Robots Love Techno
By Eddie Joe Young and Elsha Hawk
The vacant lot on Melpomene Street appeared at first glance like a completely normal piece of real estate. One quarter of a city block long, surrounded by a privacy fence; nothing about it looked insidious or injurious. The grass was always neat even though no one was ever seen cutting it. The boards were always maintained even though no one was ever seen replacing them. The only person who seemed to find anything amiss was Jude Cumberland.
Jude was short on friends. As a matter of fact, the only friend Jude had ever had, besides his nemesis Agnes Mckinney, was George Rothering. George and Jude hadn’t been so much friends as they had been united in their friendlessness. Their mothers met every Wednesday afternoon to test their Bridge skills against other members of their Bridge Club. Even though no oaths had been taken nor commitments made, Jude felt like they were in a friendless nerd secret society. Until he was betrayed.
Evidently, George’s Mom wasn’t content with her son being a reclusive outcast. The first day of summer before middle school she pushed George out of the nest saying he was not to return home between the hours of 8AM and 2PM all summer. That first day he met 3 boys who might not have earned the title of hoodlum, but were well on their way to urchin. George had befriended these street kids and while swinging on some kind of homemade catapult, had broken his leg.
When Jude made his weekly pilgrimage to George’s house he was expecting to console the convalescing kid. Imagine his shock when he saw that George had done the one thing that could possibly exclude him from the Federation of the Friendless; he had acquired friends. Not only had he done the unthinkable, but he hadn’t even enough sense to be snobbish about it. He introduced Jude to his new friends and had the nerve to expect him to accept them also. Instead of being aloof and standoffish with his new companions, he included Jude in their conversations and tried to usher him into a new era of friendship. Without even waiting for his mom, he walked home.
That was the last time Jude went with his mother to her Bridge club. That was also the day he discovered the empty lot on Melpomene Street.
There are many activities that children do that require two of them: checkers, tag, hide-and-seek, and baseball. However, Jude had learned early on that the friendless needed to improvise. One of his inventions was an ingenious one-man baseball game. He drilled a hole through a softball, bolted an eyebolt through it, and secured it to a kite string. He could smack the ball into center field and ten reel it back with the string.
Still fuming about George, he headed to the park on Camp Street with his one-man ball game. It wasn’t that Jude was mad about George’s new friends. The moment he walked into that room and saw George sitting there with those guys having fun was in essence saying that George’s, and by association Jude’s, life had been incomplete without friends. Up until that moment he could have said he didn’t need friends and didn’t want them, but George had exposed the fact that the grapes out of his reach weren’t sour.
A cat shot out from under the privacy fence and a split second later a mangy dog scraped under in hot pursuit, knocking loose a plank. The two sped out of sight and Jude peered into the lot.
The first thing he noticed was a strong mental compulsion to look away. Every fiber of his being was telling him to move on and don’t look. He gritted his teeth and fought against the mental barrage of voices as well as what felt like an invisible barrier. As he stepped through the fence, the ‘nothing to see; move on’ voice faded. It didn’t go away completely, but diminished. The voice was like his own mental voice, yet not his. He felt unnaturally exhausted, as if the barrier were real. His curiosity intensified as he felt the urge to go out and try again.
A strange thing happened when he stepped outside the fence; he turned to walk home. No memory of the experience remained. Had it not been for the loss of his bat inside the fence and the voice that gnaws at people when they forget things, he might have gone home and his life would have been forever different. He looked down at his empty hands and a tiny thread of memory lead back to the bat, then the lot, then a ‘what the heck?’. Once again, he pushed himself through what he began to think of as a magical marvel, but had to stop himself because he didn’t believe in magic. He decided it was a sort of magnetic membrane. He looked around the lot. What was worth going to so much trouble to protect?
There was nothing in the lot. The grass was short and healthy and unremarkable. He circumnavigated the lot but only found at the center of the lot a mound about the size of a pitcher’s mound. He sat down on it and couldn’t figure out what he has discovered.
