Grange strides into the lounge, casually tossing a glossy black cube – not much bigger than a gambling die – in his right hand.

Kinako nods attentively. She is sitting at a booth along the side wall. General Jensen is across the table from her. They are speaking in relatively hushed tones, and the conversation appears to be on the ‘heavier’ side. An order arrives, two mugs of green tea. The presence of sugar, milk, and tea bags seems quite puzzling to her, but she rallies, turning the cups a few times and watching the liquid swirl within before carefully removing the bags and placing them on the saucer. The first cup she sets in front of the general, and then takes her own. “Ah, yes,” she says. “Such things have, throughout history, been… what is the word, an inspiration? Inspiring? A force such as this to encourage harmony, cooperation, and development.”

“Indeed. With luck, that is exactly what it will be. The allure of seeing new worlds, and perhaps even new beings. Who knows what is out there?” the general says. “That is news that even the most radical holdout governments can not suppress no matter how hard they try. And they /will/ try.”

Grange rests an elbow on the bar counter and continues bouncing the cube in his hand as he tells the barbot: “Custer’s Last Stand. No parsley.”

“Of course,” Kinako says, turning her mug of tea around again. “Withholding information, spreading incorrect information, these are tools of the disharmonious, likely since the dawn of communication. But as a single bamboo shoot in a tangle of poisonous weeds, the right words will spread. Curiosity is one of the bright powers of the human spirit, and should never be dampened.”

The barbot returns with a squat glass full of what looks like tomato juice mixed with (maybe) vodka and a twist of lemon. Grange pinches the cube between two fingers of his right hand while he uses the left to take a gulp from his drink. Then he sets the glass on the counter and holds the cube closer to his eye, musing: “What *are* you, then?”

Jensen takes his tea and takes a sup of it, his face showing his approval. “Damn right, pardon my French.” he says with a smirk. “It’ll happen one day. Humanity has never simply stood by and said it wasn’t possible. People used to say that man would never fly.. now we fly every day. Said we’d never break the speed of sound… Yeager put that one to rest. The light barrier is just one more obstacle waiting to be broken and left behind us in a pile of dust.”

“Oh, I do not speak French,” Kinako says, with absolute seriousness. “Of course. We have clearly not reached the, ah, boundary of our potential, not in substance nor in spirit. Failure is only the end if we do not learn from it.” She sits back, wrapping both hands around her own mug. There is just a fleeting moment between seconds where her attention is drawn to the light reflecting from Grange’s smooth-faced die, but she draws promptly back to the informal patient before her, offering an apologetic smile for the millisecond’s lapse in attention. “So this is a matter of great importance to you, not just the research itself but its potential in restoring some harmony to the population.”

“I suppose it *could* be a bomb,” Grange notes before pocketing the cube and taking another sip. To no one in particular, he says, “Maybe best not to keep tossing and squeezing it then, yes?”

“Indeed, I have a strong desire to break this barrier.” the general says, before one word Grange says catches his attention. ‘bomb’. His eyes narrow a bit, and his attention is now divided between Kinako and Grange…

Grange is at the bar, sipping some sort of red beverage. General Jensen and Kinako are sitting at a table together.

Kinako seems to have heard the ‘b’ word as well, and while her complete anti-poker-face is failing to stifle surprise and alarm, she composes herself as well as she can, taking another sip of tea and clearing her throat delicately. There is a long, quiet pause before she offers, with violin-string-taut politeness, “…do you think someone needs to, ah, see to that, sir?”

Grange finishes off his drink, then plucks a pair of mirrored sunglasses from the breast pocket of his flightsuit and puts them on. “*Another* Last Stand, please,” he says to the barbot. Then he tilts his head. “Which, I suppose, makes the first one a Next to Last Stand. Unless this one isn’t really the last. And it might not be. So…I’m just gonna call it a Custer.” The barbot is paying him no attention. It went to get his drink ready before his tangent.

