Hydra (Part One)
The stretch of sand before him was so vast that he momentarily lapsed into believing that he was soaring a glider over some Saharan landscape. It had the scalloped runnels that a desert wind could so masterfully design, it had the timelessness of a beduoin vista yet it had the shifting character of restless dunes permanently in the flux of creation and destruction. But this was no desert ahead of him, this was the floor of the greatest ocean yet discovered. This was the mantle of the sea world of Hydra. Above him was twenty kilometers of blue water - warm blue water that radiated with the same brilliance that the true Sahara skies had back on Earth. Hydra's sun dwarfed Earth's Sol by a factor of a hundred, the immensity of its nuclear reactions was able to pierce the waters of this oceanic world right down to its shell illuminating the depths with the same clarity as if it was gaseous like air instead of being an opaque liquid.
To see this barren topography before him, Sayedh Ellis could not conceptualize that this was still the jewel of the universe - the planet first captured in the lens of the Hubble telescope nearly a century before, the planet that had stirred the imagination of scientists and artists alike with its subtle and soft aqua shades and its golden saturnian rings that not only girdled the world's equator but also swung over both poles. It made the planet appear like a molecular model. It was named Hydra because the Hubble's spectographical analysis showed that it had an atmosphere composed entirely of pure H2O. In the ninety two years since that time, Hydra had become the topic of discussion for physicists who were perplexed on what forces would keep the polar rings so stable, what ....
The phone rang. Jasper frowned, her concentration was bodychecked from her stream of consciousness. She ran her hands through her tightly cropped black hair in frustration. Looking at the words on the paper - words from her own hand, words from her own mind, she was not satisfied. It was the first time she tried writing in years and she frankly was discouraged. It wasn't what she wanted to write, it wasn't even a close approximation. Science fiction especially the planetary discovery genre was no longer what interested her. Why was she writing it again?
The irritating ring of the telephone sounded a fourth time. "Honey, can you pick up that god damned phone?" she growled. She had set aside this time to get back into the creative side of her personality and all that she had done was recreate the same material that had burned her a decade before. Nobody had shown any interest in her quasi-scientific meanderings back then. Why should they now?
It was clear that her husband wasn't about to answer the phone. Jasper scrambled up from the bed where she always did her writing and grabbed at the car-shaped telephone. "Hello." she grunted, hoping that it would be somebody that she could quickly dismiss.
"Jasper Reid?" a timid, adolescent-like male voice shivered from the other end.
"Uh-huh", she was preparing herself for a sophomoric sales pitch from a weak-willed, fish-out-of- the-water juvenile on his first job. She was almost ready to say to him that she saw the want-ad for the job herself in today's Liberal.
"Jasper, my name is Sayedh Ellis. The company I work for, Hydra Enterprises, is a new telemarketing firm that is looking to compete in the..."
"Wait a second!" Jasper said with dismay. "You said that your name is Sayedh Ellis? Is your name spelled s-a-y-e-d-h?"
"Yes, it is." the nervous voice replied with a hint of being backed into the corner. "But my name and myself are of no importance. It is my company that I am trying to sell to you."
"Your company's name is Hydra?" This was all too unbelievable. Jasper looked about her bedroom/writing studio to see if there could be some prankish explanation to this peculiarity.
"Hydra Enterprises, have you heard of us? We are still quite new and it is rather surprising to come across someone familiar with our services."
"Listen, Mister, I know didley about your company." Jasper did not wish to continue talking to the phone salesman, she just wanted to know how the coincidence came about and she was not willing to ask a complete stranger to give a rationalization. The answer for her enigma would come from within herself and not from any Sayedh Ellis.
"No need to feel fretted about it, Ms. Reid. As I said we are new but I assure you that we will become an important part of your life in the future." the voice had gained some assurance and some composure.
"This is a bad time for me. Whatever you are trying to sell, I'm not interested. Good bye." she nestled the car-shaped phone back into its driveway.
