As mentioned, we’re starting a new challenge — the Genre Writing Challenge. Each round, the three writers — Perry, Gary, and I — will write a story on a genre. The Twins decided the Third genre is Science Fiction.
For the record, I think this is a difficult assignment if trying to think of something in the future. That’s because we’ve easily exceeded expectations — well, some expectations, the more reasonable ones from 20-30 years ago, let alone from 50 or 100 years ago — and completely missed amazing things that are now commonplace in much of the world. I mean, Captain Kirk and Spock would be very envious of my Galaxy S23 Ultra . . . probably as envious as I am of their Phasers.
Anyway, we’re again staggering the publication of the stories, and this is Gary’s story. Perry’s story went live this past Saturday and can be found HERE.
Our usual disclaimer:
The writing challenge has no restrictions, and the stories span a wide gamut of subjects. The majority of the stories fall in the PG range, with a few perhaps pushing into the R range. Those ratings are guidelines, but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same goes if you are not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
So, without further ado, here’s Gary’s contribution to the Science Fiction genre.
Wait . . . first, the blurb:
I know, weird title, right? But if you can stick with it till the end, you’ll get it. There are a lot of moving parts in this epic tale. They all lead to a new beginning. So follow along as the Jones family in Hawaii try to survive the forces that would destroy their unique newborn. For better or worse, hold on for a wild ride.
The Book of Aloha
Copyright 2023 — R. G. Broxson
(6,790 words – approx. reading time: about 26 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Malcolm banged on the bathroom door. “C’mon, ‘Loha, baby, you’re killing me.”
After what seemed like eons, Aloha unlocked the door. Malcolm stepped back into the narrow hallway and let her have her space. He’d been through this before, not once, not twice, but half a dozen times.
Malcolm searched for an answer in her face, hoping for hope. Her eyes were wet with tears—not good. Her mouth matched her eyes; her lips were turned down and pursed into an oval, prepared to speak that terminal word again—no. The relentless word he had heard many times over the years.
But this time she shook her head, at first sideways, and then up, then down. Her mouth softened, her lips turned up, her chin crinkled. Her eyes glistened behind the tears. Sobbing uncontrollably, Aloha Jones leaped into her husband’s arms and locked her legs around his waist. She kissed him with all her might. The plastic pregnancy strip clattered to the tile floor. Over her shoulder he spied something pink lying there face up. Two life-changing stripes; Malcolm was finally going to be a father and Aloha, a mother.
As the expectant couple held each other in ecstasy, a comet coursed through the heavens toward Earth. Astronomers on Hawaii’s Big Island watched it with interest. It was not a planet killer, nor was it a skipping rock off the troposphere. It was a formidable extraterrestrial anomaly and it was headed directly for the Goldilocks planet. After much data and debate, the scientists concluded that there was no need for panic. Earth was pelted with celestial pebbles every day.
Terrance Newberry, a senior astronomer at the Mauna Kea observatory on the big island of Hawaii, observed, charted, and plotted a variety of possible flight paths as the speeding orb of light raced toward Earth. Extolling his minor in Brit Lit from Caltech, Newberry crudely dubbed the tiny comet Moby Dick due to its sperm-like style of moving through space. Its crystallized coma of ice, dust, and gas narrowed behind it and seemed to wag vigorously at the whims of the solar winds, making the bulbous head and swishing tail resemble a swimming spermatozoa blindly seeking an ovum, an egg—thus, with a conceited metaphor, Newberry alluded to the great white sperm whale, Moby Dick.
The squad of observers watched more intently as the careening comet suddenly seemed to veer from its projected path into the Pacific Ocean and dive sharply toward the massive telescope at the Mauna Kea observatory. As alarms wailed and warning lights flashed on computer screens, observers and technicians stopped, set aside their Hot-pockets, and rolled their chairs closer to monitors as they quickly recalculated course and collision data.
The auto-call went out. SETI supervisors were awakened all around the imperiled world. As the data trickled in, fickle fingers of fate hovered over glowing red buttons that could potentially produce mass evacuation—mass panic—the last resort. The quantum of scientists at the observatory held their collective breath, then as suddenly as Moby Dick had appeared, the comet vanished from their telescope, the ground-based radar, and even satellite telemetry. It was simply gone.
The quantum exhaled as one, logged the anomaly as a near miss, then returned to their base nature. They chugged Red Bull and re-heated half eaten Hot-pockets in microwave ovens that were coincidentally invented just after the 1947 Roswell ‘weather balloon’ incident—mass extinction averted.
