Rain, rain go away, Come again some other day
Cold and rain greeted her when Patty opened the door. She had already heard it pattering against the window panes, and she had her umbrella and coat at the ready. She climbed into the cab of her pickup truck and turned on the two-way radio.
“Going into service, Tom. Got anything for me? Over.”
“Yes, there’s a flat tire on a blue Chevy Station Wagon at 12th and B Street and a wreck out on the Highway by the old sawmill. Where do you want to start? Over.”
“Are they drinking already? None of those drunks seem to be able to make that curve without going off the road. Over.”
“The old gal who called it in seemed upset but not drunk. Must have been the weather. Over.”
“OK, I will start with that one; it’s on the way into town. Over and out.” Patty pulled out onto the road and headed towards town.
When Patty’s husband died last year, she started driving his wrecker because she would make more money than she was making as a waitress. It was hard work, but she had two kids to raise, and what other choice did she have. It wasn’t bad money, and she didn’t have to sell her house and move to the city to make it. Most importantly, if her kids got sick or needed her, she was available.
Her competitor hadn’t gotten to the wreck before her. She pulled up to the first car, a pristine condition, probably 20-year-old, Cadillac. No cops on the scene yet. The second car was an old pickup truck. Neither really looked damaged. The Caddy was halfway off the road in the ditch. Patty got out and looked into the Caddy. No one was inside. She walked over to the other vehicle, and that’s when she saw her. She was huddled down in the passenger-side floorboard. Tape covered her mouth, and Patty noticed the ropes. A look of horror was on the older woman’s face just as the lights went out for Patty.
When Patty came to, she realized her hands were tied to the steering wheel, and the old woman was crying and whimpering. Patty turned her head to look around, and it hurt. Someone had hit her in the head with something heavy. She couldn’t turn enough to look behind her, but she saw no one. A car passed and didn’t even slow down. It was still raining.
Knots, Knots, and More Knots
Fear gripped Patty, and she started to panic. She pulled hard against the ropes, but they wouldn’t give. Tears began to fall down her cheeks. She looked over at the old woman again. Her eyes were closed, and her head slumped onto her chest. The faces of Patty’s children filled her mind. How would they make it without her?
That thought is what brought her good senses back. She would figure out how to save herself and this old woman, too. Who had done this, and why? What was the purpose?
“First things first,” she thought. I have to get myself untied. Patty looked around the cab of the truck and saw nothing helpful. She studied the ropes on her hands. Whoever tied them used thin yellow nylon rope. There were two rope lengths. One constrained her hands at the wrists, and the other was hitched to that rope and went around the steering column twice and looped and tied again around the one used to tie her wrists. It had to come off first. But how? She needed to remove the tape on her mouth. Maybe she could use her teeth to remove the rope if she could get the tape off.
She moved her head to the steering wheel, and her head began to throb even more. She rested her head against the wheel. Then she started rubbing her taped mouth against the steering wheel. It was duct tape, just like on the old lady. She found the edge of the tape on her right cheek and started pushing her face in a sideways motion against the wheel. After a while, she began to feel it roll back, ever so slightly.
“I can do this.” She thought. She continued rubbing the edge towards her mouth. Eventually, it began to form a roll at the side, and it got more manageable when the adhesive started to rub against the wheel, and she actually began to pull a little bit up at each swipe. She pushed her face hard against the wheel, and the adhesive stuck, and when she pulled her head back, almost half came off her mouth. The rest was easy.
“Oh, my God.” She said out loud. She looked over at the old woman. “Her eyes are still closed,” she thought to herself. Patty studied the ropes once again and how they were tied.
Patty started with the very top knot, using her teeth to pull. It was slow going, she discovered. Eventually, she learned to grip just the right way with her teeth, and the knot began to loosen. Patty rested for a bit and then started again. The first knot finally loosened enough to allow a good grip with her teeth, and she pulled it out. Success felt good, and she immediately began work on the second one. It was a square knot. Her shoulders were hurting from leaning forward.
Cars passed in the rain, but they never slowed. It was raining hard now, and the occupants probably couldn’t see what was happening anyway. Patty tried to keep her mind on the task at hand – not her children or her fear. Her sense of time was lost. She had no idea how long she had been working on these knots. She only knew this was the last one before her hands would be free from the steering wheel. Her concentration grew in intensity,
She pulled back hard with her teeth, and the final knot gave way, and she leaned back in the seat as the rope tied to the steering wheel fell between her feet. She pulled her hands back to her chest and then reached forward and managed to pull the rope away from the steering wheel. She felt free, even though her hands were still tied together. She leaned back and rested her head against the seat.
The old woman opened her eyes when Patty spoke to her. “Are you all right? Patty asked her. She nodded her head. “Do you want me to take the tape off your mouth?” She nodded again.
Patty scooted across the bench seat of the old truck and, with great effort, got her mouth down level with the old woman on the floorboard.
“Sorry we have to meet this way,” Patty said as she leaned down and put her mouth on the edge of the tape running across the old woman’s mouth. She nibbled at the tape end until she could get a good enough grip. Then she leaned back and looked the old woman in the eye. “This will hurt some. I’m sorry.”
She bent her head back down, grabbed the nibbled end of the tape with her teeth, and pulled back. It came halfway off, and quickly Patty bent back down. She got another excellent grip with her teeth and pulled off the rest. She opened her mouth and let the tape fall.
“Thank you, thank you,” the old woman said as tears welled up in her eyes. “We have to hurry. They’re coming back”.
“What? What are you talking about?
“I heard them say they would be back.”
It’s Still Pouring
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” The old woman said to Patty as she started to sob.
“Stop, please. If we have to hurry, then I have to get us out of this car and into mine.”
“No, no. I think they took your truck.” the old woman exclaimed. Patty turned her whole body in the seat and looked out the truck’s back window. Her heart fell. Not only was her wrecker gone, but the old woman’s Caddy was gone, too.
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Patty. “Why would they come back for this old truck?”
“It’s us they want – not the vehicles.”
Patty was more confused than ever now. “What in the hell is going on?” she thought to herself as she began the attempt to untie the last rope around her wrists with her teeth. “This old woman is crazy.”
“Start at the beginning and tell me the whole story while I untie my hands,” Patty said to her. “What’s your name?”
“Ida Louise Humphrey. People call me Ida Lou.”
“Nice to meet you, Ida Lou. I’m Patricia Lynn Powitzki. Call me, Patty. So, what happened? and make it short.”
Ida Lou looked her straight in the eye. “You aren’t going to believe me.” Tears welled up into her eyes once again.
“Oh, my God, Lady! Just tell me.”
“They aren’t real.”
“Well, you’re right. I don’t believe you. It was definitely something real that conked me on the head and tied me up.”
“I don’t mean it that way. I mean, they aren’t like you and me.”
Patty pushed her head against the back window and straightened her spine. “Is this for real, or am I dreaming?” Patty was ready just to start walking down the road in the rain with her hands still tied. Instead, she looked at the old woman and tried to size her up. Ida Lou didn’t look insane. Maybe they hit her on the head, too, and she was still confused.
“You mean they are bad guys, and that’s why they aren’t like us? Is that what you mean?” she asked her.
“I think they are from another place…” and Ida Lou’s voice trailed off.
“You mean they spoke with an accent?” she suggested quizzically.
“No, I mean they aren’t from here, not from earth. They have to be from outer space. They killed that old man with their strange guns, or they made him disappear anyway. One minute he was there, and the next, he was gone, just like that. Then they made me call for you. They said you could help them. I’m so sorry. After I saw what they did to him, I had to do what they said. I’m so sorry.”
The first knot finally loosened up, and using her teeth, Patty pulled out the first loop of the square knot far enough that when she pulled her hands apart – the second tie came loose, and she pulled off the binding. She immediately leaned over and untied Ida Lou’s hands.
