Science Fiction cyberpunk redemption desert

The Motel 6 Fugue

By Karl Dandenell
Mar 21, 2018 · 5,144 words · 19 minutes

Wheres the Pool?

Photo by John Middelkoop via Unsplash.

From the author: This was my first professional sale, *way* back in 1993 (and appeared under my former byline, Karl Schlosser). I was deep in my cyberpunk phase.


The fear hit Peter Anderson as soon as his eyes opened. The generic curtains, the cheap clock-radio sitting on the nondescript nightstand and the Gideon Bible — he recognized none of it. Where the hell am I?

Anderson pushed away the fear growing in his belly. Panic wouldn’t serve him now. He needed answers. He’d built his whole life on that principle.

He sat up in bed and discovered the hangover that had been lying in wait. The pain cheered him in a small way, for it gave him something to focus on other than the terrifying sense of displacement.

Go with what you know, he told himself. Come on, be rational. Hangovers meant drinking. Drinking probably meant a weekend or vacation. Perhaps he’d been trying to forget some deeper pain. However, that still didn’t explain his presence here. Where?

First things first. He threw back the covers that smelled slightly of disinfectant and chlorine, then stumbled into the bathroom. He didn’t switch on the lights; he didn’t need them. Faucets and towels seemed to reach for his hands. Artificial light would be intolerable in any case.

He was in a Motel 6. A glance at the paper-wrapped glasses on the counter told him that much. Which one? While he hadn’t placed himself yet, Anderson’s stomach knew that he’d been drinking boilermakers. With Kentucky bourbon.

He let the shower steam away the worst of it, then reluctantly shut off the water and dried himself with the rough towels. He moved with more confidence now. Stick with the basics. Pretend that you have a cold. Get dressed, get ready for work. Act like you know what you’re doing.

Opening the closet, Anderson found two nondescript black nylon duffel bags: one large, one small. The smaller bag contained six items: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, electric razor, hair brush, and generic ibuprofen. All were relatively new.

He brushed his close-cropped blond hair, shaved, and removed the last vestiges of the boilermakers from his mouth. His reflection revealed a dark tan and — despite the hangover — gray eyes with absolutely white sclera.

In the second nylon bag, he found underwear, socks, jeans, and a blue oxford dress shirt. The clothes (which all fit) had been wrapped in laundry paper. He finished dressing.

Anderson’s growling stomach told him that he hadn’t eaten for a long time. He slipped on his boots, pausing to examine the high gloss on black leather. The smell of polish invoked an image of an old Hispanic man and stained rags. Where had that been? The shine was still fresh.

A denim jacked lay draped across the foot of the bed. He put it on and left.

Bright, clean sunlight lit up the coffee shop. A small bell jingled as he pushed through the second set of double glass doors. He stood by the sign that read “WAIT HERE TO BE SEATED” until one of the waitresses noticed him. “Don’t mind that, honey,” she called out from behind the counter. “Just take a seat.”

“Anything nonsmoking?” he asked. His voice sounded like it belonged to someone else.

“As long as you don’t light up, it’s nonsmoking.” She barked a laugh and the cook behind the grill shook his head. It sounded like an old joke.

Before sitting down, he patted the jacket’s pockets until he found the reassuring lump of a wallet. That had happened once, losing his wallet on a date.... Anderson turned the coffee cup upright in its saucer. The waitress ambled over and filled the cup to the rim. “How did you know I don’t take cream?” he asked, offering her a grin.

“You didn’t move the dispenser. Didn’t touch the sugar, either.” Her name tag read MARGE.

“Well, Marge, what can you recommend for a hungry customer?”

She rocked back on her heels. “You want bacon or sausage?”

The image of greasy meat nauseated him. “Neither,” he replied. Marge looked at him as if he’d just confessed to selling children. “It’s just that a pig saved my life once,” he added hastily. “I can’t bring myself to eat them.” Marge relaxed.

“Well, I’ll throw in an extra muffin for y’all, then. You just wait here and I’ll bring you something special.”

“Sounds good,” Anderson said. As the waitress turned away, he lowered his voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “Can I ask you a question, Marge?”

She measured him for a moment. “I suppose.”

“I’ve been trying to place your accent, but for the life of me I can’t figure it out. Where were you born?” He stared into her left eye to focus her attention.

“Just down the highway, near Waco.” She favored him with a smile full of possibilities, then turned to greet a new customer.

