THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 42

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 42

May God bless everyone,” is all Aldona can say, in this all-hands-on-deck, everyone-for-themselves, Turkish Delight  free-for-all.


With the trouble heading to the floor above, Afridi leaps into action, “We are leaving this mosque, Allah be damned! They will not leave until they have found me.”

Fatima stares at the Sultan Ahmet Mosque ceiling, where the Deming and the staff are/were sleeping.

May God bless everyone,” is all Aldona can say, in this all-hands-on-deck, everyone-for-themselves, Turkish Delight,  free-for-all.

His timing is good, in this case only fair, considering his run of uncanny luck. Upon seeing that the assailants failed to leave a “trailer” to protect the rear; the Afridis show exceptional speed in streaking out the back door, one after the other, to parts unknown.

Parts unknown are a sure thing. Had they waited for protection from US official guard, they would be facing no future at all. Perhaps if they had the powers-that-be listened and taken his story at face value, both they and Afridi would be winging their way to Galveston Texas.

So, without concrete direction and armed only with the Ashtaar business card {the key toabdullah-ashtaar-001 Istanbul}, these four hunted people, throw caution to the wind and head for much needed anonymity. “Us against the world” is not a strange feeling to Afridi, though one he thought would vanish once they reached the American Consulate. But they did not make it and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is now awash in conflict, innocent participants in a fight for now distant outer space.

Amid the smattering of near-distant gunfire and the rushing stream of sirens, a Mehmet Ali Erim driven something-or-other joins the chaotic scene, Mehmet having worried about Afridi’s safety. From out of the shadows Afridi cries out, “Mehmet, Mehmet,” jumps in front of his taxi, lest he not notice him. Taxi drivers are not notoriously good drivers and the man’s actions cause him to panic, depressing the accelerator instead of the brake. With little time to react, Afridi is thrown up onto the hood.

“Are you mad man? There are better ways to hail a cab than this,” helping the dazed man off turkish-taxi-001his front windshield.

“Aldona!!!” Fatima and the girls rush to the scene.

Mehmet begins to piece things together, “My friend from the train station. Hey, did not things work out with the Americans?”

“We had to leave—they have found me.”

“The Americans? You found them. I am confused. I think they believe you.”

“There are others who want me dead.”


Related image

Episode 42

page 52


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 41

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 41

…A sole window allows Afridi to peer into the Turkish night. His wrist-digital device flashes 12:00, leaving him with at least five more hours to fret.


Turkey Night Wallpaper (Istanbul) by alisarikaya

And so it is that the Afridi’s are a family unit again, after a harrowing month on the run. At least they have each other, away from evil powers bent on jealous destruction.

Even still, Aldona Afridi will not rest easy.

Back with his three dear ones, he continues his tirade in the form of a letter. He struggles to find the words camel-to-water-001that will open up the correct ears & eyes. If only they would come to their senses.

Points be made or not, Afridi decides to let it go, roll with the flow, having done everything in his power to express his concerns about Space Colony 1. He recites a Talibanistani Proverb: ‘You can lead a camel to water— but he won’t stop drinking.’ It has little to do with his quandary, but he does thirst for swift resolution.

Now would be a convenient time to rest his weary soul, post-New Orient Express excursion aside, he finds a deep sleep elusive. In its stead, he is content holding his bride close. His mind strays to several options and back, unable to resolve a single one of them.

Image result for flashing 12:00 clock gifSo he retracts is arm, as not wake anyone and he inches off the bed. A sole window allows him to peer into the Turkish night. His wrist-digital device flashes 12:00, leaving him with at least five more hours to fret.

After watching a steady stream of headlights at this early hour, wondering who may be out this late/early, two very long speeding black cars come to a halt outside the mosques gates. His initial reaction is one of relief, anticipating the arrival of those in authority; the Ambassador and the CIA are ahead of schedule!

He fumbles in the dark to find the clothes given him by those nice folks that allowed him to get this far. He efforts not to disturb the others, running a comb through his untidy black hair to look as professional as possible.

The intent of the visitors at the gate seems curious though. If they have peaceful plans, their actions are quite hasty.

An explosion, of sufficient intensity to bring down the perimeter fencing of the Muslim place of prayer, lays waste to anything within 30 yards.