“Well, you were right. I don’t believe you. Ida Lou, you are just confused. That’s quite understandable. We do have to figure out how to get some help or get out of here or something. I wonder if I can get this old truck started without the key.” Patty said, half to herself and half to Ida Lou.
“Can you help me?” asked Ida Lou. “I’ve been down here in the floorboard so long I can’t get untwisted to get back into the seat.”
“Oh, sure – sorry.” Patty opened the truck door and ran around to the other side, and pulled open the door. She helped Ida Lou out of the truck. Unlike Patty, she wasn’t prepared for the rain and was wet almost instantly in the torrential downpour. Ida Lou climbed back into the pickup with Patty’s help.
She had to get the truck running. The rain was too much for the old woman to be walking in.
“You sure as shit got us into a mess. We’re gonna get caught, you know, and there will be hell to pay for both of us. Not only are they gonna ship us home; I bet they make us pay back our bonuses, too.”
He was tired of listening to his friend and partner. “Hey, stop it! Griping at me isn’t gonna solve our problem. We don’t have much time.
“Then, put your foot on it and get us back there.”
No More Rain
I woke up to the sound of the phone ringing. It was after midnight. “Who would be calling me this time of night?” The phone was across the room on my desk. I forgot to put it beside the bed. I pulled back the covers and hurried across the room.
I picked it up and answered without looking to see who it was.
I heard a man’s voice, but I couldn’t understand what he said. “Who is this?” I responded.
“It doesn’t matter. Just do what I tell you to do. Your hesitation will cost your sister’s life. Do you understand me?
My heart was beating wildly now, and fear gripped me. “What are you talking about? Which sister?
“Just shut up and do what I tell you. I have her, and I will kill her: if you don’t cooperate NOW.”
It just came out of me without any thought. “How do I know you have a sister of mine?” Then, I heard a groan of pain, and I heard my sister say, “Don’t do it, Ann.”
It was Patty. I started shouting her name, and I heard a loud slap and then nothing. I waited.
“She’s still alive, but not for long, if you don’t cooperate. I’m getting tired of this. Cooperate, or else – she’s dead. You don’t have much time.”
“What do you want me to do?” I finally said.
“Get in your car and drive north on the Highway for precisely ten miles, then stop and wait until you get another call. You only have twelve minutes, starting now, so I suggest you hurry,” and the phone went dead.
I stood frozen, trying to think about what I should do or take or what my choices were. I grabbed my keys and the gun I kept by the bed. I ran out the door. When I got out to the Highway, I had no idea how long it had taken me to get there. I turned onto the road and pushed the accelerator to the floorboard.
I could see no other cars on the road yet. I lived a good way out of town. “Oh my God, I forgot to look at the odometer. I spun the car around in the middle of the road, headed back to the starting point, and then spun the car around again. The odometer was at 12566. I hit the accelerator.
Would he really kill Patty if I was late? “What in the hell does this monster want?” I said out loud to myself.
Is the gun going to do me any good? I knew how to use it, but would I get the chance? Car lights came towards me from the other lane, and I wanted to scream help or make them stop, but the time, what about the time? I could call the police, but Patty would be killed for sure if I did that.
The speedometer read 12575 – only one more mile. I could see nothing ahead. No lights, nothing. I didn’t know whether I had made it in time or not. Still nothing ahead. I pulled over as the last number rolled into place—total darkness. The phone rang.
Jamala flicked her lights off as soon as she saw the target begin to turn around ahead of her. Her training paid off since she herself hadn’t reached the turn-in yet. It was best to trail targets from way back. After all, Jamala knew just the spot where this one was headed.
“This woman can drive. Her turns at high speed are impeccable.” Jamala said to herself as she watched the car sprint back down the Highway. She waited a few more seconds before she moved forward and then a few more seconds before she switched on her lights.
Her phone rang. “Jamala,” she answered.
“Think you can handle this without us?” Her boss said.
“It’s too late now if I can’t.”
“Well, don’t screw it up. If we have to start all over again, we may not make it out in time.
Jamala rolled her eyes but replied like the soldier she was, “Yes, Sir. Got it.”
Usually, Halbeck was cool as a cucumber, but this assignment seemed to have his mind all twisted. She had never seen him like this.
Soon, Jamala saw the woman’s brake lights come on. She cut her lights and slowly moved forward towards the other car until the lights went out. Then she pulled onto the shoulder and got out. She walked quickly into the woods on the far side of the roadway and worked her way towards the target.
Patty had no luck hot wiring the car. “Maybe the battery is dead,” She thought. “It is an old clunker.”
Ida Lou sat patiently, waiting. There was nothing she could do. Actually, she was amazed this young woman had some idea how to do such a thing. She believed it wouldn’t do them much good, though, even if Patty did get the truck started. After all, she knew what these people, if they were people, could do. Ida Lou believed she and the young woman had no chance of making it out of this insane situation – alive. At least they were together. She did not want to die alone. Then she remembered Patty had told her about her children and being a widow. “Her children need her. I have to help,” thought Ida Lou.
“What can I do, Patty? I want to help, even though I don’t think we have much hope against those things or whoever or whatever they are.”
Patty turned and looked at her. “They’re humans, just like us. They can’t be aliens; there is no such thing.” Patty was getting rattled and stressed. “Whoever they are, we have to get out of here.
“They did look human,” said Ida Lou. “But I tell you: they are not like us.”
Patty turned towards the driver’s side window in exasperation. Patty was having a hard time dealing with this woman and her insanity. She glanced towards the tree line across the road. Something had caught her eye, and then she saw a man come out of the trees walking towards them. She turned back to Ida Lou.
Only Ida Lou wasn’t there.
Bright White Lights
Shocked: Patty looked around her for Ida Lou. She looked back at the figure across the highway. The man was now holding a silver-colored gun-looking thing. The next thing Patty knew, she was lying down in a small room. She couldn’t move any body parts except her head. The walls seemed to flow into each other. The room was more like a bubble, and everything was a white color that she had never seen before. It was a glowing white, bright beyond her capability to comprehend.
Fear gripped her very being and held on tight. She wanted to pass out but did not. She could not remember how she had gotten here.
A man covered in a bubble-like suit seemed to just pass through the wall of light at her feet and into the room. He ran a wand-looking gadget all over her body about two inches away from her skin. Patty couldn’t speak, though she tried. Her mind and her body were like a tree, growing here in this room full of light.
Jamala could see the target clearly now as she sat behind the wheel on the phone with Halbeck. She waited patiently until she saw the target lay down the phone, then she aimed and fired.
She got into the woman’s car and drove off to meet Halbeck.
She traveled down the dirt road and into the field for their agreed-upon rendezvous. She parked the car in a clearing behind the trees.
Jamala was glad her part was over. She walked into the woods surrounding the field and lay down under the tree where they would meet. She hadn’t slept in 30 hours and fell asleep immediately when she lay down.
Halbeck could hear the phone ringing on the other end of the line; then he heard Jamala answer. “Are we a go on this?”
“Yes, sir. Mission accomplished. On my way in the target’s car to the rendezvous point. Arrival time – maybe 30 minutes.”
“We will meet you in about three hours. Stopping for gas in the next town. I’ll call you when we pull into the field. Get some sleep,” and he hung up.
He called Drewson. “Have to stop for gas. How’s your fuel gauge?”
“I’ve got enough, filled up when I took Jamala to rent her car.”
“You dropped her a couple of blocks from the rental place, I hope.”
“Hell, Halbeck, you know I follow orders, sir.” Drewson rolled his eyes and wondered why Halbeck was so nervous acting on this mission.
Halbeck hung up and sighed. If only he could tell them what was at stake. But he couldn’t; it could jeopardize the mission.
She keeps trying to convince herself that this isn’t for real, but it’s not working.
“It sure seems real. I don’t usually imagine things or hallucinate. Could I be hallucinating?” Patty can’t even believe her thoughts in this crazy situation. “Am I asleep? And this is just a dream? If I could move my body, it would help me to know the reality of this situation.
