Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

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          The night of first contact, Celine Farrell was en route to her home town. In the departure terminal at JFK, sizing up her fellow passengers, she was reminded she was born and raised on another planet. Most people brought up in New York saw no reason to travel to the country's windswept center, so the plane would be full of tourists from Oklahoma who’d just finished vacations of gawking and rolling their eyes at the Big Apple. One family wore matching ball caps with leaves and apple stems on top. They looked like extras from some misguided production of Alice in Wonderland. The mother didn't so much tend as corral her three children, each of which oozed a different color of snot, while the father took off his shoes and massaged his toes. When he caught Celine staring at him scornfully from behind her MacBook, he grunted and announced, "Dogs are barkin'."

          She looked up a moment later to find him still staring. Yep. An Eagle Broadcasting viewer. "Yer that lady," he announced. "What's her name."

          She nodded, uninterested in confirming more than her identity.

          "What're you doin' goin' to Oklahoma City?" he asked.

          She saved her work and looked up. "Sugar Roses High School, class of '98," she said quietly, then added, "High school reunion."

          "Well, I'll be dipped," he replied. "Shawnee, class of '85." He raised his right hand to show off a silver ingot of a class ring, its gemstone faded and pitted after years of manual labor. She had to remind herself not to raise her own class ring, which was a memento of her undergraduate years at Columbia. "We're practically neighbors," the man said. She smiled and looked back down at her laptop.

          "Yes, sirree," he continued. "My name's Frank Peterson. I sure know who you are. Yer that lady."

          "I am that lady," she confirmed.

          "Her name's Celine Farrell," the man's wife announced. She shoved a juice box in a kid's mouth and turned to regard her balefully. "Yeah, I know who you are. Yer that you-know-what who talked all that shit about President Trump."

          "Mama said 'shit' again," one kid whispered to another, who accepted this news with equanimity.

          "Nice to meet you," Celine said, smiling tightly.

          "Well, now, I don't remember all that," Frank said. "Is that true?"

          "I don't really want to debate it," Celine said, her face settling into that automatic smile she deployed to keep viewers at bay and interviewees in a state of perpetual confusion.

          "Yeah, I'll bet you don't," said Frank's wife. "You just want to spend all that TV money on drugs and limousines and I don't know what-all. You don't give a shit about reg'lar people like me and my family here. You just want to be all high and mighty, with yer, what kind of purse is that? Gucci or somethin'?"

          "I appreciate your feedback," Celine said calmly. There was no point explaining anything to people like this, the same people she purportedly explained things to for a very comfortable living. After eight years on-air at Eagle B, she never quite got over her amazement that its viewers were able to swallow it all. When this bothered her, as it often did, she pacified her conscience by reminding herself it was better they heard her measured appraisal of the news than focus solely on every far-right-wing meme on their far-right-wing Facebook feeds.

          "Ya look like a super-fancy hooker to me, that's what you look like," the woman declared, then ripped open a Ziploc bag full of mini pretzels and dug in.

          "You'll have to forgive my wife," Frank said, grinning. "She gets pretty fired up sometimes."

          "People do," Celine agreed, hoping that'd complete this conversation.

          It did not. Frank moved to sit directly opposite her, leaving his shoes behind with his sans-inside-voice family. "Lemme ask you somethin'," he began. "You say yer from Sugar Roses?"

          "I am."

          "That's over by Ada and Stratford, ain't it?"

          "Garvin County," she agreed.

          "Yer daddy rich or somethin'?"

          "Oh, no," she replied, snorting. "He worked for a machine shop most of his life. We lost him when I was ten."

          "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Frank said, visibly upset by this decades-old news. "That's a shame, a pretty little thing like you growin' up without a father like that. Now, you take me, for example. I fix cars for a livin'. Assistant manager at Hot Rubber Tires over in Edmond. I see people gettin’ hurt all the time. Nothin' too bad, y'know, thank the good Lord, but it does get hairy sometimes. I always wonder what'd happen to my little girl if I was to get killed in some accident. A fella can lose sleep thinkin' ’bout things like that. Your ma still alive?"

          "Alive and kickin'," Celine said automatically, then flinched as she heard the return of an Oklahoma accent in her voice. Can't have that, she thought. "She's a customer service manager at Cable One in Ada now. She loves it."

          "Well, good for her," the man said. "It's good to keep busy."

          Celine was thinking she needed to find time this weekend to swing by her mom's place and catch up, as she’d had little time to talk by phone that month. Time was always an enemy these days, now that Celine hosted one of the most-watched news-commentary shows in the world. Little Celine Tippett of Sugar Roses had done all right for herself, indeed.

"See, what I don't get," Frank said abruptly, "is how a lady from Sugar Roses, Oklahoma gets to be on TV. You musta gone to some kinda fancy internship or somethin'."

          "Everybody comes from somewhere," Celine replied.

          "Well, I know, but — you know, we had this guy in our class, he went off and played for the Houston Astros. We thought that was some kinda big deal. And y'know, me and him played ball together — not on a team, he was a little bit younger'n me, but just around the school and whatnot. I was pretty good back in them days. I played mostly second — Well, you don't want to hear about all that. The point is, he was, you know, he was prob'ly a little bit better'n me. I can admit that. I ain't too proud. But we just thought, you know, why him and not us? But I guess when it really comes down to it, right, the why part idn't important." Celine smiled when she heard the "d" in "idn't," a vocal peculiarity she never heard in downtown Manhattan. "The deal was, he had a dream and he went for it. I mean, good for him, right? I guess your dream was to be on TV an’ act all fancy and whatnot."

          Celine's smile tightened, sensing the man was about to unload humble judgment on her. In an effort to forestall that, she said, "It's funny, I really just wanted to work on TV. I thought I was gonna be a weather girl in Philadelphia my whole life. Then the rest kinda happened from there."

          "Like, whaddya mean?"

          "We had this train go off the rails one afternoon. Spilled chemical sludge over fourteen blocks. Our regular anchor was out with the flu, and his partner wanted to report from the scene so off she went. Our director put me on the air. Then our feed went directly to the networks, because somebody apparently thought we were under some kind of terrorist attack. We weren't, of course, but the video from the scene was spectacular. Lots of fire, the train went through somebody's apartment, screaming mothers, all that stuff the network loved. Long story short, I got spotted and headhunted by Eagle B. I paid attention to the news just like anybody else, but now it was my whole life. What can I say, I got called up to the bigs."

