The Amazing Adventures
of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Seven: Growing Up
was certainly a handful. Make that a bucketful. Several buckets, actually. Oh, hell, make
up your own outlandish exaggeration — it won't come close enough. Imagine a really big
two-year-old driven by an insatiable curiosity and zest for life that never runs out of
steam and can run off with, disassemble and partially consume a Buick while you're
tying your shoes.
Not that she was intentionally
mischievous. She always minded really well and never meant to cause any problems.
It's just that she was so much quicker to get into trouble than anybody else was to
foresee potential disaster.
If a ball rolled under the porch, she'd just pick up the
porch to get at it. She made a playhouse out of railroad ties brought in for landscaping,
casually dragging the whole bundle across the lawn behind the rec room, leaving deep
furrows in her wake. The forlorn little playground in one corner of the complex was
transformed into a savage wasteland of twisted metal one afternoon while her keepers were
Or, she'd lie at the bottom of the
pool for a couple of hours, just watching the play of light the little waves
made — until some other child's
mother saw her 'drowning' and became hysterical. Maybe she'd casually pick up a tree to look at the neat little bugs in
the roots. And then there was the flying…
Since she didn't seem to need much
sleep, she required a twenty-four hour watch. In teams. With constant two-way radio
communications. The poor, overworked Cubans were beginning to think Castro wasn't so
bad after all. Privately, they had a quaint name for her in Spanish that didn't
translate very well.
Gradually, boundaries were laid out and
rules were made. Don't leave the complex. Stay on the ground. Don't pick up
anything bigger than you are. Try not to bend, break or vaporize anything. Don't eat
anything that wasn't served on a plate. Don't eat the plate.
There were not many children in the
apartments, since nearly half of them were filled with Mrs. J's people and
she was not
exactly 'family friendly'. Houston didn't allow housing discrimination
against families with kids, but Mrs. J had a way of causing most families to look
elsewhere, once she had enough of them on hand to keep up appearances. Sara was more than
a little out of place playing with the younger ones that were closer to her mental age, but Alex
was grateful that she had at least some interaction with other children. Their parents
paid no attention to whatever outlandish stories their kids
'made up' about
Sara. He did his best to keep her away from the older kids who
might ask too many questions.
As soon as Alex thought it was safe, he
took Sara out in the piney woods north of town to a big clearing away from prying eyes
where she could practice her flying. At first, he tied a string to her and guided her
around like a kite, worried that she could easily dart off and never find her way back.
They both soon gained confidence in her navigational skills and abilities. He let her go
higher and higher, as long as she stayed right above the clearing and he could still see
her with binoculars.
She took to flight naturally. The air was
her element and she claimed it with gusto. She could just become weightless, hair flowing
around her head like an enormous golden halo, drifting with the breeze, pushing off with
the tips of her toes and fingers from rocks and trees. Or she could zoom like a fighter
plane, arms outstretched as she rolled and looped, making engine noises he could hear as
she strafed him.
Her 'sense' (whatever it was)
ranged far around her, enabling her to dart through the tangled maze of tree trunks and
branches without looking, chasing startled birds with squeals of delight. It enabled her
to avoid, for the most part, a lot of messy bug splats, though mosquitoes and smaller
critters inevitably adorned her face like a radiator grill. Houston is good to
bugs — that's why they all move here.
Aerodynamics was irrelevant to her. Any
attitude would do — upside down, backwards, sideways, full front, headfirst, limbs
flailing, pike position — but she seemed to prefer the natural posture of a skydiver,
except on those few occasions when he allowed her to wear her costume.
He'd wondered why any self-respecting highly-advanced alien designer would include a silly cape as part of her
ensemble — something to trip over and get in her way. But when he saw it swirling around her, he had to admit it
looked wonderful, lending flair and drama to an otherwise girlie
outfit — providing a backdrop, setting the stage, emphasizing her fluid motions,
teasing the imagination, stirring the soul and providing a billowing canvas upon which the eye
could behold the lovliest of visions.
At rest, it
could be draped completely around her body, like an instant formal gown suitable for a diplomatic reception.
In flight, it waved and fluttered majestically when in human sight close to the Earth, seeming to have a mind of its
own — its motions independent of actual wind
conditions or air speeds — with a predilection for that dramatic
beloved of illustrators, a proud flag proclaiming her
identity. At high speed, it clung tightly to her body, shrouding her like
the skin of a supersonic missile.
