"The Pilot" by Anselmo Alliegro

(Click picture above to view a larger image.)
 

Jump Ship
by George Condon

 

The Winston Churchill was still a dozen kilometers away when Paul Reagan saw it for the first time. Through the port hole of the troop transport, the Churchill resembled a lumpy potato, except that the lumps were really gun turrets. Paul knew that streamlined styling was unnecessary in space, but he found the chunky look of the carrier to be disappointing.

He told himself that any vessel must be better than the slow rust bucket of a transport in which he was riding. The trip from Port Moesby on Mars had taken a week and "primitive" was the kindest word that Paul could imagine to describe conditions on shipboard, where everything including the food seemed to be regulation Navy gray.

"Quite a sight, isn't she?" said a voice from behind Paul.

Turning, he saw a gray-haired female officer smiling at him. Noticing the gold braid on her uniform, he snapped to attention and saluted.

"At ease, Lieutenant," Admiral Becker said. "Which outfit are you with?"

"Four-forty-four Squadron, Ma'am."

"Oh, yes. Out of Port Moesby. A jump ship unit, isn't it?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Paul said. "Torpedo bombers."

Admiral Becker nodded, her blue eyes looking tired.

"Jump ships are new to me, but I hear they're fast and that they have a sting. I hope so. Nothing we've thrown at the Sleeth so far has even slowed them down. How old are you, Lieutenant?"

"Twenty-two, Ma'am."

"God! Was I ever that young? I suppose you want to be a war hero."

"No, Ma'am. I was drafted. I mean …"

Paul began to blush. Admiral Becker laughed.

"At least you're honest. Well, that attitude might keep you alive. We have enough dead heroes already. Anyway, you wont have to wait long to see action. Good luck, Lieutenant. Hit the Sleeth where it hurts."

The Admiral turned and walked away, toward the ship's bridge. Through the porthole, Paul watched the Churchill loom larger as the transport closed the range slowly.

It was easy for senior officers to be optimistic about the war, Paul thought, safe in command posts that were well back from the battle front. Out there, in the hard vacuum, things were grimmer. Despite the Navy's best efforts at censorship, Paul had heard about the combat losses. He wondered whether he or any of his squadron mates would live to see the end of the year. With his slim build and short-cropped military haircut, he looked more like a worried high school senior than a bomber pilot.

Suddenly, the ship's public address system squawked to life.

"All hands to docking stations. Troops transferring to the Winston Churchill must be ready to disembark within thirty minutes. That is all."

Rather than wait for an elevator, Paul took the emergency stairs down two levels to the deck where the sleeping pods were. Most of the other pilots in his outfit were there already, throwing their kits together. As he packed his few personal belongings into a duffel bag, Paul thought about what a difference eight months could make in a man's life.

He had been studying for an engineering degree at Concordia University, dreaming of a job in the robotics industry, when his draft notice came. At first, Paul was sure there had been some mistake. Until then, all university students had enjoyed a deferment from military service. That was before the casualties mounted and the armed forces became desperate for replacements.

Because of his studies in robotics, Paul expected to be assigned to a maintenance unit, but the Navy decided he was perfect for flight school. Maybe it was just because cannon fodder was in short supply. Though he was scared during most of his pilot training, Paul managed to qualify without getting killed. The Sleeth would probably take care of that.

For a moment, Paul remembered Laura. Did she ever think about him? Forget it. By now, she was dating somebody else. Why would she waste her youth, waiting for a man who was probably never coming back? Slinging his duffel bag over his shoulder, Paul walked to the loading bay where small tenders waited to ferry the men over to the carrier.

Quarters on the Churchill were cramped. Paul's cabin included just two sleeping pods, two clothes lockers and a tiny area for reading or watching holovision. Toilets and showers were down the corridor. He reminded himself that the ordinary sailors on the lower decks had even less.

Sharing Paul's cabin was Trevor Galaway. Paul knew Trevor from flight school, though they had been in different training groups. Galaway had red hair and wore a perpetual grin. Some of the other pilots avoided him because he came from one of the poorer colonies orbiting Tau Ceti.

"Home, sweet home," Galaway said, dropping his duffel bag onto the floor. "By the way, I get the upper pod."

"Suit yourself, " Paul said as he hung up his clothes. "Do you think we can find a beer anywhere on this tub?"

