Twelve Screeching Hawks
Three of the large cannons atop the greenhouse structure were pointing directly at us. Huge fireballs of pure energy emerged from their barrels. In less than a second we would be vaporized.
McKaren shot straight up. The fireballs blasted a hole in the hard earth, a hole large enough to drop an average two story, five bedroom house into and still have some room left over. Moments later another volley headed toward us. McKaren dodged left, then right after the next volley, followed by a three sixty flip, a tip forward, then we shot to a position directly above the power plant, hovering a couple of feet above the center of the structure.
“Look,” Arn screamed, pointing ahead of us. “Giant birds.”
Twelve enormous screeching hawks, hawks the size of small fighter jets, converged on the scene, coming from twelve directions, talons extended ready to grab their prey, beaks open wide and emitting horrible, ear-shattering shrieks.
The energy cannons atop the old building came alive, blasting balls of energy at the hawks, all to no avail. The fire-like balls passed through the hawks bodies and shot past the horizon. Volley after volley of fireballs emerged from the cannons, yet none stopped the hawks.
The hawks continued toward their prey – the revolutionaries’ headquarters buildings, apparently intent on ripping them to shreds.
Suddenly the hawks disappeared, and the cannons grew quiet.
We continued to hover above the power plant.
“Would one of you tell me what just happened? Arn screamed.
“Calm down Arn. We’re fine,” I assured him.
“Splendid, Tammy, simply splendid. I was correctly informed about your skills. Arn, you are in good hands indeed,” McKaren exclaimed.
“Please explain to Arn what just happened, Tammy,” McKaren requested.
“When McKaren uncloaked, the goons saw a huge clown’s head hovering above the ground in front of their buildings. They trained their cannons on the clown’s head, and when they shot at us, I mean it, the head shot straight up, then left, then right, then did a three sixty, took off it’s hat with a hand that appeared out of nowhere, took a bow, then disappeared. That’s when McKaren cloaked again. Then we rapidly moved to our current position, where we are unseen and undetectable by the goons.
“The twelve hawks were generated images, sort of like the generated image we saw of Gramps. The fireballs had no effect on them, but the hawks scared the crap out of the goons.”
“Why twelve hawks?” Arn asked.
“Ah, yes, the twelve birds of prey. Yet it is not the twelve birds of prey with which you must concern yourself, but the thirteenth, the unseen one.”
“What are you talking about, Tammy?”
“We are the thirteenth bird of prey. Yet we are not at all what we may appear to be. We appear to be a bird of prey, yet we have become a dove, a bird of peace.”
“Nothing you’re saying makes any sense. No sense at all, Tammy.”
“Not now, but it will, Arn.”
“If you say so. I guess I should be thanking McKaren for the slick show that got us out of that mess.”
“The thanks should be directed to Tammy, Arn. From the moment I decloaked, Tammy was totally in charge. The clown’s head was her idea, the moves to avoid the fireballs, the hawks, the recloaking and where we’re sitting now – all Tammy’s ideas. I only did what she told me to do.”
“Really? Really? Where in the hell did you learn to fly like that, Tammy?” Arn asked.
“In another life, Arn, or at least it seems like another life. I was the hawk, the unknown, silent, but in that case the deadliest of hawks. The explanation can wait. We have more urgent matters to attend to in our remaining time together.”
“That’s an explanation?” Arn demanded to know.
“The only one I’m going to give you now. I promise to tell you more later. I will do my best to find the time to explain everything to you.”
“We should be heading back to the workshop kids,” McKaren interrupted. “It’s getting dark.”
“I haven’t heard the dinner siren yet, McKaren,” I said. “Or maybe it sounded while we were watching a noisy firefight and we couldn’t hear it.”
“It hasn’t sounded. The goons, as you like to call them, are so shook up I doubt they’ll even remember to sound the siren this evening.”
“Does that mean we don’t have to eat slime soup for supper?” Arn asked.
“Tonight you’ll be having lasagna with hot buttered sourdough bread, green beans and triple chocolate cheesecake for dessert, accompanied by your favorite almond champagne, Tammy. I’ll be serving dinner in exactly one hour. We should be getting back so I’ll have time to prepare dinner.”
