Archive for Mark McEachran

Broken Bottle

Jim’s disappoinment dragged his face down. He had a much easier time when he explained his device and its potential to Cindy and Hope. He stopped short of resigning himself to treating Angel as a hired hand. He wanted more than that, he wanted Angel to care. “Damn it, Angel. You’re thinking too small. Think bigger. Bigger!”

Angel’s wheels started to spin. “You want to build a bigger one.”

“Exactly!”

“You need the parts.”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Angel nodded.

Leaving the laser behind they got back into the elevator, heading back to the bar in the basement.

“We can take my bird to a hanger at Midway and wait out the storm. Then we can refuel and go fetch your parts.” Angel said.

Midway Airport was once Chicago’s second largest airport. It was never going to rival the luxury of O’Hare, the largest airport in the area, but it had built itself up over the decades to service frugally minded passengers. It was located near the southwest edge of the city and was once accessible by the elevated train system.

“We need to bring the other two with us.” Jim said.

Angel’s face soured and he sighed audibly. “Those women… they are bad for business.”

You know them?” Jim’s shock raised his face back into a more cordial position.

Never one to talk about his trading between customers, Angel had never shared his story about Cindy and Hope. What benefit could come of it. “Yes, we met once,” was all he said.

“Loweerringg Levoo-oo-oo-l ohm,” said the elevator as the doors opened at the bar.

From inside the elevator the bar appeared empty. Jim was perplexed as he expected Cindy and Hope to be sitting at their stools enjoying some liquid hydration.

“Damn it, Jim.” Angel thought.

An arm reached into the elevator from one side and attached itself to the strap of Angel’s backpack. He was yanked out and found himself slammed against the wall with a two inch blade at his neck.

Hope, at Cindy’s behest, stopped short of shoving her blade through his carotid artery, but not short of the skin. A trickle of blood found its way down his neck, and down the edge of the blade to Hope’s steady fist. It dripped from her pinky at a regular cadence.

“This man cannot be trusted.” The source of Cindy’s voice was difficult to pinpoint.

Jim stepped slowly out of the elevator. He scanned the room looking for the source of Cindy’s voice, but turning his head slightly to the right to acknowledge Angel’s predicament with a tilted raise of his brow. His eyes slid back and forth across the room, like a slow clock pendulum.

Hope split her gaze between Angel and Jim, her eyes resting mostly on Angel. She knew there wasn’t a lot he could do to retaliate without making some preliminary moves. But she also didn’t trust Jim enough to not do something stupid. “Nobody’s moving, Mom. You can probably come out now.”

Emerging from behind the bar, Cindy held the handle of a smashed bottle. An empty threat, given her disposition on the lives of others, but she knew sometimes a threat was all she needed. “This man you have chosen as your courier is a human trafficker. This man has no moral compass. He is among the worst of humanity and he will betray you, Jim.”

What’s Your Name?

“Five gallons an hour isn’t going to refill Lake Michigan anytime soon, Jim.” Angel was having trouble seeing the forest.

He was sharp enough to pass the test in flight school, but he tended to focus on the mission at hand, rather than what he was fighting for. It made him an excellent pilot.

What's your name - Last BarAs The Kennedy entered the battle for Antarctica, he tended to his bird. Plane after plane took off from the two steam powered, aircraft catapults aboard. The longer runway was nearly overwhelmed with the rocket assisted planes. Their additional noise wasn’t cut by the headgear, most men stuffed cotton from a few sacrificial t-shirts inside. It still wasn’t enough.

Angel wasn’t bothered by the noise. He checked and rechecked his craft until he was satisfied that it was perfect, and then he checked it again. It was a ritual, like that of his church. It had been years since he had set foot in a church. He had little faith in the almighty, but accepted the blessings of the ship’s priest without guilt when he made his stop in the hanger.

His crew on this mission was a sea rescue team. They’d all been training together for several weeks. Their job was to pick up the men who had to ditch their planes, those big birds with the rockets that weren’t coming back. It was unusual work for an Army pilot, but desperate times had driven the branches together in a tangle.

The helicopter made runs out to sea, pull plane crews out of the water before they froze to death, and get them back to the carrier. The bulk of their work was at the beginning of the battle, as the heavy birds needed to strike the big targets quickly to disable as many of the enemy resources as possible for the duration of the battle.

Run after run, and refueling every third trip. They could haul four crewmen on each trip. As the day grew long, men in the water started to succumb to hypothermia. There were too many big planes, and not enough little helicopters. Angel observed the rescued men getting weaker and weaker on each trip, colder and colder, eventually they stopped talking or thanking anyone for the lift.

