Melissa and the Explosion


Dear Ken,

I never realized, when I married Harshan, that deciding where to live would be such a problem. It wasn’t just a matter of towns, or of countries; we even had to decide which planet!

Well, you know what my choice was: live in Harshan’s native land of Halakan. The United Republic of Halakan is the oldest nation in (this) world, and a very interesting place to live. I figured I could adjust to one country as well as another, and that I could just learn Halakanian, like I learned Thorgelfaynese. Employment at the university wouldn’t be a problem for me, and Harshan could continue to work for the starship lines in a new job based in the city of Fomin.

The Scottish writer was right: the best laid plans of woman and mouse aft gang agly—“often don’t work out,” that is. You know my first lesson in Halakanian was a failure. It is an incredibly complicated language that I couldn’t hope to learn in a dozen lifetimes!

So Harshan and I had a little discussion. Finally he just looked at me with his piercingly blue eyes and with that look on his face that makes my heart melt. I think it hypnotizes me: when he does it, I completely lose track of things. But he never takes advantage of that! But I wouldn’t really mind if he did!

“We’ll go to Earth,” he concluded, “and live in that exotic country you call ‘Illinois.’”

I had enough presence of mind to correct him on that; only in Thorgelfaynese, I ended up saying that ‘Illinois’ is a ‘province’ in the ‘Federated Provinces of Amerikka.’ I haven’t figured out a better way to say USA.

He dismissed the detail with a shrug. I was becoming less and less inclined to disagree with him, and I did sympathize with his sense of adventure. After all, who was I to deprive him of his childhood dream of living on some strange, alien planet; even if it is backward old Earth?

Let’s just say that our discussion had a very pleasant culmination, and we agreed.

The next day we announced our plans to Lanni and Harna (we ended our honeymoon tour in Thorgelfayne, and we were staying at Lanni and Harna’s apartment in Hapdorn). The four of us discussed the logistics of our decision, and Harshan decided it was time to take the first step. He would fly to Fomin, Halakan, the nearest spaceport and the city where his company was headquartered, and quit his job with proper notice. I would stay in Thorgelfayne until he was ready; then we’d emigrate to the United States (of America on Earth).

Harshan slapped his knees and rose decisively to his feet. “So it’s settled!” he said, and walked over to the telephone to arrange a flight to Fomin with the travel agency. Harna started straightening up the guest room and gathered up Harshan’s things in preparation for packing, while Lanni and I had an animated discussion in the kitchen over a cup of harng. We put together a checklist of things to do to ease Harshan’s adjustment to the planet Earth, the United States, Illinois, and the English language. As you know, Lanni is an anthropologist, and her expertise certainly was convenient. She even knows English, though I’ve never spoken it with her. What a heady, exciting day that was! We all went out to eat that evening at a restaurant that was so fancy that you have to pay.

It was just one big party until the next morning.

The events of that day are permanently etched in my brain. I can see, hear; even smell every event just as though it were present. We drove to the Hapdorn Airport in a party mood; Harna got the luggage out of the trunk, and we walked through the awakening terminal to the ticket counter for Kharg-and-Beyond Airlines. Harshan checked his baggage, and then we all walked to the gate to wait for the plane.

You know, I just realized that there are no security checks or metal detectors in the airports on Homeland. I had forgotten all about those things! It seems that Harshan isn’t the only one who’ll have some adjusting to do when we get to Earth!

We had a happy chat, but things got a little sad as Harshan and I realized that we would be apart for a while. He glanced up at me with a momentary look of desperation on his face, as if he were gasping for air. He smiled again, and his blue eyes started piercing me again. I had a horrible lump in my throat, and I started to cough. Or maybe I was crying, I don’t know; but I sure did miss him in advance. He just held me wordlessly for a while, and Lanni held my hand.

Boarding was announced, so we sobered up and wiped our eyes and prepared for a proper farewell.

“Melissa Lahtissimon,” he called over his shoulder, using our marriage name, “I love you so!” He vanished into the crowd, and I choked down a tear. I reassured Harna that my composure was within easy reach.

