"How old was she?" My wife asked, smoothing her hand over my back as I drove.
"I'm not sure... ninety three I think. I only remember spending the one summer with her and my Grandfather when I was nine... never saw either of them again after that. Hell, never even spoke to her again after that," I said.
"That's terrible. Your folks never saw her or called her? No Christmas cards?"
"Not that I'm aware of... I never heard her name after that summer."
"I know. Personally I have no idea why anyone of us would have been mentioned in her will at all, let alone have to come all the way out here."
"I hope Scott and Lily don't turn this into a circus," she chided.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I think they will be okay."
"It's just that I remember what an ass they made out of themselves when your folks passed," she said softly without looking at me.
She was right they were bastards... greedy, competitive bastards to be exact. I had never been all that close to any of my family but I made a conscious effort to avoid my cousins Scott and Lily.
"What's the address on that mailbox? Does any of this look familiar?" she asked rolling the window down for a better look.
"I was nine. How would any of this look familiar?" I groused.
"Don't snap at me, I'm just the navigator," she returned sharply before rolling the window up once more.
"Sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Oh hell, look, there's Scott's car," she said dejected. "They're here already."
"Great, just great. Let's hope this won't take to long. I'm tired, I'm hungry and I just want to get this over," I complained, pulling into the driveway.
The house, a dull blue, was larger than most and covered with a thick layer of ivy that obscured the front door and most of the windows. The yard was in desperate need of a good mowing with rows of trampled paths from the cars parked at the curb leading toward the house. Had it not been for Scott smoking under the thick canopy out front, I think I would have driven on by unnoticed.
"Cuz, what's up?" he called as he approached the car.
"Oh God," I sighed, waving lightly.
"Be nice," My wife whispered quickly, opening her door.
"Still driving this old beater I see," Scott said loudly, pounding on the roof of the car.
"How have you been Scott?" I returned dully as I got out.
"Good Joey boy, good. Even better soon... I hear old Granny was sitting on a pretty good nest egg," Scott chortled.
I didn't know what to say, he had already irritated me.
"What makes you think she left you anything at all," I asked sharply.
"Dude. I'm here, that means she had something in mind for me. She sent me a buck every year on my birthday. Hell man, after I turned nine I spent a month here every summer until I went off to college. The old bitty loved me... who could blame her?"
"Who indeed?" my wife added. She took my hand pulling me quickly toward the house.
"See Joey boy, even your Mary's not immune to the Scott man," he said with a large smile, shimming his shoulders.
"So Lily made it as well?" I asked changing the subject before I punched him out.
"Oh yeah, she rode down with me, split the gas money, know what I mean? She's inside looking the furniture over. She thinks its some pretty good shit. Go ask her yourself, she's got a real eye for that kind of crap. She knows a guy who knows a guy so we can dump it pretty quick," he said through a puff of smoke.
"We'll find her," Mary countered quickly, pulling me all the harder to follow her.
"What a jackass," I whispered leaning into her.
"Grandma Campbell ever send you a birthday card?" She asked in a whisper.
"If she did, I never saw it and I was here only the one time," I said softly as we opened the front door.
The thought that Scott had been here every summer stuck with me. I didn't really care but I couldn't help but wonder why him and not me. I struggled to remember that summer, tried to remember if I had done something that would have cut me out of her life altogether.
I could not.
"Joey, Mary. Sorry sweeties, you're to late Scott and I have already divvied everything up," Lily said in mock badinage.
"How are you Lil?" I asked closing the door reluctantly.
"Oh, you know I'm just joking with you two, come here and give your cousin a hug," she said shrilly, throwing her arms around Mary, shaking her roughly.
"Nice to see you Lil," I offered letting her hug me as well.
"You guys should take a look around, it's all worthless really but there might be a little something that holds a memory or two."
"You have memories here?" I asked, surprised the question popped out of my mouth.
"Oh, you bet. She had me here every August. I was Grandma's favorite, the only girl in the family. I think I meant a good deal to the old dear."
I was taken a back by her comment. I was beginning to take it personal.
"Charlie," she yelled. "Just look at that. That's cousin Charlie and he's got his hands all over Grandma's silverware... I better go. Talk to you guys later," She said over her shoulder in our direction.
"Mr. Grant?" Someone said touching my shoulder from behind.
"Yes?" I said turning to face the man.
Never having seen him before this moment, he was well dressed and appeared to be in his late fifties.
"Your Grandmother wanted me to give you this," he said, handing me a folded piece of paper and then walked away.
"That was odd," my wife said tugging at the paper in my hand.
"I thought so myself," I answered, unfolding it to read it.
Written on the paper the words "As is our custom... STAND."