Since he was there and this mound was the perfect size for a pitcher’s mound, he lobbed his modified softball up and hit it like Babe Ruth, taking all the day’s frustration out at his tethered target. The ball shot skyward, higher than he had ever hit it before. Then it stopped. Not stopped and returned in a graceful arc having reached its apex, but rather froze in midair.
“This isn’t possible. I’m going crazy.”
The softball was forty feet above his head with the string trailing straight down out of the sky. He gently tugged on the string and nothing happened. Finally, he yanked on the string and the third pull caused it to turn loose and fall.
* * *
In the five years since that day, Jude had dedicated his life to researching the lot. He learned that the farther one traveled, the harder it was to remember; in the same way that people forget their dreams. He countered this by taking detailed notes about everything to do with the lot. One glance at his notebooks would refresh his mind completely.
Agnes McKinney lived on Magazine Street catty corner from Jude and a half a block from Melpomene Street. During the summer Jude had discovered the lot, a mysterious grey-haired man had grabbed a girl at the park, cut a section of her hair, and then ran off. The girl said the attacker, deemed “The Snipper”, looked familiar, but she couldn’t identify him. The assault happened several more times that summer and dozens more over the next five years. The attacks never occurred in groups, so Agnes and Jude’s mothers insisted they walk to school together.
“Come on, Conehead, we’re going to be late!” Agnes yelled as she stuck her head into Jude’s house.
“You shouldn’t call people names, Aggie dear!” returned Jude’s Mom from the kitchen.
“Sorry, Miss Cumberland!” she boomed, then continued in a lower voice as Jude hurried out the door, “What took you so long? I know it wasn’t brushing your teeth. What’d you drink a ‘pooh’ liter?”
“I heard that, Agnes,” Jude’s Mom’s voice came through an open window.
“Ears like a bat,” Agnes mumbled.
Jude self-consciously cupped his hand to check for bad breath. The morning banter was a ritual. It was as much a part of Agnes as her large headphones that never left her neck unless they were on her head. Agnes’s Mother’s live-in boyfriend was an ex-deejay. During the early nineties New Orleans Rave scene he went by the name of D.J. Dynamite. That was how Agnes had picked up her passion for techno music. Her headphones were as much a part of her as her boisterous flaming red ringlets. Her Mom said the only thing she got from the McKinney side of the family was ten pounds of red hair and a froth of freckles. D.J. Dynamite became Domestic Duane who worked a nine to five at the New Orleans Department of Public Works. That’s how Agnes scored the Utility and Underground Survey report for the lot on Melpomene Street. At the school’s front door she slipped the cardboard cylinder to Jude.
“I really appreciate this. What does it show?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t look at it.”
“You weren’t even curious? This is what I am always saying; that should set off red flags.”
“Curious about what, some stupid old lot? There is nothing there. The only thing I am curious about is how you can be such a dork and spend so much time on an empty lot. Get over it.”
“I don’t see how you can dedicate your life to robot music,” he quarreled, cupping his hands like her iconic headphones.
“It’s not robot music, Conehead! How much time do you spend on your bass fiddle?”
“It’s a cello, Agnes. Not the same!”
“Well, I wonder what the percentage is of cello players who are too dorky to have a girlfriend?”
“Probably not as high as the percentage of robots who prefer techno.”
She spun around with her fists clenched, “That’s it! One more word about my music and I punch you in the nose!”
“Ugh, do you two have to fight every morning?” interrupted a beautiful teenage eavesdropper. If Agnes and Jude were awkward ducklings, Posey Dupré was a swan in full plumage. Her skin was an unblemished olive that didn’t require the sun’s services and her hair was hand spun obsidian contrasting with her key lime eyes. She was a standard for teenage girls and a vision for teenage boys. Despite her pre-adult perfection, Posey was not arrogant.
One day, while returning from doing some research on the lot, Jude came upon a hysterical Posey crying her eyes out on her front steps. When he approached her to ask what was wrong, he saw a huge swath of her silky black hair missing from her forehead. Instead of the self-assured popular girl at the top of the social ladder, she was just a frightened young girl with nowhere to turn. They sat on the stoop and talked for hours. That was on a Friday. The next Monday she showed up at their bus stop with a new haircut and a very different attitude.