“Maybe I’m wrapped up tight in the covers, and I made up this dream to account for not being able to move. I can still move my head, but nothing else. This can’t be real. If it were, I would be in for something awful. What would I have done to deserve this?
The man in the bubble suit walked back into the room. “It won’t be much longer now, and we will have you right out of here and back home. Then your life will go on as it always has. You won’t even remember any of this. Let me speak for everyone involved. We are sorry we had to go to these extremes, but the situation did call for it. You are quite a hero, young lady. Thank you. I’m going to give you something to make you sleep for a while, and when you wake up, you will be at home in your own bed.
She felt the needle go into her arm.
Patty woke up feeling rested. Her daughter was lying beside her, and Patty awakened her. “Gotta get up and get ready for school, honey. Go back into your room and pick out what you want to wear today, and I will wake up your brother and start our breakfast. It’s going to be a good day.”
“All four onboard, sir.”
“Tell the Doc to send the three helpers back. We won’t be needing them anymore. And let me know when Halbek, Jamala, and Drewson are ready for pickup. I want to be there when they show up. Without them, this wouldn’t have worked so well.”
“What about the fourth one, sir?”
“I’m sure the Doc has her sleeping. That’s the best thing for her until we’re ready.”
Jamala stirred in her sleep. Halbek and Drewson looked at her. She was curled up in a ball and fast asleep.
In a whisper, “We could transport her the way she is, sir.” Drewson smiled at his leader.
“Yeah, if we did that, you’d have to deal with her. I sure wouldn’t want to.” He reached down and touched her shoulder. Instantly, she was up on her feet.
“Everything went as planned, sir?”
“Yes, we’re finished. The cars are all back in their driveways, ready to start the new day.”
Relief flooded Jamala’s mind, and when her eyes focused again, she was in the cargo bay.
The Ship’s Captain was staring at them. “Well, you did a great job again, no hitches, as usual. I knew I could count on you.”
In unison, “Thank you, Captain.”
“Get some well-deserved rest; in eight hours, our real mission begins.” Only Halbeck knew what that meant.
Halbek knew he was in for a long haul as soon as his superiors appointed him and gave him the mission’s details. It was not going to be easy. In fact, Halbek wasn’t sure it was even possible. Sure, they had traveled like this before on missions into the past, but those were just for research. This time was very different. They weren’t just looking and observing. This mission required much more from them. They were actually going to affect the past. Oh, he knew the scientists believed this could be pulled off, but he had his doubts. Absolutely no screw-ups could happen. If any noticeable change occurred, who knew what the present would be like when they returned. Maybe life wouldn’t even exist. Halbek never prayed before, but now he did and often. He just hoped that someone was listening. He also knew he wouldn’t want his children to grow up in the world that was coming if they weren’t successful.
Ann was twelve when she discovered her ability. She was reading in her room while her younger sisters were playing outside with neighborhood kids. Her younger sister Patty kept knocking on her window and yelling for her to come out. Ann didn’t feel like it. It was summertime and so hot outside that your clothes stuck to you after a few minutes. The kids were playing Red Rover… way too physical for her.
She finally gave in because they all began yelling at her through the window. Her Mama stepped into the room and told her to take her book and go outside with them. Peace and quiet were rare for her mother. Ann did as she was told and went out and sat on a swing and started to read her book again.
The girls, against the boys, was often the way they played games, and there were fewer girls than boys today, and the girls wouldn’t leave her alone until she agreed to play. “Just for a little bit,” she told them.
All seven boys lined up, facing the girls who were sitting on the ground. Boys aren’t dumb in general, so Ann was the first one they picked. “Red Rover, Red Rover let Ann come over,” they shouted in unison after a quick huddle.
“Great,” thought Ann as she got up, with the other girls urging. “This will be over quickly, and I can get back to my book.”
Billy, the bully of the neighborhood, quickly started taunting her. “Take off your glasses, fatty-fatty two by four.” Ann looked at him, and she felt her anger become overwhelming. It scared her. She handed her glasses to one of the girls. Then she started running right at Billy instead of running between them at their linked arms, which is, of course, the usual strategy for breaking the line in Red Rover.
When she hit him with the full force of her body, he went flying against the brick wall, a few feet behind him. She heard crunching, and she knew instantly she had hurt him. Her anger fell like water, all around her. Self-loathing for what she had done replaced her anger. She bent down and touched his face with both her hands, and she felt her regret pour into him.
He got up, and the look on his face was completely different. “I’m sorry, Ann,” he said. Despite the crunching sounds she heard, he appeared physically fit.
Later that day, when she thought about what happened, she decided it didn’t really happen the way she thought it had.
She was wrong.
A doomed world
Jerry didn’t know if it was reasonable or not to expect this many people to work together to solve any problem, much less this one. But he began his speech anyway, right or wrong because there were no real choices left.
“This problem is so immense that no one person can hope to solve it alone. That is why I have asked you all to assemble here. We need a plan, and we need it now.”
He stared out at the group of men and women who were tops in their fields.
“I assume you have all read the documentation you received last night. If not, please leave now, as you will be of no help to us or the rest of the planet in Earth’s darkest hour.” No one left. No one in the group had slept. They had all spent the night reading, studying, researching, and thinking about this nightmare and the documents and videos they received. Fear and anguish were visible on every face.
“We have one year to solve this problem before they arrive unless they are not yet traveling at top speed. We made attempts to communicate, but none have succeeded thus far. Obviously, they have superior knowledge and equipment. It is apparent we will have to come at this from many angles. That is why we have gathered all of you from a great diversity of disciplines. Their trajectory is directly at Earth; there is no doubt about that. We won’t know until they get here if they will first orbit, nor do we know if there are beings inside or only machines. There are different sizes and shapes, and of course, we don’t know why.“ Jerry coughed.
Each of you has a handler who will see to your needs. No doubt, you have already met them. You will not be allowed to leave the compound nor contact anyone. Security and silence are of the utmost importance in our endeavor because fear and panic in the population is our most pressing concern at this point. There are no exceptions to this rule. You now work for the US Government.
I woke up with someone touching my shoulder. He was leaning over me and smiling.
“Welcome to your new life, Ann,” he said to me, and I tried to get up but found I still couldn’t move – not at all.
Fear enveloped me.
“Don’t worry. You will understand soon, and when you do, I know you will want to help us. We have done enough research to know that you are a kind, caring person who will want to use your special abilities to save the world. In fact, you must; otherwise, the world is doomed.
The Rock and the Soldier
Halbek felt rested now but still uncomfortable with his role in this venture. “Why me?” came to the front of his mind each time he thought of his task. “This is not the kind of thing I do best,” he thought with irritation. His superiors thought otherwise, apparently, but still, he couldn’t figure out how they came to such a conclusion about him.
“Oh well,” he told himself, “I’m a soldier, and I do what I am told, to the best of my ability. I just hope I am as good as they think I am.” The ship’s Captain appeared in his feed, and he answered. “Yes, sir?”
“The meeting is set for thirteen hundred hours. Be waiting outside the container five minutes beforehand, and we will see how long this is going to take.” The hologram went blank. Halbek groaned and started to dress.
It seems like I have been this immovable rock forever. What is happening to me? I’ve had some wild dreams before, but this is beyond ridiculous. Surely I will wake up soon. If I could only move and get up, I could figure this out. Being completely immobile is more than terrifying. I can move my eyes, but in this place comprised solely of light, even that isn’t helpful. I will close my eyes and wish myself home again. But I can’t do that because I have to save Patty. But how? I can’t move. This cannot be real; it has to be a dream.
Oh, he’s back. Let me out. Let me go. What is going on? He can’t hear me because my mouth won’t move. “Set me free,” I scream, but no sound comes out.
He smiles at me. If my eyes could kill, they would.
“Please, Ann, don’t be afraid. We will do you no harm. I promise.”
Like he expects me to believe him.
