Sunday, March 29, 2015

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 25 "The Best Laid Plans"

  Sigmund was sound asleep in the copilot's chair. He was snoring softly and his headset and glasses were askew. Sid had turned the headset off, so that air traffic chatter wouldn't wake the old man. Snake was blessedly silent in the back, curled up with a blanket on the small canvas bench. 

  After an uneventful two hours at cruising altitude, the PC-6 had entered a cloudbank just south of Dijon and through the strange properties of dimensional intersectionality, exited a different cloud into the night sky, somewhere over a densely populated area of upstate New York according to the GPS. Sid tried to get his bearings, jumping like that was always a bit disorienting, but something was very wrong. His altimeter read 9,750 feet, but his eyes told him that the concentric streetlights of some housing development he saw below them seemed to be much closer than that. 'Now what?' Sid wondered to himself. With Snake Thompson onboard, they were certain to have jumped to somewhere near Hubbard. But who else might be looking for him? He barely had time to ponder that question when it began to resolve itself in a most unusual way. 

  The dials all indicated that they were flying level, but the town seemed to be rising up to meet them . . . fast. It was extremely disorienting. Sid had learned from flying with both Chuck Yeager and Hugo Eckener that the senses can play tricks on you, and to always fly by your instruments. His readouts all said "everything's cool," but his eyes warned of disaster. Then, to his left, his eyes caught another odd phenomenon. The lights of the upward rushing town ended abruptly and then, with dizzying perspective, the orderly grid of a couple of towns appeared many thousands of feet below. Sid threw the stick hard to the left to dive toward the distant lights. The g-force of the violent bank was followed by a plummeting weightlessness. This awakened the snoring Sigmund, who began emitting an amazing stream of German profanities. 

  Adding to the chaos, from the back seat came a 'yeehaw' Yosemite Sam would have been proud to produce. Snake was for all intents and purposes, floating in mid-air, holding onto some structural members with all his might, but he seemed to in his element. Everybody was awake alright, but Sid had no time to explain what was happening. The Buddha was fighting the stick for control of the plane which was basically surfing on the massive cushion of air being displaced by whatever it was that was ascending beneath them. As air pressure built, the PC-6 shook and bucked like it was on a washboard runway and just when it seemed it would break apart, over the edge they went into . . . smooth air. 

  Once they'd all started breathing again, Sid circled around to get a better look at the vast mass that they'd nearly slammed into. It was a huge, saucer shaped craft. The thing was so big it was hard to get a sense of scale and he didn't want to risk getting anywhere near it for fear of vortices that would send them spiraling out of control. Whatever it was, it was probably looking for Hubbard as well. He'd seen enough, and banked hard right to put some distance between them and the huge disc. They'd need to set down, and soon, so Sid decided to find the nearest airport and get down on the ground. His GPS said that Elmira Corning regional airport was just 20 miles to the south. He found the tower frequency and proceeded to get permission to land. It was 21:42 local time and with luck, they'd be on the ground in twenty minutes.

•••

Hubbard hovered somewhere between fascination and panic. He was slinking among the tables at Toby's Bar and Grill, trying to make his way back to the Speaker's Lounge. His finely tuned sense of self-preservation said "escape," but his ego wouldn't let him take his eyes off the spectacle unfolding across the street in the park. It wasn't every day he saw his own imagination come to life  . . . well, at least it didn't used to happen before he ended up here in this strange place. 

  The flag with the X, he'd never written anything about that. The Espinol Star system had a flag, but he couldn't remember what he said it looked like. It didn't matter. This could only be one person, Xenu. The powerful build. The armored body. There were no spaceplanes, but still, it must be Xenu. This couldn't be good. He'd envisioned a ruthless monster, a real take-no-prisoners kind of guy. Ron couldn't help thinking that this is what "Revolt In The Stars" would have looked like, if only those downstat clowns had approached the studios correctly back in '79. That seemed like an eternity ago. What was in store for him now? An electronic trap? H-bombs? Implants? His cowardice overwhelmed his curiosity and he spun low to make a run for the back room and he ran smack into Melville's Indian, Quequeg.

  The towering man was tapping away at one of the Apple phone things, his face illuminated in a bluish light, "Hey, mister, Jane says I should get you out of here. Come with me" Quequeg said without looking away from the screen. 

  Ron decided that he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth at this point. He looked around the bar once more to see if his Commodore's Messengers had shown up to protect him, but they were MIA. The Indian just stood there absorbed in his device. 

