Parhelion Excerpt

Chapter 2 - Harry

Harry cupped his hands around Maeve’s shoulders. In her sandals she was the perfect height to rest his chin on her head, but he resisted the urge tonight in front of her parents. She might get annoyed if he messed up her glossy hairdo, after claiming how long she’d had to sit for the woman who tried to make it curl. He liked it silky, flowing through his fingers.
Heat through the thin fabric of the green thing she wore soaked into his palms. So beautiful in anything he’d seen her wear. So independent, so giving. He loved watching her with the kids in the family, separated through crazy circumstances by a generation. They were all fiercely loyal to each other. And so, he respected Maeve’s need to be sure before committing to him, to the institution of marriage and their foreverness, like Werner and his bride. Harry had spent two years of watching, then wondering, and now waiting for her. He’d even met privately with Gervas and Rachel to ask their blessing. Gervas had understood and appreciated Harry’s challenging personal and professional dilemma. Maeve was the only holdup.
He hadn’t meant to love her.
The least he could do while he waited and watched was be her wall to lean on. He squeezed gently and let her go. He loved her enough to be there, yet not there, as he’d been the past two years while he finished his commitment to Uncle Sam. Twelve years for school and active duty. If that didn’t prove he was able to commit, nothing else could. Not even the secrets they’d shared of her past alternate lifestyle and his daughter bound them yet. Once he was able to share his biggest secret, the truth behind the future, would she run to or from him?
Harry watched Gervas kiss Katrine, convulsively, but gently, clutching her hands, face working to dam tears behind his lids. Werner told him Katrine’s dad wasn’t crazy over letting Katrine with her delicate health out of his sight again for long, especially not moving from base to base around the world.
Werner was a lifer, career German military. Harry’s adjusted career path led him into the even wilder beyond and he was eager for Maeve to join him and his new life.
What did Gervas think about how far away Harry planned to take Maeve?
The old man had been called to consult on the project, of course, although Dr. Professor Gervas Friedemann, world-renown socio-economic expert, only knew part of the scope. They’d just have to deal with the distance factor when they got to it.
Harry rubbed his chin over the top of Maeve’s head and twirled her to face him. If he and Maeve couldn’t talk to each other about the immediate future in this time and place, at least they could dance. He pulled her back out on the floor and held on as if he meant it.
In the morning Harry stood on the balcony outside his hotel room overlooking Lake Mendota, gripping the wrought- iron railing with both fists, cooling down after his run. Since the company was picking up the tab, he simply soaked in the luxury he was not used to after his years as a tramp flyboy.
His accommodations on training missions all over, and above, the world had not been this spacious. Neither was his current apartment at the compound. At least they’d get to transition to family quarters after the wedding.
His phone rang with Roarke’s triple burr, then silence.
Harry hunched his shoulders and took one last deep longing look at the lake before answering his immediate supervisor’s newest demand.
“Whoa-ho! I thought Midwest weddings were tame affairs, my man. What—it’s practically noon in Wisconsin.”
Roarke was just as scared inside as the rest of them about what they were doing. If he let his humor get out of control once in a while, Harry could handle him.
“It’s only eight thirty,” Harry said, squinting back into the room at his bedside clock. “On a Sunday morning,” he added for good measure.
“Ouch, yeah. So, we’re all set for tomorrow?”
“So I said. It’s not like you to be so jittery, Roarke. What’s up? Tarlig asking for more genetically modified milk?”
Harry pictured Roarke shaking himself.
“Brrr. It sounds especially sinister when you say it.” Roarke’s voice dropped, as if he didn’t want anyone to overhear him. “News came earlier.”
An elephant walked over Harry’s grave. Clouds shrouded the sun. Goose flesh. Harry held his breath.
“Your number,” Roarke muttered in his raspy voice, as if the words were so foul not even he would utter them. “It came up. So far Johnsrud has stalled, but…you’re up, Sundog. It’s official. Uncle Sam is recalling a lot of personnel, even you.”
Harry slumped on the very firm hotel mattress and rubbed his brow with his free hand. “I bet not even the president knew this was happening before three a.m.,” was the first thing out of his mouth.
“He’s not your boss, not right now anyway, so you’re entitled to pique,” Roarke responded. “And I’m not tattling. Though if I did, he may change his mind about you.”
“I really wanted more time, you know.” Harry flopped back on the bed and flung his arm over his eyes, even though they couldn’t afford wasting even these few minutes shooting the breeze. “She’s close. She should come of her own free will. So far, the Earthers have kept their distance. They know we’re watching her.”
“Well, now, they might call themselves by a name, but they’re just a bunch of disorganized radicals. You can take ’em. And you’ve had a year, two if you count the accidental meeting a year before that, to convince her. I can always step in if you aren’t up to completing the mission.”
“No way. Not fair. I was hardly able to spend any time with her, and not much of it quality.” Harry laughed.
“Huh. You, Hunkster Harry? Who charms even the nitrox mix and gravity itself to remain stable?”
“That was an accident.”
“Tarlig didn’t think so. He’s still working on his council presentation—”
“Okay, got it, Roarke. Maeve and I will be there.”
“Get a different vehicle. Leave yours in the lot. And don’t forget those juicy genes of hers.”
“It’s not like we can leave them behind. Bye now.” Harry snapped the screen off and tossed the device on the other bed.
The game was no longer “just in case” things got worse for the planet. Plan C was a go. Roarke didn’t want to believe that time was counting down. The Earthers were more organized every month, according to their media. It wouldn’t be long before their threats became action.
Maeve was a priority, but she couldn’t know why until she agreed to join them. He sent a text. “1 Hour. Bringing donuts & coffee.” Then he hit the shower.
