Chapter 34 - Hamilton

McQueen helped Kylen to her feet, guided her to the table and sat her in a chair. He wrapped her coat around her shoulders.

"You should go upstairs - try to get some sleep," McQueen suggested.

"You jest."

"Just a thought," he offered.

Kylen crossed her arms on the table and rested her forehead down on them. Her face was hidden. McQueen got some ice, poured himself another drink and, again, sat across from her.

"You should tell Howard about this, shouldn't you?" she asked without raising her head.

"I've known about this longer than Major Howard, and I outrank him. I don't have to tell him jack," he said softly. Radford, on the other hand, could ask me directly - could order me - but I doubt that he will, McQueen thought.

"I should probably tell him that I figured this out," she whispered into the tabletop.

McQueen reached out and rested his hand gently on her arm. Duty says that you should, he thought, but he said: "You don't have to tell him jack either, Kylen."

Kylen sighed deeply. "Do you think this was a test?" she asked, still not looking up.

McQueen moved his hand, placing it gently onto her head - a benediction. He wondered if, indeed, Howard had given Kylen just enough information - to see if she would put it all together. But, then again she was simply too smart, too intuitive, not to put it together on her own. A test on at least two levels, he thought, Can she put it together and can she stay in one piece after she does? Howard may have tried to test her, who knows. But she most certainly tested herself. McQueen absently stroked her hair.

"I honestly don't know," he whispered.

Kylen shifted slightly underneath his hand, trying to bury her head in her arms. This was reality. There were horrible truths out there - huge horrible truths. But this was reality - Dale's kitchen, broken dishes, the smooth, hard table beneath her arms, the smell of Dale's ancient woolen robe, the warm coat over her shoulders, and the strong gentle hand stroking her hair. This was a real place - a safe place - in the storm of chaos. McQueen and Kylen sat together in the quiet of this tiny safe harbor.

Kylen slowly raised her head. She looked at McQueen and pushed back from the table. Kylen stood and slowly walked toward the door. McQueen stood with her, but she waved him off. "Excuse me a moment," she murmured. The Pink Bunny on her right foot squeaked with every step. She moved unsteadily to the guest bathroom.

A moment later McQueen heard her retching. Well, at least that's over with. Adrenaline. I was wondering how long before she got sick, he thought. He began to rifle through the cabinets.

Kylen hadn't had time to close the door, so urgent had been her feeling of nausea, but nothing had come up. She was left with a terrible taste in her mouth nonetheless. Kylen was washing her face by the time McQueen looked in on her. He handed her a box of baking soda. "It's all I could find," he said.

"Thanks, it covers a multitude of evils," Kylen said - and she briskly brushed her teeth with her finger and the baking soda.

She finished, rinsed her mouth and looked into the mirror. By a little shifting of her focus, Kylen could see both her own and McQueen's reflection. She reached up and touched McQueen's face on the surface of the glass. "The Mirror of Fears," she whispered. Kylen then sweetly, as one would speak to a child, recited a quotation that obviously gave her comfort. "I am a Hostage, snatched from death, I am light's child and heaven's breath."

"I don't know the author," McQueen said. He could imagine Kylen in the dark, in the mines, repeating those words to herself countless times. Comforting herself.

"Annie Hamilton."

She watched his reflection change as his question became evident. "A fairytale?" he asked.

"It's all fairytales, Six," she answered and turned from the mirror. McQueen had to flatten himself against the doorjamb as she moved past him. She was on her way out the door - without a coat - before he could stop her. McQueen caught up with her on the back porch. Kylen was leaning out over the railings searching the sky.

"Kylen, now is not the time. Kylen, it's freezing out here." McQueen reasoned.

"Of course it's freezing. It's December. This is New England, and it's going to snow tomorrow too. Christian told me so," she said. "That's why I want to see it now. I need to see it tonight - to know that it is still there."

"See what?"

"My star. I want to see my star. It has to still be there. Everyone would know if it was gone. It has to still be there."

