Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Brontë Sinclair's Island; Chapters V through VII

Here's where things start getting rough. It also occurs to me that Chapter 6, with its discussion of Christian theology, may not appeal to all readers. However, in Chapter 7, we finally meet Jocelyn.

Chapter 5
I stared from where Sinclair had been to the locket in my hand. A plain golden oval with the name "Emma" engraved on the front In fancy lettering. Curiously I opened it. Rather than a lock of hair it contained a minute com device. I stared, then snapped the locket closed and slipped it into my inside breast pocket. Then I headed inland, calling Sinclair as I went.

Old Man Morrow's daughter Emma, like Jocelyn, was one of the cohort of children who had been born with disabling neurological injury. And, she was the Emma Sinclair had spoken of. She was the sweetheart he was separated from. Compassion filled my heart, overwhelming other emotions. That romance was hopeless, be he a senator's son or whatever.

With an entire age cohort, a sizable minority of a generation visually or physically disabled to one degree or another, most both, a fundamental societal shift had to take place. No longer were equal access and equal rights laws merely feel-good window-dressing applying to a tiny and thus politically insignificant minority of the population. Everyone who didn't have a disabled child himself had a cousin or a friend with a disabled child. Rich, poor, city-dweller or countryman, private citizen or public figure, this sudden, inexplicable tragedy was an equal opportunity scourge.

So now that the youngest of these children were in their early twenties, Nova Britannia was a fully integrated, fully accessible society, and it seemed that no one could remember a time when it had been anything else. Stairs were a rarity; ramps and elevators the norm. All printed materials were routinely produced in large and jumbo print and in Braille as well as standard print. Most were also recorded, and pocket-book sized "Ready Speak" consoles were already common for best sellers. Wheelchairs, scooters, personal care robots, and adaptive reading devices were mass produced to the highest quality standard, and were exempted from all anti-tech legislation. High visual and tactile contrast control consoles were standard on all devices and equipment except those unsafe to be operated by persons with visual or motor deficits. Even these were better designed for ergonomics and safety. Great advances had been made in a remarkably short time in voice recognition and artificial intelligence generally. A personal care robot was as responsive and reliable as a human, or more so. The whole society had benefited from the scientific and technological advances and corresponding rise in quality of life. And those like myself and Sinclair who had been children when the first disabled were born had simply accepted them as children like ourselves, children we had to look out for a little more, and sometimes adapt our games for, but no different than anybody else.

But some parents were over protective. Morrow and his wife, a quiet, intense woman, fell into this category. Emma was vivacious, intelligent, possessed of a zest for life that her spasticity and almost total blindness couldn't quash. I'd known her almost as long as I'd known her father, and had gotten into the habit of bringing her interesting news and tales from the distant lands where I traded. She wanted to know about everything, and already had an encyclopedic knowledge of the planet. She was a fine horsewoman, and it was to purchase a new horse for her birthday that her father had engaged me this summer. He and his wife loved her very much. But, they cosseted and petted her like a fragile child. I couldn't imagine they would countenance her having a suitor. So, carefully pocketing the com-locket, I strode towards the house calling Sinclair.

I found him in the study, calmer but still showing the signs of a great strain having suddenly snapped. I spoke quietly, trying not to distress him further. But he started all the same, though he did not turn to face me. "Brontë," I said. "Forgive my outburst. I didn't know how things were between you and Miss Emma. I, well, I'm sorry."

He made a muffled, indistinct reply.

I went on. "I know her pretty well. Known her for several years. I'll do anything I can to help…" Here he sprang to his feet, radiant with relief and gratitude.

I held up a hand. "The thing is, I won't be seeing her for some months." He slumped back. "Her father wants me to pick out her new horse for her birthday, so I won't see her again till then."

~~~

I know her pretty well," I continued. "And I know that her parents cherish and pet her as if she were a helpless invalid. If I hadn't seen her on a horse, I'd probably think she was a helpless invalid. But, she's a fine horsewoman." Sinclair nodded enthusiastically and swiveled his chair to face me, apparently mollified by my praise of his beloved. I grinned. "And easy on the eyes, too, if you go in for the blonde persuasion."

I was pleased to see the ghost of a grin flicker across Sinclair's troubled face. "Ah, so Miss Jocelyn's not blonde?"

"Nope. But, we were discussing Papa Morrow and his charming daughter."

His expression grew somber again. "Yes, well. As you've observed, they treat her like a lap dog more than like an intelligent young woman. They don't approve of me, I can tell you. And with her being confined to a wheelchair, the proverbial midnight elopement from her window is not practical.