Texas. That’s not right. Anderson wasn’t sure where he lived, but Texas was far off the mark. I must be on vacation, then. Visiting someone, maybe. Who did he know in Texas?            

He sipped the bitter, life-giving coffee. Thank God for invading European explorers and cash-crop economies. The caffeine evaporated some of the fog from his thoughts. He finished the cup in one long, steady swallow, then looked out into the parking lot. Two semi-trucks, a motorcycle, and a Honda Civic populated the otherwise empty lot. As he watched, a man climbed down from the cab of one of the trucks and yawned.

In the buttoned pocket of his jacket, Anderson located a plastic remote stamped with the Honda logo. Hmm. No house or office keys. No phone.

Under all the dirt, the Civic was sky blue.

“Here you are, honey.” Marge set a glass of orange juice and an enormous plate in front of him. Scrambled eggs, tortillas, honeydew melon, and two corn muffins threatened to overflow the dish. While she refilled his coffee, he split a muffin and spread a generous helping of butter over the inside. The aroma was heaven; it tasted even better. He sighed his contentment.

By the time Marge checked on him he had eaten everything, using one of the tortillas to scoop up the last crumbs. The waitress shook her head. “You look like you haven’t seen breakfast since last week.”

“Not one this good,” he admitted.

“Like anything else?” Marge rested her hand in her apron pocket, near her pad.

Anderson withdrew his wallet and found a twenty, which he tucked under the napkin dispenser. “I’d like to sit here a while if you don’t mind.”

“You can sit there all day,” she replied. “Of course, I may have to put someone in the booth with you at lunch.” She gave another barking laugh, but didn’t take her eyes off the money. She gave a slight shrug, picked up his plate, and returned to the counter.

Anderson emptied his jacket pockets on the table and examined each item. Wallet, memo pad, pen, and car key. The wallet held $140 in twenties, an ID card, and a photograph of a woman. The bills were fresh and clean, as if they’d come from an ATM. But I don’t have a bank card. He opened the memo pad. Several pages had been torn out. Scrawled on the top sheet was a name: “Daniel H. Brown.” The name triggered a sharp memory.

The heat wave had driven Anderson into the tiny bar to seek shelter in a cold beer. Daniel Brown had bumped into Anderson by accident and promptly apologized. When Anderson had taken a seat at the end of the bar, Brown had plopped next to him.

Mr. Brown was short and round, almost a caricature. His long sideburns emphasized his thinning hair. Small, soft-looking hands punctuated his long-winded sentences. Anderson said little. When he looked behind Brown’s words he saw someone who needed a good listener. So Anderson accepted the second beer that Brown bought, settled into his seat, and listened.

At the end of their conversation Anderson looked into that place two inches behind the other man’s left eye. In a moment of silent searching, he discovered Brown’s emotional linchpin — a murky childhood trauma — and opened a connection there. It might take weeks or months, but Brown would integrate the formerly suppressed memory. Anderson rubbed his eyes to ease his sudden headache. Then he silently asked Brown for some traveling money. Brown excused himself, used the bar’s ATM, and gave Anderson $200 without exactly knowing why.

He had waited until Brown finished his drink, then instilled a strong feeling of peace in the man before sending him on his way. Then he had ordered the first of many boilermakers.

Did I write myself a note? On a hunch, Anderson wrote Brown’s name again. The handwriting matched. The pad felt wrong — his hands ached for a keyboard. He tore out the paper with Brown’s name and piled the pieces in the ashtray.

The wallet yielded nothing beyond the ID card and the photograph. No credit or business cards, not even a receipt. The ID card had two chips and a fingerprint verifier. Anderson recognized himself in the photo. His hair was shorter. He wore an expensive suit. RAVEN INDUSTRIES was stamped across the photo.

PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT.

Anderson, Peter, G., Ph.D. Clearance Level Blue. ISI-50.

Okay, so I’m on vacation. An organizational chart flashed behind his eyes. Within Raven Industries there were nine security access levels from white to blue. The number that followed the color was officially referred to as the Individual Supervision Interval. Employees called it The Leash. Anderson’s Leash required him to report every 50 weeks.   Once a year. He couldn’t recall making his last report.