          "Huh," Frank decided. "Well, now, I see you ain't travelin' with yer kids or nothin'."

          "No, my daughter is back in New York with my husband."

          "Uh-huh," Frank agreed. "He must be one o' them New York fellas who works in advertising or somethin'."

          "He's an attorney," she replied. "I met him in college."

          "It must be really somethin' to live in a big-ass city like that. My wife an' me, y'know, we hadn’t never seen nothin' like that. We went up to the top o' the Empire State Building. Couldn't see nothin' but clouds or fog or somethin' from the top. Whew. I like t’died lookin' out over it all. So many people. Shoo-ie! Like about a dozen per square foot. An' all hollerin' an' jabberin' in all kinda languages and whatnot. I seen this one guy, some kinda Ay-rab in a towel wrapped around his head, out on the street with some kinda wagon yellin' ‘falafel’ like he owned the place. Right out there on the street! I mean, it beats me why we let all these ISIS assholes come into this country, roll out the red carpet an' let 'em spread their Allah crap all over the place. You know what I'm talkin' ’bout. I like Eagle B 'cause it shows this is a Christian country — is, was and always will be, by the grace of God."

          "Yes, I do think we have to be careful," said Celine, being careful.

          "I know you prob'ly go to church."

          "Born and raised Freewill Baptist," Celine said, though she hadn't set foot in a church in years. To her, God was present in all things, so she spent her Sunday morning poring through the Times and Post and maybe working the crossword in pen, a feat she performed mostly to show off for her husband. He preferred the sudoku.

          "Good for you!" Frank cheered. "It's good to hear they's somebody on TV who has a lick o' sense! You keep Jesus in yer heart, and he’ll bless you in ways you cain't even predict. Like that train wreck, I mean. Sad for them people, I guess, but it's like, look where it got you. Now you're in a position to do the Lord's work in a major way. Keep the American people informed, let 'em know ’bout how we're under constant threat. An' I ain’t just talkin' ’bout the ragheads, now, I mean the Mexicans an' the whole lot of 'em. Let people know this is a country of good American values. There's good men died for our freedom. We cain't go givin' it away to every Tom, Dick and Jose who wants to sneak in an' set up shop here. Now don't get me wrong, I know this one guy, he's full-blooded Mexican. Name o' Ramon Goo-tee-err-ez. Just as nice a fella as you want to know. But he makes sure his kids speak English, when they're in school and back at the house. Ain't no messin' around with all this 'press two for Spanish' bullshit, pardon my French."

          Thankfully, the American Airlines counter attendant chose that moment to announce first-class passengers were free to board. Celine hit Save again and started closing her laptop. "Well, that's me," she said.

          "I do want to know what you said to Mr. Trump," Frank said abruptly. "My wife seemed pretty worked up about it."

          "Oh, I don't — " Celine began, then tried again. "We had a few tense exchanges, he and I. He refuses to come on the show now. We don't — I guess we may never see eye to eye on a lot of things."

          "I don't get it," Frank said. "Yer a Republican, ain'tcha?"

          "Since I was eighteen years old. I'm a fiscal conservative to this day. But what President Trump did ... Well, he had his own ideas about policy and procedures, didn’t he? We weren't ... I think it's my job to ask tough questions sometimes, and he obviously never agreed with that."

          "I think you do need to show some respect," Frank said, leaning back in his seat. "After all, he was your president, too. Lemme tell ya, you don't owe nothin' to them California crybabies. Buncha liberal pussies, y'ask me, and pardon my French. Mr. Trump won those elections fair and square, I don’t care what nobody says. And he’ll be back again, you can betcher ass on that, whether them lib’ral snowflakes like it or not."

          "You’re probably right," Celine said, standing to board.

          "It's about time people like me had presidents who say things like they are."

          "An' I'll tell ya somethin' else," Frank's wife added, twice as loudly as the environment required. "You ain't no better than me, little missy. You can wear them fancy clothes an' high heels all you want, but you an' me, we ain't nothin' but two real Americans. You remember that. You hear me?"

          "I will," said Celine, and boarded the plane with an audible exhalation of relief.

          The flight from JFK to Oklahoma City was a rough one, even in first class. She could only imagine what things were like behind the socioeconomic curtain. People prayed and clutched airsickness bags. When the jet finally landed, people wasted no time whipping out cellphones, excitedly relating to their families and friends what it felt like to fall several times from higher sky to lower sky. "But we made it here okay," one sweatsuited woman announced dramatically, completing an anecdote in which she found a dozen ways to say she fell down a few times and it was scary. "God is good," she concluded, by way of a punch line. I kinda wish He hadn't made us hit that turbulence in the first place, Celine thought, benumbed by a loose Xanax she'd found in her purse.

          Not that lousy flights were a new experience for her. She'd flown into Kabul three times, Teheran once. She was in a chopper over the Libyan desert when it took machine gun fire from an overeager warlord, not to mention her harrowing misadventures at sea level. She had more than enough justification for thanking the good Lord for her own survival, so she couldn't begrudge the gratitude felt by fellow passengers this spring afternoon.

          She did, however, feel considerable relief when she spotted her limo driver before she could run into Frank and the Petersons again. The driver, a tall, silver-haired drink of water, didn't bother carrying a sign that read "FARRELL." He just walked up with a graceful nod and a respectful "Ms. Farrell, good afternoon." He knew exactly what Celine looked like. She'd been a fixture on Eagle B for five years now after exploding into the pop-culture spotlight early in the 2016 Republican primaries, and her face was as well-known as any on cable TV. She’d landed the cover of Vogue, Time, Reader's Digest and Good Housekeeping. It amused her when the latter issue arrived just as a paparazzo caught her in a striped bikini in St. Bart's and the photos graced Us Weekly. "Not So Conservative!" the eighteen-point caption leered. She didn't mind the photos; her six a.m. Pilates sessions had paid off. She looked good, and hadn't revealed enough flesh to offend regular viewers. On the contrary — Her ratings shot up.

          As she and her driver waited for her bags, she took her phone out of airplane mode. As usual, it lit up like Vegas on the Fourth of July. She skimmed through messages and saw nothing that required her immediate attention. She also noticed Outlook had sent eighty-three messages to her spam folder in the course of the three-hour flight, and that was her (allegedly) private email account. Celebrity had its downside, though she sure couldn't moan about the pay.