Halbek walked up to Drewson. “Been here long?”
“Long enough. You replacing me on guard duty?”
“I don’t think so,” Halbek replied. He wished it were true. “Better duty than I’ve got,” he thought to himself and leaned up against the wall opposite the container to wait.
The Perseus Constellation
“You’re on a ship, Ann. Some people might call it a spaceship. You are high above the earth, and in a few moments, I will allow you movement and the ability to speak. I need your cooperation, or things might — get uncomfortable for you. We will return you to your time and place on earth if you will not assist us. But, I am not too worried about that. We have studied you for quite some time, and your character is very apparent to us. We need you. The earth needs you, Ann. We don’t have a lot of time, but I will try to give you enough to consider all this. Are you ready to start?”
Ann looked away from him. “How could this be for real?” she thought. There wasn’t much choice for her. She either did what he said or she would remain a rock with eyes – not a very comfortable feeling. She looked back at him and wondered how she could tell him yes with just her eyes. He had moved and was standing across the room. He stood with his back to her and waved his hand, and another man entered the light-filled space. They spoke, but she only barely understood them. It sounded like English but was very different at the same time. The new man walked near to her and stood as if waiting for something. The other one leaned over a disc-like object that hovered at table height, above the floor.
“First, I will return your ability to speak; then, when we agree, I will return your ability to move.”
“Where is my sister, Patty?” she asked.
“Patty has been returned to her home. She has no memory of assisting us. By now, your sister is helping an old woman get her car out of a ditch. She is totally unharmed, and her life will continue as it would have. You do not need to fear for her safety. She is truly ‘back to normal.”
“Prove it… Why have you kidnapped me? Who are you? What do you want? Why me? What’s going on? This is crazy.” Her mind wouldn’t stop. “Who are these people?” she thought.
“I know it’s confusing.” Her captor replied. “That is why we have prepared this explanation for you. Just look straight above you and watch.”
Ann looked up, and a hologram appeared above her. She had never seen such a thing before and was surprised at the realness of the scene. She felt like she was a part of it but could only watch as the actions above her unfolded.
There was an extensive room full of people sitting in seats like an audience at a play. She thought there was a screen at the front of this room, but then people appeared, and she began to realize that it too was a hologram that this audience was viewing. Nothing seemed real. A hologram of a group of people watching another hologram? “What is this?” Ann thought.
She began to listen.
“Now, I will show you what our newest telescope satellite has seen. This video was taken two days ago, looking towards the Perseus Constellation.”
“They’re looking at a meteor shower?” Ann thought to herself. But, then she began to see more details as the hologram in a hologram brought the meteors closer. “Oh my God, what is this? Those aren’t pieces of space debris. Those are ships of some kind. All different sizes and shapes, speeding towards the telescope. These ships were coming to earth!” she thought.
Ann spoke out loud. “This can’t be real. They must be coming faster than the speed of light. That’s not possible.” She drew her breath in loudly. “Is it?” she asked.
The “Boss” as Ann had named him was actually the Captain of this ship, at least that is what he told her. But, she had not decided yet whether to believe anything she saw and heard. The Captain told her that Halbek was her handler, and any questions she had, he would answer. She had no choice but to cooperate given the circumstances, but her every thought was about learning enough to get herself out of this situation.
Ann noticed that Halbek had a faraway look in his eyes before he finally started speaking to her. She was sitting in a chair in front of him, waiting to learn her fate. Ann understood this from what the other man, “the Captain,” had told her. He hadn’t told her much, other than Halbek was to be her handler until she decided whether or not to join them in this Vital Endeavor as they referred to it. She didn’t expect she would do that from what she knew so far. After all, they had spirited her away and forced her sister to help them. But what they had shown her was intriguing and, if true, was incredibly compelling and scary. It hardly seemed possible that it was real, though. She admitted something out of this world was happening because this was beyond anything she had ever seen or dreamed.
At least she could move now, and that was worth a lot at this point. She had been scared to death while she was utterly immobilized, like a rock with eyes. But still, she wasn’t free. She would need their help if she were to leave this ship.
Halbek knew a lot about her from the many times he had observed her. But, of course, she had no idea that they had been watching her for a long time. He had never even considered that he would have to tell her this someday. He didn’t like the idea of being spied upon, and he doubted she was going to be happy about it either. Maybe he shouldn’t tell her how he knew the things he knew. “Oh, hell,” he thought, “Why hadn’t the people above him planned better and prepared him for this?”
Halbek asked her, “How do you want to do this? You want to ask questions, and I answer, or should I start where I think is best?”
Ann eyed him up and down. He was tall and angular with black hair and green eyes. He was obviously too strong for her to fight him, hand to hand, anyway. His clothes were military-like though unlike any she had seen before; even the material was different somehow.
Taking what seemed a chance to capture the upper hand, she asked him, “Where are you from?”
He seemed to consider for a second or two and replied, “Texas.”
“No, you’re not. You don’t even have a Texas accent,” she told him. “I heard you talking with the “Captain,” and that isn’t English. Where are you really from?”
“I was born in Houston, and we don’t speak old American anymore — not in a very long time. I had to train for quite a while to learn to speak it well enough to pass in your century.”
She couldn’t control her eyes, which grew wide with surprise. “Are you telling me you are from the future?”
“Yep, that’s what I’m telling you.”
Ann looked at the floor. She couldn’t tell whether it was fear or excitement that was pulsing through her veins. She forced herself to calm her mind. “How far in the future?”
“Almost eight hundred years,” he replied.
The KISS Principle
Ann didn’t know how long she had been sitting in front of this man. She only knew she was in shock. Ann had felt these feelings before. Her mind was moving slowly, and there was little she could do about it. Her previous experiences with this feeling told her that she would think clearly again. In time her mind would adjust. Ann knew the feelings of shock well but never had she dealt with a shock anywhere nearly as severe as this one.
How could this be? And why her? What did they want? Were they good people or bad people? Could she be hallucinating? Had someone given her drugs? She was pretty sure it wasn’t a dream.
She looked over at the man seated in front of her. How could she possibly trust someone who told her something so patently insane?
Halbek looked at her and knew his intuition was kicking in, but he didn’t know whether he was right or not. How did one prepare for this kind of scenario? He had no choice but to take a chance.
“I can imagine it must be challenging for someone from the twentieth century to, as you say, wrap your head around a visit from eight hundred years in the future.”
“How is it possible to time travel?”
“It would be complicated to explain this phenomenon to someone from your century. It was difficult to explain to the citizens of our century, and technologically, we are far advanced from your century.”
“Give it a try, please.” She countered.
Halbek stared at her. Was it even possible to explain this to someone like her? Someone from the very beginning of the old computer age, a relic user from the deep past?
Halbek remembered one of the sayings he learned from her century that he felt was still valid. The kiss principle they called it. Keep it simple stupid. He would try.
“Our century learned about it from a visitor, like you are learning from me, a person from our future – someone nine hundred years from your present day. She brought this knowledge to us to save her citizen’s future and, therefore, ours and yours. The people of her century are in grave danger, and only the past can be changed – not the future, as it has not occurred yet.”
Ann studied on this for a moment and then asked him, “This has something to do with the faster than light travelers?”
“Yes, we must stop them. That woman from our future, I just told you about? She has told us that these aliens from a distant galaxy are changing the earth to their needs and killing off all the humans because they are changing the atmosphere. Humanity is doomed unless we can stop them.”
Halbek and Ann’s conversation lasted for almost two hours until Ann could absorb no more, and she grew hungry, too. She told Halbek she needed to eat, “What do you want to eat? We can supply whatever you want.”
Ann smirked. “Three eggs over easy with pan sausage and buttered toast?” she responded.
“Sure. Just a moment.” Halbek stepped outside, and she heard him tell the waiting sentinel to bring them both a plate of eggs, sausage, and buttered toast – over easy for her and scrambled for him. He stepped back inside to ask her what she wanted to drink and then passed it on to the man waiting outside.
