What Lies Ahead
I spent the rest of the week getting into the groove of being in school again, and trying to balance that with my increased work schedule.
If last year seemed busy, this year was starting off insane! I was going into the office every day after school, getting home and working through homework, then passing out; just so I could wake up a few hours later, to start it all over again.
I knew I couldn’t keep this up for long, and would have to find a way to make it balance.
Actually, it wouldn’t have been so bad if the rhythm of the house hadn’t changed at the same time. Mom was now spending time after work looking at properties and making plans for getting us moved when we finally bought one. While what house we bought would be a family decision, it was decided Mom would do all the initial leg work. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to help her on it. Adding to that was the girls now absorbed in their own project. They had taken my request that they figure out a plan for the charity to heart and had thrown themselves into it.
Besides brainstorming among themselves, they were also calling experts across the country to try and get information in order to make the best plan they could, as well as making endless calls to Jonathan for legal questions.
They had even roped in Tina. While this was outside her experience and knowledge, they found a way for her to help them by keeping notes of things they were working on and doing other small tasks. It may not seem like much, but Tina was thrilled to be included by them. She had developed a serious case of hero worship for Zoe.
Between the girls’ project and Mom’s house hunting, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see what Jonathan’s bill would be this month, not that he wasn’t worth every penny.
I shouldn’t complain about how busy everyone was though. They all dealt with my being distant when, from time to time, I got absorbed in something. It’s not like I was abandoned. While Tami and Vicki were going home every night when they finished their homework and research for the project, we all still found time to be together, and Zoe made sure to spend time with me as much as she could.
I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself or feeling abandoned, but I did find myself on a Friday night without much to do. Mom was off doing something, the girls, with Tina in tow, were on a call with some guy in Japan (and running up a phone bill that I would probably freak out about later), and everyone at the office had gone home to their families.
So I decided to go for a run. I don’t normally run at night; but I don’t have much desire to watch TV, and just sitting around watching other people do stuff drives me crazy.
Instead of running through the neighborhood, which was what I did on my morning runs, I decided to jog into the town proper. If for nothing else, the change of scenery would give me something to think about.
I was just getting onto the bridge that crossed the Trinity River, which ran through the middle of town, when something caught my attention.
In the middle part of the bridge, the highest point, a man was outside the railing, hanging onto it with both hands. I quickened my pace, unconsciously, as I evaluated him and the situation.
If I had to guess, I would say he was in his forties, although I am terrible at that kind of thing. Pudgy around the middle, but not overly fat, with a stocky frame. His hair was thinning in the front, leaving a widows peak, and he had a growing bald spot on the top of his head. Small, round wire frame glasses sat on his nose, which was bulbous and round, matching his somewhat round face.
I was managing to close on him when my movement finally caught his attention. I quickened my pace just a little more and veered in close to where he was, trying not to make it obvious, but his eyes narrowed a bit as he seemed to realize I was running generally in his direction.
We made eye contact which seemed to last a while, but was only a second or two at best. The sadness in his eyes was all encompassing. There wasn’t a pleading or a questioning in his expression, just resignation.
That brief eye contact was enough to tell me what was happening. This was a man who had given up! He held our eye contact for another moment, and, without breaking it, released his grip on the railing. His body tipped forward as he slowly began to lose contact with the bridge.
I put on all the speed I could, pushing my enhanced muscles to their fullest. Vaulting the rail, but leaving my left hand gripping it to anchor me, I stretched out to his falling form with my right hand. I managed to just reach his wrist as I stretched my body as far as I could.
He might not have been overly fat, but he was certainly dense. Even my advanced musculature was pushed to its max just to stop his descent. Newton’s Laws of Motion almost made me lose him as I absorbed what momentum he had started to build after letting go. I felt as if my left arm was being ripped out of its socket, and I swear I heard something pop. I pushed that pain aside and tightened my grip on his wrist.
He didn’t say anything to me, just looked up at me with those sad eyes as I slowly pulled him up. That sounds easier than it was. My left arm was fully extended and, while it kept me from going off the bridge with him, I didn’t have any leverage to use to pull the man up.
I was essentially pulling him up with just my right arm, until I got to the point when I could be less extended and actually gain enough leverage to pull him up the rest of the way. This was more like trying to “curl” an adult man than anything else. I may have some kind of preternatural physical abilities, but there were a few moments when I wasn’t sure that was going to be enough to save this man.
Finally, I managed to get him up and was able to shift my grip to lift him over the railing so he was safely on the bridge. As I went back over the rail and slid down to sit next to him, I was certain I had hurt something in my left arm. The pain was excruciating.
He was sobbing, softly, but I needed to do one more thing before I could find out what was happening.
Pulling the new cell phone out of my pocket, I punched in Mom’s new cell phone number.
“Hello,” she said when she picked up.
“It’s Cas. I am on the Trinity Bridge. Could you call Alex and ask her to come pick me up? I will probably need to take a trip to the hospital.”
“Are you OK? What happened?” she said in a worried voice.
“I’m fine. There was an incident and I think I hurt my left arm. There is also another guy here. I’m not sure if he is hurt, but we should have him checked out, too.”