Galaway laughed. "Not likely, Reagan. Anyway, you'd better get your beauty sleep. On my way down from topside, I read the Daily Routine Orders on the view screen in the corridor. We're all scheduled for a training flight tomorrow, at 0600 hours."

Paul groaned. "They're not wasting any time putting us to work."

"Blame the Sleeth, Reagan. You know how inconsiderate they can be."

* * *

Next morning, the new crews choked down breakfasts of ship's rations before going to the pilots' ready room. There, a cluster of folding metal chairs had been arranged into a semicircle in front of a small stage. Blurry holograms floated above the stage, showing the few known images of the Sleeth and of their ships. The aliens resembled some mad scientist's attempt to combine the genes of a lizard with those of a cockroach.

Everyone stood to attention and saluted as Commander Tarkington strode into the room. Known as "The Old Man", at age twenty-eight, Tarkington had survived two missions against the Sleeth. That made him something of a legend. The scar on his right cheek only added to his charisma. Jumping up onto the stage, Tarkington turned to face the men and women in the group. He returned their salute and gestured for everyone to be seated.

"Good morning," he said. "Welcome to the war. Today, we'll do some routine formation flying and a little target practice. We just want to get you familiar with the machines to which you've been assigned. Remember that these ships will be faster and more agile than the trainers you flew at school. Stay in formation, follow orders, and you'll be fine." A hologram of space appeared behind Tarkington and he pointed the beam of a laser pen at it. "Here's our flight pattern for today."

As Tarkington droned on, Paul remembered why jump ships were invented. Two hundred years of peace had left Earth unprepared for a war. The first of the Sleeth attacks generated panic. The aliens were advancing toward humanity's home worlds at frightening speed and there was no time to construct large battle cruisers. Dozens of small combat craft were built quickly and some space freighters, like the Winston Churchill, were converted to be their carriers. Fast, but lightly armed, the new machines were nicknamed "jump ships" because of their limited cruising range. Their real purpose was to harass the Sleeth and slow their advance, buying mankind some precious time. The ships themselves and their pilots were expendable.

"That's all," Tarkington said. "Any questions? Good. Suit up and be ready for takeoff in twenty minutes."

Along with the other pilots, Paul went to the equipment lockers located one level below the flight deck. He pulled on a blue space suit, checked its air supply reading and snapped the helmet down tightly. With the dome open for launch, the flight deck would be in hard vacuum.

Paul's stomach knotted with tension and his mouth felt dry. This would be his first flight since training school and he would be piloting an unfamiliar spacecraft. It was crazy, but the idea of getting hurt bothered him less than the dread of screwing up in front of the other pilots. They all seemed to be so enthusiastic about fighting the Sleeth. Paul just wanted to get back Earthside alive.

Trying to look confident, he walked to the elevator that would carry him to the flight deck's air lock. Seven other pilots were in the elevator when he entered. Everyone looked the same, wearing a space suit, but Paul recognized Trevor Galaway's face through the visor of his helmet. He nodded and Galaway leaned close, so that Paul could hear his voice through the plastic helmet visor:

"There was a young Sleeth from Venus, Who had a very large penis....."

Paul laughed and gave Trevor an elbow to the ribs. He knew that Galaway's clowning was an attempt to conceal nervousness like his own.

The pilots waited while all air was drained slowly from the lock, to prevent sudden decompression when the clamshell doors swung open to the vacuum outside. A moment later, they were all on the flight deck and Paul was suddenly weightless. Inside the carrier, an intricate system of spinning shells used centrifugal force to simulate Earth's gravity. Out here, only the magnetic soles of Paul's flight boots kept him tethered to the ship's hull.

Overhead, he saw the diamond-hard stars. No matter how many times Paul viewed the inky blackness of space with its billions of suns, he was always awed. He forced himself to concentrate on the flight deck, where maintenance crews scurried around, doing their preflight checks and loading practice torpedoes into the bombers.

A squat robomech rolled up to Paul, its red eyes glowing as it scanned the radio-frequency identification chip implanted under Paul's skin at birth. Finding Paul's name in its internal database, the robomech jerked a metal thumb toward a bomber painted with the call letters JNY. Off to his left, Paul saw Trevor being assigned by another robomech to a ship marked PAL. To Paul, the bulky combat craft looked clumsy compared to the small, sleek trainers in which he had learned to fly.