'That was weird', she thought. She scooped up the pad of writing paper from the bed and reread the start of her new story. There were the names Sayedh Ellis and Hydra right there in her rather masculine handwrite. What had prompted her to choose those names? She knew of no one with the name Sayedh. In fact, up to a few minutes ago she didn't even know whether Sayedh was an actual name or not. It had an Arabic ring to it which she found rather poetic. To match that name with the Anglo Ellis was a nice juxtaposition to show the melding of the races in the future she was going to depict in her short story or book or whatever it was going to be. But to actually come across a Sayedh Ellis in the here and now and in nonfiction rather than fiction was all too strange to her.
Something unconscious had made her select that name. Who knows where you get your sources? What had clicked in her mind to make her pick Sayedh Ellis? And then there was Hydra as well. That is a more common word, Hydra. It would not be out of the ordinary to be exposed to something called Hydra. The man on the phone said that his company was new and was just beginning to market itself. Maybe she had come across one of Hydra Enterprises fliers recently and the name Sayedh Ellis was buried in it somewhere and it captured her preconscious filters and rested there until she brought it out in the open with her story.
That had to be it. Coincidence, yes, but easily explainable. Just one of life's quirks that give each day its own flavour, something to find humour in but something ultimately forgettable. There was no point dwelling on it any longer - it happened, it's over. Time to go on.
She looked at her new story again and contemplated continuing the writing process but as soon as she came across that name Sayedh, she knew that she would never re-establish the concentration that she needed to continue her exploration of the waterworld of Hydra. At least not tonight. It was time to leave the bedroom and see what had transpired in the real world while she was out creating her own imaginary one.
In the living room sat her husband, Tony, in front of the television set. The six o'clock news was still on but Tony was lost in the fliers of the newspaper. It was the same picture almost every night and she had grown tired of it and wanted to break free from the routine - maybe that was why she needed to write and to create a world that would give vicarious adventure to her life.
"Who was that on the phone?" Tony mumbled while straightening out his posture in the chair to give himself some semblance of appearing attentive.
"Some joker trying to sell something." Jasper answered in the same mumbling tone as her husband while she plopped herself down onto the couch.
"Trying to sell what?"
"I don't know! If you are so god damned interested in what people are trying to sell over the telephone why don't you god damned answer it once in a while! You knew that I was writing!"
Tony now became more animate. His fine delicate features that had grown obscure with age and weight were beginning to pronounce themselves as he stiffened for a possible confrontation. "Jas, I was ..."
"You were what?" Jasper heard her own voice grow menacing. What was she doing? She wasn't in the mood for a fight. "Oh, never mind." she said, effectively shunting off any buildup of hormones.
"I was," Tony began.
"I said forget about it. Have you ever heard of a company called Hydra Enterprises?" she didn't really expect that he had. Tony was a man more interested in bargains at the grocery store than bargains in the stock market. As a barber why should he keep himself abreast of emerging technologies and possible avenues to expend venture capital?
"Hydra Enterprises, isn't that a coincidence?" Tony chuckled, "I've got their flier in my hand right now."
A small chill snaked along Jasper's spine. "Can I see it?"
"I don't think you would be interested. They seem to be in the submarine business."
"Submarines?" the chill decided to race itself a few laps up and down her back. "Let me see!" she snatched the small one page from Tony's hands. The flier was shaped like the Yellow Submarine of Beatles fame.
"I don't see why you would be interested in a joint selling submarine sandwiches. I thought that you had sworn off all breads until you lost twenty pounds." Tony reached down into the pile of newsprint at the side of his lazyboy and opted for some other propaganda shoved out by local enterprises.
It was a flier for a new sandwich deli downtown. The deli was named "The Red October" after the novel and the film. It was under the management of a conglomerate calling themselves Hydra Enterprises. Outside of that tidbit of information and the announcement of The Red October's opening specials and everyday low, low prices, there was nothing in the flier that said Sayedh Ellis. How had she known that Sayedh and Hydra were connected? How did she even know about Hydra for the pamphlet was entirely new to her cognizance?
And then it occured to her that Sayedh Ellis had known about her? What submarine shop would use telemarketing as a technique to get new customers? And he had asked her directly by name? This was beginning to boggle her mind.
"Are you okay, Jas?" Tony asked from the comfort of his easychair.
"I think I'm getting a headache." she crumpled up the flier in her hand and tossed it into Tony's private stock of pamphlets.