For the newly expectant couple, the fireworks were serendipitous. Malcolm, however, took full credit, pointing and smiling at the night sky. Aloha and Malcolm sat on the tiny lanai of their tiny Kona apartment and watched from foldable beach chairs as a shower of falling stars sparked up the Pacific night like the 4th of July. They were in love and they were finally going to be parents of a child that could share their great love.
Aloha thought of her own childhood. She grew up in Samoa with her mother, a strong Polynesian woman that only succumbed to cancer after it had eaten away most of her brain. Stone silent in life, Aloha’s mother, Tara, had loosened her tongue in death’s doorway as comforting drugs conspired to ease her exit.
As a withered Tara underwent palliative treatment, Aloha dared ask her about her father—a taboo subject on most days. Her mother, her rock, realizing her fate, crumbled. Tears flowed as she told about the soldier she had met in Waikiki when she had visited her auntie and cousins on Oahu in 2000. Tara hadn’t been more than a girl, had never been away from Samoa when she met Specialist-4th class Andrew Dempsey, a self-described canon-cocker, an artillery man stationed at Schofield Barracks army base.
He was different from anyone she had ever met before. He was a farm boy from Iowa and was way out of his element. They clicked. Tara, before she lost her woman’s glory to chemo, had proudly displayed a drape of raven-black hair that swept down past her Hawaiian hips.
Her hair and hips both swayed rhythmically when she talked to the mid-western boy. The soldier, only 18, was able to buy beer from the PX. Tara and Andy talked all night and eventually tumbled into adulthood in the usual way. Only this was not a one-night stand. The two became inseparable. They fell in love, and fell hard. It would take an act of Congress to tear them apart.
After the twin towers fell in 2001, President Bush and Congress declared war. Specialist Dempsey got orders. Artillery, the Queen of Battle, would be needed in Afghanistan to flush Osama bin Laden from his warren of caves in the Tora Bora Mountain complex. By that time, Tara was nearly nine months pregnant.
Tara was only 17; she had refused to marry Andrew Dempsey, though she loved him with all her heart. Tara had always had the picture-perfect wedding in her mind. She imagined flowers, feasts, friends and relatives, and the blessing of the gods. A pregnant girl chasing after a haole, a non-native, soldier was not part of her perfect plan. But perfect plans are generally the first casualty of every battle.
Andrew’s deployment orders were set and he had to report to the base. Although in lock-down, he had managed to be there at the Wahiawa hospital when his daughter was born. Andrew was in battle-dress uniform and his ruck was packed. Tara did not plead for him to stay. Though young, she understood soldiers, duty, and destiny.
They both, however, cried over the wriggling baby that Tara held to her breast. It was a beautiful, bonding moment; a family portrait painted in beige, brown, and camouflage. Andrew suddenly looked at his watch and his face tightened.
“You should go now,” Tara had said, smiling up at him and caressing their baby girl.
It was then that a nurse walked in with a clipboard. “Sorry to interrupt,” she announced, sans sympathy. “But we need to complete the paperwork for your…” she glanced at the chart at the foot of the bed, “daughter.” She performed a smile at that point as if it were another thing to check off on her endless list.
She checked a few more blocks as she glared at the trio. Then she barked, “Name?”
They both looked at each other. Tara was thinking about her grandmother, Kahealani; Andrew was thinking about his grandmother, Mary. Neither wanted to make the big decision.
From down the hallway, a sergeant’s voice echoed, “Let’s go, Dempsey. We’ve got a muster formation in 15 minutes!”
Specialist Andrew Dempsey turned to the door, then back to Tara.
“I’ve got to go, Ipo,” He tried to smile, and couldn’t meet her eyes.
Aloha remembered how she had flushed and almost cried at this part of the story, knowing that Ipo was Hawaiian slang for ‘lover,’ a word of power and change.
Aloha’s dying mother, Tara, had gone on, laughing now, as she described how the nurse had glared at them, clicking that damn ball point pen. “Name?”
Aloha recounted how Andrew had kissed Tara on her chapped lips and the baby on her perfect pink cheek. How he had looked into Tara’s eyes and said, “You name her, Aloha.” He then swung his ruck up onto his back and marched off; he didn’t want her to see a soldier cry.
Tara, a bit embarrassed about this part of the story, had explained to her daughter, Aloha, that she was never a student of English grammar. She smiled when she said, “Your father may or may not have intended to place a comma in his last words to us. Personally, I’m not a fan of punctuation. I heard: You name her Aloha, and that’s what I did.” They had both laughed and hugged.