Halbek shut the door and sat back down. “It’ll be just a sec. We’ve covered a lot of territory. More questions?”
Ann leaned back in the highly comfortable chair she sat in, and before she could reply, there was a knock on the door. Halbek answered, and the sentinel came in carrying a large round tray full of precisely what they ordered. Though startled at the immediate delivery, Ann merely watched as Halbek arranged the meal on the table. He pushed her chair into place at the table that had just “appeared” in front of them. A feeling of amazement and fear filled her consciousness, but not for too long as the smells of breakfast wafted up to her. She ate ravenously.
Halbek eyed her closely while she ate. She really was hungry, he thought to himself. Her usually wary eyes paid no attention to him. After the last bit of toast, she looked up and caught him watching her. He didn’t look away.
“How was it?” he asked.
“Way better than I expected, that’s for sure,” she smiled and wiped her face with a napkin so soft it startled her. Nothing about this breakfast seemed natural. “How did you do this?”
“Do what?” he replied.
“Have exactly what I ordered, prepared so quickly and yet taste like this?”
“You can order whatever you want, whenever, and we can make it exactly to your specifications. I mean, it will taste like whatever recipe you want. Even like some particular chef from ages ago prepared it. This is, after all, the year 2820.”
Ann stared at him for a long time. Eventually, she said, “And you’re going to explain this to me, right?
“I’ll show you. Come with me,” Halbek said as he stood up and opened the door, and motioned for her to join him.
Ann didn’t smile at the guard. He was her reminder that she had been kidnapped and had no way yet to escape. She merely followed Halbek down the hallway a few steps to a window-like frame hanging on the wall. “Something sweet, perhaps?” he inquired as he placed his hand in the center of the dark window.
“How about a small croissant stuffed with whipped cream, like one I had in Paris last year?”
A light came on in the darkened space. The croissant sat on a small plate in the center. Halbek reached inside, took the plate, and when his hand was out of the Machine, it instantly returned to looking like a dark window on the wall.
“Taste it,” he suggested. Ann picked up the croissant and, with her first bite, was returned to that morning in Paris, at the bakery next to her hotel.
“Explain it to me. How does this work? It seems impossible, but I just saw it with my own eyes. Yet: still, it makes no sense to me.”
Halbek smiled at the perplexed look on her face. “Chemicals,” he responded.
An Apple a Day…
“Yes, but how is this accomplished?” She wanted to know. “It would take many chemicals plus heat or other energy and all the chemical recipes for all the foods ever eaten on Earth. You say it will make any food cooked in any fashion. What about uncooked foods like an apple or a salad? Are you testing my intelligence?”
Ann understood that all matter consists of chemicals; she had, after all, undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Physics. She wasn’t too surprised to hear Halbek’s answer about her breakfast. But, how did chemicals transform into specifically cooked foods so quickly? No machine or computer was capable of such a thing. At least not in her time. Her curiosity was even more piqued now.
Halbek grinned. “We do not need to test your intelligence or your knowledge. We already know those things. This is not a test but instead a proposition because we need your assistance. In answer to your question though, food production is a whole field of study and not my field, but if you agree to come to our time, I can arrange for someone who works in that area to answer your questions. What you are asking has a one-word answer, just like chemicals. That answer is computation. Eight hundred years has given the world computational abilities way beyond anything you could imagine.”
Ann looked away and considered his reply. Her eyes and taste buds spoke to her about the truth of what he was saying. But the question she couldn’t get away from continued to be the one she most needed answered. She thought for a moment about how to best ask it and then presented him with the question.
“If what you are telling me is accurate, and I presume it is from what I have seen, then what could you possibly need from me? I am eight hundred years behind your time, and my knowledge is so limited in comparison. Wouldn’t someone from your own time be better at whatever you need?”
Halbek sighed. “Obviously not, or I wouldn’t be here, nor would you.” He shifted in his chair and sighed again. Patty started to speak but thought better of it and instead waited as patiently as she was able. She could see that Halbek was thinking hard before continuing. He was hiding something, she decided in her mind’s eye.
“I told you before that it is your ‘special’ ability which we need to save Earth.”
She stared at him, not with anger but uncertainty. “I still don’t understand.” She replied. “I have no special ability.”
“Yes, Ann, you do have a special ability. You just haven’t recognized it yet.”
“You are talking to me in riddles. I need an answer. Now or this conversation is over, and I definitely will not agree to travel to the future without an answer.”
“Not even to save the planet?” He replied.
“Why are you putting this heavy burden on me, yet are unwilling to explain the problem or this ability you think I have? How do you expect me to agree to something I know next to nothing about?”
Halbek sighed loudly. “I’m going to have to ask my superiors about this. I will leave you to your thoughts and return when I know how to help with this problem.” He stood up and went to the door. Before he opened it, he said. “I apologize for the delay. Then he turned to her, “How about an apple?” he asked. She stared at him quizzically. He shut the door, and almost immediately, her guard knocked and presented her a yellow apple with the stem and a leaf still attached. Ann smiled.
Orphan in a Strange Land
I agreed to go on this journey because they convinced me that I was the only one who could solve a problem the whole of humanity faces more than twenty-six generations into the future. I doubted their veracity in this matter because of some idea they had that I was the only human capable of accomplishing this task. I agreed because they told me that the person who could explain this lived eight hundred years in the future.
I decided I could not return to my previous life while knowing that I would not remember anything which had happened so far if they simply returned me to my home. If they were correct and I didn’t try to help, then I would forever be the type of lousy human being I despised.
I felt a sense of duty to humanity. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about that before this. But really, I am not the first to fear for the future of Earth. Environmentalists and ecologists had talked and taken some actions to safeguard Earth’s atmosphere and wildlands for over a hundred years now. According to the people on this time ship, great strides will happen over the next hundred years. Earth is now a place of clean air and water where humans live in harmony with nature. I have been told this by the powers that be on this time ship.
I have no choice but to believe them. They know much more than I do about everything. If I refuse to accept this and don’t take this chance, the Earth might be doomed.
If I do this thing, I will be an orphan in a strange land, in a different time. Am I up to that? What if I am not? Will they bring me back and dump me at home with no knowledge of what has happened?
There are so many questions. I need answers to at least some of them. How else can I agree to such an insane task? But, most of all, I want to know – Why me? Do I have a choice? What is it they know about me that I don’t? That is the question I most need answered.
I’ve always known I was weird and different, even inside my own family. My parents and siblings always treated me like I was one of them, but I always knew I was different inside myself. Now, these people are telling me I am even more divergent from the norm than I ever imagined. So why am I not frightened? Even now, with my questions still unanswered, I know that in the end, I will capitulate to their request.
I am almost excited about this unbelievable adventure, even though I know next to nothing about it. Eight hundred years in the future, with an apocalypse about to happen, and I feel thrilled. What is wrong with me?
Ann waved her hand in front of the sleeping wall, as her guard had taught her. A small one-person bed slowly folded out from the wall, and she laid down on the soft purple coverlet and looked up towards the ceiling. She waved her hand again. The ceiling disappeared, and she could see the Earth far above her. A great sense of calmness descended over her, and she floated into a dreamless sleep
When Ann awoke, her eyes caught sight of the apple. It still seemed as natural as if she had just picked it off the tree herself. She couldn’t wait to find out how they did this magical act of creating food out of apparently nothing.
She got out of her comfy bed, waved her hand, and the bed returned to the wall. She sat down and ate the apple. She realized she was getting bored and wondered when Halbek would return. She opened the door. The sentinel came to attention.
“Can I assist you?” he asked.
“Yes, when will Halbek return?”
“I have no idea. He didn’t say and probably didn’t know. You never know how long it will take when talking to the big guys. I’m sure he will return as soon as possible.”
“OK. Well, I’m bored. Is there anything to read?” She asked the young man.
