Much better now. My wife made the astute observation: “this is going to kill you.”
Of course it will! But I rather die in a weltering of my stories than a drugged plant in front of the teevee, shoveling cheesy-puffs into my mouth.
Below, originally from my second novel, Echoes of Family Lost, are two now very old friends talking shop.
“Of course it will be on automatic!” Philip Chinon, one of the Lead Project Managers at the Oak Ridge Lab, slammed his coffee mug onto the old plastic table. It cracked just a little. “There’s no way someone could… could…”
He trailed off in his realized stupidity.
“Tee hee!” The ghost before him laughed.
They sat in what once had been a storage room. It was physically close to the fission reactor they used to keep Knoxville in lights. Years ago it had been repurposed as a meeting room. For meeting just one person who could manifest herself through the equipotential flux of particles from the core.
“That’s why I like you, Phil! You see your mistakes so quickly!”
The white outlines of Dorina in her high boots and loligoth outfit leaned back in the real chair just across the table from Chinon. She brought a similarly ethereal elegant teacup to her lips for a moment, letting her long, curly hair fall behind her.
“Most of me will run Chise; I’ll spare a little to help Ai weave but Henge, Shandor, and Barnabas will take point on our… venture.”
Chinon’s look went to the tabletop. He pulled a handkerchief from his labcoat pocket and mopped up the coffee he’d spilled.
“After all these months, you are still uncomfortable.” She said, not asked.
“I… I may have mellowed in my dotage,” he began, “but I was raised strict Southern Baptist. It just seems as if we’re meddling in things we shouldn’t.”
“My niece assures me that the Pope is on-board with her project.”
Chinon’s eyes came up.
“As said Southern Baptist, that just makes it worse, Dorina!”
They held each other’s gaze. He was the first to smile. She reached across the table to put her hands onto his. There was no contact from her woven lights but having known her for over ten years, he still thought he felt something.
“I’ve told you: Henge’s staking everything on one throw. If this fails, we’re done here.” Dorina said quietly.
“I hope not entirely.” He rolled his hands so it appeared hers rested in his. “After this decade, I do like working with you, friend Dorina.”
He watched her ghost lean away and wipe at her eyes.
“That’s no way for a handsome widower to speak to someone only fifteen years old!”
At the mention of his deceased wife of two years, he drank the last of his coffee.
After all these years, they still get so much wrong.
From when they first met in the Society’s mission to bring power to Huntsville, former Alabama, Chinon had been fascinated by the machine called Dorina since he’d first perceived her ghost in Chibi, the pebble-bed reactor they’d installed there. After introductions between the Hartmann’s, their lost sister from Texas, and what he now knew as Machine Civilization, the odd but brilliant Dorina always had had a spare moment to chat. Later, that had spread to others of her family.
They seemed to enjoy helping us humans. That Fourth Law that their own Knoxville Councilman, Galen Reynolds, had inadvertently coined over twenty years ago. But this project… he felt such unease.
“When you’re quiet I’m older than I’ve made a mistake.” He looked up to see her tilt her ghost’s head left just a little. “I know why and I am sorry.”
Chinon made a dismissive gesture.
“Isn’t talking what friends do?” He asked. “Of course I miss my wife.”
But there was a twitch to his lips.
“And it doesn’t help that you coincidentally resemble my granddaughter!”
I am older to not tell him there’s no such thing, Dorina thought.
“I see.” A vague, true statement.
“So!” Time to wrap things up, he thought with a glance at his watch. “When’s the big day to fire up the stellarator, Chise?”
“What?!” He half stood. “Sunday? The cost to bring everyone in…!”
“… has already been calculated and paid by my brother, Thaad.” This time, her translucent hand went to try to gently touch his face. “Henge assures me that the day is most important!”
He finished standing and nodded.
“In that case, I’ve much to do, Dorina.”
He watched her seated form close her eyes and fade.
God help us, he prayed.