Cracks in a Sidewalk pt 1

Cracks sidewalk

A few more pieces of the puzzle. Time for tea?

[Duncan Sheik \\ Good to Know]

Cracks in a Sidewalk

First Part

The old man enjoyed his morning walks more these days than he had in years, if only because time seemed somehow more precious now…and life a little too fragile. This was nothing new, of course, this feeling he had. Life had always been fragile and more dear than anyone imagined, yet it seemed in this day and age that precious few could see or hold on to this one most basic truth. Even less so now that life was moving so fast into the unknown. “Youth is wasted on the young,” he muttered under his breath, smiling at the cliché as he watched a kid on a skateboard rumbling his way. He stepped aside as the boy sailed past, then just shook his head and rolled his eyes at the utter vacuousness of youth.

He could smell fresh roasting beans on the morning breeze and for some reason that made this morning brighter still. And then, as if right on cue, the conjoined smells of bacon and eggs on a hot-top hit him and he almost felt like a kid again. “No skateboards for me,” he sighed to himself. “At least not today.” He thought of his mom and dad and Palo Alto and how far away all that seemed now, yet it wasn’t…not really.

He was, of course, not at all aware that he was talking to himself, and at times quite noticeably, too.

He could see his destination now, and the pain in his leg told him that was a good thing. The Spotted Zebra coffee bar, just off Ocean Boulevard in Venice Beach, had their roasters going this morning, and just the thought of a smooth double café au lait was enough to jumpstart his heart — maybe enough to face the day. He walked into the place and smiled once again when he saw that Ellie was working the counter, and he sniffed around once or twice, his nose leading him to the pastry counter.

“Fresh blackberry this morning, I see,” he said to the girl behind the counter, and she returned his smile as she came over to him.

“The usual for you today?” Ellie said.

“Think you’d better make it a double,” he grinned. “And I think that blackberry scone right there has my name written all over it.” He looked at her with practiced ease, noted the thin bead of perspiration on her forehead and then the red eyes, and he could hear her congestion was worse today.

She rang it up and he rummaged around in his coat pocket for some money, then went to his favorite table to wait for his coffee, picking up a discarded LA Times on the way. He read through the front page, shaking his head from time to time, then Ellie brought over his coffee and the scone. “Thank you,” he said, smiling up at her, but he could see how terrible she felt today.

She was, he guessed, about twenty-five. She’d told him once that she had grown up in South Central but that she’d been on her own off and on for years — and that hadn’t surprised him in the least. She was Black and a little on the pudgy side of the equation but she had an adorable round face and a lovely smile, and he came here more and more because of the way her smile made him feel. But she was a little down today and that bothered him — if only because, in his way, he cared about her wellbeing.

When she was around she was in charge of the bakery side of the operation and her scones were the stuff of legend. Come autumn she started making cheesecakes, and her sweet potato cheesecakes sold out within minutes. Hollywood types called ahead to reserve whole cheesecakes, too, a fact she was proud of. 

The old man made his way through the sports section and he read up on the Rams and the Chargers and their rookies progress at training camps. He finished up his coffee and left a five on the table before he stood again, and his hips and knees barked at him pretty good so he stood there a moment and let the pain subside a little, then he walked up to the counter again.

“You running a temperature, Ellie?” he asked casually.

“Whew, I don’t know…but I been runnin’ around like a chicken with his head cut off since four a.m. so I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

The old man rummaged around in his coat and dug out a scanning thermometer. “Lean over this way,” he said gently, and he ran the scanner over her forehead twice, then her left temple before he looked at the readout. “101.4,” he growled, shaking his head as he looked over his reading glasses at her. “You need to get off your feet for a day or two, before you get yourself really sick.”

“Sure wish I could,” she sighed. “But if I do that we don’t eat.”

“What time do you get off?”

“S’posed to be around noon, but ya never know.”

