Twenty years later
Lee Crane stood in full uniform on the back deck of his modest, but comfortable house overlooking the sea, drinking in the brisk sea air before he headed off to work. Even after so many years working in proximity of the ocean, he still could not get over the wonder of it. It still worked its magic on him and still continued to give him reason to enjoy getting up every morning.
Granted, he didn’t get to go out as much in his Gray Lady as he would like these days, what with the day to day at the Institute, now that the admiral was in semi-retirement from that job, too. However, he could close his eyes and remember the Seaview in each of her stages of refitting and updating. It wasn’t the same as when he actually stood in the control room, though, feeling the pulse of her power like the beat of his heart coursing the life-blood through his veins.
Last year, at the funeral of one of the original crewmembers, Lee had recalled how lucky he had been—not only to simply still be alive, but also to be able to have served on the most magnificent creation in the history of man for over twenty-five years. And to have felt good about every one of those years! Sure, there had been down times; missions gone awry, the weird and the unexplained, the downright horrible; but those had been the exceptions, not the rule. Seaview was home. This house and the Institute were simply places to ‘hang his hat’ as the saying went.
He sucked in another deep breath of salt-tanged air, even as the doorbell rang. No one else was home, so he headed through the living room and answered the door. What met him when he opened the door had him stock-still in shock. The person at the door was his height, as slender as he was and dressed in casual sports wear. The individual in front of him could also have been his spitting image from twenty or so years ago. Crane didn’t know what to say for a moment.
“I see that you have risen in rank, Admiral Crane,” the other said and Lee was further shocked to realize that the voice was his, too. “Our congratulations.”
He ignored the compliments. Suddenly, Lee was desperately culling through his past experiences. What the hell was he doing twenty years ago, he wondered, that he would have a son on his doorstep now? Twenty years ago, he was so tied up in the Gray Lady that he would have had better luck having, uh, issue from her rather than a woman, he thought with sardonic humor. Could this have been during one of his missions when he had been drugged? Was this a plot by a foreign power? If so, someone was very patient. Then it dawned on him; the person across the doorstep from him had the appearance of someone in his early to mid-thirties, not a nineteen-year-old kid. “Who are you?” he finally ventured, suspicious enough to wish he had a gun handy right about now.
The other smiled broadly. “Striking isn’t it? You do remember the **vreestrich, don’t you, Lee?” The visitor was able to reproduce the name vocally in exactness to what he had only heard correctly in his head.
It came rushing back. He nodded, still stunned, but now understanding more. “Won’t you come in?” Lee finally offered, stepping back from the door. The host, for that was what Crane figured this to be came in with the same easy stride that he was having to work harder to keep. “Krilore?” he asked. He remembered her saying that she would like to visit him someday, if it was safe. Apparently, they had won the war.
“Yes, I am Krilore’s new host and the supreme commander is currently taking control of all but locomotion,” he said.
Lee motioned to a love seat near the balcony. Something else came back to him now. The admiral had told him back when the **vreestrich had left that he had given Krilore all of the notes he had received from Paul Ward, the scientist who had created the android, Omir. Lee remembered that the packet from the lab had been one of the supply requests when they had gone to the site at Vinson Massif in Antarctica. So they had done it; they had finally created their own hosts. But one that looked exactly like him? How weird was that? “How are you doing, Krilore?” he asked. “And I won’t ask you if you want some coffee,” he added with a soft smile.
The host laughed. “Would you mind terribly communicating the way we did before?” She/he saw his hesitation and continued. “I am perfectly happy with my new host. I will not pull the same trick I did before. You only need to touch me.” The host smiled broadly at him.
Crane got up from his chair and stood next to the disturbingly doppelganger-like android. Krilore crawled out from the neckline of his look-alike and rested on her host’s shoulder. Lee reached out and touched her. Can you hear me? he asked.
