“So how’d you guys get together?” Katie asked.
We stopped at the top of the rise, leaned against a pink wall in the shade of an awning: Janie and I, and the couple we met at dinner, first night of the cruise. It was an effort to remember their names: Katie and Kevin. I kept thinking of them as Lucy and Ralph. As in, Ricardo and Kramden.
“George and I met at a Cancellation Day party,” said Janie.
For a moment I flashed on Janie as I saw that day, gift-wrapped in black tights and a golden tunic.
“A whoosie-whatsit day party?” said Kevin.
“June 3, 2009.” I said. “40 years to the day since ‘Turnabout Intruder’ aired. The final episode. Janie came dressed as Kirk.”
I looked at Janie, and she at me, and once again my breath caught. Our eyes had met that day through the dry ice fog that poured from a punch bowl; hers were set to stun. A smile pulled my cheeks like a tipsy great-aunt at a wedding rehearsal.
“And you went on a cruise for your second anniversary,” said Kate. “How romantic! I bet he never forgets your anniversary, like you do, half the time, right, Kevin?”
“I thought Kirk was a man,” Kevin said.
“He was,” Janie answered. “Except in that episode, he gets body-swapped. I borrowed a command tunic.” She squared her shoulders.
“You musta looked hot,” said Kevin.
“Don’t go changing the subject,” said Kate. “We were talking about how thoughtless you are.”
“Once,” Kevin muttered. “I forgot it once.”
“Right,” said Kate. “I can count. You forgot our second anniversary, that’s one out of two. Half the time.”
Kevin took a breath to say something, thought better of it, and deflated in silence. Janie did the eyebrow shrug, Vulcan style. I looked around, anywhere but at Kate and Kevin.
We turned and walked toward the Hamilton wharf under a long awning shared by a dozen tiny storefronts. The air grew cooler as an onshore breeze swirled dust and fallen leaves in pirouettes and loops; a cloud drew across the sun, tempering its glare with the mercy of shade.
“Oooh, look at these!” said Kate, her all-penetrating voice now coming from the other side of the street. “Janie, come over here!”
“What time is it?” said Janie. “I think it’s getting late…” The last word sounded Dopplered-down.
I turned to look. Kate had a hold on Janie’s hand and one foot in the doorway of a shoe store on the other side of the street.
“Hurry up, Kate!” yelled Kevin from behind me. “We got a ship to catch!”
Janie flashed me a come-hither look: come-hither and save me, that is.
“—I’ll protect you, fair maiden!” I shouted.
“—Sorry, neither!” she shouted back.
“Huh?” Katie said, hear head tilted.
“The Naked Time,” Janie said.
Janie loved being rescued. She’d never actually needed to be saved, until now. I turned to follow, but with one last yank Kate pulled Janie through the doorway, and the door slammed shut.
Kevin grinned, not unsympathetically. He straightened his back and began to whistle a familiar tune. The words came to me as if he spoke them:
“Hello, silence, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk to you again…”
A flash of lightning answered him.
In seconds, the sky darkened and began to churn; thunder rolled over us as air tingled with ozone. I started across the street. It wasn’t that wide; a few drops of rain weren’t going to stop me.
I would have made it, too, most places. Not in Bermuda.
Halfway across, lightning and thunder hit me in a single body blow, and rain roared in my face like a rabid fire hose. Next thing I knew, Kevin was pulling me up and back under the awning, both of us soaking wet.
“Jeez,” said Kevin. I barely heard him, between the downpour and the ringing in my ears. “Thought you was a goner there for a second. Close call!”
I scrambled up. Beyond the awning there was only a wall of rain.
“But…” I said. “The girls…”
“I’m sure the shoe store is still there,” said Kevin.
“We can’t just leave them,” I said.
“They probably didn’t even notice,” he said. “We’ll wait here. Boat’s not going to leave without us. Maybe we can go inside someplace…”
“But…” I shook water out of my hair, wiped my eyes. The rain, if anything, got stronger. I backed away from the spray off the awning, as if it could have got me any wetter.
“Hey, check this out!” said Kevin, pointing behind me. “It’s a video store! Let’s go look!”
I followed Kevin through the glass door. It closed behind us, muffling the rain to a whisper. An ancient air conditioner wheezed and rattled overhead; flyspecked lights flickered from murk to gloom and back again. We dripped on the doormat.
“Let’s just stay here,” I said. “I don’t want to leave the place a mudbath.”
“Come on in,” said a muffled voice from farther inside. Kevin raised an eyebrow at me. I shrugged.