The photograph captured a young woman with thick, black hair styled in creative disarray. Her eyes, cool and green, invoked a smile from Anderson. A surprisingly small nose and thin-lipped mouth, drawn into a habitual smirk, completed the face. On the back of the photograph, written in bold pen strokes:

 

To Peter,

All my love

— MJ

 

Anderson ran names through his head. Mary, Martha, Meredith? He pressed fingers against his temple, willing more information to surface. Nothing happened. He left the coffee shop, checked out of the motel, and loaded up the car.

Rummaging around in the glove compartment, he found a AAA Navigator drive, which he plugged into the Honda’s console. He programmed the destination for Waco and released the wheel.

Why not? I’ve never been to Waco. That was important, somehow. To stay away from his usual haunts. Give the impression he lacked direction and purpose. Give the impression to whom? He glanced in the rearview mirror, but saw nothing except empty road.

The radio offered static for a few miles until a country-and-western station broke through. Anderson didn’t care much for that kind of music, but it helped fill the silence.

Tipping back his seat, he darkened the windows and listened to steel guitars.

In the dream, her name was Marina Janov....

“I don’t understand what’s wrong!” Marina had pulled her hair back behind her ears in a habitual gesture. “We inject the rats, they run the maze. Fine. We give the drugs to chimpanzees, but no change. Why?”

“I hate to remind you, but we’re dealing with much higher order of brain function,” Anderson said. They had been dating for just over than a month and he couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice. For the first time in his adult life, he had fallen in love.

“You never hate to remind me, Peter,” Marina replied. “You are so good at it. But that is not the problem. Computer simulation says it is not, and should not be. Therefore, is not!”

Anderson noted that under stress, Marina’s English was the first victim. “Perhaps we should try my approach,” he said calmly.

“Oh, now we’re going to teach the chimpanzees to make coffee?” Marina said with mock anger. “This is what you learned at Johns Hopkins?”

“That was a joke for the office party,” he said. “Look, the drug doesn’t work on primates,” he said.

“At the moment,” she added.

“At the moment,” he said. “We could bind the drug with acetylcholine or another neurotransmitter. Perhaps a synthetic specifically designed to breach the blood-brain barrier.”

“I’m not sure, Peter. It would mean a lot of back-tracking,” Marina said.

“Let me worry about that. I’m in charge of this project, not you. So if anything happens, I catch the flak.”

“Can I have your office?” she asked.

In the end, they tried it his way. Anderson assembled dozens of new computer models that combined the drug in its present form with a variety of neurotransmitters. Marina tested the more promising combinations on the lab animals.

Anderson grew impatient. While he hadn’t told anyone, this was his final research project. He’d stashed away enough money to buy back his employment bond. Getting out of Raven would be a more delicate matter.

He’d have to accept an identity change and Corporate surveillance to ensure his silence. At least he owned a respectable percentage of Raven’s more successful patents. He could barter those for Marina’s freedom as well.

After 20 years, Anderson’d had enough. He wanted to settle down somewhere, grow a beard, and teach molecular chemistry to smart-ass graduate students. He wanted out.

The Honda’s manual controller buzzed insistently. Anderson raised his seat from the horizontal and took the wheel. He was still 10 miles outside of Waco, just within the range of municipal road jurisdiction. In a few minutes, he passed an aging Greyhoud bus and spied a gas station. It was an older station, offering only gasoline, so he continued until he found a place that sold hydrogen. The Honda was equipped with dual fuel systems, but he preferred to run the cleaner fuel. In California, you had no choice.

He pulled up to a pump and set the meter to cash. The attendant was a little surprised. While the tank filled, Anderson found a public data terminal and punched in an inquiry. Several 800 numbers appeared. He touched the first one.

Two rings, then: “Motel 6, may I help you?”

“Hello. I’m coming into town for a night or so. What’s available?”

“Just a moment, sir,” replied the clerk. There was a sound of tapping keys. “Single or double?”

“Single. Near the coffee shop, if possible.”

“Well, I’ve got a couple near the front, but the coffee shop’s been closed all week. Hurricane damage, you know.”

Anderson shook his head. The hurricane must have occurred during his memory lapse. “I see, thank you.” He cut off the connection and dialed the next number. A hurricane. Jesus, what else did I miss during my fugue?

The second Motel 6 boasted a heated pool, swim suit optional, and a coffee shop that served prize-winning chili. Anderson booked a room.

He washed the last thousand miles of dust from the windows and left.