The old man looked at his watch and nodded. “I’ll be back at noon-thirty. We’re gonna take a little walk,” he said, smiling disingenuously.

“Noon-thirty?”

“Twelve-thirty,” he shrugged.

“Aw-right,” she said to him before he turned and walked out into the morning. She darted over and cleared his table, pocketing his generous tip before the owners could see the money and take it for themselves.

He started back to his place, the pain in his leg getting worse after two blacks, so he stopped along the boardwalk, sat on a low concrete wall to rub his knees for a moment. Youngsters on rollerblades drifted by with AirPods dangling from their ears, oblivious to the world around them, consciously ignoring the hundreds of tents and lean-tos set up on the beach and lining all the areas alleyways. Over the last ten years the situation here had only grown intolerably more dire, and the old man was in a better position than most to understand the true dimensions of the problem.

He stood again and rubbed his upper thighs, wishing he’d used his cane this morning but resenting the damn thing all the more because of the decline it implied, then he walked down to Breeze and turned inland. Out of habit he turned and checked his six for a tail, but in truth those days were long gone. The pain settled in again and he felt a little winded now, but this was the home stretch so he pushed on. 

His tent was in the disused corner of an old asphalt parking lot about halfway between Ocean and Pacific, and he’d left Darius out front to stand guard while he went for coffee. As he walked up he could see he already had about a half dozen patients lined-up and waiting; he nodded to himself and sighed as he got close enough to recognize a few of them.

Everyone smiled at the old man as he approached, and they parted to let him pass — yet they guarded their places in the queue, some more possessively than others. His “office” was a fairly old Coleman three room tent, kind of an ‘L-shaped’ affair, with one of the rooms a dedicated storeroom, the big central area an exam room, complete with a discarded exam table, and with the third room set aside as his personal space — which was where he slept most nights.

The city had closed all the free clinics in the area, and only his tent and the ‘illegal’ clinic set up in the basement of the nearby Catholic Church were all that was left to serve a population that at times numbered ten thousand or more souls. The church clinic was closed most weekdays, leaving his tent the only available option, but as the old man dared not advertise his services most of the homeless in the area had no idea he was even around.

He kept his patient charts on an iPad, and though several nearby practices kept him stocked with everything he needed, if the city ever discovered what he was up to down here they’d have had him drawn and quartered. That led the old man to move his tent every few weeks, but he got the word out and his patients never had any trouble finding him. He’d only been ‘discovered’ once, but by the time code enforcement officers arrived he and his tent were already long gone.

And this morning’s patients represented the usual assortment of issues found in homeless encampments everywhere. Scurvy and even malaria weren’t uncommon now, even in California, as with increasing temperatures mosquito-borne illnesses were on the rise everywhere, and by the time he wrapped up this morning’s queue about the worst thing he’d dealt with was a little girl with a bad cut on the bottom of her foot. He was grateful his hand was still steady enough to suture such minor wounds, but time wasn’t on his side.

Another one of his ‘foot-soldiers’ stood guard while he walked back to the Zebra, and as Ellie was still tied up in the bakery he asked for some hot tea. Two LAPD bicycle cops came by and and ordered coffee and as they knew the old man rather well they sat with him.

“How’s it hangin’, Doc,” Bud Kurzweil asked as he sat across from the old man.

“Down to my knees. You?”

“SSDD,” Kurzweil said, wiping a little sweat from his forehead after he pulled off his headgear. “Anything new we need to know about?”

“I’m running tests on two possible TB cases,” the old man said. “I’ll let you know if they come back positive.”

The other cop, a rookie just getting familiar with life outside of police academy, simply shook her head. 

A slight tremor passed through Kurzweil’s hands. “Damn, not that shit again. Man, you know if it pops here again they’ll restart the sweeps.”

“I know, I know,” the old man said. “Yet, if you really think about it that’s probably the wrong way to contain an outbreak. You can’t contact trace if you don’t know where the infected people are hanging out.”