Before the smoke can clear, six armed men sprint to the buildings many steps. Afridi warns his family, “They must be after me…….get dressed quickly, children please be quiet as a mouse! They must believe this room is empty. He ushers one and all into a hidden nook, behind a false curtain.

Sure enough, those cars did not carry peaceful men of diplomacy. Automatic weapons spray the room without respect to its occupants or their business. Once determined empty, it is on to the next and the next.

6 pairs of feet scamper across the marble floors, then up the granite stairs.

With the trouble heading to the floor above, Afridi leaps into action, “We are leaving this mosque, Allah be damned! They will not leave until they have found me.”


Episode 41

page 50


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 35

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 35

…”As we fly to zero latitude and zero longitude, on to the Plain of Xanthe, the horizon vista is psylastic!”...


Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, both the turbulence and blinding sand lessen the closer they get to the surface. As the drop to 30K and finally 5, the landmarks resemble those in the mockups, not unlike driving thru a town you have passed thru before.

“Things are improving steadily Mission Control, descending the final 5K… and there you go…the dunes of Mare Erythraeum, one peak in the range…” He stops to look over to perspectiveCeleste, asking, “Am I seeing things?”

She gives him a “I see the same thing” nod.

“I repeat. One mountain in the range of 20 thousand in elevation appears to have clouds encircling its summit.” He double checks his visual. “That is water vapor, 22.5 RHp,” Celeste confirms.mars-mountain

The unexpected is fast becoming rule rather than the exception. Earth is unusually mute, as co-eyewitnesses to an unexpected development.

The Master and Madame of this eye-popping peepshow continue their thrust-by-thrust description of this brave new venue. “As we fly to zero latitude and zero longitude, on the Plain of Xanthe, the horizon vista is psylastic!”

dictionary-definition-001“Psylastic Sam?

“The P is silent.”

“Now you are making up words! I will add that to the Red Planet Dictionary, you concentrate on the landing,” Braden King exhorts.

“When you spot Syrtis Major, come about to begin final approach of Tithonius Lacus,” adds Roy.Related image
In the background, the upcoming New Mayflower  colonist mission geologist is babbling on about the water vapor. Nothing, none, zero, not any of the earlier observations has posited that gaseous forms of water were present on Mars.

Onsite observations are off the charts, Colony Control conversations titillating, and the possibilities innumerable, but Roy must  set the subjectivist notions aside to keep abreast of the landing.


Image result for water vapor artwork

Water Vapor by Danielle Nelisse

Episode 35

page 42


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 33

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 33

“We are there to colonize Mars not conquer it.”


Conquering the Sun’s Empire – Illustration by Harry H-K Lange


Ordway, Frederick I and Wakeford, Ronald C. Illustrated by Lange, Harry H-K. Conquering the Sun’s Empire. New York : E.P. Dutton and Co. 128 pp. 23 cm.

Above is a link to a book about man’s exploration of the solar system from 1963.  It is filled with truly beautiful space art by Harry H-K Lange. Mr. Lange was involved with some of the concept drawings for the film 2001, as well as illustrating Von Braun book about the history of rocketry. He worked with Frederick Ordway on a couple of books but these illustrations are very special and not many have seen them.



Roy Crippen, whose ears would perk up if he would get a whiff of Aldona Afridi’s story, is 6402.83 miles from Turkey and stands about as much of a chance of hearing these vital facts as a VW Beetle does winning the Daytona 500.

The Love Bug

Herbie the Love Bug

As of this moment, there is a fraction of an hour separating the lander Tycho and the planet surface.

As on any world in any star system, the sun also rises, at some point, every single revolution. Space Colony 1’s landing bay doors open to a sight completely foreign to those familiar with Earth’s view point.

“This looks like Beijing China right before it was evacuated due to acute pollution, back in 2025,” Crippen deems it a surprise, even though the “little rovers that could” have sent back Martian vistas for decades. TheChina smog newest views are far from pixel-perfect. “Is the camera-port blocked by something?”

The refracted rays are distinct in their paths and the fuzziness of those beams trigger wonder from home.

