MARINER II

by Jason A. Miller ©1998

Chapter 3: Son of a Preacher Man

Barek slid open the main door of the converted barn that now housed the Tool 'n Die. It was warmer inside. He shook off his leather jacket -- fall came early to New England -- and hung it up on a peg inside the door. Sure, he could have just tossed it on his workbench, but order and procedure had to be followed, even when working in a garage.

He checked his reflection in a tiny mirror he'd hung over one of the workbenches. Well-coifed black hair stared back at him. He had small sideburns, as was the current style, now that all the kids were talking about Luke Priestley and Jason Perry and the like.

He spent the next five minutes practicing his best sneers in the mirror. He imagined Callie was on the other side of the mirror, growing ever more suspicious, and that renewed his determination. But you wouldn't know anything about that now, would you... young James.

He moved from his sneers to his scowls, just like they'd taught him. Home is where I hang my helmet, and you're standing in my living room!

When he was done practicing his scowls, he adjusted the collar of his deep blue denim work shirt, to reveal more the black long-sleeved T-shirt beneath. Together with the black jeans, and the sneer and the scowl, this new outfit was indeed one of the best things about his sudden assignment to Swans Crossing.

He reached for his communicator radio, and glanced around to make sure that the kids weren't within earshot.


The road to success was a long and hard one, Neil Atwater's dad had always told him, and for an eminent chemist, the road was even longer and harder. But should you ever come to a break in the road, all you have to do is pave your way with books, and you'll get across that break with no trouble at all.

Neil rearranged the twenty-five books that were all open and spread out in front of him. A seven-year-old in the library, already reading Mister Wizard books before the rest of his class had even graduated from Weekly Reader, he'd seen the high school students studying around him, and automatically associated "hard study" with "piles of book and papers spread importantly around you in a messy semicircle". Well, twenty- five books ought to do the trick -- but the answer probably wasn't even in there.

Face it, Atwater, he sighed to himself. You're outgrowing this library at an alarming rate.

Gradually he became aware that Owen Fowler was seated across the table from him, and he perked up. Owen would have the answer!

Well, not the scientific answer. Not the answer to the thermodynamics equation. But he'd provide a temporary distraction, and Neil found that a half-hour break from the books every four hours only served to concentrate the alpha waves in the right direction.

"H-how long have you been sitting here?" he asked.

Owen leaned back and stretched his legs out against the tabletop. "Only all morning, dude!"

"W-What?" Neil blinked. Surely he'd have noticed earlier -- the hideous clash that was Owen's bright mustard T-shirt under a brown vest certainly would've broken up his line of site hours ago.

"Joke, man!"

"Oh. Ha ha!" he said, mocking laughter.

"Well, now that you're here, let's bust this place and get some breakfast."

"But I already ate!"

"Not with me you didn't, so c'mon, let's get outta here!"

By the time they arrived at Swans, the joint was bustling with dozens of high school students. They had trouble finding a seat and it took Jazz nearly five minutes to serve their order (big, fat, ice cream sundaes -- brain food!) once she'd taken it. Neil and Owen both grimaced in mock disgust, and Owen tapped his watch once she'd finally emerged from the kitchen.

"You're running late, Jazz! You better watch it before you lose your best customers!"

"Yeah yeah yeah, and check it out, you better watch yourself before you lose this ice cream straight down the back of your shirt!"

"Oh! Please!" Owen countered, practicing his best manly leer. Well, that was something Billy Gunn would have done, and evidently it must have worked, because Jazz immediately locked her hands around his neck and pretended to throttle him. Man, you couldn't cut the attraction she felt for him, with a chainsaw!

Oh wait, speaking of attraction and chainsaws... "Hey Jazz, have you seen Sandy this morning? I think I sort of lost track of her at the record store."

Jazz pointed to the bar. Sandy was sitting with who appeared to be Glory and Nancy, although all their backs were turned. Owen started to get up, but Jazz shoved him back into his seat and winked. "SANDY!" she shouted, with amazing lung volume. Sandy jumped and spun around. Owen beckoned her over wildly, and she crossed the floor to his table, Glory and Nancy in her wake.