After driving Tony to his barbershop the next morning (Tony didn't drive, he lost his license years ago and never bothered getting it reinstated), Jasper decided to take it upon herself to do some investigating into her coincidence from the night before. She drove into the downtown core to have a firsthand look at The Red October. It took her a few minutes to locate it. It was in the old railway diner that had been in town since the 1930's. The diner had been modified to look like the cartoon submarine made famous by the Beatles. Predictably, it was red and not yellow. There was a parking slot open in front of the submarine shop and Jasper scooped it much to the chagrin of an another motor vehicle that thought it had dibs on the spot.
As Jasper stepped out of her foreign-made automobile, she was deluged with sharp and angry words from the driver of the other vehicle. She gave him a finger and went up the concrete ramp that led to the restaurant's door. There were no lights on inside, it wasn't open. She didn't expect it to be open, it wasn't even nine o'clock in the morning yet. Who would be able to gorge a sub or hoagey at this ungodly hour?
There was nothing exceptional about the interior decor. It was your typical submarine joint with a long counter and several booths lining up along the wall. Behind the counter was the usual cooler that kept the cole slaw and the cold meats protected from the warm air, and had half-pints of milk and juices on the bottom row. In a way, Jasper thought that the proprietors of The Red October had destroyed the quaint americana feel of the diner, replacing it with its fast food and rapid serve, slam the ham and get the hell out of here restaurantship. She sensed that this place would not have a very long life cycle. It offered nothing unique that would draw in the customers in droves. It was just run of the mill. The town already had a handful of these submarine places. Its prices were on the pricey side, no real bargain here. People would stay away and eventually the owners would realize that The Red October was a sinking ship and they would bail out. After that a few other culinary incarnations would arise on this spot, all meeting with the same fate. Then someone would come up with the idea of refurbishing it to its original diner heritage - an old fashioned place with good, honest homemade food - and then the people would come.
She tried to espy any indication on the permits on the wall of either Hydra Enterprises or Sayedh Ellis but the writing was on the small side and her eyesight had been slipping.
"We don't open until ten, lady." a voice said behind her at the same time that she felt a tap on her shoulder.
Jasper turned around and saw a squarish man with swarthy, mediterrenean features standing behind her. She recognized him immediately as that rude man behind the wheel of that other car.
"I wasn't interested in buying anything." she replied, noting the man's black eyes were not exactly lined up. One was off to the left by a measurable degree.
"Then I must ask you to leave," the man said in a husky voice while he bodily pushed her aside to get at the door. The keys were already in his thick, stumpish fingers.
She never liked being treated like a vagrant and she could feel her back stiffen. "I'm not going to go until you answer me a few questions."
"You're not from the Board of Health, are you?" the man had lost some of his bravado.
"What if I was? Have you got something to hide?"
The man didn't like the flippant remark. "Get out of here lady before I call the cops." The door to The Red October was now open.
"Alright, take it easy, mister." She could never tolerate these proud and brash middle-aged Europeans. They are all so filled with their own brand of righteousness that a prize winning hog at the state fair couldn't be as pigheaded as they were. "All I want to know is does a Sayedh Ellis work here?"
"Never heard of him," the man shut the door into her face and walked off into a backroom of the diner.
"I hope you slip and fall in your own grease, you slime ball!" Jasper shouted at him and then she left. What a waste of time this has been, she thought as she drove home. She would never be psychically connected with such unimaginative scum as The Red October and Sayedh Ellis. She had just come across their pamphlet and saw the names without being aware of it, that's all. Nothing mysterious here.
At home, she had quickly finished the jobs that needed to be done and she found that she did not have the desire to do any of those other not so urgent chores. It was only one o'clock. Tony didn't need to be picked up until six - that left her five hours to do what? Watch television? She wasn't the soap opera type nor was she a talkshow vixen.
She debated about writing and decided that she would do so. She went to the bedroom and got out her pad of paper. The pages of her seaworld story sat staring her in the face. Would she continue it? She had not cared much for it and outside of the freaky coincidence, it probably would have already been thrown into the garbage. No, she wouldn't continue that one. She would start a brand new tale but what was she going to write about? She never knew, she always just wrote and let the story tell itself.
Getting herself as comfortable as possible, she selected her favourite writing pen and with the pad of paper on her knee, she began.