          People in baggage claim nodded at her or stared openly. Several took her picture. When one young man stepped forward, Instagram at the ready, a withering look deflected him from his target. "Stuck-up bitch," the guy muttered, then pecked away at his phone with a jaw-clenching intensity that declared "angry tweeting." As quickly as possible, the driver scooped up her bags and led her outside. She waited briefly while he retrieved the limo, oversized sunglasses shielding her from glare and connection with strangers.

          She remembered meeting celebrities, political and pop, while still a minor TV personality in Pennsylvania. She could describe every moment she spent with them, while they forgot her instantly. Now the situation was reversed more often than not. To her credit, though, Celine tried to find something memorable about every such encounter when she could. She knew four American presidents well enough to say hi without getting frisked by the Secret Service — even former President Trump, who hated her more than he loathed Barack Obama, Alec Baldwin or unexpected gusts of wind. She exchanged text messages with David Gergen and Kate McKinnon, despite the latter's withering impersonation of her, a surgical strike that emphasized Celine's Okie aphorisms ("Speaker Pelosi, I can tell you right now that dog won't hunt") and her tendency to throw a two-palms-up gesture of bemused disbelief at the camera when her guests were particularly recalcitrant. She’d negotiated a jaw-dropping increase in pay two months ago, despite wealth that would keep her and Bryan in indefensible luxury for centuries to come. Yet here she was, back on I-40, a breeze to drive even in Friday rush-hour traffic, headed toward her memory of a skinny girl who used to make no real impression at even small-town 4H events.

          Celine watched the Quik Trips and pawn shops and Sonics go by. "Are you hungry?" asked her driver, as if reading her mind. "I know a great steak place just down the road. You prob'ly never get good beef like that on the East Coast."

          "No, we do not," Celine agreed, though she'd just savored a near-religious epiphany of a ribeye at a Ruth's Chris a few nights before. "It's okay, though. I had snacks on the plane." Snacks, in this case, were a Fiberglas protein bar and half a bottle of vitamin water. Among the downsides of notoriety was the ever-present need to maintain a figure that could slip neatly into an average drainpipe. Her dress size was basically a fraction, her body armored by exercise, an ageless cobblestone road. Bryan, in fact, ate most of her steak. When her superstardom came to its inevitable end, she thought, she'd spend the entire week after that cramming her gut full of Seventh Avenue pizza and Kendall's hubcap-sized chicken fried steak. It was a culinary consummation devoutly to be wished.

          The limo arrived in Sugar Roses a little after seven p.m. The driver dropped her off at Sugar Roses High, then took her bags to go check her in at the town's grandest hotel, the year-old Prairie View Holiday Inn. The rooms were so cheap here she was able to book the honeymoon suite plus rooms on either side and across the hall without so much as batting an eye. The last thing she needed was some pervert shooting keyhole video of her putting her makeup on, then ejaculating the half-dressed video onto the Internet. Sadly, she knew such offenses could happen as easily here as on Satan's island resort, lower Manhattan. Christian decency paled to insignificance when compared to the rush of a million YouTube hits.

          "You have my number," the driver reminded her. Make sure you keep it right handy in your phone. You just give me a quick ring if things here get too intense."

          "I will do that," she said. "Many thanks."

          "You sure you don't want me to come in here with you, maybe stand off to the side and keep an eye on things?"

          She patted his arm, doubtless making his year, and smiled her patented Aren't humble folks like us wonderful? smile. "No," she replied. "I'm pretty sure I've got this. If I can handle Hugo Chavez on a tequila binge, I’m pretty sure I can handle a gym full of chubby alumni."

          "I just bet you can," her driver said admiringly.

          "But hey," she said, "stick by your phone. You never know when I might feel the urge to go two-steppin'."

          The driver blushed. "Oh, Lordy," he said. "You take it easy on me now, Ms. Farrell. I'm in my sixties here. I'm tryin' to stay in good with my cardiologist." He bowed to her like a squire to Guinevere, then drove away as she braced for her longest visit to Sugar Roses, Oklahoma since her Q-rating rocket took off.

          It struck her as astonishing how clearly she remembered the layout of this high-school campus, considering she hadn’t set foot in it since the twentieth century. There was the social studies room where she accidentally sneezed on Calvin Burris, leaving a pointillist phlegm trail he had to go to the men's room to clean. The embarrassment of that moment flushed over her like a wave of hot water. There was her old locker, decorated now with baseball pennants instead of her cheery, balloon-letter posters and shrine to Alanis Morrissette. There was the utilitarian restroom where she and Carla Gaither got into it, culminating in an epic, hair-tearing slap fight that left Celine with a broken nose and Carla Gaither with a one-week suspension. Come to think of it, hadn't Celine started that fight by implying Carla needed to lay off the government cheese? Why hadn't vice-principal Deatherage, the school's aptly named disciplinarian, given Celine more than a slap on the wrist? It seemed she had a knack for getting her way even then. With a jolt, she recalled Mr. Deatherage explaining, "We understand our high-flying students are under a certain stress level, so we sometimes give those kids a margin for error."

          From Sugar Roses High to Columbia, then to a degrading year in Minneapolis with a news director who called her either "Lean Celine" or "Blonde Ambition" depending on his mood — and he was never in a good mood, as far as anyone could tell. He appeared to have patterned his life after that of Lou Grant or J. Jonah Jameson. That was a doubly difficult year because she and Bryan were in long-distance mode: He wanted to get married as soon as he escaped law school. She wanted to work at GNN or CBS. The second he graduated, everything seemed to change in one mad spasm of serendipity. She was hired at the Fox station in Philly; he wangled his way into an office at a law firm on the north side of the city, five miles from her studio. They lived together for six months, commuting downtown on the same train, then got married in a chic ceremony beside the pool at Bryan's family estate. They honeymooned in Venice, drenching themselves in Renaissance art and Chianti, and Veronique was born ten months later. Celine's pregnancy was invisible to anyone but Bryan until her third trimester, by which time she already redecorated their guest room as a lavish nursery and hired a full-time nanny for after the delivery.

