THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 52

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 52

 “I do not believe we have underestimated your talents Awrah Bouchette.”…

Image result for crank call

Crank Call by Graham Annable

“I will tell you of something your greedy leaders will not: At eleven o’clock AM Texas time, the Earth’s ultimate imperialistic endeavor, Space Colony 1 has been completely and utterly destroyed!” There is more than one stab into the belly and genuine pride in his delivery.

Francine eases herself down into her chair, gasping at the mere thought. This man does not sound like your typical crank.

“Did you hear me woman? The Taliban, Nepal and Korean governments applaud this accident. Allah and Buddha have spoken.”

“I heard you,” she whispers faintly. Everyone in southern Texas knows someone who works in the space industry or Space Colony specifically. “I am not inclined to believe you sir,” is all the journalism she can muster.

“You are the only civilian who has this information, use it to disgrace the infidels and enhance your own career and that of your station. Reuters would gladly break this story, no problem.”

“If I am the only Westerner to know this, if it is true, wouldn’t NASA want to hold a formal press conference?”

“But you do not want to share the spotlight,” he pauses, she mulls. “I do not believe we have underestimated your talents Awrah Bouchette.” He slips back into his Arabic vernacular.

“I’ll need more information before I can break this story.”

“You must have a source in the space program; I suggest you confirm it with them. But they will tell you the same things, if they are honest. They will speak of how an asteroid has destroyed your space station and stopped the useless expansion into space. They may try to rescue the project, but they will fail, Allah has prevailed. You will not discover your source…”

A dial tone abruptly replaces the bearer of horrible news.

And what is she to do with this? No one else of import is at the station.


THE RETURN TRIP

newsroom-001

Episode 52


page 50

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.

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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! Those men will not leave until they have found me.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 41


page 39

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 40

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 40

…“Have you not run into any Talibanistani agents hot on my trail, as The Lone Ranger would say?”…

Hot on the trail

“It may appear unbelievable on the surface, but I swear I need to speak with Director Crippen. He will distinguish of what I speak.” Afridi insists.

“How do you know Roy Crippen?”

“I do not know him, but a long time ago I petitioned my government to work on the Mars colony. Like any other dedicated scientist in the world, I wanted to join the paramount project man has ever undertaken.”

“Talibanistan was given every opportunity to join with the free-world, but they chose to belittle and criticize the waste; the ‘there are still starving tribesmen’ in the world argument.”

Afridi hangs his head low in disgust and disdain.

“You must understand our hesitance in chasing after your wild accusations. A killer satellite launched from a camel’s back? For all we know, you just needed a good excuse to request asylum. We cannot take in everyone who claims to be oppressed.”

“Have you not run into any Talibanistani agents hot on my trail, as The Lone Ranger would say?”

“Oh, we know you have stirred up a hornet’s nest alright.”

“Then get my message to Roy Crippen, or better yet let me talk the science of my claims, to support my story in person.”

“Maybe in 5, 6 hours, we’ll see.” Elliot Deming turns to walk away from the Image result for if and buts were candy and nutsissue. He regrets not having the authority…..if ifs & buts were candy & nuts.

“Wait Mr. Deming sir, I ask but one thing, that I am able to stay with my family, they have been through much.”

“I see no harm in that,” concedes the Consul General. “Move Mister Afridi into his family’s quarters, Sargent.”

“But that is up on the ground floor sir, not as secure.”

“It may be academic in a few hours; do as I say!”


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 40


page 38

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.”…

meanwhile-caption-001

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 (faster version) train from one end to the other; 2000 luxurious European kilometres.

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.

In 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.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 28


page 27

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 24

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 24

…The Space Colony 1 mission will be a steppingstone to the stars….

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The large real-time holographic mock-up of Mars is immediately beside the live video feed, making it hard to take your eyes off them. The Mission mock-up has been a control room fixture since the project was in its infancy. The 15′ x 20′ comes from the camera aboard Space Colony 1 and was only turned on by its tenants when they arrived.