“It’s all optics, Doc. There ain’t no policy anymore, there’s just politics.”

The old man nodded. “Same as it ever was. Say, I’ve been meaning to ask…how’s the screenplay coming along?”

Kurzweil nodded. “My agent got a good response from DreamWorks, so who knows…”

“Really? Bud! That’s fantastic!”

Kurzweil grinned. “Thanks, Doc. I appreciate all you’ve done. Really.”

The old man smiled at that, but then he saw Ellie and his smile vanished. She looked beat, and if anything her eyes were even more red now. Then he noticed she was a little unsteady on her feet and he got up to help her as she came out from behind the counter. “I’ll see you guys later,” he said to the cops as he helped her out the door. He’d brought his cane this time so he had her hold onto his left arm and lean into him as they walked back to his tent.

Darius was manning the fort now and when he saw the Doc and his latest patient he unzipped the tent’s opening and helped them inside. And perhaps not surprisingly Ellie had no idea this old man was a physician, or that he was one of LAs seemingly infinite supply of homeless men and women.

“I heard about you,” she said, her voice now quietly unsteady. “You the doc everyone always talkin’ ‘bout. Like you was a ghost or something, ya know?”

He smiled as he took her vitals and then he let her ramble for a while before he got down to business. He asked easy, direct questions about her sweats, about where it hurt, and if she’d been coughing much…

“Not much, usually at night,” he said as he palpated the lymph nodes in her neck and under her arms.

“Night sweats?”

She nodded. “Yeah. Pretty bad, too.”

“What’s your pee look like?”

“Oh man, kinda like iced tea, ya know?”

“Pain in the lower back?”

“Yes.”

“Can you point to where it feels the worst?”

She reached around and pointed to where her kidneys were.

“Any pain in your spine, like maybe when you bend over?”

“Yeah, a little.”

He listened to her lungs, her heart and then for her bowel sounds. “You eating okay?”

She shook her head. “Ain’t been hungry, ya know?”

He nodded. “You live with anyone?”

“My grandmother and my little brother.”

“Your grandmother…has she been sick recently?”

“She’s had a bad cough all summer.”

“Does she still work?”

“Uh-huh. She work at a nursing home, making beds and stuff, sometime she work in the kitchen.”

“Oh,” he smiled innocently, “where’s that?”

“Shady Acres, over on Pico.”

“She on Medicare?”

“Nope, not yet?”

“Health insurance?”

“You kiddin’, right?”

“How’s your brother feeling?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“Any cough?”

She looked down and nodded.

“I take it you don’t have insurance?”

“Oh, I got it alright, but we gotta pay something like the first four thousand bucks…”

“I know,” the old man sighed.

“You know what I got, Doc?”

The old man shook his head. “Gonna have to do a few tests first, but has your grandmother had a TB test recently?”

“TB? What’s that?”

The old man shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, Ellie,” he said as he got pulled over a tray. “I’m going to draw blood now, then we’re going to see if you can cough up some crud for me, ‘cause I want to run some tests on that stuff too. And I’ll need a urine sample, too.”

“Hey Doc, like you know I can’t pay for none of this stuff, right?”

“Not a problem, Ellie.”

“What you mean, not a problem? Who gonna pay for this stuff?”

The old man just shrugged. “You won’t owe anything to anybody, okay? Ellie, you hearin’ me? And I want to see your grandmother and brother tomorrow.” 

“She be workin’ tomorrow.”

“No problem. Y’all come on down after she gets home. I’ll be here.” 

She nodded uneasily as he put what looked like a large rubber band around her upper arm…

+++++

He saw a dozen more patients after Ellie left and about half past six an old slate blue Land Rover pulled into the parking lot; Darius carried a cooler full of blood and culture samples over and put it on the floor behind the front seat, then he got into the front passenger seat. Once he was buckled-in the old Defender took off into the last of the day’s rush hour traffic.