"What does it mean?" Mary asked taking the paper from me.
"Hell, if I know."
Sixteen or seventeen people now filled the room, making it difficult to find the man.
"Everyone... your attention please. We are ready to begin," the man who handed me the note said.
After a few moments everyone found a place to sit.
"Thank you. For those of you who don't know... I'm Matt Barsch, Mrs. Campbell's lawyer. Now, as many of you know Wendy Campbell was a woman accustomed to getting her way," he said lightly and was rewarded with a smattering of laughter. "Good then everyone understands. It was her wish that she tell you in her own words so... Edgar the lights please," he said.
"There is one thing I do remember," I whispered to my wife.
"Edgar. I remember Edgar," I said pointing at the man who was my grandmother’s manservant for as long as anyone could remember. If you saw her, standing in the back ground, you saw Edgar. He now appeared to be in his late sixties and just as unassuming as I remembered him. He stood five foot eight with a posture as straight as a rod, staring ahead as if seeing everything and nothing at the same time.
As the lights went out the room filled with the blue glow from a big screen television. Shortly the image of a wood table filled the screen. After a moment Grandma Campbell, sitting in a wheelchair, entered the picture. She looked weak, thin almost gaunt and my heart went out to her. Pushing the chair, just off camera was Edgar. He turned her to face the camera as she cleared her throat.
"I am Matt Barsch the attorney of record. Please state your name," he instructed as the camera panned to his face and then back.
For a moment it was if she hadn't heard him or didn't understand. Then, slowly, she placed her hands on the table pushing herself up, forcing herself to stand. Unsteady at first, she pulled herself to stand erect for what seemed like the first time in a long time. She slipped her hands behind her, pulled back her shoulders, lifted her chin and then she spoke...
"My name is Wendy Campbell... this is my desire. As is our custom..." she said with more force, more authority than I would have thought possible for a woman of her age.
At that instant three of the older men present jumped to their feet, standing at attention.
It took me a moment to understand their meaning and I followed their lead... standing as well. Slowly my wife did the same. No one seemed to notice or to care.
"I have instructed Mr. Barsch that my will is to remain as I have designed. If anyone wishes to contest it they will be written out and shall receive nothing. To insure this is done I will ask each of you to sign the necessary paperwork. You will do it now or you may leave empty handed. I will wait," Her image demanded stiffly.
At that moment Mr. Barsch paused the tape, freezing her image.
"Alright, now if it were not clear, let me take a moment here to make sure everyone understands. I've been instructed to inform you Mrs. Campbell's estate is presently worth a little over eleven million dollars. Everyone here is mentioned in her will. If you sign this piece of paper you get to stay and find out how much is yours... if you don't you can leave now," he said matter-of-factly without looking up as he shuffled the papers in his briefcase.
A quick rush of whispers ran through the attendees.
"Eleven million," my wife whispered, leaning into me.
"Mr. Edgar if you wouldn't mind," he said handing him the release form to pass around.
I have never seen so many people react so fast in my life, signing and returning the paper before the ink had a chance to dry... including my wife and me.
Mr. Barsch checked each piece of paper intently before restarting the tape.
Everyone held their breath for the next forty minutes as Grandma's millions were divided up in $500,000 increments. Most of it slid over my head without so much as a 'good for you'. I really didn't hear anything at all until Scott's name was called and my consciousness rose from the fog long enough to pay attention.
"To my Grandson Scott McNeil and his sister Lily I leave $1.2 million... each," Grandma's image said and the world went fuzzy.
I blanked out. I was unaware who else got what until she called my name... "Now, to my grandson, Joseph Grant, my most valuable possessions."
My heart pounded loudly in my ears. The room became a fuzzy image of its former self and I suddenly had tunnel vision, seeing nothing beyond the image of Grandma Campbell on the screen speaking to me.
Her image softened, she hesitated, running her hands lovingly over a small wooden box. It took a moment but she stiffened again raising her chin once more before continuing.
"As I said... to my Grandson Joseph Grant... I leave my three most precious possessions. The first... the silver dollar my Harry carried for good luck. Joey he always had it on him... you should do the same. Second... the jewelry box my father made for me when I was a child. It has held a life time of hope, of dreams and adventure. I hope it will do the same for you. And last.. the hardest to let go... I leave you Edgar," she said, her voice heavy with the desire to cry.
I didn't know what to say, what to do. I turned to my wife who had the exact same reaction. We looked to one another unsure of what we heard.
"Edgar," her image began again.
"Aye sir," he said as if believing she were still alive answering her call.
"Edgar you have been the rock for this family as long as I can remember. You made us who we are... kept us true to ourselves and I thank you with all my heart. I am grateful to have had you in my life. Now, that said, your service to me ends here and now. You belong to Joseph."
