Last time on ACE ARCHER: Ace concluded his flashback to his first launch in the Tempest… and back in the present, in the middle of a tampon commercial, saw a painting of one of the alien Gaslights he had encountered in space… a being that for fifty years he had thought no longer existed!
The device sat in front of Caryn on her home office desk, the flickering from the cupcake-scented candles reflecting off it at weird angles.
“What the hell are you?” she asked it.
Fortunately for Caryn’s sanity, it didn’t answer her.
Caryn’s ex-boyfriend Nicolas was an electrician, and she considered calling him, but if she did she would probably have to sleep with him. Right now she wanted to focus on the Ace Archer quandary.
Whatever the device was, it seemed that no amount of fidgeting with it was going to get it to do anything. Caryn had adjusted the studs, pressed the button, waved it around, rubbed it (admittedly a stretch, but who knew what space genii might appear?) and finally stuck her finger in the tube to see if the little wires would attempt to bond with her skin. Fortunately, they didn’t.
So now it sat there, taunting her with its inscrutability.
“Stupid thing,” Caryn finally said, turning to give it the cut direct. Instead, she picked up her grandmother’s Hemingway book, opening to look at the inscription once more.
“Not only have the sharks come,” she read, “but there is no sea left.”
What the hell did that mean? And what was it that Ace Archer had wanted her grandmother to understand? Caryn hadn’t read The Old Man and the Sea since she was in high school. Maybe the book might offer some insight. A tiny part of her worried that reading a first edition like this might devalue it somewhat, but she silenced the obsessive-compulsive part of her personality with the just plain obsessive part.
Caryn preferred a more lyrical writing style to Hemingway’s short, blunt voice, but the book was far more engrossing than she had remembered. There was a poignancy to Santiago’s adversarial relationship to the marlin that was both his enemy and his savior. Caryn found herself tearing up when the wearied old man lost his battle with the sharks that have come to devour his last chance.
Not only have the sharks come…
On page 96, a yellowed business card fell from the book into Caryn’s lap. She picked it up between two fingers and peered at it sideways.
“Dr. Christina Rapp, Neurologist,” it read, “Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, New York, New York.” There was a phone number on the card, which Caryn recognized as having one of the early NYC area codes.
Caryn knew better than to just start with calling a years-old phone number. Pushing the space lipstick aside, she unpacked her laptop onto the desk and pulled up her usual multi-search engine cocktail. Within minutes, the current position and medical resume of Dr. Christina Rapp, Ph.D., M.D., specialist in geriatric neurology was at Caryn’s fingertips. To her surprise, Dr. Rapp was still at Columbia Presbyterian. The office phone number was even the same.
Caryn looked at her watch. It was nine twenty-two in the evening. Unlikely that anyone would be answering the phone now. She resolved to call Dr. Rapp in the morning.
Returning to her recliner, she resumed reading Santiago’s ill-fated odyssey. By the time the book ended, she was verklempt. It was no wonder Caryn usually kept to reading Sophie Kinsella. She could handle chick lit themes. Hemingway was alien and deep.
She thought to the stacks of Agatha Christie that Granne had kept. Hemingway probably wasn’t her cup of tea either… but still, Ace Archer had meant something by the gift.
…there’s no more sea left. I fear we will never fish again…
Caryn turned to the book’s indicia. The copyright and printing dates were right there. 1952, 1953. A quick check on FactCheck.org confirmed the publication date for the book: September 8, 1952. Three days before Howard Brakura’s infamous and then forgotten incident in Chicago.
Just like Ace Archer had been a famous hero, then relegated to pop culture obscurity.
Just like Professor Prospero had been enough of a real scientist to get footnoted in an obscure rocketry paper but didn’t even show up on Internet searches for Ace Archer.
It was like one of those computer viruses you read about in spy novels that couldn’t really work in the real world: erasing a person’s identity from every computer on the Internet. Except in the 1950’s, there was neither Internet nor computer virus. How had the Ace Archer/Harold Brakura story gone from infamy to obscurity? What about the 1980’s movie… why hadn’t a big budget reinvention of the Ace Archer franchise made more of an impact?
Caryn had too many questions, and when Caryn had questions there were two things that would come next: answers… or trouble.
Because it was too late to get anyone in person at the office, Caryn called Samaritan and tapped the voice mail code for her boss, Martin Erwin. After the beep, she rattled off her excuse.
“Hey, Martin, Caryn here. I finished the rocket papers, they’re in my finished box on the server. Look, I’ve got a family issue that’s just come off and I’m going to need to take a couple day’s worth of leave. No emergency, and I’ll be on my cell if you need anything, but it’s something that just can’t wait. Use those vacation days you’re always bugging me to take if you have to. Thanks, boss. I’ll check in in a week or so. So. Right. Bye.”
There were several thick files and boxes with loose articles and web page printouts scattered across her desk. Caryn cleared them all and put them in a vaguely stable stack on the far side of her office, mentally naming the pile “things I’ll get back to after this.” It balanced precariously next to “things I’ll catch up on after my novel,” and the dusty box named “the financial stuff I’m not ready to figure out what to do about.”
Her desk emptied, she wiped clean the whiteboard on the wall above it. New project, clean working space.
To inaugurate her latest idee fixe, she wrote the key question she was about to devote her not-inconsequential brainpower and diagnosable obsessive focus to in red dry-erase marker, circling it twice.
“What happened to Ace Archer?”
Sharks or not, Caryn was going fishing.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.