. His lengthy belly coiled without any enthusiasm.
Yon stumbled into a hill of peppers, bell peppers, a sumptuous largess of greens, yellows and reds. He said, “How about chilies?”
D.W. tapped the microphone. She advised Yon emphatically. “Just grab something, and go. Doesn’t matter.”
“Just being nice, being friendly,” Sawbones answered, quietly, benign. “But I am a hero of the universe. That’s okay. I was just another outlaw. How about a pepper, a nice, green one.”
Yon may have finished the sentence with the word, pepper, the record wasn’t completely audible. The truth is absent in the aeronatic log; and the truth can smur, and it can blur in time, lost to the official annals of the history of Laniakea; the instance was retold by other voyagers, voyagers who were not poachers either. This instant, the one when Yon grasped the green pepper, a Capsicum annuum, the atmosphere, which is to say, The Ponds’ atmosphere, a great deal of it, much of it, in fact, wind, the rain, the light, gravity, color, darkness, weight, mass seemed to converge upon Sawbones. He was quite small in this grip, this very strange grapple, mindless, shocked beyond his ability to see. Yon was carried thusly in total, and also elsewhere, by The Ponds’ force, and the force of nature, at incalculable speeds. He could only wonder if it was healthy; the adventure concluded with a thump of his knees, and a brusque pain in his side, in normal light, and in normal air; it was terribly quiet. Yon rose quickly. He plucked the skin of his arm, and then noticed saw another human being, staggering in the distance, wearing a silver, and gray suit. Sawbones observed, “Armor?” It was a “knight of some kind.”
Of course, the last fate of Yon Raulyn was never determined; the raid of the Diamond pulsar never took place. Sawbones was believed to deposited in most literally in a haystack, too great a challenge for even his most ardent admirers, as few as they were, in number; much as he tried, and Yon never stopped trying, it was impossible to find a suture, a seam in Nature, and all of it was dreadfully unfair. His life after The Ponds began, as far as anyone could surmise, or may know or conject, in the heft of the Dingle pub. History had a family, the Raulyns; they mentioned it once at Taxa; one from Dingle was eventually initiated, if with hesitance, in the years ensuing. It required effort for Yon to restrain his brows. The Raulyns, if spelled correctly, ultimately would comprise many hundred stock, by the early 1600’s, and rank amongst the foremost producers in Irish agriculture, known for a notable, undiagnosed family history of indigestion.
Yon Raulyn had dijected frequently to Earth, and was not immediately concerned about his spot. It was just Medieval England, a place routinely pilfered by his band of outlaws, who would surely hitch him a ride any day for a decent fee. It was most likely Ireland, in or about the fourteen hundreds. He searched the country side, shipwrecked without a pod, realizing, if slowly, there was neither the knowledge, nor the wherewithal to build a new LifeRaft®, wizening, in the gaze of the chasmal sky of Earth yawning blue.
In fact, Yon Raulyn was the name of the progenitor of Raulyn line in the 15th century; and this fellow was eventually buried in a graveyard plot not far from this starry tumble, the distance from The Ponds in Virgo. A small, flat headstone lay buried by the passing ages in a sinkhole of displaced earth. It was no matter, Raulyn, the eldest, vehemently told people in Dingle, according to lore, provided the engraving of the grave stone contained his proper name, that it say simply, “Sawbones.” He was known as “Sawbones” in the cosmos, as it were. The undertaker found him wanting, however; without a surname for his plaque, his eternal moniker became “Saw Beag.” ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor,” sung by Paul Austin Kelly and Richard Durrant (Walking Oliver) | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 1-50,” a myopic vaile, (No. 39)
The Echo By Seas is one of three works by Soda Tom
….. from The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories by Soda Tom, Vol. II of III,
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