"Your star?" he asked.

"Yes, my star. You can't see it from here. Come with me." Kylen marched back into the house. She ripped a coat off of a hook in the back hallway and tossed it to McQueen, secure in the knowledge that he would be behind her. "You'll need this, I think."

Kylen ripped open the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of champagne which she almost shoved into his hands. "This too. I won't be sick," she said in such a way that McQueen totally believed her. She put the coat McQueen had given to her earlier over his arm. "Follow me."

Kylen trounced up the stairs and down the hallway, the Pink Bunny singing its accompaniment. McQueen, arms loaded, followed behind. He wondered if he could ever again watch Kylen move through the world without hearing that little squeak. Kylen paused at the linen closet, yanked open the doors, and pulled out two knit afghans. "These too, I think."

She opened the attic door and went up the stairs, trailing McQueen in her wake. Kylen was so determined - so driven while performing these mundane actions that at another time he would have been on the edge of amusement. Her quicksilver changes occasionally irritated him, sometimes exhausted him, but generally entertained him. Tonight these shifts worried him. He had no choice but to follow - to see where she was leading.

Kylen passed by the old furniture and trunks belonging to generations of the Steinbeck family. She came to a halt in the middle of the attic and looked up at the ceiling. "There," she said, pointing at metal ring attached to the ceiling. "I can't reach it without standing on something." Kylen took the wine from McQueen. He pulled on the ring and a narrow collapsible ladder descended. He unfolded the stairs. He has brought down the staircase to my star, she thought, smiling to herself. Kylen handed him back the champagne and started up the narrow treads.

If it had been anyone else, McQueen would have asked how they knew that the staircase existed - but Kylen would know. Of course, she had searched the house.

"It's OK. Dale gave me permission," she called down to her companion. McQueen followed her up.

Chapter 35 - Thoreau

McQueen entered a small room at the top of the staircase. It was the Widow's Walk - a small room less than ten feet square. Windows all around gave a view of the ocean for more than 180 degrees, and there was a narrow door that allowed access to the walkway on the roof. There were two small tables and a couple of director type chairs. McQueen and Kylen put on the coats and Kylen turned off the light. She searched the heavens. McQueen instinctively focused first on Polaris to orient himself to the sky. "The North Star." He pointed it out.

"Thank you," she whispered as she turned, searching. "There it is. My star." Kylen pointed out into the western sky. McQueen had no doubt which light she meant. It was a clear night and most of the stars were easily seen, but there was one that was brilliant, low in the sky and a very pale green. Most of the stars appeared to be glued onto the canvas of the sky. The star Kylen indicated looked as if a hole had been burned through the fabric of the night.

McQueen stood behind her, unsure of how to tell her the unhappy truth. "That isn't a star, Kylen," he told her gently. "That's a planet - Venus."

"Of course it is," Kylen smiled. "It's the evening star."

"And it's yours?" he asked.

"My father gave it to me. You can argue with him if you like," she said sweetly. "You can have the Morning Star if you want it. The 'infinite expectation of the dawn.' Or better yet, The North Star - your shoulders are big enough. 'The far-piercing ray of light that shines from the recesses of a brave man's eyes.' I'll give it to you."

"Thoreau," he whispered.

"I've learned your guilty pleasure, Six," Kylen remarked. "Most people read cheap romance novels, eat peanut butter and jelly, watch soap operas or 'B' movies. But, you, McQueen, ever unique, read Yankee Transcendentalists."

"Everyone should have a hobby, Kylen," he said, feeling his cheeks starting to go red with embarrassment, thankful that they were standing in moonlight.

Kylen rearranged the chairs so that they could sit and see both the North and the Evening stars - the landing lights in the sky. Kylen gestured for him to sit, took the bottle from him and started to peel the foil off the cork.

McQueen eyed her critically. "Champagne?"

"It is perfect for the occasion," she said. Kylen spoke softly, seriously as she went about the ritual of opening the champagne. "I love it. I love having champagne to celebrate, but I really appreciate it when I'm unhappy or confused. It lifts my spirits. It offers promise."