This memory for Aloha was bittersweet. Her mother, Tara, died soon after the revelation and Aloha became an 18-year-old orphan. Aloha swore to herself that her choices would be better, smarter, and, as her senior year book suggested, more likely to succeed.
Aloha fell for Malcolm the minute she saw him in uniform as he stood watch on that orange and white cutter. The Coast Guard crew had come to Samoa for humanitarian assistance following a cyclone. They kept in touch and she eventually found her way to Kona where Malcolm was stationed.
Aloha did, however, give herself credit for performing a perfunctory risk assessment on her choice. While her father was an army soldier, attached to a quick-reaction-force (QRF), her man Malcolm was in the kinder, gentler Coast Guard and much less likely to become embroiled in a desert duel.
Aloha had been right about that so far, and now they were going to be a real family. Life was good and even the stars aligned and seemed happy for them as they sprayed down from the heavens, lighting up the sky with celestial fireworks. While Malcolm looked upon these as signs of fortune, Aloha feared portents of evil.
That night, Pele had kittens. Malcolm and Aloha awoke to a mewling brood of six kittens. Pele, their part-time cat, unexpectedly delivered the six-cat on their welcome mat. The new mother stretched out across the old rug and allowed the litter to nurse.
Discovering the new kittens the next morning, Aloha and Malcolm both looked quizzically at each other over steaming cups of coffee. “I didn’t know Pele was pregnant,” Aloha admitted.
“I didn’t know Pele was a girl cat,” Malcolm laughed. They both laughed as they cooed over the kittens and attended to Pele, offering the exhausted mom a saucer of milk.
That’s when Aloha felt something stir in her belly. Too soon, she thought. The test was positive, but just barely. She decided to make a gynecologist appointment today. Aloha flicked on her iPad and was assailed with emails, messages, and social media alerts. Weird things were happening in the quiet island city of Kona.
Local news crews and social media outlets reported pets spontaneously producing kittens and puppies overnight. Like Aloha, many of the posters were perplexed, but most seemed happily surprised by the phenomena. The islanders loved their indigenous animals.
Barely distracted by the kitten coincidence, Aloha scrolled to her gyno’s webpage and clicked on appointments. The worry circle appeared on her screen and lingered for an eternity of 20 seconds. Finally, a calendar appeared on the page. Aloha clicked on the following month; it was full. She kept clicking. She finally found an opening six months out.
“Malcolm! Something’s going on.”
Malcolm walked into the kitchen cuddling a very fat and furry kitten that purred at his cheek. “You’re right. Something has happened to our litter of kittens. This big boy is the only one I could find.” He rubbed behind the kitten’s ears and it slitted its eyes in feline delight. “What do you think we should name it?”
Aloha flashed back to the story of her own naming and the tragedy that followed. “Where’s Pele? Wasn’t she with her babies?”
“Guess she went out for a smoke; this little guy was the only one on the doormat.”
“Maybe she took them off to a safer place,” Aloha suggested. “You know how momma cats bite their babies on the scruff of their necks and cart them off. Right? Don’t they do that?”
“According to the nature channel, they do,” Malcolm tried to calm her.
“Then you’ve got to put that little…big guy, back on the welcome mat. Pele has a plan and she will be coming back for her last kitten.”
Malcolm snuggled the cat again. “But he’s so cute,” they both purred.
“Put the damn cat back!” Aloha nearly screamed this, then doubled up, holding her abdomen in a spasm of pain.
Malcolm was lightning by her side. “’Lo, are you alright?” She nodded, straightening up but clenching her teeth.
“I’m sorry,” she try-smiled
Malcolm smirked back at Aloha to comfort her. “Okay, you’re probably right. Who am I to fool with Mother Nature?” He turned to take the kitten back out to the front porch where he had found it. The purring kitten twisted like a snake in his hands and bit deep into the flesh of Malcolm’s thumb.
Malcolm’s first instinct was to pitch the kitten—he didn’t. Something in his Coast Guard training must have prepared him for kitten bites. Malcolm switched hands and grabbed the growling cat by its muzzle. He pinched his fingers into the back of the cat’s jaw and pressed. The kitten was much stronger than he had expected, but Malcolm was able to pry its mouth open and dislodge its teeth from the pad of his bloody thumb. He quickly placed the kitten back down on the welcome mat. It began to casually clean the blood from its fur and whiskers, then purred like nothing had happened.
“Damn cat!” Malcolm flapped his injured hand like he was drying a Polaroid photo. He sucked it, then tore off two sheets from a roll of paper towels to staunch the wound. The kitten, still blind and too young to walk properly, began crawling toward Malcolm’s voice.