"Aye sir," he responded, looking straight ahead.
"You can't give away a person... can you?" my wife whispered to me.
"No," I returned. My mind raced, trying to figure out what had just happened.
The rest of the afternoon flew by in a blink of an eye with everyone congratulating each other on their new found good fortune.
My mind was filled with questions as well as disbelief.
"Joey boy, congrats on Grandpa's good luck piece," Scott tormented. "Not to mention your new butler."
Everyone within ear shot laughed and I could feel myself flush with anger.
"Is there a problem sir?" Edgar asked suddenly there.
"Your inheritance is asking you a question Joey boy. Help the poor fella out... get him a cane," Scott tormented, slapping me on the back with a cruel laugh.
"Sir?" Edgar said oblivious to Scott's mean spirited joke.
"It's nothing Edgar. Everything is fine," I returned patting his shoulder lightly.
"I believe this belongs to you now sir," he said holding out the wooden box from the video.
"Edgar," I began. I didn't know what to say. What was he going to do now with grandma having passed? Mary and I couldn't take him, where was he going to go? "Thank you Edgar." I said, taking the box from him.
"It’s very beautiful," my wife said running a gentle finger around its top before trying to open it.
"Sir," Edgar said sternly, quickly placing a hand on the box to prevent its being opened. "Perhaps it would be better if we retired to another room."
My wife and I were puzzled but followed him non-the-less passing through the kitchen to a small room beyond... a home office. The east wall was covered with a bookcase from floor to ceiling packed to overfull with books, newspapers and magazines. Along the opposite wall a couch filled the space nearly wall to wall. At its center a small wooden desk with a matching chair.
Mary and I stood by the desk as Edgar closed the door.
"Sir... if I may," he said taking the box to place it on the desk.
Seeing it clearly for the first time, the box was a deep, rich, red in color with thin streaks of black grain running through its surface. On the top, a small gold circle with four arms of silver radiating out like those of a compass.
"Edgar what is this all about?" I asked, feeling a little more than uneasy.
"Sir?" he asked innocently.
"Edgar, don't be coy," I admonished.
"If I may Sir. This will answer all your questions," he said removing grandfather's lucky charm from his pocket, handing it to me.
I rolled it over in my hand. At first I had thought it to be a coin but upon closer inspection it was fatter in its middle, more saucer shaped when viewed on edge. Gold in color with the image of a stylized bird at its center it appeared to be almost translucent, not quiet metal but diffidently not plastic.
"If you will sir," Edgar said pointing to the top of the box. I wasn't sure of his meaning at first but then it occurred to me. He wanted me to place the medallion at its center.
I set it in the gold ring. I stepped back expecting... I had no idea what.
Nothing it just sat there, balanced in its confines.
"If I may," Edgar said softly.
He moved to stand in front of the box and then...
"As is our custom," He said loudly, raising his hands as he spoke.
At that instant a blue light shot out of the medallion striking the ceiling.
I took a step back pushing Mary back with a protective arm.
The light warbled for a moment and then suddenly spread out enveloping the entire room. As it did so the surroundings disappeared and we were suddenly in a new environment. We now stood in the middle of a large metal room filled with the kind of damage seen only in a car crash. Lined against its walls was smoking equipment the likes of which I had never seen before in my life. Twisted metal hung everywhere. Hundreds of lights flashed insistently. In the background, a steady, painful hum and smoke filled the air.
I turned full circle trying to take it all in.
The sound of a metal door opening and then closing took the place of the hum followed quickly by footsteps and then the unthinkable... walking across the metal floor to stand in front of us was my grandmother... or at least a younger version of her.
She was dressed in a deep blue military uniform with bright gold buttons, both damaged beyond recognition. Her posture was erect, her manner commanding. She stood with her hands behind her back, feet apart, facing us.
"I am Captain Wendy Margaret Campbell. This ship... my ship... is the Genesis. There are... were... 100 such ships at its inception. Our mission was to gather the genetic material from as many species as possible from throughout the galaxy... for a preservation repository. These samples were to be used to reseed dyeing planets and to aid fledgling colonies. My people served with dignity and honor. I take full responsibility for its loss and the loss of its cargo," she said stiffly, staring unblinking, straight ahead.
"Edgar," I said turning to him.
He held a finger up as if to hold me in place for a moment.
"Bullshit," a voice suddenly interrupted from outside our view.
"Harry, stop it," she scolded lightly straightening her uniform quickly before assuming her former stance.
"It's not your fault and you know it. It's that ass hole Bishop. This is his fault. Put the blame were it belongs," the man's voice insisted.
"I can't do that. She's my ship. I'm responsible for her, for her crew, for her cargo," she said breaking her composure for the moment.