Kylen took a healthy swig from the bottle and passed it off to McQueen. He looked up at her. Her explanation had a certain symmetry he could almost appreciate. He saluted her with the bottle and took a hearty drag himself. McQueen thought what a lucky man Nathan was. Kylen was a woman of many facets - many layers. If Nathan ever got bored it would be because he wasn't looking - wasn't listening closely enough.

"Sit with me," he requested. Kylen moved her chair closer to his, sat and wrapped an afghan around her legs. The two survivors kicked their feet up onto the window sill and gazed out into the sky, trading off the bottle now and then. Silent - peaceful with each other. McQueen felt himself beginning to relax.

"When did your father give you the Evening Star?" McQueen asked.

Kylen took swig of champagne, and once more circled her arm through his as she spoke. "Several months after Mom died, I was particularly willful and stubborn - just generally unpleasant company."

"You missed your mother. You were a child." He stated the obvious.

"I missed her dreadfully. I resented the fact that something had been taken away from me. And I 'wanted.' You know how children can be sometimes - adults too, I suppose. They don't know or can't tell you what they want - they just know that they want."

McQueen felt a shock run to the top of his head. He had seen this in Hawkes. Cooper just 'wants' sometimes. You can see it all over him. Damn, me too. I know the feeling myself - perhaps too well.

"My dad took me outside. We talked about Mommy and how much we loved her and missed her - what that meant to us all. He talked to me about how we needed to treat each other - how we had to love each other, and make sure that we never had to feel regret because we weren't kind or caring. To always let people know that you love them. And then he asked me a question - pretty much the same question that you once asked me. Mommy was gone and there was a hole there, but was there something else that I needed that I did not have? I don't remember exactly how he asked it, but that was the gist. I do remember what I told him though. I told him that I wanted something that would never go away."

"So he gave you the Evening Star?" McQueen marveled at the depth of Kylen's family.

"Not at first. Such decisions cannot be made lightly. We almost went with Polaris, but the North Star was a lot of responsibility for a little girl."

"I suppose so," McQueen agreed.

After several minutes of quiet, Kylen asked McQueen a question.

"They are going to get away with it aren't they?"

He took in deep breath. "For the time being, yes, I imagine that they are," he admitted. She is fast. She puts it all together quickly, he thought with some pride.

"It's the economy, isn't it? The biggest conglomerate in the world can't be allowed to go under right now, can it?" she asked.

"No, you're right, I'm afraid. The rumors - and they will come - will be bad enough. No one is going to pursue this in a public way - at least not for now. But Aerotech has lost a lot of power. Watch."

Kylen snuggled down into her chair. McQueen wished he knew what she was thinking. After a few minutes, she spoke.

"Eighteen months ago I thought that life got larger somehow - that the more that you experienced - the more you lived - the larger your life would become. Like a stream growing into a river as it rolled down from the mountains. Now, today, it seems to me like it is the opposite. Life seems like a fan of threads and ribbons strung out through the universe. When you are young - little - you dance and move through the ribbons and threads. They spin around you and flutter with the movement of an unseen hand. You brush by them, but as you grow - as you live and experience - the threads and ribbons of life began to twine around each other. They weave themselves together: They form a rope that ties you to things."

Kylen could not read McQueen's expression. She wasn't sure he grasped her description, and it was very important to her that he did understand how she viewed life. Kylen tried again.

"Life is rather like a prism. I used to feel that the light comes through your life on one side and is diffused - spread out into the various beams of the spectrum. But now, today, I realize that it is the opposite. It is still a prism of sorts, but turned the other way round. The various rays of the spectrum enter and are coalesced - brought together - and fused into a narrow beam. It is a focusing of self," Kylen said.