For Agnes, who could not see her transformation but only the enviable swan, the intrusion by the diva was just too much. How dare little miss popularity think that just because she had a run in with “The Snipper” she could just pop into Agnes’s world! The fact that Posey thought she could perform the role of moderator between the two friends made Agnes so mad her face was as red as her fire engine Annie hair.
“You two are perfect for each other!” she snarled and stormed away.
Posey made to follow or say something but Jude knew better. “Let her cool off.”
“But she shouldn’t go off alone!”
“She’ll be fine. The Snipper might need to worry about her.”
* * *
“Richard the Third murdered the princess and then left the rightful heir to the throne in question. Well, Richard declares himself King and the country is awash in bloodshed. The War of the Roses goes on until Henry Tudor of that famous family takes over and becomes King. However, it’s only a generation later when Henry the Eighth fails to produce an heir and it happens all over again,” the history teacher said.
A jock in a letterman’s jacket replied, “They needed a bench King, so when the King goes down, they’d have a backup.”
“Good observation,” said the teacher, “but what happens when the bench King goes down?”
Jude, who had been studying the utility blueprints from the lot and was disappointed that absolutely nothing ran under it, offhandedly answered, “What they needed was a whole host of potential Kings. Maybe an island where potential Kings were housed and educated but protected from the cutthroat empire until they are selected; something like a proving ground and a preserve to protect them against extinction in the wild.”
The teacher applauded Jude’s imagination and went on with his lecture. The student seated next to him looked alarmed by his ideas. Putting a wayward strand of dirty blonde hair behind his ear, he leaned over and whispered, “What’s your game, Cumberland?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean what are you playing at?” He narrowed his eyes, studied Jude, then shook his head like he was shaking off a bad idea. “No. Nevermind. But where did you get all that stuff?”
“What stuff, Kindjal?”
“The stuff about the proving ground and the King preserve.”
“I..I just made it up. Did I say something wrong?”
“No. No, you didn’t. Of course you made it up.” Kindjal sighed and continued, “Sorry, it was a good idea, Jude.”
Even though Jude was only in eleventh grade, he was in advanced History with Seniors. Kindjal wasn’t only a Senior, he was everything Jude wanted to be; a loner with striking good looks and a mysterious demeanor. Jude played cello in the chamber orchestra and string quartet, Kindjal played lead violin. He always had a compliment for Jude and they were both on the chess team. Jude was pretty good, but Kindjal had never lost. He won effortlessly. Kindjal didn’t speak often, so when he did, Jude felt it was like a spotlight shining on him alone.
For a second, Jude thought Kindjal was mad at him and his heart sank, but it must have been a misunderstanding because after a pregnant pause, Kindjal was back to normal.
The bell rang and Jude’s idol focused on the unrolled utility map. “Why does this side of the paper say St. Andrew Street? Shouldn’t it be Felicity?”
“Well, yeah, it would be now, but this map is from the early nineties, before Felicity ran through. Hey, wait a second, how could you recognize this place from a utility blueprint?”
Kindjal froze like a deer in the headlights. The look on his face said he had let slip a secret. His mouth had formed an O and his face flushed red before he could master his reaction. Then as quickly as it appeared, it was tamed. He let out a breath that ended in a chuckle, made a smirk, and pointed a finger at the address in the corner of the blueprint.
Before Jude could ask any further questions, Kindjal changed the subject. “So, word on the street is that you are taking Posey Dupré to the dance tonight.”
Jude’s cheeks produced some color of their own and he replied, “We’re uh.. just friends.”
“Oh. Well then you don’t mind if I dance with her then?”
Jude couldn’t control the emotion that flushed his face. Before he could turn any redder, Kindjal put his hand on Jude’s shoulder.
“Just needlin’ ya, man. You shoulda seen your face! Really though, she’s pretty and I’m glad to see you socializing. What about, um..” He made a motion with his cupped hands over his ears like a pair of headphones.
Jude rolled his eyes and said, “She’s going to the dance with Mark Jenkins. They both do the robot music thing.”
“Wait, what do you know about robots and their music?” Kindjal snapped.