He decided that mere mortals
could not wear a cape without looking and feeling silly — but Sara was a special being
whose soaring confidence bore her uniqueness with natural dignity and
unassuming pride. Her cape never got in her way. For
Sara, it was… Well, it was perfect.
They concocted several take-off styles.
There was the basic 'Up, Up and Away!' — fist held high,
leaping straight into the sky.
And the 'Run, Skip and Jump' like George Reeves used to do in
the old TV series, only Sara
didn't fall into a mattress just off-screen. The 'Crouch-Jump' looked
natural, but the 'Launch Pad' — simply rising into the air like a
Space Shuttle — was boring.
Landings required a little more thought.
'Feet First' in a skirt was definitely unladylike, and the cape
always wanted to flow the wrong
way, piling up against her hair. The 'Swoop' was graceful, but required a lot of
runway, skimming low to the ground then pulling up to stall out and stop, touching down
lightly — feet spread, hands on hips — for a stylish finish. The most
spectacular — and most heart-stopping — was the 'Dive and
Flip' — rocketing straight down to her landing point headfirst at high speed and then tucking into
a tight half-somersault at the last instant to land on her feet, collapsing into a shock
absorbing half-crouch and then popping up, arms wide, like a gymnast sticking a perfect
landing off the parallel bars. Her timing had to be impeccable.
A few tries (and a few
craters) later, it
After passing her basic competency exam
and being awarded an elaborate 'Flight Certificate' (First Class), Alex
took some maps, satellite photo printouts of the Houston area and a couple of the
Cubans' military two-ways to the clearing for navigational exercises.
"OK, can you see the airport?
Over." Alex figured Sara was about two thousand feet directly above him, hanging
stationary, posing a puzzle, no doubt, to some air traffic controller somewhere. He could
barely see her.
"Yeah. Whoa! There's a lot of
planes there! Over."
"Now, look right about fifteen
degrees and about ten miles past and you should see the blimp hangar.
"That's I-45 running in front of
it, just like I showed you on the map. Over."
"Follow it to the left until you see
the green-gabled roof of the Marriott, like I pointed out on the way up here, with
Sharpstown Mall next to it. That's Beltway 8. Over."
"I got it. Over."
"Now, stay on I-45 'till you get
to the next big freeway intersection. Over."
"I know! That's Loop 610.
"Follow it to the right. See where it
splits off into 290 and turns to the left? Over."
"There's some buildings in the
way from this angle, but I see it. Over."
"It should head south toward the
Galleria and the big building with the searchlight on top. Over."
"I don't see the searchlight.
"Not during the day. You saw it the
other night. Over."
"I knew that. Over."
"You see the intersection with I-10?
"I think so. Uh, Memorial Park on the
left — nothing but trees, right? Ooh — there's a polo game,
with lots of horses. Over."
"You got it. Just follow it to the
right. Before you see Beltway 8 again, there's our apartments. Over."
"There's too many trees. And
billboards. Maybe if I was higher… Oh! Wait! I can see it! I can see it! Over."
Over." Alex figured
she was looking through nearly twenty-five miles of murky Houston mid-afternoon haze with
the lowering sun in her face.
"Yeah! There's the Fiesta Mart,
right next door. And there's Macdonald's. And the rec room! Ooh, I want to go
right there and tell Banggo! I'll be right back!"
Alex wasn't fast enough.
"That's a negative on your request. Over."
Nothing but static.
"SARA!" As if shouting would do
Sighing, he keyed his cell phone. "If
you happen to see Sara anytime real soon, would you call me back?" he told Mrs. J.
"And tell her to stay there 'till I get home."
The phone rang about a minute later.
Sara was grounded for a week.
education got off to a slow start. Alex wasn't in a big hurry, since he really wanted
her to get a little further along in her accelerated childhood before having to buckle
down. Anyway, Dinah wasn't about to let anyone even close to Sara without being
subjected to the most exhaustive background check and interview she could manage. Having
made the commitment, she threw herself into the project with her
usual fanatical zeal,
spending almost every evening at the complex. She had a complete little office cubicle
delivered to the 'B' unit, with a desk, computer, file cabinet and expensive
leather swivel chair. It was strictly off limits to everyone, especially
— she glared
at Alex — Mrs. J.
When the first three tutors passed her
scrutiny, they made individual recommendations one at a time until they thought they had a
good mix of talent, eventually settling on a faculty of twelve. Not a bad student-teacher
ratio. As it turned out, Sara nearly had them outnumbered.
