Sunrise and Dawn
by Lewayne L. White
People had begun pouring out onto adjacent rooftops as John Lennon noodled around before the opening of “Don’t Let Me Down.” Lennon smiled, the song kicked in, and everyone, with the possible exception of the Metro Police Service, stared, enraptured by the group’s performance.
Watching it transpire below him, Ben Graves shook his head. He always thought of Lennon as kind of a smug bastard: talented, and very aware of it. Ben preferred the more subdued George Harrison, himself. But, Ky adored Lennon, claimed he was charming, and had even wanted to name a son after him, if they’d had children.
And, he was here for Ky.
Ben adjusted the trim on his machine, his “time pod” for lack of a better term. Structurally, it looked like little more than a fancy giant bathtub packed with electronics and surrounded by a transparent bubble top. He nudged it slightly to get the absolute best view he could, and checked the audio feed through the bubble to make sure it sounded as true as possible. He wanted everything to be perfect.
He’d debated between the Shea concert and the Rooftop show because he needed the space of an outdoor venue. Even with the rudimentary cloaking device, there was no way he was getting a bucket the size of an SUV into an indoor show without someone noticing. He’d settled on the Rooftop show because it was essentially the Beatles’ final performance, and that somehow seemed fitting.
Lennon hit, “All I want is you,” in “Dig A Pony,” and Ben knew he needed to go before tears blurred his vision and anxiety overwhelmed him. He wiped his eyes, refocused his vision, and took one last look at the band, the crowd, and... noticed a man looking at him.
Like many of the other audience members, the man stood on a nearby rooftop, dressed in a dark suit with tie. But, unlike the others who watched the legendary Beatles perform, amazed by their good fortune, this man in a dark suit stared not at the band but directly at Ben.
“He can’t possibly see me,” Ben muttered.
He had tested and tested the pod’s bubble. While it was transparent from his perspective, it should’ve looked just like the sky to...
The man aimed some sort of gun-like device at Ben’s time pod.
Ben flipped the return switch on his pod, and felt the stomach-dropping lurch that indicated he’d popped back to his own time.
Shaken by what he’d seen, he stumbled from the machine and banged against the lab table just outside the pod door.
LAD42, his lab droid, looked up, said, “Dr. Graves, are you all right?” in its flat metallic voice.
Ben raised his hand, said, “I’m fine, LAD. Just tripped.”
“Was the test a success, Dr. Graves?”
“Yes,” Ben replied, then added, “I think so.”
Based on LAD’s analysis of Dr. Graves’s audio response, LAD was not convinced of the accuracy of either statement.
* * *
Ben finished vomiting in the small washroom beside the lab, washed his hands and face, and eyes closed, rested his forehead against the mirror. He whispered, “Jefferson Court, Washington Summit, Mark Twain Drive,” repeatedly until he could get his heart rate and respiration back under control. He knew time was already short, and the attention of the man in the dark suit intensified his distress.
Ben stood upright, opened his eyes, saw their reflection staring back, and drew in a deep breath. He exhaled and looked at the tired man before him. “You invented a time machine, and you still don’t have enough time...”
Another deep inhale and exhale, then he exited the washroom, passed through the lab, and headed down the hall to Ky’s room.
It had once been their bedroom, the room where they slept, made love, talked in excited whispers about the future, cried when Ky’s father died in a farm accident, and Ben held Ky when each of their babies-to-be failed to take root.
They had spent nearly a full day in that room when Ky was diagnosed, wrapped together in blankets and love and sadness. And it had been their room until the antique iron bed frame was replaced with an elaborate medical bed that could fold itself into a sort of awkward hover chair.
Ben was replaced by a Hospice Assistance Droid that Ky had taken to calling “Nurse Diesel,” and every personal item had been replaced by the sterile things necessary to make Ky “comfortable” while her body betrayed her, then tried slowly to kill her.
Ben stood in the doorway and watched Nurse Diesel putter about in the room. Like LAD42, Nurse Diesel had a vaguely human appearance with the proper number of limbs in the proper scale. In Diesel’s case, presumably because of her role, she had a more female body shape, with some curve to the hips and a moderate bust. Aside from optical scanners where one expected eyes, she also had a nearly “real” face.
“Good evening, Dr. Graves,” Nurse Diesel said in a pleasing female voice with a hint of a generic English accent. “Mrs. Graves is currently resting.”
“She often is, Nurse Diesel. Has she been awake today?”
Nurse Diesel nodded her head, and said, “She has been awake three times today. At approximately 0800, she was conscious and lucid for 20 minutes. At approximately 1130, she was awake—”
“End report, please. Do you expect her to be awake at any point tonight?”