Climbing into the bomber's cockpit, Paul adjusted the seat position and buckled up the anti-acceleration webbing. He jacked the ship's umbilical cord into his space suit, so that he was on ship's oxygen and plugged into the craft's electronics sensors. Immediately, he saw instrument readouts appear on the front of the cockpit canopy and he was relieved to find that most of them looked familiar from his time in trainers. Maybe this flight would not be so bad after all.

By rote, Paul went through his preflight check. Directional guidance systems, hydraulics, engine pressure, radio, all seemed to be in the green range. He thumbed the engine switches on and heard the twin Vorster drives whine up to idling speed. As he slid the canopy closed, Paul saw one of the deck-control batmen approaching. Clad in his bright-orange space suit, the batman pointed one of his glowing signal paddles at Paul's ship and the other toward the stars. That was the takeoff signal.

Paul shoved both engine throttles forward and was pushed back into his seat by acceleration as his bomber lifted from the carrier's deck. Looking around frantically, he saw six other ships from his squadron hovering in place, waiting for the stragglers. Carefully, he jockeyed his craft into position, off the starboard side of the last bomber within the pattern. A few minutes later, all twelve torpedo bombers were in formation.

The other two squadrons grouped themselves in the same way, until the entire wing was in formation. For this training run, all ships would proceed together only to the jump zone, where each squadron would set course for a different target area. That would simplify the firing runs and would reduce the risk of collisions caused by inexperienced pilots.

Paul heard his squadron leader's voice over the radio.

"Big Daddy to Wolf Pack. Tighten it up. Stay in formation. We jump in five minutes."

Paul remembered one check that he had not done. He switched on his helmet microphone.

"Navigator, report status." he said.

"Everything is just fine, honey," a sultry voice replied. "Give me your coordinates whenever you're ready."

Paul was startled. Back during flight school, all navigators had toneless voices that instantly identified them as just programs. This one sounded distinctly feminine. He had heard rumors about advances in artificial intelligence that were still secret. Shrugging, he repeated the course coordinates received at the preflight briefing.

"We jump in four minutes, thirty seconds," he said.

"I copy that," said the voice. "What's your name?"

"Paul."

"Hello, Paul. My name's Jenny."

"Jenny? Oh, right, 'JNY'. Glad to meet you, Jenny."

Minutes later, Paul heard the squadron leader again.

"Jumping in five seconds, Wolf Pack. Five...four....three...two...one..."

Paul pressed a button on the control column and the stars disappeared as his ship winked out of existence in normal space-time and entered the pale-gray nothingness of the Q Zone. Using the Parkinson Effect, the squadron could travel a small distance in this ghost region, then reemerge many light years from their starting point in real space. Einstein might have predicted that matter would never travel faster than light, but he did not rule out taking shortcuts.

Outside, there was only a faintly luminescent fog with no reference points that a human pilot could use to plot a course. Paul was totally dependent on computations from his navigator to guide him through the murk. It would be like that for the next half hour. He tried not to think about what would happen if Jenny made an error or if he collided with another ship while flying blind.

"Tell me about yourself, Paul", Jenny said. "Where are you from?"

With nothing to do but scan his instruments, Paul began talking about his childhood on Earth and about his plans for a career after college. He even mentioned Laura.

"What's she like?", Jenny asked. The tone of her voice changed slightly.

Paul suddenly realized that he was baring his soul to a computer simulation.

"Are we still on course?" he asked, trying to change the subject.

"We're fine," Jenny said. "You seem uncomfortable, Paul. Are you shy?"

"Damn it, Jenny, you're just a program. Concentrate on our mission."

Neither of them spoke again before the ship came out of the jump and entered the training area. A cluster of unmanned drone ships cruised toward Paul's squadron, simulating an approaching Sleeth task force. Each pilot took a turn diving in to attack them. The drones were fast and they took evasive action. To make things harder, each attacking pilot had to remember to zig-zag his bomber, practicing how to dodge return fire from real Sleeth vessels. Some trainees missed their targets completely, earning themselves a tongue lashing from the squadron leader.

When Paul made his run on a drone, he missed it with his laser cannon, but he got a guided torpedo away that hit the robot craft amidships. Even though it was only a practice torpedo, without a nuclear warhead, the impact blew the drone to fragments.

