by Michele Dutcher
“Lieutenant Qan. Lieutenant Qan,” repeated the methodical female voice.
“What is it now?” exhaled Ewan, opening his yellow eyes.
“Clarification please,” asked the computer softly.
Ewan lifted his torso onto his elbows. His feet were hanging out the bottom of the bed-sheet again. Why couldn’t the computers readjust the length of this virtual cloth to fit his form as he slept? “Time, Elsie,” he instructed the computer.
“2.26 hourids and point 72 seconds... point 92...” replied the computer in a soft, docile tone.
Note to self, thought Ewan, running his three fingers and a thumb over his bald scalp. Don’t ask a computer to tell you the time.
“Elsie, display time only, minus the audio program please.”
The time flashed ten centimeters from the tip of his nose: 2.27 and point 16 seconds... point 24 seconds... point 41 seconds...
“Okay, Elsie, I get the point. Why did you wake me up early?”
“There appears to be a situation on Sisco deck you may need to contain, Lieutenant.”
It was those darn grays again. Why did they always get so upset before a timejump?
“As I’ve asked you before, computer, please change my designation to doctor instead of using my military classification.”
“Unable to comply due to programming directives.”
“Yeah, I know. My military rank is more important to the powers that be than my educational degrees.” Ewan sat up and placed his feet on the plastic floor. Of course he was naked. “I have received the information and will proceed to deck Sisco, computer.”
At least he had gotten his full five hours of down time. He always relished the time he spent in these rented soundless rooms, especially before making a timejump.
He began to walk towards a metal wall and it visually became a full-length mirror surrounded by a seacoast. A seven-foot plastic tube slid out from a sea cliff and Lieutenant Qan stepped through the doorway. A yellow light shot down from the ceiling, shining on him for ten seconds. He backed out of the enclosure and a thin layer of his dead skin cells hung in midair for a moment before dematerializing.
“Mission suit, please.”
A blue and green two-piece outfit was dispensed from within a sea wave and Ewan put it on.
“Well at least I’ll get to wear a jacket for the leap,” Ewan said to himself. “I wonder which piece of cloth this tourist hasn’t seen yet... Perhaps if I had been processed during the time when homo sapiens had five fingers, outer ears, and hair, I might have been quite the catch... Yes, quite the catch...”
“Elsie, note for timejump schedule: select appropriate tweed jacket from private collection.”
“Jacket reminder noted,” said the methodical female voice.
Ewan headed towards the seascape, walking through the wall to exit.
* * *
The cantina program was already fading in Holodeck 5 as Lieutenant Qan exited the elevator. As always, his 5’6” body towered over the seated 4’ grays.
“How can the six of you get into so much trouble?”
These six grays opt to perform their duties more efficiently... the small group telepathed to the Lieutenant in unison.
Sorry about that, boss... telepathed one gray’s cranial voice.
Ewan was startled. He crossed his slender arms and riveted his yellow eyes on his group of assistants. The grays had been specifically produced by the Anroe Corporation to be exact clones. Their gun-metal color matched the wall of the stations they existed within. Their huge black eyes were capable of concentrating the level of low light within the halls of the stations. They had never set foot on a star-evolved planet during daylight hourids, and probably never would.
So which one of the grays had telepathed him apart from the others?
“Which one of you telepathed ‘Sorry about that boss’?”
The grays sat with their tiny hands in their tiny laps, their eyes focused on the commander’s face. If grays did have emotional responses, Ewan wasn’t able to tell. Huge black eyes, a pointed chin, a small orifice for a mouth, and two holes for breathing: their faces were very efficient but not very expressive.
Lieutenant Qan could tell they were telepathing each other by the movement of a vein on the left side of their foreheads. Their telepathic abilities sometimes made Ewan uneasy. He knew they could read his mind even though he couldn’t read theirs.
“Which one of you answered independently?” he repeated.
Silence. Ewan shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Elsie, show me the events leading up to my being awakened.”
A three-dimensional miniature version of the fiasco formed ten centimeters in front of his face. There didn’t seem to be anything unusual about the scene. His six grays were getting inebriated with thirty other grays from different squads, when one of them bumped into another squad’s table and a free-for-all ensued. Virtual chairs flew through the virtual Cantina hitting other assistants in their pointy-chinned heads. A fist hit a gray in the middle of his very efficient face.
It’s a good thing these creatures were designed without cartilage around their noses, thought Ewan as he watched the four-foot slugfest.
“Image off, computer,” commanded Ewan. He leveled his sights at the six grays, his expression softening. “Why do you six grays get so anxious before each timejump?”
Ewan had exhaled the question in frustration and was surprised when he received a well thought-out reply from his crew:Too much open space... Too much open space...
Of course. Why hadn’t he figured that out? The grays had been formatted four generations ago to exist solely aboard the confined decks of the stations that encircled planets. As a scientist, Ewan should have known the grays would feel anxious about actually walking on the surface of a planet, even the pre-change sphere.