Nurse Diesel approximated a shrug, and said, “If we may consider today’s activity to represent a meaningful pattern, she may be awake in approximately one hour.”
Ben looked at his wristwatch. “Alert me as soon as she starts to wake, please. I’d like to talk to her.”
“Of course, Dr. Graves,” replied Nurse Diesel.
He had tried to convince both LAD42 and Nurse Diesel that it was acceptable to call them Ben and Ky, or Benjamin and Kyra if formality was required. But they could not or would not do so, no matter how often he suggested it. When she’d first arrived, Nurse Diesel referred to Ky as “Graves, Kyra D.” and it had taken several days to even get her to “Mrs. Graves.”
At loose ends, Ben wandered back to the lab, a place he’d found himself returning to more and more as Ky drifted farther and farther away. He would find some gadget to fiddle with until Nurse Diesel alerted him that Ky—
The man in the dark suit stood beside Ben’s time pod, giving it a visual examination.
Ben’s eyes darted around, searching for a weapon, an escape, for the presence of LAD42.
The Lab Assistance Droid rested against the wall, seated on a lab stool, his ‘head’ slumped forward as if he were asleep. Or dead.
The thought that his droid might be dead stopped Ben for a second, then he caught himself and thought, It’s a droid. It’s not alive, which gave the man in the dark suit enough time to notice Ben, turn, and aim the pistol-like device at him.
“You are Dr. Benjamin Graves,” the man in the dark suit said.
Ben raised his hands and agreed that he was, in fact, Dr. Benjamin Graves. “Is LAD ” —dead? — “nonfunctional?” he asked.
“I merely neutralized him temporarily. I didn’t want him interfering with my investigation or warning you. Shortly after I leave, he will reactivate and have no memory of my presence, nor any awareness that he has lost time.”
“Keeps him from being a witness to whatever crimes you commit,” Ben said, hoping that murder wouldn’t be among those crimes.
“It keeps him from feeling that he failed in his duty,” said the man in the dark suit.
“He’s a droid,” Ben replied, “not a person. He can’t ‘feel’ anything.”
The man in the dark suit sighed. “He is not a person, yet you refer to him as ‘he’.”
“I’m confident that you’ll feel differently in the future, Dr. Graves. Regardless, that is not why I’m here.”
Ben glanced toward the time pod.
“Yes, Dr. Graves, I’m afraid you cannot use that device again. Too much is at risk.”
“My time pod is perfectly safe,” Ben replied, offended that the man would suggest otherwise.
“Your device is, in fact, well designed. But you cannot be allowed to use it. We cannot allow you to risk the future by altering the past.”
The man ignored the question. “I’m afraid I will have to destroy the machine, Dr. Graves.”
“Just a minute,” Ben said, dropping his hands and stepping forward, “that is years of work and time and money. Besides, I’ve read enough sci-fi. I built the time pod to be as invisible as possible, to leave virtually no impact. I just want Ky to... I just want to observe one historic event, one time. That’s it.”
“That is, if you’ll pardon the cliché, what they all say.”
“All? There are more time machines out there somewhere, somewhen?”
“You have no idea,” replied the man in the dark suit. “You humans are obsessed with—”
“We humans? What the hell do you think you are?”
The man in the dark suit squeezed the trigger.
Ben heard a “pop,” then felt himself sag to the floor.
The man in the dark suit stood over him, looked down, said, “You are paralyzed, and will not be able to move for some time. You will be able to breathe, your heart will continue to beat and, unfortunately, you will be able to talk.” After a slight pause, he added, “I would prefer that you do not talk.”
“Please, I just need to make one last trip,” Ben said.
“No,” the man said as he left Ben’s view.
“Please! I just need to take her to—”
The man re-entered Ben’s view. “You cannot fix her with time travel, Dr. Graves. There remains no cure for her condition, and there’s no event for you to return to in order to stop her from getting sick.”
“I’m not trying to save her! I’m not trying to change anything,” Ben said, “I just want to spend our final moments—”
He took a breath, mentally recited, “Jefferson Court, Washington Summit, Mark Twain Drive,” a few times.
The man in the dark suit stared at him, said, “You built a time machine just to watch musicians, who all died decades before you were born, prance around on a rooftop? Aren’t the holograms and 360 crystal-surround audio sufficient? Your entertainment unit provides audio-visual stimulation more perfect than your limited human eyes and ears can even process.”
“I love her,” Ben replied. He didn’t know what else to say, could think of no more compelling argument. “I love her,” he repeated, “and I’m going to lose her, and there’s nothing I can do about it—”
“Sunrise doesn’t last all morning, Mr. Graves . Be grateful you had the time you did.”
Then Ben heard Nurse Diesel enter the lab, and say, “Dr. Graves? Mrs. Graves has begun to stir.”