          Celine rounded a corner and bent toward a lime-encrusted drinking fountain, then thought better of taking a drink. She was imagining how many Dorito-powdered mouths had loomed over it, how many zit-oily fingers had depressed the chrome button. She'd be safer licking a subway-escalator handrail. Instead she popped an Altoid from her purse and silenced her phone, determined to give this awkward reunion as fair a chance as possible. Then she checked her makeup in a compact, took a deep breath and rounded the last few corners. A handmade banner, duct-taped to a cinderblock wall painted Halloween orange, exhorted, "Go SRHS Warriors! Pluck Those Cardinals!" In her tenure here, the principal would never have allowed such a pun, intentional or otherwise. Now she imagined students openly texting and tweeting each other during Mrs. Hoff's fourth-period algebra class. Good Lord, was Mrs. Hoff still alive? Celine had to restrain herself from backtracking to read the names on classroom doors. She and Mrs. Hoff openly and enthusiastically disagreed on many topics, among them the practical value of the Cartesian coordinate system, the proper opacity of blouses and the degree to which Mrs. Hoff's voice reminded students of Witch Hazel on old Warner Bros. cartoons. She got caught posting an outraged tirade about Mrs. Hoff on Sonya Wheeler's MySpace page. "I'm sorry Mrs. Hoff is having issues with her husband," Celine sniped. "It isn't our fault he gets total wood for the cheerleaders. She probably hasn't given him any in years." It wasn't the sort of observation that endeared Celine to Sugar Roses' administrators, but by then she was already accepted at Columbia so they elected to swallow their pride and clear obstacles between Celine and the door.

          The bouncy introduction to a Salt 'n' Pepa classic lured her toward the gym. She tried and failed to imagine any faculty member in ’98 signing off on the pro-lollipop-licking message of "Shoop," but perhaps adults took the radio too seriously in all eras. Pausing at a guest table near the entrance, she found the gym smaller than she remembered. It seemed barely large enough to host a basketball game, yet somehow too big for this reunion. People shuffled to the music, more staggering than dancing. Many held cans of Dr Pepper from an ice chest over by the deejay console. When the crowd spotted her, it was like the entire room reoriented itself in her direction. She waved, an ambiguous smile on her face.

          A woman in a hairstyle older than herself greeted Celine at the table with fluttering hands and a self-conscious chuckle. “I don’t suppose we need to put a name tag on you, now, do we?” she asked, trembling. “I can’t believe you came, Celine.”

          “Twenty years, right?” Celine said. “I wouldn’t have missed it.” But she had wanted to miss it. It took weeks of Bryan’s nagging to convince her to make the trip. In the end, she relented only because it was a convenient excuse to take three days off work. She hadn’t had a vacation this long in years. The guilt of taking it without Bryan or Veronique weighed on her throughout the turbulent flight to Oklahoma City. She’d even been called in to work on Veronique’s most recent birthday. It struck her that her daughter might feel closer to Gretchen, the nanny, than she did to Celine. It threw that wholesome interview with Good Housekeeping into a decidedly dishonest light. Now that every Republican young or old knew her name, It’s time to do better, she thought, time to be the wife and mother I tell America I am. She resolved to take two weeks off later this year to take her family to Disneyland, Hawaii, someplace fun.

          “I bet you don’t even reckonize me,” the other woman drawled. “I know it’s been a whole lotta years, plus I done lost about forty pounds a coupla years ago. Kept it off since then, too. Well, ’bout half of it, anyway!”

          “Oh, you’re, uh,” Celine said, trying to use mental Photoshop to add weight and subtract years. “No, don’ t tell me. Were you in my … uh … Was it … Whose class was it?”

          “See, I knew you wouldn’t get it,” the woman laughed. “I’m Laura Cole. We was in college English together. Also basketball. And we drove together to Tulsa that one time for that Shania Twain concert, you ’member, us and Wendy, Wendy Holmberg. Well, it’s Wendy Stilton now. I think she’s still married to Gene. Lord, I should know. I see everybody all the time, plus there’s Facebook and what-all.”

          “Right, Laura, hi!” Celine exclaimed giddily, remembering only the concert. This Laura person was on the basketball team? What position? How could Celine forget a teammate?

          “Yeah, it’s easy to forget with so much time goin’ by,” Laura said helpfully. “I’ve tried to add you on Facebook a coupla times, but I was only able to reach you on your fan page. I mean, I guess you know how it goes.”

          “To be honest,” Celine replied, “I almost never look at Facebook these days. My assistant does most of my posting. It’s all overseen by the network, so I have to be careful what I say. People get in a lot of trouble tweeting the wrong thing these days.”

          “I — So that wasn’t even you?” Laura sputtered, aghast.

          “I’m afraid not. I probably ask her to post something about once a week, maybe less often than that. Her name’s Kim. You’d really like her.” Celine had no idea whether Laura would like Kim or vice versa. She knew Kim’s last name and the kind of car she drove, a Kia, but that was about it. Celine didn’t like getting personal with anyone lower than her in the Eagle Broadcasting food chain. That’d be a waste of time and energy better spent making an impression on somebody higher.

          “So how does a person get to be your super-secret Facebook friend? I’d love to be able to invite you to stuff like this along with the rest of the alumni.”

Celine considered a moment before answering. “Laura, I’m gonna be honest with you. I don’t get back here often. It’s not that I’m ashamed of where I come from. I’m not. Growing up in Sugar Roses was exactly what I needed it to be. But I’ve been living in a major city for years now, and that’s where most of my friends are. Bryan. My daughter. It’s where my life is now. Coming back here … It doesn’t have the same appeal to me anymore.”

          “You think we’re borin’ here.”

          “No, I didn’t say that. I’ve just grown accustomed to a faster pace, and I operate better at that speed now. I like the fact that I can go out and eat a burrito at three in the morning.”

          “Well, don’t mind me sayin’,” Laura began, her miffed posture all but ensuring that what came out of her mouth next would be impossible to overlook, “but you don’t look like you eat a whole lot of burritos. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you was always just a little thing, but I think you’ve lost twenty pounds since then. What’s more amazing is you look like you might still be in college. There ain’t a wrinkle on your face anywhere. Kindly a miracle, you ask me.”

          “It’s the TV life,” Celine admitted. “It does present certain obligations.”

          “Like a salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I bet.”

          “Sometimes,” Celine said, chuckling. “I was thinking about that on my way here. I could go for a chili-cheese coney in the worst way.”

          “Well,” Laura said regretfully, “I cain’t exactly get away from here right now. I could go for one, too.”

