Maybe True, Mostly Metaphor Part XV
What are you doing with your life, reader?
Wait, that doesn’t read well…comes off a little harsh. Let me rephrase it.
Why do you bother to get up in the morn–
No, that’s even worse. Bear with me. How about I just explain it this way:
When I was a kid, my mind was filled with wonder. Anything was possible, and I wanted to do it all.
Then, I lost my balloon, and as I grew older that wonder turned into wander. I’m sure that feeling is not unique to me, right? In fact, I think it’s an unspoken rule of life. A transition point we all pass through at one point or another. Like a plate of food shattering on the floor. Shocking at first, but it’s not the end of the world. You can even go back and remake the dish just as you can try to go back and recapture your sense of wonder. But it’s not the same the second time. Your second plate has been marked in your mind with the knowledge of the earlier, broken one. A renewed sense of wonder carries with it the shadow of knowledge you gained through the years. Everyone, at some point, lets their innocent wonder shatter into a thousand wandering pieces.
I did what was expected of me. Went to school. Why? To get good marks on exams. Why? To get into a good follow-on school. Why? To take more exams and get better marks. Why? To get a job. Why? To live.
But, there’s a difference between being alive and living, reader. I’m getting ahead of myself, though…
My childhood wonder turned to an adulthood wander. I already described this to you at the very beginning of my story. Drifting through the world with the vague, stated purpose of finding my lost balloon but not having any real idea of how to start.
That sense of wander was interrupted by Alice, who taught me another unspoken rule of life. Impact.
No matter who you are, no matter where you wander, your existence has an impact on the world around you. Your environment is shaped by your presence. Like a single hydrogen atom, wandering (there’s that word again) through space until, by it’s mere existence, it attracts another hydrogen atom. And another. And another. Until there’s an interaction. Reaction. Light. Energy. More reactions, more impact. Carbon, oxygen, iron, dust. A planet. A system.
That’s you, reader. And me. A scientist might say we’re all a complex mix of atoms, and guess what? Those atoms have a gravity. An impact. Your existence has an influence…whether you want it to or not. For better or for worse.
Wonder turns into wander. And, as we wander, we influence the world around around us.
Third lesson. We can’t always control that influence. That’s the impact that Moog and Sondra had one me. Try as we might, life always gets a vote. We influence the world, but the world gets to influence us. It can take you east when you want to go west. It can throw you into a storm and drop you somewhere entirely new. It can take a whimsical hot air balloon and seemingly prophetic poem and turn it into a dark messenger. And you make the most of what you’re given, like a young Sondra who, when faced with a challenge, simply stitches together a fix and carries on until her life is as colorful as her clothes.
But what comes after that, reader? Wonder. Wander. Impact. Control (or the lack thereof). What do we do with our lives next?
A better question, if we’re going to influence the world one way or another, how do we do it responsibly?
How do you want to influence the world around you?
Why do you get up in the morning?
“Ok, here’s the plan,” Laurents spoke in a hushed tone. His voice lost none of his deadpan, matter-of-fact confidence despite the lowered volume. We were at a train station. I didn’t know which city we were in. Laurents spent the previous night pouring over notes while scrolling through the messages Alice left on my phone.
“She’s been sending you a list of cities,” he pulled a small slip of paper out of his pocket.
“What?” my head spun, “How? I would’ve noticed.”
He was about to show us his paper, but then folded it instead and held on, “What did Alice’s first note say to you. The one she included with the money she sent you?”
“Add one for luck.”
“And it didn’t make sense to you, right? Was there any extra money that she added?”
“I didn’t really have a chance to check.”
“But the note had something else weird about it, right? You said she capitalized random letters.”
I slowly nodded, “right, but…”
Elise’s eyes lit up, “She was sending a coded message, and the key was in her note. Add one.”
Laurents nodded and handed her the paper, “Exactly.” Then he looked at me, “You probably don’t remember which letters were capitalized in that note, but that’s ok. I was able to figure it out through the texts she sent. Then, after I got your phone connected, there were several unread ones she must have sent sometime between when you left Seattle and now.” He pointed at the paper in Elise’s hand, “I wrote out the first message at the top.”
Elise held the paper out for us both to read:
Did you Get the nOte?
“Her last name starts with ‘D’, not ‘K'” Elise explained, “So it has to be part of her secret.”
“It’s a pretty basic cipher, but enough to meet Alice’s needs, apparently.” Laruents pointed at the capital letters, “Take the capital letters, and ‘add one for luck’.”
I looked at her message. D, G, O, K were the capitals, but I still didn’t understand, “How do you add one?”
“Oh no,” Elise frowned, “E, H, P, L. Add one letter to the ones she capitalized. Then arrange the letters into a word. Her first one says help.” She looked up with slight worry in her eyes, “Laurents, is she ok? What else did you find?”
“I don’t think she’s in any immediate danger. She sent that first message a long time ago now, and there were plenty of newer messages from her. Most of them didn’t make any real sense. Random statements. Sentences that lacked any context. But, they all had capitalized letters. None of other ones said help though,” He pointed further down the paper “each message turned out to be the name of a city. I wrote them all out here.”
I looked at the list.
I didn’t recognize some of the cities. For example, where was Adelaide?
“Some of her messages contained addresses. Other cities we already knew they had an operation in so I cross-referenced them with people and neighborhoods of interest,” Laurents continued. “The order is also important, along with the timestamps of her messages. I think she’s sending each message as she’s in the city. It’s a travel route. Which means she was most recently in La Paz. I have an idea of who she’s traveling with, but I don’t know under what conditions…”
“So we either follow her, try to meet her when she sends us the next location, or anticipate where she’s going next and meet there.” Elise concluded.