“Our reception deteriorates the higher the sun gets you guys. Can you improve it on your end?” Braden King relays the wishes of Colony Control, who without a good visual cannot help the McKinney’s with any efficacy.

Image result for reception gif“The problem is not in our transmission or your reception, King; what you see is what you get,” Sampson is in like disbelief.

“Speculation?” Crippen prompts.

“There are extremely high concentrations of particulates that have suddenly become airborne; nowhere to be seen yesterday,” responds Celeste McKinney, while frantically taxing the Colony’s database for plausible comparisons.

“We will keep you advised,” Commander Sam keeps the line moving. “Hang on to your hairpiece Braden, I am feeling that will be one for the books!”

“Stop yourself McKinney,” King grumbles. “… hairpiece my ass.”


Tycho lifts off the deck of the hanger bay, like a large spore spurting forth from a very large mushroom, so does an offspring eject from the mothership; banking immediately to gain a course which will unite it with a predetermined spot on the Martian surface, some 160 miles below.

The Martian lander is a practical, not tremendously aerodynamic, as its pilot soon discovers, here in the rigors of space. He won’t be taking part in any airshows with this thing. And they would be dead-meat in a dogfight.

“Fortunately there are no hostile forces to challenge us,” he can dream, can he not? “On course and stabilizing.”

“We are there to colonize Mars not conquer it,” Braden urges with a grin. “Remember our manifesto, ‘To be cordial and respectful to any life form we encounter.’


Episode 33


page 40



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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 31

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 31

Was one of your fares a beautiful woman and two little girls perhaps?…


Aldona Afridi continues his defection to save Space Colony 1

“We must cross the Golden Horn to get reach Galata.”

The Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosporus, the narrow band of water separating them from the mosque. The main bridge that connects Galata to Stamboul is choked with evening traffic and in the waters below is Image result for the bosporus waterwaynearly as busy, with floating forms of alternative transportation. Boatmen take their fares in the same dinghies driven by a hundred generations, bobbing side-by-side with a number of larger commuter boats.

A certain ferry commands Aldona’s attention. He scans each bow for the name Mother of the Black Sea, the ship of escape for (his wife) Fatima and the girls. It may be either under-sail or moored, are they aboard or are they ashore, in the safe confines of the mosque?

“There are many a ferry tonight, Saied,” the driver notices his passenger’s keen interest.

“Is the Mother of the Black Sea one of them?”

“Oh yes Saied, the largest of them, with the many lights no doubt. It is docked for the night.” He smiles fondly at the thought; the daily visits by the Black Sea ferryboat are a boon to the taxis.

“Docked this afternoon you say? Did you have any fares from that boat?”

“Oh my yes Saied, every docking brings many fares.”

“Was one of your fares a beautiful woman and two little girls perhaps?”

“No, but I may have seen such a group coming down the ramp, more baggage than my humble cab can carry. I think poor Muhammad XXVII may have gotten them, not good for his bad back.

Related image

Turkish traffic

“Can we go faster; I need to get to the mosque yesterday?”

“We will kill more than pecking chickens…The world has gone mad for haste….”

“I don’t care; get us out of this stagnant mess.”

Never let it be said that a good taxi driver does not enjoy a challenge, especially if it involves driving obnoxiously; foot to pedal, hand on horn.

And the race is on!! The resourceful combination of a jet ski and a golf cart squirts through gaps barely wider than a bicycle, prompting Afridi to scrunch his shoulders and close his eyes. But as in old movie sight-gag, they magically appear on the other side, clear of the bottleneck.

So with the trail of tangled auto, with their fist-shaking drivers behind, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is mere minutes away in Galata, the commercial hub of Old Constantinople.

All in all, Afridi has time to loosen the noose around his neck, having left the hardest roads behind. That he
lives to tell the tale is testimony to his firm resolve and evidence of his good fortune. When he was back in that cold river, bullets splashing like rain around him, his long term welfare was undecided at best. Hopefully there will be sympathetic ears to hear his story, at the end of his cross-continental campaign, ending here in the land of the Great Crusades.