The old man took off his exam gloves and finished up his patient notes on the iPad before scrubbing his hands in a foaming cleanser, then he walked out of the tent and pulled up a folding lawn chair and stretched out. He opened the cooler Darius had left for him and popped the top on an ice-cold Diet Dr. Pepper, downing the can in one long pull. He pulled out his iPhone and checked his messages and then his email, hoping the caffeine in the soda would keep him alert for another hour or so…just as Bud Kurzweil pulled up on his bicycle.

“Hey doc, you done for the day?”

“You know, for some reason I feel certain that’s not the case.”

Kurzweil chuckled at that, but he quickly did an about face and turned serious: “What are the symptoms of TB?”

“Generally speaking, persistent cough, fatigue, fever, night sweats and loss of appetite. Blood in the sputum is also a pretty good predictor. So, what’s goin’ on?”

“I think we might have a cluster down by the north jetty.”

“Isolate ‘em. Call Public Health.”

“Doc, you know if I make that call they’ll just make a sweep and push ‘em off into the weeds.”

The old man sighed and pointed to another lawn chair. “Want a DDP?”

“Sure,” the cop said as he opened the chair and sat. He took the offered can and popped the top, then he slammed it down, waiting about thirty seconds for the desired effect to take hold — which started out as a low hiss before it burst out into the open as a plaster-cracking belch. “Goddam, I love this crap.”

The old man nodded as he burped. “You know it,” he added, as a little extra hiss-burp slipped out his nose. “No better cure for bloating out there.”

“So?” Kurzweil sighed. “Do I make the call?”

“I can’t walk that far, Bud.”

“No problem, Father. We got ya covered.”

“See if you can get me a couple of paramedics down there. Better yet, call Daniel Freeman and get some kids in training. They could use the experience.”

“Anything else?”

“A nurse and a lab tech wouldn’t hurt my feelings any.”

“Got it. Where’s Darius?”

“With Deb, off to the lab.”

“How’s he doin’?”

The old man shrugged. “Oh, you know. Good times, bad times.”

Kurzweil shook his head. “Man, he was good. One of the greats, ya know?”

The old man nodded. Darius Jenkins had played with the Rams for seven years — before a career ending block wrecked his right knee. He’d been a wealthy man for a few years after that, until the hangers on slowly but surely bled him dry. The old man had found him living in a tent down here a few years ago; now he worked for a friend of the old man and was getting his life back together, piece by slowly broken piece.

“You had anything to eat today?” Kurzweil asked.

“A scone, I seem to recall. When do you two get off?”

“Off? Hell, we’re on OT now — but then again we’re off for two whole days — starting at midnight, I do believe.”

“Where’s the rookie? Down at the jetty?”

“Yup,” Kurzweil nodded. “Got a car down there with her.”

The old man sighed. “You got someone in mind to drive me there?”

“They should be here any minute.”

“Am I that predictable?”

Kurzweil grinned as he shrugged. “Yo no se, Amigo…”

“Pues…porque asi es.”

“Truer words, Father. Truer words.”

The old man fired off a text just as a black and white squad car pulled up beside the old man’s tent, and a rookie stepped out to stay with the tent until Darius returned. “You going to ride with us?” the old man asked Kurzweil.

“In this traffic? No way!”

+++++

He finished up after midnight and walked back to the beach parking lot at the end of Speedway, and he smiled when he saw the blue Land Rover was already waiting there for him. Kurzweil and his rookie were long gone now, but Bud had promised to drop by in the morning and check on him, maybe grab lunch if the old man had time. Hopefully he’d have results from the lab by then, because Gene Sherman had a very bad feeling about what was happening down here.

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…and note this story is fiction, pure and simple…

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The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 69

88 68 neptune im

Harry’s tale is rapidly drawing to a close, so hang on tight.