Dinah had had little time for Alex during
this period. Not that she seemed angry, just absorbed by her job. Since she was still
working full time at her day gig — presumably at the same level of intensity
— he tried to be sympathetic. But the only person she tolerated distracting her was Sara.
Dinah would always take time out to talk to her, though there seemed to be an inordinate
amount of discussion about moral principles, patriotism, duty-honor-country. Alex thought
she might be laying it on a little thick, but Sara seemed to like it. It was kinda like
exercising a first-strike capability, an anti-indoctrination indoctrination. Dinah was
always on the lookout for signs that some wily ex-KGB operative might slip in a stray bit
During a lull one evening, Alex asked her
what her Internet searches had turned up on their co-conspirators.
Dinah leaned back in her office chair and
looked at the ceiling for a while. "Not really a damn thing." She sounded so
"What, no fugitives from the
hangman's noose?" he asked, trying to make it sound lighthearted. "No
former prison guards or genocidists? From the way you were carrying on, I thought maybe you
were thinking something like the end of the Third Reich, when all those Nazis hopped the
next submarine to Argentina, clutching bags of looted art treasures and gold." He
glanced around at Mrs. J's expensive accoutrements.
She ignored his tone. "No, pretty
much like Mrs. J said. Yeah, nearly all of them were card-carrying Party members, but none
of them were particularly distinguishable politically. Mainly minor functionaries,
bureaucrats, technicians, teachers and artists."
"I thought Mrs. J mentioned KGB and
Popov…" (one of the tutors
— Alex's eyebrows went up at this bit of news) "…was KGB alright. Technical
analyst. Evaluated photos, electronic data, satellite imagery, all kinds of things. Drudge
work, mostly. Our thinking…" ('our' thinking?)
"…is that he should be
able to help Sara make heads or tails of all the extra sensory input she has, to sort
"And the best engineer of the lot is
a Red Army colonel, Gudenov. Actually, fairly distinguished. Authored a lot of scientific
papers on things like load bearing, stress distribution and the like. Taught at their
military academy, 'East Point'. He'll be helpful. Sara's a lot
stronger than the stuff she can pick up. If she doesn't learn how to manage heavy
loads, her strength won't be nearly as effective. That's the main reason she
"Pretty much the same story for all
of them, so far. They were brilliant, successful people until everything fell apart. Then
they were out in the snow. Russia basically stopped paying the military, closed academies
and universities, laid off half the government. Pensions over there won't buy dog
"There were some immigration
loopholes for a while that made it possible for some of these people
— the lucky
ones, I guess — to come to America and qualify for Social Security. Maybe not quite
legally, but somehow someone at SSA approved their applications. Mrs. J and a few others
like her figured this out and made some arrangements, mostly paid for by whatever these
people could get selling nearly everything they had to the Russian Mafia black market for plane
tickets and a stake. She got the stake in exchange for setting them up in a retirement
community with their own kind in a warm climate.
"Everybody wins. Russia sheds dead
weight, the Russian Mafia makes a profit, the refugees live out
their lives in relative comfort, Mrs. J doesn't do too
badly… Well, I'm not knocking her. I think she's got her heart in the right
place. She really cares for these people and they adore her. Anyway, American taxpayers
end up footing part of the bill, but considering the clientele, I guess you could call it a brain
drain. Hell, could be the State Department intervened at SSA."
Alex thought about this for a while.
"If this is all on the up-and-up, why all the secrecy? I mean, that's what set
Dinah shrugged her shoulders, "I
think it might just be instinctive with them. Maybe you don't want to believe it,
Alex, but these people grew up in kind of a bad place. And, yeah, someone like
make a big deal out of this, maybe pump his ratings in the south at a critical time."
That surprised Alex. "The Black
Knight? Feet of clay? What brought this on? I thought he was supposed to be Mr. Wonderful,
the Great Crusader."
Dinah took a deep breath. "This
project I've been working on — you know, the Deer Park plant —
beginning to think there are some serious flaws in our case. There are Chinese nationals
involved, all right, but from everything I've been able to find out about
looks like they're just investors who raised money from newly capitalistic Chinese
citizens. The plant makes nothing but pharmaceutical feedstock. Some of it goes to Iraq
eventually, but it's not good for anything more dangerous than sleeping pills."
"So. Case closed, huh?" He had a
sudden disquieting thought. "Does that mean you're going back to New York?"
"No. Actually, I'm from
Galveston, originally. 'Born On Island' as they say. I've always planned to
stay here afterward. That's why I took the assignment."