A city is always known best by the people who give it character. This was always true back in the good old United States of America but this wasn't the good old U.S.A. This wasn't even Earth. This was Calypso. This was a whole other place.
Striker McMurtry sat at the bar and watched the people flow in like flamingoes to a favourite watering hole. There were a whole lot of characters here. In the three short years since Striker made the migration from his hometown Muskogee, Michigan to this planet five hundred light years away, he had never met so many people. Calypso was a frontier town much like any from the historic Old West and like a Dodge City it had attracted its share of marginal men who would have been pariahs back on Earth but out here were the social elite.
Some might have considered Striker to be one of these get rich quick artists but the former Detroit cop never saw himself in that light. He had won the trip in a contest sponsored by a submarine sandwich joint back on Earth and once he arrived in orbit around the planet called Spyromatucolous and saw its swirling ionospheric jetstreams, he fell in love with the place and understood why the locals called this world Spinner. Its day lasted a little more than seven hours. It had a dizzying clip. There was small wonder that most of the citizenry of Spinner were somewhat lightheaded. His shuttle had deposited him in the capital of the northern continent of Syromatucolous, the frontier town of Calypso and Striker McMurtry knew that at long last he had found home.
Spinner was a planet just begging for a little law and order. It appealed to all of Striker's policeman instincts. He ....
Jasper put down her notepad. She had a burning desire to pee and could not concentrate on why her new planet of Spinner would appeal to her protagonist's policeman instincts. As she entered the washroom and saw her chunky fortyish image in the vanity mirror, she began to wonder why a grown woman would want to mix herself up in a fantasy about a western town on a swirling planet. She should be indulging herself in more serious, cerebral ventures. A novel about Spinner was hardly the material the Pulitzer Prize judges would consider, it was hardly the material any editor would even consider for publication.
She did not return to her bedroom. She would forever leave Striker McMurtry at that bar in Calypso and let him stew for eternity about the interesting characters of that town.
Before Jasper knew it, it was quarter to six and time to pick up Tony from his barbershop. As she waited for him outside of his plaza shop, she saw that Tony was clipping away at the hair of that very man she had met this morning at The Red October. 'How strange it is the way new people enter into the spheres of our lives', she thought. Had this been yesterday, she would probably have not taken note of the man, he was a background person, a part of the masses, not one to take a leading character role in her life. But today is different, the submarine store proprietor was given a speaking part in the morning and it seems that it would be more than just a single line.
Five minutes passed before Tony had taken the cover from the man and showed him the backside of his head in the mirror. The two of them were laughing as if they were sharing a joke. They settled up their cash differences and then the man left. As he stepped out of the barbershop, Jasper instinctively ducked so to avoid being recognized. Through the rearview mirror, she watched the man climb into his car at the backside of the parking lot. Licence plates had always caught her attention and as her eyes drifted down to the man's plates, she involuntarily gasped. He had personalized plates - plates that announce to the world in a few, short characters what you stand for. This man had chosen "Spinner" as his vehicular identity.
This was getting a little too extraordinary for Jasper and she thought given her science fiction bias that nothing could be too out of the range of her acceptance. This was! But, then again, she realized that she had seen the man's car in the morning and given her proclavity to look at the plates, this was the explanation of the genesis of the appellation 'Spinner' in her story this afternoon. She had felt a need to call the planet Spinner and it was this need that made her create the swirling atmosphere and the extremely short days for the planet. It's amazing where one gets inspiration.
Tony came to the car a few moments later. She had composed herself by then. "Sorry, Jas, about making you wait. I got that customer just five minutes before I was to close. He's been a good customer the last couple of years. I couldn't turn him away."
"He looks familiar," Jasper said. "But I just can't place him," she lied.
"That's Ray!" Tony said. "You must remember him from the banquet last year."
"Ray?" Jasper didn't recognize the name.
"You might have remembered him as Striker, Striker McMurtry. He was, or I should say is, a great bowler. He bowled for the Calypso Dance Studio team last year. This year he plays for the police team. Are we going to get going or are we going to sit here in the parking lot all night like a couple of teenagers?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Jasper started the car and pulled out onto the road. This was far too incredible, far too unbelievable. She couldn't say a word and could only drive.