[supertramp \\ know who you are]

88/69

Debra Sorensen watched the General as he strutted around the underground facility, and she concentrated on his ever-shifting aura. Unlike her father, or even Delbert Moloch, this man rarely displayed the oily black shimmers of overt evil that those other two had, yet even so she picked up patterns and colors that upset her. While he wasn’t exactly evil, he wasn’t the benign character he so often pretended to be—despite all his airs of calm passivity. But now, with Callahan’s and Goodman’s disappearance, his aura had flared once again, filling the space around his seething eyes with hideous green streamers.

Then she parsed his thoughts.

He was angry because a tracking device had failed. Because the tracking device could only follow people traveling back in time. But not into the future. He was, for some reason, now thinking about Franklin Roosevelt, the depression era president. But why? What could someone who had passed away almost eighty years ago have to do with the future? She struggled to remember Roosevelt and grew faintly disoriented when she thought she recalled meeting him recently, but when she saw Roosevelt in the General’s thoughts her sense of disorientation only grew more diffuse, almost like a heavy fog had settled over her. Then she saw huge, misshaped beings, squat triangular white-skinned things that moved with ponderous heaviness, and she saw the General talking with Roosevelt and one of these beings…

Krell. They called themselves Krell, and Debra wondered why that sounded so familiar?

She followed him to the huge orca pool on the lower level, and she watched the General’s aura as it shifted from red to green and finally to a gentle cool blue, so she naturally concluded that he came here to relax—but as she looked on he waded out into the water – and then just disappeared. 

A minute passed, then two, and she ran out and looked down into the peaceful abyss and saw…nothing. No orcas, and no General. He had simply disappeared.

She focused on the water and tried to follow his thoughts but she found that way blocked, as if someone was deliberately trying to keep her away from the General’s thoughts. But…who among the people in the underground complex was capable of that? No one she was aware of, with the possible exception of Brendon.

So she made her way up to the living quarters, and she found Brendan in the dining room reading a book and waving at the sky. She picked up an omelet and went to a nearby table and watched the boy, watched his ever shifting aura, but all she could make out was a simple veil of swirling cool blues. When she entered his mind and began sifting through his thoughts he stopped reading and looked up from his book for a moment, then he turned and looked at her.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Me? Why…nothing. Nothing at all?”

Then she heard his thoughts, now directed at her: ‘You don’t belong here. Leave. Now.’

She looked away then finished her eggs and, now ignoring the boy, she left the room, doing her best to clear her mind.

‘So, I’m not the only one,’ she thought. ‘Is that was this place is all about? Corralling us all in one place so they—whoever they are—can keep us under lock and key?’ That would explain why the General was so upset about Callahan’s disappearance, wouldn’t it? ‘But, where did he go? And why weren’t there any orcas in the pool?’

+++++

Jim watched as Callahan and the woman were put into stasis, but he was still not sure this was the best way to deal with the two humans. Callahan’s abilities were just blooming, but it was the woman who presented the biggest threat. She’d jumped, admittedly while she slept, beyond his ability to track, which meant she’d left this galaxy—yet she’d returned to her cabin within minutes. If this was indeed true she’d exceeded everyone’s expectations. And if this proved to be the case, as it appeared to be, then these humans were indeed in a race against time.

How long would it take this species to fully evolve this latest ability? On a planetary scale? A hundred years? A thousand? And then what?

And then what, indeed.

That was the real question, wasn’t it?

Humanity had proven to be a predatory species almost without parallel, but now they were standing on the threshold of becoming members of a very elite group. There were, at present, only a handful of species in this galaxy capable of roaming the universe, so the question being posed wasn’t a trivial one.

Should they be stopped. Now. Before a sufficient number acquired the ability to jump as this human woman had. The Krell had already voiced their opinion: humans should be left alone to develop without interference. The Aerons, at least the Pinks among them, had also decided against any interference, while the Blues and Greens were actively trying to manipulate the outcome. The Sidions viewed humanity as a plague and wanted them destroyed, but for now their political leadership was divided on how best to accomplish this. Active intervention would draw a violent response from both the Krell and the Aerons and that might lead to open hostilities the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the galaxy for almost a million years.