Alex wished he'd gotten that little
bit of news sooner. He'd always assumed that she wouldn't be around long enough
to try to become attached to her. Damn. Why hadn't she mentioned this earlier?
She went on, "And we're going
ahead. I talked this over with Wayans' assistant, Robbins, and everything's
proceeding. Unless there's something else I don't know, it looks like the reason
they're not backing off is because pursuing the suit will generate a lot of favorable
publicity for Wayans, win or lose. He can always blame a loss on opposition politics. In
any event, it'll be a disaster for the Chinese shareholders."
"So what are you going to do about
"Look, Alex. I really believe in the
stuff I've done. It's made a difference. We're in the middle of a cultural
war in this country. Bruce Wayans made it possible to get at some people even the Feds
wouldn't touch. It's a great cause…"
Alex started humming "The Battle Hymn
of the Republic".
"You don't understand,
"I'll tell you what I
understand," said Alex. "No disrespect, but that guy's a phony. I
can't believe smart, reasonable people fall for his line of crap. He's on TV
every damned day, and every time it's pure bullshit. What does he do, keep a couple
of dozen minority kids in a box so he can have one handy every time someone turns on a
camera? He runs focus groups and polls so he can tell everybody what
they want to hear. He picks his causes based on interest groups he can line up behind him.
I swear to God, if he can find a group of commie-bashers, he'll hang everyone here
out to dry for the demographic boost."
Dinah was not used to being surprised. She
had never known Alex to be the slightest bit political. She couldn't even imagine him
getting so worked up. It made her feel… She didn't know. Breathless? A
Alex began again.
"The bastard pays people like you to make high-profile headlines that invariably cost
a lot of innocent people jobs so he can look good at someone else's expense. Everybody
knows it, but they don't care, 'cause they approve of his policies. What
policies? A policy for you, a policy for me, a policy in every pot."
"That's enough, Alex. Sure, he's
got enemies. Powerful enemies. There are people in this country that don't want him
to succeed, a vast conspiracy…"
"Well, sign me up."
She was nearly speechless. No one had ever
talked to her like this before. It suddenly dawned on her that here was someone who had
jumped in front of a bullet to protect somebody who didn't need protecting, someone
he'd only known a couple of days. To whom he had given his unconditional love. A love
she wanted for herself…
What did she
have to do to get him to notice her? Wear a cape?
What was she thinking? Oh,
god, she felt
faint. She was getting hot and dizzy. This was ridiculous. She had to get out of there
before… She didn't know what. She lurched from her chair and grabbed her bag,
heading out the door without a word.
Alex called after her, "Dinah,
wait…" But she was gone.
was still sitting morosely on the couch when Sara came drifting in around midnight. She
could tell he was sad, so she went over and gave him a big, careful hug. He patted her
She said, "I thought you and Dinah were talking."
He smiled, "Well, I guess you heard
heard you — I can't help that — but I wasn't
listening, honest. You told me I shouldn't do that. But I can remember it if you want me to."
"No, no. It was just between her and
me, and it should stay that way. I'm afraid I may have said something Dinah
didn't like. We had a little argument, I guess, and I got sorta carried away. She got
mad at me and went home." He sighed, "I hope she still likes me tomorrow."
"Oh, she will. I like you, and she
likes me, so she has to like you."
"Well, that certainly makes sense to
me," he smiled. "Hey, who's on watch tonight?"
"Raoul and Maria. We're gonna
watch some movies tonight in the rec room with Mr. Andropov."
The history tutor. He still ran on Moscow
time, it seemed, only coming out at night. Well, that was convenient.
"Nothing boring, I hope." Like
some dreadful Russian costume epic, War and Peace or whatever.
"Not tonight," she replied
eagerly. "We're gonna see The Forbidden Planet 'cause it's got an alien robot in
it, like me."
"One of my
favorite movies," he said with a smile.
"And The Wizard of
continued, "I like stories about Wizards and Little People and
"Do they know you're over
"Oops. I don't think so,"
she said, looking rather guilty. "I told Mr. Andropov I had to go to the
bathroom." She giggled.
That was her favorite trick on
newbies — she never had to relieve herself. By
the time they realized they'd been had, she was out the window.
"Sara!" he said, simply shocked.
But he giggled, too. "Where are they now?"
"Mr. Andropov's behind the rec
room, looking in the bushes with a flashlight. Raoul's running this way."
"Go on. Put them out of their
misery." He smacked her hard on the rump as she started for the door. "Shame on
you, young lady."
She scampered out, laughing.
© Patrick Hill, 2000