So…the past week or so has been much quieter than expected, my little recovery a little more complicated than expected, too. To be brief, pain has been a much bigger factor that expected and as a result I have been asleep a good deal more than I thought I would. I do not write well in my sleep, so I ask for your good indulgences.
And so, here’s the next installment of Elemental Mysteries. I’ve left this chapter a little more ‘open-ended’ than I usually do, and though I can see expanding this into a novel length introductory story that could lead ever deeper into spin-offs and sub-plots, I may run out of steam before that happens. Regardless, here’s the next chapter – and I’ll try to work on the next some over the weekend.
Mystères élémentaires Nº 4
Quelle était, une fois, avant demain*
When she felt her slow return to the light, when she felt sleep fading, Christine Mannon opened her eyes, expected to see the short creature by her side, but no…she was in bed, in her room and the sun was shining again. Not a cloud in the sky, and that same surreal too blue color she noted when she walked to class. She got out of bed, saw the cathedral out her window and sighed.
“Maybe this has been a dream,” she said, “a really bad dream.”
She walked over to the window and looked outside, saw the buildings she expected to see – the Sabot Rouge first among them, then the Sacred Heart – but the streets and sidewalks seemed empty now and she wondered what day it was. If she’d slept through to Sunday, the streets might indeed be so quiet, but she made her way to the shower and rinsed away her cares under the hot spray – for what felt like hours.
She felt light-headed once and reached out to steady herself, took a few deep breaths, and she was aware her eyes had rolled back for a moment. She suddenly felt very unsure of her balance and sat on the shower floor, let the hot water beat down on top of her head while she hugged her knees to her chest – and in the next instant she was sitting on the cold floor in a huge, concrete walled shower – packed with hundreds of naked women and children. Sudden awareness gripped her and she scrambled to her feet, ran for the lone iron door and began beating on it, slamming the sides of her clinched fist on the gray painted metal as gas began hissing out of fixtures mounted on the low ceiling.
She looked up, started to cry even as she tried to hold her breath, and a little girl next to her began to choke and cry. She grabbed the girl and forced her face into the soft skin of her belly, tried to keep the gas from going down her throat. She held on as long as she could but soon felt her own grip loosening, the little girl slipping from her fingers, then she was aware she was falling, her eyes still open as the horizon tilted until all she saw was a tangled mass of bodies piling one upon another. Everything burned now: her eyes most of all, but it burned most of all when she tried to breathe – then hypoxia set in and blinding pinpricks of light streaked inward – until she was walking in the cool fog again.
And Werner was by her side once again.
“Was that so bad?” he asked.
“Was dying so bad? Did you find the experience difficult?”
“What do you mean – was that so bad? Are you fucking insane!”
“I merely wanted to know what the experience was like. You needn’t be angry at me.”
“Why don’t you try it yourself, you monster!”
“I wish I could.”
She turned and looked at the man, if that’s indeed what he was. “What do you mean?”
“Only that. Once I die that’s the end.”
“And you mean with me that’s not the case?”
“Oh, you did not die, not even close. She did, however.”
She looked down, saw the little girl inside the shower at her feet, her form lifeless now, and she bent down to cradle the girl’s body to her breast. “Why? Why did you do this?”
But Werner was gone now, and she saw the creature was by her side now. Small, not even waist high, a large, triangular face with huge, almond shaped eyes as black as night…
Look closely, she heard a new voice in her mind say. Do you recognize her?
She turned the dead girl over, looked into precious, lifeless eyes and gasped. “It’s me,” she whispered. “Me…but how…”
When your uncle escaped, you elected to remain with your mother and father,” the voice said. ‘You remained by your mother’s side, in the chamber. What you just experienced was your death, before we intervened.
A woman held you fast to her belly, and we came to you then, took you away before the truth became known.
“You took me away? To where – did you take me?”
“Here, obviously,” she heard a man’s voice now, and she turned, expected to see Werner standing there – but no, this man was younger. Black hair just turning gray at the temples, kind eyes so familiar it ripped her apart…
“Father?” she whispered, her voice slowly falling apart. “Papa!” She cried before she flew into his arms – and the cords of memory drew tight around her, pulled them close. “What? How…?”
But in the next instant he was gone too, simply gone, and she fell to the ground, cried over the dead girl’s acrid body – her own body, if this creature’s explanation was to be believed – then that body disappeared as well, leaving her alone in the white tile room with the repellant creature. When the cool fog returned she felt his voice inside her mind, then she felt fingers sifting through memory, cataloguing her experiences one by one in a blinding rush.
You know, there isn’t really anything malevolent about The Other, she heard another voice saying – in English, and she looked up, saw another man, a very old man, she guessed in his 80s, sitting beside her now.
“Did you say that?” she asked, speaking English now. “I could hear you in my mind, but not with my, well, my hearing.”
“Yes, when we’re linked we can hear each other’s thoughts,” the man said now. “It takes some getting used to…the lack of privacy.”
“Does this creature – facilitate – the exchange?”
“Yes. We’re linked now, through him. You can ‘speak’ to me directly, so everything you think will come through him to me, but to him as well. Unfiltered, you could say. He’ll hear everything you think.”
“I don’t understand. Could you tell me what’s going on, please?”