Which left Jim’s people, the Centaurons, as the deciding factor. If the Centaurons and the Sidions formed an alliance, war might be averted but humanity would in short order be eradicated. If his people sided with the Krell and the Aerons, humanity might be saved but at the cost of open warfare, as the Sidions seemed unwilling to negotiate any outcome that didn’t include humanity’s obliteration. Jim’s task was therefore quite simple: to determine which side the Centaurons would take in this dispute he needed to develop an understanding of how potentially dangerous humanity could become if turned loose on the universe.

But there was one other concern. An even greater concern.

The Others. The deciders, the final arbiters, the group known as the Phage. 

There was evidence that the Others had detected humanity’s first infantile interferences with time, and they never allowed such species free reign. And no one tried to stop the Others, for they were simply too powerful.  If they were indeed coming to this solar system, time was now of the essence, and a decision could not be put off for much longer. 

He regarded the two humans in stasis with something akin to wonder. Few species evolved to permit travel at the Speed of Thought, and fewer still evolved that could bend the laws of Time, yet this species was on the edge of the abyss, among the few that had evolved both abilities, and at the same time. The reality of this development was almost beyond comprehension, because if left on their own these humans could, in time, evolve to challenge the abilities of the Others.

And that one simple fact, more than any other, was what had long filled Jim with a sense of wonder. But now, a molten sensation of dread filled his mind—for even as he stared at Callahan in the stasis chamber the human’s form began to pulse and shimmer…just before it disappeared.

© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…

[app \\ to one in paradise]

The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 68

88 68 neptune im

Sorry for the prolonged absence; I’ve been in and out and deep within some pressing medical issues once again. Thankfully these were not vision related but even so it was difficult to sit up long enough to write anything even remotely coherent. On the flip side, I did some mental outlining of a few new arcs to finish up Harry’s story, so maybe there was a reason?

[Bizet \\ Carmen Suite No 1: Intermezzo/Interlude]

88/68

The General stood over the console, staring at Callahan’s beacon as it drifted sometime in the past — but then it disappeared.

“Where is he now?” the General growled.

“I don’t know,” the operator said. “He’s disappeared.”

“What does that tell us?” the General asked.

“The future…somehow they’ve moved from the past to the future…”

“But that’s not possible, is it?!”

“It’s the only explanation that fits,” the operator sighed, resting his forehead on his hands.

Yet on another screen the General now saw Callahan and Didi Goodman thrashing around in the orca pool, and he bolted from the control room and ran as fast as he could for the pool area. When he got there both Callahan and Goodman were treading water while two orcas circled them, in effect preventing the humans from getting out of the water.

Yet now, as the General entered the vast cavern, the two orcas stopped and raised their heads, eyeing the General as he came to the water’s edge—and then they moved off, made no further moves to prevent either Callahan or Goodman from moving to get out of the pool.

“You two better get out while you can,” the General said from the water’s edge, but even from ten meters he could see that both Callahan and Goodman were blue again, so he called for a medical team to meet him in the pool area. Gurneys were summoned and about the time Brendan and Deborah Eisenstadt arrived Callahan was being wrapped in heated blankets, while docs worked on Didi Goodman.

“What’s wrong with Didi?” Eisenstadt said as she walked up to the General.

“Extreme hypothermia,” he said, “and it’s led to some kind of rhythm disturbance.”

“Rhythm? You mean cardiac?”

The General nodded and when Brendan began crying Eisenstadt moved to comfort the man-child. She looked at Harry as EMTs began pushing his gurney towards the clinic and he too seemed rigid with extreme cold, but at least he smiled once and shot her a limp thumb’s up.

“What happened to them?” Brendan sighed. “Where’d they go?”

“We’re not completely sure,” the General lied. “When they’re better you’ll have to talk to them. Maybe you can find out more.”