There it was again. Something was definitely off with Kindjal.
“They both like Techno. Kindjal, are you alright?”
Kindjal put the heels of his hands to his eyes and shook it off. “Sorry again, Jude. I’ve just been under a lot of pressure.”
“Yeah, Senior year.”
“No, it’s not that. I could do the coursework in my sleep. It’s just the pressure from my family over the whole bride thing.”
“What bride? You’re seventeen.”
“No, no. I don’t have one. That’s the problem. That’s why my family sent me here.”
Jude knew the Kindjal came from overseas. Although he had no accent, his features revealed some Mediterranean heritage. The offhanded way he mentioned his family made Jude feel that he had been told this before, but that was impossible because Jude hung on Kindjal’s every word. This was the longest conversation they had ever had.
“I could have gone to school anywhere, London, Paris, but my mother was from America and she wanted me to marry someone from here.” He rubbed his eyes again, then felt his phone vibrating. “I gotta run. Thanks for listening to me complain. Come find me at the dance.”
Wherever Kindjal ran to, it wasn’t on school grounds. He didn’t show for band practice, either. He walked past the Audio-Visual room to see if Agnes was still around to walk home with, but she wasn’t there. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Agnes all day.
* * *
Jude’s room was research central for everything to do with the Melpomene Street lot. He had a hundred pictures overlapping on the wall in a big panorama. He had notes that listed all the people who lived in the neighboring houses. He had post-it notes on everything and notebooks full of notes shelved neatly in order.
He had learned a great deal from his various experiments. For instance, No digging was allowed in the lot. He had lost his first notebook that way. He had borrowed a post hole digger and as soon as he started digging, the compulsive power of the lot ramped up so high that he abandoned everything immediately and walked home. Once home, he snapped out of the trance and rushed back to the lot, only to find no digger, no hole, and he was short one very detailed notebook.
Anything left in the lot disappeared. The only way to circumvent this was to discreetly drop the items. He’d placed magnets along the inside of the fence, and when he returned, they had all vanished. But another time he dropped magnets along the ground and when he came back, they were all lined up around the pitcher’s mound, The grass was even laid down as if they had crept along on their own. These things lead him to believe that while in the lot, he was definitely being watched. He also had come to the conclusion that there was something underground that emitted a highly magnetic field.
Lately, it had been harder to find free time to wander over to the lot and do more research. The reason for this was the strengthening of the mental barrier surrounding the lot. It was getting harder to break through and even harder to stay on task while in the lot.
He tried to interview people who lived near the lot and ask if they had seen anyone coming or going, but obviously, the compulsive power of the lot extended to its neighbors and none of them would willingly go to, look at, or talk about the lot without resistance.
Jude bolted upright from his bed and grabbed a post-it note.
“Jude, do you have a friend named Mr. Letterkill?” his mother interrupted as she stuck her head into his room.
Friend…Friend.. resonated in his head like a drum. Had he accidentally done the unthinkable? Had he acquired a friend? His mind began to push back. I don’t need any friends.
“Jude Anzo Cumberland the Third are you ignoring me?!”
He shook his head, “I’m sorry, Mom.” He snapped out of his self-reflection. “Yes, Kindjal Letterkill.”
He looked down at the post-it and quickly wrote that down. Then it happened. He came to terms with the change. His thoughts cleared and became real. He did have a friend.
“Oh.” Her mouth slowly spread into a smile. “Well, he sent you something.”
“He came here?” How does he know where I live?
“No. It was his butler. At least, I think it was his butler. It was an older gentleman. He looked familiar. He said Master Letterkill. I just can’t place who he looks like. Someone famous… Anyway, he brought this.” She came fully into the room carrying a suit wrapped in plastic from the cleaners and a large red card.
I am loaning this to you because I know you will wear that old brown thing you wear to band concerts.
Jude looked over at his brown suit coat hung on the closet door, ready to be worn.
My father gave it to me. I had it altered for you. Could you do me a favor and wait ‘til tomorrow to tell Agnes I’m sorry, but I had to be sure I wasn’t betraying a friend? Everything will be clear tomorrow.
