The Amazing Adventures
of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Letter to the Aurora Universe Writers' Group
What a lousy
gig last Saturday. Cohen House, the faculty lounge at Rice University, a wedding
reception for the undead. They didn't drink and wouldn't dance,
slumped insensately in their chairs staring at some morose spot in space. I
think the bride and groom committed ritual suicide after cutting the cake, but nobody
seemed to care. We played harder and harder, but they weren't listening. There
is nothing worse for a performer. I felt drained and defeated, and slunk
miserably into the welcome darkness when at last the unmerry crowd returned from
whence they came.
So I was in pissy mood when finally
ensconced in my usual booth at Denny's along about fourish in the deadest calm
of the still premorning. The waitresses know what to order for me as soon as my
van pulls into the nearly empty parking lot, making even small conversation
unnecessary. They know the customary physical pain I feel after a Saturday gig.
My feet scream nearly audibly, and sweat mingles with soreness the length of my
body. The adrenaline bill has come due.
I sit in the back. There is no
compensating glow on this morning from the satisfaction I usually get from owning
a crowd of people for a few hours. I feel myself drooping inexorably into some
kind of half swoon, vision tunneling, background noises fading to black. I'm in the
center of a speading pool of stillness, content to merely exist without thought
or movement until I accidentally discover a steaming plate of food under my nose. A
Scram Slam: eggs, tomatoes, cheese and mushrooms piled up beside dark,
crispy hash-browned potatoes, with bacon and sausage. English muffin on the
side. And iced tea. I decide to live after all.
I notice without at first comprehending
that I am not alone. She's sitting on the other side of the booth, eyeing
my plate as if wondering if I'm going to eat all of that. I gesture an offer for
her to help herself, but she only shrugs. Of course. She can't eat real food. So I
add a plate of imaginary waffles to the table. Her favorite.
I compliment her on the substantiality her
manifestation. She laughs and says I should be this delirious more often. Well,
I respond, I've been thinking of you a lot. Thinking, she says, but not writing.
It'll come, I protest. She gives me a look. Well, what am I to do? I have a life in
the real world. Yeah, and it's killing me. No! I swear, there's so much I have
to do. She replied, I know your excuses — if you really believed them, would I be
You're right, I thought after a while.
It's not really my schedule. I can make the time if I want. I've
probably written more e-mail lately than the equivalent of a dozen chapters. I'm
just lost. I know where I want to go, but I don't know how to get there. She smiled
tolerantly and told me, that's why I'm here, obviously. Thanks, I reply.
I've called a meeting, she says. Here?
Tonight? Right now, she replies, see? I turn to see the others arriving.
Jimmie, sliding into the booth next to her, Mrs. J wedging her bulk next to me,
Dinah and Alex pulling up chairs. Adjoining booths fill up with Russians and Cubans,
Elgie's band a pushes a couple of tables together to sit with the
Generals, tuxedos mixing incongruously with shorts, sweats and sneakers. An old
redneck cement trucker waves from his stool at the counter. Grungy Urban Animals
saunter in, boards tucked under their arms, and sit on the floor. Good Lord,
I think. Good thing nobody else here can see them, though I notice the waitress
looking at me very funny. Shaking my head and pouring the rest of my tea down my
throat does not disperse the crowd. I get a refill, trying my best to ignore the
cast of characters, who try their best to make me look completely certifiable. The
waitress retreats, shaking her head.
Since you're all here, maybe you can help
me out. They try their best, but it quickly devolves into a cacophony of arguments over reasons why each one of them think the story should move in
their direction. Wait a minute, I say. It's about her, you know, looking across the
table. I can't use everyone all the time. Bullshit, Mack says, picking up
his roundball. I'm outta here, man. Looks like us folks still don't get no
respect at Denny's. They leave with the band. Some of the Russians stand up
uncertainly. I'm not in a mood to be nice. The mob thins out. Maybe I'm returning to
the land of the sane.
She says, we've left somebody out. Oh,
yeah. There's Ken Clarke and Louise Layne, but they're still a ways
off. And the NASA boys, and… No, she says, pointing at the door. Bruce
Wayans and his odious sidekick, Robbins, make their way back to us. I want to hide. Crap, I
say, no matter what I do, I don't like these guys. Congratulations, she beams,
that's what they're for. I know, gotta have heavies. But they're no match for you.