“So when we timejump and you’re moving through a pre-change environment, bringing a tourist on board...”
Too much open space!... Too much open space...!
Ewan looked over his assistants. He tried to be an approachable commander, perhaps even compassionate, especially towards his grays.
“The computer and I will attempt to formulate a plan by which you grays will feel less exposed during timejumps. In the meantime, however, you are just going to have to adapt. We have a timejump scheduled in 0.75 hourids.”
These six grays opt to perform their duties more efficiently... telepathed the grays.
Ewan turned to exit into the elevator when he once again caught one passing afterthought:
Will do, boss... telepathed a lone gray.
Lieutenant Qan threw up his hands and walked through the virtual doors.
* * *
Exactly 0.52 hourids later, Ewan was on the timejump command dock. His six grays were already aboard their gravity craft, checking read-outs to be certain the equipment was working properly. Four other gravity craft, complete with crews, were also waiting to be transported to a pre-change destination.
Lieutenant Qan slipped on the jacket and stepped inside the gravity craft, settling into the commander’s chair. “Paris seventeen ready for jump.”
“Good to hear from you, commander,” replied the mission leader aboard the Brazil twenty-two. “Hope you can keep your little guys under control during your mission.”
“Don’t be concerned about us, Lieutenant Sarbaro. Me and mine will be just peachy keen.”
There was laughter from the other commanders over the airwaves. “You and your ancient phrases, Qan. I’ll have to remember that one,” bellowed the leader of Toronto Eight. “Peachy keen indeed!”
As the humming of the time module started, the audio talking stopped.
Ewan could tell, however, that the telepathic speech between the grays was accelerating. They were anxious.
And then the jump was made. It was as if no time had passed at all. One moment they were in 349 years post-change and the next they were in minus 87 years pre-change. He could see the four other spacecraft hanging in the night stratosphere a few hundred feet away.
“Rendezvous set for three hourids, commanders,” relayed Sarbaro. “Qan, are you okay to handle the West Coast human: T-one?”
“Will do, Lieutenant,” he answered brightly, turning off his inter-craft communication. “Let’s get this craft out of here, grays,” ordered Qan. “Do we have a location lock on our tourist yet?”
Ewan turned to look briefly at the gray beside him and noticed it was staring at the see-through wall straight ahead of it. Ewan took a moment to check out the view. There it was: the pre-change Earth. It seemed to be right under their feet.
From this time frame you could actually still see the blue of oceans against the black of the vacuum. The post-change atmosphere was so ash-ridden that the continents were barely visible from this altitude. The thousands of stations that hung like stars on a transparent globe in 349 post-change were also absent. The grays were correct: this really was a breath-taking amount of open space.
“Computer, untransparentize the main wall,” ordered Commander Qan. The Earth picture disappeared and just a metal gray wall remained. “Commander Qan to crew: let’s get this mission on the road.”
Tourist located with biochip implant at 50 minutes 48 seconds longitude and 32 minutes 68 seconds latitude, sir.
The commander leaned towards the controls. “Let’s go in for a visit.”
Ewan had led fifty of these missions; it was no problem falling into the atmosphere and positioning his craft over the tourist’s habitat. The biochips had made keeping track of tourists so much easier than the metal chips. With the earlier model, some of the tourists had discovered and removed the devices. Biochips had no such element of disclosure.
As the gravity craft hovered, the grays went into a small patch of trees surrounding a typical habitat. When they came back with the tourist T-one in tow, Ewan was waiting. The tourist was mid-twenties and almost two meters high. She was female, with a red skin tone, and seemed to be in good health.
“Don’t I know you?” asked the female T-one.
“That is far enough into consciousness for now,” ordered Ewan softly. “Go back to sleep.” The tourist slipped back into a drowsy trance.
This tourist almost came to the top on her own... thought the grays while keeping the female hovering towards the craft.
* * *
The two grays left on board closed the hatch as the group re-entered the ship. Three of the group immediately escorted the subject to an examination room. As they lay her on a table, she opened her eyes briefly and saw the scientist-historian flanked by grays and standing over her.
“Yes, you know me in some frozen part of your memory,” Lieutenant Qan told the tourist. “In spite of how healthy you seem to be, there’s a tumor in your reproductive system that’s been growing steadily. It’s essential that we remove it now. It’s essential that you continue to exist.”
“I don’t understand...” breathed Katrina sleepily.
“This physician will take good care of you,” Qan answered, nodding as another tall being entered the room. Ewan passed his hand in front of the female’s face. “There will be time for questions after the procedure. Go back to sleep now.”
The surgeon looked over the subject lying before him on the table. “Does this detainee have a name?”
“Please, we’d rather call them ‘tourists’.”
“Very well,” said the doctor sneering. “Does this ‘tourist’ have a name?”
