A Time-Travel Story
DAVID AND JONATHAN
Published by Eve Human at
Copyright 2017 Eve Human
In the darkest of moments
In the deepest of voids
Where nothing was left but despair
She was still small
But one day
She would be born.
I am Jonathan Galt and today I finally realize that I hate my name.
At the moment I’m walking down my tunnel. But I’m not alone and I can be certain that they who are walking with me hate that name as much as I do.
I also have to admit, that this isn’t actually my tunnel any more. When I dug it just a few weeks ago, I’d made it into a crawling space only. And it was much shorter then—barely a hundred yards long, angling from the sewers closest to the wall, then down to get underneath it, and finally sharply up to the outside-world.
It was difficult for me and Luscinia to drag the blanket with the sleeping child through it.
But now I and my three companions can walk upright, doing a pretty good pace. And the tunnel is much broader than before… and much longer also, being over ten miles in length as it leads all the way to the next village.
Hundreds of people have helped to enlarge the tunnel, which has of course been necessary since thousands of others are supposed to follow us later on.
But just like I did before, so have those digging during the last few days been forced to work without big machinery, for they had to be quiet—really quiet.
Any suspicious sound might have alerted someone, and that would have been a catastrophe. Our plan would have to be abandoned. And this would leave a single option.
I shiver and only partly from the cold down here.
I keep thinking about Luscinia. She wanted to come along. But I told her, no. She is supposed to be dead, someone over there might recognize her.
Of course, this has been the reasonable thing to do, and besides the others would probably not have allowed her to come anyway.
At this very moment however, I wish I’d not been reasonable. I really need her, the comfort she gives me, her trust, her love. If it wasn’t for her, I’d never have found the courage to leave in the first place… and to go back now.
We’ve reached the sewers now with their typical odor of waste and decay. In the glow of my flashlight I can see a rat cross right in front of us.
I take a glance back at the others. Mr. Wang’s face looks just as grumpy as ever. It seems inconceivable that of all the people in Spesaeterna, it would be Mr. Wang who has devised this plan.
Although it’s not really surprising that he would stick by it against most everyone else in the village. With his jacket unbuttoned Mr. Wang’s native clothes can still be seen, and down on his chest the stitched golden image of his Dharmachakra glitters in the dim light. I make a mental note to remind him to button up once we are outside.
I turn my eyes to Ms Alba in her unfamiliar male clothing style of dark brown overalls. Myself having been pushed by my father into a regular and extensive martial-arts training I’m as as athletic as any man can ever hope to be at age twenty. But Ms Alba can easily keep up with my pace.
She is as old as Mr Wang, over a decade older than my father, but she looks so strong, physically and otherwise. And her movements are those of a much younger person. Where I’m from, few people ever reach that age, and certainly none of them are women. Mamma was 47 when she died in the Venus project.
Venus—the goddess of love, or so I’ve been taught. What a joke, what an utterly perverted joke.
The already familiar wave of pain and anger is sweeping over me. This time I can barely control it.
Come on, take a deep breath, I tell myself. I have to be calm. I mustn’t give in to any kind of emotions, be they anger or fear. Even a quiver of nerves can be fatal. I need ice-cold rationality if I want to succeed. Everything now depends on me.
I look at Ms Alba again. She has never trusted me. She once called me the son of the devil and I guess she’s right. She is clutching the small device tightly in one hand. It’s only a communication device, to be sure, but it might just as well be the trigger.
Once she presses that red button, it will be all over… for all of us.
A lever will be pulled elsewhere, missiles will be launched, and in the blink of an eye Nephilim City will be no more… evaporated and extinguished from the face of the earth, together with the surrounding country and anything (or anyone) below ground.
Ms Alba has insisted on this fail-safe measure, and the others have agreed to it.
Why they changed their minds at all, I still can’t understand.
I’ve been so very naive when I brought the recording to them, but the minute I started it, I knew what the reaction would be. It was only natural.
And then all of a sudden, they changed their minds because of… because of an absolute nothing, a tiny story about a most insignificant event from the past.