We stayed at the gate to watch the plane take off. The jet engines (or whatever) began to whine, and the walkway was pulled back from the plane. Then the plane began to back away from the terminal. I stood and waved at the little line of windows, just in case he was watching, and just in case he could see.

The plane taxied down to the runway, turned and paused. (Airports are the same everywhere, I guess.) Then it started, gathered speed down the runway, and lifted off the concrete.

Then it exploded!

I was transfixed with horror! A huge white and yellow flower of fire blossomed where the airplane had been, and giant white arcs of smoke streaked out from the center. There was an announcement; official-looking people were running around and talking on telephones, and emergency vehicles tore across the field to the scene! There was surprisingly little debris.

This whole trip has been unreal, and this was the most unreal part. I was in such shock, it was as though I was watching a movie and not really living through it. I couldn’t cry or talk; I could just barely breathe. Lanni and Harna tried to comfort me, but it was as if I were inside a glass booth and they were outside. I couldn’t hear a word anyone said to me. I just kept seeing his face, hearing his last words to me, and seeing that horrid explosion. Over and over. It was a compulsion!

“Melissa Lahtissimon,” he had said over his shoulder, “I love you so!”

I don’t even remember the drive home from the airport, and even my Hugmup couldn’t comfort me. I was totally stunned. I could not sleep, but my body would not be denied and responded by hallucinating.

I vaguely recall the ambulance.

The hospital was a very nice place, but a jumble of memories, and of pain, shock, and despair. There were lots of tests, strange but harmless looking equipment, and they drew a lot of blood samples. A lot of people came to say soothing things to me, but I couldn’t break out of it. Lanni, as an expert on the Human species, was always at my side (bless her heart), advising the veterinarians and the psychiatrists every step of the way.

One morning I woke up quite depressed, but in control of myself again. Lanni was sleeping in an armchair next to my bed, with a book in her lap. The morning nurse brought me breakfast, and woke Lanni in the process.

“You look much better today!” the nurse chirped cheerily, sliding the tray before me. I suddenly realized I was famished.

“Well I feel awful,” I said to a sympathetic face. Lanni had struggled to full consciousness and dismissed the nurse politely.

“We were very concerned about you, young lady,” Lanni began quietly.

“What sort of drug did they give me?” I interrupted.

“No drug at all,” came the answer, “they just analyzed your system to find why it wasn’t recovering from shock. Then they just helped things along.”

“Oh,” I said, burying my face in my pillow. I began to sob uncontrollably. I really didn’t care what kind of drug, hormone, enzyme, electrolyte, vitamin or mineral they had given me. I didn’t care about anything much at all.

Lanni grabbed my head, and turned my face away from the pillow. She gently wiped away my tears. “Don’t go away on us again, now; especially not before we can talk!”

“What’s there to talk about?” I asked defiantly. “You know what happened!”

“Yes, and apparently you’re the one who doesn’t!” Lanni’s face looked firm. “If you don’t control yourself long enough to find out, your life could be in jeopardy.”

What an odd thing to say, I thought. And Lanni and I began a very long and soulful conversation that was interrupted only by lunch. We covered the hazards of travel, the certainty of misfortune, and the necessity for maturity. We also discussed differences between Earth and Homeland, both cultural and technological.

It seemed to take her forever to do it, but I guess she thought that the gradual approach was best. The airplane did not explode; its outer sheathing—the so-called “inconspicuity hull” caught fire and fell off. That’s why there was so little debris. I didn’t think that such a big airplane would leave such a little ash, did I? I cracked a little smile. We called Harshan on the phone (the shock of which would have killed me only yesterday) and he gave me his eyewitness account. It was really spectacular from inside the passenger cabin! Officials at Kharg-and-Beyond have grounded the whole airline until the figure out what went wrong; and the manufacturer was investigating itself furiously. I wish we could have talked longer, but the time difference prevented it.

I could have known all that by watching the news, if I hadn’t been in such a stupor!

I guess that things aren’t always what they seem. My familiarity with Homeland was shallow and deceptive. And though no one is guaranteed a happy life, mine is not cursed after all!

Joy of joys, Harshan will be back next Secondday!

Yours in thorgel bond,
Melissa