 #

The intelligence drug was an old project, Anderson thought ruefully. At least two other firms had better teams and more money assigned to it. Why had he been so worried? All he wanted to do was get out of Raven. Get away. Turn his back on all the insane politics and undeclared wars between corporations.

But he couldn’t leave the project unfinished. That wasn’t his way. As soon as they audited his notes, he’d call it quits. If only he could beat the side effects....

By the time he reached the motel, dark, heavy clouds had converged on Waco. Warm, moist air clung to him. Anderson gave the clerk $80 and collected his key. The room was located around the corner from the pool, adjacent to the road. That didn’t bother him. Once he had been a light sleeper, but nothing disturbed him now.

After opening all the windows, he fetched his bags and jacket from the car. Then he called the desk.

“This is Mr. Anderson in room 210.”

“Everything all right down there?”

“Fine, fine.” Anderson cradled the phone on his shoulder while he pulled clothes out of his bag. “Is there a laundromat near here?”

“Not exactly, sir. I do have an agreement with the dry cleaners down the street. If you look in the bathroom, there’s a canvas bag. Just set that outside your door and I’ll have Jose run it down there.”

“That would be fine. Thanks.” He hung up the phone, gathered up his spare clothes and deposited the laundry bag outside his door. Then he slid the dead bolt shut and wedged a chair under the knob.

I’m tired, he thought as he stripped down to his shorts. The breeze dried the sweat on his chest and back. I’m trying so hard to get back to where I was, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

He sat on the edge of the bed and debated sleep. It couldn’t hurt. He stretched out on the queen-size mattress and closed his eyes. In a minute he was deep asleep.

 #

...lifted a drug ampule from the new batch, fitted it with an injector, and dropped it in his pocket. He was sure the animals wouldn’t fall into comas this time. He’d bet money on it.

The outer door of his office slid open and McGuire, a Raven security guard, stood in the rectangle of light from the corridor. A collapsible Israeli assault rifle lay cradled in the crook of his arm.

“Dr. Anderson,” McGuire stated. “We have to leave.”

“Now? But I need to—” In two fluid movements, the guard stood over him and clamped a large hand on his upper biceps.

“Now.” He lifted Anderson out of his chair without effort. “Matsusika has compromised our borders.”

Anderson moved under his own power. Matsusika. Damn. “It's an extaction, isn’t it?”

“Probably.” McGuire hustled Anderson through the outer office, pausing to drop proximity grenades near each station. If someone entered the area without a Raven ID badge, the office would be incinerated.

As soon as they cleared the hall, the guard pulled Anderson behind a planter. A hidden door opened onto a staircase. McGuire led the way down; Anderson followed close behind.

When they reached the last step, automatic lights flickered on, revealing the clean white walls of a blast shelter. A pair of desks, a couch and a tiny kitchenette filled most of the room. “Here,” said McGuire as he pulled a Raven ID card from his pocket. “Your old card is dead. Validate this one and put it in your pocket.”

As Anderson pressed his thumb into the card, he asked “Where’s Dr. Janov?”

“Bathroom, one level above.” McGuire touched his earpiece. “She’s with an escort. Moving this way.”

“What about us?” Anderson pocketed the ID. The picture was old, taken from his file.

The guard held up a a hand, listening. Then he said, “We’ll evacuate this entire area and do a very quick search. If we don’t find Matsusika’s team we’ll burn this level.”

“But we’ve got experimental subjects in there! Two years’ work!”

The guard turned and looked at him. For a moment, Anderson glimpsed compassion in the other man’s face. “I’m sorry, but you know the drill. And don’t tell me any more, I’m not cleared.”

Marina appeared at the foot of the stairs. A female guard followed close behind. “Peter!” Her half-zipped skirt threatened to trip her.

“Marina! Over here!”

She hugged him briefly, then stepped back and scowled. “I knew I should have worn pants today. But this blouse doesn’t doesn’t match anything else.”

Red blossomed on her chest an instant before Anderson heard the shot. Heavy hands slammed him to the floor. A figure in unfamiliar body armor appeared from behind one of the desks. He brought a rifle to bear.

Returning fire from the Raven guards roared in his ears. He tried to tear open Marina’s blouse, but the guards pushed him down again, shielding him with their armored bodies.

There was a brief pause as fresh magazines were slammed home. In that moment, the ground rocked as the proximity grenades tore through the lab above.

Anderson hugged Marina close to him. The assassin's bullet had torn through chest. “It’s okay,” she stammered. “I will... be fine. It is... not so much blood.”