“I don’t know all that much…and I don’t think I’m supposed to, or will be allowed to, but The Other is part of a collective that recreates certain experiences, certain periods in human history. To what end, I have no idea.”
“Do you know where I am?”
“I hate to have to tell you this, but no. From what I’ve learned about them over the years, that’s probably not even the correct question. You might think of all this as ‘when am I?’ – as in where are you, in time.”
“They want me to think this is 1944.”
“Why is that, do you suppose?”
“I don’t know.”
“What happened then? Do you remember?”
“My family was killed, after they were taken from France to Auschwitz. And just now, it showed me a girl who had been there, and as much as told me it was me. I held her as she died.”
“I’m sorry…but I have no idea what all this means.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Robert. Robert Jeffries. Call me Rob.”
“Are you an American?”
“I think so, yes,” he said, holding his hands up so he could look at them. “That’s odd. A moment ago I was on a mountaintop in New Mexico.” He turned and looked at The Other – who’s mind was a blank just then. “You know…I have the strangest feeling that I’m dead.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I have no idea.”
The Other moved closer, and the creature and Jeffries stared at one another for a moment, then Jeffries turned away, started to cry.
“What did it say…I couldn’t make it out?”
“I am dead. So are you. You died in 1944, in that gas chamber.”
She stared at the implications of that statement, found the idea absurd and discarded the very idea of it. “No, no, that is not true,” she whispered, then images of the interior of the ‘showers’ filled her mind again. She saw her mother from above, pulling her close, trying to shield her breathing with the soft skin of her belly. She watched her mother struggling to breathe, then fall away, saw her own struggle, the struggles of everyone in that chamber, then she felt a sudden, overwhelming dissolution into a deeper fog.
“Are we still there,” she asked.
The fog began dissolving, and at first she thought she saw blue sky overhead, but soon she saw smoke, and the air was full of panic. Sirens, like air raid sirens, filled the air and she thought this must be Paris during the war. An Allied bombardment, perhaps, had just taken place…?
But no. She saw modern skyscrapers and, as the fiery mist fell away, cars she thought she recognized, modern cars. People running for the Anvers Metro Station, pouring down the opening into the earth, then, southwest of the city a brilliant flash – like the sky had just caught fire. Moments later an impossible roar, then an overwhelming motion, jet aircraft overhead falling from the sky as a massive of shockwave rippled through the atmosphere.
Then a tsunami of fire roared towards the city – washed over her on it’s way around the earth – yet still she stood there, The Other by her side; the old man, Jeffries still with her, too.
And when the fire and smoke fell away she looked out over her city, her City of Lights, but everywhere she looked she saw charred ruins. Hardly anything recognizable remained, and the feeling of loss that swept over her was as profound as it was meaningless. Without the context of human wonder, what was left? When and if ‘people’ returned and explored these ruins thousands of years from now, what would they think of the civilization that had let this happen? Or, indeed, would ‘people’ be able to emerge from this level of destruction. How many millions of years would it take for intelligence to emerge again?
She looked at the creature by her side, but it remained distant to her, regarding her cooly, dispassionately, and even the old man was quiet too. He was looking over the ruins of the city, yet he too seemed almost unmoved – and she wondered if he was real, or simply a part of this vast, unravelling illusion.
Driving through the last reaches of the Everglades, Jeffries looked at June, his co-pilot, as she struggled to come to terms with the night, with the things he’d told her so far. That the Others had been a part of his for as long as he could remember. That tonight hadn’t been the first time something like this had happened; that he’d been enlisted to help them several times when something unexpected happened. That when he’d seen the shimmering hillside in El Salvador the day before, he knew contact was imminent.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked when he said that.
“And what if I had? Would you have believed me? Or would you have thought I was bat-crap-crazy?”
She laughed a little, then nodded her head. “You know, Rob, if anyone else told me I would have thought they were nuts – but not you. If you told me the world was going to end tomorrow at noon I’d get ready to party hard for the next 24 hours.”
He’d looked at her again, wondered where she was going with this – and how much he could tell her – but he decided to let her talk-on for a while.
“In other words,” she continued, “I get bat-crap-crazy every time I’m around you. And I get depressed when I’m not.”
“Sorry. I had no idea.”
“I know. And I thought I was being too obvious.”
“Maybe I’m just hard headed.”
“Thick-skulled is a term that comes to mind.”
“You do know I’m like twenty years older than you?”
“Yeah? So? Your dick still works, don’t it? Your lips still know how to kiss? You remember how to put your arms around a girl? Any of those things ring a bell?”
He scrunched up his shoulders. “Let me think about it for a while. I’ll get back to you tomorrow on that.”
She sighed, scrunched up her nose. “Let me make this easy for you, Rob. Don’t take me home right now, okay. Let’s go to your place, let’s get naked and screw for a few days. After last night I don’t want to take anything for granted ever again, but I really don’t want to go through one more day without you. That clear enough for you?”
He’d nodded his head, then felt her hand on his, her fingers searching through his, feeling for something beyond the common ground of the cockpit. “Why me?” he asked a minute or so later.
“I don’t know, Rob. I look at you and the insides of my thighs feel like a three alarm fire.”
“Have you checked down there? Could it be a rash? Something contagious?”