“Wait, meet to do what?” I looked from one face to the other, but they ignored me and continued.
“If she’s in La Paz now, there’s no way we’ll be able to meet her when she sends us the next location. Based on the timestamps, they don’t spend a lot of time at each place. But,” Laurents took back the paper, “based on what notes we already have, I think we can predict their next stops. Looking at the cities, they’re doing a round the world trip, east to west, of their various regional operations. After La Paz, I’m guessing they’re headed north. There’s a few cities they’ll stop at, and I think it’ll give us time to catch up and build a plan.”
“Guys,” I tried to interject, but to no avail.
“Which is…” Elise’s brows furrowed, “You said you knew who she was traveling with.”
“That part’s easy. Who else would be taking a tour of every part of their operation? She’s with her husband. But as a hostage or a mole, I don’t know.”
“If she can send us messages, then she probably isn’t entirely locked away. Besides, that would make traveling harder on them. He probably has her on a short leash, though.”
“There’s another thing, Pia. This list,” Laurents pocketed the paper, “we can do a lot of damage with it. In fact, we need to do a lot of damage before we can intercept Alice. They’re still chasing us. We’ll never make it to the Americas with them on our tail.”
“Do a lot of damage? Laurents, you can’t expect us to go to each of these cities and shut them down. What happens if they figure out our plan? If they figure out that Alice is sending us messages? Besides, shut them down how?” Elise looked at me, then back to Laurents, “We’re not you. We can’t go running through burning buildings and kidnapping people outside of dumpling shops. We should focus on getting to Alice.”
“Pia, if we don’t stop them along the way, there’s no chance we’ll make it to Alice.”
“And there’s now chance we’ll get to her in time if they get the word out,” she urged.
“We don’t even know what kind of situation Alice is in, Pia. But we could collect information as we go to these towns. Alice was there, in each place. There has to be something we can use to help us.”
“Laurents, look at this list!” Elise’s song voice rose to a crescendo, “Look at how many cities this is. You honestly expect us to become super soldiers overnight and start raiding each of these places on our own, all while we’re being chased by who knows how many of them? Think about what you’re asking of us.”
“So let’s drop in from above.” Finally, Elise and Laurents paused and looked at me.
Reader, I’ve realized over the years that every person I meet has a lesson for me. They teach me something about life–impacting me whether they mean to or not. Laurents and Elise, they had something that I had been lacking my whole life up to that point.
A confident, focused purpose.
They had an impact to make, a purpose to accomplish. They weren’t in control, but hell if that was going to stop them. Elise and Laurents had their differences, but they knew what they wanted and how to get it. They knew their influence. And they were going to use it: Elise–to save Alice, Laurents–to stop them all.
I listened to them think and plan with so much level headed confidence despite the fact that we were being chased. Despite the fact that we were nearly burned alive and that Elise, by her own admission on the train, was terrified. Yet she could dive in and discuss traveling the world and running headfirst into an unknown situation to save Alice as though she were invincible. As though this wasn’t her first time leaving home. From the moment I met them, their influence grew inside me like a rising tide. Every action they made–every example of confidence–was a wave crashing against a sea wall, getting higher and higher until I couldn’t contain it. Finally, I let it wash over me.
“We drop in from above. They’re after us. We don’t know how far behind they are but, like you said, Laurents, it doesn’t really matter because they’ll absolutely find us before we ever make it as far as the Americas. So, instead of running, we fight back. And then we go after Alice. That way, we won’t be ambushed. That’s the point you’re getting at, right?”
Laurents nodded. Finally, his deadpan face showed emotion, and it was surprise. Elise folded her arms, “How are we supposed to fight back as they chase us?”
I smiled, “Like I said, we drop in from above. We have something they don’t. The Candlewind. They can follow us on the trains, chase us through the streets, and burn down buildings we try to hide in, but they can’t catch us if we’re above them. We can travel wherever we need, city to city, dropping in to ‘stop them’ however Laurents plans to do that.”
“I can handle that part,” he interjected and then looked at Elise. “You’re not me, I know. That’s ok. I’ll need your help, but I can do the hard stuff. No more burning buildings, Pia.”
Elise looked at me. I saw a hint of approval in her eyes, perhaps something more as well.
“They can’t burn down the sky,” I finished.
Laurents nodded, “Then there’s our plan. I’ll go back and get the Candlewind. I’ll go alone. If we split up, maybe that will slow them down. You guys go to Shanghai. We can get ready for our trip there and I have a friend who can get us and the balloon to Osaka by sea. I don’t want to use the Candlewind to leave the country. They’ll be watching the borders and using their contacts in the police. If they spot us leaving for Japan, they might figure out what we’re up to.” He sighed, “After Osaka, though, we will have played our hand, so we might as well use the balloon at that point to stay safe from them. If we do things right, maybe we can swoop in to each location fast enough that they can’t get word out on what’s happening.”
“What about the first city on the list, though,” Elise added, “Wuxi was listed before Osaka.”
“I can do Wuxi after getting the balloon. I’ll fly low, they won’t be looking for me, anyways. They’ll be busy watching the borders and they don’t know we have this list. After I’m done in Wuxi, I’ll meet you guys in Shanghai.”
I wanted to ask Laurents what he meant by ‘do Wuxi’, but I had a feeling he wouldn’t tell me. In fact, I wasn’t sure what he meant by fight back in each of those cities or what kind of help he had in mind that required us. We’d have the advantage of the Candlewind, but we weren’t a police force or an army. What did he plan to do when we got to each place?
How much impact could we have?
Check back in two more weeks for more!