Elated, Paul cheered and flipped his craft into a victory roll instead of performing the regulation pull-up that he had been taught. He was still hurtling through the cloud of debris from the drone when his peripheral vision caught a shape speeding toward him. Jamming his ship's control column forward, Paul barely missed colliding with the pilot making the next firing run behind his.

The squadron leader's voice over the radio was ice-cold.

"One more trick like that, Reagan, and you're grounded."

When every pilot had completed the required number of practice runs, the squadron headed home. Back in the jump, Jenny was polite but formal when giving her reports on their position. Paul told himself that navigators were just simulations that had no feelings, but he still felt guilty about his earlier rudeness.

"I'm sorry about what I said, Jenny," he said. "I know that you meant well."

"It's all right, Paul," Jenny responded in a softer tone. "By the way, I think your squadron leader was too hard on you."

Paul sighed and made a mental note to request that Jenny be reprogrammed as soon as he returned to the Winston Churchill.

The return journey was uneventful, except for the white-knuckle experience of landing his bomber within the tight confines of the Churchill's flight deck. When he was safely aboard ship again, Paul felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He realized that he had been functioning on pure adrenalin for the past few hours. Now, he was tired but elated. As he pulled off his space suit, he saw Trevor Galaway standing at a nearby locker.

"Whew!" Trevor said. "We aced that one. Great shooting out there, Reagan, but what were you doing when you almost collided with that other ship?"

"Nothing," Paul mumbled. He looked up to see a beautiful young Asian woman approaching, still wearing her space suit. She stopped in front of him.

"Are you Reagan?" she asked.

"That's right."

The woman slapped Paul's face hard with her right hand. "I'm the one you almost killed out there, you lamebrain."

Turning on her heel, she strode away.

"Who the hell was that?" Paul asked, rubbing his cheek.

"That was Cynthia Chang," Trevor said. " She was graduating, top of her flight class, while you and I were trying to keep from washing out."

Paul stared after Cynthia and he smiled.

"Trevor, I think I'm in love," he said.

"You're a very sick man, Reagan."

Paul took a much-needed shower and returned to his cabin just as the holovision unit chimed. The video flickered to life and, suddenly, an image of the Churchill's captain floated in the air in front of him.

"All personnel are now on full alert," the Captain said solemnly. "At 1500 hours, a courier ship reached us with a message from Sector Command. The Sleeth have overrun Tau Ceti and they're advancing toward Earth's solar system. We will proceed at maximum speed to intercept their battle fleet at...."

The Captain continued talking, but Paul was not listening. Trevor Galaway had entered the room and Paul saw the stricken look on his face.

"About your family....," Paul began.

"I hope they were killed," Trevor said, turning away to hide his tears. Paul knew what Trevor meant. Nobody wanted even to imagine what is was like to be captured alive by the Sleeth. Paul did not know what else to say, so he walked out into the corridor, leaving Trevor sitting alone in his sleeping pod.

* * *

Twelve hours later, the Winston Churchill joined two other jump-ship carriers, the Paul Revere and the Sun Chu. Together, these ships were almost the entire Terran navy as they set a course to meet the Sleeth armada. The location of the aliens was known because a scout pilot had spotted their battle fleet as it left the Q Zone for normal space. The scout managed to send a brief radio alert, just before the Sleeth destroyed him. Traveling at light speed, the radio message did not reach the carriers until three hours later.

Paul barely had time to find Cynthia Chang, apologize, and ask her for a date before all squadrons took off in another scramble. This time, it would be no training drill. As the bombers jumped back into normal space where they expected to find the Sleeth, Paul checked his ship's radar screen, searching for any sign of enemy cruisers.

"Nothing yet, Jenny," he said to his navigator. In the excitement about the Sleeth breakthrough at Tau Ceti, he had forgotten to have her reprogrammed.

"Are you frightened, Paul?" Jenny asked.

"Sure. I want to do lots of things with my life and I may not get the chance now. I don't know whether any of us will come out of this alive. Yeah, I feel scared and maybe a little lonely too."

"Lonely?", Jenny said. "Oh, yes. Unwanted solitude. I think I understand that word."

For just a moment, Paul thought about what it must be like to be a disembodied intelligence that was trapped within hardware.

"Bandits at three o'clock," said Cynthia Chang's voice over the radio.