The Tow-Drone, Martian Mule, had hauled the Space Colony 1 out to Mars orbit 10 months ago, two months ahead of the Chronicle’s arrival, yet those epic events now pale into comparison to where Tycho is about to go; the tranquil crimson Martian plains.my-project-23-001

With the placement of the Space Family McKinney, this occasion represents the dawning of a lasting human legacy in deep space. Science has benefitted greatly from studying the long-term effects of prolonged space travel on astronauts and in the near future, the building of Mars City will be as enigmatic as the first British colonists upon stepping foot on North American soil.

This historic mission will be a steppingstone to the stars. To that end, most of the entire Earth has banded together to set aside their differences and nuclear armament to make this happen.

Only Talibanistan and the United Korean Peninsula have opted out, along with Chino-Indian complex which had long since deteriorated into an over-industrialized environmental slog.cropped-stay-tuned-001.jpg

For Roy Crippen it is now sweaty palm time; no matter the mission track record or confidence level. He would rather be performing the Martian landing than coaching it from this distance. He paces below the holograph, all the time speaking to Braden King on the Lovell-Galvy link, “What’s the mood out there,” he asks the communication expert, while walking under the live streaming video……


THE RETURN TRIP

Stepping Stones by Rob Gonsalves

Stepping Stones by Rob Gonsalves

Episode 24


page 23

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 21

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 21

…I need for you & the children to meet me in Istanbul. You have the numbers for our Switzerland account; have your cousin Fasil drive you to Ahmadinejad {formerly Iran}

Defection by Jovan Stankić

Defection by Jovan Stankić

”Do you have a…?” Afridi puts a hand to his ear, the universal cellphone gesture.

The husband reaches into his backpack to hand over his Talibanistani version of a communicator, “Safe,” he reassures.

Afridi feels he owes the family (who is giving him refuge) some kind of an explanation, but he is aware of how straightforward their life is, simple and routine, neither of which applies to his. They politely shuffle off to another room when they see him entering the numbers that will go directly to his oldest child’s phone, fear-the-worst-by-linwood barclyhoping he is at home, while dodging a wiretap of his wife’s device.

Three rings, four, five and he begins to fear the worst. “They” had gotten to his family, salting them away with the intent of having them fall through the porous cracks of tribal autocracy.

Suddenly a familiar voice picks up; praise and glory to the God he is forbidden to worship!

“Are you at home my son, good? Hand your phone to your mother.”

“Aldona, Sheikh Kamran came to tell me that you were missing! Are you in trouble, what have you done?”

“Fatima listen very carefully, we have little time to dawdle,” accent on time. “We must defect immediately. ‘They’ wanted me to participate in something my conscience will not allow; I will have no part in their jealous ruin, what a fool I was.”

“What should we do Aldona? You know I support you in all your decisions.”

“You wanted me to get a job in the West, I should have listened, but now we have no choice. I am wounded…safe and well in the home of kind strangers. ‘They’ think I am dead, so act like you know nothing.

defection1I need for you & the children to meet me in Istanbul. You have the numbers for our Switzerland account; have your cousin Fasil drive you to Ahmadinejad {formerly Iran} and cross into Turkey from there.”

It is reflective moment for Afridi.

“If we make it through this ordeal, I vow to work endlessly for the good of the entire world. I have been escape2-001funneling my talents into an evil pit.

“Please go straight to the Galata district and seek refuge Sultan Ahmet Mosque, it is run by Christians, and you will be safe there.”

“We will do so Aldona. Praise God for sparing your life.”

“May He sponsor us in our time of need.”


 THE RETURN TRIP

Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Episode 21


page 20

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 19

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 19

…May the name of Aldona Afridi hereby be erased from Talibanistan records, as if he never existed!…

meanwhile-caption-001

“He must be dead, Sheikh Nutkani. No one can survive in water that cold… what a fool!” Nae Tan-Dan assumed he would play by the rules, finding it hard to believe that Aldona Afridi would act so rashly.

Shaikh Nutkani

“If he is dead, we must act on our plan sooner than we wanted. If he isn’t dead, he will wish he were.” The former Taliban tribesman is outraged, appalled that this scientist would betray his duty. He is not however, without his wits. “You must find another source for the laser access codes. Surely there is a failsafe protocol built into the system.