“There’s a computer of sorts in your room. I’m permitted to show you how to access it. Anything you want to read is available. Shall I?”
She nodded yes, though she had seen no machine. The sentinel stepped inside the room.
“This machine’s name is Howard. You can change his name if you want. He understands twenty-first century English.” A 3D young man appeared in the center of the room as soon as he said Howard’s name. He was life-sized and dressed in a flowing white gown. He was shoeless and had a smile on his handsome face.
“Ask him whatever, and he will answer.”
The vision before her was obviously not real, unlike the apple.
“If you need help, though I doubt you will, just ask.” And the sentinel stepped outside and shut the door.
Ann had to sit down. “When will I become accustomed to this place?” she said out loud.
Howard answered her. “When you are ready, I’m sure.”
Questions and Answers
Ann looked at the vision standing in the room with her. He was staring right into her eyes, and she was startled to wonder if he could read her mind. Real people couldn’t do that, and he wasn’t real. He was just a projection, wasn’t he?
“Where am I?” she asked him.
“In your stateroom, onboard the U.S. Spaceship Time-Traveler III,” replied Howard.
“What are the time and date?”
“Sixteen hundred hours, twelve minutes, thirty-two seconds. March twelfth twenty-nine hundred and twenty-one on earth. Or were you asking about the date and time here on the U.S.S. Time Traveler? If so, then it is the same time and date that you left earth. Time will not change for any of those on board until you make your decision. Then you will either return to earth at the date, time, and place you left or travel with us to an, as yet, unknown time in the future.”
Ann couldn’t decide if that was too much information or not enough. Then, she asked him why she was here.
“That information is classified, and therefore I do not know.”
Ann rolled her eyes and thought to herself, “I should have known.”
“What is the earth like now in 2921?”
“That’s such a big question to answer. Can you narrow it down some? Perhaps to geography, people, places, medicine, chemistry, transportation, ideas or philosophies, religion, cities, countryside, farming, sports, animals —
“Stop. I get it. I’ll rephrase the question.” Ann thought for a moment. “When did humans start time traveling?”
“The first human to attempt time travel did so on September 6, 2811. He did not return and is thus far not located. The first successful attempt occurred nineteen months later. It was a woman.”
“Can anyone time travel now… maybe like on vacation?”
“Certainly not. Changing the past is not acceptable. Laws prevent just anyone from time travelling. Only members of the U.S. Military may time travel and only when our leader deems it necessary. All Time-travelers must receive extensive training and testing for mental acuity, truthfulness, and loyalty.”
“The knowledge needed to time travel is not available to anyone except the military?”
“That is correct. Only the U.S. Military has this knowledge.”
“How is that possible?”
“That is classified, and I have no knowledge of this subject. We must protect the present and the future. That is the mission of the U.S. Military Time Travelers.”
“So, the United States still exists?”
“It is now the United States of Earth.”
“There are no more wars?”
“Definitely not. Why would we need wars? There is no conflict.”
Ann was silent now.
“What’s the catch?” she thought to herself. “How could there be no conflict?”
Halbek watched and listened as the Captain of the USS Time Traveler spoke with his superiors about the questions their target was posing. He didn’t understand why they just didn’t tell her why she was the only one who could solve earth’s problem with the invaders. But, then Halbek himself was not aware of all the ramifications that were involved with this subject.
Other teams brought people from the past without any problems or questions, but they were sent back with no memories of their visit to the future. The knowledge about why this woman would not be sent back to her own time after completing her duty was not in his purvey. Not being privy to information he did not need had never been a problem for him before. But this time, not being told why did create a problem for him. It made no sense to him. Why would she never be returned to her time? Why would she be needed in their future? Her knowledge was incredibly limited since her time was so many hundreds of years in the past.
He made himself quit thinking about her and just listened. “Wise people listen more than they speak.” His father taught him this. Halbek sat against the wall in full uniform and spoke not a word during the entire meeting. Everyone but the Captain was on Earth. They sat in chairs around a table, and only two of the six were in military uniform. Two were formally dressed and represented the Government Office of Time Travel. The last two were representatives of the President.
It crossed his mind that this woman, Ann, might be more important than he realized. He sat up straighter. Then someone mentioned The Advisor. He almost came to attention but controlled himself. No meeting he had ever attended included mention of her. Everyone knew who she was, but few had actually seen her, and no images were ever allowed that contained her face. He felt shaken.
Meanwhile, Ann and Howard bantered back and forth, though Howard was not much on humor. He attempted to answer her but found her lack of knowledge confusing. Time was a difficult concept for him, although the history of her century existed in his programs in detailed accounts. Still, he found her lack of knowledge disconcerting. He had many questions he wanted to ask, but her questions came first.
Ann was startled to learn how different and more advanced the world was, hundreds of years ahead. The world as she knew it no longer existed. She admitted to herself that some of the concepts would take a great deal of study to understand. The whole idea was fascinating to her, and Ann found herself wanting to travel to this future where plants, animals, and humans lived in harmony.
Still, the thought of never returning to see her family and friends was alarming. Ann suddenly felt very tired and told Howard she wanted to rest awhile. Actually, she needed to process this information.
But as soon as she lay down, there was a knock at the door. When she answered, Halbek entered, and she saw the look on his face. He looked upset, worried, and maybe it was fear she detected.
“There is someone who wants to meet you. It will take some time to arrange, so you should rest until we have the connection set up.”
“Who is it?” Ann asked him.
“I will let her explain. In the meantime, rest is in order, and I will come back when all is ready.”
Ann awoke to total darkness. She had no idea how long she had been asleep. She lay there contemplating her situation. Ann knew she wanted to be at home in her bed, where her problems seemed minuscule compared to the decision she faced now.
She had learned when she was a child how to control her emotions. The emotions she felt while lying in this bed were beginning to overwhelm her. Fear, confusion, dread, excitement all wrapped in a feeling of bewilderment filled her soul.
She sat up, determined to control her thoughts. She would not settle for anything short of a complete understanding of what was happening to her. She would not give in to her emotions. She would figure this thing out or convince them to give her the information she needed.
The life these people wanted her to leave behind pulled at her, and she would not leave it behind unless they could convince her that her sense of duty to humanity lay with them.
Ann had long ago decided that destiny was a human invention, not a reality.
She asked for breakfast even though she did not know the time of day. It was delivered immediately, and before she finished it, Halbek arrived at her door.
This time his face was inscrutable – no smile or frown – just all business. He led Ann out the door and through several more. They saw no one. He opened one last entry, and the Commander was waiting for them.
“Ann, you look rested. I am glad, because you are about to meet the most important person on earth, perhaps in the Universe.” The Commander smiled. “Sit here, and in a few moments, you will meet the Advisor. She can explain everything you need to know to make your decision about joining us.” He motioned her to the one seat in the room, and she sat down.
Ann started to ask but was interrupted by the Commander.“She will answer all your questions, Ann.”
The commander and Halbek left the room and shut the door.
“Halbek, no one is to enter this room; if Ann needs something, you will order it for her and not leave your post. I know you understand that.”
“Yes, sir. I do,” Halbek stood at attention in front of the door.
The Advisor left her quarters as she usually did. The “Contraption” had long ago become a part of her, much like any other disabled person’s necessary assistive technology.
Alderon, her friend, mentor, and aide walked beside her. In all the many years she had required an aide, he was the one who understood her best. It never seemed to bother him in the least to be viewed as an aide. Perhaps it was because their adventures together were worth the trouble. His sense of duty was incredible. They loved each other; but could not consummate that love – at least not physically.
Ann sat and waited. She was thinking about home when the apparition appeared. Ann expected a female because references to the Advisor were always as she. But, this — Ann had not expected.
A robot is the Advisor? What could this mean? Robots now control our world?
What the Hell?
The Advisor noticed Ann’s facial expressions as Ann tried to control her shock and waited patiently while Ann took in the strange sight.