~~~

I paused in thought and, crossing to the chair where I'd been sitting earlier, picked up my glass. "I wonder," I said and Sinclair raised his head, looking at me hopefully. "Jocelyn went to school with her," I said, smiling at his sudden, alert attention. "I'm not sure, but I think one of their mutual friends is very close friends with Miss Emma. More so than with Jocelyn, if you see what I mean. It might be possible for her, this mutual friend I mean, to send or smuggle the locket in."

Sinclair looked dubious. I don't want to involve too many people," he said unhappily.

"I know." I drank again to gain thinking time. "The best thing would be to talk it over with Jocelyn," I said at last.

He perked up noticeably at that. "I'd really appreciate it," he said almost humbly. "There's more to it than just the com unit…" He trailed off and put his head in his hands. "It all sounds so juvenile, so Eighth Grade cloak and dagger now that I try actually to put it into words," he groaned.

I took one last pull at my ginger ale. More to the job than merely delivering a piece of jewelry. Well, juvenile or not, this business certainly seemed complicated and, frankly, far more intriguing and challenging than selecting a Namoranian. I liked Emma Morrow very much. And I found, though on a far briefer acquaintance, that I liked Brontë Sinclair very much as well. I wanted to help them. At the same time, I saw no reason why I couldn't help from Fairport.

I cleared my throat. "So, what were you trying to tell me about taking your craft and mine being safe here in your harbor?"

Sinclair mopped his face with what looked like a real linen handkerchief and smiled. It was a wan, rather shaky smile, but a smile nonetheless. "More of my hocus pocus I'm afraid," he said cheerfully. "But, you know how you came upon this island at a longitude and latitude where as an experienced sailor you know no island is In the Blue-green Sea?" I nodded, eyes narrowing. "Well," he grinned outright. "There isn't an island there any more." He laughed at my attempt to look and sound unsurprised.

"So, where is it, uh, are we?"

He didn't answer at once. Instead, he rose and crossed to the wall of bookcases and drew out a large atlas. Carrying it to the desk, he waved me over. Curious, I moved to stand beside his chair. He searched for a moment and then opened to the Falibars, a long, roughly lizard shaped archipelago. The native name, which the settlers from Earth had only slightly mangled, meant "Sea Dragon." Sinclair planted the ball of his right forefinger squarely in the sea between the last, widely spaced islands of the dragon's tail. "Right here," he said firmly.

I shook my head. "If you say so."

"Which means," Sinclair went on, "we're about twelve hours sailing west of Fairport." He traced the route.

I looked at him in amusement. "Your craft, the Black Moon, is nonpowered? Strictly sail?"

"Yes."

Straightening, I assumed an air of command. "Right. The Silver Star is a beautiful sailing craft, but also has the most up-to-date electronics and an engine the match of any craft her size I've seen. We'll take her and be in Fairport harbor in four hours."

Sinclair blinked. "Then why couldn't you contact Jocelyn?"

"Because she doesn't have modern telecom. Just one of those telephone thingies."

Chuckling, Sinclair rose and started tidying the room. "Sensible person, your Miss Jocelyn. It's nice being under the RADAR, so to speak."

In a few minutes we were back at the boats. "Will The Moon really be safe here, Brontë?" I asked anxiously.

"Oh, I think so."

I shrugged. "If you say so."

Sinclair set the shore skimmer, and a few moments later he nosed in, six inches from the Star's port side. "There's a grap ladder in the seat where you're sitting," he said. "Would you get it out?" Standing up carefully, I opened the compartment and removed a coiled ladder. I squinted, then threw it straight up. The soft gripper hooks caught on the rail and the ladder uncoiled to the waterline in a moment.