They're not believable. They basically just suck. I should go back and edit them
Wayans, in his oiliest manner, says he has
a proposition for me. I know where you're trying to go with your story. I
can help, he says. How, I ask suspiciously. You quoted Arthur C. Clarke once
(Yeah, interjected Robbins, attributing it to Theodore Sturgeon. I glared at him.),
to paraphrase, "A technology that is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic." OK, that's what the
created her are into. We got into that a little bit at the end of Part 1, but it
doesn't really kick in until NASA gets their hands on her.
You just didn't go far enough, he went on.
I'm taking advice from an imaginary bogyman? He smiled confidently. An entity,
he said, that is sufficiently advanced — he paused theatrically, making me smile a
bit — is indistinguishable from god.
Whoa. Alright, that's where a lot of these
AU stories are headed, even if they don't want to confront it.
Goddesses, angels, past and future. A lot of the attributes, and with the
unfortunate propensity of much of the human race to follow blindly, it seems a
natural destination. But she is still a physical, created being, not some spiritual
essence. Except for tonight, she reminded me.
Oh, but there's so much more here, Wayans
went on. Made from the impossibly dense material from the surface of a
neutron star, her enormous and intricately complex gravitationally compensated
mass gives her unimaginably vast computational capacity married to global
communication, the ability to subconsciously create hordes of virtual agents to
multitask problems in the background, limitless power and mobility, profound
invulnerability of body and spirit… She has arrived at the precise moment of human
history when we are just beginning to be profoundly interconnected, yet
before we have irretrievably cast our seed into the greater cosmos. Her visage
does not inspire fear or apprehension, her deeds will inspire love and reverence. She
will end war. She will mitigate disasters. She will terraform the unusable parts
of Terra itself. She will make the trains run on time. Anyone with any access to
any kind of electronic communication can, essentially, pray to her. Their message
will be heard, at some level. If worthy, she might intervene.
We have heard voices of those who imagine
a future in which it's possible for the memories and attributes of a
person, perhaps something that could be called a soul, could be uploaded to some
kind of mass storage device. A form of continuance of personal consciousness that may
never end, existing in a virtual Paradise — or Hell — made to order and
subject to whim. If such a thing is possible at all, it will be possible for her.
At what price? Is this the Final Exam for
our species as we near that point in time when we must take our place among the
starfaring civilizations of our Galaxy? That we must choose to accept the benign
ministrations of a perfect instrumentality, or pursue the hard course in fulfillment
of the destiny of our race? The Cryptoaliens provide no clue. She is here devoid
of answers. We are contaminated by their advanced civilization only to the extent
that we choose to accept the consequences of this mighty gift.
Quite a speech, I admitted, impressed. I
don't know if I am up to serving such a vision. You aren't, he replied, but
you have no choice. Fine, then. So how do you figure in the scheme of things.
Oh, he smiled broadly, for every god, you must have a devil. I will confront her with
the ultimate temptations. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. With my guidance,
naturally. What a bastard, I thought. Thank you, he answered.
My mind and body finally gave out. Not for
the first time, I was awakened gently by my waitress, finished my by now
cold breakfast, and staggered to my van for the short trip the rest of the way
home. I tip well enough for them to tolerate my little eccentricities.
Tomorrow, I will start anew.
the van ease out of the parking lot, its right rear wheel bounding up and over the
curbing of the exit, Laura sighed heavily and picked up the crumpled dollar left
behind for her.
"Takes all kinds." she mumbled
to no one in particular and perhaps not even to herself.
She quietly returned to the isolated table
at the rear of the kitchen where all the waitresses routinely congregate to smoke
their cigarettes free from the stares of the patrons. A Marlboro quickly placed and
lit in her young mouth brought a small bit of comfort to an otherwise unpleasurable
The fact was that Laura hated working
nights. She only took this job at Denny's until her new husband of three months found
another job. He had been downsized at Raytheon and there just wasn't a lot of call
for someone with four years experience as a cruise missile flight control systems
specialist. He installed the linkages from the servos to the winglets - not
exactly something that Dell or Compaq would be interested in. So Laura did what
she knew how to do to help. She waitressed. Even then, the only job open was
at this Denny's on the graveyard shift. She took it and the rent got paid.
Laura exhaled a long puff of smoke up and
away from the other two waitresses before beginning her commentary on the last
customer - a favorite pastime of waitresses everywhere.
"Did you see that guy in two?
"Oh, yeah." said the dark-haired
Toni, stirring the ice in her now empty glass of cola. "That's Tommy or Timmy or
something. He's a musician; comes in here all the time. He's a Western omelet?"
