Last time on Ace Archer: Lara Termigant blacked out and when she came to, had painted a dead space princess on her throne. Ace Archer had the same vision in his hospital bed. Can Caryn Alexander bring the two together?
Caryn was the odd girl out in the crowd of black suited limousine drivers. They all held signs with names on them, sure, but most of them were in black block letters. Caryn had written the name “TERMIGANT” in purple marker, and out of now-regretted whimsy, had dotted the I with a little atom symbol. She was also about a foot shorter than the other drivers and wore a pink scarf over a purple jacket.
Of course it had to be that Lara Termigant was the last person off of the plane from Boston to La Guardia. As businessmen came and collected their drivers, Caryn gradually became more and more solitary (though she would never modify “solitary” as it’s an on/off condition) as she watched passengers mill by her.
Finally, after the plane’s crew had all strode by in formation, the tall awkward figure of a woman in a flower pattern raincoat stumbled into view. Lara Termigant had figured out how to pull her suitcase’s handle out to haul it behind her, but she had apparently missed the part about having the wheels at the bottom when dragging.
Caryn waved and walked over to the hapless artist, taking the suitcase handle and twisting it around as she led Lara past the ticket counters to the automatic doors.
“How was your flight?” she asked.
“I sat next to the most darling little girl who knew all these great songs!” Lara said. “And what a voice she had!”
That explained the inordinate number of grumpy looks on the businessmen picking up their limo drivers, Caryn mused as they walked through the glass doors into the New York air. Caryn had parked her grey Jetta in the loading lane, hazard blinkers desperately flashing in the hopes of forestalling tow trucks. As she tossed Lara’s suitcase in the backseat, she saw the familiar yellow paper of a parking citation through her front window. As she slid into the driver’s seat, she pulled it off and handed it to Lara, who was trying to figure out how to put the chair back far enough to accommodate her folded height.
“You should date the city clerk,” Lara said. “I did, and he takes care of these for me.”
“Of New York City?” Caryn asked. “A bit above my pay grade, I’m afraid.”
“Just a thought,” Lara said as the car pulled into traffic.
“So I went through my files,” Caryn cut to the chase. “I think the woman you painted was Princess Cymbeline. Queen Cymbeline, if the coronation in Ace Archer and the Quasar Ghouls of Adastra is canonical.”
“Quasar ghouls? That sounds cool.”
“They can convert you into one of them if you listen to their radio transmissions long enough.”
“So, like, conservative talk radio.”
“Exactly,” Caryn smiled. Every word out of the artist’s mouth endeared her more to the fact checker.
“Anyway,” Caryn continued, “Princess Cymbeline was apparently Ace Archer’s, um, other go-to romantic interest during his space voyages. During the first trip, she was just kind of this femme fatale, someone to make my Granne jealous and tempt Ace Archer to settle down as king of Adastra, her home planet. Later, though, it got kind of vague in the Archer books, because there were a few in the series where Ace wasn’t traveling with his usual companions, and in those he seemed to have an on-again-off-again thing going with Cymbeline. It ended when her mother was killed by the Ghoul King, and she had to take the throne. There was this whole section where Ace actually considered accepting her proposal and becoming king, but in the end, the ‘unknown universe was his true love.’ Jerk.”
“But according to you, she doesn’t exist,” Lara said, frowning. She had pulled a pen from behind her ear and was chewing on the end of it thoughtfully.
“Doesn’t now… but that doesn’t mean she never did. That’s why I want you to meet Ace. If you guys get together, maybe we can figure out–”
“Gggggah!” gasped Lara as her head shot backwards, mouth wide. Her whole body stiffened and began to shake.
“Oh my god, are you having a seizure?” Caryn asked.
Lara’s hand was twitching, the pen gripped tight in her fist. It scrawled back and forth over the traffic ticket, random lines slowly making a rough image. A few seconds later, her head lurched forward, her open lips letting forth the gasp of a deep intake of breath.
“Are you okay? Do I need to pull over?”
“No… I’m okay…” Lara’s breath was resuming normal in/out procedure.
“Are you epileptic? Do you need some kind of meds?”
“No,” Lara said. “This never happened before… like when I painted the princess…”
“Well, good thing we’re going to a hospital,” Caryn said, a worried frown leading the expression on her face.
Lara looked down at the crumpled ticket in her hand. Drawn on it was an old-style Fifties ray-gun, the kind with parallel rings at the end. She held it up to show Caryn. “Maybe we can get more answers than we expected there.”
As the girls drove towards Columbia, Ace Archer pressed the nurse call button on the corded remote knotted to his hospital bed. It was time for him to go.
Today’s nurse wasn’t one of the pretty ones. She was a heavy woman with bad skin and frown lines. She was also the kind of nurse who knew better than you did. (Most nurses knew more than Ace, but the best ones were willing to listen to see if he knew stuff about his situation too.) When she arrived, she frowned to see Ace sitting up on the side of his bed.
“Mister Brakura, you need to lay down,” she said.
“You need to take out my IV,” Ace said. “I need to leave.”
“We’ve talked about this before, Mister Br–” she started, then her face gaped in surprise.
Ace followed her gaze to the remote in his hand, and then he gaped too.
Instead of a beige hospital remote, his hand gripped a silver and blue raybeam pistol. The meter light on the back showed it was fully charged. Ace had no idea where it had come from or why, but one thing Ace Archer knew how to do was to take advantage of a lucky break.
His dry lips wrinkled in a wide smile as he addressed the nurse again.
“The IV, please,” he said, aiming his old blaster at her. “It’s time to go.”
To be continued…
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.