And when they reversed from what seemed so logical before, I realized that as much as I want to belong to Spesaeterna or to the rest of them, I don’t. I just can’t understand them and I doubt that I ever will.
Born and raised in Nephilim City, I cannot deny my origin and its clear sense of logic, a logic my companions and their whole society don’t seem to possess – all of them but Ms Alba maybe. But at the moment even she seems to be moved less by her logic and more by something else.
And right now I guess I’m acting on this “something else” as well, on their strange logic not my own.
I’m taking a look at the third of my Spesaeterna team, a man not much younger than the other two. He used to be the David Morgan, the man who a long time ago was the best friend of my father. To me he seems to be the most mysterious of them all.
They call him the Professor now. He’s a scientist, supposedly a man of reason, but he is also a monk. He does have some sense of reasoning but it’s one I cannot really fathom.
The Professor seems to have noticed that I’m looking at him. He gives me an encouraging smile, and the expression on his face tells me that he knows what I’m thinking, almost as if he can read my mind.
It creeps me out a bit, but somehow it also lifts my spirit, makes me feel less tense and slowly I can release my breath. In my mind I see the little girl who changed everything.
I turn now to concentrate on the barely visible way in front of us, it won’t be much longer.
At last—the exit ladder, we have finally arrived at our first destination.
I’m climbing up and open the lid, I’m looking around carefully. It’s a pretty deserted area. And just like the countless times I’ve climbed up and down that same ladder before, while building my narrow escape-tunnel, there is nobody around at the moment, nobody who might possibly see us getting out of the sewer.
I motion the others to follow me. When they have all reached the surface, I’m closing the sewer entrance. And although it’s unlikely that cameras or microphones have been installed in this forsaken area, I still keep my voice low. With words dripping as much irony as can be purveyed in a whisper, I declare:
“Welcome to Orange Country!”
David Ragnarsson stood alone, eyes closed while chasing off any last doubts from his mind, and when he opened them again, he had made his decision. He stood right at the end of the white line that marked the spot where the last carriage of the train would come to a halt; in front of him, the yellow safety line over which no passenger should cross while a train was still moving.
But David didn’t intend to be a passenger on this train. Not this time, not ever again. He looked up at the digital clock hanging right above his head. The last digit changed with a click. 11:56, four minutes to midnight at the Spesveniat subway-station in New York City.
At the roaring sound in the distance, he looked into the tunnel, to see the faint glow of the emerging headlights.
Not long now…a few more seconds and two steps to oblivion, to the peace he sought–the only one offered to him. There was no way the driver would be able to stop in time. The roar grew louder; the light from the tunnel already blinding his gaze.
David shifted his weight to the other foot. He was ready.
“No, don’t jump, DON’T YOU JUMP!”
It felt like a bolt of thunder to David’s tight nerves, shaking his whole body. The voice had been piercing, loud, and shrill, and yet clearly a child’s voice.
David turned his head to the left, and had to look down. There, standing right next to him, a child, a girl, staring up into his face with the bluest eyes he had ever seen outside a movie screen.
Confused and still shaken, David stared back. He felt as if he had been ripped from a dream, a dark dream, though still feeling it’s call, the need to know how it ended.
The train with its ear-piercing screeching of brakes brought David out of his daze and back to reality. He had missed his chance….for now; there would be other trains tonight.
He looked around.
The girl seemed to be alone; a couple of people were waiting at the other end of the platform, none of them seeming to be connected to her. Where had she come from? Why hadn’t he noticed her before?
And how had she known what he was about to do? Was she a mind reader?
David had always been a complete and unwavering skeptic where those kinds of phenomena were concerned. -No, not a mind reader; just a perceptive little person with a bit of feminine intuition-.
The train had finally come to a halt, the doors had opened. David gave the girl a fake smile that should convey an “I didn’t really hear what you just said, but I’m polite enough to recognize that you’d been talking to me” idea. And then with a couple of large strides, he made it to the train’s last door. The girl followed; or rather she walked beside him only inches from his left elbow.
They entered together and when he sat down on the long bench, she sat next to him. This was becoming really uncomfortable, and David found it more and more impossible to just ignore her.