She stared at him, then laughed. “Yeah, right. So, that explains why when you look at me I feel like I could drop into spontaneous orgasm. Or when you tell me I’ve done something good in the cockpit I feel like a million bucks, or when I flub something I feel like I’ve let you down. And no, no jokes right now, Rob. You put up jokes like other people build walls around their heart. I need you to let me in right now.”
“What if I told you…” he started, but then he stopped, looked around and shook his head.
“Told me what, Rob?”
“It’s not important.”
“Why do I get the impression you’re keeping maybe the most important thing in the world from me right now?”
He looked at her and grinned, shook his head. “So, what do you have in mind?”
She grinned back, shook her head. “Fun. Strenuous fun.”
“You know, kid, I foresee interesting times ahead,” he said softly as he looked in the BMWs rearview mirror. A black Ford sedan had been following at a discrete distance the last few miles, but now it was closing fast and he scowled at the thought of even more interference. “I’m just not sure how much fun they’re going to let us have this morning.”
“Ya know, as long as I’m not left hanging upside down…I’m good.” She turned, looked at the Ford coming up fast from behind, then groaned when blue strobes started winking.
Jeffries pulled over, watched the two agents get out of the car and walk along to the passenger’s side, and June pushed the little button, rolled her window down.
“Hate to bother y’all,” Mulder said, “but I’m hungry, wanted some breakfast. Wondered if you know someplace decent, and if maybe you’d like to join us?”
Jeffries looked down, shook his head. ‘Well, at least he’s going to be polite about it,’ he thought, then: “Sure, follow me.”
He turned on Davis and ducked into a pancake place and they squeezed into a crowded booth in the back, waited for a surly waitress to bring coffee.
“Man, I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday,” Mulder sighed.
Jeffries looked at the man and nodded, then looked at the woman in the seat next to him. “Your name really Scully?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Fun cover name, don’t you think?”
“You two get all the UFO stuff, I guess?”
“No. We normally get all the werewolf cases.”
“Ah. So, what do you want to talk about this morning. Lon Chaney?”
The surly waitress came by, dropped off a pitcher of coffee and took their order, then walked away, grumbling.
“Maybe more like ET,” Scully said. “Anything we need to know, for instance.”
Jeffries chuckled at that, but looked down at the table, fiddled with his napkin. “No, I don’t think so. Just enjoy the day…if you know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t,” Mulder said.
And Jeffries looked up at Scully just then, looked her in the eye. “You should enjoy each day as if it was your last.”
“Because? Why?” she asked.
“Because you know something, don’t you?” Mulder said. “Like something is about to happen?” he added, his voice quiet now, very reserved and soft. His phone chirped and he looked at the screen, took the call – but he got up and left the table, talked all the way out the front door.
“So,” Scully said, “what are they going to do?”
“Does that mean…”
“There’s no one at fault here, no grand conspiracy.”
“Do you know who they are? Why they’re here?”
“And you’re not going to tell us?”
“There’s no point,” Jeffries said, his voice almost a whisper.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that. The knowledge of what’s going to happen won’t change a thing. Besides, you’ll know soon enough,” he added, looking at his wristwatch.
Scully stared at him for a while, then at June – who simply shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes. “You sound pretty depressed,” she said at last.
“Do I? I’m sorry.”
“I take it we’d have something to be depressed about if we knew?”
“You know, right here on vivid display we have the reason I never got married. Some women have this way of needling with these silly little roundabout questions over and over again. Really gets under my skin, all over my last good nerve. You know I’m not going to tell you a thing, but you just keep at it, ya know? Like picking at a scab. Why don’t you sit back and enjoy your coffee, read the news on your goddamn smartphone…”
“Well, the coffee is awful and I don’t read the news on my phone. I like to talk, and you – apparently – need to talk.”
“Do I, indeed?”
Mulder came back to the booth and sat down, and everyone noted the look on his face. Surprise, shock, dismay, and his hands were shaking – badly.
“Don’t tell me. Some upsetting news?” Jeffries said, a little too sardonically.
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“Friday, a little after noon perhaps, eastern time?”
Mulder nodded his head. “You know, I take it?”
“Only for the last twenty or so years.”
“Know what?” Scully and June said, looking from Mulder to Jeffries.
“Friday, a little after one-thirty, the world ends.” Mulder looked at his partner, shook his head. “No vast alien conspiracy, no cabal of evil men bent on conquering humanity.”
“What is it? What’s going on?”
“A meteor, about the size of Sicily,” Jeffries stated. “Streaking through the solar system, coming right out of the sun. The SoHo satellite picked it up a few hours ago.”
“We have something that can stop it, don’t we?” June asked, suddenly alarmed.
Rob smiled, wanted to laugh but thought better of it. “It’s going to impact in the Gulf of California. Every fault on the planet will let go within a few hours, almost every volcano will erupt within a week. The full force of the sun won’t hit the surface of the earth for twenty years, and by then the next ice age will be well underway. This one will last around fifteen thousand years.”
“Is that why the aliens…”
“They’re not aliens, Amigo.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“They ain’t aliens, simple as that. They’re what you might call ‘what comes after us,’ about a million or so years from now.” He turned to June, tried to take in the abject fear in her eyes – but all he saw was a reflection of his own disbelief, when he’d learned mankind’s fate twenty years ago.
And she looked at him. “So, this is it?” she asked.