Jensen slowly stands from his sitting position, his coat shifting a bit to reveal the slugthrower holstered at his belt. “Let’s find out.” he says as he strides over to where Grange is standing, casually leaning up against it. “So, do you always carry high explosives around with you, or only on special occasions?” he inquires, an eyebrow raised.

A tallish woman comes storming into the lounge, her thin lips set in a hard line, a wire-bound reporter-style notebook under her arm. She walks past Grange and drops angrily onto a barstool, leaving three between them. The notebook is slammed down on the bar, and her delicate fingers mash buttons on the nearest selection station.

Kinako cautiously sets down her tea, and then leans around the corner of the booth to observe whatever might be going on. She looks terribly uncertain of the entire situation, nibbling her bottom lip pensively and fixing the general with the doe-est of doe-eyed expressions.

Grange raises his eyebrows as he turns to regard the approaching Vanguard chief. He wrangles the cube back out of his pocket and holds it in the palm of his hand, showing it to Jensen. “I’m probably higher than it. Maybe more explosive too. I got no idea. Someone left it stuck to the wing of my test jet. The afternoon shift mechanic spied it. Removed it. I was gonna give it to that Harrison fella when he comes on shift. But, hey, if you want it, I’m glad to give it up.” He tosses the cube in an arc toward Jensen while picking up the fresh drink for a gulp.

Jensen snatches the cube out of mid air and glances down at it. “Hmmm. I’m sure the lab boys would be able to get something out of it, but I’ve never seen anything like it.” he says, tapping on his commlink. “Send Specialist Wilson to the Lounge ASAP.” he says into it, before looking back to Grange. “Sabotage or espionage, my money would be on either.”

Kristine grabs the glass of something vaguely mahogany-coloured the moment it’s full, lifting it to her lips and taking a small sip. She flips the notebook open and turns its pages harshly, crinkling each one more than is necessary. “You,” she hisses, pointing accusingly at a page with a pen she withdraws from behind her ear. She nudges her glasses further up the bridge of her nose with a knuckle. On hearing the word ‘explosive’, she cuts her eyes toward Grange, her grip tightening on the pen. Her gaze follows the path of the cube until Jensen catches it. “Sabotage?” she mutters, mostly to herself. Her forlorn notebook is momentarily forgotten as she focuses on this new development.

Kinako flinches away slightly when the cube is tossed, and seems quite ready to take cover until the cube is proven to be ‘not exploding at this time’. She takes a slow, deep breath and exhales, shaking her head and murmuring something under her breath.

“Yeah,” Grange replies. “Maybe. Maybe some of Downes’ pals.” He shrugs, takes another sip, then says, “I was thinking of re-attaching it, sitting in the hangar, and running the engines while playing this punk rock ‘La Traviata’ thing I found on the loudspeakers for about eight hours or so. Really jam their storage systems with garbage.”

Jensen chuckles. “That’d be one way to handle it.” he says, as a young Vanguard Specialist arrives and snaps a salute, to which the General returns. He hands the cube to the Specialist. “Take this to the lab and find out what makes it tick, and if it has any data on it, extract it and decode if necessary. Report to me when it’s done.” The Specialist snaps a salute. “Yes sir!” and then hustles back out of the lounge. “We’ll find out what it is, and if we’re lucky, whose it is.”

Kristine’s eyes narrow; the edge of her lip curls. She watches the Specialist enter, collect the cube, and leave. “Luck has nothing to do with it,” she says, loud enough to be heard by Grange and Jensen.

Kinako flinches again, this time at the mention of Downey’s name. She puts her hand over her mouth and shakes her head. The exiting Specialist is watched with a small measure of concern, and a larger measure of concern is expressed towards the General. “…is… is everything all right, sir?”

Grange jerks a thumb at Kristine. “She’s right, General. And I’d put my money on any tampering setting off another one of those nifty EMP burps like the one that took out Downes’ artificial heart. It might be even more useful to, y’know, talk to some of the jarheads who stand watch in the hangar. Talk to them and talk to everyone else who had anything to do with Downes. Someone had to stick the cube on my bird. I know it wasn’t me. Security cams might show if it was one of my grease monkeys. God, I hope not. They’re almost as good as I am.”