"Yeah, I know but it’s that bastard Bishop if he hadn't brought that thing on board we wouldn't be in this spot. Tell her I'm right Edgar," the voice demanded.
"Sir, he is right. If Mr. Bishop had not insisted," a younger version of Edgar argued walking into the scene, standing to the left of Grandma.
"See Wen, even Edgar agrees with me," the voice prodded before walking out to stand next to her as well.
To my surprise it was my grandfather... at least his younger, former self.
"That doesn't count. Edgar will always take your side," she returned. "Now come, both of you be serious for a minute," she countered taking her position again, lifting her chin.
"I am Captain Wendy Margaret Campbell. This ship... my ship... is the Genesis. There are... were... 100 such ships at its inception. Our mission was to gather the genetic material from as many species as possible from throughout the galaxy..."
"Who do you think will see this? There's no way the Consortium will send help... we're to far out, stuck on a quarantined planet, forbidden by the Consortium itself. We're damaged goods, my dear. They've written us off long before now," he said wrapping his arm around her shoulders.
"It doesn't matter. I still have to make a report," she insisted.
"Okay, then let's make it a good one. Edgar, tell her why Mr. Bishop needed to have his ass kicked," Grandfather prompted.
"Sir?" Edgar said turning to grandma again.
"If it will get it out of your collective system then go ahead," she said folding her arms in a huff.
"Aye sir," he said gleefully. "Mr. Anthony Bishop, graduate of..."
"Edgar, skip the resume, just remind her what a bastard he is," my grandfather groused.
"Aye sir. Although the consortium had tasked us with the retrieval of some of the rarest species in the know universe, Mr. Bishop had an agenda of his own and was willing to sell out you and everyone on board to accomplish his goal."
The image suddenly stopped, frozen in place.
"Edgar," I began. "You... My grand parents... were from another planet?"
"Aye sir, we are, and by extension so are you," he answered matter-of-factly.
I didn't know what to say or what to think... hell or what to believe.
"There's more sir," he said lightly, his hands held behind his back.
I was struggling to wrap my head around it all.
"Edgar," I said softly, trying to formulate a question.
"When was this?" I asked in an attempt to stall so I could think.
"1947, in this world's time. We were the Roswell crash sir. Our ship crashed despite the extraordinary efforts of Captain Campbell and the many brave soles on board," he returned.
"How many people?" Mary asked.
"Eighteen on board at launch," he returned turning slightly in her direction. "And myself."
"Edgar," I began.
"Aye sir," he answered, turning back to me.
"Why didn't you include yourself in that count?" I asked.
"I am a Tollen," he returned quickly.
"I'm sorry Edgar, I don't know what that means... what's a Tollen?"
"No one has ever asked me that before... we are everything and nothing."
"That didn't help as much as you might think," I said, patting his shoulder.
"I understand Sir. How should I put it? I am a companion, a confidant, an unwavering moral compass, a historian..." he suddenly stopped tilting his head as if trying to remember something.
"Edgar?" I asked, concerned something had just gone terribly wrong.
"I am a machine Sir, a Tollen. I was built specifically for your family more than 350 years ago, handed down from grand parent to grandchild. My Nano technology, all that makes me, me, is based upon your family DNA. I can be of no use to any other than a family member. I have proudly served 6 lifetimes with your progenitors. You are number 7 and then, if you like, your prodigy and then theirs after that and so on until I no longer function," he said.
I was stunned. I didn't know what to say. I looked to my wife, hoping for help of some kind.
"Sir... if I may," he continued, raising a hand to my face. Before I could protest or respond he touched me, spreading his fingers across my features.
Slowly, he removed it and then his appearance began to shift, to change, becoming a slightly younger version of me... to all outward appearances a younger brother I never had.
I stood transfixed trying to take it all in and then he snapped his fingers and became the older rendition once more.
"I am the perfect companion, male or female... guardian if you will... A mirror of your life and of each that has come before and each that is to follow," he said with pride.
My mind swirled, trying to take it all in.
"Edgar?" I began again.
"Aye Sir," he returned, briskly, lifting himself on his toes.
"What does all this mean?" I asked at last.
"It means you now possess what generations of your family has held in high regard for centuries... far more than money, jewels or notoriety and to some... more than life itself."
"And what is that?"
"Adventure sir! Unimaginable, breath taking adventure," he said gleefully and then smiled a very strange and beguiling smile.
At the instant I turned toward Mary our eyes met and we both burst into an uncontrollable laughter, falling into each others arms.
We spent the rest of the night watching Grandma and her crew in their hayday and by her side from begining to end, from young and brash to old and unyielding... Edgar.