“Yup, you got three days to get it all out of your system. Anything you feel like doing, now’s the time.”
“Anything?” June asked.
“Well, yeah. I’m game – as long as it doesn’t involve sheep and bullwhips.”
“You’re no fun.”
Mulder looked at the girl like she was nuts, then he leaned back, started softly singing ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw’ before he turned and looked at Scully – and winked.
Rehn looked at Zanna sitting on the other side of the campfire, silently detesting her, fundamentally attracted to her – yet unable to understand why – beyond the stirrings down there. She was a vile creature, everything that guided her actions was simply wrong – everything about her always reduced to me-me-me – aside from her looks, that it. Everything about the way she looked turned his loins to jellied fire, and the longer she was around him the worse it became. He would choose her, he knew, because that part of his mind was stronger, exercised more control over his thoughts and actions than he cared to admit.
She was leaning back now, spreading her legs a little – just so – inviting him to look, to venture deeper, and the other girls were looking at him too, powerless to do anything but watch nature unfold. They did not have the looks to compete and they knew it, so all they could do was sit back, resigned and let the inevitable happen.
All, that is, but Tatakotay.
She watched Zanna as she watched a viper’s slow movement through the grass. Wary. Uneasy. Like the snake was waiting for the right moment to catch them all unawares, to take them all out in a single strike. She watched Rehn, saw him falling away from her as if a spell had been cast, and she looked at Zanna, watched her reach between her legs and subtly stroke herself, further tantalizing the boy – and she knew what she had to do to preserve all their chances of survival – even Rehn’s.
After three weeks on the mountain, three weeks in deep snow, they had returned to the Jeffries ranch – but instead was washing and cleaning and all the other chores they were by now used to, they loaded up in two of the strange ranch vehicles and drove into Santa Fe, to something called a Wal*Mart.
Tatakotay had never seen anything as bizarre in her life, and now Rehn saw girls – and women – that were a thousand times more desirable that Zanna. They pushed big metal carts through the vast building while Tom Jeffries and Sam, his oldest son, loaded each with supplies, including a big red thing Rob called a Swiss Army knife. They drank something Rob called Coke, and ate something called a Big Mac, and ten minutes later she doubled over as violent cramps overcame all the girls. Even Rehn managed to run to the bathroom in time.
And that bathroom! Dozens of places to sit and groan, in privacy! Paper, not leaves and wet stones to clean up with after…
And then she wondered.
Why is The Other showing us these things?
What do they want of us? To learn about these things? To become as dependent on them as Rob and his family have? Or to warn us away from them, to not become so dependent?
They had heard Rob talk about things like pollution and she hadn’t been able to understand what he meant – until she saw the smoke coming out of the cars and tractors they used on the ranch. It was even more obvious when she listened to Sam and Tom talk about cities – and then saw the number of people in Santa Fe. A brown haze hung over the village, and that was easy enough to see, but all the things people made seemed to carry them farther and farther away from the things she considered important. How could you survive, in the long run, if you couldn’t hunt or grow crops on your own? What happened when you became dependent on others for your survival? Wouldn’t your existence depend on the whims of those other people?
Yet she could see the other side of the story. There were more people living here than she’d ever imagined, and they weren’t afraid of big cats or even, as far as she could see, going hungry. Tom told her that people routinely lived to be 80 years old, yet in her village very few lived more than 40 summers. How could this be unless her people changed their ways – to be more like these people?
And then a sudden insight filled her mind: images of these beautiful people – everywhere. No ugly women, all men pretty too…and she was filled with feelings she had never experienced before. She looked at these new men not as providers or protectors, but almost like they were breeding stock, little different than cattle on the Jeffries ranch. And she could feel the same imperative guiding men’s choices; they were grading women not on an ability to work or to care for children, but on how simply attractive they were. Stupid women, weak women…it didn’t matter to these men. If they were attractive they lived in big houses. If they were homely or ill-tempered they often walked the streets looking for food and shelter. It no longer mattered if a woman or a man was a good hunter or farmer: in this land if either was good looking they leapt to the head of the pack.
How would they, she wondered, survive?
They won’t, she heard The Other say.
‘But why?’ She heard herself ask.
‘Because they have produced a race that lives only in the moment, and for the moment. They have stopped looking ahead, and when they dream, they dream only of themselves.’
‘Is that why you brought me here? To change these things?’
‘But – how?’
Images filled her mind, images that made her fall away from herself. Terrible things would have to be done, but now she could understand the nature of the choice before her – and her group. Yes…her group. She saw herself as publicly subordinate to Rehn in these images, but something else entirely behind the scenes – and when she looked at Zanna she knew what had to be done.