“What happened?” she asked again.
“I can’t get into it now. I’m fine; nothing’s wrong. I will explain everything when you get here. I gotta go.”
I hung up to avoid the conversation continuing, and slid the phone back into my pocket.
I couldn’t seem to lift my left arm to put around the crying man next to me, so I reached across with my right hand and placed it on his forearm.
“Hey, are you OK?” I asked.
He gave a shrug, still looking at his hands. I removed my hand from his arm and placed it on his back as he silently cried. We sat there for a while, occasionally disturbed by the noise of a car as it rushed over the bridge.
“Why did you stop me?” he asked eventually. His voice had that distinct Boston accent which always reminded me of JFK.
“Because I couldn’t let anyone throw their life away. Whatever is wrong, I promise you it isn’t worth that.”
“What would you know about it?” he asked, sounding agitated.
“I know that nothing could be so bad as to make jumping off a bridge a good option. But, if you want to tell me what made you feel it was, I’ll listen. Maybe you’ll prove me wrong.”
“You wouldn’t understand, kid.”
“Fine. Yesterday, everything I have worked for, for my entire life, was yanked away from me. Two months ago, I was at the highest moment of my life. I thought I had conquered the World! Then one petty man pulled it all away.”
“OK, I can see how that would be tough,” I said when his angry words stopped, “but I might need a bit more context.”
“You’ve been watching the news this summer?”
“And so you saw all the stuff about the Pathfinder probe?”
Anyone who was alive and walked past a TV in the last two months would know what Pathfinder was. The cable news shows had been plastered with it since July, when Pathfinder reached Mars and the Sojourner rover started sending back pictures from the surface. The news had started to die down a bit for July, as the novelty wore off for most people, but it still showed up every week or two.
“Yeah, I saw it.”
“That was me.”
“What?” I asked, not sure what he meant.
“I worked on that project for years. Many of the designs on both the lander and the rover were my inventions. The director had already pushed praise of my work over to his own people, but that didn’t bother me. I am used to the politics at NASA and, since I was attached to JPL and outside the normal internal politics, it was easy to be overlooked. But, I didn’t care. I am in it for the engineering and I loved my job. They let me work out some of my crazier ideas, and each time one worked, they indulged me more. I was called to a meeting in Houston yesterday. They have already started planning the next mission, and I thought that was what the meeting was about. But, no. Their ‘faster, cheaper, better’ plan meant they wanted to just do the same thing over. They didn’t need people pushing to break barriers or try new things. So they let me go. After more than a decade they just ... threw me away.”
I was still stuck on the fact that he was saying he was behind the Mars probe. That was a huge engineering and scientific achievement. My experience with the DOD last year told me enough to believe him on the byzantine political maneuvering that could happen inside a government agency.
“With your resumé, I’m sure you can find other work. This isn’t the end.”
“I have no resumé outside of just saying I worked at NASA. I didn’t care about the politics and who got credit. I just loved the work. So while I hid in my lab, my supervisors put their name on my projects. I have nothing to show for my work.”
“But still, I’m sure if you talked to other companies you could...”
“I could what? Build a better car? Design an airplane that could carry five more people? I was sending my designs to another planet. I was allowed to explore at my own whims.”
“Is throwing your life away the answer, though?” I argued.
He just shrugged.
“Let me get you home. Where are you staying?”
“At the moment, I live in Alabama, since that’s where my lab was. Now? Who the hell cares? I was driving back from Houston when I saw this bridge and decided...”
“I think I can help you,” I said.
He looked up at me, with a weird expression that was both hopeful and dismissive.
“How could you possibly help me?”
Looking past him, I could see Alex pull her car up behind what I guessed was his car and get out, looking concerned. I held up my hand, motioning her to wait for me a moment.
“I’m certain you aren’t going to believe this until I prove it to you, but I own a ... I guess you would call it a technology company. Give me one day. Let me get you checked out at the hospital, and I’ll take you to my offices tomorrow. If you still think I can’t help, you can go on your way and I won’t bother you again.”
“You’re what, seventeen or eighteen? How do you own anything?” he said.
“See, I said you wouldn’t believe me. But, consider this. You were about to jump off a bridge, so what’s one day of humoring me gonna cost you?”
He stared at me for a moment. Looking past him I could see Alex getting impatient as she waited by the hood of her car.
“Fine, one day,” he finally said.
“What’s your name?” I asked
“Douglas Evans,” he said.
“I’m Caspian Grey. It’s nice to meet you, Douglas. My friend over there,” I said, pointing at Alex, “is a medical doctor, and is going to drive us to the hospital.”
“I’m fine,” he said.
“Yeah, but I’m not. I did something to my arm when I caught you.”
“Ohh,” he said, finally seeming to notice my arm hanging limp at my side. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to...”
“No, it’s OK. A bum arm is a cheap price to pay for someone’s life. But, if you could help me up?” I asked.
He stood up, and helped pull me up. Seeing me stand up Alex decided that was enough of a signal that she didn’t have to wait any more.
Rushing over to me, she pushed past Douglas and started looking me over. I winced when she gripped my left arm.
Coming of Age /