“What the hell is it doing?” Malcolm was startled to find Aloha standing at the door, staring down at the colossal kitten as it mewled in hunger and nuzzled blindly for sustenance.
The kitten, tuned into Aloha’s voice, turned toward her, crying ever louder, its pink tongue and needle-teeth flashed white against its dark fur. Its eyes suddenly opened. Crusty lids peeled back revealing milky blue orbs. The kitten stopped for a moment, seemed excited yet mystified by its newfound sense, then concentrated and scrambled more directly toward Aloha’s bare foot. She pranced away just as the kitten’s whiskers tickled her toes and its incisors gnashed.
“Come back inside, Aloha,” Malcolm insisted. He pulled at her arm. “We can leave it here on the mat just in case Pele decides to come back for it.” He looked at her doubtfully, but they both moved back into the house and closed the door, leaving the surly kitten outdoors.
The wall-phone rang and Malcolm received a text on his cell at the same time. He glanced at Aloha; she looked away, even more skeptical of their good fortune. Malcolm picked up the kitchen phone and listened. He mostly nodded and then grunted out a few affirmative replies. “Are you sure?” he finally asked in utter surprise and disbelief. He listened further, nodding again as the caller’s voice buzzed like an angry wasp. In disgust, he pulled the receiver away from his ear.
Aloha watched his expression as Malcolm talked with his supervisor. His eyes flicked between her and the front door, where the blood-thirsty kitten still squirmed on the welcome mat. Her stomach ached. Aloha tried to think what she had last eaten…pineapple pizza from the night before? That bag of Gummy Bears?
“Aloha,” Malcolm said, in a serious tone she was not used to. “We must get you to the VA Pacific Hospital as quickly as possible.”
“Malcolm, I tried this morning to get an appointment. They were booked up, all of them were booked solid for six months. You know that.”
“Things are…different now,” Malcolm said, choosing each word carefully.
“Malcolm, what’s going on? What was that call about?” Aloha looked at her husband as he began zipping up his Coast Guard Nomex flight suit. Her stomach was rumbling. She felt nauseous and clammy, and her temperature was rising by degrees.
“Just some Coasty drill,” he fake-smiled. “But we really need to get you to the VA hospital. It’s the only one taking…” he looked at her abdomen for a moment, “you know, pregnant women. It’s a fringe benefit for the military. We’ll be cutting the line.” He tried for a righteous smile but it did not reach his eyes.
The TV blared a siren in the background. They both gasped. A public announcement followed three annoying beeps designed to get the attention of the dead–past, present, and perhaps future. This is a public service announcement for Kona, and all communities north up to Waimea and Kapauu. A leeward breeze has pushed an unusual volcanic gas into this region. Stay indoors. Close windows and avoid outside activities. If you are feeling the effects of the fumes, call…
The twin volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa erupted occasionally and it was not so unusual to receive alerts pertaining to encroaching lava flows or drifting volcanic gasses.
“I’ve got to go, Aloha.” Malcolm stopped after he said those words, realizing he had nearly mimicked Aloha’s father, the soldier that had never returned from a distant desert. He saw the look in Aloha’s eyes as she thought of the father she had never known. The soldier that had named her and had said hello and goodbye on the day she was born. For a drill, Aloha thought Malcolm looked way too serious as he packed his bags.
“On my way to the station, we’ll stop off at the VA hospital in Kahaluu. Like I said, preggos like you go to the front of the line. They’ll give you a checkup,” Malcolm said and spoke distinctly, as though someone else might be listening.
Aloha quickly got dressed, gathered some things, and waited by the door. As they walked to the car, an old Datsun B210 hooptie, they heard the howl of the lone kitten. It was no longer on the welcome mat. The day-old feline had somehow made its way into the thick banana leaf foliage that surrounded the apartments. Should we help it? Aloha’s eyes asked Malcolm. He just shook his head and guided her into the passenger’s seat. She had never seen him so serious.
They barely spoke as Malcolm drove to the VA clinic. Aloha had a million questions but she knew the drill when she signed on with the military. Everything was ‘need-to-know’ and she wasn’t on that short list. Malcolm was in an S-2 Intelligence Unit that loved their secrets. She would have to trust her husband; it was that simple.
Malcolm drove fast, whipping and winding the old stick-shift along the coastal road, his knuckles white on the wheel and his eyes fixed on an unsure horizon. The radio was playing some forgotten song, Radar Love by Golden Earring. Neither sang along, their thoughts keeping each company.