They were all freezing, except one man, on what became the last run. There were five men in the water. Three of them weren’t moving. Angel positioned his craft over the moving men, as per his mission briefing. It was a triage situation and he was to start with those who had the best chance of survival. The first man was pulled up and brought on board. He said nothing. The crew put him in the back with a blanket.

The second man seemed impervious to the cold. He had all his wits about him and he began barking orders to the crew. “Pick up that man next. He’s been shot.”

Angel ignored him and moved the helicopter to an adjacent man.

“Hey, asshole,” the ornery man said, “that one’s a popsicle. You go pick up the other guy first, he’s been shot.”

Angle continue to ignore the crewman, focused on his mission and his orders. The crewman could see the discipline, or maybe arrogance in Angel. He wasn’t about to let this Army pilot let his friend bleed out in the water.

The crewman grabbed a sidearm from one of his rescuers, climbed up toward the front of the craft and shoved it into Angel’s face. “Move this pile of shit over there and pick up my man.”

Angel took a good long look at him, being careful to hold his bird incredibly steady. Their eyes locked and exchanged unpleasantries. Then he looked down at the pistol in his face and let out a slow exhale.

Hate, hate, hating to go off mission, or even deviate from the protocol, Angel did as the ornery crewman said. The rescuers pulled up the bleeding man, still bleeding, still alive. Everyone calmed down and got back to the rescuing. Unfortunately the last two men in the water came up iced.

As they headed back to the ship the crew went to work on the wounded pilot. They were desperate to keep him conscious and started rattling off and repeating questions to him. At first he didn’t answer. “What’s your name? Where are you from? How old are you? What’s your name?…”

“Tynon.”

A Fix

Angel stared past his hand at the device for a moment, wondering how it might work. “A laser, shooting into sky is making water,” he thought. “it’s extracting water from air, or pulling it out of space. He’s shooting a comet with it. Or it’s combustion, burning methane from the atmosphere. Maybe it’s a trick. He’s just going to have me sell this thing. I’ll tell the buyer about the amazing garden he made with it and then when it doesn’t work my reputation will be ruined.”

Beyond the laser Angel noticed a wall of dust approaching from the West. It was hours away, but close enough that he wanted to plant his bird in a safer parking spot.

“There’s a storm coming, Jim.”

Jim looked west at the storm. “We’ve got time. Come downstairs.” He went to the solar panels and flipped a switch that shut down the laser. After picking it up, he pulled a cork from his pocket and shoved it into the drain tube.

Back down on the 42nd floor Jim showed Angel barrel after barrel full of fresh water. A few of them were hooked up to a water spigot that tied into the building’s fire suppression system. That’s how he transferred the water to the lower floors, to the garden, Jim’s personal Eden.

The barrels were just narrow enough to fit through the elevator doors. Massive wooden beasts, they were, each looking as though they held the finest spirits in the land. The water of life, they called it in the old world. In the afterworld, water was life and the barrels continued to service that sentiment.

“All this water comes from that contraption?” Angel’s amazement reasserted itself.

“It runs all day, makes about five gallons of water per hour.”

The Laser - A Fix - Last BarJim pulled a portable chalkboard from what appeared to be a pile of garbage and began drawing a schematic of the laser contraption with chalk. Chalk, as it turned out, has an extensive shelf-life. Their inkier counterparts had dried out long ago. Chalk, in fact, thrived in the modern, dry climate of the drought, as did the chalk board. Moisture is their enemy.

“The laser,” Jim asserted over Angel’s fascination with the barrels. “The laser has sufficient power to heat the atmosphere around the beam to such a point that it becomes plasma.” Jim’s artistry as he spoke impressed Angel. He appeared as though he had rehearsed his explanation a few times. “The plasma is magnetized. It attracts Carbon Dioxide, Hydrogen and water from the area around the beam. At the base of the beam I’ve got two things. One – an electro-magnet. This pulls the plasma down to the base and immediately captures the water and some of the CO2. But I’ve also got thing two – a set of criss-crossing lasers focused on a spot right at the base of the big laser. At the focal point the CO2 is demolished!”

He grunted. “Demolished! The loose Oxygen and any nearby Hydrogen then combine to form more water which is yanked out of the mix by the magnet. Are you following this?”

Angel was still befuddled by the massive amount of water that Jim had created The science lesson was muffled. “So this just makes water?”

“It does so much more than that, Angel. It pulls it out of the air, and it pulls some CO2 out of the air. It’s a fix!”

“A fix for what?” Angel, having grown up after the beginning of the drought had always known a world that was decaying. It was the way of the world and the idea of reversing the process was foreign to him.

“Oh my God. How can you not see it. This pulls two of the major contributors to greenhouse effect out of the air. You don’t see the potential?”