“Oh I intend to.” the general replies. “We’ll find out what it is, one way or the other.”

“If someone’s trying to sabotage my project,” snarls Kristine, “I want to know who the hell it is.”

Kinako puts both hands up to her face this time, not just covering her mouth, and sinks a bit lower in her seat with a beleaguered sigh as talk continues of the progressively more unfortunate Mr. Downes.

The pilot nods agreement with Kristine once more. “What she said. Anyway. I’ve got a poker game to crash. Y’all keep it frosty.” He strides toward the exit.

By Brody

1 thought on “Cube”
  1. *** Here’s what happened before and after the above scene! ***

    03:14 PM
    Apollo Lounge – Cape Canaveral 10 May 2550
    The Apollo Lounge serves as the watering hole for passengers, crews, and captains alike for all the vessels arriving and departing from Cape Canaveral. Designed as a tribute to the Apollo program that resulted in humankind leaving Earth and landing on another world for the first time it has a retro ambiance mixed with modern conveniences. Booths line the walls on either side while tables are set up in the open area in between. The booth chairs and the table chairs are designed to resemble the launch couches astronauts were strapped into during Apollo launches, while the tables are painted in the green color common on the interior surfaces of the command module. The walls share the same color scheme while the carpet is white with the Apollo program logo covering much of the center of the carpet. Each table is equipped with a keypad designed as a replica of the DSKY interface of the Apollo Guidance Computer with which patrons can place orders to be delivered to their table.

    The bar itself along the far wall is the centerpiece of the business. The barstools are similiarly designed like the chairs at the tables, along a bar with a retro-styled countertop design. Behind it, all the various drinks are delivered through a modern selection and delivery system, connected with hoses styled like the oxygen hoses of the Apollo spacesuits to several selection stations. A replica of the command module’s instrument panel is against the wall, complete with screens representing windows which run a looped replay of launch, travel to the moon, orbit, return, and splashdown of Apollo 11 from the perspective of the astronauts on board.


    Jensen is a regular fixture in this local watering hole, and true to form he has situated himself at the bar, a half drunk beer sitting next to him while he peruses a datapad. Every so often he glances up to the holoscreen as the local news rambles on.

    Kinako can be seen walking carefully by this watering hole, once, twice, one more time, attempting to very quietly speak into her phone. Whoever on the other line is not being so considerate. Finally, she pads inside, standing just to the side of the door, and says, “Wo hui dengdai. Qing buyiao zai meiguo ren.” (This is, for the multilingual, Chinese, and roughly translates to “I will wait. Please stop being so American.”) After a cleansing breath, she observes the watering hole for a while, sits down at an empty table, and sets the phone down. It prattles on for a moment or two, and then slows. The woman simply continues breathing deeply, says “Wo zai zheli. Wo hui dengdai. (I am here. I will wait)” There is a brief inquisitive noise, followed by a somewhat loud burst of “MY FRIEND IS A DOCTOR” in mildly accented English, before Kinako turns several shades of embarassed and turns the phone completely off. “…I am very, very sorry,” she says, to anyone within earshot.

    Jensen jerks his head up at the sound of shouting. “What the…” Jensen then scratches his chin a bit. “Doctor, eh.” Turning off his pad, he pockets it, drinks down his beer, and starts to make his way over to where Kinako has sat down.

    Kinako sinks somewhat lower in her seat, looking absolutely like she wants to disappear. “Gomen nesai. I am very sorry. It is…” she gestures, helplessly, at the phone. “My friend is, ah, being very outgoing? Is is nothing of importance, and I have ended the call. Please pardon my rudeness and continue your previous activity.”

    Jensen slides into a chair nearby. “Not to worry, not the first time someone’s upped the decibels in here.” he says, settling into the chair. “Though are you indeed a doctor?” he inquires.

