Standing on the Shore

Ita strode into the medical ward.  Choking back tightness in her throat only seemed to push it down to her chest, and the sight of half a dozen terminal patients lying in beds on either side of the room increased the sensation.  Most were accompanied by monitoring equipment.

The only other person present was an elderly nun in a light blue habit.  She looked up from an emaciated girl whose hand she grasped, then murmured something to the patient before stepping toward Ita.

“How may I help you?”  Her voice was thin yet warm, like a shawl offering comfort on a cool summer evening.

“I’ve come to see Oswald Taggart.”  As her eyes swept across the room, Ita spied her grandfather on a bed near the far wall.

The nun nodded as her gaze matched.  “He’s weak, but coherent.  The priest has already been here.  Unless there’s something you’ll need, I’ll leave you be so you can visit.”

“Thank you.”  The significance of the nun’s presence flashed into her conscience.  Mere hours ago the evacuation to the space ships began.  People all over the world discovered there was an escape plan, a last-ditch effort to elude once and for all the enemy that had hounded them for decades.

But the plan also had to address the reality there would be individuals too weak to embark upon such a journey.  Volunteers stepped up to minister to the dying, and to remain behind to ultimately die with them.

Why now?

No sooner had the evacuation begun than Ita received word her grandfather had collapsed.  Leaving her own duties in capable hands, she sped across a quarter of the globe to reach him.  It was probable none of her aunts, uncles, and cousins had time to visit Oswald in his final hours.  They had to escape quickly … before the enemy Elite caught up.

The blankets failed to disguise how he looked thinner than the last time she saw him around three months ago.  Work on this project, a job he’d handed over to her, had kept her away for too long.  If only she had been better about staying in touch….

“What brings you here?”  His eyes opened upon her approach, and he smiled.

Only then did she notice the audio sensor attached near his ear.  Oswald had been deaf for over a decade, but he must have consented to using this device in order to artificially hear what others needed to say to him.

Ita sat on the bed’s edge and grasped his hand.  “I came as soon as I found out, Grandpa.”

“It seems our journeys will be separate now.”  His voice was weaker, but his speaking still had the flat tone that developed after he became deaf.

“No, we’re supposed to travel into space together.”  Ita leaned closer to him.  As the youngest child of his youngest child, she always remembered him with gray hair, but until now he’d always been strong.  It was difficult to see him this way now.

But the glint of oil on his forehead suggested the priest had been here more recently than she’d assumed, offering an incomprehensible consolation.  Its shimmer was subtle, a reminder that humility was a potent charm and strength surged far beneath the surface.

“I always wanted to see the stars in their own element.”  Oswald closed his eyes, but his smile deepened.  “Though it seems I have other business to attend to.  And where I hope to head now will be even more spectacular.”  His eyes opened.  “When we see each other again, which I pray we will, you can tell me all about it.”

Her own eyes burned as she squeezed his hand.  “It won’t be the same without you.”

“Just pretend that Deuce is me.”  His gaze locked on her face, and his smile grew crooked.  “You have refrained from shooting him, haven’t you?”

She couldn’t resist smiling back.  “I nearly did, once.  But since then….”  She hesitated.  Oswald didn’t know about the bomb Deuce insisted be implanted in his chest.  The Elite had gotten wind of their evacuation plans, and in order to keep the project protected, he had to insure they never captured him and discover information that would bring ruin to everyone.

The willingness to sacrifice himself began altering Ita’s perception of him.  He once numbered among their enemy, and she considered him to be only a cold-blooded killer.  But lately she started admitting he exhibited appealing qualities, like discipline and humility, she’d hitherto ignored.  In fact, if he didn’t have his hands full with overseeing security to encourage success in launching the ships, he’d be here with her.

She decided to not worry Oswald about Deuce’s predicament.  “I forgave him.”

“And that right there is proof that miracles do happen.”  His eyes closed again, and his next breath staggered a bit.  When he spoke again, his voice was hoarse.  “Ita.”