+++++

Two hours later Callahan lay on a hospital bed drifting in and out of sleep, his mind a hazy mist of shifting memory, the events of their brief trip to the red ship gone from memory. He still felt icy cold—despite the heated blankets and the warm fluid coming in by IV. Then he saw an intense and very brief flash of light through his closed eyes and he struggled back to wakefulness…

…only to find Jim, the very tall alien from the high desert, kneeling over him.

“Are you aware of me?” Jim thought into Callahan’s consciousness.

“Yes, I think so.”

“Do you know where you have been?”

“I’ve been somewhere?”

“Yes. Do you recall meeting people? Perhaps even important people?”

“No. I can’t remember anything that happened today.”

“I must touch you now. Do not be afraid,” Jim thought as he leaned close, putting the tips of his fingers around Callahan’s head.

Callahan felt an intense vibration then, just before a flood of unlocked memory washed through his conscious mind. And as his mind began to process these events he reeled under the weight of so many incomprehensible consequences of the people and places he’d just seen…

“You have not yet learned to retrieve these memories,” Jim thought now. “Tell me, what did Roosevelt tell you?”

Callahan told him.

“You are no longer safe here,” Jim thought bluntly. “You must come with me.”

Callahan looked at the ECG hooked up to Didi—and then he noticed that her cardiac trace had simply stopped, almost like the machine had frozen somewhere in time, and he started to say something to Jim…

…but Jim stopped him. “Time has stopped for you now, at least while I am here.”

“What about Didi? Shouldn’t she come with me?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Are you saying the General might try something?”

“If he finds that he can manipulate time through you he could do great damage.”

“What about Brendan?” Callahan added, almost as an afterthought.

“The boy can do nothing without you…at least for now.”

“But—am I missing something?”

“He may change. We will reevaluate.”

“But if you think we’re in danger here, why not bring him?”

“He represents a danger to us that we may not be able to control.”   

Callahan nodded while he drifted through the implications of that revelation, then he made up his mind. “Okay, let’s go…”

+++++

The control room operator saw a flash on the monitor that was displaying a non-stop feed from the clinic, and when the monitor cleared both Callahan and the woman with him were gone. He hit the alarm button and began locking down the facility, and just moments passed before the General made it to the room.

“What’s happened?” he growled, rubbing much needed sleep from his burning eyes.

“Callahan and the woman with him…they just disappeared. They were both asleep, and then there was a flash on the screen. When that cleared, they were gone!”

“Kill the alarm,” the General sighed, “and alert the surveillance team up at Sea Ranch. Is the tracking beacon still on him?”

“No sir. You can see it there on the monitor, on the ECG stand.”

“It was on when he went to sleep,” the General muttered, “so how did he know what it was, or even where it was?”

+++++

When Callahan came to he was in a heated mesh cot of some kind, and a – physician? – of some sort was hovering over him, looking at a display that seemed to hover in the air over his “bed”. The physician adjusted something there and the bed grew warmer and Callahan felt himself relaxing for the first time in what felt like days. Still, he looked around and couldn’t see Didi and a wave of panic washed over him.

“Where’s the woman who was with me?” he said aloud, forgetting that Jim’s people were telepaths…

“She is in the room next to this one,” he heard in his mind. “Her hypothermia is much more severe. We are adjusting thyroid levels and boosting electrolyte infusions.”

“Is she in any danger?”

“No, not at all.”

“Where is Jim?”

“He will return as soon as I have finished my studies.”

“Studies?”

“Yes, you are my first human patients.”

“Uh, well, okay. Gee, have you ever taken a course in bedside manners?”

“No? To what are you referring?”

“Never mind.”

Jim came in just then and he walked over to the wall and operated a display; a portion of the curved white wall turned into a transparent window of some kind and Callahan saw a vast blue planet below, and one visible limb of the planet was bathed in a vast auroral display. Greenish pulsing labyrinthine glows snaked along the horizon line, yet just below the only surface Callahan could see looked like an endless plain of slowly swirling clouds.