With that, we headed directly back to Gramps’ workshop. The hidden top opened flawlessly, we descended and landed, the top of the workshop silently closed, and McKaren’s doors once again appeared and opened. Arn and I emerged and headed toward the shelves that held the food, looking for lasagna and cheesecake.
“You need not bother. I’ll take care of that,” McKaren said.
We turned to face McKaren. McKaren, however, had disappeared. In her place stood an English butler, wearing a long-tailed black tux, ruffled white tux shirt and a black top hat.
“What happened to McKaren?” Arn asked.
“I just look a bit different for the occasion,” the butler answered. “Relax for a few minutes and dinner will be ready soon.”
Both of us stood staring at the butler.
“Sure, if you say so,” Arn announced. “After what I’ve seen today, I guess anything is possible. Anytime now I’ll wake up from this dream and it will be time to dust weed leaves in the heat of Hoth.”
“Is this the dream, Arn, or is that the dream? Perhaps both are. Perhaps neither are. Are you suggesting that dreams are not real, Arn?” McKaren asked.
“I’m confused,” Arn replied, shrugging his shoulders. Arn turned, walked over to Gramps’ desk and looked at my picture and Gramps’ picture.
“You sure were pretty when you were sixteen,” he said, studying my picture.
“Are you saying I’m not pretty now?”
“You’re even prettier now, Tammy.”
“Nice save, Arn.”
“I mean it Tammy,” Arn said, standing up.
Arn turned toward me, walked up to me and hugged me.
“Please don’t leave me Tammy.”
“If there is any way, I won’t.”
Arn kissed me. I didn’t protest. When he finished, I kissed him.
McKaren came near, excused herself for stepping in front of us, then pushed a button. A panel neither Arn nor I had noticed opened. McKaren reached up and pulled down a wall bed.
“Why don’t you two doze for a few minutes while I prepare dinner?”
The next thing either of us heard was the sound of a silver bell gently being rung.
“Dinner is served.”
Champagne and Cheesecake
McKaren had somehow managed to produce a table for two, complete with a white tablecloth, china, silverware and crystal long-stemmed champagne glasses.
“Please be seated.”
McKaren approached with a white towel draped over her arm, carrying a bottle of chilled almond champagne. McKaren unfastened the wire that held the cork, then popped the cork, much to Arn’s surprise.
“What was that?” he asked, referring to the popping of the cork.
“It’s what usually happens when you open a bottle of champagne,” I explained.
McKaren filled both of our glasses about two thirds full with my favorite champagne.
I raised my glass.
“Where I come from, it’s customary to toast. That means we both hold up our glasses, gently bump them together and congratulate each other on the fine day we’ve had. This is a special occasion,” Arn.
“I don’t think I can do this, Tammy.”
“Why not, Arn?”
“Here we sit, about to drink this special stuff, and then eat real food while the rest of the workers are eating weed soup. Who am I that I should be treated better than a king?”
“Indeed, Arn. Indeed. Well spoken,” McKaren said, as though she were indeed speaking to the king. “Your concern for your subjects has not gone unnoticed. I was correctly informed about you also. However, you do not understand the significance of this occasion. Today marks a pivotal point in the history of Hoth. The others will be provided for, thanks to the two of you. Feast. Enjoy. This is your celebration.”
Arn and I toasted each other, and drank two glasses of champagne before McKaren served us hot lasagna with cheese and huge chunks of real meat oozing out of the middle layers. Alongside the lasagna were steaming piles of fresh green beans, with bits of onion, bacon and slivered almonds interspersed among the beans.
McKaren produced a basket of warm, sliced sourdough bread and a bowl of butter.
“Yes, please fill our glasses, McKaren,” Arn requested. “I love that stuff.”
When we had eaten our fill of lasagna and green beans, McKaren cleared the table and then brought us large wedges of cheesecake, cheesecake as good as any I had ever eaten.
Who Is McKaren?
“Outstanding, McKaren. Outstanding,” I gushed. “How did you do all of this in Gramps’ workshop?”
“I have a trick or two up my sleeve for an occasion as special as this.”
“Such as turning into an English butler just after having been a Land Rover? Make that a cross between a Land Rover and a small jet,” I stated matter-of-factly.