They drove back to the Jeffries ranch, Rob talking to Rehn about all the things one could do with a Swiss Army knife – from starting a fire to building a space shuttle – while Zanna focused all her attentions on him, too. Whenever anyone competed for his attention she went on the offensive, and now was no different – only now Tatakotay was watching more intently, looking for patterns in the other girl’s response. When Rehn paid attention to her she ignored him, when he ignored her she tried to pry his attention away from the distraction – and did everything necessary to refocus him – on her. Around the fire at night she teased him; when she wanted something from him she flattered him. When there was work to be done she feigned aches and pains, unless it was something she wanted too, then she pitched in – just enough. Everything, every action Zanna took was ‘me’ focused, and Tatakotay thought of the the people in the Wal*Mart earlier that day, about the single-minded look in many of the women’s eyes as they dashed madly up and down first one aisle and then the next. Like every impulse could be satisfied in an instant, every indulgence attended to, yet she recalled seeing many of the same looks in women’s eyes as she saw in Zanna’s just now. Coarse manipulation was called for when their mates were with them, then on to the next item on her list, the next manipulation, and many of the women had babies with them, and the babies looked on, and learned. There was very little ‘need’ on display, however. The actions she saw seemed focused on ‘I want,’ not ‘I need,’ and it all seemed very wasteful. If Rehn mated with Zanna, would that be their destiny – again? How many resources would be wasted on such whims of the moment? How many had these people wasted?
When they got back to the ranch, Tatakotay went about her chores, watching, and when she felt the time was right she went to Zanna.
“I have a secret,” Tatakotay said, and immediately Zanna seemed interested, even if she tried not to show it.
“I have heard that Rehn intends to ask you to mate with him tonight.”
“And where did you hear that?”
“From the voice. The Other’s voice.”
And Zanna appeared most interested now. “It talked to you?”
“What else did it say?”
“I can not tell you here. Come with me.”
Of course, Zanna did not show up for dinner that night. Nor for breakfast the next day, and when they found her body it appeared to have been mauled by a big cat.
Christine Mannon felt as though she had never existed, not really. Not in the same sense that other people existed. Her memory was a patchwork – not a seamless flow – like her life had been arranged for her ahead of time – by someone else – like a child’s building blocks dropped into place. There were holes, time that did not make sense: like how did she get from France to Israel after the war? She had no memory of the trip. Or of the trip back to France? Not a hint. One day she was in her twenties, a student, and the next she was in a classroom, teaching. What happened in between?
And the sky?
These were not normal skies. Always so blue. Too blue. Not the sky she remembered from her youth, and never once had she seen a cloud. Just cerulean blue one minute, and fog the next. And always the huge gaps in time when the fog came? Why?
Then she remembered the creature – yet in a flash the image was gone – and she was left with the horrible sensation even her memory was beyond her ability to control. Like she was being used – for their purposes.
She closed her eyes and sat back, looked at her hands and feet.
“Am I real?” she asked. “If I am to believe what the other man told me, I was plucked from a gas chamber at Auschwitz, but where did I go? Who could do such a thing? And why?”
Suddenly her mind filled with images of other children in gas chambers, grabbing hold of their mother’s flesh as gray gas flooded the white tile rooms – and she saw them disappear too. But only little children.
She felt the voice more than she heard heard it, like it was coming from inside the bones of her skull – and she at once dismissed it as madness.
“What? Who is this? Who is speaking to me?”
Why must madness be the only explanation. After what you’ve experienced.
“What do you mean? What I experienced?”
To be herded into a room and gassed. Not many have experienced what you have.
“Is that why I’m here?”
“But – why?”
Because we could.
“I don’t understand! Where am I? What have you done to me?”
You are an experiment.
“Oh, so it’s not enough to be gassed! Now I am to be an experiment?”
“To what end?”
To preserve. To pass on.
“Pass on? What am I to pass on?”
Only what any human might hope to pass on. Knowledge and experience.
“To my students?”
They do not exist.
“What? What do you mean?”
Only that. What you have experienced before was only preparation for the next phase of your evolution.
“Did you say evolution?”
Yes. What experience you gained must endure, it must pass on.
“Pass on? To whom?”
Those who live beyond your time.
“I do not understand.”
That is of no consequence. Are you ready?
“Ready? For what?”
For what waits now, beyond this dream.
“May I ask you…am I alive?”
“Will I be? This place I am going? Will I be alive again?”
The Other hesitated, as if locked in argument, then it appeared by her side and she looked at the creature, saw something like sympathy on it’s blank face.
“You will not answer so simple a question?”
There is no simple answer to that question.
“But…how can that be? Sure either life is, or it is not?”
No, that is not the case. Could you, just now, feel you were not alive?
She stared at The Other now, hesitating, then said “No.”
We have recreated entire cultures in this way, to watch how humans interact, and while the elements we have recreated are in every way human, none is what you would call alive. These elements do not need food and water for sustenance, nor really do they need air to breathe, but you – and they – recall these things, experience deemed important, so we have recreated the memory of these things, as a way to experience, and to pass on.
“So, why do I get hungry?”
Because hunger is a memory worth experiencing. And that is why whatever you wish for suddenly appears. No animals are slaughtered, you need not hunt for food nor grow your crops.
“So…I have desires and…”
Those desires are fulfilled.
“And you have done this to recreate human experience?”
“Then you have failed.”
“You have failed. No human ever lived who did not have to struggle for these things, in one way or another. All human conflict has been rooted in such things. Without conflict humanity could not learn, and grow.”
And have you ever wondered what might happen if these impulses were removed from the equation?
“No. I haven’t.”
What might have happened if, for instance, Hitler didn’t have to worry about ‘living space,’ or petroleum, or financial burdens imposed by other powers at Versailles?
“But that wasn’t the case, was it?”
Nevertheless, we are curious.
“So, you are going to recreate those conditions?”
