Missing Mike

Clarion West 2014 will begin soon. It’s at times like this that I think about Mike the most.

Early morning. first Saturday. Clarion West 2010. I was among the first to arrive and drew door duty, helping arrivals deal with the house’s combination lock.

The weather was glorious, the sort of June Seattle day that makes you glad to live in the Pacific Northwest. I had the door propped open and sat just inside. Beyond the back fence I heard car doors slamming, heard voices, male and female. The gate opened. Two young women and an older man came through, all dragging luggage. I took the older man for a father, come to help his daughter settle in. And I figured it was time for a bit of fun.

“What is your name?” I demanded, in my best English accent.

The two women stared at me, wondering, I suppose, who this crazy woman was. But the older man drew his shoulders back and snapped to attention.

“Sir Lancelot,” he said.

I was expecting the women to be fellow Monty Python fans, not the older man. Even so, I plowed on. “What is your quest?”

He grinned. “I seek the Holy Grail.”

Okay. I threw out another line. “What is the average air-speed of a swallow?”

“African or European?” he demanded.

That began my thirty-month friendship with Mike Alexander, my fellow geezer of the 2010 class. Actually, friendship doesn’t come close to describing the bond Mike and I formed. We discovered we had had the same sort of adventures, growing up. Both of us were old school, addicted to the same authors. Not only had we read the same books, but we had had the same dreams of someday writing science fiction.

Life had gotten in the way for both of us. Jobs. Marriages. Family. Even so, neither of us had ever given up the dream. Now, in our mid-sixties, the time had come. Afternoons, after the critique sessions, we sat and talked about our philosophies of story. We dissected plots, discussed character development; even began to talk about a collaboration. It was a manna that sustained us through a grueling six weeks.

Mike liked to tell people he was my younger brother (six months) from another mother. I’d smile and nod. I liked the notion of a brother who shared my passion for reading and writing science fiction and fantasy.

Life is full of complications, though. Mike had cancer, and although it was managed, it hadn’t gone away. Even so, life went on. We finished Clarion West and went back to the real world. I live in Seattle. He lived in Oregon, two hundred miles away, and neither of us survived travel the way we used to. Even so, we found ways to stay in touch. Telephone. E-mail. Skype. We told each other awful jokes, critiqued each other’s work – and began to make plans for that collaboration.

Over the months, then years, I met Mike’s wife, Sheila; Mike and Sheila met my wife, Rachael. We hung together at conventions – Rustycon, Norwescon, and Orycon. Went to dinner now and then. And the collaboration grew.

It would be set on the Moon in the late 1970s. An alternate world where the United States hadn’t given up on space. The notion grew, turned into a trilogy of novellas that we planned to pull together into a novel, after all three had been published. The first story became a murder mystery, set in work colony that supported the construction of a Mars-bound vehicle being built in lunar orbit.

We weathered setbacks. He fought the thing growing inside him and I dealt with coronary problems. But paragraph by paragraph, the story grew, and then, at eighteen thousand plus words, The Moon Belongs to Everyone was finished. I told Mike it was a winner, that Stan Schmidt at Analog was sure to buy it, that it would be a cover story.

Mike humored me. “You can’t know that,” he said.

In mid-March 2012, we sent it off to Stan. He replied a day later. “I just saw The Moon Belongs to Everyone in my in-basket and look forward to reading it.” Two months later, this arrived. “I’m buying The Moon Belongs to Everyone. Expect the December 2012 issue.”

We received our author copies of the magazine in late September 2012. Our names were on the cover, top billing, and The Moon Belongs to Everyone was lead-off story with gorgeous two-page art.

“How did you know that?” Mike asked me, via telephone.

“I just had a feeling,” I replied.

We celebrated together in early November 2012 at Orycon 34 in Portland. Mike and I jabbered all weekend about the second novella, Pie in the Sky, which we had started. Rachael had to work that weekend, but Sheila looked on, smiling and knitting the whole time.

Less than a month later, December third, Sheila called. “Mike’s not doing well,” she said.

I had another of those feelings. “I’ll be there soon as I can,” I said.

Six hours later, I arrived in Oregon. Mike grinned when I walked in. We talked for a couple hours, Me, Mike and Sheila, and some friends of theirs. Then Mike grew tired, and the friends left.

I sat up with Mike most of the night, while Sheila grabbed much-needed sleep. And I was there, with the two of them, next morning when he died.

Mike Alexander was the kindest, gentlest man I ever knew. He was generous and funny and saw the best in everyone. And he fought one hell of a battle against that bastard, cancer. It’s been almost eighteen months, but. I still miss my friend so very much. I miss our chats. I miss the jokes, and I miss the stories we’ll never write.

Most of all, I miss my little brother by another mom.

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