“You just missed it!” Aloha alerted, pointing to a sign that read VA Hospital. For the first time, Aloha noticed the beads of sweat on Malcolm’s forehead. He wiped his brow and turned to his wife.
“We aren’t going to the VA clinic, ‘Lo.”
“Where are we going, Malcolm?” Aloha asked, turning down the radio.
“The Mauna Kea observatory,” Malcolm replied.
“What about…” she cradled her belly and tried to make some sense of this. “I thought we were going to see a doctor…” she trailed off, thinking about everything that had happened in the last 24 hours.
“I’ve got orders, Ipo,” Malcolm looked directly at Aloha. She wanted to tell him to keep his eyes on the road, but didn’t. She trusted him.
“Aloha, they are performing abortions at the VA clinic.”
“Abortions! What the hell are you talking about?”
“That light show we saw last night was more than a cosmic celebration of our…our situation. Our best observers here on Hawaii tracked something last night that shot through our atmosphere, exploded, and may have somehow seeded this region of our planet.” Malcolm paused to let Aloha absorb this glut of information.
“My bosses at the Pacific Command, PAC-COM, sent out direct orders to any and all Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines to identify any newly pregnant hosts and transfer them to the VA clinic in Kahaluu immediately.”
Aloha just kept shaking her head, holding her belly. She mumbled, “Hosts?”
“While you were getting ready, I called my dust-off buddy at the clinic and he told me the real deal. I told him about Pele and her crazy kitten. He said that there must have been ‘something in the water,’ that almost every breeding-age female of all species were becoming pregnant and it all coincided with the light-show that we saw last night. It didn’t take long to realize that our animals, our pets, and now our spouses, were quickening and birthing at an extraordinary rate. He said we might be safe here at the observatory.”
Aloha got quiet as Malcolm drove up the winding road. She was an Island girl, born to believe in spirits, menehunes, and volcano gods. Magic and miracles happened in the islands all the time. As they grew closer to the observatory, their ears popped and it began to snow.
Malcolm cursed under his breath and turned the wipers on high. Very few mainlanders know that the volcanic peaks of Hawaii receive several feet of snow annually. Sea-level islanders like Aloha and Malcolm felt the chill of irony deep in their bones.
Malcolm and Aloha were greeted warmly at the Mauna Kea Observatory. They were escorted into the lab by geeks of all kinds and colors. Indian, British, Australian, and American astronomers all shuffled to help get the couple settled in. Terrance Newberry handed Aloha a cup of hot tea and an Indian named Pratyush offered Malcolm a Hot-pocket.
Terrance introduced his team to Aloha. Malcolm interjected to explain that he and Terrance had met online, playing Fortnite, and had become cyber-pals. No one in the room, other than Aloha, seemed to think that this level of loyalty was unusual for extreme gamers. Die-hard Fortniters seemed to take all this drama in stride. Just another dangerous mission.
“Fifty-three million years ago, there was an explosion,” Terrance began. “We call it the Cambrian Period. It was not a wipe-out like the well-known dinosaur, or K-T extinction, but oddly just the opposite. A comet struck the earth somewhere in Africa and life exploded.” Terrance waved his arms in rainbow fashion and smiled like a benevolent god. “Evolution leaped forward and life sprang up in all shapes and sizes. It was as though a farmer had just scattered random super-seeds across super-fertile soil and then walked away. The resulting flora, fauna, reptiles, fish, and insects were left to fight it out, to evolve in the only way possible–the domination or annihilation of its predecessors. Kind of like introducing mongooses to Hawaii–it only took two years to wipe out the pesky rats, but also gone were the ground birds and almost every other vulnerable species. Rikki Tikki rules the garden!” Terrance loved his allusions but rarely received any love for his efforts.
Listening intently, Aloha finished her tea, her eyes widened as she looked into the empty cup. She put it down, her hands shaking. Malcolm and Terrance leaned in to look into the cup. “What’s wrong, Ipo?” Malcolm asked.
Terrance answered for her. “The tea leaves, the dregs. Some cultures believe that the leaf-bits at the bottom can predict when an event is going to happen. Mrs. Jones…Aloha, can you read the leaves?”
Aloha shook her head. “My mother taught me. She was a bit of a gypsy, along with many other things. It’s silly, I know. But look here.” She tipped the cup to the onlooking scientists, men that had chosen the paved path of reason and logic. “See how the small, dark pieces have clustered around the side of the cup where the handle is? That means whatever this thing is, is happening, not later, but now. Right NOWWW!” Aloha clutched her stomach and bent over in pain.