          The music shifted from a country number Celine couldn’t recall ever hearing to “With Arms Wide Open” by Creed. Celine sighed heavily, then shook her head to clear it. “So what do you do for a living these days?” she asked Laura bluntly. Her years in TV news had erased such softening phrases as “I hope you don’t mind me asking” from her conversational protocol.

          Laura sighed heavily. “I don’t know that I want to tell you that, Celine.”

          “I won’t pry.”

          “I work at Target.”

          “It’s a good company.” Their responses flew quickly, reflexively now.

          “I know it is.”

          “Everybody has to make a living.”

          “You could retire any time you want to.”

          “Not really.”

          “How come?”

          “I signed a contract.”

          “I bet you love it,” Laura said. “You was never really here anyway. We always knew you was thinkin’ ’bout where to go next.”

          “That’s not true. I love this town.”

          “Yeah, in your rearview mirror.”

          “In my rearview mirror,” Celine agreed.

          “I’m glad you admit it.”

          Celine noticed other alumni and faculty members leaning toward them, longing to join their conversation. “I won’t apologize for ambition,” she declared. “It’s what got me to New York.”

          “And how great is that?” Laura retorted, now openly hostile.

          Celine smiled. “To tell you the truth,” she said, leaning to murmur in Laura’s ear, “it’s better than getting fucked by your eighteen-year-old yoga instructor on Christmas morning.” Laura’s face blew open like a sunflower. “Good talking to you,” Celine added, lazily waving over her shoulder as she sauntered into the gym on clicking heels.

            Men drifted over like SOS message bottles on the sea, intent on asking her to dance, then assumed holding positions a few dozen feet away when she held up her wedding ring. That wouldn’t have stopped most guys in New York, but it worked like a warding charm here. Only one alumnus was brave enough to defy the embargo: Ted Woolsey, who’d kept her entertained through a drama class their junior year. She’d known he was gay all those years ago; now he knew it, too. His sexuality had been a topic never mentioned in their adolescence, more notable for its absence in those turbulent, hormone-drunk days. After a few exchanges of predictable small talk, Ted offered, “I guess you prob’ly heard.”

            “Heard what?” she said.

            “’Bout me and Wayne.”

            “I don’t — Do I remember a Wayne?”

            “No, prob’ly not. Wayne Murdoch from over in McAlester. I met him six years ago at a work conference. We finally got married last year.”

            “Good for you,” said Celine, bopping in place to the beat of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson.”

            “Do you mean that?”

            “Why wouldn’t I?”

            “Well,” Ted drawled. “I do live in Sugar Roses, y’know. I’m no stranger to Eagle Broadcasting news. It runs eight hours a day in my office.”

            “Eagle B thanks you for your patronage.”

            “I’m sure it does, but it hasn’t exactly championed my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

            “I don’t recall ever opposing those rights.”

            “Have you? I don’t know. You do work for them.”

            “Gay marriage was already the law of the land when I started working there.”

            “No thanks to Reginald fucking Platt.”

            “God, y’know, Ted, I just want to check out the old stomping grounds and have a pleasant visit, okay? I’m not here to gay-bash you.”

            “I appreciate that, but you can understand why I might have an axe to grind against your homophobic boss.”

            “Get in line, my friend. You’ll find it’s a long one.” That was true enough. Reg Platt was hated by lefties and societal elites from Puget Sound to Key West, but even they had to admit he knew his audience. Liverpudlian by birth, Manhattanite by residence, Yankee Doodle Dandy by sociopolitical temperament, Platt understood what made Americans tick — like a bomb. He and his cabal of propagandists were GOP kingmakers. At least that was the conventional wisdom; Celine thought she and her colleagues reflected America, the nation outside its crowded cities at any rate, like a true mirror.

            “He fought gay marriage tooth and nail for years.”

            “Probably so, Ted, but when the country decided it was ready for gay marriage we got it anyway. If Reginald Platt is all-powerful, how do you explain that? The country does what it does, my friend. We just aim a camera at it.”

            “I can’t believe you’re justifying Eagle B, let alone that you work there. Dear God, where is that sweet little thing in pigtails I used to know?”

            “I never wore pigtails,” she corrected, rolling her eyes.

            “You were never a sweet little thing, either. I was trying to be nice.”

            “Try harder. I was always nice to you, you freakin’ drama queen.”

            Ted gasped theatrically, clutching imaginary pearls. “You bitch! I can’t believe you just said that!”

            “I sold my soul to Eagle B, remember? Nothing left for you, the little people. Now Jesus, do you want to dance with me or what?” Her legs were twitching to the Missy Elliott number playing on overhead speakers.

            “Bryan won’t get jealous?”

            “Oh, furiously. Except Bryan isn’t here, so I think we’ll escape with our lives. Wayne in McAlester won’t pitch a fit?”

            “Wayne decided he’d rather have a couple dozen thumbtacks shoved into his eyeballs that hang around the Sugar Roses gym for five hours. Imagine that.”

            “That’s some hobby.”

            “You’re funny,” Ted announced, in that tone that said, You’re really not that funny. “Yeah, let’s shake a tail feather.” They shimmied through the end of the song, content to reacquaint themselves with each other’s presence. Then the deejay hit play on a slower number, “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys. They regarded each other coolly for a moment, then stepped together for a relaxing slow dance. She nuzzled his shoulder, grateful for an opportunity to tune out still-curious onlookers.

            “This town’s not the same without you, girl,” Ted admitted.

            “It’s funny you say that,” she said into his ear. “I was just thinking it hasn’t changed a bit.”

            “For better or worse?”

            “You still working at Saving Grace?”

            “Yeah. Can you believe that? They had to know, right?”

            “I think they probably just think live and let live.”

            “Is that what you think?”

            “I think I really hope you’re happy.”

            “I am,” Ted said, mollified. “Sorry I bit your head off.”

            “Comes with the territory.”

            “Oh, we’re an actual state now,” Ted replied, chuckling. “Got running water, Wi-Fi and everything.”

            “I feel like I stepped back in time. Like it’s 2001 again, and you and I are still hoping Ms. Jenner won’t notice how poorly we memorized that scene from A Doll’s House.”

            Ted grunt-laughed. “I’d love to recite some, but I forgot that shit the second we left the stage.”

            “If not before.”

            “If not before!”

            “You ever act now? A bit of community theater on the side?”

            “How’d you guess?”

            “I always thought you were destined to be famous,” she told him, smiling.

            “You’re funny,” he said again. “Real funny.”