She had died before the company’s paramedics arrived.

The room was nearly dark when he opened his eyes. A faint orange tinge against the drawn curtains reflected the last minutes of sunlight. He squeezed his eyes shut, wishing the memories were less painful. At least he could remember. She was so intelligent, so lovely....

After a shower, Anderson glanced at his steamy reflection. His brief nap had softened the harsh lines of his face. He tried out a smile, then put it away.

He dressed with care, touching up his face with the razor. He wanted to look good tonight. After slipping on his boots, he glanced through the guest information pamphlet by the phone. According to the pamphlet’s map, there were at least a dozen bars within walking distance. He choose one at random.

When he opened the door, a slip of paper fell from the frame. It was Raven stationary.

YOUR GRIEVANCE LEAVE WILL EXPIRE IN 6 DAYS. CALL IN WITH YOUR STATUS.

He pocketed the note and left.

The Kicking Twin Mules didn’t quite fit the pamphlet’s description of a “family dining and drinking establishment,” but it felt right. The owner had taken a very large bar and partitioned off a small number of tables and booths in the hope of snagging some dinner business.

Anderson ordered quesadillas, chili con carne, and ears of sweet steamed corn. He ate everything, washing it down with a large bottle of Mexican mineral water. No Perrier here. Dessert was an immense piece of strawberry shortcake.

By the time he pushed the last plate away, the bar’s regular patrons had filled the semi-darkness of the dance floor. There was no band stand, but someone had dropped a roll of silver dollars into the old CD jukebox. The music nearly overwhelmed conversation.

Not that it mattered to Anderson. His telepathic range had increased since the last fugue. He skimmed the thoughts of the patrons at the next table without effort. Beyond that, he had to concentrate. No one interested him, so he left a twenty on the table and walked into the bar proper. He handed another twenty to the bartender.

“Wadda ya need?”

“Beer,” Anderson said.

The bartender, a bearded man who weighed at least 250 pounds, handed him an ice-cold Budweiser and tugged open the cash drawer of an antique register.

“I’ll run a tab,” Anderson said. The bartender handed him his change.

“Read the sign, friend. No tabs.”

He collected his beer and found a table bisected by one of the subdued spotlights. The table afforded him a good view of the other patrons. Several people passed by, but no one took a seat at the table on either side of him.

The events of the past eleven months rested behind his eyes, arranged in neat, almost alphabetical order. He shuffled and dealt those memories like a Vegas dealer. Flip. His first meeting with Marina. Flip. Selling his condo in Laguna Niguel. Flip. A wonderfully silly coffee mug — a gift from Marina — that sat at the edge of his desk. Flip. Injecting himself with the drug.

After Matsusika’s botched raid, there had been little chance for continued funding for the project. Not after Raven read his report and totalled up their losses. No. He had been given a grievance leave then, with an option of heading another research team upon his return.

It had been so easy. As the paramedics took away Marina’s lifeless form, he had dug his hands deep in his lab coat and found the injector. A few minutes later, he’d dropped the empty injector into the smoking remains of this office. What did he have to lose?

He was totally unprepared for the emergence of his paranormal abilities. One day, while having lunch with an old friend, he discovered that he knew exactly what she would say. Not general concepts, but the precise words.

Then the fugues started. After Anderson consciously exercised his paranormal skills, he entered a mild coma. The first fugue had lasted only a few hours, but they grew longer until they peaked at nearly 80 hours. He’d barely escaped total dehydration that time.

Each time he used his new skills, they grew stronger. As his body grew accustomed to the strain, the fugues diminished.

Ss soon as he dared, he left Los Angeles. If Raven suspected his success, they’d resurrect the experiment and never let him go. How much would people pay for telepathy? How many more people would die because of it?

He raised his index finger and a waitress brought him another beer. He took a swallow and scanned the bar. One woman caught his attention.

She stood at the bar in unconscious mimicry of thousands of movies and advertisements. Anderson saw through the façade with ease. She had recently escaped from a failed marriage. Two of her vertebrae were fused in the beginning of osteoporosis. The last fifteen years of her life were compressed and blurred by an assembly line job in Dallas turning out cheap televisions for Canada.

When she looked directly at him, Anderson felt the full weight of her loneliness. He winced, then smiled. She accepted delivery, added her own, then tossed it back.