“Where are we?” Callahan said aloud.

“You call this world Neptune. When we come around to the side closest to your home star you will be able to see Saturn and Uranus from here.”

“Is this another one of your outposts? What did you call the other one? A Dyson sphere?”

“No, this is a military ship, what you might call a type of aircraft carrier.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry, Harry, but there is much going on that you are unaware of, and several groups are now maneuvering into position. We fear some may try to influence events.”

“Influence…?” Callahan sighed. “What do you mean?”

Jim stood by the window, looking down on the storms raging within the swirling cloud deck below the ship, then he turned and looked directly at Harry. “There is no easy way to say this, so pardon me if this sounds thoughtless. There are two species on your world on the brink of profound genetic change…”

“Genetic?”

“Yes. These changes could directly influence the nature of time, therefore these changes have the potential to permanently alter the normal state of the universe. Many other worlds have sent teams here to study these changes, to estimate the potential for disruption before these changes manifest throughout either or both species.”

“But…you said you see the need for military intervention?”

“Not against any inhabitants of your home world.”

“You mean…one of these other groups could turn hostile? Towards us?”

“We are examining this. One group has been assembling military and political leaders from your recent past, with obvious implications. Another is gathering noted philosophers and thinkers and relocating them, but we have not discovered where or why they are doing this.”

Callahan thought about that for a moment, then: “So, why are you here?”

“The leaders of my world are concerned there could be war.”

“War? Between who?”

“There are four groups, not counting our own, presently studying events on your planet. It is thought that at some point open conflict may break out between these groups. Or even within one of these groups. If that happens we want to be in a position to stop such a conflict from spreading.”

“With this ship?”

“Yes.”

Callahan swallowed hard, his mind suddenly filling with dark images of impossible doom. “And how would you prevent such a conflict?”

“If there is no Earth, there can be no conflict.” Jim looked at him for a moment, then he spoke again. “I am sorry, Harry.”

Callahan nodded, but he could understand Jim’s dilemma. “That’s okay. I think I see what you’re up against.”

Jim sighed, if such a thing could indeed be transmitted by thought, then he spread his hands wide and shrugged. “This is why I wanted you here. I can protect you here.”

“I understand,” Callahan said, desperately trying not to think about his predicament while Jim was so close.

“When Goodman is well we will move her to this room.”

“Thank you.”

Jim and the physician left him then, but the window was still “open” and he watched as the auroral display grew closer and closer until it was almost directly beneath the ship, and he felt lost as he watched the writhing display – without once thinking that he was on a warship in orbit around a gas giant. At one point he thought it would be better if the lights weren’t quite so bright and within a millisecond the lights in the room dimmed. He experimented further, deliberately thinking that he was now too cold—and almost instantly warmth began to flow through the mesh into his body. He tried ‘I’m hungry’ next, and some unseen nutrient flow passed through the mesh into his bloodstream, and again within moments he began to feel satiated, then almost full.

The implications of such technology were staggering. ‘If I think I’m having trouble sleeping? Does that mean automatic sleep comes on? And what if I need to use the toilet?’ What were the limits of such a device, he wondered? ‘Can I ask it to take me back to earth?’

Then the obvious hit him, and hit him hard. He didn’t need this device to return to earth, because he already possessed the ability to move through time. No, now all he needed to do was wait for Didi to be moved into this room, then he’d make his move.

+++++

Jim and the physician watched Callahan’s thoughts take form on a monitor overhead, and though Jim regretted doing so, the solution he needed now was the obvious one.

“Put him to sleep,” Jim sighed.

“For how long?”

“Five of his years.”

“That may present problems. Their physiologies are not well suited to these conditions.”

“That cannot be helped. Do it.”

© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…

[Gary Wright \\ Dream Weaver]