Truly your friend,
Jude put it on. He was admiring his white, Italian suit clad reflection, How did he know my size?, when something his mother said popped into his mind. He rifled through his notebooks containing details about The Snipper. He had briefly flirted with the idea that the two were connected, but never had found any links.
Posey said The Snipper looked familiar, and a middle school girl named Latisha thought he might have been a famous baker. If this were the same man, what would Kindjal’s butler have to do with The Snipper? He was just about to connect this with the new fact that Kindjal might be immune to the memory powers of the lot since he was the only one who bothered to look at the blueprints when his mother called, “Jude? Your date is here!”
With a last look in the mirror, he headed downstairs. He was floored by the vision that was Posey DuPré. She wore her mother’s emerald necklace and earrings because they set off her eyes. Her black dress echoed her onyx hair. He couldn’t help but think how she looked like a dark Princess Charming, but that would have made him a male Cinderella. He was shaking off the metaphor gone sour when the cab pulled up to the school and he heard the rhythmic thumping of the turntable drifting out the gym door.
The dance at Le Robwayne high school was the event of the year. It was decorated by a famous designer of Mardi gras floats and attended by everyone who was anyone. Inside, the gym was a sea of teenagers bobbing to the music. He saw Agnes and her date on stage behind the D.J. equipment and he almost didn’t recognize her.
She looked like a nineteen-twenties movie star. Her long lashes and pixie cheeks set off her perfectly pointed bowtie lips. She wore a beaded skull cap like a Charlie Chaplin dame who partied at a Speak Easy. Jude had no idea how her curly locks fit under the cap or how the gangly, knobby kneed Agnes had transformed into this celluloid starlet.
Posey stepped in front of him. “This is such a nice suit and it fits you so well. Had I known you were wearing white, I would have dressed to match.” She adjusted the flower in his lapel and he suddenly felt flush.
“Speaking of this suit, where is Kindjal? He should be here.”
Posey smirked, “You know the dance hasn’t even started yet.”
“But they’re playing music and people are dancing.”
“This is just until everyone gets inside. When the dance starts, the music really cranks up.” Her smile showed a hint of her former Diva. “Jude, this is your first dance, isn’t it?”
“Of course not.” He revived too quickly. “I’m going to get us some punch. I’ll be right back.”
He pushed through the pulsating people to retrieve the punch and was headed back to Posey, but his nervousness had only increased. His hands and feet felt like they were 200 degrees and his heart was about to beat out of his chest. What was he doing here? He was out of his league. It was a combination of his debilitating insecurity and the fact that he was frantically searching for Kindjal that caused his crash.
Of all the things that could have destroyed Jude’s night, his collision with a lumbering linebacker was probably the most catastrophic of all possible outcomes. He smashed into the mountain of muscle and dark red punch erupted, destroying Jude’s coat, his shirt, and his confidence. Then, to make matters worse, the irate athlete spun around and slugged Jude in the right eye with a meaty right hook.
There are three responses when one encounters an attack from an overwhelming opponent: fight, flight, or freeze. Until someone has been forced into that position, there is no telling what he or she might do. No one in the world would have guessed that Jude would come up swinging like he did. With all of his emotions turned to blind rage, he threw four punches that contained everything he had. Had he any experience or at least ever landed a punch in his life, things might have been different.
Instead, the bully sidestepped the four wild swings and hit Jude with an overhand right that knocked his feet out from under him. Before the bully could advance, a short sleeved savior assaulted his assailant with rapid fire punches that ended with a sharp crack, making a bloody nose, and sending the boy to his buttocks.
At first, Jude saw the shaggy blonde hair and thought it was Kindjal who had come to his aid. That was the purpose of a friend. But when the boy extended a tattooed arm to help Jude up, he realized the arm belonged to George Rothering.
A few more jocks moved in to gain the advantage of numbers over George, but his 3 best friends, now considered hoodlums, had stepped up to make things even.
“You want a gang fight, you picked the right gang,” George declared.
“It’s cool man, we don’t need any trouble.”
After the jocks picked up their comrade to haul him off for medical treatment and the tension eased, George turned back to Jude, but he was gone. Someone pointed to the gym doors slamming shut and George started to pursue his, but Agnes grabbed his arm.