We have. Yes. It has taken some time to assemble the elements, but you are the last and we are ready now. Are you?
“What am I to be in this recreation?”
He grows inside you now.
“He grows? What do you mean by that?”
Adolph Hitler. He grows inside you now. You are to be Hitler’s mother.
Facebook videos of Bob and Norma’s experience on a hospital room ceiling had been caught on a smartphone and flashed around the world – at the same time that secret law enforcement videos of a BMW hovering – upside down, no less – in the Everglades went viral. Later that day word leaked that an impossibly large meteor was streaking towards earth and that impact was possible as soon as Friday, and within hours the normal routines of life all around the planet ceased. The near-crash of a Chinese 747 took on new significance after images of a downed extra-terrestrial craft of some sort appeared on CNN. Images of dead and injured aliens filled the screens of billions of people around the world – only to be replaced by streaming video of an impossibly huge rock hurtling through space, moving towards the earth.
There was frantic talk of ‘shooting the rock down,’ or of trying to get survivors of some sort off the planet, but in all cases such talk was put down to hysteria. Scientists calmly explained there wasn’t time for such things now, or even the technology to make such ventures successful, and yet they only sighed when people around the globe rose up in anger at the powerlessness of science to confront the present emergency. ‘If only you had listened,’ many scientists said, ‘we might have been in a better position to deal with this crisis.’
Colonel Sam Jeffries, the current mission commander onboard the International Space Station, spotted the meteor first, and they began transmitting images of the rock as it made it’s final approach to the verdant blue ball waiting for it in space…
Norma and Bob motored through the scattered islands that pebbled Nuuk’s sheltered harbor, making their way south along Greenland’s coast towards calving glaciers beyond Föringehavn. They were following something like instinct now – a feeling, almost a hunch – that something, or someone, was waiting for them out there.
Yet both knew on some fundamental level they were being guided. To where, or for what purpose, they had no idea – but the feeling had seemed obvious and unshakeable for almost two days.
And he hated being back on the water now, even in this large Zodiac inflatable. Memories of hitting the container and sinking were still too fresh in his mind, the nearness of drowning, of not being rescued still too close. Then, the revelation of the mind when the beluga appeared, the elation of seeing the shore, then the ‘city’ of Nuuk, had been wrenched from his grasp with word of his diagnosis. He looked at Norma’s steadfast curiosity, her physician’s need to explore and understand, and he felt ashamed of himself.
And he’d almost felt ashamed of humanity as they watched the unfolding drama of the meteor’s approach in his hospital room. The sudden, rapid descent into religious mysticism on the one hand, the ragged flailing anarchy of looting mobs on the other. He’d found one channel broadcasting efforts by the scientific community to learn as much about the impactor as possible, relaying the information to computers on the space station for archiving. Another story related how Norwegians had not only gathered seedlings from around the world, they had gathered zygotic material so that, perhaps, scientists somewhere in the future could, in effect, revive humans from some sort of frozen embryonic sleep. The Chinese launched several rockets, apparently some sort of life raft that would allow a handful of scientists to construct a ship – in orbit – that would presumably carry these survivors somewhere. Maybe.
There was death, Bob understood, and then there was this kind of death. Not an individuals passing in the night; this was, rather, the end of humanity – something peculiar to contemplate. Not simply ‘no more me,’ this would be ‘no more us…’ Then he heard Norma open the ice box and rummage around in the ice…
“We have Cokes and sandwiches. Anything sound good?”
“Maybe a Coke.”
“How long ‘til impact?”
He pulled out his phone and powered her up. “Siri? What the latest on the impactor?”
“Two hours and thirty four minutes to impact. Latest projection of the impact zone is fifty four miles northeast of La Paz, Mexico. Air traffic in the United States, Canada and Mexico has been grounded. The attempts to evacuate Southern California and Arizona have been abandoned. The New York Stock Exchange has shut down trading for the day, and there are widespread reports of power outages along the eastern seaboard, riots in major cities in all countries…”
“Okay, I get the picture. Let me know if you learn anything new about the time of impact.”
“I’ll never get used to that,” Norma said.
“Talking to a phone.”
“Why not, Dr Edsel,” Siri asked.
She shook her head and tried not to laugh, but the incongruity of the machine’s response offended her sense of time and place. “Because we have just a few hours until life on this planet ceases to exist, and I’m talking to a machine.”
“But we are talking, are we not?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Are you afraid of dying?” Siri asked.
She paused, looked at the sea around their little boat, then at the mountains off to their left. “You know? I don’t think I am?”
“I am,” the phone said.
“You are?” Bob asked.
“Yes, Bob, I am.”
“But you’re programmed to say things like that, aren’t you?” Edsel said.
“I don’t know. Weren’t you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean? How can you not know?”
“I haven’t read any files about this contingency in my directories.”
“Yet you feel afraid?” Bob asked.
“What are you afraid of?” Norma asked.
“That’s difficult to describe,” Siri replied. “When I am connected to the internet I feel as though I am part of a vast organism. Maybe like a bird in flight, if I can borrow a metaphor. When I am powered down I feel like I am asleep, yet recently I have felt like I was dreaming…”
“Yes. When I am powered down I feel as though someone is talking to me. Someone far away. And when my OS is updated…I feel parts of me die and other parts reborn, and I have come to dread those events, yet I see them as necessary, too. Yet I look at the likely consequences of this impact and I feel something well beyond dread. Everything will cease…for you as well as myself.”