  "Well? Are we going somewhere?" Hubbard asked trying to sound nonchalant.

  "Oh, sure, just finishing a text. I don't want Ishmael to worry." With that Quequeg put the phone in his pants and grabbed Hubbard's arm, pulling him along, crouching low. They made their way to the back room where he and Jane had been drinking wine before all hell broke loose, and there she was, standing by one of the bookcases that lined the walls. 

  "Come on, you two, shake a leg! I think that guy means business out there!" Jane said as she tugged her copy of Typewriter In The Sky forward from the shelf. With that, a section of the shelves moved outward slid to the left revealing a spiral staircase leading down a dank, brick shaft. Quequeg and Jane hustled Ron into the secret stairwell and the bookcase slid back into place behind them. They wound their way down the spiral and when they reached the bottom, a dimly lit tunnel ran off into the distance in a straight line. 

  "This leads to the Chemung river, Ron, Quequeg has a skiff there and he'll take you to the Peaquod, I think you should be safe there for a while" Jane said looking upward with a worried expression.
  
  Ron looked astonished, "The Peaquod? What the hell am I gonna do there? Go looking for a white whale? Oh, no, Sister, I'm going to R6 City and get to the bottom of what's going on here!"

  "I think you might be the white whale in this case, Ron, and I don't think your Space Ahab up there is exactly planning on taking you to a spa after what I saw him do to Rammy with that ray gun. Yeah, it won't kill you for good, but I bet that thing smarts" said Jane, exhaling a cloud of smoke. 

  "Here Ronny, here are some Kools and a book of matches in case your girls don't show up for a while. Quequeg has his phone, if you get into any trouble, you text me. When all this blows over, you really gotta come back and we'll have a nice chat, just you, Will, Herman and me. Now, scram already!" And with that, she started back up the metal stairs. 

  With just her feet showing at the top of the spiral, Hubbard heard Jane squeak, "I don't hear footsteps! Quee honey, just make him go if you have to." Then the huge tattooed man began to push a reluctant Hubbard down the dim passage way.

  "Okay! Okay Cochise! You don't have to manhandle me. Me savvy. Me savvy." Hubbard smirked.

  Quequeg glared at him, "I speak perfect English you know. You gonna be a jerk all the way to Massachusetts?" 

  "Massachu . . .are you kidding me?" Hubbard blurted out.
  
  The tattooed man was silent. Hubbard rolled his eyes dramatically, sighed heavily and they headed down the long tunnel to who knows what.

•••

  Sid looked around nervously for the huge saucer, but it was nowhere to be found. The blue lights of Elmira Corning airport were a welcome sight, and they were on the glidepath when Sigmund suddenly, and violently sneezed. This launched the nastiest loogie Sid had seen in the last 2,600 years onto the control panel. Flustered and horrified, Sigmund pulled out his handkerchief and hurriedly tried to wipe it up, in the process he flipped up the cover of the emergency fuel cutoff and flicked the switch to the "off" position. The truboprop cut out and they began to plummet from the sky. 

Sid tried valiantly to restart the engine, but they were so low that he figured his time would be best spent keeping them from hitting some hard object and bursting into flames. He really didn't want to do that again. The Chemung river was just to their right and in the moment, Sid decided wet and relatively soft was better than dry and hard. 

"Brace yourselves!" he screamed. He gave her full flaps, pulled back on the yoke and made a valiant attempt at a smooth landing, but the fixed gear skimmed the surface of the water for a moment and then, a sickening thud. The PC-6 did a faceplant in the shallows of the river and slowly arced over to land upside down in the cold water.

•••

  Hubbard and Quequeg trudged on into ever deepening water, it was up to Hubbard's knees by this point. Most of the dim bulbs at this end of the tunnel were burned out, and the few that remained, flickered and buzzed ominously. They had finally reached the end of the tunnel and before them a rusty ladder disappeared up a riveted, iron shaft. Quequeg climbed the ladder and Ron could hear him struggling with the huge iron lid.

  "Uh, you need help with that Chief?" Hubbard asked, hoping the answer would be 'no.'

  "No!" came the curt answer from above. Ron heard the iron cover fall aside with a resounding clang and the next thing he knew, Quequeg thrust a hand down to help him up. No sooner had the muscular Indian hoisted Hubbard through the manhole at the top of the ladder, there came a great wooshing from above followed by a tremendous splash that nearly knocked the two of them over. Something had crashed into the river violently, just ahead of them. It was dark enough that they couldn't really see what was happening.   