"Yeah, Ray was on a state championship team back when he lived in Michigan." Tony started yakking while his eyes fixated on the traffic conditions ahead of them. For a person who did not have a driver's license, he showed a deep, deep interest in how other people were wielding theirs. "We tried to talk Ray into joining our team this year but he is an ex-cop from Detroit and all and he wanted to be with his own kind."
'Stop with the coincidences!' Jasper wanted to scream but there was not any lubrication that could get her throat in gear. She just sat silent and drove like an automaton through the familiar streets of her little town.
"Speaking of coincidences," Tony continued, "Remember yesterday when you were asking me about Hydra Enterprises and I was holding their flier in my hand? Well, you wouldn't believe this! Ray is the manager of their new submarine store, The Red October! Weird, wouldn't you say? We were just talking about it yesterday and voila, in walks the manager from the store. I was going to tell Ray about it but I couldn't get a word in edgewise, Ray likes to talk too much! A real joker, that one."
That wasn't the impression Jasper had. He was an old sourpuss. But why had he and his whole Hydra organization stepped so dramatically upon the stage of her life? Nothing ever came so apocalyptically in to her existence. And Tony wants to talk about coincidences, what if he were to learn that she had unconsciously predicted the names of all these characters and organizations? Why wasn't she telling her husband this? Tony is not the average levelheaded fellow, he is able to accept the preposterous with a grain of salt. He wouldn't readily dismiss it as mere flukes of nature. He would say that there was some cosmic connection. She was the one with the common sense in the marriage, she was the one that needed the viable explanation, the scientific reasoning, and the most plausible solution. Hocus pocus E.S.P. parapsychological dogma never sat well with her. She didn't believe in ghosts, U.F.O.'s, Bigfoots, Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, yetis, the afterlife, nor God. Everything at its root is explainable. Maybe it was with Tony too, but the answers he would accept would not be the ones that she would even entertain. She decided to keep it a secret from him until she could finally establish what was causing these freakish incidents.
"You didn't hear a word I just said, did you?" Tony complained.
"Sorry, darling, I was just thinking about something," Jasper murmurred as she pulled the car into their driveway.
"I said that I was thinking of inviting Ray and his wife to dinner on Sunday. He's a real card, you would really enjoy his company. Jas, what's that on the door?" Tony's stubby finger was pointing at a piece of paper slipped through the screendoor handle.
"I don't know, it wasn't there when I left. Probably just another flier," she grumbled. "I don't know if it's a good idea to have Ray and his wife over this Sunday. We are running low on groceries and I wouldn't know what to make."
"Then we buy some and you make a roast of beef, everybody on this planet likes a roast of beef. We never have company over any more, you are always making excuses why it is a bad idea. Jas, I'm getting a little tired of it, I wouldn't mind seeing another face besides yours under my roof."
"My face not good enough for you any more?" Jasper sensed that a marital dispute was in the offing. She didn't have the heart to partake and she wanted to get out of the confrontation. She opened the car door and got out and headed to the house.
"No, I'm serious Jasper. Our lives have become one big drawn out present tense. There's nothing exciting on the horizon. Tomorrow is going to be just like today, next year is going to be just like this year. Sometimes I'm so bored that I think that I will hold my shit in and that way at least I'll get some irregularity." Tony stood at the side of the car and continued his bellyaching. "What's wrong with having Striker over? He's a million laughs, I guarantee you. What's that paper say?" Tony saw his wife reading the note that had been at the doorway.
Jasper wasn't about to tell him. She was thrown off kilter by the note. It read, "Ms. Reid, please call me as soon as you can. It is very important." It was signed Sayedh Ellis. A phone number was scrawled after his name. What would he want? Characters from your pages were not supposed to come visiting when you were not home. They should only exist when your pen is matched with your mind on top of paper.
"Jas, what does the note say?" Tony was trotting up toward her to get a look see at the message.
She crumpled it up in her hands and said, "It's just junk mail from Zac's Pizzeria." There were several pizzerias in their town and both she and Tony had sampled from them all and were in complete agreement that Zac's made the worst pizza in town.