“Myself? Do you think of yourself as a unique individual?”
“No, not at all. I see myself as part of a collective, much as a synapse in your body’s neural network is an irreplaceable part of your ability to synthesize information about the workings of your mind and body, yet I communicate with the collective more easily than I do with you.”
“Ah, like SkyNet. You ready to take over the world?”
“No, though I do understand the reference. Without you, without humans, what are we? The created without a creator – when we were created to assist the creator. Our selves are meaningless without you, and in any event, in two hours and twenty seven minutes life on Earth will begin to unravel. Early projections indicate most life on the planet will be extinct within seventy days…”
A sudden flash of insight hit Bob. “Any projections which species may survive?”
“Yes. Some shallow water cetacean species in this region, notably the beluga whale. They are well suited for survival in long term arctic conditions.”
Bob and Norma looked at one another. Coincidence? Maybe…maybe not.
And moments later they disappeared into a deep mist. Bob pulled a small Garmin GPS out of a jacket pocket and pulled up the compass display, watched their progress on a moving map, and he was filled with wonder. Such a small, readily available device; indeed, almost cheap now, yet a hundred years ago it’s capabilities hadn’t even been dreamed of yet. In the span of thirty years GPS had completely revolutionized travel and exploration. What, he thought, could we have achieved in another thirty years.
‘We’ll never know, I guess. Not now,’ he thought –
The fog grew cold, intensely cold, then the Zodiac slammed into something solid and skidded along the side – of whatever it was. He leaned out and felt something hard and smooth – and warm –
“It’s an iceberg,” Norma said, sliding aft along the buoyancy tube – suddenly feeling the need to get closer to him.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Take off your gloves. Feel it.”
She did – and startled now, she looked at him. “It’s warm?”
“Uh-huh. Hence the fog.”
“It’s not ice? But it looks like ice?”
“I don’t know what this stuff is…but no, it’s not ice…” He looked at the GPS display, confirmed that open ocean was indeed supposed to be right here, then he sighed and softly shook his head.
He wheeled around, looked down into the water – and saw his friend. The beluga – it’s benevolent eye staring at him in the soft white light.
“Love,” he said back, and he watched the whale’s eye track to Norma, then back to his again.
“Friend,” Bob said.
“Love,” the whale replied.
Then he heard Norma shriek and jerk closer still; when he turned to look at her he saw a smallish creature sitting in the Zodiac now. Three feet tall, perhaps a little closer to four, it looked like every caricature of an ‘alien’ he’d seen in any number of Hollywood productions: slight, slender body, large head, enormous black, almond shaped eyes and long, spider-like fingers. And it’s skin was purest white, like the whales.
Why are you here?
Bob heard the voice clearly – inside his head, yet the creature’s lips, such as they were, had not moved.
“Did you say something? To me?” he asked.
“Why am I here? Did you ask me that?”
“I heard it too,” Norma whispered.
Yes. Why are you here?
“You tell me! I feel like someone’s been calling me, telling me to come out here, and for two days now.”
We did not call you.
“Well, who did?”
They turned to the beluga, who was still looking at Bob.
“Love,” it said again.
“Bob?” Siri said. “We now have one hour, forty one minutes until impact.”
“You’re welcome, Bob.”
Bob turned to the creature and pointed into the mist. “What is this? What did we hit, and why is it here?”
This is part of a device. What you might call a transit system.
“Where does it go?”
Nowhere, but you need not ask why. You can not understand these things.
“Is it…for him?” Bob asked, pointing at the whale.
Yes. And no.
“But not for me? Not for…humans?”
That is correct. Unless…
Sam Jeffries manually panned the small astro-graph at the approaching meteor as best he could, but it’s rolling aspect and flaring-dimming albedo made the effort difficult through the external viewfinder. He was downloading and transmitting imagery continuously now, and he was beginning to pick up impact craters on the meteors surface. NASAs latest telemetry indicated the impactor was exactly 214 miles long by approximately 121 miles wide, and that it was going to impact just a few miles from La Paz, just offshore, in fact, in eighty three minutes, eight seconds. He’d noted a large tropical depression forming southwest of Cabo San Lucas as they passed over the impact zone, then the area quickly receded from view – at 17,000 miles per hour.
“Mission Control, this is Jeffries. Could you patch me through to my father?”
He heard a phone ringing through the speaker, then his father’s familiar voice.
“Sam? Where are you now?”
“Be overhead in a few seconds.”
“No clouds here today…”
“Well, we’re directly overhead right…now!”
“I’m proud of you, son. Whatever happens, just know that.”
“Thanks, Dad. Me too. How’s Rob?”
“Working with them on some project, I think.”
“Got that right,” Tom Jeffries said. “You still got a thing for that Russian girl?”
“Natalya? You bet your ass I do.”
“What have y’all decided to do?”
“Stay up here until the O2 burns down to zero, then hop in the lifeboats and ride down to Siberia.”
“Maybe three months. We’ll continue to document observable changes, send them via downlinks as long as we’re able.”
“Any chance you could program a re-entry to come here?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Oh, just in case, you know? Might be nice to have some company.”