"Yeah." confirmed Laura. All
customers are what they eat to waitresses. "He kept talkin' to himself and
looking around everywhere. Weird." She took another long drag for comfort.
A brief chuckle from Betty, the ancient
waitress, drew stares all around. With the patience of years, Betty dabbed out her
Kool in the ashtray without further comment. Her latest cigarette safely
extinguished, Betty leaned back in her teetering chair to look back into the young
faces around her. Betty's old, tired eyes met Laura's young, tired eyes with a smile.
"Not so weird, hon." said Betty
calmly. "He's a writer."
"Uh-uh, Betts, he's in a band."
chimed in Toni. "He told me about it one time when I asked about all his sheet
music and stuff."
Betty winked once, her beaming smile
telling everyone how well she knew better.
"Maybe so, Toni, but he's a writer
alright. I've seen plenty of 'em come in here over the years. Always at night,
worried about some character in their story or how to write something. It's all
inside of 'em, churning around an' such. I've seen enough of 'em, I'll tell
you." Betty leaned forward, her voice becoming low and serious. "It's at
night when it can really take hold of 'em, those stories and the characters they
make. They become real sometimes, so real they go with 'em everywhere. They even come
Toni and Laura simply stared for a moment,
unsure of what ol' Betty was saying.
"Who comes here?" mumbled a
"Didn't you see 'em?" Betty's
"I waited on him, Betts. I saw
him." Laura sounded annoyed.
"Not him, Laura, the rest."
"Rest who?" Laura really wasn't
in the mood for this.
"Did ya see the Cubans and the
Russians and guy with the blonde and …"
"BETTS! Are you nuts?" laughed
Laura. "The place was empty except for that Ronny guy."
"Toomey." corrected Toni,
"Whatever. Quit playing with my head,
Betty." demanded Laura. "You're always doing that!"
"Okay by me." shrugged Betty,
lighting up another in a series of menthol cigarettes. "I'm just sayin' that
when you've been in this business as long as I have, you get to know how to spot your
customers and, sometimes, you see a little bit more than what you expected. That one
was a writer, that's all I'm sayin'."
The topic safely dropped from the
conversation as Laura tapped a new pack of cigarettes to settle the tobacco before
opening the wrapper. A quiet ding came from the door sensor bell. Toni peeked out at
"Single in booth six. Who's got
"That's me." groaned Laura as
her legs raised her from her chair in spite of some great imaginary weight on her
shoulders. "No rest for the wicked."
Stepping from the kitchen to the dining
room, Laura noted the tired looking guy sitting by himself at a table meant for six.
As she approached, she noticed how he tried to discretely talk to the sugar bowl from
behind an open menu.
Oh, no, she thought. Another nutcase. Then
another thought came to mind, influenced by what Betty had talked about in the
kitchen. A writer?
In the instant that thought passed through
her mind, faded images of other beings slowly appeared at the table. There was a
second man dressed in a khaki shirt sitting next to a naked blonde woman who appeared
to be excited about the stand-up card with a picture of waffles on it. On the other
side of the table, a large five-legged creature covered in brown fur peered
down at the menu studiously, evidently asking question after question for
each item. At the center of the table, a smaller creature with eight
legs rummaged through the sugar packets, inspecting each one for the
printed information that spoke in glowing terms about each of the fifty states.
The creature seemed annoyed by the repeats of Minnesota.
All of them simultaneously looked up at
Laura and smiled a silly, toothy grin.
A quick scream of surprise came from Laura
as her checkbook and pen dropped to the floor. Frozen in place, Laura could only
stare in disbelief at the bizarre group before her.
The large spider creature's head rotated
slightly while the rest laughed good-naturedly at her surprise. The tiny creature on
the table accidentally knocked over the sugar packets, spilling them across the table much
to the annoyance of the tired man who had first sat down alone in booth number six.
Dawn creased the refinery-stained air over the
Pasadena Denny's. The nearly hysterical Laura had gone home early, probably
never to return. Fortunately, nobody else had seen or heard the source of her
distress. Except, of course, Betty, who knew she would have to answer for this
little incident sooner or later.
It turned out to be sooner. The next
trucker that wandered in to sit at the counter muttered at her as she plopped
a glass of water in front of him, "Hope you enjoyed yourself."
Betty sighed, "Another reprimand. Oh,
well. How many does that make?"