We advanced a step. Kevin flicked the last of the rain from his eyes, stared at the stack in front of him. Several rows of very pretty couples stared back.
“Would you get a load of that?” said Kevin. “Chick flicks. A wall of chick flicks. Not one movie I ever heard of. Or wanted to. I tell you, everything is for chicks these days. Chick flicks, chick shops, chick clubs. I bet a chick runs this…”
A tall bearded man, aged anything from thirty to sixty, came out from behind the stack. He walked with a stork’s high-stepping gait; in his tilted face owl’s eyes blinked, magnified by thick round glasses.
“Can I help you with anything?” He said, in a voice that would have been Bela Lugosi’s if Bela Lugosi had been a Texan.
Kevin and I traded a look again.
“You are welcome to sit out the rain,” he added, blinking.
Kevin blinked back at him. “Sci-fi,” he said. “My friend here likes sci-fi.”
“SF is in the corner,” said the proprietor, sounding like an English butler played by a Texan Bela Lugosi. “Here, let me show you.”
“Whassamatta with you, George?” Kevin hissed. “Can’t you see? He’s busting your chops. Yanking your chain. Jerking you—”
“I get your point,” I said.
“So let’s call him on it,” Kevin whispered. “Give him the fifty bucks and tell him to put on the show, right here, right now. I betcha he’ll say the player is busted.” He pointed at a TV-DVD combo behind the counter. “I swear I’ll punch him out if he does that.”
I looked at the shelf. The boxes were still there. Nice shiny shrink-wrapped boxes, about the right size for DVDs, with genuine-looking iridescent lettering: STAR TREK: SEASONS 1-5, STARFLEET JAG, STAR TREK: VULCAN ACADEMY, STAR TREK: MIDSHIPMEN. Some of the credits brought tears to my eyes, others made my mouth water; each sang to me its sweet siren song. ” Script by Philip K. Dick.” “Directed by John Carpenter.” “Guest stars: Marlon Brando, Bette Davis.” I looked at the proprietor. He looked back, blinking. I looked out the window.
The wind picked that particular moment to fling a sheet or ten of rain at the plate-glass window, turning the street outside into a mess of funhouse mirrors. Such a small decision: Kevin and I walked down one side of the street, Kate and Janie on the other, men ducking left, women right. Mirror, Mirror…
Kevin was probably right. It was a hoax, had to be. There are no gateways between universes. Not even in Bermuda.
“Well?” Kevin asked.
“It would be,” murmured a silent inner voice, raising one eyebrow, ” a highly illogical assumption. The odds against it are astronomical.“
A minuscule, tiny, infinitesimal risk.
“Bermuda Triangle? It’s a myth! A tale to frighten children!” another voice snapped. “Dammit, I’m a doctor, not a folklorist!“
“George?” said Kevin. “Hello?”
“No,” I said firmly.
“‘No I don’t want to make a fool out of this jerk,’ or ‘No I don’t want to see the final episode of Star Trek by’—who did you say it was?”
“Frank Herbert,” I answered automatically. “Or so he says.” I nodded at the salesman. The salesman grinned, tilting his head even more.
“So which is it?” Kevin demanded. He shook stray raindrops from his nose with a sideways jerk. He would have looked like a rooster if roosters looked like fireplugs.
“No, I don’t want to take a chance of losing Janie,” I said slowly.
Kevin threw up his hands. “Can you believe this guy?” he asked of no one in particular.
The proprietor fielded the question himself. “I haven’t believed either of you guys since you opened your mouths,” he said. “You are either senile or Canadian, is what I think. Best TV show of all time, canceled after three seasons?” he continued. “President Heinlein would have flown us Marines out of Hanoi to take over the studio if they tried that. I wish he’d done that, I was gettin’ bored babysitting Giap.”
I ran for the door, Kevin a breath behind me.
Rain squalls don’t last long in Bermuda, which is just as well. You will hardly ever be late for anything if you wait one out. I did not wait. I ran into and through the curtain of warm water, slipping on bumps and splashing through puddles, until I felt a solid wall against my hands.
I wiped my eyes. By sheer dumb luck, I stood against the window of the shoe store I’d seen Janie go into. I saw Kate right away, turning a slipper this way and that inches in front of her face. It took the longest second of my life to find Janie, talking with a salesgirl in the dark interior of the shop.
“Any other day,” Kevin growled behind me, “I’d’a said you’ve been out in the sun too long.” He pushed open the door and shoved me into the shoe store.
“Give me a break,” I said.