<Perfectly, Lee. It’s very good to ‘hear’ your thoughts again. It is not the same as having the memories or the genetic material for a clone>
Now the thought of how she got that material came to his mind, but before he could form the question, she answered.
<It was while you were asleep at the campsite—before we left your planet. I asked Admiral Nelson to give me samples. Didn’t he tell you?>
No, he didn’t. I guess, for some reason, he didn’t think it important. Lee pondered a moment and then asked, But why me? Or did you get samples from everyone?
<We got samples from every one of the humans who were there at the campsite>
Something Doc had often told him came to
mind—that one of him was enough to take care of.
What would he think of another one?
He would most likely wish the most recent CMO the best of luck.
Lee felt Krilore’s humorous reaction ripple in his mind and he
smiled. How is Neelis? he
asked, steering away from the reasons why Krilore would have a host that
looked exactly like him.
<Neelis is a commander now. He is in charge of our people’s safety and welfare. Like Neelissin, he is very good at it. His host looks much like your friend, Chip Morton>
I can gather, then, that you have successfully defeated your enemy? Lee asked.
<Yes and no, Lee. The great war came about because the Vrishen found out what we were back many eons ago and were determined to destroy what they considered to be parasites who had come to ‘take them over’>
With Trinish as a commander, I suppose they had the foundation for their fear, Lee pointed out candidly. There was a pause and Lee wondered if he had said something to insult Krilore.
<No, Lee, I am not insulted. You could never insult me. I am only wondering at all the lives that might have been saved if we had had greater understanding from the beginning> Before Lee could give his thoughts, she continued. <I am afraid that we were arrogant in our belief that our intellect and ingenuity was greater than that of any creature that could serve as a host to one of our species>
I saw only a bit of arrogance when we first ‘met,’ Krilore, Lee pointed out. And it was true. Only at the beginning, when he had been shocked at the contact and trying to assimilate what was going on.
<Lee, by the time we landed on your world twenty of your years ago, we had been through much warfare, had lost many of our people, had lost our own world. There were some who were despaired enough to believe what our opponents were saying about us. It was actually Neelissen who first brought up the idea that taking hosts was wrong. But even his idea of a partnership was not really viable>
Hence the androids using materials taken from humans, Lee prompted.
<Yes, Lee. It was only in the recent past that we were able to fully understand that what we had considered viable hosts were actually fully sentient beings deserving equal consideration. It became fully realized for me when we landed on your planet; when you became my host….> There was a myriad of emotions that ran through Krilore’s thoughts. Lee caught glimpses, enough to partially confirm what he had wondered about then and now. <We finally met our former enemy in negotiation rather than in battle. We have been able to negotiate a peace that each of us can live with, at least for now>
Krilore, were your enemies that closely upon you or was there some other reason you and the others left so suddenly?
She seemed to almost sigh in his mind. <We were still being sought by our enemies and by the time we left, I was truly worried that they might follow closely enough to find your world. I am not sure what I was afraid they might do at the time if they thought your species had helped ours>
But they weren’t right on your tail.
<No, Lee. Still we had to leave>
“Why, Krilore?” Crane asked aloud. He felt a need to know.
<When you went into that hold to try to save your men, even though you were ill because of hosting me, I realized something>
And that was? prompted Lee.
<That you were a great deal like . . . like Neelissen>
Somehow, Lee had wondered about that back then, even though he hadn’t fully formulated the idea until now. If the truth be told, it hadn’t been all that obvious to him until Krilore had returned. And it was painful….
<Yes, Lee, it was painful and exhilarating at the same time. I had been very . . . close to Neelissen…. By the time we had defeated Trinish and you were reunited with your people, I realized that we needed to leave> Again she paused and again Lee felt the emotions, hastily clamped down this time, flowing into his mind. <First of all, not many of your people would understand us and even less would welcome us. The other reason was that the temptation to use you as host again was too great. It was enough to take genetic samples and hope to use the scientific knowledge your admiral gave us to create our own hosts>
Lee was shocked and yet, not surprised at what she said. So you only took the other’s samples so that what you really wanted wouldn’t be obvious. Lee took a deep breath. I am really flattered, Krilore.
