Monday, December 26, 2011

The Dead Machine

Chapter One

“Virgil? Good heavens, Virgil, is that you? Is that really you!?”         
Virgil’s eyes immediately widened and his heart leaped at the sound of her voice. His hand trembled on the dials as he fine-tuned the transmission.
When the hissing lessened he replied with unrestrained excitement, “Yes, yes it is me! It’s Virgil!”
There was a moment’s hesitation, then she asked, “How…how is this possible?”
He stared at the speaker, imagining her face, longing to see it again. He paid no attention to the cold or to the steamy vapor escaping his mouth as he breathed. Nor the drafts that bit into his fingers and snaked up his pant leg. He even ignored the acrid smell permeating every inch of the barn.
Nothing mattered, nothing but this moment, this incredibly special moment.
 Shaking with excitement, Virgil leaned into the microphone. “Do you remember, just before you were taken away, me telling you that no matter what, I would find you, and that we’d be together again?”
Through the crackling static came a reply. “Yes, but that… many years ago. And in th… situations people say things, knowing that… comforting things… lessen the hardship, to lessen…pain. I never thought that …”
“That I’d actually find you?”
The static grew louder and panic gripped Virgil. He jumped out of his seat and scanned the computer screens, recalibrating and synchronizing the feed.
“…have found me. Oh, Virgil, somehow you‘ve done the impossible!”
“Nothing is impossible!” Virgil shot back. “They all scoffed. They ridiculed and dismissed my work as a delusion, as fantasy. My grants dried up, my investors backed out; even the military gave up. But I never gave up! I made you a solemn promise and today, that promise has been kept.”
“Virgil, I don’t know what to say, I…”
Virgil interrupted as he scanned the computer screens. “What are your surroundings? Describe them for me. Can you see the stars?”
The static increased. The reply broke up. All four computer screens flashed Recalibrating…
“…The horizon in the morning…when I look out…the lights are always on… when we gather as a group…”
The hissing overwhelmed the rest of the sentence.
Virgil’s hands flew over the controls.
 “Mostly, we have a…”
Some background noise seeped into the transmission, then a stranger’s voice. “Virgil…? Lillian, did I just hear Virgil? Where…it coming from?”
“Bert, this is…private conversation and…”
The man ignored her. “Virgil? Is that you? Where are you? It’s me, Bert Langley. Remember me? I…science teacher…down…block? You used…newspaper to my…when you…kid. And I… tip you a whole…”
“Get out…here, you bastard,” Lillian bellowed. “Virgil doesn’t…about you! He wants…talk to me!”
Virgil heard a grunt, a huff and a shuffling of feet.
“Okay, he’s gone, and yes, we... several times a week… socialize and talk about ….back home.”
Virgil felt a lump in his throat. “You still miss us? Even after all this time?”
“Of course, Virgie! It’s knowing that our… care for us is…keeps us together. You are… thoughts each and every day.”
Tears spilled down Virgil’s cheek. “You are in mine each and every day too and…”
Virgil stopped when he heard Bert Langley’s voice again. It grew louder as he moved back into the transmission field. “Over there, see? I told you! Lillian is…with the outside. What? No! She’s not sending signals, she’s receiving them! See for… apparently…is possible…”
Lillian’s voice broke through in sharp hushed tones. “They’re coming Virgil! Disconnect! I don’t want them to know what you’ve accomplished. Get…to me in…few days!”
“Who’s coming? What are you talk…”
“Disconnect! Disconnect!” she shouted.
Virgil did.
He bowed his head and his hands fell into his lap as the level indicators on the array of computer screens slowly dropped, then flatlined.
 A few moments later, when the shock started wearing off, he said in a shaky voice, “I did it! After eleven years of ridicule from those jealous miscreants, I did it! We actually spoke.”
He wrapped his arms around himself, breathed deeply, then shot his fist into the air. “And this,” he said, bursting with confidence, “is just the beginning!”
Virgil rose from his chair at the control panel, walked over to his desk, reached down and picked up the framed photo that had accompanied him everywhere he went. He gazed at the picture, smiled, kissed it and placed it back on his desk.
The photo was of his mother, Lillian.
A woman dead for the past eleven years.

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