"Owen!"

"Sandy!"'

"You ditched me!" they wailed at each other simultaneously. Then they paused, awkwardly. So Owen reached under the table and dragged out his schoolbag.

"Look," he said. "I brought a frisbee. Let's go outside!"'

"But Owen," she wailed, "I'm still mad at you!"

"Great," he beamed at her. "You can throw at my head."

There was nothing quite like having girls so firmly under his thumb, Owen decided.


Their first kiss had been late at night, in a moon-lit clearing at the Walker Estate. They'd held hands that summer night, unable to take their eyes off of each other. Nervous, giggly conversation had preceded the big moment.

"Strange cloud formations?"

"The mating habits of a nudibranch?

And other quick comments he couldn't even remember now. It was funny, wasn't it, how all those comments really pertained to the two of them, to the way their relationship had developed ever since they'd met at the Tool 'n Die (and had subsequently started throwing engine parts at each other, of course). And all those false starts, near misses.

Jimmy's pulse had shot up and his heart and leaped into his mouth, was the only way he could describe the few moments Before. It was the same description he'd read in dozens of books all through junior high, but it really was true. What else other than the heart could account for that huge lump in his throat? It was as if the kiss was lodged in his throat, growing ever bigger, and that lump could only ever go away by kissing a girl. And if the kiss didn't come, the lump would reluctantly sink back into the esophagus, the stomach (the duodenum, chimed in the part of his brain that still remembered eighth grade biology).

As for the pulse -- well, that had leaped up as soon as he'd told her, "Walker Woman, if anything ever bothers you, share it." Or the words were similar to that, anyway. The sense of what he said had been lost from the moment the words left his (painfully un-kissed) lips. He knew it was risky even as he said it -- what if she didn't care? What if she thought he had a crush on her, and couldn't return the feeling? What if she got annoyed with him, and left?

Only she hadn't. Their hands had remained together. Her palm was warm and sweaty in his hand. Their palms weren't *quite* joined up perfectly, and her fingers felt slightly off-kilter in his. Both their hands would grow sore if they didn't adjust their grip soon.

Only they kept their hands exactly as they were, imperfectly joined and immobile. To move, even slightly, would break the cement-like sweat, break the bond, ruin the moment.

And he was thinking far too much about their hands. Cause look at the moonlight. It's actually playing on her hair, her red, red hair. I thought that only happened on television! He could see her face clearly, and she was grinning, grinning at him.

He realized he was grinning too.

Grin, grin, grin. That's all they ever seemed to do around each other, when they weren't fighting.

But now he'd just made a serious, important pledge to her. And here was her response.

Their faces drew closer. It wasn't a case of him initiating, or her initiating. It was just happening, as it had done before, at the Tool 'n Die, and on Glory's porch.

And then their lips met.


He'd dreamed this moment so many times in the past year or so, since such dreams had awakened in him. It had only been Callie once, the night after they first met. In that dream, they'd been facing each other, and surrounded by his parents and her parents (or those strange, faceless, anonymous dream-beings who seemed to conveniently double as her parents, who he'd not even met at the time). And they'd kissed, and he'd immediately woken up, crying, crying *badly*, the entire package of tears pressing into his eyes, begging for escape, like steam out of a piston.

The dream kisses weren't real, though. He'd never had one in real life before. Consequently the dream kisses were fake, wrong -- it had always felt like he was kissing some cold, inanimate object, like a wall, or a remote control. And then once he'd awakened to a near-mouthful of damp, saliva-moistened pillow.

It was as if his dream self just couldn't imagine what lips really felt like.


And then he *knew*. Callie's lips were warm, slightly moist. She kissed his upper lip; he kissed her lower lip. Absorbed, stunned, out of breath, he focused almost obsessively on that lower lip, afraid that if he let go, or that if he breathed wrong, she'd let go, and dwindle down into a pillow. Or even nothing.

Then, there was a rustling noise from the bushes, and they'd parted, neither completely back down to the level of reality yet (He'd have to ask Saja about that).