“I’m still here, Grandpa.”

His eyes opened, and she could have sworn they blazed with the wonder of a child on Christmas morning.  His smile matched, and the decades seemed to slough off as though he were a young man again, the fullness of life ahead of him.

“Don’t be afraid … we are surrounded by light.”

She was so focused on his smile that she didn’t notice the radiance of his eyes dim until realizing his hand no longer clasped hers.  Ita felt her own breath shudder as her eyes began burning again.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”  The nun’s warm voice must have come from behind her, but it seemed to travel from every corner of the room.  “I’m aware of your grandfather’s work, how it will save all these people.  He’s brought great blessing to us all.”

Ita glanced at the woman destined to die with this remnant, and nodded.  As her attention returned to him, she appreciated his peaceful expression, and noticed again the oil on his forehead.

The chrism continued to shine.

###

So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this round was Charm.  With a word like that, there’s bound to be some delightful stories, so be sure to check them out!

If you’re new to this serialization of short stories I’m compiling in a novella, you can find the previous installments on my Blog Battle Short Stories page.

Charm … such a nice word to end an interesting year on…

13 thoughts on “Standing on the Shore

  1. Nice. I enjoyed the feeling that I’d just stepped into an ongoing saga, with just this brief snippet to glimpse into their world. Okay, I get that it’s part of a longer tale, but this segment works well as is. And the Catholic element was well written, which is often not the case. Thanks for that bit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! My goal has been to write these installments as short stories that piece together into a longer narrative, but some months can have a more ‘chaptery’ feel. And I’m pleased you appreciated the Catholic undertone. Glad to see you have an entry this month – looking forward to reading it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh fare thee well Oswald. A touching piece Abe. Hard to write too I imagine, well these types of things I find rather drawing on the mind. The opener had me wandering a Covid ward oddly enough. Not sure why, but such places must have a familiar feel wherever they might be.

    Of course I would not be me if I didn’t have a background feeling the Elite might not be stuck without their own space faring capacity. Possibly with significant firepower? Or some ability to link into other machines and drive them into a sun… ode to the story that allows me to waffle ha,ha.

    Interesting to see Ita is rethinking Deuce. I almost got a sense of affection forming… maybe loss of grandpa might cause her an emotional transfer. That might easily create some internal conflict knowing Deuce carries a bomb in case of capture. Of course one might consider his line is pre-programmed to create this situation to blow up the spacecraft ha, ha.

    Great addition to the saga.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! You brought up a couple of great points, one of which I can address here and the other will have to wait… 😉
      Yes, space faring is a thing, but in the unequal castes of Elite and Rabble, the latter are kept grounded while the former do have their stations orbiting the Earth, cruising to Mars, etc. This sets up the irony that space is ‘fairly’ peaceful because the Elite control it. Weapons are there to occasionally fire down on Rabble (another way living underground helps protect them), but in these brief serializations I’ve had to gloss over on such details.
      Regarding Ita’s shift in attitude toward Deuce – when I compile this stuff into a novella, it will include a ‘bonus chapter’ (longer than 1k words, of course) which is set between this installment and last month’s. By design, it contains what I call the heart of the story. That’s all I can say at this point, and thus the wait! Never fear, the ebook will be free…. 🙂

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      • Ha, ha. I’m never quite sure if my ramblings annoy you or not Abe. It seems I’m unable not to hypothesise on this one given my own explorations of AI are somewhat intense. One thing that I try not to do is humanise it. Just because we have a certain moral thinking method might not be what something else has. One reason many antagonists fail in writing is few realise their motivations are not the writers POV based on humanistic fortitudes.

        Liking the “peaceful” expansion of the Elite into space too. Rather Sith like, peace by domination and suppression of freedom. Obviously short pieces don’t do expansion of concept justice. However, you may be interested to learn BB might be having a word count rethink. Possibly up to 2k so it’s more chapter length. Obviously that’s not a target, just a maximum and very much a debate point right now.