Episode 31


page 37


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 29

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 29

…You can disembark any time you like, but you can never leave.” On a dark desert byway, dusty breeze in my hair, the warm smell of opiates rising up in the air…


Afridi must have drifted off, despite an effort to keep one of them peeled. The sun is giving back the day, silhouetting the domes of Constantinople’s many mosques, and others who have chosen this old city as a destination, begin to stir noisily. This entire foreign hubbub trims the much welcomed mental respite for a psychologically fatigued traitor/defector/fugitive/ husband/father.

The conductor/funnyman goes out of his way to sweep Aldona’s berth, perhaps feeling personally responsible for the success of whatever the man is up to. Surely he has done the same for an untold number of equally fascinating patrons.

“I was awake, sir,” responds Afridi to the bonus care. “Say, please take these as a token.

afghan-noteHe takes possession of several rumpled Afghani notes given him and is truly impressed, so much so that he reaches into his own pocket to fetch a business card, which is printed with magnetic resonance. “Use this in Istanbul, a value that trumps

money; it contains my name, the password is “ByZantium”. Please know that it is abdullah-ashtaar-001electronically case sensitive.

He hands him his card.

Double A meets double AA. “Your kindness will rewarded by the Creator of us all. Perhaps we will meet again.”

You can disembark any time you like, but you can never leave.” On a dark desert byway, dusty breeze in my hair, the warm smell of opiates rising up in the air…

Aldona Afridi extracts what he can from the cryptic statement, while holding a key to a most ancient of world capitals in his hand. Within moments the bullet train swooshes to an abrupt stop, compelling people and objects to spill to the front of each car; standers go down, sitters double over, and sleepers tumble in their blankets. Those new brakes really work.

But they have arrived at Marmaray Station as promised, safely and on time.



Constantinople by Gianomo Franco

Map of the island of Constantinople, created in 1597 by the Venetian Giacomo Franco

Episode 29


page 35


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 28

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 28

“…this must be your 1st trip on the New Orient Expressmy lonely friend.”…


In 2030, again/after a famed and fabled past, the New Orient Express,that had halted the contiguous run in 2009, from Paris all the way through to Istanbul, a train-traveler can still take a bullet (oops) train from one end to the other; 2000 luxurious European kilometers.

Orient Express route

Route of the old Orient Express

Writers have forever taken advantage of its romantic whistle-stops and melting pot passenger list. Taken at face value, the spin of those yarns will have the seats of this long-train runnin’ occupied, in large part, by spies, opiate dealers, murderers, and the like.

In the second to last car is the restaurant coach and seated in the rear, trying his hardest to look inconspicuous {innocent}, is Aldona Afridi. Now you can add a Talibanistani defector to the list of unusually unusual passengers; fitting right in with the stereotypical fictional ne’er-do-wells. Just don’t stare at them.

Related imageIn an attempt to make a goose-chase out of his flight to freedom thereby covering his tracks, Afridi had flown to Paris, instead of the logical land-way across the Persian Plain and Euphrates Valley, where Nutkani and his tribesmen were previously nipping at his heels.

The most gregarious of the conductor corps strolls down the aisle, stopping to chat with folks of all derivations, some of which would rather not, acting as if they were all long-lost friends. Afridi chooses Conductor“mute” as his origin, but is compelled to mouth, “What time Istanbul?”

“Last stop Bucharest…” he shares his answer, then pointedly asking, “…this must be your 1st trip on the New Orient Express, my lonely friend.” After 20 hours on the rapid rail, passengers should be more aware of the schedule.

“Will we get there before dusk?” he rephrases, hoping to elicit a more precise response from the mustachioed kibitzer.

“Romanian officials are asking questions, searching the whole train…for a defector my instinct tells me.”

Just what Afridi wanted to hear; like a priest preaching a sermon on hell in front of pews packed with hardcore sinners? Had he known that the rascally conductor was pulling his strange-unusualleg, using his uncanny ability to guess why passengers have chosen to ride this disreputable rail, Aldona would have been spared the mounting anxiety that threaten to make a wreck of him.

Chuckling on his way, the conductor whispers cryptically, “You will arrive at railhead before dark, my itchy friend. People who choose the New Orient Express are immune from border inspections…just be aware of the  people around you!”

The jovial ticket taker’s laugh echoes loudly, yet the cause of his amusement seems of little consequence to the other diners. Anonymity is the unspoken creed of this illustrious train.



Episode 28


page 34


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