But still trying valiantly, he looked straight ahead while the doors closed. Slowly the train gained speed as it left the platform and entered the next tunnel, blackening the windows. At this time of night there were barely any other passengers inside the carriage. None of them took any notice of David or the child.
They probably assume she’s my daughter or something, he thought, looking around. Five people, three men and two women were sitting closely together on the other end of the carriage, talking to each other.
On his end and on their own bench there was only one other person, a thinly bearded black man sitting slumped against the carriage’s wall, head leaning backwards, eyes closed, rhythmically pushing a snore through his nostrils. He was no doubt drunk and, judging from his grease-spotted jacket and worn-out trousers which were ripped over one knee, probably homeless with no other place to sleep.
Facing David on the opposite bench, two teenage boys engaged in a contest of who could push whom off the seat, while a middle-aged woman tried to keep herself as far away from them as possible.
The woman was probably a nurse heading home after finishing a late shift at the nearby emergency and maternity clinic; David thought he recognized the uniform skirt that slightly showed under her short coat.
He had once done an interview with clinic employees there when funding reductions had led to staff cutbacks, and the resultant increased waiting time had cost the life of at least one child who had died while waiting for an emergency operation.
It had been an important article and there had been a reaction. The public outcry had put pressure on the city’s administration, and a decision was made to increase funding to former levels, at least in that particular clinic.
But that was last year’s news, and for a journalist, even yesterday is often a lifetime ago.
For David Ragnarsson, former investigative journalist writing for the most prestigious paper in the country, last year seemed an eternity away. And today’s news would not be written by him…he would never write another article again…ever.
“You don’t know that. And even so, that’s still not a good reason for jumping in front of a subway train.”
As before, the child’s voice was too loud, too clear, and thoroughly unsettling. It was as if she had actually read his mind.
This time around, David had no choice; pretending not to have heard her remarks wouldn’t work unless he also pretended he was stone deaf. Once again David looked at the three people sitting opposite him. They still weren’t taking any notice of either him or the girl. He turned to the child.
“What the heck are you talking about?”he asked, keeping his voice low and hoping she’d take the hint.
She didn’t bother to lower her voice: “I’m talking about you wanting to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train and I’m telling you that you shouldn’t do such a thing.”
Denial was the only possible answer to that one: “What kind of nonsense has gotten into your head? Do you always walk around and make up stories about strangers you meet on the subway?”
Denial and attack, of course: “Speaking of subways, what were you doing alone in a subway station in the middle of the night? You can’t be much older than ten or eleven?”
“I turned thirteen last month!” There was quite a bit of indignation in the girl’s voice now.
Thirteen…David wouldn’t have guessed her to be a teenager. It wasn’t just that she was small for her age, it was rather the way she was dressed.
She was wearing what could be called a jogging suit, but one of a kind he’d never seen on any teenager before. The slightly glittery material of a soft violet color was covered with about a dozen different-sized colorful patches which were either sewn or glued onto it. Although her face, hands, and small wrists suggested a slim figure, her suit didn’t show any of it. The trouser legs were rather wide from top to bottom, just as the jacket hung straight down from shoulder-pads to mid-thigh, allowing neither breast nor waist to be seen.
Her head was covered by a bulging cap of the same color as the suit with Chinese letters stitched above the brim. Only a few dark curls escaped from under it onto her forehead.
Her light brown skin contrasted with her shining blue eyes, the feature he had first noticed about her. There was surely both African and Caucasian ancestry there – maybe even some Native American as well, he thought, looking down at the moccasin-like sneakers on her feet.
The whole outfit definitely did not remind him of something a teenager would wear, but rather of clothes sold in the baby- and toddler department of stores. He'd seen suits like these when he went shopping with Tina for Mikey, back when his boy was two or three.
And it must be the clothes she wore that gave the girl such an aura of childish innocence, he thought, in spite of her having used such a dark word as “suicide.” He hadn’t even used this word in his own mind for the thing he had been planning to do….
“Thirteen is still too young to be out at this time of night! You should be home with your parents.”