McQueen nodded. His internal clock was on overtime. "Kylen, do you know that Thoreau said something about three in the morning too? 'The three-o'-clock in the morning courage, which Bonaparte thought was the rarest.'" He paused and took in a deep breath before he said softly: " I think that you have it, Kylen." He toasted her with the bottle and drank. Kylen found that she was unable to answer him.

McQueen knew that he had embarrassed her, so he took a page from Kylen's book - he changed the subject. "How long are you going to stay?" McQueen asked her. She may want to go home to her family right away, but I think it would be better if she was here. Kylen can't discuss this with the gang at home - and she knows it.

"Three days - maybe four," she answered, and then ran with his intent. "Besides, I have to see if you can pass the final test."

"The final test?"

"The three tests of a man's character: How he handles unexpected rain - which I've seen you do. How he deals with lost luggage - and you didn't even have luggage when we met. And finally, how he manages tangled Christmas tree lights. I'd pay big bucks to see that. Will you come to the farm for Christmas? You are invited, of course."

"No, I'll pass, Bunny," he said as he kicked at her feet, but he then became sincere. "No, thank you. Christmas is for your family." McQueen made up his mind at that moment. "I think that I may try to get down to Loxley. I'm going to try to get in to see the Flight Psychologist. Better the devil that you know......"

Kylen gave his arm a hug. She took the champagne from him. "To three-o'-clock in the morning and all of us poor suckers who know its true and varied meanings," she said, drank, and passed it back to McQueen, who drank as well. They were quiet for a while.

"I've lost the ability to choose, haven't I?" Kylen said. "I had to know. You tried to stop me, but I had to know, and It has cost me my choice." She took the wine and drank again. "I have to go to Washington now. If Aerotech suspects that I have this knowledge I put everyone at risk. If I work for the Marines they may know that I know, but I have to keep my mouth shut. Aerotech will be safe from me, and my family will be safe from them."

McQueen took the bottle from her. Without words, he toasted her flawless logic and drank.

The two watched the stars for several moments, each alone in thought. McQueen inexplicably felt as if he wanted to give Kylen something. She had, over the last few weeks, asked him a number of questions to which he had answered: 'Maybe, someday.' McQueen decided that tonight he would answer at least one of those questions. He looked out the windows as he spoke in a conversational tone that was obviously forced.

"I'll never go up in a 'Hammer' again, not full out, but the somersault over the oncoming right wing - Radford's story - it was me…. I didn't have any choice. There was no sweet revenge. I didn't do it for myself." He turned to look into Kylen's face. "I did it to keep people safe - people I cared about."

Kylen left her chair and stood directly behind McQueen, placing her hands on his shoulders. Having someone behind him in social situations was generally something that made McQueen uncomfortable, but she spoke softly: " Show me where you were born. Can we see it from here?"

McQueen found it instantly. He always knew where it was in the sky seen from Earth. "There. The Constellation Draco: The Dragon. It curls between The Big and Little Dippers. This time of year, line up the two Guardian stars of the Little Dipper. Sight down through them and look southwest." McQueen stretched out his hand and pointed the way. Kylen sighted down his arm.

"There, see the head?" he asked as he traced the constellation with his finger. "Move upward on the neck of the dragon and there is a little crook. There. The binary - Omicron Draconis. An orange and a blue star orbiting each other. It looks like only one star to the naked eye." His tone became tinged with disgust. "Two stars - and between the two of them they can only manage to support a single planet with a breathable atmosphere. A planet with nothing but uranium and death - only the minimal requirements to support life. It didn't even rate its own name. That's where they took me out of the tank."

Kylen was sorry now that she had asked. "You're here, in this place now. People here want you to flourish - to succeed," she said and hugged his neck.

McQueen wondered if she really knew what a different experience this had been for him. Never before in his life had he been in such a place - where most people weren't waiting and hoping for him to fail. A place where people only wanted you to succeed. It was not an easy thing for him to trust.

"For a season," he said.

McQueen gave a cryptic smile and intoned:

"And here I bloom for a short season,
But by a kind hand brought
To a strange place."