May the name of Aldona Afridi hereby be erased from Talibanistan records, as if he never existed!

“The United Korea will honor its end of the bargain, Sheikh. Nae Tan-Dan has the loyalty of all his people.” Third person references denote self-importance.

The reprehensible twosome reassembles their entourage of cars and men, speeding off into the Near East dawn, each to his own clandestine objective.horizontal-line5

Fading automobile noises signal a reprieve for the severely exposed Aldona Afridi. He has spent the last hour clinging to the drive shaft of his ferry refuge, giving e tenuous lease on life. Bleeding from a flesh wound to his upper arm, due solely by regaining dry land, he needs to come with a more well thought out plan. There are signs that he has not been completely forgotten, the fresh siren sounds of activity, likely not from concerned ambulance medics, not mention the helicopters.

Where will he go, is the question of the moment? This nondescript and aptly unnamed tribal village has some 500,000 clansmen/women and not one would open their drafty homes to help a stranger, let alone a hunted one. The logical thing to do is to change his identity, but that is currently a longshot option.escape2-001

He decides that his best chance is on the other side of the river, bridges being few and far in-between, then take his chances from there. He needs to convince himself that lowering his body temperature once again is a good idea.

But that he does with a polar bear’s approach, so he tackles the fifty meter swim to provisional independence; independence not freedom, with freedom attained only with asylum status for him and his family at a rare Western Embassy.


THE RETURN TRIP

No Safe Haven by Larry Selman

No Safe Haven by Larry Selman

Episode 19


page 18

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 13

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 13

…Excuse me Comrade Aldona; this is Comrade Nae Tan-Dan, our main liaison to the great nation of Korea and the constructor of our glorious plan…

mastermind-001

Aldona Afridi is becoming more restless by the second. Everything about this strange encounter has trouble written all over it.

Oddly, no one in the limo makes a move; the newcomers cover ground in a hurry to join an already crowded limo.mastermind-001

“It is good to see you again Sheikh Khan-Nutkani,” states the smallest of the group, speaking with an accent not indigenous to the region.

“Glory to Allah, Comrade Dan, I am hoping your news is as good as Comrade Afridi’s”

“It is even better; phase one of the operation has been carried out. Fredrick Cabell has been neutralized.” The dwarfish man sticks his chest out as if he were waiting for a medal to be pinned on it.

“Excellent, excellent; time is growing short Dan.”

Afridi suddenly has the feeling that there is a plan that he is not in on. And what is with all this “comrade” stuff all of a sudden.

Comrades

“Oh excuse me Comrade Aldona; this is Comrade Nae Tan-Dan, our main liaison to the great nation of Korea and the constructor of our glorious plan.” Nutkani’s introduction is lavished with admiration.

“I was not aware we were working on the same project?” Afridi has a shrinking perception of just what the goals of the Sang-Ashi Probe are exactly.

“Let us say that you have your talents and I have mine.”

“Comrades, let me say that both of your talents will be needed to defeat the greatest threat to our stature in the world since the unlawful attacks on our founding state. That is why you are here; to help each of our nations stare down imperialism!” Khan-Nutkani refers to the endless Afghan War and inspired by the chance to settle the score. “Afridi, you hold the key; Comrade Tan Dan needs to open the door, and between us, we must slam the door on Universe Expansionism!”

Nae Tan-Dan seems to have a {short} leg up on Afridi and is poised to carry out a plan. Aldona Afridi is still mostly in the dark, but a sliver of light is seeping through some seedy cracks.Sang-Ashi Probe

“To keep our solar system free of those who want to conquer it, we need the firing codes for the Sang-Ashi Probe.”

“Sang-Ashi will protect itself, if the occasion warrants. I built in superior internal defenses.”

“We need to have manual control over it…..and we need it now!” The Sheikh’s arms are shaking angrily.