“Let him go. Last thing h needs is more witnesses.”
“But, I..” George looked pained and confused.
It is taught in society that real men don’t cry, but that is completely false. Mighty King Priam cried he looked down on the shattered Hector. Alexander the Great cried with death took Hephaestion. Jude Anzo Cumberland the Third crouched next to a building a few blocks away from the dance between two dumpsters and cried.
He had no idea how everything had gone so terribly wrong. He wondered through streaming tears why George, of all people, was fortune’s favorite. He had everything, Jude thought. An hour passed like a few minutes during his mini meltdown until he was pulled out his pity party by a couple of boys walking home from the dance.
He recognized their voices from his history class. He wiped his tears and silenced his sobs and was content to eavesdrop on their conversation as long as they didn’t find him. His heart sank even further when he heard their words.
“Can you believe Posey?”
“What a skank! Her date gets beat up and she hooks up with another guy!”
“Makes you feel sorry for what’s his name. Jim? John?”
“Jude. He’s in our History class. Good thing he didn’t have to see them gazing into each other’s eyes.”
Jude slipped down a back alley and ran home. Thunderclouds rolled overhead, threatening to unload on him and the oppressive humidity just added another burden to his shoulders.
As he ran up his front steps, he spied his mother sitting sentinel on the sofa, reading a book. He knew the refuge of his room would be denied him as there was no way to get past her without being seen in a ruined coat with a black eye. That would require him to retell the whole story.
He knew a place where no one would disturb him.
In Posey’s defense, when her battered beau fled the dance, she moved to follow, but a gentle hand stayed her.
“This is something he has to weather on his own.”
“But he’s…” her voice trailed off as she looked into Kindjal Letterkill’s big hazel eyes.
He finished, “He’s battered and bruised, but he had a lot of courage. He’s gonna need some time to put himself together.”
When Kindjal put one hand into hers and his other around her waist, she hypnotically slipped into a natural waltz following his lead. They danced around like they were the only two people there. They talked about music and Kindjal was stunned to learn that Posey’s secret dream was to be a concert pianist. She practiced daily even though no one but her piano teacher and servants had ever heard her play. The more they danced and talked, the more she opened up until her whole life came out in a flood. She talked about her drunken mother and absent father. He wiped a tear from her cheek when she said that if she were abducted by aliens, only the servants would notice.
“Just out of curiosity, what kind of music do they listen to?”
“Oh, Indian, mostly. I hear it sometimes. Why do you ask?”
“I just thought.. we have so much in common.. I thought you were going to say techno.”
“We have a lot in common? Like what?”
He gave a disarming smile and answered, “Beside the music, we both have the feeling we don’t fit in anywhere on this planet.”
Tears threatened to fall, so she pressed her face to his chest when the music switched to a slow dance.
* * *
Just when it seemed like every atom on Earth was working in concert to destroy Jude, one more insult insinuated itself in his evening. No matter what he tried, or how hard he pushed, the lot wouldn’t let him in. The psychic force with its mantra was brain-searingly painful and the barrier was like unyielding concrete.
He was sitting on a bench at Camp Street Park half a block away when he saw the despicable traitor with his girl. If he could have heard them from so far away, despite his heart thumping in his ears, he would have heard their plans to run away together. He would have heard her tell him how wonderful the night had been and how she never wanted it to end. Kindjal promised her it didn’t have to.
When they finally kissed, it was as if not even the heavens could contain themselves and the engorged clouds burst along with Jude’s resolve. In a berserker rage, he ran toward the lovers. Had he not been out of his mind with madness he might have seen the fence fold back and allow the lovers into the mysterious lot. His focus was on Kindjal the betrayer as he bounded full tilt through the still open fence. He was so hysterical, it didn’t register that anything was amiss about the huge, slowly shrinking square in the side of the pitcher’s mound that he dove in, feet first.
Kindjal Letterkill was so shocked to see Jude come flying through the open hatch that he barely had time to raise his arm to deflect his swings. Jude slammed into him, knocking him into a rib in the wall, hearing a satisfying crunch of broken bone.