She was on the phone when he arrived. She let him in and gave that weak smile that meant she was stalling him. Harry was all right with that, and shut the door behind them. He plunked the donuts on her kitchen table and took the lids off their coffees.
He’d gotten her favorite food, little glazed blueberry bites and a raspberry-filled Persian. The morning brew was a hearty roast, tall. He raided her cupboard and poured their go juice into mugs. To their drinks he splashed a dash of unpasteurized cinnamon cream she got from a natural foods store. She donated change, so it wasn’t technically an illegal sale.
Yes…the love of his life. Little rebel in all things. He handed her a cup and made himself at home on her sofa to observe her gesture and twirl with her phone glued to the side of her face.
“What?” Her voice rose in affront. “Does too.”
Harry crossed his feet and watched Maeve in action, pacing. Someone got her dander up that early on a Sunday morning. He toasted her with his mug when she faced him briefly, then whirled away.
“There’s an enormous amount of math and science in advertising—PR work. Algorithms, biology, a freakin’ amount of sociology, not to mention all that space tech…” She grinned at him briefly over her shoulder as she continued to respond to her caller. “Yeah, I know. I’m good at it. I get that. I love it. The agency adores me and my mind games. Yes, yes, see you on Wednesday.”
Probably not, but Harry wasn’t going to drop that bomb yet. She set the phone on her coffee table, placed her cup beside his and then curled up against him to nuzzle his jaw. Harry flexed his shoulder muscles in an attempt to retain control of himself. Not easy when she was in this playful, testing mood. It was almost as if she wanted him to break the agreement to wait they’d made over a year ago when things got serious.
He finally pulled back. “Maeve.”
“Yeah, yeah.” She sighed and leaned forward to grab her cup. She curled her leg under and sat back, ogling him over the rim. “I can’t help it if you flyboys are so irresistible.”
“Us flyboys? How many of us are there?”
“Squadrons,” she purred. “And I’m going to meet them…”
“Aren’t you taking me there tomorrow?”
“Nope.” His turn to leer over the ceramic mug. “Just the university. We’re using the soc department lab.”
“So I got this new test-taking outfit for nothing?”
Sometimes he loved her little act; other times not so much.
She winced at the irritation he flashed at her and changed tactics. “That was Barry, from the tutoring center,” Maeve said, nodding at her phone. “He wondered if I could handle more students and subjects.” She went still, staring at him. “Seems a lot of the tutors are leaving for…shall we say, government duty. The public school shutdown that’s been in the news is now a real possibility. They’re going to rely on private tutors and internet monitored education, maybe even starting in the fall.”
Harry swallowed rising nausea and sat forward, leaning his elbows on his knees.
“I’m pretty smart, Harry.”
“Yes. Yes, you are, my love.”
“Something you want to tell me?”
They needed to talk, but not like this. Sweat pooled at the base of Harry’s spine.
“Aren’t they going to want you back?” Maeve prodded.
“It will happen, unless my current status works in my favor.” Harry lifted his torso and looked in her eyes.
“Grad school, you mean?”
“I won’t lie, but there are always things I can’t share with you, or can’t share exactly when you want to know.” He reached for her narrow, cool hands and rubbed her knuckles with his thumbs. “Eventually…”
“The trust thing. I get it.” Her sparkle returned and grew gamine. “I know! I’ll enlist. Some of my buds—”
“Are you kidding?” All the rush of sheer thrill and terror of his first space training mission combined with the day he met Tarlig formed a knot of horror behind his eyes. “You won’t. Will you? Did you?” She’d do something like that, then tell him later.
That was one of the things he appreciated about her, that dratted sense of independence and stubbornness, tinged with rebellion.
“What if I did?”
Good—she wouldn’t ask if she’d already done it. He hauled her into his arms and leaned back.
“So…I didn’t want to mention this in case you thought I was nuts, but…”
“What?” he prompted against her cheek.
“I…well, I probably am just paranoid, but I’m pretty sure someone was following me when I went down to the co-op this morning.”
He swallowed. “In a…a car?”
“Yes. A clunker, you know, with student stickers on it. I didn’t think much about it until the guy pulled up next to me on the curb to park.”
Harry let out a breath and waited.
“I thought maybe he just wanted directions, but…I got a funny feeling, ya know? So I backed away, went into the drug store until he left. Maybe it was nothing.”
“That’s the last you saw? What did he look like?”
“I’m sure it was a coincidence. I thought for a second it might have been one of Chandra’s friends, but he was wearing sunnies and a cap, and I didn’t want to get that close.”
“Good,” he murmured, thinking furiously. Time was up. They were figuring out how to move in on Maeve. He couldn’t keep her safe the way things were going.
“You’re shaking,” Maeve mumbled into his chest. “What’s going on?”
Harry didn’t trust his voice and could only clear his throat.
“Hey,” she said softly. “Look at me.” She put her fingers to his jaw and turned his face toward hers. “I wouldn’t do something totally crazy. Talk to strangers. Enlist. I mean, we even talked about your discharge last year, and we were barely serious as a couple.”
“You have to trust me too. I’m mostly kidding. Mostly. But…if…when you have to…go back into the service…now…when things are so scary, then I…well, I don’t want to be alone. I’ll go with you. To the end of the earth.”
She was closer to the truth than she realized. “We’ll figure it out.” Harry found his voice and screwed up his courage. “Just don’t do anything…crazy. Please?”
“Who me?”
“Says the woman who saved her sister’s life.”
At her silence he pulled back. Her little cat smile grew one of his own.
“That sounds pretty heroic of me,” she said, “when it was just basically lying there.”
“I believe there was some pretty serious blood testing and type matching, not to mention painful bone marrow harvesting going on.”
“I’m not only smart, I’m tough. Speaking of tests…”