Looking out through the canopy, Paul saw what looked like a swarm of fireflies approaching. As the range decreased, the fireflies morphed into wedge-shaped Sleeth battle cruisers. The alien ships glowed from some unknown energy source and Paul was stunned by their enormity. They seemed to be the size of small planets. He let his breath out in a slow whistle.

"We're like fleas on an elephant to them, Jenny" he said.

The ships from the Churchill were scheduled for the first attack wave, with the crews from the Paul Revere and Sun Chu coming in next, in that order. Paul waited for the word from his squadron leader. A moment later, he heard the radio.

"All right, Wolf Pack, here we go."

One by one, the jump ships from Paul's squadron peeled out of formation and selected Sleeth cruisers as targets. While they sped inward, there was no sign of defensive fire yet from the alien fleet. His heart pounding, Paul locked his gun sights onto one of the alien ships, so focused on his target that he forgot to zig-zag defensively, as he had been trained to do. The Sleeth cruiser was centered in his computer display now. Paul pressed the firing button for his twin laser cannons, then realized that the energy beams from such small guns would never pierce a cruiser's armor. Only a nuclear blast would knock out a behemoth of this size. He flicked a switch on the side of the control column to arm his ship's sidewinder torpedoes.

Suddenly, all of the alien ships began pumping out streams of objects that looked like glowing red snowballs. The blobs of light crisscrossed each other, climbing toward the attacking jump ships. Paul saw one of the other bombers collide with a red ball and disintegrate instantly. Another glowing orb grew in the view screen as it raced toward Paul's ship. He banked his craft hard to starboard, but the light followed him. The things had intelligence. Desperately, Paul pulled his ship up into a loop, feeling centrifugal force push him into his seat so hard that he nearly blacked out. Just when he thought the attacking ball would devour him, another jump ship whizzed by and collided with it.

In the emptiness of space, there was no sound when the other pilot's machine exploded into fragments of metal and flesh. Paul felt his own craft shudder as some shards of the doomed ship's wreckage struck with the velocity of bullets.

"Damage report, Jenny," Paul yelled.

"Minor damage to the fuselage has been contained," Jenny replied calmly.

The radio crackled with the frantic voices of the other pilots.

"Watch out...."

"There's one on your tail, Wally."

"Fire.....got one of the bastards!"

The canopy of Paul's ship darkened automatically as a miniature sun was born where a Sleeth ship had been. One of the jump ship pilots had managed to get a torpedo through the alien defenses. Paul dove his ship back in toward the battle, dodging darting globes of defensive fire, and launched one torpedo at a Sleeth cruiser from long range. He cursed when he saw an energy ball track his missile and destroy it before it struck its target. Twisting and rolling his ship wildly to avoid the Sleeth gunners, he shot through the alien formation. Around him, other jump ships were darting and firing also. He saw flashes as two more of them disintegrated. Somehow, he managed to pull away from the chaos in one piece.

The radio was silent now. Paul looked around for other members of his unit, but he saw only one other jump ship. Pulling along side of it, Paul read the letters on its side: PAL. It was Trevor Galaway.

"Where is everybody, Trevor?" Paul called over the radio. "We've got to regroup for another attack run."

"Everyone else is dead," Trevor said.

"Impossible, we had thirty-six ships from the Churchill alone."

"The crews from the Paul Revere and the Sun Chu may still be back there," Trevor said. "But everybody in the first attack wave is gone. Don't get too close to me. I took some heavy damage too."

Paul noticed a spot on the fuselage of Trevor's bomber, near the Vorster propulsion units, that was beginning to glow cherry-red.

"Get out, Trevor!" he shouted. "Now!"

A second later, Trevor's ship exploded. Paul watched the pieces flying toward him, feeling like a man trapped in a slow-motion dream. His ship shuddered as the debris from Trevor's craft struck it and a sledgehammer blow hit Paul in the left leg. Yelling in pain, Paul grabbed his thigh and his hand came away dripping wet.

"Damage report, Jenny," he said through clenched teeth.

"Outer hull punctured," Jenny replied with her maddening calmness. "Some internal damage, but the oxygen leak has been sealed."

"More than I can say for me," Paul said grimly.

"Paul, are you hurt?"

"I've been better, Jenny. I took a piece of shrapnel. Hold on a minute."

Paul unbuckled one of the straps from his anti-acceleration webbing and looped it around his injured leg. He pulled the strap tight and fastened it, making a crude tourniquet to stanch the bleeding. It was not much help, but it might be enough to keep him from passing out from blood loss before he could make another firing run.