        I’ll be very fascinated to see how close to the mark my “guesses” are in the actual book too. I feel rather invested in it now 😂

        Also author spotlight when it’s released ha, ha.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, Gary, your ramblings can never annoy me … it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who rambles! 🙂 I definitely agree on your comment that AI cannot really be humanized. In fact, the Elite have been rather dehumanized by their embracing of AI. ‘Peace by domination and suppression of freedom’ is a very old concept that I suspect I get whiffs of in this day and age…. The word count rethink is interesting, and I’m actually not sure where to stand on that. Although I confess to cutting corners occasionally in these short bits, it also forces me to work at being concise. However it gets hashed out, I hope you’ll be able to squeeze in a story this month!

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s good to hear ha, ha. I often feel a comment has to be more than “ooh enjoyed that.” I think deliberating AI thinking is quite a mind game. My own in I Am Corona was lacking true empathy. It’s purpose was unwavering too. More Vulcan like I guess. My thoughts on yours interplay those arenas. The ability to war game in AI must be considered vastly superior in terms of processing capacity and scenarios. They could churn that out by the bucket load. The weakness however could be unpredictability. I think that might be why I get suspicious and overthink Deuce. It’s the sort of thing Corona would create to learn more about the enemy. Open up the programming to create a free mind that’s under deeper protocols awaiting recall.

        Re the word count. There’s nothing saying you have to hit it. It’s a maximum not a target so if you like 1000 words then carry on at that. At the rate I’m going I’ll be on the 250 word 🙄

        Liked by 1 person

      • I absolutely agree the comments should be there to alert us to the strengths and weaknesses of the story. Your exploration of AI and the vulcan reference combined with the unpredictability of humans reminded me of Spock’s captain, aka Kirk the Computer Killer. 🙂 The new word count is nice in that it does permit a little more wiggle room!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Definitely. I once did a post on feedback called Good Bad Feedback is better than Bad Good Feedback. It was after a writing course discussing that very topic. If you like something then say why. Same in reverse. It helps the writer to appreciate the feedback and maybe think of something they hadn’t already. AI fascinates me for another reason too. My background is biochemistry with an avid interest in molecular biology. If you track down the animal kingdom to base orgasms then build back up where simple chemoreceptors act to source food or avoid hazards there just a simple yes or no. Add complexity with more nerves and the process becomes a logic decision. Add more and it needs a biological CPU to process the inputs. Add more and it requires more processing power to make a decision. Grow the CPU more and you have a brain. Increase complexity further and it begins to specialise. Move up the animal kingdom and brain regions become highly complex. So, my overriding question is does sentience spawn from that complexity? Are there levels of sentience between species? Yes I think… whale song or animal sounds are communicative. Social structures exist everywhere. Increase complexity further to us and are we actually biological “machines”? Coded by DNA, built by that same core program and everything else is just to ensure it can replicate. If this is true….complexity creates sentience….then with AI it’s surely inevitable!

        Now that’s a ramble created by these very comments 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a very touching farewell to a great character. The sensation of seeing a grandparent you once thought immortal as they begin to weaken is something we all must experience. Rather heartbreaking — Why now? — that he should go so close to the exodus. I really loved the warmth and love Ita and her grandfather have for each other — it felt so very real.

    A question about logistics: With travelling across the globe, do they do so under the surface of the Earth (as their sanctuary is)? It must be a very daring thing to do, so close to the exodus, with the Elite breathing down their necks! I’m very curious about how they’d go about this, and who’s allowed to travel. All it’d take is one mistake and the gig would be up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, and good questions! Yes, they’d have to remain under the surface. The previous word limit kept me from throwing in the detail that being forced to live underground actually gave them good preparation for moving into space. The infrastructure is quite extensive, and since Ita is one of the folks in charge of the project, she has some clout…. And even with the Elite breathing down their necks, well, you know Ita – she went anyway. 🙂 Hope that cleared some things up!

      Liked by 1 person

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