    Kinako inclines her head in a small, seated bow. “Yes, sir, I am, but I assure you I do not think it is important enough to announce loudly. My friend is… younger. Er. I apologize, I am being inappropriate. My name is Kinako. Omoiyari Kinako. am very sorry for disrupting your, ah, meal? Drink.” She pauses now and again, between words, as though she is searching for the right ones, and smiles apologetically.

    “Oh, don’t worry about that. I was just finishing up anyway. Name’s Jensen, General William Jensen.” he says. “What would your medical specialty be?”

    Kinako clears her throat, and then bows again. “Thank you, General,” she says, very, very carefully. “Ahh… Physical medicine and… rehabilitation?” It seems as though she wants to spare a glance at her PDA for the right words but is afraid to turn it back on. “I believe those are the correct terms, my apologies. English is my third language.”

    Jensen raises an eyebrow. “Indeed. Planning to set up a practice here?”

    Kinako shakes her head. “Aah, no, no sir, I have come to, ah, see some parts of America with my boisterous friend? She is traveling from ah, elsewhere in Florida and has encountered traffic. So I will await her here for the time being. There is a gentleman somewhere, here, who wished to meet if I were ever in the area; however I have not been able to reach him.” She shrugs, smiling apologetically. “He seemed very busy when I met him. Perhaps he is just busy now. It is of no worry.”

    Jensen nods. “I see. Well, I figure he’ll show up eventually.” he says, shifting in his seat a bit. “But if you do end up putting down roots around here, give me a call. You just might have a future patient.” he says, an eyebrow raising a bit.

    Kinako tilts her head to the side, blinking in a mix of concern and puzzlement. “…are you not well? Is there a concern with local, er, doctors? Is it,” she struggles for some words, “Too much medication?”

    “Oh, nothing like that. Let’s just say it’s complicated.” the general replies.

    “It is somewhat odd, if you will pardon my saying so, General sir, that this place which seems to be, ah, very filled with science and technology is in need of,” Kinako says, and then smiles apologetically again, as though she is somehow ashamed, “Well, someone like me. You are the second person who has asked, now. There must be many complicated health problems here. Someone should perhaps analyze your water supplies?”

    Jensen chuckles. “Well, in my case I’d say best to analyze the stresses of war on the human body.” he says simply, and rather softly.

    Kinako frowns, then looks somewhat embarassed at herself for frowning, and then frowns again. There is no poker face here to speak of. “There is much regret in your statement,” she finally says. “Would you like some tea? I mean, I do not have any sort of authority to practice here but there are no, ah, statutes on talking.”

    “I’d love some.” the general replies. “And you’re right on that, no one ever sued for talking. That’s what freedom of speech is all about.”

    Kinako spends a reasonable amount of time looking at the table’s ordering interface, looking through the varied and colorful list of beverages with a cautious hand before finally finding -actual- tea, that is neither sweet tea nor twisted tea nor Long Island Iced. Green tea, hot, two. She sits back, watching the pad pensively before it confirms what she’s actually ordered. That finished, she turns her great gray doe eyes back to the general. “Yes, free speech is an admirable thing, that many have fought and even died for, yes?”

    “Too many…” the general says, his face betraying a bit of sadness before he recovers. “But their sacrifice was not in vain, for we have those freedoms today. In fact, most of the world does now, except for a few holdouts like Texas.”
    Kinako nods, complete with the thoughtful ‘mm-hmm’ that must be standard training for health care professionals everywhere. “The world, ah, it is on the large scale as it is on the small. Historically, countries, or parts of countries, suffer disharmony, and then there is war, and suffering. Peace only comes when all are tired and hurt, and the price becomes greater than the cause.”

    Jensen nods. “Very true. I can only hope that once we break the light barrier, the world will be ready for what awaits us. I am confident that it will, if the radicals in those few holdouts of this world lose their power when their people see what greatness awaits them as part of the whole.”


    Jensen looks back over to Kristine. “You’ll know when we know.” he says simply, then strides back over to Kinako, sliding back into the seat to finish his tea. “Welcome to America.” he says with a bit of a grin before taking a sip.