THE RETURN TRIP

Image result for expansionism

Expansionism by Robert Bertino

Episode 13


page 12

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 11

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 11

…Why yes, Shaikh Kamran Khan-Nutkani! Our Korean friends assure me that the invisibility cloak worked like a three-armed lucky Buddha

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Meanwhile… that very same day, somewhere in Talibanistan, the geographical territory once occupied by: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and all the other “-stans

Sang-Ashi

“Tell us Afridi, are we sure that our Sang-Ashi Probe got through America’s Henchman Satellite Killer Network. Our source at their Pentagon tells us that that it was on high alert 7 months ago.”

Image result for mitAldona Afridi, MIT educated, has a particular set of talents where long-range satellites are concerned.

Why yes, Sheikh Kamran Khan-Nutkani! Our United Korean friends assure me that the invisibility cloak worked like a three-armed lucky Buddha.”

The Sheikh is as intimidating as he looks; lavishly robed, weathered by years of mountain life and

a radical Muslim to his very core. He has a calculating glint in his eye.

The Talibanistani’s foremost expert in laser technology squirms uneasily in a normally comfortable seat, but then again an armored limousine rarely is used to hold a sensitive meeting of such world-changing magnitude. Neither is Afridi at home with himself, having invested his design talents to construct an infamous weapon. He is also collaborating with the famously treacherous Koreans, which does nothing to soothe his restless conscience.

“Our alliance with Korea is essential to the success of our goal,” the Sheikh reminds the man, an arm’s length away.

“Our satellite is safe and ready to take out the spy satellite that has been making our alliance so miserable.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Hotbed for Mischief

Episode 11


page 11

The NULL Solution = Episode 137

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The NULL Solution = Episode 137

…On a remote corner of King Ranch is an undistinguished home, 7/8ths of which is below grade, facing eastward and has prairie grass and cacti for a roof…

Over in the purported Mr. Lorgan’s Neighborhood, silent preparations are being made for Collapsar Axis’ arrival. Fletcher Fitch has been assigned the task of his long life; install the global force field that the inventor-race-deluxe, Seljuk bestowed upon them. While he is at it, beef up the disruptor array aboard SEx.

Fitch was the scientific whistleblower who exposed the United Korean Peninsula for the Space Colony 1 destroyers that they were. That they were in league with his country of Talibanistan made him a marked man for decades to come. What he does not know, is that there is still a hefty price on his head and fortune hunters out there willing to pursue the bounty.

Texas Sunrise | by DustDevilDiver (Briley Mitchell)

On a remote corner of King Ranch is an undistinguished home, 7/8ths of which is below grade, facing eastward. It has prairie grass and cacti for a roof. It has sheltered the traitor/scientist for many Texas sunrises and provided a haven for his wife and two daughters. The daughters had departed the underground nest years ago, leaving Fatima and the former Aldona Afridi to live out the rest of their lives. Once you are a friend of the Crippens, always a friend.

Up until now, his association with Galveston Launch Facility was viewed as benign. He is just one of a thousand other geek-types that work there… until he was recognized by the single “looter” who managed to elude death the other night. It seems that King Ranch booty may have been secondary to a greater Muslim cause.

It turns out that rogue goon-squad fishing expedition has accidentally spotted a Big Fitch.

But this Fitch is heedless in respect to any danger. He is flush with the excitement, like a kid in a candy store. Molecular stabilizers, force fields and disruptor arrays replace sugar plums and squirt guns. He is on top of the cutting edge technology pile and he relishes the view.

And his daughters have returned to the nest to help celebrate science, in addition to his 75th birthday. With life expectancies exceeding 100, his ¾ share of life {26 clear of his ties to Talibanistan} is well-worth celebrating. But a glitch in the ranch power grid has forced the party to move to Crippen/McKinney territory. However, Francine and Mindy’s culinary skills are lacking when it comes to Near-East cuisine, so Fatima must ferry his favorite foods from a mile away.

“Where is Fatima? I swear that woman doesn’t sit still for one minute!”

“She went back for the Harissa, forgot it in the blackout, back on the counter.” The dish made from semolina is a treat from the old days, unknown to local restaurateurs. Fletcher seldom asks for anything Arab. “Come dance with me my daughters!”


The NULL Solution =

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Episode 137


page 135