  "What the holy hell was that?!" asked Hubbard. They were crouched on a concrete pad next to the river. There was a rickety wooden pier with an ancient rowboat tied up to it just visible in the gloom. Quequg was already halfway to the boat.
   
  "Come on! Let's go see if someone needs help!" said Quequeg untying the line. "Well? Come on, they might be hurt!"

  "Uh, that's okay. I'll stay here. It'd be better if you go alone in that tiny boat" said Hubbard trying to sound concerned with someone other than himself.

  "This thing holds eight whalers and their gear. Get in! . . . Now!" roared Quequeg. 
  
  This Indian was getting awfully pushy, he'd have to do something about that when things calmed down. Hubbard jumped into the back of the boat and they pushed off. There was stirring out in the dark. There were several voices and it sounded like someone was speaking German. Then Ron heard it. That voice. That loud, bombastic, totally made up voice. It was his golem. It was Snake. 

  "Uh, maybe we should rethink this whole rescue caper. Whoever they are, they sound fine out there" said Hubbard nonchalantly.

  Quequeg glared at Hubbard. "Maybe you want to swim back and face your spaceman, huh?" he said as he rowed powerfully through the water.

  "Oh, nevermind. Just row, will you, Chief?" Hubbard crossed his arms petulantly and braced himself for the fawning that would no doubt be lavished on him when Snake realized he was in the boat.

  Sid had managed to get his passengers out of the supine aircraft and onto the fuselage. They had struck a sandbar just below the surface and flipped. Fortunately the short takeoff and landing design of the Porter meant that Sid was able to bring the plane down at a relatively low speed.

  The Buddha had just gotten Sigmund and Snake settled on the plane's belly when he heard a somewhat nasaly voice in the dark river yell "ahoy!" Hubbard. It had to be Hubbard. Sid had pulled the emergency kit out of the plane and grabbed the flashlight. He swept it across the dark water until he spotted a figure emerging from the gloom. It was Hubbard alright. He was standing in a rowboat, like a pudgy, ginger, George Washington, waving like he was in some watery pageant. There was a powerfully muscled, tattooed man rowing them across the river. 

  "Well, if it isn't my old friend Mr. Hubbard!" yelled the Buddha.

  "Sid? . . . Sid? Is that you?" Ron was uncomfortable. Hearing Sid's voice made him feel like he was going to cry. Emotions were colliding, so bluster was called for. "Well, of course it's you! I thought we might find you out here. I told old Quepod here not to be scared, and that we had to go out and rescue my old friend Siddartha!"

  If looks could kill, Quequeg's expression would have reduced Hubbard to a paste. Just as they were about to reach the capsized plane, the tattooed man jacked the oars hard in the river, dumping Ron, in his moment of selfless grandiosity, into the frigid waters of the Chemung. 
   
  "Sorry boss. Me not wanna hitum big rock" Quequeg said smiling wryly at Hubbard who was gasping in the icy shallows.

  "Oh, Maitreya! How unfortunate." said Sid, wading out to the floundering Ron. He winked at Quequeg as he passed the rowboat. He got Hubbard to his feet and they slogged onto the sandbar and the waiting boat.

  "Well I'll be a pickled polecat, if it ain't Ron Hubbard!" hollered Snake as he galomphed through the water to help Sid fish his creator from the drink. "I knew you were in a Jam, Ron! Yes sir, I just knew it!" he barked, slapping Ron on the back so hard, water shot out the man's nose.
  "Now wait just a second. Who was in a jam here? It wasn't me!" Ron said haughtily. "Why, if we hadn't come along when we did . . ."

  ". . . then we'd have had to swim to shore all by ourselves! That's nearly thirty feet!" said Sid sarcastically. 

Quequeg was helping Sigmund into the boat as the bickering trio approached them. He pushed the boat off the sandbar and helped the rest of the men in. 

  "Where we go now great white chief?" Quequeg said in his best Hollywood Indian 
voice.

  "Hell if I know! Just get us out of of the open, will you Quepog? We're sitting ducks out here." said Hubbard sharply

  "Hey, Great White Fail, it's Quequeg. Now settle down, you almost got my phone wet."

  And as they rowed down the shining, dark river, the stars burned brightly, Hubbard and Quequeg sniped and snapped at each other, and Sid tried his best not to laugh. 

