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]

3 thoughts on “The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 68

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