On board, I hauled in the grap pass, somewhat more difficult than casting it, but still only the work of about three minutes. Having hauled up and coiled the grap ladder, Sinclair moved about the deck, looking at everything. Once the grap pass was rebundled, I told him where to open so I could stow it and the grap ladder. Then he followed me down to the cabin.

Settling himself comfortably, he looked about with evident enjoyment. "She's a beautiful sloop," he said, watching me run tests on the electronics. "I'll reel in the anchor, or is that all electronically controlled too?"

"Nope, that's the old fashioned way, by windless. I'd appreciate the help." Sitting back, I smiled at him. "I've been one man crew so long, I've almost forgotten what it's like to have someone to share the work with."

Rising, he saluted smartly. "Aye aye, Captain. Is there anything you want me to do before bringing in the anchor?"

"No," I said, grinning. "Just let me know, uh, sing out when it's in, and we can, uh, get under way."

"Aye, aye," he said again, cheerful and serious, and he hurried up the companionway.

Chapter 6
Once we were under way, there wasn't much to do but to enjoy the sparkling day and to talk. So, with Sinclair at the tiller and myself leaning comfortably with my shoulders against the binnacle box, talk we did.

...

Sinclair stared past me at the expanse of ocean for a moment. When he spoke, it was in a thoughtful, almost musing tone. "I'm not a - what's that word? That one that was ancient before Humankind thought of traveling in let alone colonizing Space? I'm not a necromancer." He shuddered. "I have no powers drawn from commerce with dark spirits, or anything like that. I'm a sincere Christian, to use an old fashioned term, though not really what you might call devout."

He laid his hand on his breast and, at my look of curiosity and concern, drew out a silver crucifix on a fine chain. I was taken aback. I was Catholic myself - many people on Nova Britannia were - but wearing a crucifix, even a small, simple one, was unusual among the laity. He must indeed be devout, or come from a family where such possessions were cherished, or both. Then I smiled. Raising my left arm and pushing back the jacket sleeve, I showed him my wrist. I had my pet archaeisms too.

Sinclair nodded at the windup analogue wristwatch and its cloth band from which hung a St Christopher medal and a St Martin medal. "A traveler and a pacifist," he said with sympathetic understanding. Since I don't wear a watch, I pin mine to the inside of my shirt cuff."

"That's an odd place to put them."

He looked mildly surprised. "Is it? I've always done it that way. It keeps them safe and out of the way."

I thought about this. "It is sometimes sort of awkward having them on my watchband." I regarded the small, silver discs. "But it's less likely I'll lose them or forget to put them on."

"Oh well," Sinclair said lightly. "To each his own. Emma suggested I do it this way; and, really, it seems like the best arrangement for me."

Smiling, I looked again at the St Christopher medal, a gift from Jocelyn. "My grandmother used to say, 'The best way to do something is the way that works best for you.'" Sinclair nodded and let the crucifix fall to his gray sweatered chest. I went on, looking at him with mounting interest. "So, we've established that you're a loyal son of The Church. How, then, can you do the marvels you do?

"Marvels? Well." He sighed. "My family is very old. We have a tradition, or a legend, that we can trace our ancestry all the way back to Earth. Oh, I know it's silly, and I'm not really sure I believe it, but there it is. Some ideas and abilities were lost over time as people settled into this new world; and among those abilities were the allied arts of telepathy and telekinesis. It's a pity, because they surely would have been useful on a new world. But now there are very few people who can practice them. I'm one of those people. It's in the family, you might say. Have you ever had a hunch or a premonition, a funny feeling you know, especially one that has seemed to be accurate?"

"Sure," I said doubtfully. Everyone has. That's common enough."

"Yes. And that's the vestige, or the germ perhaps, of all tele-psychic ability. The human mind is capable of so much more than we have ever fully made use of, more than we've ever even fully documented. Well, telepathy and such things aren't necromancy or sorcery or nonsense of that sort. They're merely a development of that germ that all humans have. And, it can be nurtured and encouraged to develop. You know, it can't be evil. Jesus read minds."

"Yes," I said, aghast, "But Jesus was God!"

"He was true God and true Man, Perfect Man, Man as he should have been and was before the Fall."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean he was psychic," I said hotly. "All that sort of thing is evil, corruption that came with the acceptance of the Devil's lies."

