“Would you like us to drop you off in Indiana, Hank?” Elvis offered. “Or will you stay and help Jillian with the police?” He gave me a sly smile. It was lit by the ship’s running lights, which reflected off the trees and gave the clearing a soft glow.
I crossed my arms over my chest and smiled back. “I guess I’ll stay for a while.”
“I told you that we would find a dolly for you in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Robbie threw his arms around Larry and said huskily, “Now, I don’t ever want to see you back here, you old son of a gun,” he said. “If we don’t make it—well, just think of me as a million specks of space dust, floating through the galaxy.”
“But Robbie,” Elvis said, “you will not really be destroyed. We can only destroy your body, and—.” Words failed him and he looked to Larry for help.
“We can only destroy physical things,” Larry said. I could have sworn that his own eyes were glinting in the soft glow. “We can’t destroy their essence.”
“Good to know,” Robbie said. “In that case, maybe some day my essence will pay a call on your essence, over there on the other side of the universe.”
“I’d like that,” Larry said.
Elvis held Getlo in the crook of his arm, stroking her ears. “Hank will be a very good friend to you, little Getlo,” he said to her. With a sigh, he handed her to me. She seemed to grasp the solemnity of the occasion, and for once lay docile in my arms.
“Are you sure?” I said.
“Dogs are not made for space,” he said. “She would miss the Earth.”
He put his arms around both of us. I expected a crushing embrace to match the pressure on my heart, but instead, I felt enveloped in gentle, pulsating warmth that melted away every ache in my heart, my head, my body. My bones evaporated. I felt disembodied, as if, for just an instant, my soul expanded from a point of light in the middle of my chest and radiated until it filled the unimaginable vastness of the universe. Then it collapsed again, returning me to a physical body that felt wholly peaceful.
Elvis stepped back. “Later, gator,” he said, and blinked.
Larry was already turning toward the descending ramp.
As I watched, a caterpillar shadow bobbed against the light-flooded incline, slowly making its way down. Larry bent to retrieve it, set it to one side, turned, smiled and waved.
Elvis didn’t look back.
We watched while the ship swallowed the last of his silhouette, and then the ramp itself. We watched while it rose gracefully against the starry sky, its lights dimming until the stars glittered behind it. We watched it glide past the moon and grow smaller and fainter until it faded into the sky, leaving only the winking stars.