“I bet you have a few more surprises up your butler’s sleeve, McKaren.”
“Could be Tammy. Of course you know I do.”
“What do you know, Tammy?” Arn asked.
“When McKaren and I were silently communicating we were also getting a glimpse of what was on each other’s mind, I guess you could say. McKaren has some amazing abilities.”
“Is she human, Tammy?”
“No she is not human.”
“Good. I mean, uh, she looks human. If she’s not human, what is she?”
“Something we don’t quite understand. But she is our friend, here to help us and the people of Hoth, even the goons.”
“Huh? Even the goons? Why would she want to help the goons?”
“I’m standing right here, Arn,” McKaren said. “You may ask me your question.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry. So why do you want to help the goons.”
“They’re people, just like you. They have an easier life than you, but their life on Hoth is also difficult. Like the others on this planet, they too are slowly being poisoned. Without them, this settlement would not exist and perhaps no one would have survived until this point.”
“I suppose you’re right. I never looked at it that way,” Arn said.
Why Help the Goons?
“You’re saying we should feel compassion toward the goons?” Arn asked.
“What I’m saying is that you will learn to see them as fellow survivors of a cataclysmic chain of events that has already destroyed most life on this planet and that will succeed in destroying all human life and most other forms of life on the planet.
“They have brought a sense of order to what little remains. They have managed to bring the desalination plant back online, which in turn allowed for the production of food crops, even though most of that crop is one type of plant. They have arranged a distribution network for supplies and food.
“Their distribution network includes airplanes, trucks and other machinery which must be kept repaired and fueled.”
“Where do they get the fuel?” I asked.
“They discovered that a small, obscure oil production and refinery facility was not destroyed in the chaos. They also brought that facility back online. In addition, there are still stockpiles of fuel scattered in various locations throughout the continent. Some are accessible, while others are far from any settlement.”
“Who runs those facilities?” Arn asked.
“The people who keep the desalination plant and fuel refinery running and those who do things such as vehicle maintenance and other essential services are workers, like you and Tammy. Not at all workers are field workers.”
“Maybe not, but we must have the hottest jobs, right?” Arn responded.
“Everyone works in hot conditions, Arn. The northern settlement near what little remains of the polar ice cap is a few degrees cooler, but there are no cool jobs and no cool locations remaining on the planet. The monotony of your job and the bending over and squatting you must do are probably the most difficult parts of what you do.
“Undoubtedly you will both have many more questions. We will be spending more time together, and I will be able to answer many of your questions.”
How Do You Know?
“How do you know all of this information, McKaren?” Arn asked.
“Remember the observation modules I mentioned? They provide me with much of my information.”
“You’re also connected with the goons’ information systems, their computer networks, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes, I have access to all of the information to which they have access.”
“The intensity of the rain has increased since we returned to the workshop,” McKaren announced. “You’ll be spending the next two nights here. Your appetites have been sated and now you’re both tired. I suggest you sleep. Even though neither of you require more than five or six hours sleep to perform at your best, sleep as long as you like. When you awaken, whatever the time, you will want to inventory the contents of these rooms and acquaint yourself with all that is here.”
“Are you suggesting that we count everything that’s here?” I asked. “That would take a lot longer than a couple of days.”
“Of course not. All the information is stored in information systems. You need only retrieve the information. You may, however, wish to take a closer look at some of the contents of these rooms, which in turn will provoke questions.”
“Do we get to go for another ride tomorrow to see the other settlements?” Arn asked.
“The rain may prevent that.”
“Will there be more encounters with the goons and their cannons?” I asked.
“Today’s encounter was primarily for the purpose of helping you remember your skills, Tammy. In a few days the goons will see more strange phenomena, but they will not see us. They will see more generated images. We will watch. I don’t want to spoil the fun, so you must wait for this.
“Time to sleep kids,” McKaren said laughing. “Welcome to Hoth, Tammy, one of your many homes. Tomorrow promises more surprises for both of you, so time to get your sleep.”
Arn and I looked at each other, then turned to look at McKaren. McKaren was once again a silent, black, armored Land Rover.
Arn and I lay down next to each other, as usual. This time, however, we did not whisper in the darkness as we usually did. We immediately fell asleep, wondering what might be in store the next day.