"Why?" he said and looked at me.

"Why?" I almost shouted, jerking upright. "Because it's twisted and unnatural, that's why. How can it be natural for a man to be able to read another man's thoughts, or to move himself about just by thinking? It's, it's of the Devil!"

Sinclair looked at me sadly. "Think, Charlie," he said. "Is what you're saying logical? Satan tempted our Parents by the promise that they would not surely die but become as gods. And look at the texts. God created humanity in His image. 'In the image of God created he him. Male and female created he them.' So, they were already as like to God as a creature could be. And, when they ate the fruit, did they gain anything?"

"They gained," I began, and stopped.

"They gained the understanding that they were naked, you were about to say. But, is that a positive or a negative?"

I thought about it. "A Negative, I guess," I said reluctantly.

"A negative. The realization of their nudity was a realization that they were no longer one with the garden on the one hand and God on the other. They lacked nothing before. Afterwards they became divorced from Nature, you might say, from the natural order as God made it; that which God saw on the sixth day and said was good.

"Now, if Man walked with God on the one hand and named and loved the animals on the other before, and if he became afraid of God and was expelled from the garden afterward, then he lost something, a great deal of his native being, wouldn't you say?"

I nodded. I wasn't sure I bought it, but he was interesting to listen to.

"We lost our empathy with, our connection to the other creatures; to a certain extent we lost our connection with one another. We acquired pain and unhappiness, which are antithetical to God's attributes, and we gained so much more, so much that is dark and the reverse of all that is God and is thus the natural state for ourselves, misery and ignorance and hatred. Our minds are closed even to God. But in our natural prelapsarian state we were like God. We had many of his powers and attributes. He can do and make simply by speaking, simply by thinking. We can still make things in our minds. But now it takes sweat of our brows to bring these mind makings into reality. And that may be one of the distinctions between the Creator and the created. But surely as we were originally constituted we must have had more of the divine power than we do now. And it's still there, lying dormant in our minds, just as all the other gifts of God lie dormant there, and each individual realizes them more or less. This is no different. Only people have grown to fear it. And, what we fear, we hate and condemn."

That was true enough, Lord new. Could he be right about this? "It seems to me I remember hearing that before the settlers came from Earth, Jesus himself spoke directly to the people, the natives. They knew who he was, knew him far better than the settlers did," I mused.

That's right. Eventually it was decided not to try to convert them to Christianity, since they already had a faith which understood Our Lord's mission to Earth, and the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, better than Earth's Christians did."

...

He seemed to understand that I was beginning to waver.

...

Chapter 7
We decided to enter Fairport harbor under sail, so it took a little more than the four hours I'd reckoned on. Still, we came into the busy and picturesque little harbor just after noon. The clerk who'd pulled the lunch shift was an old buddy of mine, as many harbor clerks in many harbors were. So, much of the half hour we spent with him in the small, coolly leaf dappled office was spent in chat. Then Brontë stopped at a café, where he said he'd wait wile I went on to Jocelyn's. I squeezed his shoulder and passed on, along the harbor front boulevard. I turned up a steep transverse street, and then into Sea View Gardens.

Jocelyn's house was on the upper side of the terraced street. I paused, my hand on the gate latch, and surveyed the glorious riot of the garden and the neat bungalow beyond. Then, I stepped in. After several steps, the street sounds faded. I looked up, breathing deeply. Nowhere else is the sky so blue as in the Falibars, enclosing them in wholesome, homey magic. The breeze from the sea blew softly, rustling the baramana tree near the door. The scent of the big, white flowers drifted, riding the breeze like a wave, blending with the salt tang. I always felt content walking this path. I felt content now. Strolling, breathing, looking, I approached the door. But, when the door opened, everything vanished. My Jocelyn stood there. "Charlie," she cried, clinging to me. It was a long, long moment before either of us said anything else.

Finally, she drew back, letting the front door close behind us. The foyer was dim and cool, filled with the scent of tropical flowers, or maybe that was Jocelyn's hair. "You said you wouldn't be home till the day after tomorrow," she said almost accusingly. "And here you are, big as life and twice as real; and, my hair's wet - I was just brushing it when Percy said you were opening the gate - and lunch isn't ready yet." I stood there, totally flummoxed, until she laughed and, flinging her arms around my neck again she cried, "And, oh, you big lug, I'm so, so glad to see you!"

