Mind the Gap
Wolf woke up. He didn’t recall falling asleep or being knocked out or getting drunk or even doing so much blow he blacked out and started a small business. He hoped it wasn’t that last one again. He was lying on a cold metal table with a blanket thrown over to approximate comfort. The blanket had Woodstock and Snoopy on it. He was positive neither he, Luna nor Holly owned a Woodstock and Snoopy blanket. Overhead was a plethora of devices and monitors blinking and beeping in some discordant chorus of monotony. He was hooked up to them via electrodes stuck to his chest and head. He was stripped to the waist and the top bits of his suit were hanging on the wall next to a big, clear, plastic bag full of his guns, knives and explosive sundries. The room was sleek, clean and shiny. He sat up and looked at the other beds in the room and they were empty, but by the dishevelment of their respective cartoon character blankets, he could tell they were recently occupied. He began to peel away the electrodes.
“Whoa there, cowboy,” a voice said, “Not so fast.”
A squat, red alien, like an anthropomorphic beet wearing a medical uniform, waddled over to him and put her little hands on his shoulders, encouraging him to lie back down. On her uniform was a GA logo.
“You’re a GA medic?” Wolf asked, knowing the answer.
“Yeppers,” she chirped, “Now lie back, we have to check you out.”
“What happened?” Wolf asked, refusing the doctor’s request.
“You survived a blast you shouldn’t have walked away from.”
“I've been in blasts before. Caused most of them. Where’s my wife and daughter?”
“They got a clean bill of health. They’re with Director Raphael.”
“No. Just the four of you.”
“There should have been a seraph female and a…,” Wolf paused and thought like he was fishing for a memory that was no longer there, “...no just the seraph. I think.”
“Nope, nobody else. Do you remember what you were doing before the blast?”
“No. I don’t even remember the blast.”
“That makes all four of you. None of you can remember.”
“Where’s my ship?”
“In the hangar.”
“Sounds like everything is in order,” Wolf clapped his hands together, “Time to go.”
“You have to see Director Raphael for a debriefing.”
“A debriefing for something no one can remember?”
“That’s what I was told to tell you as soon as I cleared you. And I’m clearing you.”
Wolf entered Ray’s office still assembling himself. Ray was leafing through paperwork. Luna was sitting with her arms folded, glowering with a series of electrodes attached to her head. Holly was fiddling with a device attached to the electrodes.
“What the hell are you doing to your mother?” Wolf said to Holly.
“None of us can remember anything,” Holly replied, “But it’s not amnesia. The memories were excised. Cleanly and precisely.”
“Sounds great. When can we go home?”
“I’m clearing you for takeoff now,” Ray said.
“We’re not fugitives anymore?”
“No, why would you be fugitives?”
“Because we got framed for the killing of…”
Azazel walked into Ray’s office and dropped a stack of stapled together papers on his desk. Wolf watched Azazel with his mouth agape and his eyes narrow. He glanced at Luna and she shook her head and shrugged. Holly continued fiddling with her tools.
“...no idea,” Wolf said, “Must be the concussion talking. Anyone heard from Lovelace?”
“Still at large as far as I know,” Ray said, “No one has seen hide nor hair of her for months.”
“Right,” Wolf nodded.
“Azazel,” Ray asked, leafing through Azazel’s file, “What do you need all these munitions for? Blowing up a galaxy?”
“Just a precaution,” Azazel replied.
“Against what? The entire universe?”
“I’ll take a look at this later and let you know.”
“Don’t take too long,” Azazel winked at Wolf as he left the office.
Wolf, Luna, and Holly walked together to the hangar bay.
“Do either of you remember Lovelace like just yesterday?” Wolf asked.
“Yes,” Luna answered, “Ray doesn’t, though.”
“Whoever wiped our memories only wanted us to remember certain things from the last few days,” Holly said.
“Well, they want us to remember Lovelace for some reason,” Wolf said, “And what about Azazel? Didn’t he blow himself up?”
“Something else only we seem to remember,” Luna said.
“I’m looking into it,” Holly said, “I’m trying to assemble a profile based on what everyone does and doesn’t remember. I’ll contact you guys as soon as I have something,” she turned to Luna as they approached the Starcrossed and gave her a hug, “Bye, mom. I’ll see you soon, okay.”
“You’ll visit your poor old mom, right?” Luna released a melancholy chuckle.
“Wait. What’s this?” Wolf said as Holly hugged him.
“I’m not coming,” Holly said, “Uncle Ray set me up with a new identity. I’m going to live on my own now.”
“Oh…okay,” he gave Luna a quizzical look.
“You don’t remember our discussion?” Luna asked Wolf.
“I guess they left me with the memory because they knew you'll do anything I tell you,” Luna gave Wolf a smug grin.
“Sure...okay,” he looked to Holly, “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to figure it out on my own,” Holly replied.