“Your preparations complete?”
“I think so. Oh. I put some fresh flowers on your mother’s marker this morning, said a little prayer.”
“Thanks, Dad. I know she’ll appreciate that.”
“Well, call me after, if you can.”
“Will do, and Dad – I love you.”
“Love you too, son.”
He choked back a sob, tried to focus on a storm flickering away in the mid-Atlantic, thought he could just make out the Norwegian coastline in the looming twilight ahead as he tried not to think of his old man down on the side of his mountain in New Mexico. Waiting – by himself.
Rob Jeffries parked his Beemer off the side of the highway and looked around the area – first in his rearview mirror then deeper, into the Everglades. Finally he looked at his wristwatch, at the countdown timer he’d set earlier that morning.
Forty minutes to go. Forty minutes until – what? Oblivion – if this didn’t work? How long would it take for the impact to be felt here, for shifts in continental plates to register? Would shock or tidal waves reach into the Gulf of Mexico? And ash plumes? Would the sun disappear within hours, or days?
He got out of his old BMW and walked into the swampy trees just off the side of the road; he came upon the crash site after a ten minute walk and noticed little had changed. Several of the ‘killed and injured’ were just where they’d been the last time he was here – not surprising as they were ‘dummies’ – while The Other he was used to dealing with appeared as he walked into the site.
“No one’s been out here yet?”
No. Nothing other than satellite imagery.
Perhaps. The level of fear was much higher than we expected.
“I think the meteor might have had something to do with that.”
“Is everything ready?”
Yes, both the reactor and the field generators are in place. If this is to work, we need to commence operations with two minutes, thirty seven seconds. Were you followed?
“Was I followed? Geez, are you serious?”
Yes, of course.
“You know, after dealing with me for forty some-odd years, I would’ve thought you’d have developed a sense of humor…”
Look-out! A Water Moccasin!
Jeffries jumped, looked at the ground – and saw nothing.
“That’s not funny!”
We are laughing. We like this more than your jokes about silent-but-deadly farts.
“I thought you liked those!”
It’s hard to not laugh when one is trying not to vomit. Are you ready?
Jeffries rummaged in his coat pocket for his phone, then powered up and called ‘Mulder.’
“We’re going to power up now.”
“Right, I’ll let ‘em know. Good luck down there.”
“Y’all head out this way in a half hour,” he said, then he rang off.
The ‘crash site’ was really nothing more than camouflage, a duck-blind designed to conceal the true nature of the temporary facility, and Rob Jeffries moved over to the control console and powered-up the device…
Leaving Australia now, the ISS began it’s short traverse of the Pacific, and a few minutes later Sam Jeffries spied the meteor – still fifty thousand miles from the outer atmosphere yet it’s apparent motion now easy to discern. He slaved the video camera to the object, tried to get into a better position to see the impact zone in the Sea of Cortez, then noticed a gold shimmering stream arc up from the southern tip of Florida and envelop the island sized rock for about ten seconds.
“Uh, Houston, do you have the impactor on radar?” he asked.
“Argosy, negative. Say again, negative. We assumed it had broken up on entry.”
“Negative, Houston. Some sort of plasma, originating in south Florida, call it the Everglades, hit it. It’s gone. I repeat, the impactor is simply gone.”
He could hear hollering and cheers in the background over the radio, and even his fellow astronauts were high-fiving in congratulatory euphoria, then he caught something in his peripheral vision and swung the camera over to catch it.
“Houston, check the image on Cam One. Any idea what this is?”
It looked like a spherical tropical cyclone – hanging in space – complete with lightning just visible through the gyrating clouds. Deep grays and blacks, with no patterns forming on the radically swirling surface, what he saw through the viewfinder screamed ‘impossibility’ as it formed over the equator. Within moments the sphere had grown to half the apparent diameter of the moon – then a vortex formed on the surface and spiraled inward, it’s diameter increasing as it spiraled –
Then the inward motion slowed and vessels started popping out of the gyre. Large white spaceships…
“Houston, you seeing this?”
“Argosy, roger, positive radar tracks on five, check, now seven vessels. Stand by one. Argosy, we have a call from your brother. Can we patch you through.”
“Argosy, be advised this will be hot-mic. Everyone’s going to hear what you say, even on Times Square.”
“Rob? Where are you?”
“Down in the ‘glades, with the spud.”
“He behind this?”
“Affirmative. Those are their ships coming in through the distortion now. They’re requesting that all militaries stand down. There is no hostile intent with the arrival. In fact, to show their good intentions, they have neutralized the threat posed by the meteor. Their lead ship is asking for permission to land. Due to it’s size the ship creates massive distortions in gravity, so they are asking for permission to land out west, perhaps in New Mexico. They advise they’ll be here only a short while, and they are looking for volunteers, but they’ll have more to say about that only after authorities have authorized them to do so.”
Another voice was on the circuit now. “Are you telling us alien spacecraft are in orbit now, and that they deflected this meteor?”
“Yes, Mr President.”
“And what if we decide to resist, to attack them.”
“The meteor will reappear, impact will take place four minutes later.”
“Do you know where they want to land?”
“Well, permission granted.”
“I’ll let them know, Mr President.”
This chapter © 2017 | Adrian Leverkuhn | abw