“Emily, immobilize the intruder!” he commanded.
Electric shocks struck out at Jude at Kindjal jumped back. Jude’s body seized up, then he slid back and stuck to a wall like he was magnetic. He finally took in his surroundings. He was in the middle of a huge circular control room. There were dozens of screens along the walls showing scenes from the city, other countries, even what looked like a nebulae. There were hundreds of cords and conduits that looked like copper snakes connected to everything. The walls, ceiling, and floor were covered with what liked like brass snake scales, and he couldn’t be sure, because he couldn’t move his head, but it felt like they were breathing.
One of three gray haired men sitting with their backs to them working some kind of interface turned and helped Kindjal put his broken arm on a table adorned with the two snaked staff caduceus. A bright glow warmed the table and to Jude’s amazement, Kindjal’s oddly bent arm magically mended right before his eyes.
It was then he saw Posey, suspended, levitating like some magician’s trick, over the table. Behind Posey’s body in the niche she occupied were shelf upon shelf of glass vials. Each one contained a swath of hair. This registered at the same time that he realized why the old man looked familiar.
“Albert Einstein is The Snipper! What is this place?”
The other two men turned and Jude saw they we all Albert Einsteins. “They’re not Einstein. They are automatons.” Kindjal shook his head in irritation and continued, “The ship makes them. She likes Einstein, so they look like Einstein.” He flexed his newly healed arm and said, “What’s the deal with breaking my arm? You could have killed me!”
The Einstein closest to Jude produced an antique Spanish rapier from somewhere outside Jude’s vision and said, “Master Letterkill, shall I dispatch him for you?”
Kindjal snatched the sword from the robot. “Gimme that thing. Of course not, you idiot! He’s my friend.”
“Some friend you are! You stole my girl!”
“She wasn’t your girl. You said so.”
“Well, she might have been. You never know. If you hadn’t swooned her..”
“I didn’t swoon anyone, Jude. And the ship knows! She knows everything.”
Jude rolled his eyes, “Lemme guess, she’s some kind of artificial intelligence.”
The ship gave Jude a small jolt. “Ow! What was that for? Put me down!”
“Emily, release Mr. Cumberland.”
A loud sequence of beeps and buzzes resonated through the ship.
“For calling the ship artificial. She was grown on a form, not made in a factory.”
The magnets dropped him and he rubbed life back into his sore limbs. The ship beeped and buzzed.
“She asks that you please compose yourself like a gentleman, and her name is Emily.”
“My favorite poet is..”
“Emily Dickenson,” interrupted one of the Einsteins.
“The ship read that in your notebook.”
“The one I lost.”
“She is an oracle. She knew that Posey wasn’t going to be your girlfriend.”
“I should have known I wouldn’t get the girl.” A wave of disappointment flowed over him, reminiscent of the meltdown he’d had not two hours earlier.
“Hold on,” countered Kindjal. “That’s not entirely all of it. The ship told me that you would dis Posey because of your future wife.”
“My what? Hold on, back up. What’s going on here?”
“I told you that my parents sent me here to find a wife, right?”
“Yeah, but from where?”
Kindjal sat down in a curved leather chair with brass filigree. “They live in a place called Proxima Centauri.”
“Impossible. That’s five years away at the speed of light. Wait. Can this ship go the speed of light? And if you are from another solar system, how can you breed with humans? Why is Posey in a state of suspended animation?”
“Slow down; one question at a time. The ship doesn’t go light speed. It’s about as fast as a Buick, but it has a Celedo-Drive that lets it take short cuts. And before you ask me to explain what a Celedo-Drive is, let me assure you that I am a high school student like you and I can’t explain what it is. I only know that it uses dark matter to punch a hole through another dimension and it comes out light years away.”
“Are there people in this other place?”
“The ships won’t talk about it. They didn’t even want to tell us the place was called Celedon.”
“That still doesn’t explain about Posey.”
Kindjal crossed his legs to get comfortable and offered a seat to Jude, which he took. “Sometime around 10,000 BC your time one of our ships..”