            “I’m serious. I wanted out of this town in the worst way, but I always thought you’d be the one who took off.”

            “I took off, all right. All the way to Tulsa. Big superstar, that’s me.”

            “You and Wayne.”

            “Me and Wayne, the fucking bon vivants of T-town.”

            “I don’t remember you cussing this much.”

            “It’s the corrupting influence of you Hollywood media elites.”

            “New York, Ted.”

            “New York. The city so nice they named it twice. That the place?”

            “The city that never sleeps.”

            “Yet here you are, twenty years later, pretending you fit in. Just like you always did.”

            “I fit in. What are you talking about?”

            “We talk about you a lot. How we knew you were just passing through.”

            “This is my home.”

            “Is it? Correct me if I’m wrong, but those shoes did not come from Dillard’s.”

            “I don’t know where they came from, honestly. My assistant bought them.”

            “There ya go.”

            “There I go,” she admitted. “You see why I don’t come back here very often.”

            The song concluded, but Ted continued to hold her close. “I think I’m going to tell you something important,” he said.

            “Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

            “I think you can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution. No matter where you are. That’s what I have to say.”

            “Is that all?”

            “No. It’s good to have you back, Leany Meany.”

            Her breath caught. It hit her like a hot flash that Ted used to call her that all the time, but she hadn’t heard or even thought about it in years. “I don’t know why I ever thought this could work. I’m too big-city now, too fast, too … whatever.”

            “Sophisticated.”

            “I wasn’t going to say that.”

            “But you thought it.”

            “Something close to that, I guess. Something humbler, I’d like to think.”

            “How long you staying?”

            “Just tonight. I — There’s something going on,” she declared, straightening. Dozens of people around her were suddenly transfixed by their phones. A zing of adrenaline shot through her veins. Hers was the only line of work in which an orchestra of phone noise heralded fun and invigorating excitement. She reached into her purse, unlocked her phone and immediately stabbed a web browser icon. Email and messages could wait. Her homepage, the Eagle B front page, would tell her everything she needed to plan her evening. The site opened to thick block letters over a red-alert background: RADIO MESSAGE FROM UNKNOWN SOURCE DETECTED. And below that: Probable Extraterrestrial Origin. Signal Appears Mathematic. Sources Say White House “Investigating.”

            “Holy shit,” Celine exclaimed.

            “What’s going on?” Ted asked.

            “I can’t believe this,” she said. Space aliens. Space aliens! “I mean, I literally cannot believe it. It must be a hoax.”

            “What is?”

            “Check your phone,” she said, already stepping toward the exit. Then, an abrupt afterthought, she jogged back and kissed him on the cheek. “It was good to see you again, Ted. Say hi to Wayne for me. I gotta get back to work.” She clattered away on expensive heels.

            “Right now? Good luck getting a plane,” he called after her.

            “Don’t you know?” she yelled without turning around, not even certain he could hear her over the rising tumult. “I’m a TV star, doofus. A plane’ll be the least of my worries.”

            She called her driver and instructed him to pick her up. “I need to go straight back to Will Rogers Airport.”

She apologized to the driver for his trouble, but he seemed thrilled to be of assistance. “So what do you think, Ms. Farrell?” he asked along the way. “Is it space aliens? It must be something big, or you would’ve left this till tomorrow.”

            “I don’t usually have that option,” she admitted, “but I guess we’ll find out.”

            “You don’t think it’s some kind of hoax?”

            “I’m finding out about it the same way you are,” she said, more than a touch regretfully. Why in hell did she have to take this trip? Bryan must be laughing himself stupid. “Now let me work my magic, okay? I need to catch up and charter a plane.” Her first call was to Kim, who immediately set about calling the Prairie View Holiday Inn to have her bags retrieved and shipped to Manhattan. Then she called her charter-flight service, recited her account number from memory and reserved a private Citation CJ3 to New York. It’d cost about as much as a mid-price sedan, but that could be invoiced to Eagle B. Only then did she have time to catch up on the actual story.

            Beginning at 9:48 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time, astronomers in Parkes, New South Wales, Australia first detected a series of radio pulses with a frequency of sixteen hundred forty Megahertz. That caught their attention immediately, as that frequency lies within a range called the “Water Hole,” in which hydroxyl molecules emit energy that slips through a hole in the cosmic background radiation. Celine, who struggled through biology and chemistry in high school, then human anatomy and a bio class in college, googled hydroxyl. A hydroxyl molecule contains one hydrogen atom and one of oxygen, and it combines with hydrogen atoms to make good old H2O. She was surprised to learn the universe makes a fair amount of radio noise, a memento of a Big Bang not all her employers and colleagues accepted as fact. In other words, this was exactly the range within which SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, had been focused for decades. Even more astonishing was a fact Celine needed no advanced scientific background to understand: These radio pulses arrived in discrete groups, first a single pulse, then another, then a double pulse, then a triplet, then five more, then eight. This series of pulses repeated eight times, with longer pauses between each run of one, one, two, three, five, eight.

            “One plus one is two,” Celine murmured to herself. “One plus two is three.” The pulses counted the first six numbers of what mathematicians referred to (the web helpfully informed Celine) as the Fibonacci sequence. The odds against that occurring naturally were, no pun intended, astronomical. So it had to be a hoax, right? The catch was the signals appeared to come from several points scattered over the southern sky. And when the Australian astronomers frantically emailed, texted, called, Skyped and Facebook-messaged colleagues, it quickly became apparent that radio telescopes in the southern and western hemispheres could detect the signals easily as well. Computers were lighting up all over the world, in fact; the only reason the Australians got credit for revealing them was their democratic urgency to blab the discovery first. Everyone else had been too busy racing to ascertain whether they alone received the cosmic message. Unfortunately, it appeared the signal’s author or authors were as democratic as Australian stargazers.

            “The real question: Is this the entire signal?” Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted. “More to come? World-changing either way. #NotAlone.”

            President Biden, or more likely someone in his immediate circle, released a statement that urged caution and skepticism, yet expressed the hope that if this signal were the product of an extraterrestrial intelligence, it could be greeted in a spirit of peaceful cooperation. Presumably a reply message to the aliens was being crafted by hyper-caffeinated geeks in every astronomy lab and think tank across the globe. The competition to be first to phone E.T. would be fierce, and almost certainly yield a cacophony of voices that’d drive any rational spaceman back to his planet of origin before he could so much as intone, “Take me to your leader.”