Calmness settled over him, shutting out the clamor of his thoughts. He shut his eyes, relishing the moment. If he pushed himself too hard, the fugue would close over him like dark water. Not yet. He had to deal with Raven first. He retreated as she walked toward his table.

“Hi. Can I sit down?”

“Sure.” Anderson opened his eyes. “Be my guest.”

She eased herself into the chair opposite him. “I’m Mary.” Mary Weinberg née Halley. Born in Wichita and educated at A & M, where she met her future husband. Got pregnant, married, dropped out of school, and had a miscarriage all within six months.

“Peter.” He extended his hand. Her grip was firm.

“Why are you sitting here by yourself, Peter?”

“No one wanted to join me until now, I guess,” Anderson said. He glanced around. “I’m not the only solo tonight.”

“But it’s different with you,” Mary replied. She tapped manicured nails against her wine glass. Anderson could see the glue points for the artificial tips.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been watching you,” she said. “I watch everyone. When people come in, they like to sit at these tables first. Later on, they squeeze into the bar or lean against that wall over there. But you’re surrounded by empty seats. Everyone seems to veer away at the last second.”

“You do a lot of research, I see,” Anderson said.

“I’m writing a book.” She lied. She had always wanted to write, but was afraid of failure. “What about you?”

“Taking a leave from work,” he replied.

“It must be nice,” she said. Then she turned and caught the eye of the waitress, who brought her a glass of white wine.            

Mary raised her glass. “Cheers.”

“Skål.”

Anderson noticed that she didn’t close her eyes when she drank. They were deep green, like Marina’s. His own grief surfaced for a moment, gasped for breath, then sank beneath the waves again.

On impulse, he reached for Mary’s hand. It was warm. He gave it a quick squeeze.

“What was that for?” she asked.

“For luck. For your book. It’s not easy to create something in your life.... There are too many people who’d tell you to put away your dreams.”

“You’re right,” Mary said. “I’ve put a lot of things away. Not any more, though.” She took a drink and smiled. Anderson looked behind the smile and was surprised at the intensity of her feelings.

He had found a friend.

The headache hit him hard and fast. He reached for his beer, missed. “Damn.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Day’s catching up with me. Too many hours on the road.” The pounding in his head almost drowned out his voice. “I’ve got to get back to my room.”

She considered his words. “Well, if you’re that tired, I guess you better go.” Through the haze, Anderson saw her disappointment.

“It’s not like that, really,” he said quickly. “Here.” He handed her the memo pad and pen. “Give me your number. As soon as I sleep this off we’ll get together.”

She scribbled her name and number. “Call me Saturday. We can have a drink or something.”

He stowed the pad and pen carefully in a jacket pocket. “I’ll call as soon I can, Mary. I promise,” he said. “Get some writing done.” The pain in his head dropped into his neck. With an effort he sent a final probe into her and boosted her self-confidence.

“I’ll talk to you later,” she said.

“Bye.”

Anderson stumbled out of the bar and leaned against the door, breathing heavily. He took another breath and headed down the road.

By the time he reached the motel he could barely see straight. He found the right hall, then counted doors until he came to his room. With his eyes closed, he unlocked the door and slammed it behind him.

He kicked off his boots and fell into bed. After a moment, he rolled over and fumbled for the phone. He dialed a number from the guest pamphlet.

“Hey there, this is Eddie’s Liquor.”

Anderson barely heard the woman on the other end. “Do you deliver? I desperately need a six-pack.”

“I heard that right. What's the address?”

“Motel 6, Room 210,” he said.

“There’s a twenty-dollar minimum charge for deliveries. Did’ja want anything else?”

“No.” He hung up the phone. While he waited, he wrote himself a note: Tender your resignation. There would be a lot of hassles and research restrictions, but that no longer mattered. He was finished with the suits. Let them think him a failure and a broken man — it would make his departure easier. As an afterthought, he scribbled another line. Call Mary.

Less than ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door. Anderson heaved himself out of bed and took the bag from a man with a crew cut.

Anderson handed over a twenty, then shut the door.

He settled himself on the bed and opened the first beer. Drank it without tasting it, then opened another.

Something wonderful is happening, Marina. I wish you could see it. He put down the empty bottle and crawled under the covers. I am a caterpillar earning his wings one day at a time.

Peter Anderson entered the fugue, dreaming of sublime blue skies.

This story originally appeared in Aboriginal Science Fiction.