“History calls her ‘T-one’, but she calls herself ‘Katrina’,” answered the historian.
“Okay, Katrina it is. I’ll be done in about an hourid. Should I have one of the grays get you when I’m done?”
“If you would, yes.”
She’s pretty for a pre-change, boss... thought one of the grays.
Ewan shook his head at the notion of finding a unique gray within his crew. He quietly exited the white room.
* * *
The next time Katrina opened her eyes, she was sitting in a small beige room facing a crystal cube. Lieutenant Qan was seated beside her, facing her. His spider-like arms and legs were folded in a non-menacing manner.
“Katrina, I’m taking time to answer your questions because this is the last time we’ll meet.”
“We’ve been studying your... your bloodline for many revolutions... years. You and I have met face to face three times. This will be the fourth and final time.”
The female stared at his face. It was pink with a softly triangular shape. His body seemed to be absent of hair: no eyebrows, no eyelashes, and no two-o’clock shadow.
“Why are you wearing that ridiculous coat?” Katrina asked.
“It helps to cut out some of the shock of my appearance. Although I may appear menacing to you, I’m really quite harmless. And as a historian, I am one of your greatest admirers.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re going to save the world.”
She looked at him with disbelief, snickering slightly.
“Let me put it this way: I’m aware that in your time, seals were harvested from the oceans because they could balance a ball on the tip of their nose. You have a similar talent.”
“You mean... my ability to tell the future in dreams.”
It felt to Ewan as if his whole body smiled. “Exactly right. We call you ‘T-one’. You’re the first of five telepaths who warned the scientific community of an imminent disaster. In fact, this is the room on our vessel where we allow our telepaths to focus their abilities and inform us about our future.
“During the procedure earlier, you were given an influx of estrogen to heighten your ability temporarily. You’ll find during the next few nights you’ll be more telepathic than usual, in fact.” Ewan straightened his posture and pulled the green sports coat closer around his thin body. “Do you want to explore the future a little right now?”
The female nodded a reluctant yes.
“Concentrate on the cube, Katrina.”
The holograph became a young couple eating breakfast together.
“That’s your husband. He’s becoming an astro-scientist. Through Edward, you’ll become involved in experiments giving validation to your future-dreaming abilities. Now go forward to the moment of The Change, as seen from the moon.”
“I’ve never been to the moon,” whispered Katrina apprehensively.
“Just concentrate. You’ll find your way.”
The hologram became an image of the Earth rotating in space. She could see the blue of the Pacific Ocean, rimmed by the coastlines of South America and Asia. Suddenly, a thick shroud of ash enveloped the globe.
“What you can’t see from this angle,” Ewan explained while leaning closer to the cube, “is that a meteorite six miles wide has hit the other side of the sphere. This sets off a series of physical effects that sends ash and steam into the atmosphere, choking out ninety-five percent of the sunlight — and therefore all life — until well into my lifespan.”
Lieutenant Qan looked at his tourist. The female was visibly shaken. Ewan leaned forward, placing a directive into her mind.
Come back to me Katrina... It will be okay...
“It won’t be okay,” she shuddered. “All those people. They just died.”
“No, T-one, anyone left on Earth won’t die for another 87 years. You’ll be long dead by then.” Ewan was pleased to see the female begin to relax. “Take another look at the globe Katrina. What do you see over the cloud cover?”
“I see stars, thousands of them.”
Ewan was within inches of her right ear now, whispering. “Look again, closer this time.”
Katrina focused on one of the stars, finally seeing it clearly. “There are space stations — thousands of them.”
“Now you are beginning to understand. Somewhere in your early thirties, you will see the disaster in your dreams. Edward will tell the scientific community, and together, homo sapiens will mobilize to get as many humans off the surface of the Earth as possible. They’ll begin, of course, with scientists and visionaries. This devastation is the event that finally pushes humanity from its cradle, releasing us into the universe.”
The tourist relaxed as the hologram faded. Four grays entered the room, surrounding her, studying her with their huge black eyes.
“What about my descendants? Will any of them survive?”
“Your official lineage will terminate three generations after The Change. One of your descendants will simply choose not to mate. Nothing more than that, really. Your descendant’s DNA, however, will be used in new-life-form experiments to produce a sub-species.”
The lieutenant rose to his feet and the time-sphere tourist followed his lead.
Ewan turned to the grays and instructed, “Take T-one back to her habitat.” He looked at the woman before him one last time. “T-one, it has been an honor.”
* * *
Within five minutes the tourist was standing on her doorstep, with instructions implanted to go inside and return to her sleep state.
The tourist will follow the directive and disregard any memories of this incident... the grays thought towards the female.
The four grays then began hovering away from her as she watched them in the moonlight. They had almost made it to the edge of the orchard when one of them turned back towards her and approached her quickly.
Bye-bye, grandma... it telepathed before happily rejoining the others.
Copyright © 2009 by Michele Dutcher