            Back at Will Rogers, Celine sat in a quiet VIP lounge, wishing she had more than a phone and small clutch of makeup with her. Biggest news story all year, and here she was stuck in the American outback. Phil Gideon would never let her live this one down. He’d be crooning Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” at her on a nightly basis. Well, let him report this one first. She’d be the one who reported it best.

            Again.

            As if to mock her, a small TV in the corner was tuned to Eagle Broadcasting with sound off but closed captioning on. She read a few minutes of Phil Gideon’s increasingly deranged conversation with an astronomy professor from Columbia University. There Phil was, flag pin neatly in place on an expensive yet forgettable suit, his thinning, silver hair shellacked into place by a cadre of tonsorial wizards. Phil, of course, was of the opinion that this was all a liberal media plot to distract from positive economic numbers, ostensibly Biden’s work but surely a continuation of President Trump’s clairvoyant labors. “I’m telling you,” Phil insisted, “this isn’t a bunch of pointy-eared aliens come to save us from the Klingons or something. I mean, gimme a break. It’s probably some zit-ridden hacker who got the idea from an idiotic video game.”

            The professor pointed out, reasonably it seemed to Celine, that hacking one radio telescope would be challenging enough, but the signal was hitting stations all over the world.

            “Well, there you go,” Phil sneered. “So you’re telling me that somehow these little green men from planet Mongo are able to beam a radio broadcast directly through the planet, no time delay, and talk to poindexters like yourself on both sides of the earth at once? I may not be a rocket scientist like you and your slide-rule buddies, Doctor Strange, but I know a load of hornswoggle when I hear one.”

            “I’ve never used a slide rule in my life,” the astronomer sniffed. “I think they used those in the 1950s.”

          “Doc, your whole pocket-protector shtick is from the ’50s,” Phil retorted, clearly winding up for a mock-outraged crescendo just in time to energize viewers before the next commercial break. You’re welcome, Prilosec and Liberty Mutual Funds. “So, I might add, is this cockamamie nonsense about flying saucers and zip guns. We’re supposed to believe these wise old E.T.s came from another galaxy, stopping only for Big Gulps and bathroom breaks, and flew all the way here to planet earth to tell us one plus one equals two? That’s all they’ve got? How the hell do I know more math than they do? No, this stinks like week-old shrimp cocktail, my brainiac friend, and the American people damn well know it.”

          The professor, meanwhile, chosen by producers specifically for his ineffectual meekness, defended himself lamely. The closed captioning didn’t bother including his remarks, but Celine was able to lip-read, “Who wears a pocket protector?” Instead, the captioning caught back up with the professor after “shrimp cocktail,” omitting everything but, “My pockets are fine, Phil.”

          “Hey, listen,” Phil barked, “you stick to your radio telescope, and leave understanding the real world down here to the grown-ups, okay?”

          “Understanding reality is exactly what I do — ”

          “For too long now, we’ve let you nimrods dictate how things supposedly are from your ivory towers, when in fact it’s the ordinary, everyday, working American who knows how things really work. You people want to act like a degree or two gives you all the answers. Well, I’ve got a degree from Boise State, but all that did was teach me how to shotgun a beer and chase tail. Which, by the way, you look like you could use more of. But I learned the real world by talking to real Americans, who know a load of sci-fi horse pucky when they hear one.”

          “I’m happily married, and I resent — ”

          “And I’ll tell you something else.” That was a phrase Phil used on an almost hourly basis, especially when he was stalling to cut off an interview subject and devise a workable counterargument. “If your little green whatsits ever do come to planet earth, they’re not gonna talk to everyone, okay? They’re gonna want to go straight to the top. ‘Take me to your leader,’ am I right? And the leader of the free world is, was, and ever shall be the United by the grace of God States of America. They’ll be smart enough to know who’s in charge here. When you want a good steak, you don’t talk to Jose the dishwasher, you talk to the head chef, or the owner if he’s anywhere in the building. This is fake news. You mark my words, America. When we come back, we’re gonna talk to a cybersecurity expert who’ll tell us exactly how nerds on the internet are once again trying to make fools of us. Well, I for one am nobody’s fool, and I don’t think you are either, fellow patriots. Now, I want you to go to EagleB.news and tell us what you think. Is this an invasion from outer space, or an attack on American supremacy by malcontents right here on earth? You know what I think, America. We’ll be back in just three little spins, so do not … go … away.” Sure enough, an ad for Prilosec came on, and Celine returned to her online research.

          It seemed likely Phil was right, Celine decided, though in her secret heart she usually considered that probability equivalent to a fair coin toss. She knew also that if Phil wasn’t right, he’d simply pivot to some bullheaded take on the new reality, and his regular viewers would absorb and parrot that adjusted opinion with no memory of any previous missteps no matter how glaring. It was a luxury she envied him. Having ovaries as she did, she found her own viewers far less forgiving, far likelier to lambaste her online as a clueless Barbie doll with no connection to the zeitgeist experienced by “real” Americans. The cost of Phil’s custom-tailored suits notwithstanding, they interpreted her good looks, which she needed in order to be featured on television, as shaky justification for keeping her on television. The second her looks started to fade, commenters opined, Eagle B would finally come to its senses and send her back to reading weather reports in Philadelphia. Some, usually men you wouldn’t sleep with on Ambien in the dark to repopulate the world after Noah’s flood, believed she was already due for a younger replacement. In their eyes, she was holiday tinsel, meant to be thrown away at the end of her first year.

          No, she thought, shaking her head, the last thing I’m gonna do is reinforce these people’s idea of me as a bimbo. Phil can bluster all he wants. I’ll be the voice of reason on Eagle B, even if it means catching up on a lifetime of radio astrology. No, astronomy. Wait, which is it again?

          This was going to take some doing. She walked over to the TV, found the remote on a nearby shelf and switched the monitor off to remove any further distraction. A few years ago, a story about a Canadian space mission led her to a popular science-fiction author, Robert P. Sawyer, who stayed “friends” with her on Facebook. (He seemed especially fond of attractive female reporters, even unclad female reporters, having appeared several times as a guest on that online oddity, Naked News.) She checked his page now. Sure enough, he’d posted at length about the Fibonacci signal, which he called the Octet. He declined to say whether he felt the numbers were a hoax or a message from space, but he did speculate as to what the message might be attempting to suggest. “I find it interesting that the sequence stops at integer eight, each time per set of pulses,” he wrote. “Now, maybe those six numbers hint at six fingers, tentacles or other appendages. But I think they’re meant to suggest eight such appendages. Unfortunately, we don’t get the numbers in any written numerical system, which would take longer to decode but might suggest whether the message writers use base six, base eight or base ten. I mean, why they stop at eight pulses we just don’t know. Maybe it just takes an inconveniently long time to send thirteen pulses, the next number in the Fibonacci sequence.”