They broke apart, and had never kissed again.


He had been 13, watching a television program. Some really bad movie aired on a cut-rate cable station. His entire life was engine repair and baseball, though not necessarily in that order. The Red Sox were in first place (this could be the year!), and he spent at least an hour a day after school in the Tool 'n Die watching Mr. Wellman at work. He was too young to get his working papers, of course, but that didn't stop him from learning, from even helping out once in a while.

There was no indication for him that, when he turned on the TV that night, some huge force deep within him would be awakened, that he'd never be the same again. Boston 7, Minnesota 2, Roger Clemens whipping the World Series-bound Twins. And on that cut-rate cable station, a young raven-haired girl (probably 12 or so) stood on some stage, probably a school show or something, and she started singing "On Top of Old Smokey". A corny scene, to be sure -- he normally didn't even like characters singing in movies. They didn't sing in real life, did they?

But this was different. This girl up on the screen wasn't just singing something about meatballs, she was singing right at him.

"She's beautiful," he'd said, not even aware that he'd meant to speak. And then he started crying, crying out of loneliness, crying heavily and bitterly because Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs and Chiltons' repair manuals would never again be enough, now that women were in his life. He was so alone, all, all alone, and needed this anonymous girl on television to rush into his life, and sing for him. Just for him, only to him.

Callie rode into town a year later, and even though there had been Sophia and Nancy in the meantime (almost a connection, maddeningly close, but nothing as pure as he'd shared that night with the young singer on television), Callie was The One.


James Clayton Ms. Arnold English 9 9/10/92

PAGE FROM MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY: THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE

All the best moments in my life have to do with my girlfriend. My girlfriend and I first got together this summer. I met her at work earlier this summer. She started working in the same store that I do. But our relationship took some time to develop. It was the big conversation we had after our first kiss that really made this the strong lively relationship it is now.

First, we kissed while out on a date one night. We were watching the moon and the clouds and we suddenly started kissing. It was the first time for each of us. However the kiss only lasted a few seconds and shortly after that we both went home. But all night long I thought about the kiss and thought about it some more, trying to analyze it and wonder how to do it better next time.

Then, a few days later, my girlfriend and I finally talked about our big moment. I went to her house and we just talked about ourselves. She told me all about her worries and her fears. She is afraid of the dark. She is afraid of being alone. She doesn't have a mother. Finally, I told her that she could rely on me for anything. She started crying, and then we kissed again.

It is common while talking about teenagers to focus on lust and romance. But there is so much more to it than that with my girlfriend and me. We really need each other. We made the perfect team as well as the perfect couple.

Jimmy deleted the entire file from his computer with a sigh. He wasn't even brave enough to write out his girlfriend's name on paper yet! This was obviously no good.

Besides. The conversation after the kiss had never taken place. They'd simply never talked about it again. And they'd never kissed again.

So he started again with a new file and instead wrote a five-paragraph composition about Game Five of the 1986 American League Championship Series. Dave Henderson was a more true-life hero to the piece than Callie was at the moment. Besides, Dave Henderson had actually hit that home run off of Donnie Moore (who'd later killed himself, Jimmy remembered with a frown) to tie up the game, where the Angels had been just one strike away from victory. The Sox had ended up in the World Series that year!

But Callie had never said she'd really needed him.


*

Saja's bike pulled up to the docks, backfiring rather dramatically. He cut the ignition. J.T. and Jimmy pulled up a few seconds afterwards. He noticed that Jimmy seemed unusually lost in thought -- his face was almost ashen. J.T. however looked as lively as usual.

"Look!" J.T. exclaimed. "It's the TARDIS, it's back! Saja, you were right!"

Saja merely grinned. He'd known, he'd actually known! Maybe his powers really were increasing.

"Of course, my friend. I sensed the Doctor's arrival from far away."

"But the submarine's not here," growled Jimmy. "It's gone. Look."

He was right. Saja turned away from the TARDIS to look at the water. The submarine wasn't bobbing in its usual place up and down on the pier.

It really had gone, and that meant that Callie had gone with it.


