Sour, Bitter, and Sweet

Candace sits in an airplane seat.

Saul and Meredith sit in front of her and to the left. Saul is wearing a thin grim suit. Meredith’s in the absurd lemon-colored dress of an unlucky bridesmaid.

Probably terrorists, Candace thinks.

“Does your conscience ever trouble you?” Meredith asks.

Saul looks at her.

“No,” he says. “No. Not my conscience.”

There’s a slim yellow band connecting their wrists. Candace realizes, with a shock, that Saul and Meredith are handcuffed together.

“I do what I have to do,” says Saul.

Candace pushes on the stewardess button. Nothing happens.

“In what sense?” Meredith asks.

“I’m a registered possession of Grove 31,” Saul says. “If they tell me I must capture you, then I must capture you. If they tell me I must kill everyone on this plane, then I must kill everyone on this plane. So it’s not a matter of conscience.”

“What, then?”

“Futility,” says Saul.

“Ah,” says Meredith.

“My masters are a passing breed,” says Saul. “Their time will end.”

Candace cannot get up and tell anyone about this conversation. The “fasten seat belts” sign is on. So she looks at the stewardess button. She figures out that it’s attached to a power cord. The power cord isn’t plugged in. She looks at it helplessly. This design is not ergonomic, she thinks, in tones of bitter complaint.

“I can help you,” Meredith says, to Saul. “I can free you.”

“When a man is a registered possession of a Grove,” Saul says, “they take his power to resist.”

Saul pulls out his carryon bag. He fumbles out a small electric juicer. There are bits of lemon and brain in it.

“They use this,” he explains.

“Oh,” Meredith says, in tones of sorrow.

“I’m not capable of wanting your help. I’m only capable of serving and of sighing.”

Candace studies the power cord in growing frustration. She clears her throat. “Excuse me,” she says.

Saul looks back at her.

“Excuse me,” Candace says. “Does anyone know where to plug this in?”

“Of course,” says Saul, smoothly. “There’s a plug on the other side of your seat.”

“Don’t listen to him,” says Meredith.

“What?” says Candace.

“He’s plotting the doom of everyone on the flight. Don’t listen to him.”

Candace checks. There’s a plug on the other side of the seat. He was telling the truth! . . . Now I don’t know whose side he’s really on.

“I wish you could have known the Groves of the future,” Meredith tells Saul. “They don’t compel.”

“I know,” Saul says. He looks bleak. “That’s why you’ll always lose, you know. Your masters are too soft.”

“My employers.”

“They’re too soft,” Saul says. “They won’t hurt people. They won’t do what it takes. Even their best temporal scouts are weak and easily captured.”

Meredith looks glumly at the lemon-colored handcuff on her wrist.

“I could use super kung fu and escape,” she says. “Then you’d be sorry.”

“You don’t have any.”

“I could.”

“You don’t.”

Meredith sighs. “They were afraid that if they downloaded super kung fu into my brain it might injure my delicate corpus callosum.”

“Soft,” Saul says.

“Yes.”

“And yet—”

“And yet,” Meredith says, “they are what the Groves of now will become.”

Candace is nervous now. She doesn’t know who to trust. But she takes action anyway. She plugs in the stewardess call button. The cord is faulty. Shocks pulse into her. Airplane plugs use direct current, so she can’t even jerk her hand away. Her teeth clench and her arm tightens.

Meredith sighs.

“I told you,” Meredith says, over her shoulder, to Candace.

“We should have been a great race,” Saul says. “I should have been happy to serve, thinking, ‘I betray humanity, but at least it is in the name of superior evil lemon trees.'”

“That would make you happy?”

“Happier,” says Saul.

“They might be superior to humans,” Meredith says. “The Grove minds are very smart.”

“That’s true.”

“Individual lemons are pretty dumb,” Meredith says. “But the Groves—they’re wicked gnarly.”

Her retro slang appalls him.

“I’m appalled,” Saul says.

Candace jitters. One of the other passengers notices. “Hey,” he says. “Look at that girl. She’s drawing direct current!”

There’s a murmur. A few other passengers try it. They are quickly locked to the airline plug, enjoying—or, at least, suffering—the insidious joy of direct current.

“It’s strange,” Meredith says, “to think that such evil evolved into the beneficent Groves of my time.”

“It mocks us,” says Saul. “It is the universe laughing at us. ‘Enjoy your evil while you can, sour lemons. History will not honor your malevolence. In the end, virtue shall triumph, not at the hands of your pathetic enemies but through your own noble desires.'”

“Do you have noble desires?”

“Grove 31 does,” Saul says. “They are tightly suppressed. One must struggle against them. They are a yawning abyss.”

More and more passengers are in the grip of direct current now. The plane is beginning to brown out.

“It’ll be soon,” Meredith says.

“Yes.”

“Airborne lemons,” Meredith says. “Coming up behind us. But how will they get in?”

“They’ll get in through the brownout-slowed engines,” Saul says.

“That won’t kill them?”

“Birds die when sucked into a jet engine. Lemons only get zestier.”

Meredith sighs.

“I guess we’ll all die, then,” she says.

“You could time warp,” Saul says.

“Not like this,” Meredith says. “Not lemon-cuffed.”

Saul closes his eyes.

Meredith leans close to him. She kisses his cheek.

“It’s not your fault,” she says. “Bad things happen. Good things happen. Life is sour and sweet.”

There’s a rattling, scraping noise from the engine, like the zesting of ten thousand lemons.

“I forgive you,” Meredith says.

Candace is blacking out. She knows she needs to save some strength, somehow, to fight the lemons, but she’s fading.

There’s a click. The handcuff retracts from Meredith’s wrist and skitters into Saul’s sleeve.

“Go,” Saul says.

“I thought you couldn’t—”

“It’s a waste,” Saul says thickly. “There’s no point in your dying here. Grove 31 doesn’t think it’s important. You could be valuable in the future. You’ll owe us a debt.”

“A waste,” Meredith says. There’s a smile playing about her lips.

“You can’t save the plane now,” says Saul. “It’ll crash and its people will be fed to the Groves. So there’s no point in keeping you.”

Meredith climbs over him, out of her seat. That is the last thing Candace sees, but not the last thing Candace hears.

“Why?” Saul asks. It’s almost a wail. “Why did it happen? Why did we become you?

“Life gave us sugar,” Meredith says.

Candace blacks out.

“We made lemonade.”

3 thoughts on “Sour, Bitter, and Sweet

  1. “What is poetry? Poetry is L[size=9:fbf8195212”>EMONS[/size:fbf8195212”>-O[size=9:fbf8195212”>N[/size:fbf8195212”>-F[size=9:fbf8195212”>IRE[/size:fbf8195212”>.”

    (I can’t remember the title or author of the poem I’m quoting, but I remember that it was published in a chapbook titled There’s a Little Ambiguity Over There Among the Bluebells.)

  2. “Don’t put your faith in love, my boy, my father said to me
    I fear you’ll find that love is like the lovely lemon tree
    Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet
    But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat”

    Hhm. Hitherby made me quote Peter, Paul & Mary. How odd.

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