<You look good, Lee. And you have continued commanding your Seaview?> It was almost as though, with that revelation, that Krilore wanted to avoid delving deeper into it.
Thanks, Krilore, and yes, I have, except more recently I have gone out more in the capacity that Admiral Nelson used to go out. The Seaview has a new regular captain now.
<You sound wistful. Do you miss what you did before?>
Lee laughed. Of course, I do, Krilore. But we don’t live quite as long as you do and commanding a vessel like the Gray Lady is for younger men.
Now it was Krilore’s turn to laugh. The mental laughter was like music in his head. <Lee, I believe I remember your Doctor Jamieson saying something about you being ageless. Despite what you seem to be trying to say to convince yourself, you are not too old for what you love doing>
Lee smiled softly. “Thanks, Krilore. I appreciate that. I get looks from some of the younger crewmen who think I am in my second childhood and yet, when I sit on the ‘front porch’ I feel like that is where I belong forever.”
<Then continue to do what it is that makes you feel that way. There is no one who says that you are incapable, is there?>
Lee shook his head.
No, but there is also the Institute.
The admiral trusts me to keep his dream alive and feels that I am
among the few who truly understand.
Krilore’s thoughts were of amusement, which quickly changed to sober reflection. <Lee, find the compromise that keeps you most happy>
Nodding, Crane glanced over his shoulder at the sea.
<I feel the same way about the stars. Despite the fact that we have found a suitable world to reestablish our people and way of life, I find myself wanting to be among the stars>
Then do it, Lee told her with wry amusement. Here they were telling each other to continue to follow the dreams that made them most happy, despite their implacable duties.
<I will, if you do, Lee Crane!> Krilore declared, amusement rippling in her thoughts.
“Very well, Krilore! Next time you visit, check on the Seaview first.”
<Yes, I will> Then her thoughts became more somber. <It is time for me to leave>
Afraid my wife will find us together? he asked teasingly with a laugh.
The amusement this time was tinged with a bit of sadness. <No, I need to leave for the same reason I left before, my friend. I will try to come back, but there is a part of me that’s happy for this visit and does not wish to come back again>
Your host won’t age, will he? Lee asked, wondering if it bothered her that he was older.
<No, Lee. In twenty years, he will look exactly as he does today> She said nothing else.
Lee thought he understood. Aging is a part of human existence. It is natural and comes with its own perks. Just different. Because your host is ‘ageless’, doesn’t mean that I won’t welcome a visit. Despite what he had said, her thoughts continued to be sad. But even if you don’t return, I’m glad you came, Krilore. I am very glad to know that your people have found peace and sanctuary. Thank you for your trust in me, both times.
<And your trust in me? I was . . . impressed by that then, as I still am today. I forced myself on you and yet you were willing to see everything through; to learn from me and let me learn from you>
Lee nodded, pulling his hand away from her reluctantly; understanding that it was time.
The host stood up and faced him. The same countenance that greeted him in a mirror smiled. “May all that your people find good accompany you, Lee Crane. Please convey my best wishes and sincerest appreciation to Admiral Nelson for what he did for us,” Krilore said through the host. He/she bowed slightly. Knowing who he was really facing, Lee drew up to his full height and saluted the Supreme Commander of the **vreestrich.
The host smiled. “Thank you.” He turned and headed toward the door. Lee stood still for a moment and then followed. The host opened the door and walked down the few steps to the sidewalk. Stopping, he smiled the smile that Lee knew so well, and turning, walked down to the street, then finally passed out of his view.
Lee watched, remembering that brief but momentous time so long ago. Finally, he sighed, reached for his cover, put it on and walked out the door. It was time to continue following his dreams….
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