    Kristine snorts. “Now why doesn’t that make me feel any better?” She picks up her glass and takes a longer drink from it this time.

    Kinako swallows, looking acutely uncomfortable. She turns her tea mug around, once, twice, three times. “Was that… er, was that person you were speaking of… -Rodney- Downes?” The look in her doe eyes is that of someone who’s just accidentally dropped a box labeled ‘books’ that may now actually contain puppies.

    Jensen ignores Kristine’s jab, turning his attention to Kinako. “Yes… do you know him?”

    Kristine rolls her eyes at Jensen and goes back to staring death at whatever is scrawled in her notebook.

    Kinako sighs, and carefully reaches into her small purse to retrieve a business card. It does, indeed, belong to the unfortunate Mr. Downes. “That is the gentleman who wished to meet if I were ever in the area, with regards to his own, ah, complicated medical conditions? I do not know him well at all, and did not assume any danger with visiting his workplace.” She presses her lips together, brows knitting in distress. “I… well. I regret that he has since died, but it does not seem to be of a medically preventable cause?”

    “Apparently not.” the general says simply.

    Kristine’s focus is entirely on her notes. A bomb could indeed go off in her immediate vicinity and she might not notice. Once in a while she frowns or grunts or begins frantically writing. She sips at her drink from time to time.

    “Well,” Kinako finally says, looking more than a little green around the gills. “That is… unpleasant. I am afraid I do not have any, ah, tangible information. We spoke briefly at a technology ideas presentation, because my… boisterous friend was identifying me as a doctor to any American male she saw.” After a pause, she makes an apologetic expression. “Not that I do not appreciate the helpful spirit of my friend, but sometimes, ah, it is unwisely indiscriminate.”

    Jensen chuckles. “I know the perils of friends who don’t know when to keep their mouths shut.” he says, finishing his tea with a few last sips. “The investigation into his death is still ongoing, I’m afraid I can’t speak on it too much.”

    Eventually Kristine gathers her notebook and walks back out to the Promenade.

    “Ah, well, you can certainly have the business card he gave me, and, I can provide a copy of my travel itinerary that you can make any sort of investigation on, I will not be offended,” Kinako says, hastily pushing the colorful LED-enhanced card across the table. “But I am afraid I knew him only, ah, in passing, I believe the phrase is?”
    Jensen nods. “Indeed… the guy was co-founder of Spark, so he was well-travelled.” the general says. “Any information you can provide though would be very helpful.”

    Kinako readily turns over not only the business card, but her travel itinerary (which is made somewhat difficulty by the several text and voice messages, likely from the enthusiastic friend). “…apologies, I will just cancel these notifications… Here it is, and here is an email sent after the convention but it does not include any personal correspondence and is instead an article on the various tourist attractions of this area?”

    Jensen looks at his own pad as the data comes in. “Even small bits of info will help. Thank you.”
    After a few moments of contemplative silence, Kinako offers, plaintively, “Should I, ah… not… how does it go, leave town?”

    Jensen chuckles. “I doubt you’re involved, but I wouldn’t be in a rush to leave, there’s plenty to see and do here, might as well take the opportunity. I’ve got a few recommendations myself you might want to check out.”

    Kinako gives another one of those seated bows. “Of course, General sir. I will tell my friend that I have been delayed, and will rejoin her once any of my possible connections have been cleared to this facility’s satisfaction. I would not wish to contribute to any sort of disharmony on my first visit. My itinerary includes the contact information of the hotel, and the planned stay was two weeks. You will kindly let me know if you believe I would need to stay longer? I am between work assignments but my family would deserve to know if my return to Kyoto will be delayed.”

    “Certainly.” the general says, standing up and straightening his uniform. “Best be getting back to the office. It’s been a pleasure, Miss Kinako.”

    Kinako also stands up, and bows politely. “I thank you for your patience and kind treatment, General sir. I will remain local until further instruction.”

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