I laughed too then, with sheer happiness and love. And, I squeezed her, not very hard, for she wasn't terribly sturdy, but hard enough. "You got my note then?" I asked, allowing myself to be led through to the back terrace.

A pergola covered with Falibar passion flower vines shaded the terrace and filled it with a sweet, wistful scent. Several of the flowers, some the size of Jocelyn's little palm and some the size of my big one, were gathered in a vase on a side table. A towel with a large hairbrush on it lay on the glider (an outdoor couch that could slide back and forth on its base rather than being suspended like a swing). An almost empty glass of lemonade stood on the coffee table beside the current issue of Galaxy, a popular Science Fiction magazine in which Jocelyn's poetry and more lighthearted SF appeared with some regularity. The jumbo print edition to which she subscribed was produced in two thickish volumes. A bookmark protruded from the uppermost volume, but I didn't see Jocelyn's name on the cover. "Give Them An Inch And They'll Take A Parsec" must have been in the other. Beyond the terrace, the back garden was filled with sunlight and pink flowers of various hews and species.

She sat me down on the glider and herself on my lap, her head against my shoulder, before she answered my question. "Your note? Yes, it was hand delivered this morning." She twisted slightly to peer up at me. "What's going on, Charlie? Clearly, you're not in any sort of trouble. But, just as clearly, you've gotten yourself involved in some sort of mystery or adventure." She pushed her fist into my chest. "Give! What are you up to?"

Since I had no idea how to explain the situation, I took a deep breath and plunged in. "You know Emma Morrow?"

Jocelyn's eyes narrowed. Yes…"

"Well, I've met a fellow who… In short, love, he and Emma need our help."

Jocelyn's manner changed from suspicious to sympathetic. "Emma has a beau?" I nodded. "Poor girl. Who is he? How did you meet him?"

"Ah," I said. Well, the first question I can answer easily enough. As to the second, that's not as simple as it seems."

She gave me a quizzical look but said only, "So, who is he?"

I paused a beat for effect. "Brontë Sinclair."

Jocelyn didn't scream or swoon or even seem all that surprised. She merely looked thoughtful. "Poor Emma," she repeated. "It would be bad enough if he were some solid business type that her parents would otherwise approve of. But, Brontë Sinclair, well, I don't know as they'd let her marry him even if she were sighted and able-bodied."

I nodded. "He told me they don't approve of him."

Jocelyn laughed. "Would you approve?"

"Sure. He's a really engaging fellow. I'm certain you'll like him." I paused, squirming inwardly just a bit. "Which reminds me…"

Her eyes narrowed again. "Which reminds you of what? I know that 'casual' tone, Charlie Shepherd. What haven't you told me?"

"Uh, well, uh…" She glared at me. I thought she was really cute when she glared, but I always pretended to be alarmed. "He's at Macklin's, and he'd really like to see you…."

"Now?!"

I barely managed to keep a straight face. "Now."

She bolted into the house, moving at a rate I would not have believed possible if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes shouting, "Percy, Percy! A visitor for lunch. You have to do my hair. I don't have ANYTHING decent to wear! Oh my God! Brontë Sinclair!!"

I sat back and laughed for what must have been a full minute. Then I called Macklin's to Let Sinclair know he'd better wait another few minutes before turning up.

7 comments:

puddle said...

Well, as subway would say MOAR!!

The secret to ending is simply not to stop.

Other than that I'm not going to be a help: I'm finding it simply marvelous, and I DO want MOAR!!

Catreona said...

Thanks, Puddle. It'll be a while till more exists for me to give you, but the juices are stirring again if not flowing. Your enthusiasm alone is most encouraging.

Catreona said...

Quiz time.

Which of the characters do you like best? Why?

puddle said...

Brontë ~~ he's the most vulnerable.

Catreona said...

Interesting. To be honest, I hadn't looked at it quite that way. I think of him as the most appealing, which may be a different way of saying the same thing.

I love Charlie...and Jocelyn, but Bronte is special.

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