Malcolm turned to the group of scientists. “Are any of you doctors?”
They all raised their hands.
Terrance slapped at the silly hands of his colleagues. “No, Malcolm. I mean yes, we are doctors. We have degrees, but none of us are medical doctors.”
“I can help.” The woman stood in the doorway, a mop in one hand and a trash bag in the other.
“You are a doctor?” Malcolm asked.
“Nope. But I have been a doula and a midwife and I’ve borned five chil’ren of my own.”
She pushed her way through the concerned circle and stroked Aloha’s forehead. “And I’m sure I can do a damn sight better than you nerds.” She shook her head. “Now, get me some fresh towels and some hot water, pronto.” The scientists scattered and let the janitor attend to Aloha.
“My name’s Tonya, but most folks call me Tony,” she spoke softly to Aloha, looking into her eyes to gauge her pain. “Just how far along are you, hon?”
Aloha clenched her teeth and managed, “Twenty-four hours, give or take.”
“Terrance!” The janitor shouted. “What the holy hell is going on? And don’t you give me none of that geek-speak.”
Terrance returned to the room, a stack of towels in his arms. “I’ll give you the short-version.” Terrance explained in layman’s terms about the comet that had spread a mysterious shower of organisms that were likely responsible for impregnating almost every fertile female, human and otherwise, on and around the island city of Kona. That the gestation period was accelerated exponentially, and that these new offspring could potentially replace life on earth as we know it.
“Okay…, but this is still a baby, right?” Tonya didn’t wait for an answer. She pulled a flask from her apron, poured the brown liquor on her hands, then took a short pull. “Okay, let’s get this baby borned.” Then she took another.
Malcolm waited outside the door until he heard crying. He turned to his new friends and they all slapped him on the back. He knocked on the door and heard a voice say, “Come on in, Dad.”
Aloha and the newborn were bundled up with sheets and towels. Malcolm’s first thought was that they looked like Mary and Jesus in the manger. Aloha waved him over and they both cuddled and cried over the newborn that slept like an angel.
“She’ll be need’n some rest, Dad. But your lady got through it just fine. She’s a strong woman and you’ve got yourself a fine boy.” Malcolm kissed Tonya on the cheek and hugged her tight.
“You are an angel,” Malcolm looked up at Tonya, whispering through tears.
“I’m a janitor,” Tonya laughed. “And I’ve got to get back to work. Those boys can sure stink up a bathroom.” She pushed her mop and bucket back down the hallway.
“Malcolm!” Terrance rushed into the sacred room, stopped and decided to whisper. “Malcolm, we need to talk.” He motioned for the new father to come outside.
Malcolm kissed his wife and son on their forehead and left the room. “They are tracking us, Malcolm. Have you made any calls since last night? No, just to you guys, and you’re untraceable, right?”
“Right. Aloha, what about her?” Terrance replied.
“I’ve got her phone here. She asked me to hold it. He punched her security code and a text displayed: Franny, guess what? Wrong, I don’t have herpes, but I am going to be a makuahine, a mother. We tested positive for babies. I’m so excited. There was a subsequent string of text messages back and forth from the two friends.
“So what,” Malcolm held out the phone. “No big deal, right? She just texted a neighbor about her positive pregnancy test. She was excited. So was I.”
Terrance grabbed the phone, tossed it into a microwave and slammed the door. He punched defrost and the oven immediately began to spark and crackle and smoke. ”Did she have anything else that might get us killed?” Terrance shook his head at his Fortnite foe and companion.
“Damn, this is getting real way too fast. Yes, she kept a journal, kind of a blog thing. But I don’t know if she has updated it with all this crazy shit,” Malcolm confessed. “She called it The Gospel According to Aloha.”
“We’ve got visitors!” Pratyush yelled into the room. “Ground sensors detect at least one vehicle coming up the mountain. We’ll know more when the cameras engage.”
“Let’s assume the worst,” Terrance said, his eyes searching for answers.
Then he took Malcolm by the shoulder and asked, “Can you fly a helicopter?”
“What? A helicopter?”
“We have a Bell Jet Ranger on the pad behind the warehouse. The fat cats sometimes use it to scope out the volcanoes or get to the golf courses. Can you?”
“I sometimes sit left-seat on our Coast Guard H-65 Dolphin. I’ve been watching the pilot for months now. I think I can manage. But where would we go?”
“I know where we can go,” Aloha rose up from the makeshift birthing couch. “We can go home.”