          Celine shut her eyes and thought for a moment. A six-fingered alien? Three on each hand? Six on each hand? All at the helm controls of a flying saucer?

          Scientists all over the world continued to insist they had no idea how the signal hit dishes all over the planet at the same time. And why just a series of numbers? The race was already on to find additional meaning concealed like Kabbalistic gematria, enmeshed within the noise around the sets of numeric pulses.

          It occurred to Celine the message made both too much sense and not enough sense. Pretty much every space flick she could recall said aliens would arrive in gleaming chrome spaceships, descending to either vaporize or greet dignitaries in front of major terrestrial landmarks. The only exception she could recall was a ’90s thinker called Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s only book-length work of fiction, in which aliens hid the schematics for a magical space pod in a sequence of prime numbers. (Prime numbers, incidentally, were the only concept Celine remembered clearly from high school mathematics.) She wondered if the message sender was a fan of that movie. If so, she found it likelier the whole thing was an elaborate practical joke, maybe a viral advertising campaign for another film or TV show. Was someone making a sequel to Contact? If so, then the internet proper didn’t know of that yet. She’d interviewed J. J. Abrams toward the end of production on the last Star Wars feature. This seemed right up his alley: a “mystery box” for the ages.

          A ground crewman poked his head inside the lounge to let her know her plane was ready. She grabbed her laptop and phone, stood and straightened her skirt, then marched off to continue her trip back to civilization. Because that was her opinion of Oklahoma now: a great place to order chicken fried steak and condescend to the locals, but a lousy place to capitalize on what might be a globally ambitious prank, let alone the biggest news story of the millennium.

          The flight back to New York gave her time to call home. Veronique was already asleep. “Don’t wake her up,” Celine insisted. “Tomorrow’s gonna be crazy. Give yourself a moment’s peace while you can. Put a science doc on and settle back with an old-fashioned.”

          “No booze for me tonight,” James replied. “Big deposition tomorrow. The world of legal jeopardy spins ever onward, no matter what or who just popped into orbit.”

          “You’ve been watching the news?”

          “Not Eagle B,” James said, chuckling. “Not with Phil bloviating like he knows what he’s talking about.”

          “What,” Celine replied, “you’re cheating on us with GNN?”

          “You know I can’t get enough of Argyle Greenwood’s icy-blue eyes.”

          “You wound me, sir. I didn’t know you judged us serious journalists by our looks.”

          “I judge everyone by their looks. I’m incredibly shallow. I find it simplifies my life considerably.”

          “I guess I’ll take that as a compliment, considering you haven’t turned me in for a hotter model yet.”

          “You’re a perfect ten, Celine. The ten minutes a day I get to see you.”

          “Very funny. You could watch my show.”

          “At three in the afternoon? You think I’ve got that hour off?”

          “Fair enough. Has Veronique heard about the alien invasion?”

          “A little bit. I had to limit her to a single trail of Reese’s Pieces leading into her room.”

          “We had Reese’s Pieces in the house?”

          “Maybe they were Legos, I don’t know. I was somewhat distracted, what with the threat of imminent annihilation by a zap ray from space.”

          “No zap rays yet, just a lot of excited advertisers. This is the biggest story since 45 slunk his way out of office.”

          “Don’t let your viewers hear you saying that.”

          “I got an earful from plenty of them tonight anyway. Sugar Roses hasn’t changed a bit. They’d be perfectly happy under the tentacle of alien overlords, just so long as the cost of a cup of coffee stayed under two bucks.”

          “I thought you told me they got a Starbucks.”

          “They did. It closed a year later. Garvin County folks didn’t take too kindly to having to order a cuppa joe in pseudo Italian.”

          “I’m sorry your vacation got cut short.”

          “I’m not, turns out. I said my hellos and goodbyes for another decade. Now back to the fun stuff.”

          “Work.”

          “Yeah, but fun work.”

          “Should I have Danila pack you some clothes and send ’em over to the office?”

          “Couldn’t hurt,” Celine admitted. “If this turns out to be legit, I doubt I’ll leave the building for days. Any chance I could Skype with Veronique tomorrow night?”

          “That’s up to you and the alien invaders.”

          Celine’s next call was to Kim, her assistant, who answered on the first ring. “Ms. Farrell. I assume you’re coming back to JFK?”

          “Yep. Arrange the car service, please. I’ll be touching down a little after midnight, New York time.”

          “You got it. Do I need to meet you there?”

          “No, just be in the office an hour early tomorrow. Crazy days. Is that okay?”

           “I live to serve.” As per usual, Celine heard neutral acceptance in Kim’s voice, with not a trace of irritation. The kid had been out of college less than six months and had already given up any semblance of a life, content to draft in Celine’s Joy-by-Dior-scented wake. As far as Celine knew, she had no family members, no attempt at a love life, only a robotic Instagram presence and a media-stereotypical addiction to skinny Frappuccinos. Celine doubted she had so much as a cat in her apartment.

          “Also, my inbox is blowing up. Any chance you could prioritize my messages for when I get time to catch up?”

          “Absolutely. Ms. Farrell?”

          “Yes?”

          “Is Phil right? Is this all just fake news? They couldn’t be actual extraterrestrials.”

          “If it’s a prank, it’s a good one. I suppose it could be GRU confusion tactics, though, get us looking the other way while they pull their usual shenanigans.”

          “I thought so,” Kim said. “You’d have to be pretty gullible to fall for something like that.”

          “Yeah,” Celine agreed. “You probably would. Let’s see which way the network wants me to lean before I decide how gullible I need our viewers to be.”

          After that call, she glared balefully at the phone she was supposed to have turned off and its inbox full of insistent requests and directives. Then she shut her eyes. Too bad she wouldn’t have a chance to sleep before she landed at JFK. The next time she saw the sun, she believed, there was a fair chance it’d rise on a whole new era of life on planet earth ...

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