Return Engagements (Book Two) PART 10

(Continued from part nine)

After my speed-thinking experience, my friends took over the conversation, asking me about space travel. That helped me, because while I could still feel things roiling around in the back of my mind, no more were added. More than that, their raw enthusiasm for the subject began cleansing me in some way. The got excited almost the way that three year-olds do. There was a naked thrill to it.

As we ate our meals I explained in some depth about the Gemini and Apollo programs I grew up with. I recounted all the stories of spacewalks, disasters and near disasters, docking maneuvers, orbital trajectories and so on. They were mesmerized.

And then, as an aside, I mentioned something about airplanes, after which they wanted a description of that whole industry. And when I explained to them that my 19 year-old self was, at about this time, working at O’Hare, the world’s busiest airport… and that it was a fairly short drive away… well, they had to go.

And so we left the Chandelier. But before we headed out, they wanted to walk around the block to soak in the atmosphere. I waited in the car and tried to let my mind be as blank as possible.

Soon enough, however, we were on our way to O’Hare. We parked and walked long circuits through a couple of terminals (there were no armed checkpoints in those days), me answering questions nearly all the way.

Finally, the airport being all but empty by this time, we headed out again. But as we arrived at the car, I could feel that Jens had something to say.

What is it?” I asked him as we got back into the car, with him in the front seat this time.

Is there someplace we can stop on the way back? Somewhere where we can be left alone to speak for a while?”

Immediately I knew where to go, and I took them to the old Howard Johnson’s oasis, bridging the Tri-State Tollway1. It was slightly seedy but easy to get to, open all night and certain to be mostly empty.

We’d like to tell you what we did with the Corwins,” Lara said as we found a table and sat.

I nodded.

Micah was about to die… as in tonight or tomorrow morning. We can tell such things.”

I nodded again.

Dorthea had another four days. So… since it would make so little difference to the larger world, and since we were sure you’d agree… we thought we should make their exits more pleasant for them.”

To that I certainly agree,” I injected, and this time they nodded.

So, we very gently informed them of this fact and offered to equalize them. They will now die at roughly the same moment. Two nights from now, they’ll both become very, very tired, then fall asleep in both senses of the term.”

And they’d very much like your help and comfort until then,” Lara added.

I pondered for a moment. Of course I’d do what I could for them, but there was more implied in her little statement.

And what did you tell them?”

We said that your mission was highly important, but that they had become part of it, and taking two days out for them would please you. Then they asked how they might help you and your mission, to justify the time spent on them.”

These really are thoughtful people,” I mumbled.

They are,” she said. “They belong in a better world.

And so,” Lara continued, “please see if there’s something they can do to help your mission.”

I shall,” I assured them.

From there, the conversation turned back to what they’d be doing on this temporary Earth, and for how long. And again they began by asking if it seemed a good idea to me.

Their plan was to drive to NASA in Florida and spend a day or two examining the spacecrafts, meeting the designers, and so on. I advised them that it was a highly protected set of facilities with access severely restricted, but they just smiled. “We’re good at ins and outs,” they assured me.

I had earlier explained that this was a slow moment at NASA, but that didn’t concern them. They mainly wanted to see the equipment and know the engineers who had built it.

We went back to the car and headed back to the apartment, where they’d drop me off. We were all quiet on the way back, but I had one question that kept nagging me, and I decided to take the opportunity while I could.

Earlier, you said that you were hesitant to deal with the people of this time because you were too far removed from them. But I’m more or less from this time. You’re dealing with me.”

Lara, in the front seat this time, took the question.

But you’re also an outsider to this world; that attitude makes a tremendous difference. You are already informed of many things they are not… and have acclimated yourself to those things.”

I waited for her to continue.

In addition, you’re an important four decades removed from them, as well as working at the forefront on a daily basis.”

Am important four decades? ran through my mind… Most of those years were boring.

Why do you say those four decades were important? I saw a lot of it as dull.”

Ah,” Jens added from the back seat, “but you were looking at the outer world more than the inner worlds.”

What did you see,” I responded, “when you looked at those decades?”

What I saw,” he went on while pulling himself between the two front seats again, “was people progressively clarifying their experience of themselves. Your increasing knowledge of psychology, for example… regardless of the tangents it sometimes took, made people aware of entire classes of errors.”

You mean things like denial and cognitive dissonance?”

Yes, precisely. And being aware of them, they began to clean them out. Slowly and erratically, of course, but steadily.

Haven’t you been saying that what your people needed to move forward was not so much mental strength but emotional strength?”

Yes, I’ve been saying that in a couple of ways, and I think maybe I should say it more.”

Perhaps so,” he said. “From my perspective, such things provided solid ground upon which people could stand to do other things… more overt things, like your Internet and cryptography movements.”

Maybe you’re right,” I said. “Slowly and quietly, that continued through the whole time. And with the Internet, it spread all the faster.”

I could see him in the rear-view mirror smiling.

Thank you,” I said to them both. “I very much appreciate your perspectives on things.”

I could feel a joy oozing out of them. We arrived at the apartment and parted while still engulfed in it.


1 If you’re curious, you can see this place in an older movie called Thief, starring James Caan.

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