“Tell him your new identity,” Luna said.
“Alice,” Holly pointed to Luna, then pointed at Wolf, “Martin.”
“Clever. Ray is such a yuckster,” Wolf said.
“I came up with it.”
Nine months later
The Starcrossed drifted along in a debris field orbiting and yellow and brown planet. Wolf stared out the window picking his teeth. Luna sat next to him cleaning her pistol. She took a swig from a bottle of golden liquid and passed it to Wolf. He cleared the bottle in one gulp.
“That stuff is expensive,” Luna said.
“We got it for free,” Wolf replied.
“It wasn’t free, we got it for doing a job,”
“That’s basically free.”
Holly was sitting a table in a crowded, dive bar on the edge of a mining colony. She was sipping from a glass of water. She had since traded in her white lab outfit for a long gray coat over a black jumpsuit and brown leather gloves. A large, hulking humanoid stepped up to her table and looked down at her. He was flanked by two cackling, simian creatures.
“Get up,” he growled, “Your dancing with me.”
“You could ask first,” Holly said, sipping her water.
“Darling, you’re in the wrong bar if you expect to be asked first.”
As Holly glared up at him a tiny, biomechanical drone, shaped like a wasp alighted on the man’s neck. It jabbed him in the neck with its stinger. He swatted at the sudden pain.
“What the he…,” his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed on the table.
Holly brushed him onto the floor. His two hairy friends stared goggled eyed at him.
“What did you do to him?” one asked, “Is he going to be alright?”
“Depends on how long you let him lay there,” Holly said, “He’s being chemically lobotomized as we speak. So unless one of you plans on helping him wipe his own ass for the rest of life I suggest you stop gawking and get him some medical attention.”
The two lackeys looked at each other and shrugged. They went about their business leaving their friend on the floor. Holly felt a white talon rest on her shoulder.
“Jesus, Jones,” the talon’s owner said in a seraph’s voice, “You’re starting to sound like your father.”
Holly pulled a blade from her coat, grabbed the seraph by the talon and flipped her onto the table, pointing the dagger at her throat.
“And you’re starting to look like your mother,” the seraph smiled.
Holly sighed, flipped the blade around and put it back in her coat, “Lovelace,” she sat back down.
Lovelace got off the table and sat in the chair across from Holly, “Why are you looking for me, Jones?”
“Because a couple months ago something happened and I lost a few days worth of memory,” Holly said, “Except for you. Whatever happened you were there.”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Tell me,” Holly leaned toward Lovelace with a hard look.
“You see that guy on the floor?”
“What? You're gonna use your little bugs?”
Holly looked at her askance.
“Alice Martin and killer swarm. You've made quite a little rep for yourself in such a short time.”
“Underestimate you? You may have had your memory wiped, Jones but I think you still know better than to threaten me with technology. You know I can turn those things right back around on you without so much as blinking. It smells desperate. So you tell me, Holly. Why so desperate?”
“I’ve been getting strange readings approaching from outside the galaxy and approaching fast. Something in my head is telling me these things are related, but I don’t know how or if it’s a direct relation or just associative...” Holly went on breathless.
“Calm down,” Lovelace leaned forward, “I can’t tell you, because I can’t tell you. I have no idea what happened. My memory is as shredded as yours.”
Holly puffed and slumped back in her chair.
“Have you talked to your parents about this?” Lovelace asked, “As irritating as they are, they’re good at this type of thing.”
“I haven’t seen them in months.”
“Incoming transmission,” the Starcrossed computer chimed, “Encrypted channel.”
Wolf slapped the console and text started to flow over in space in hovering in front of him. Luna leaned over a squinted as she read.
“There she is,” Wolf said, “Still think Solda is a scumbag?”
“He’s selling out his own customers,” Luna replied, “If anything this reinforces my opinion.”
“Well, we got her. Strap in.”
Wolf’s fingers did a clumsy dance over across the buttons on the console and grabbed the stick. The Starcross tore off in a shower of multicolored streams of light.
Blick Solda folded up what looked like an ancient Earth flip phone and stuffed under some dirty rags under the bar. He pulled out two spotty shot glasses and poured out two sloppy shots of a thin, brown liquid. He walked them, dripping, over to Lovelace and Holly. He plunked one down in front of each of them.
“Ladies’ Night,” he grunted, “The pretty ones drink for free.”
“Charming,” Holly sighed, eyes rolled to the floor, “But I don’t drink.”
“Then you won’t mind,” Lovelace said, grabbing Holly’s shot and gulping it down. She threw her shot down soon after. She looked up at Solda, “If they’re free, keep them coming.”
Solda cracked open a gap-toothed grin, nodded and walked back to the bar. The front door swung open and smacked against the wall. Two escapees from the Carnival of Venice stepped in holding rifles to their shoulders.
“To save us time and you a lot of grief, if your name’s not Lovelace, hit the floor,” the plague doctor said through a modulated speaker, that gave his voice a discordant tone.