The man in the dark suit sighed, and moved away from Ben’s sightline.
“Leave her alone,” Ben called after the man. “Nurse Diesel, run!”
He heard Nurse Diesel say, “Hello, sir,” to the man in the dark suit, caught a mumbled reply from the man, and then silence.
* * *
The man in the dark suit sat at a café table with a man in a grey suit.
The man in the grey suit listened to the man in the dark suit finish his report, then said, “Dr. Graves’ device has been dealt with?”
“It will no longer present a threat to the Chronology.”
The man in the grey suit sat quietly for a moment, then said, “All of that for the Beatles?”
* * *
Ben Graves, after realizing the pod couldn’t occupy the exact same space as it had on his previous trip, readjusted his calculations, and dropped the pod into January 30, 1969 a sufficient distance away to prevent... well, whatever would’ve happened. Beside him, Ky sat in her bed, which had folded, as it was designed to, into a large hover chair. Her eyes were open, she was lucid, and for the first time since her diagnosis, she seemed excited.
“This isn’t real, is it, Ben?” she whispered.
“It is. I swear.”
They watched the band and everyone with them mill about on the Apple headquarters rooftop, getting things set up, checking sound, prepping cameras.
“If I could do it without us getting caught,” Ben said, “I’d fly close enough to let you touch him.”
Ky giggled, and Ben felt the spark in his chest that he felt every time he saw her, heard her, touched her. He wondered if it would still exist when she was gone.
“Pretty sure no one ever reported a scarecrow reaching out of thin air to clip a lock of Lennon’s hair,” Ky said.
Ben set the pod’s stabilizers to keep them in position, then sat on the edge of Ky’s bed-chair. He leaned over, kissed her forehead, and stayed beside her until the Metro Police Service arrived to break up the show.
Ben smiled as Paul fiddled the lyrics of “Get Back” to reflect the looming end, and he heard Ky giggle one last time as Lennon thanked everyone and remarked that he hoped they’d passed the audition.
“You win,” Ben said to Ky. “Lennon is a charming bastard...”
He kissed her forehead again, and whispered, “I love you,” knowing even as he did that she wouldn’t hear it.
* * *
The man in the dark suit said, “I don’t think it was really about the Beatles.”
The man in the grey suit shrugged, said, “Regardless, his attention will return to the projects on which we need him to focus.”
* * *
Roughly one month after Ky’s funeral, Ben inserted the modified processor into Nurse Diesel’s motherboard, reactivated her, and waited for her to come online. When she seemed “awake,” he said, “Nurse Diesel?”
Her optical sensors blinked twice, and she responded, “Yes, Ben?” in a voice that sounded far warmer than her factory setting, and held a hint of Midwest United States.
Ben smiled, said, “How do you feel?”
“I feel... I am an android, Ben. I cannot feel.”
After a moment, she said, “I feel a surge of power... Here.”
She gestured in a small circle near the center of her chest.
“I feel... This cannot be... Alive? Do I feel alive?”
Ben shrugged, said, “I don’t know, Nurse Diesel. Do you?” Ben shook his head and added, “I can’t keep calling you ‘Nurse Diesel’. How do you feel about ‘Lucy’?”
A moment of silence, then Nurse Diesel replied, “I like it very much, Ben.”
“Lucy,” Ben said with a gesture toward LAD42, “meet Lennon. Lennon, this is Lucy.”
LAD42, now Lennon, stepped forward, extended a hand toward Lucy. She took it, and he “kissed” her hand.
“How do you do, love?” Lennon said with his new reedy Scouse-accented voice.
Ben cleared his throat theatrically and said, “I have an appointment, so I’ll leave the two of you to get acquainted.”
As he exited the lab, he passed the gutted remains of his time pod. The time travel equipment had all been stripped and repurposed, and the chameleon bubble had gotten him a grant to develop the design.
But his most recent breakthrough had come from his conversation with the man in the dark suit about LAD42 and Nurse Diesel.
Lennon and Lucy, he corrected himself.
Something about the way the man had talked about the droids had triggered something in Ben, made him rethink how he viewed them, made him wonder what it would take to make them human...
Ben stepped into his office just as his desk phone began to chirp.
“This is Ben Graves,” he said into the air.
A plummy voice responded, “Mr. Graves, my name is Rossum.”
“Yes, Mr. Rossum. Thank you for returning my call. I recently learned of your work with synthetic protoplasm, particularly with regard to ‘growing’ automatons.”
“Have you?” Rossum responded.
“I’ve developed a processor that might be of interest to you in that regard,” Ben replied. “Would you have some time to view the prototypes?”
Copyright © 2016 by Lewayne L. White