A series of buzzes and clicks interrupted Kindjal.
“Emily, who is telling this story? Okay. Emily would like you to know one of her august ancestors Sargon the Farseer invented the Celedo Drive, but it was his grandson (more beeping and buzzing), pardon me, his nephew Enlil the Lost who took an entire branch of the royal family on an ill-fated journey and became stranded on Earth.”
“If there were highly advanced aliens on Earth 10,000 plus years ago, how come we just got the internet?”
“Because they were artisans; poets, painters, sculptors. They didn’t have the slightest idea how technology works. I mean, think about it. How many rock stars or actresses can build a power plant from scratch? So, by the time we found them during the Cheops Dynasty in Ancient Egypt, the family had gone native.”
“They weren’t worshipped? They were royals, and they were oracles, right, or was that just the ships?”
“The ships were oracles. They had to be. They needed to see multiple outcomes so they could use the Celedo-Drives correctly or they might pop out in the middle of a sun.”
“So how did one get lost? Why couldn’t the others look in the future and find them? OW!” The ship had given him a mild shock.
“I told you she was sensitive.”
There was a series of beeps and buzzes, quickly and louder than before. Kindjal rolled his eyes. “We had just come out of a 50 year war sort of like your War of the Roses. Discovering Earth, which is in essence a ‘great preserve of royal blood’ solved our problems. My father believes the ships planned it this way.”
The ship buzzed and clicked.
“I know Emily, it is only a theory.”
“Who is your father, Kindjal?”
He sighed and said with mock civility, “The honorable Duke Cornelius Ausbur Letterkill, Protector of the Realm and Heir to the Empire of Elysia.”
“And your mother?”
“Oh, Jerrie Ann from Josephine Street… she plays the accordion.”
There was a pause, then both boys burst into laughter. Jude couldn’t stop and he nearly rolled onto the floor. Somehow that made them into just two boys again.
“Look Jude, I am sorry about Posey. I knew for months that she had a high enough concentration of royal blood.”
“From The Snipper?”
“Yes. The robots. The more hair, the better the sample, the more accurately the ship can predict a match. But it wasn’t until this morning when the ship confirmed the story about your wife that I decided to act.”
Before Jude could ask, the whole ship rose about 6 feet and began to hum.
“What’s going on, Kindjal?”
“She’s just shaking the dirt off. Don’t worry. We’ll let you out before we fly.”
There was a shudder underfoot and loud klaxons and alarms sounded. The control room was bathed in alternating red and yellow lights. One of the Einsteins rotated in his chair and announced, “Master Letterkill, we are under attack.”
“Emily, place hull at full transparency with audio.”
The walls of the command center went invisible and they saw the face of the fierce attacker. Standing in the pouring rain screaming for the ‘no good alien scum’ to release him now was a distraught teenage girl with a heel missing on one shoe, a bald head, and swinging an aluminum baseball bat at the hull of the starship.
“Give him back, you hear me?!”
“Turn him loose!”
“I never got to tell him!”
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Agnes McKinney collapsed to her knees and screamed, “If you can hear me in there, I am sorry I called you Conehead, Jude Cumberland. I love you! Please don’t go!”
Jude turned to Kindjal, “That’s?”
As the ship’s entryway was reorganizing itself into a door, Jude asked, “What happened to her hair?”
“The larger the sample, the more accurate the reading. I had to be sure I wasn’t stealing your girl.”
When the ship lifted off, Jude Cumberland and Anges McKinney were caught in true love’s first furious embrace. They never saw wormholes opening to a glimpse of a mysterious land that Earthling space travel had yet to find.
Kindjal let the ship Celedon-Drive him home. One of the Einsteins asked, “Master Letterkill, do you mind if we listen to some music?”
Kindjal let out an exasperated sigh because everyone knows robots love Techno.
“My God! That was a real spaceship!” George Rothering gasped.
“Where did it go?” One of his three best friends asked.
The two lovers turned to see the whole gang standing at the collapsed fence, Jude still with his arms around Agnes. “What are you guys doing here?”
George said, “We were worried about our friends.”
Agnes whispered to Jude, “They mean us,” with a wink.
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