The owl, dressed for an assassin’s funeral, fired her gun at the ceiling. The patrons dove under their tables. Lovelace continued to chug shots. Holly was resting her head in her hand, looking the other way. She lolled her head to get a look at the intruding bounty hunters. Her eyes widened. Holly shot from her chair, “Da...Jones?...Wolf.”
The plague doctor pulled the straps on the side of his head and let his mask open, “What the hell are you doing here?”
The owl striped back her mask, “Hol...Alice. Is this the type of place you frequent now?”
“Oh with the names,” Lovelace said, standing, pushing off the table, “Wolf, Luna, and Holly. Happy family. Together again. Because of me? I’m tasting bile.”
“Dad, what are doing here?” Holly said.
Wolf walked toward Holly, slinging his rifle on his back and drawing a pistol, aimed at Lovelace’s head, “I asked first, but I think the answer is the same for both questions. Looking for her.”
“Put the gun away. I wanted you to find me,” Lovelace said.
“Bullshit, we caught you.”
“I’ve been watching you for months. Waiting to see if you showed any signs of having the same problem I have. Why are you three the only thing I remember those last few days before the blast or whatever it was that happened? There is a gaping hole in my memories and not just from the incident, but everywhere in my life. It’s like I know there’s something in those blank spaces that is very important to me, but it’s locked away and it’s driving me insane. When I caught wind you were looking for me I knew it was time.”
“Time for what? Your bounty getting collected?”
“I have no bounties. I have an inexplicably clean record. I made sure to keep it that way to make sure that when started tracking me, it wasn't for a bounty.”
“We’ve felt it too,” Luna said, “Not anywhere near the emotional level it seems to hit you, but our memories are definitely a man down.”
“When I came to I asked the nurse who else survived,” Wolf said, “I named off you three and Ray and I was ready to name one more off and could get past ‘and a’.”
“Speaking of Ray,” Lovelace began, “Does he remember me?”
“No. Only the three of us.”
Lovelace shook her head and furrowed her brow, “Doesn’t make sense.”
“That’s not the only part that bothers me,” Holly said, “I’ve been seeing some strange stuff coming from just outside the heliosphere. It gets stronger by the minute. I’ve been watching it for months.”
“What is it?” Luna asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve been able to image it across the EM spectrum, except for visible and infrared. So far, it’s formless, like a cloud. What really has me shook, is that before two days ago, it looked like it was on course to pass through the galaxy, but it stopped. It stopped outside the heliosphere and keeps getting larger and becoming more and more energetic. This might sound nuts, but it’s like it stopped to gather strength before moving in. Maybe it’s a single entity and it’s resting or swarm that’s waiting for the rear guard to catch up. It’s like it doesn’t want to come in until it’s...”
“Fully armed?” Wolf asked.
Holly nodded her head. Her eyes were drawn and dark.
“Why didn’t you talk to us, hon?” Luna said.
“She wanted to do it on her own,” Wolf said, “I get it. I’m proud of you. But, if you’re going to be working in this sort of trade, you need to make a habit of looking in the mirror every day. Because when you start looking like this,” he pointed around Holly’s face, “It’s time to call in backup.”
“There’s no shame in it,” Luna said, “The shame would be dying because you didn’t bring enough hands.”
Lovelace groaned from behind her hands, “Oh for fuck’s sake, you and your impersonations of domestic life, sh…,” Lovelace pulled her hand from her face. She had a look of pain.
“What?” Luna asked.
“I wanted to say ‘she was so right about you.’ But, I have no idea who ‘she’ is?”
“We can narrow the target down to half the population of the galaxy,” Wolf said.
“Do you remember what you about to tell the nurse about a fifth person?”
“Not really, no.”
“This is how it happens. You’re about to say something, refer to something, but you completely forgot what it was you were going to say it about. You only remember the words you going to say and they don’t make sense.”
“Unless you fill the gap in,” Holly said.
“I’ve noticed those, but I’ve let them pass,” Luna said, “I never made an effort to remember them. I just assumed it a symptom of my inevitable mental degeneration.”
“Ditto.” Wolf added, “We’ll take notes in the future.”
“Look for any kind of synchronicities too,” Holly said, “Even if they appear insignificant. We should start cataloging all of this.”
"There's also the matter of Azazel walking around alive and well. Last time I saw him he was blowing himself up. Seems like a decent lead."
“Agreed,” Luna said, “In the meantime, we’ll treat this like a job.”
“I’ll keep studying the anomaly,” Holly said.
“If Holly’s going to be doing nerd stuff, I’m going to go help mom and dad spy on Azazel,” Lovelace said.
“Nerd stuff? You’ve been spending to much time with…” Holly’s chuckle stopped and she looked at the others.
“Catalogue it,” Wolf said.
“You’re doing the nerd stuff.”