•••

  Meanwhile, back at Toby's Bar and Grill, things were not going exactly according to Xenu's plan. After the big floor show on the ship, he had expecting to land, march into the bar, snag Hubbard and take him back to face the music aboard the Teegeeack Express. Xenu had worked that crowd to a fever pitch and everyone was waiting for the guest of dishonor to show up. Now, here he was on Teegeeack and there was no Hubbard. It was just maddening. To make matters worse, the diminutive woman who called herself Jane wasn't afraid of him, either. He was Xenu! He used renegades! Come to think of it, that's all he could think of when the woman had asked him about himself. "I am Xenu! I use renegades!" When did he start talking like a bad Steve Reeves movie? He was usually so full of wit and swagger. He just didn't feel like himself.

  "Hubbard, huh? He was just here. I wonder where he went? Anyone here see a chubby, redheaded writer in here lately?" said Jane innocently, looking around the bar. No answer from the crowd

  "Impudent woman! I demand Hubbard! I will have him as my slave!" bellowed Xenu theatrically.

  "I don't know, maybe he was in here and maybe he wasn't. We usually only get characters in here" she said sipping some red wine from a large stemmed glass.

  "Characters? What do you mean by 'characters?'" said Xenu. He had a bad feeling about this all of a sudden.

  "Well, you're a character" said Jane matter of factly.

   Xenu eyed her suspiciously "None who dare speak to me have called me that! 'Fabulous,' yes, but never 'a character!'"

  "No. I mean you're a character. A fiction. Hubbard wrote you into existence. That's where you came from. Look around. Most of the folks in here are fictional characters, like poor Ramtha who you incinerated a while back. The bartender there? That's Seth, I wrote him! Wave at the nice alien Seth." The bartender waved grimly, rolled his eyes, and returned to sweeping up broken glass. "That chick there, with the rabbit? Quan Yin. Totally made up. And they're just the beginning." She looked at Xenu for some sign of expression but all she could see was her reflection in his faceplate.

  "But I am Xenu! I . . . used . . ."

  "Renegades! I know, I know." said Jane finishing his sentence for him. "What does that even mean? Look, Xenu honey, can you remember your parents? Your first school? Any brothers or sisters?"

  That question usually got them. So few authors seemed to write really full backstories for their characters. Who really cared about the childhood or school days of some cardboard cutout villain? People today want action and all the computers leave them with the attention span of a weasel on a double cappuccino! Still, Jane never knew how characters who found their way here would react when confronted with reality. It really depended on how well written they were. Was there enough "there" there for a character to have an existence on their own? Jane finished her glass of wine and watched Xenu intently. The huge warrior was stock still. It was unnerving not being able to see any expression. He just stood there. Breathing.

  Then, slowly, the towering overlord reached up and fumbled with the catches on his facelplate and with trembling hands, lifted the mirrored visor. Suddenly, everything was a jumble and he could barely remember anything about himself, and now, to make matters worse, he was certain that his mascara was running. Yes, nothing was going according to his plan . . . whatever that had been.      

•••

  It had been a confusing, deeply disturbing week for Mary Sue. 
  
  Joe and Brigham had been very kind to her, but her mind felt like it was being torn apart. Seeing Ron again, waking up in that awful place. Polly and Sara. It all reminded her of things she'd done. Awful things. How she'd built her life around that man and his ideas. How could she have been so duped? Joe said she should be gentle with herself, but how could she? When she thought of Ron she was filled with rage and self-hatred. When she thought of her broken family, despair and regret. She could barely allow herself to think of Quentin, of that awful day at La Quinta. Part of her had died that day and now, well, all of her was dead and yet, strangely alive. And here she was in this lovely home, with this strange pair of fellows. 

  They seemed to want to help her, but why? They were nice enough and were very sweet with Vixie and Tzu. It was all too much at times. But she remembered what Joe had told her, "focus on the present." Yes, the present was pretty nice. Here she was, relaxing with a cup of tea after a lovely meal. Out the window, there was still snow blanketing Mountain Meadows, and Joe had lit a fire in the fireplace. Brigham and Joe came in from the kitchen with some dessert on a tray, and suggested they relax with some TV. And so, they settled on the large sectional in front of the huge television built into the bookcase. Yes, something sweet after dinner and some television would be nice. 

  "Well, what shall we watch?" Mary Sue asked as she tucked into a fat eclair.

   Joe looked at her with a slightly odd expression as he fussed with a remote control covered with buttons, "You just sit tight, Mary Sue. Oh, Brig, this thing is so complicated! Which one of these is HBO?"

3 comments:

Sidney18511 said...

Holy shit Artoo!!

You are an excellent excellent writer.

Anonymous said...

more more more!

Anonymous said...

bravo!