McQueen gently disentangled her arms from his neck, and, without rising, brought her around to sit in her chair - at his side once more.

"Do we have to go to the pool tomorrow morning?" Kylen asked softly, bringing their conversation back once more to the concrete. She didn't want to try to sleep, but thought He is probably getting tired of looking after me.

"Not unless you want to swim. I've graduated. No more pools, steps or picking up pencils with my toes. Just exercising to get back into shape and get the reflexes back up to attack speed," he told her. "We can stay up all night. Just tell me when you want me to leave. I can stay here as long as you like," McQueen said. Payback isn't always a bitch. It's good to feel useful, he thought.

"Are we, the people here ... Are we the reason why you haven't seen the psychologist?" Kylen asked in a flash of insight. "There was a moment, you said, that you knew for certain who you were. You could fit the Corps in that image. You could fit in Ross and the fifty-eighth, but not us - Dale, me, even Amy, in her own way - your relationship as it is today - my family liking you so well - none of us were part of that image of yourself, were we?"

"No, Kylen, none of you were in that image," he murmured, smiling slightly to himself. She was right, of course: McQueen didn't want to have to talk to strangers about these changes in his life.

"I should have seen this before - I'm sorry, I was too self-absorbed to recognize it," Kylen said and placed her hand on his arm. "A few weeks ago I noticed that you weren't surprised anymore when I turned up."

"Bad Penny that you are," he muttered with an ironic smile and kicked at her Bunny slippers again. Kylen continued.

"You had begun to expect me to show up. I really didn't think too much about it. I didn't appreciate the fact that it was a change for you. That's how friends are - how family is. You just expect them. But here we all are cluttering up your life and sucking up your air. I never really thought about that before. I knew that you felt occasional loneliness - profound loneliness at times. But I never realized that your aloneness was so much how you defined yourself - that your singularity was a state of mind as well as a state of being. You had hoped to get out of this life all by yourself, didn't you? You thought that being the best was all that would be required from you."

McQueen was surprised at the equanimity with which he was hearing her words. She had almost always been able to say things to him that he would not accept from anyone else. It was as if he almost expected to be offended, but never was. Irritated, yes, but somehow never offended.

"It's like Martin singing the stone, isn't it?" she asked in wonderment. Now McQueen was lost. It was, yet again, another manifestation of the 'Celina Effect.'

"No, really, it's like Martin singing the stone. You were able to stand alone inside of yourself. Perfect in your singularity, … but somewhere along the line you cracked the door of your little cave. Undoubtedly it was against your better judgment, but there you have it, and the light began to trickle into the darkness. Ross, Amy, Cooper and Nathan and the rest of the Cards - they snuck in under the LIDAR, and you were going to keep it that way. But the only way we could have gotten inside was because you must have wanted it. Without even knowing how or why your soul hummed a perfect A flat. Now you have to learn how to deal with this power. That's how families are. You always feel the vibration of the people you care about inside you. Even when they aren't with you, you still feel them."

"I don't know if I can ... 'reinvent' myself," McQueen murmured.

"Nobody reinvents themselves, Six. The idea of reinventing oneself is a half-truth, which makes it more dangerous than a lie. It's a cover-up. Any person with a whit of imagination can be anybody they want to be for a month, but it isn't real - and it won't last. It's not the real work of becoming who God meant for you to be. The real work is to adjust, readjust, balance - to focus and refocus. You are just starting to see the outer edges of the spectrum as the light goes through your own prism. Infrared, ultraviolet: They've always been there - you just didn't know how to see them. Oh McQueen, I am so sorry, but: 'There is no remedy for love, but to love more.'"

McQueen felt as if she kicked him in the solar plexus, like she had slammed him into a wall. The long night of the soul - for real, he thought.

Kylen stood and moved her chair to the other side of the little room. She took the bottle from McQueen and gestured for him to move as well.

"Let's wait up for the sun," Kylen said with strength. "Let's make sure it's still there."

Next : Chapter Thirty Six

Previous : Chapter Thirty Two

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