“A fix for the world?”

Make Water

Make Water - Last Bar“Trust, Angel.” Jim bellowed. “You still trust that those tabs are out there today, otherwise you’d cash out at every transaction. That’s all I need here. I just need a little faith, and to have a little in you.”

“You think you can trust me, Jim?”

For the last three and a half years Angel has been trading with Jim. Water was Jim’s currency of choice. He seemed to have it in abundance, but still managed to stay stingy enough in his trading behavior to not let on that he had too much. In all the time that Angel has been swapping things with Jim, not once did he ever steal anything or disclose Jim’s location to other, possibly less scrupulous outposts. While promises were not good for business, Angel believed that secrecy had its merits.

“No one has ever come to my bar and said, ‘Angel told me about this place.’”

Jim beckoned Angel to the other side of the elevator banks, to a door. As Jim opened it the hot, dry air sucked all the remaining moisture away from Angel’s face. Instinctively, Angel pulled his goggles from his pocket and put them on.

Beyond the door, a set of stairs led them to the roof of the building. Bleached white gravel adorned the flat top of the building. The wind howled against the open door as the two men walked out.

Toward the South side of the roof sat an array of solar panels sucking in the Sun’s energy. Power leads off the panel connected to a small device, about the size of two paint cans stacked one on top of the other. An impossibly bright laser light was shooting out of the top of the device, straight up into the air.

“Don’t get too close,” Jim said. “And don’t look directly at the base of the laser, it’ll burn your corneas.”

Angel put his hand in front of his face to block the base of the laser. Along one side of the light was a block of metal that seemed to be dripping with water. Beneath the water was a small collection pan hooked up to a tube that appeared to be sticking out of a hole in the roof.

“This is how I make water.”

Promises

Promises - Last Bar“Promises are bad for business, Jim.” Angel regained his composure as he spoke.

He followed Jim back into the elevator.  Jim pressed a very worn 42 on the button panel.

“Folurgle sishhh flushhh,” Angel thought the voice had degraded in the few minutes they spent on the 35th.

The sunlight escaped behind the closing doors and the two men were left in the dingy box. It started to climb, sounding off with a garbled bell as it went by each floor.

The forty-second floor was the penthouse. It was half-again taller than the average floor in the building with expansive, decorative windows that were mostly intact. In a few places Jim, or someone before him, had patched a missing glass panel with a chunk of metal held in place small tac-welds where the glass met the metal.

In the wind the building swayed just a bit, and Angel noticed it more profoundly up on the 42nd. To him the motion almost felt like being on a ship in the ocean. He recalled his time in the army, on his way down to the southern continent — the last battleground. In the year 2043 each branch of the service had to work more tightly with each other. As a consequence, Angel and his flight crew were hitching a ride aboard the USS Kennedy.

The deck was filled with flying machines of all shapes and sizes — even some that had no business taking off from a carrier. They were outfitted with rocket assist pods that would help them reach take-off velocity. Crews on those planes had an extra weapon to deploy after their standard ordinance had done its job. With no hope of landing back on the carrier, they were to fly back to friendly territory, set their autopilot computers to target an enemy asset, and then bail out.

Antarctica was the last battlefield of the old regimes. Angel did his duty for America with the hopes that the military would be the one of the last agencies of the government to be abandoned by those in power. By 2046, however, resources had dwindled too much. Most of the service men and women were left to fend for themselves. The central government kept just enough personnel around to protect themselves and their compounds. For all intents and purposes, the government had collapsed.

It was not as anyone expected. Most governments fall from a coup, or a popular uprising. This one simply retreated, leaving nothing to take its place.

With no one to tell him otherwise, Angel kept his helicopter. Over the years he learned how to repair it, and augment it to handle the changing environment. He outfitted it with a crop-dusting rig, which was hooked up to a compressor. Instead of spraying outward, the booms sucked air in and pushed it into the air intake system. He wrapped the booms with foam to filter out the sand. His bird was ugly, but it was still flying after many years.

“You daydreaming, kid?” Jim interrupted Angel staring out the windows.

“Nobody keeps promises these days.” Angel kept his gaze. “They are worthless artifacts of a dead world. You take care of yourself, and everybody else takes care of themselves — and that’s how the world works now.”

“Societies are built on promises, Angel, even the shitty one we’re living in has them. Think about all the tabs you have at various outposts. You don’t think those are promises?”

Angel always had a backup plan in cases where his trading partners didn’t feel like honoring their promises. It was a hard lesson to learn, but one that he picked up quickly after the government abandoned him.

“I know for certain that the last tab,” Angel turned his head to the side, “won’t be honored.”