“I can do that, George,” Kevin said, more Brooklyn than usual in his voice. “You want a break to your face or a break to your kneecap?”
“And that’s why we are standing here making puddles of ourselves,” Kevin concluded.
“Wow,” said Kate. “This is so romantic. Kevin, would you ever do something like that for me?”
“I’m standing here dripping, don’t I?” He said. “Braved the elements, and all that.”
“It’s not the same,” said Kate.
“How is it not the same?” Kevin roared. “We ran the same, we got wet the same—”
“George had a more romantic reason,” Kate declared. “Even if I don’t understand it.”
“Schroedinger’s cat?” Janie asked.
I nodded. “Exactly.”
“What?” Kevin said.
“One possible explanation for the Bermuda Triangle,” I said, “is the Many Worlds hypothesis, itself a corollary of Schroedinger’s thought experiment-“
“Please, George. English,” Kevin said.
“Short version?” I said. “If this is true, then, I thought, watching the videos from an alternate reality would collapse the wave function in that reality. We’d have to stay there.”
“And what would be wrong with that?” Kevin demanded. “Five seasons of Star Trek. Winning the Vietnam War. Or do you think that would have been bad, winning the war?”
“Screw the war,” I said. “Janie and I wouldn’t be together.”
“Why not?” Kate broke in. “I always thought you two were destined for each other. A perfect couple. Why can’t we be like them, Kevin?”
Kevin took a breath to answer. Janie beat him to it.
“We would have had no reason,” she said, “to meet that day.”
“Two years, two days ago,” I said. “If that weren’t Cancellation Day, neither of us would have gone to ConTrek. No cancellation, no party.”
“Ooh, goosebumps!” said Kate. “Hey! Rain’s gone. Let’s go over there again.”
“Sure,” said Kevin. “Maybe we’ll collapse into a reality where I never forgot anything. Or where you learned to keep your mouth shut.”
“You’re a such a pig, Kevin,” said Kate. “If you made your own universe, all the women in it would be barefoot and pregnant.”
“Not really. They’d be bare-butt and—” Kevin began.
“Bare-butt and pliable?” I suggested.
“Bare-bust and programmable,” Janie said.
“Season Five?” The proprietor took off his glasses. “What planet are you guys from?”
“Told ya he was yanking your chain,” Kevin said. “Let’s go, Kate. Back to the ship, it’s sailing in an hour.”
“Everybody knows there wasn’t but one season of Trek,” the salesman continued, in the same Texan Bela Lugosi voice.
Janie started to walk toward the door. Kevin and I followed.
“A short one, too, only twelve episodes,” the salesman continued. “I guess America wasn’t ready for a woman Number One.”
I stumbled, caught myself. Janie took my hand. We walked on, toward the open door.
“Some say, though,” he said, “it was the show that helped get President Bush elected.”
“Bush?” said Kate. She walked just behind Kevin, holding his hand. “What’s he got to do with it?”
The salesman laughed. “He? What are you guys, Canadian? Everybody knows there’s but one brain in that family, and that’s Barbara.”
Janie froze in the doorway. I tried to stop but slipped in my own puddle. Newton’s Laws seemed to work the same in this universe as anywhere else; the hundred pounds or so I have on Janie swept us both out the door. I grabbed at an awning support to keep from falling. My momentum spun me to face the door as I clung on.
Kevin’s face was only visible for a second; I saw what had to be Kate’s hand on his shoulder, fingers dug deep into the folds of his shirt. After his face receded into the dark interior of the store, slipping from sight like a drowning man’s, a lightning flashed, and seared on my retina his very last look.
When we came back into the store, we found no one there but the same proprietor: stork-gaited, owl-eyed. And on the shelves, the three familiar seasons of STAR TREK TOS, plus the expected TNG, Voyager, and movies. No surprises in the credits: Ted Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Ricardo Montalban. I looked at Janie; she looked at me and took my hand. We left without a word, and walked together to the pier, touching more and talking less than ever before.
Someone else had Kate’s and Kevin’s cabin on the cruise ship; the strangers had been there since sailing from New York. Another couple had their places at the late dinner seating. Even the memories are fading, though Kate’s glass-on-Styrofoam voice might haunt me for a while. The last I’ll probably remember of Kevin, like a Cheshire cat’s smile, might be that desperate last look.
The “come-hither” look.
The “come hither and save me” look.
© 2012 by Anatoly Belilovsky
First published in FlagShip from Flying Island Press, edited by Zachary Ricks, February 2012.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
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