The Advisor was as tall as the average human, and in some ways, she resembled a human. She had two legs, two arms, a head, and a body. But there, the comparison ended. Her structure was distinctly unhuman. She appeared to be made of metal or maybe encased in metal. No skin was visible, though her head looked human. She had eyes and ears, a mouth and nose, and medium-length red hair. The covering material on her face was the color of pale flesh but quite obviously not flesh. Her face did not move or show expression but only conformed to the structure underneath.
She could smile, and presently she did.
“Do you find me difficult to look at?” she asked.
Ann looked down. She hadn’t meant to stare, but it was difficult given the strangeness of The Advisor’s appearance. She thought a moment and asked what purpose her breasts served.
“I am a woman,” The Advisor replied. “I was born a woman. Therefore, I will always be a woman. Nothing can change that; I was a woman when I still had a functioning human body. Even though only my brain remains, I am still a woman. My brain tells me that.”
Ann audibly gasped while attempting to grasp this new revelation. “A robot with a human brain? Was this fiction? Am I dreaming?” and then she recognized the real difficulty facing her. “Do I want to live in a world like this?”
The Advisor could see the fear flitting across her face. “Eventually, you will reach an age where bodily sensations are such old-hat that you won’t need them anymore to feel alive. A sense of duty helps, and I know enough about you already to know that your sense of responsibility is way more robust than usual, which is why I have chosen you for this task.”
“You don’t know me. Why would you choose me? I am from eight hundred years in your past. My knowledge and memories are so far from this time and place that I am grossly inadequate for any job in this time.”
“Yes, that would appear to be true. However, I know you better than you know yourself.”
“That is not possible,” Ann replied.
“Wanna bet?” the Advisor thought to herself. But she only smiled her robot smile, and Ann asked what she wanted to know.
“First, I want to know what you want me to do, and second I want to know when I can go back to my life and my time, for starters.”
“The first one is easy enough. We want you to save the Earth from its greatest enemy. The second depends on your agreeing to do the first. If you decide to help us, you may never return. If you choose not, you will return home to your time and live out your life without ever knowing how or when the Earth will die. The Earth will last only forty generations into your future and no more. If you can live with that on your conscience, then we can return you to Earth right now with no memory of this.” The Advisor did not smile, and neither did Ann.
Ann heard what her assigned robot Howard said, but she was tired of these non-answers. How could anyone expect her to make such a life-changing decision based on basically no information? And what with this not being able to change your mind if you agreed and then perhaps discovering that what they were saying was untrue?
“Howard, does New York City still exist? Can you show me pictures of different places on the Earth as they exist now?”
“Yes, I can do that.” The robot replied, and immediately the blank wall behind him became animated with scenes of New York City while Howard narrated. Ann watched a tour of the Earth for thirty minutes: up close and sometimes from the sky above.
Ann could almost smell the cleanness of the air. It was beautiful. No smokestacks, no refineries to be seen. The nighttime shots indicated that all the stars in the sky were visible from anywhere on Earth.
Tears came to Ann’s eyes as she watched. “Humanity achieves all this in only forty lifetimes? There is hope for us.”
“There was,” replies Howard. “There is now, only with your help.”
Once again. Up against that brick wall surrounding the information which Ann needed.
Howard made a suggestion. Talk to Halbek. Maybe he can help with your decision. He knows the time you came from better than anyone else because he has spent more time there.
When Ann did not reply, Howard asked if he should tell Halbek to come for a talk.
Ann remembered that Halbek had been kind and attentive to her, so she nodded her head, and Halbek entered the room.
“Everything happens so quickly in this place.”
“I was just outside the door, on duty.”
“On duty? Doing what? Guarding my escape or guarding me against what?” Ann asked sarcastically.
“You cannot escape. I am merely here to facilitate your privacy and to ensure you have whatever you need.”
“So the powers that be are afraid someone might answer my questions?”
“Some questions can be answered, and some cannot. Most people on board cannot answer your questions because that information lies outside the parameters of most people on board. From my knowledge of Earth during your originating time period, I know Top Secret is a word in your current vocabulary. Before anyone agreed to enter the military or the foreign service during your time, no one was given top-secret information to help them decide whether to commit or not.”
“So, which would I be joining?” Ann asked.
“We have no military, and no one is a foreigner. We have no conflicts on Earth, and we are all one, so there is neither.”
“Apparently, you have an enemy about to arrive on Earth, or so I am told.”
“Yes, and that is why you are here. You are our hope for the future of humankind. Forty generations have worked since your time to make this world a better place for all of us to enjoy. You have no children, no spouse, and only one sister left in your family. You can check on her anytime. I have seen her future, and I can assure you that she and her children have good lives ahead of them. They don’t need you to watch over them. You can help the future of humanity, though, and I hope you will.”
“And that’s all you can tell me?”
“Basically, yes. “
Ann thought a moment and looked him square in the eye. “Tell your boss I will give her an answer after I sleep. Is there enough time for that?
“We are on board a Time Travel Ship. Time is of no importance here. No time passes while we are on the ship. Time only passes when we dock on Earth. If that weren’t true, I would be older than you could imagine.”
Ann asked Howard if there was a window to see the view outside the ship. Immediately the far wall became a window. A black sky full of stars filled the space. The overwhelming vastness of the sight gave her a feeling like she had never felt before. She sat down and stared until she felt so small and inconsequential that she asked him to close the window. Then she asked to see it again.
“Howard, I wish I could see the Earth,” and suddenly, it filled the window.
“Howard, it’s not a window. But, it feels like it is.”
“The ship is capable of showing you the view of the outside from any point on the ship. It is like an eyeball that sees in all directions at once. Your brain could not take in all that it sees, so the computer only shows you what you can assimilate,” Howard replied.
Ann was listening, but her mind was on the sight in front of her. “Could this be for real?” she thought.
“What year is this? Am I seeing this in the current Time?
“The ship is in stasis, Ann. Time is not passing for the ship. Time will not begin again until you make your decision. Then, Time will return to Earth time: either to your Time or in the future, where you are needed.”
“Damn,” Ann thought,” even the Robot wants me to do this.”
Finally, It was the Earth that made her decision. It was all so much bigger and more important than her.
Ann’s decision did not loosen the weight she felt engulfing her.
“Bring me something to eat,” she told Howard; “then, I am going to sleep until I wake up.”
She didn’t know how long she slept, but when Ann awoke, she felt rested. Her dread about whether she was making the right decision had not dissipated. She did, however, believe she had no choice but to move forward.
“Wake up, Howard.”
“I don’t sleep.” He replied.
“I know that Howard, it’s just a figure of polite speech. I don’t feel comfortable talking to you like you’re a machine. OK? Get me some coffee and let whoever needs to know that I have made up my mind. The waiting is over.”
“Done.” Howard told her as the door opened and the guard brought in the coffee.”
“I knew you would agree,” the Robot commented as she swallowed her first sip.
“So, you can read minds, too? Is there no privacy in this future?
“Oh no, I am not equipped for that. I know you would not abandon your duty.”
“And you’re sure about that?”
“I have read Halbek’s report. That is enough for me. If he says you always do what is right, I know you will.”
“So you trust him, do you?
“He is beyond reproach.”
“Well, I hope so because I am counting on his help.”
There was a rap at the door, and Halbek entered.
“The Earth I come from requires a response before entering a ladies’ room, and since you have spent so much Time observing me there, I would think you would know that.”
Halbek looked startled. “Well, yes, but I knew you were up because I got Howard’s message.”
“Next time, wait. Will you? I am not yet used to this new world where everyone knows everything about everybody. Well, except for me. I know almost nothing about anything or anyone. So give me some room. Will you?” When she saw the look on his face, she added, “Please.”
Ann began to feel better. She did not like the feeling she wasn’t in control of her situation. She didn’t feel like she was in control even now, but she felt better.