The new family packed up anything they thought might be useful in their new home. The scientists pitched in with bottles of water, Red Bulls and Hot Pockets, and a few life jackets. Everything was loaded into the cabin of the B.J. Ranger.
Terrance pulled up a YouTube video and talked Malcolm through the start-up procedures on the helicopter. The turbo engines whined and the rotors whirred, slowly at first, then they began to bite the thin air and light snow.
Pratyush rushed out to the aircraft. He yelled in silence to Terrance and Malcolm, drowned out by the turbos. They plugged him into their headset coms and he yelled, “Confirmed!” They made faces and held their ears. Pratyush apologized and continued, restraining his excitement. “Our cameras identified a single black SUV coming ‘round the mountain, government plates. And…” he hesitated, “I’ve also got an update on Kona. Tanks and troops are going house to house with flame throwers. My sources expect no survivors and say that the media are already reporting a bogus story about a random eruption and lava flows to cover their tracks. This shit is Fahrenheit 451 on steroids. But it’s not books they’re burning, it’s babies.”
Shaken, but determined, Terrance showed Aloha how to use the GPS he had programmed to their destination. The Ranger began to rock on its skids and the scientists backed away, their hair whipping wildly in the rotor wash. As the helo lifted off the pad, Malcolm looked down at the motley crew that had risked so much. He hovered for a moment, saluted, then nudged the controls forward toward the South Pacific.
Shots rang out. The black SUV braked on the loose gravel and slippery snow. A man in a dark suit and tie emerged from the door before the vehicle came to a full stop, firing a handgun at the accelerating helicopter. Out of range now, he turned and targeted the astronomers, leveling his pistol at them in a menacing two-hand stance. Having seen all the movies and played all the video games, the scientists, knowing their role, popped their hands up on cue.
The driver got out of the SUV. He seemed to take his time, pausing to turn up the radio. Pat Benatar was wailing, Hit me with your best shot, fire away! The driver, dressed in a black suit like his companion, casually unclipped a hard-plastic case and plucked a full-bore rifle from the form-fitting cushion. He swung up and leveled the extended barrel onto the vehicle’s roof and calibrated two dials on the huge scope. He settled in behind the eyepiece and liquidly slid back the bolt chambering a high-caliber round. To everyone at the observatory, the fading helicopter looked like a dark bird in the distance.
The agent let out his breath, paused for an eternity, and fired. He immediately ejected the hot shell casing, caught it in his firing hand and nodded to his partner. The man with the handgun backed up toward the SUV, placed his pistol back under his jacket and climbed inside. The vehicle spun out on the icy gravel and turned back toward the down-slope of Mauna Kea volcano. In less than a minute, it was there and was gone.
Malcolm was starting to get the hang of the helicopter. It was very similar to the Coast Guard Dolphin he had trained in. Malcolm was half listening to Aloha’s directions as she monitored the GPS; he was trying to remember how his commander had landed the Dolphin the last time they had flown. As he studied the controls, he heard a sharp popping sound, and then the windscreen exploded. Warm air rushed in like a cyclone.
“Malcolm!” Aloha cried. She was looking around wild-eyed, holding the baby to her bosom.
The controls instantly became sluggish. Malcolm felt the bee sting but his adrenalin held the course. He looked down at his lap and saw that he was sitting in a pool of blood. The round had punched through his thigh and out the windscreen. “How much farther?” he screamed at Aloha, trying to avert her eyes from his wound and the haunted-house blood spatters that painted the cockpit.
She looked at the GPS Terrance had given her. “Twenty minutes southeast of here,” she said, pointing in that general direction, which was at Venus, the evening star that was really a planet. Her eyes returned to his bloody thigh. She looked up and around the cockpit and then felt under her seat. Aloha pulled a first-aid pouch free from its Velcro moorings. Malcolm helped as she packed the wound with gauze and wrapped it tightly with white tape. It seeped badly and Malcolm became paler as the bandages turned pink.
The newborn squirmed under the blanket that Aloha had wrapped around her torso. It had been nursing and sleeping intermittently. Aloha tried to soothe the child as it suckled. Suddenly, the baby’s eyes opened wide; it bit down hard on Aloha’s ring finger that was smeared with her husband’s blood. The infant sucked and chewed on Aloha’s finger with surprising force, until she was able to yank it free. That was the first time the boy had cried.
The helicopter dipped and then shot back up. Aloha grabbed Malcolm’s hand and steadied it on the controls. He was fading in and out. She checked her GPS and nudged the stick more southeast until she could see the haze of an island contrasted against the blue of the endless ocean.