"Four, on this planet alone. I am
disgusted with your lack of concern for these people. This incident may well
traumatize Laura for some time. Why do you take these kinds of assignments if
you're just going to jeopardize the mission with your immature little practical
"Oh, lighten up," Betty said
sourly. "She'll attribute what she thought she saw to lack of sleep and some
crazy old lady, 'playin' with my head'," she mimicked. "I told you
I should have been the cook. Nobody talks to him."
"I needed you to be closer." He
pretended to study his menu. "The vision was complete?"
"Perfect, naturally. Immature I may
be, but I know how to do my job."
"I'm not doubting that." His
fingers drummed the counter top momentarily. "How are the waffles?"
Betty wrinkled her nose, "Crap. This
is not a civilized world."
He looked even more disappointed than when
he entered. "OK. I'll just take what Toomey had."
She turned to the cook, "Scram Slam,
English," and brought him a sweaty glass of tea.
"How much longer is this going to
take?" Betty asked impatiently. "Surely by now he is sufficiently
"His speed leaves something to be
desired," he replied dryly. "We'll not be able to leave until I'm satisfied
that he's completely reliable."
Betty muttered something disparagingly
incomprehensible, turning it into a cough.
"Oh, I wouldn't be so impatient if I
were you," he told her smugly. "We'll be going to Singapore next. I've got
a role for you that you deserve. Just the thing you need to straighten you out a
Betty snorted, "Like this isn't
punishment enough. I look like Popeye's mother."
"Then you'll be pleased to learn that
you'll be a much younger female soon. Merely a teenager. A Chinese housemaid, in
fact, for a middle-aged American businessman and his wife. He's one of our original
subjects on this planet, from before your arrival. This will be a return visit."
"Doesn't sound so bad."
"Well, there's this one little
detail. Very minor, actually. Something about a 'headache clause'." He
grinned maliciously, obviously satisfied with himself. Betty really didn't like
the sound of that. What the hell was a 'headache clause'?
He finished his breakfast just as Betty's
shift ended. Watching them leave the restaurant, the cook elbowed
the dishwasher, nodding his head at their retreating
backs. "Amateurs," he muttered. His companion nodded his
agreement. They vanished with soft popping noises, abandoned clothes falling to
the wet, food-strewn kitchen floor.
The cashier looked up at the
noise, then caught the manager's eye. He came over and asked, "You're
tracking them?" She gestured at the glowing cash register screen which he
glanced at briefly. "Very good. And you're sure they didn't suspect we were
monitoring them?" She gave him a withering look. Together, they went out the
back door and shortly thereafter, soared off into the brightening sky.
The two Mexicans lounging in the booth by
the door watched their rapidly dwindling forms disappear beyond the
horizon. "I thought they'd never leave," said the scruffier looking of
"Well, I've seen enough," said
the other one. "I'm certain that we'll have to continue our surveillance
indefinitely. I'm just glad we got here in time. The kinds of damage
these bunglers could do is unimaginable."
They made their way to the old phone
booth. Somehow, both managed to get inside together. There was a brief flash,
and the booth was empty.
The young couple in the corner booth
beamed up soon after. The busboy departed via the wormhole in the broom
closet after filing a report with the Mixmaster. Some old geezer in a trench
coat suddenly shed coat and decades in one fluid movement, unfurled his magnificent
wings and rose into the sky trailing glory. A couple of coffee-sipping
refinery workers were the last to leave, climbing into their battered pickup
truck and exiting the parking lot straight up at about twenty G's, bound for the dark
side of the moon.
Dark-haired Toni was the only one left.
She surveyed the now abandoned Denny's, smiling to herself. Such a fuss,
she thought. There must have been representatives from every advanced race in
this section of the Galaxy here tonight, in layer after layer of increasing
sophistication and power, weaving grand machinations and strategies.
For the millionth time, she thought about
how much easier it could be if they would just leave everything to her.
After all, she was the point of this whole tangled mess, wasn't she? She
shrugged and thought, my time will come soon enough.
She reached up and removed the dark wig,
wild gold spilling riotously across her shoulders. The shapeless
waitress uniform fell away from her magically, revealing the cape and familiar
costume beneath, golden symbol proudly bared across her breasts.
Lightly skipping to the front door, she
turned the sign around to read 'Closed' to the traffic along 225, shut
it carefully behind her and, laughing with pure joy, flashed into the waiting
A few blocks away, Toomey slept on.
© Patrick Hill, 2000