So his instructions were clear. The Ultimate Leader was coming to Swans Crossing in a matter of days, and all had to be ready for his arrival. Barek stowed his communications in a drawer in the workbench, and locked it. Whistling Dusty Springfield to himself, he left the store, leaving the door unlocked just in case his two smitten employees should decide to work later in the afternoon.

He walked down the alley, and across the courtyard to Swans Soda shop. A bunch of school kids were tossing a frisbee around the grass. He found a bench near the shop, and sat down, watching them at play.

Barek's dad had been a man of the cloth, and had never wanted this kind of life for him. But Barek had shown certain aptitudes in school from a very young age, and his current employers had approached him on his sixteenth birthday. Those somber men in suits had shown him certain things pertaining to his destiny, and he hadn't gone back to his father's home since then.

Of course, now he had responsibilities. Secrets to keep, a double life to lead. And a cover to maintain. Callie and the ninja-boy had their suspicions, but in the end, they couldn't prove anything. Even Young James knew *something*, but not the big picture.

J.T. and Neil, of course, didn't have the slightest clue as to what he was doing. They did know about his bald, black-clad friends, and they knew about the bug planted in their room. But they didn't know Barek's role. All he'd have to do for the next week is keep Callie and Saja apart from J.T. and Neil, and wait for the Ultimate Leader to arrive. Then things would start to happen.

A frisbee landed in his lap, and he looked up in disgust. The Fowler boy stood nervously in front of him. Neil hovered in the background, not really paying attention.

"Um, Mr. Barek?" Owen said.

Barek looked up and sneered. Then he remembered that Owen wasn't part of his assignment, and wasn't intruding like Callie was, so he'd better start feigning politeness.

"Hey. Video man. How ya doin'!" he said.

Owen smiled, and pushed his glasses back up on his nose. "Hey, doin' great! Thanks for asking!"

"How's the video coming along? Do you have anything new to show me?"

"A-Actually, yeah! Sandy Swan and I shot some new footage last night. We're working on a second video, you know."

"No, I was not aware of that," Barek said. "Why don't you run it by the shop tonight after closing? I'll take a look."

"More ice cream?"

"Of course!" Barek said with a cheeriness he didn't really feel. Neil wasn't even paying attention to the conversation anymore -- he and Nancy were talking about something.

The frisbee game resumed. Barek continued to sit and watch. Neil was so young, so energetic. It was a shame that the events of the next week were going to have to happen to him. But Barek always did what he could.


The younger "baldie" crouched under the rickety wooden steps leading up to the harbormaster's office. He stuck out like a sore thumb. Indeed, with his shaved head, he actually looked not entirely unlike a thumb.

Roz and Chris stood in plain sight further down the docks. The three boys from the soda shop (Jimmy, Saja, and J.T.) paced up and down Captain Walker's empty pier. Under the stairs, the baldie whispered urgently into a pocket-sized communicator. Roz and Chris nodded at each other.


They'd knocked on the police box door, but there was no answer. They guessed that the Doctor and his friends had all boarded the submarine, and then left for.. wherever.

"Well," said J.T., "I'm going to get back to Glory and the others. Then I've got an English essay to write, and it's due tomorrow."

"But what about the Doctor?" said Saja.

"There's more to life than science fiction," J.T. said. "He's missing and he's mysterious, but he and the submarine will be back in their own good time, and we have other things to get on with."

Jimmy knelt down. "He's right, Saja. Callie will be back. We know that."

Saja still looked worried. "But Captain Walker likes to vanish for long periods of time, remember?"

"Callie wouldn't leave without saying goodbye," said J.T.

"Maybe she didn't have a choice," Saja insisted.

"Callie always has a choice," said Jimmy, and then he got on his bike and drove away.

"Gone. In a Jimmy-shaped cloud of dust," said J.T. "So I'm gonna take off too."

"Ah well," said Saja, when he was left alone. "An empty pier is like a Zen riddle. When is a dock not a dock? When it's a Doctor!"

The baldie climbed out from under the steps and hurried away. Unseen, Roz and Chris walked after him.