Don’t panic! This chapter should bring you up to date on Ace Archer’s latest–and last!–adventure.
Last time on Ace Archer: Our intrepid fact checker Caryn Alexander was shown the “orrery” of artist Lara Termigant… a collection of paintings and objects that just might be a model of the universe according to Ace Archer!
Caryn Alexander sat at the end of the hospital bed, showing Harold Brakura–or Ace Archer, if her unlikely theories and his crazy ramblings were to be believed–the photos she took in Lara Termigant’s foyer.
“This was the one I mentioned over the phone,” she said, swiping the glass on her tablet to bring up the picture of her Granne diving into the pool.
“Oh my… Anne…” Brakura said barely over a whisper.
“So it is the same Anne Stevens,” Caryn said. “You were my grandmother’s…”
“Hey, I didn’t always look like Methuselah. Sheesh, it’s like you kids think you invented sex. Your grandmother was my partner, my best friend, my fuss, and yes, my lover.”
“So what happened? Why did you two break up? I mean, obviously you were both here, um, on earth.”
It became obvious quickly that he didn’t want to talk about this. “Things happened.”
“Things like your breakdown in Chicago?” Caryn asked.
“It wasn’t a breakdown!” Brakura said before breaking down in a fit of coughing, then groaning as the coughing pulled at his abdominal staples. “I was a patsy,” he finally gasped.
“Are you really sure you want to…” Caryn’s voice dropped to a whisper. “…try to get out of here?”
“Wow, you’d make a hell of a spy,” Brakura grumbled. “Yes, I das’t well want to get out of here. Every nurse and doctor on the floor knows it. Not a state secret.”
Caryn looked around the hospital room. It was impossible to tell if there was any sort of surveillance devices with the massive amount of medical monitors connected directly to Ace Archer’s body.
“But what then?” Caryn asked. “I mean, it’s not like you can go on the run. I’m not even sure if you can go on a walk.”
“I need to find a way back,” Harold–Ace said.
“Back to space.”
“And I think this Terminate girl is the key. Half of those pictures are straight out of my memories. The Gaslight. Your grandmother. Heck, she painted a prettier Princess Cymbeline than the one I… uh… met.”
“So gross,” Caryn muttered to herself. “And her name is Termigant. Lara Termigant.”
“Anyway, she’s obviously got some kind of low down on the universe the way it used to be.”
“Before it got changed,” Caryn said, confirming Ace’s pet theory.
“Yes,” Ace said. “There’s nothing up there now. Just vacuum and space dust and… I don’t know. NASA junk.”
“You seriously think NASA is behind this? They’re barely funded anymore.”
Ace rubbed his stubble with the hand his IV was currently stuck in. “Someone’s gotta gain by this,” he said. “I used to think it was NASA. Who the heck knows. I’d blame Malus Khan, except he doesn’t seem to exist anymore.”
“Well, I’ve still got time to waste,” Caryn said, smiling at the grumpy old man. “Maybe I can turn something up. Dig a little around the hospital, maybe look at your old legal problems. Follow the money.”
“Why the Five Fires are you doing all this for me?” Ace asked after an uncomfortable pause. Caryn really hoped he wasn’t urinating, but it was impossible to tell with the catheter.
“Granne used to tell me stories,” Caryn admitted. “Stories about you… and her, I guess, but I didn’t know that at the time. Anyway, I loved those stories. Maybe… maybe you’re not completely nuts and somehow they were true. I… I think I’d kind of like that.”
“Oh God, you’re an idealist.”
“And you’re a sick old man who thinks the universe changed just to annoy him.”
“I want to talk to this Terminal painter,” Ace said. “Can you get her to bring her stuff here? Can’t make a walk for it, you know.”
“I’ll ask. We’re having dinner when she’s in town this weekend for a gallery show.”
“I used to own a tux. If you find it, I could wear it to her shindig.”
“You stay still. We wouldn’t want anyone to know what we’re up to, remember?”
Ace grimaced and made a zipping motion across his lips.
“I’ll be back tomorrow. I can show you the rest of Lara Termigant’s orrery then.”
“What, you got a hot date or something?”
“I gotta get out of this place,” Ace sighed. “This living vicariously is crummy. Your hotshot got a name?”
“Jeremy Roth”–really Toby Proctor, as much as “Harold Brakura” really was Ace Archer–felt a twinge of guilt, but he stamped it down as best as he could. He’d have to get going to meet Caryn in time for their coffee rendezvous, but he wanted to report immediately to his superiors in the Urania Group about the Termigant woman. Apparently his surveillance on “Harold” was finally going to yield something useful, and useful was what Toby needed if he was going to get promoted out of this kind of grunt work. Maybe “Jeremy” could steer the conversation towards an invite to the artist’s show.
He watched on the monitor as the tiny woman with the purple streak in her hair walked out of the encephalopathy ward. Straightening his tie with one hand, he got up and pushed open his office door.
“Vera, can you transcribe the Saggittarius audio feed from 1630 to 1700 and email it to me? I’ve got an important appointment.”
Vera gave Toby a thumbs up, but he was already walking out of the suite and reminding himself to answer to the name Jeremy.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.