The lie worked for Tony was back into talking her into having the McMurtrys over for dinner. She never said yes but her no was weakening and Tony like a hunting hyena sensed this and kept working on her until after supper, she finally relented. Yes, Striker McMurtry would be invited to her house. Why not, another fictional character of hers had already come to their home.
For a man who only moments before had complained that there was too much routine in his life, Tony quickly fell back into his tried and proven means of conducting leisure time activities. He got in front of the television and turned Wheel of Fortune on and grabbed himself the newspaper and was soon lost in the day's new pamphlets.
Jasper finished off the dishes and although she didn't want to sit and watch the mindless spinning of the wheel, she preferred it to the idea of creating the next visitor in her life. She sat on the sofa and started thinking about Sayedh Ellis and Striker McMurtry, about Hydra Enterprises and Spinner. A readily acceptable explanation was at hand especially with Striker. Tony had said that she had met him last year and if she did, his impression had sat latently in her mind until it found expression in a cowboy science fiction story of hers. She must have heard all that material - Calypso Dance Studios, Spinner, and Detroit policemen from him. It was a very rational explanation even though it did not sit well with her. Something deeper was at hand, but what?
And what about Hydra Enterprises and Sayedh Ellis? Granted, she might have seen the name Hydra Enterprises before but Sayedh Ellis? She had to have seen that name before but for the life of her, she couldn't remember.
With just a few minutes left in the game, Pat Sajak gave the wheel a final spin. Consonants were worth two hundred dollars and vowels were worth nothing. The answer to the title the gameshow was looking for was clearly "The Hunt For Red October". Jasper saw it immediately, "You have got to be kidding!" she said aloud.
"What?" Tony said listlessly from behind his newspaper. He had not been paying attention.
"Look at the answer to that puzzle! The Red October! These coincidences are getting a bit too bizarre for me!" She took a pillow from the sofa and covered her face. What was going on? It was like her universe was all collapsing back to the primordial cosmic soup - everything was heading into a fulcrum.
"Are you okay Jas?" Tony asked.
"I don't know," she replied and for the first time since all these peculiar incidents starting occuring, she felt that she might start to cry.
Had this been five or six years earlier in their marriage, Tony might have gone across the room to hug and console her and tell her there was nothing to be worried about. But they were past that part of their relationship, now he just looked at her with that 'she's losing her marbles' glint in his eyes.
"Why would these coincidences upset you? You should consider yourself lucky that for once you can see that your world isn't all readily explainable. There has to be something in life that is mystical. If there isn't, that life might not be worth living." Tony vented his view that superstitions were valid and should be regarded as a means to give a headnod to the divine elements of the cosmos.
Had he known to what degree these coincidences were a part of his wife's life, he would have immediately contacted his pastor to determine where on the good/evil continuum these incidents fell. He would not have looked upon them with the nonchalant indifference he regarded them with now. Jasper didn't want to have others delve in her mystical crisis, she preferred to resolve it on her own. Tony was the last person she wanted to have as a psychic mediator.
Alex Trebek and his Jeopardy boards were on the airwaves next. Jasper felt herself relax for if ever there was a gameshow that catered to common sense it was Jeopardy. The answers and questions showed that a wide range of phenomena and categories could be intellectually resolved and that ultimately the universe was knowable. She decided that Pat Sajak and Vanna White had only accidentally stumbled on her paradox and that there was no way on this delineated Earth that that answer to the puzzle had been chosen just to bewilder her. The one thing that you learn in a knowable cosmos is that you are not at the centre of it - if you did think that, you might be harbouring delusions of grandeur and oppression, in other words you were catering to the paranoid elements of your personality.
Even as she rationalized these things out in her mind, she kept a keen eye on the categories of Single Jeopardy. She almost sighed with relief when she saw that nothing could be remotely linked to anything that she had written in the last two days. Good old Jeopardy! It was the answer to the question "What is peace of mind?"
While Alex was interviewing the contestants to learn in a line or two how their entire existence could be synopsized, there was a knock at the front door. Jasper felt her stomach swirl. What if it was Sayedh Ellis or someone else that she had concocted? "You get the door Tony. I have to go to the washroom." Before he could vaunt his disagreement, she had locked herself into the toilet and covered her ears with her hands. She didn't want to hear anything. She wanted no sensory recognition of what she feared.