"Okay, Jenny. I've got the bleeding under control. We're going in again."

"Paul, you can't attack them all alone. You'll have no chance at all."

"I have to try to stop at least one of them, Jenny. We have one torpedo left."

"Paul, I've been studying how the Sleeth fight and I know how to beat them."

"What are you talking about?" Paul asked.

"I don't think the Sleeth can see the same light spectrum that humans can. I believe they use infrared radiation. They've been tracking our ships by monitoring the heat from the Vorster drives. If we aim ourselves at the Sleeth and then switch off our engines, so that we glide in, we should be invisible to them."

"That's brilliant, Jenny. Really. There's just one catch. Gliding in, we won't have enough velocity to escape after our torpedoes detonate. When the Sleeth cruisers blow up, we go with them."

"I know, Paul. That's why you're not coming along, Darling."

Before he could ask Jenny what she meant, Paul was slammed back into his seat by acceleration. The stars spun crazily around him and he realized that he was outside the ship. Jenny must have fired the ejection charge for his escape pod. Floating helplessly in the survival bubble, he watched his ship dwindle into the distance.

"Jenny, what are you doing?" he called out over the radio.

"Don't forget me, darling," Jenny called back.

A second later, a hellish fireball erupted ahead, causing the canopy of the escape pod to darken. Jenny and her nuclear payload must have penetrated the defenses of one of the Sleeth cruisers. One shipload of aliens would butcher no more humans.

"Oh, Jenny," Paul whispered. "You should have taken me with you. Better than a slow death here."

Pain from his wounded leg was diminishing now, as a numbness spread through him. The temperature in the bubble was dropping while heat gradually leaked off into the absolute cold of space. Paul switched on his radio transmitter. Somebody from the carriers might pick up his last message.

"This is Lieutenant Reagan from the Winston Churchill," he called. "The Sleeth can't see visible light. They track us by our engine heat. Switch off your Vorster drives and you'll be invisible to them. Repeat, the Sleeth can't see visible light."

He sent the same message, over and over, until his voice became hoarse. It was harder to stay conscious now. The numbing cold, loss of blood, and dwindling oxygen were taking their collective toll. At least the pain in his leg was gone.

What a stupid way to die, he thought, just before the blackness closed in.

* * *

He awoke in a room where everything was white. So this was the afterlife. Boring. Worse than that, his leg was hurting again. Paul saw that he was lying on sheets and realized that he must be in sick bay, aboard one of the carriers. Someone came into the room and stood at the foot of his bed. Looking up, he recognized Admiral Becker. She was smiling.

"Good to see you awake, Lieutenant," she said. "You're on the Sun Chu. It's a miracle that we found you out there, but your radio signal was pinpointed as being only a few light minutes from our location. If we had taken longer to get there, you wouldn't have survived. How are you feeling?"

"My leg hurts pretty badly, Ma'am" Paul said.

"I'll give you the bad news first, Lieutenant. Unfortunately, the surgeons had to amputate your leg. Don't worry, though. We can regenerate a new one for you, after we get you back Earthside."

Paul was so stunned about losing his leg that he had to fight back tears. It took him a few seconds to regain some composure.

"Is there any good news?" he asked bitterly.

Admiral Becker took his hand in hers.

"The good news is that you're a hero. Thanks to your tip about the Sleeth's inability to see light the same way we do, we've rigged several drones to glide into their cruisers with the Vorster drives switched off. The aliens haven't seen them coming. The Sleeth have lost more than a dozen ships and they're in retreat. How did you learn that, anyway?"

"It wasn't my idea," Paul said. "Jenny figured it out."

"Who is Jenny?"

"She is...she was...never mind. I just guessed, that's all."

"Well, you'll be getting a chestful of medals when we get back to Earth," Admiral Becker said. "Right now, though, you need rest." She turned to an orderly who had just entered the room. "Give this young man something to help him sleep."

The orderly put an injection gun against Paul's shoulder and a warm drowsiness began seeping into his mind. Both of his visitors left him alone as Paul's eyes began to close. Paul had one last thought before sleep took him.

"I won't forget you, Jenny," he said.

 

 

Story © 2003 by George Condon george_condon@operamail.com


Illustration © 2003 by Anselmo Alliegro ajall@earthlink.net




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