“I’ve made up my mind, Halbek. Well, maybe a better way to put it is I’ve decided what I will do. You have convinced me that I have no choice but to offer my services to your future. I‘m not sure it is duty that is making me do this. I do know this; I don’t want to take a chance that my not agreeing to your request causes the death of that beautiful place we call Earth.”
A genuine smile crossed Halbek’s face. Relief filled his mind.
“What happens now?” Ann asked.
“I need to contact The Advisor and let her know, and then you will meet with her again. She will tell you all you need to know at this point.”
“Why can’t you just tell me?” Ann wanted to know.
“Because she is in charge of this operation, and I don’t know any more than I am allowed to know. We each have our place, and everything is on a need-to-know basis. I explained that to you before.”
“So, I will never have all my questions answered?”
“I don’t know the answer to that.”
“Are you a robot, too?”
“No, you know I am not.”
“Ok, well, let’s get on with it since I am beginning to think I will never get used to how things are done eight hundred years in the future.”
Later, Halbek knocked at her door and led her through the ship to the same room where she had met with The Advisor. Ann waited not very patiently for several minutes before The Advisor appeared again.
She looked the same, but Ann was almost glad that she was still not actually in the same room with her. The Advisor’s demeanor was so startling that she felt more comfortable looking at something resembling a hologram instead of being in the same room with her. She did admit to herself that it wasn’t fear she felt but rather an uneasiness with her own self.
The Advisor spoke. “I am happy you have decided to join us.”
“Well, I am not sure I had a choice, but yes, I decided. Curiosity is a strong guide.”
“Yes, I know that feeling, Ann.”
Right or Wrong
“When will I be taken to Earth?” Ann immediately asked the Advisor.”
“Not for a few more days (well 24, hour periods) since no time passes on the ship.”
“Why do I have to wait?”
“Because you need to prepare. There are some things you need to learn first.”
“Well, that’s pretty obvious. What will I learn, and how can I learn eight hundred years’ worth of new technology in just a few days.”
“We have methods for fast learning, as you will soon see. But, in addition, you will only be taught what you need to know for the time being. Later, after you accomplish your mission, you can choose whatever you want to learn..”
Ann entered her quarters at a quarter to three. Why do people want to keep track of time even when no time is passing?
Out loud, she spoke to the robot. “Hey, Howard, the Advisor tells me you are to be my teacher. When do we get started?”
“I guess you have to know when to get up and when to eat, and nothing works as it should on any ship if everything isn’t based on time. Even if there is no sun rising and setting, life requires order.” Ann thought to herself.
“Right now if you wish. Have you eaten, or would you like to rest first? If not now, I will schedule a rest period at whatever times you like.”
“Let’s don’t waste any time. I’m ready. I’ll tell you when I’m tired.”
“That may be a little difficult since you will only be learning and unable to talk. Do you want me to make those decisions for you?
“What are you talking about? How can I learn without being able to ask questions?
“Well, it’s difficult to explain. But, you will understand after the first session.
“Session? What are you going to do? Just pour info into my head?
“It’s not like a drink. No. It’s more like – well, I suppose it’s like what they called a trance back in your time.”
“Oh, well, good grief, let’s get started.” She told him, but to herself, she rolled her eyes. “Why could she never get just a simple answer from anyone?”
Howard had the bed appear out of the wall and asked her to lie down. She started to argue but thought better of it and lay down. What was he going to do? Lay hands on her?
“How was that? Howard asked.
“Nothing happened. I just now lay down, and you are already asking me what happened?”
Ann looked at him, stunned by the question.
“Well, it will take a few moments, I guess. This is the first time I have been a facilitator/teacher for a human. Do you feel tired now?”
“I feel no different than I did two minutes ago,” Ann replied as she glanced at the computer for the time. Over an hour had passed since she had looked at the clock just before lying down.
She stared at Howard. “For real, an hour has passed?” she asked him.
“That’s how long I set the timer. Yes.”
“I don’t know anything that I didn’t know before.”
“Oh, yes, you do. You just haven’t had to access it yet.”
“So, how do I access it.”
“When you need the information, it will come to you, just like all the other information you have learned in your life.”
“What if I don’t ever need it? I don’t think I like the idea of learning stuff I haven’t chosen to learn and don’t even know if I will ever need it.”
“You have mostly learned a shortened version of the history of Earth since the day you left with Halbek.”
And then she knew: about the wars, discoveries, inventions, and the many humans who had lived and died over the past eight hundred years. It was almost like she had lived through it all.
She knew the Earth was truly at peace. There had been no wars for over two hundred years. Humans traveled great distances in space and colonized other planets. And now she understood the Advisor was responsible for much of it.
“I am hungry now, Howard.”
“For more learning or some food?”
“Both,” she replied.
“When did all this happen?”
“The banishment happened in 2420.”
“And it was because they refused to join the majority?”
“They refused to allow the majority to make or enforce the laws.”
“Is there a moral to this?” Ann asked.
“You’ll have to decide that for yourself as you learn more about our history.”
“How many were sent away?”
“Less than two thousand,” the robot replied.
“That seems like a lot.”
“When compared to the world’s population in the 2400s, it is only a minuscule number. Many of them looked forward to the adventure. They saw it as a fresh start in a new world. They wanted to make a world that suited their beliefs.”
“What were those beliefs?”
“The best way to learn about that is to have another session. Are you ready?”
“Learning about history and other areas of knowledge in this trance-like state is certainly quicker than reading and studying. I wonder if this is how they teach children, too.” Ann thought to herself as she lay down to start the next session.
Forty-eight hours later, Ann had received all the sessions she needed to travel back to Earth to the current time. Once again, she met with The Advisor.
It was a short meeting. The Advisor did most of the talking. She explained that Ann would be meeting with the group attempting to solve the problem of the advancing invaders.
The Advisor told Ann she would be making many hard decisions shortly, but The Advisor would be available if she needed help or advice in making those decisions.
Once again, Ann questioned her ability to help with a problem eight hundred years in her future, but The Advisor only smiled and said, “You still have much to learn, but you are capable of this.”
“So when we get to Earth, I will finally meet you in person?’ Ann asked.
“That is unnecessary, Ann, as you will soon discover.” And then the Advisor was gone, and Ann was left to ponder what this meant.
Ann stood quietly in the room where The Advisor had just disappeared. Halbek entered, and he motioned for her to follow. They entered the manway leading to the Captain’s deck.
The Captain looked up when they entered the room. “Are you ready for your return trip to Earth?” he asked as he stood up.
Ann felt fear well up in her chest. She didn’t know why but could not lessen the feeling as she tried to calm herself. The Captain and Halbek both sensed her fear.
The Captain spoke first. “The Earth is different in many ways from the time you lived. But you will find it pleasant, and I assure you, there is nothing to fear.” And then his speech stumbled, and he said: “At least not yet.”
Halbek interrupted. “I’m sure the Captain will let you stay here to watch the re-entry and landing, or you can watch on the screen in your cabin, or perhaps you would like to rest until we are ready to disembark on Earth?”
Even though she still felt the fear in her chest, Ann knew she didn’t want to miss this. “I’ll stay and watch.” She told them.
They motioned her to a comfortable-looking chair, and she sat down and reached for the seatbelts. She found none. The Captain was no longer looking at her, but Halbek looked over once he sat down. “Aren’t there seatbelts?” she asked.
Halbek smiled. “No seatbelts.” He replied. “It’s been several hundred years since space travel required them.”
“It won’t be long now. Look at the screen and don’t take your eyes away. It happens quickly.”
Ann felt a queasiness in her stomach, similar to a fast elevator dropping many stories. She felt nothing otherwise. The view on the screen went from stars and darkness to white clouds and then trees in less than a minute. The actual landing caused no roughness or sound.
The screen filled up with what appeared to be the inside of a giant hangar-like structure. There were several other spaceships and lots of people in uniform-like full-body coverings walking around, some climbing on the ship structures.
This future was not going to be anything like she might have expected.
To be continued…