“Hang in there, baby!” Aloha shouted to Malcolm as his head lolled. She held the baby tighter as it attempted to wriggle free from the confines of her wraps.
The shimmer Aloha had noticed through the open windscreen took form as they motored on. It grew from a brown smudge on the horizon to a lush garden island, growing larger by the minute.
The helicopter plunged. Aloha felt her stomach drop as she pulled up on the collective, but it only slowed their descent. The bullet had taken its toll on man and machine. Home, she thought as she looked down at her baby. We’ve got to get home.
Metal on metal; the helicopter, drained of hydraulic fluid, began eating away at itself. Malcolm slumped forward; he was unresponsive. Aloha reached for anything she could find that might cushion the inevitable crash. She grabbed the life jackets that were tucked behind the cockpit seats and wedged them between herself, Malcolm, and the console. They would have to serve as airbags.
The world instantly changed from wind to water. Aloha no longer knew if she was up or down as they tumbled deeper. But she was an island girl and remembered diving for pearls, and she became calm. Unbuckling her belt, Aloha blew out a short string of bubbles. She watched as they rose sideways. Aloha looked over at Malcolm, she tried again to unbuckle his harness with her free arm; it was jammed. Aloha pushed out of her seat, holding tightly to her baby, and followed the silver bubbles out the blown-out windshield of the sinking helicopter.
Aloha kicked and stroked upward with one arm, holding her baby with the other. She felt at home in the warm Pacific waters but pushed harder to get her newborn to the surface as she slipped into the fringes of consciousness. Aloha held the baby in front of her with both hands as they crested the surface. The baby did not squirm as it had done in the cockpit. It remained silent and rigid.
As they broke the surface, both baby and mother gasped, their eyes wide and alive. The helicopter groaned and whined as its systems shut down, its rotors spun and chopped at the water as it succumbed to the pull and ultimate silence of Mother Ocean. Aloha prayed for Malcolm. That was all she could do. She didn’t pray to the haole god, sitting on his white throne of judgment, she prayed to Madame Pele, the goddess of volcano and fire.
Her prayers were granted. Two canoes appeared from the surge and a large Samoan man swam up from behind Aloha and encircled her waist, raising her and her child high above the battering waves. Another native reached down from his canoe and together, they hauled Aloha and her baby up into the vessel. Lying in the bottom of the canoe like a prize catch, Aloha had the strength to utter one word–Kahealani, and then she lost consciousness.
The Samoan pearl divers paddled quickly to shore. They delivered the castaways to the tribal shaman and told him of the name the woman had invoked.
Aloha awoke in a hut, a small fire in the center of the floor cast eerie shadows on the uneven walls. “You came home, child,” a vaguely familiar voice whispered.
“Grandmama, is that you?” Aloha tried to adjust her eyes to the night.
“Yes, child. It has been so long since we talked; you have become a woman.”
Aloha suddenly remembered the foremost responsibility of a woman and began searching the edges of her mat. “My baby, have you seen my baby?”
There was a knock at the hut door. “Kahealani, can I come in? Is Aloha awake?”
“Malcolm!” Aloha cried. He came in, limping on a crutch, carrying their baby. They embraced.
“What is the child’s name?” Kahealani asked.
Aloha looked to her grandmother, then back at her husband. “Malcolm, in all the craziness, we never named our baby. Dear God, what kind of parents are we?”
Malcolm laughed. “You saved him; you name him, Ipo.”
“Ipo, it is,” she smiled. “No matter what the world thinks, he will always be our love child.” She peeled back the cloth from the baby’s face. A double set of eyelids blinked as little Ipo smiled with a full row of sharp teeth.
“And that, class, is how the Anthropocene Era of humankind ended and the Ipo-epoch of Amphibopods arose.” The professor reached across the entire length of the room with a suckered tentacle and tapped a sleeping student on his hump.
“Wake up, Tatlus. I know that historical literature can be dry, but this is our origin story, straight from the Great Book of Aloha, chapter one. These scriptures were penned by our sacred Mother herself, millions of cycles ago, as she said goodbye to her tribe and welcomed the next evolution; that is us. We owe her and baby Ipo everyth…”
The professor just shook his horned head as young Tatlus nodded back off in the middle of his lecture. It was clear he was sleeping because his skin turned orange and he stopped breathing.
“I always wanted to be a human when I was a kid,” Jantros interjected. He got up and tucked four legs and his pincers underneath his shell and walked around quite nimbly on two tentacles, resembling an extinct biped. The class roared with laughter.
That night, a strange comet coursed through the evening sky…
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