“I can’t be home with them. My Papa is dead,” the girl replied, “and my Mamma is away on a fighting assignment.”
So she was one of those temporary war-orphans, David thought. A few years back, he had done a piece on single mothers in the military who, when assigned a tour of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq, had to leave their small children behind in foster homes or – if they were lucky – in the care of relatives.
“It’s not what you think with my Mamma,” the girl insisted urgently.
“What do I think?” David asked.
“You think she’s shooting or bombing people.”
“No, I don’t,” David said, “but that’s not my concern at the moment either. I just wanted to know who’s taking care of you and why you aren’t with them right now, home in bed.”
“My little brother and sister stay with Grandma and Grandpa while Mamma is away, and I stay with my Great-uncle Professor.”
Great-uncle Professor–what a strange name, David thought, but that really was none of his business. “Does your uncle know where you are right now?”
“Sure,” the girl replied easily, “he sent me here to you.”
Now that was truly creepy. “He sent you in the middle of the night to a subway station to talk to a strange man?”
“Yes, since this was the only time when you could be reached. And you’re not really a stranger. And you’ll understand once you get to know me better and I tell you where I come from and how.”
This was even worse than what had happened to the war-orphans David had written about in his article. Maybe Social Services was preferable to being placed with some kooky relative.
“I’ve heard enough,” he said to the girl. “But I think the police would like to hear about your Great-uncle Professor. The conductor is just coming into the carriage. You stay here, I’ll talk to him. He’ll call the Police, and tonight you’ll sleep in a nice, safe place.”
David got up and so did the girl, who continued to stay close by his elbow.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” the girl insisted. “Really I wouldn’t.”
“Don’t be afraid, the police or the Social Services won’t do anything drastic to you,” David tried to reassure her. “They’re just going to talk to your uncle and then maybe they’ll decide that you should stay with your grandparents, just like your sister and brother.”
“I’m not afraid of the police or those Services. But I still think you shouldn’t talk to them or to the conductor because it wouldn’t be good for you,” the girl said mysteriously.
“For me?” David looked at her slightly surprised. Was she threatening him somehow? She really didn’t look the type.
The girl was now biting her lip: “You’ve got to understand that they won’t see me and therefore they won’t believe you.”
“They won’t see you?”
“No, because I’m not really here. I mean in your time and place.”
“You’re not what?!” David reached for the girl’s shoulder and she disappeared only to appear again a few inches from his hand. He tried to grab her shoulder once more and the same thing happened, only this time he lost his balance, nearly falling on top of the nurse on the opposite bench. The nurse didn’t seem to like that at all. She slid along the bench, edging away from David, then got up in a hurry and moved rather quickly to the other end of the carriage and the safety of the conductor and the other passengers.
“She can’t see me and neither can they!” the girl claimed, pointing to the teenagers. They had stopped their pushing game and were now whispering to each other, grinning in David’s direction. “They think your behavior is strange. You know, talking to yourself and trying to grab for something in the air,” she explained.
David let himself fall back onto his bench. He felt beaten, exhausted, empty. The conductor passed by him, but David barely noticed. While ignoring David the conductor gave the sleeping guy next to him a slight kick against one leg.
The snoring stopped abruptly. With one more disapproving glare at the man the conductor then left the carriage.
The train was slowing down for its next stop, and when the doors opened, some passengers got out, including the nurse. The teenagers stayed, having lost interest in David. The train started to gain speed again.
David just sat there, one thought in his mind: I’m crazy, I’ve lost it, I’m insane…..insane.
“No, you’re not,” the voice said. “You are not insane, YOU ARE NOT!”
David didn’t want to listen. A voice in his head telling him he was not crazy…not exactly a trustworthy source, David thought.
In the last few months, David had been drinking and not just socially; actually, not socially at all–he had been drinking alone in his rented one-room basement apartment, barely speaking to anyone but the cashier at the liquor store.
And he had been drinking a lot. But still, he hadn’t thought that he had gone so far down that road already….
They call it delirium tremens, don’t they[_?_] He looked down at his hands in his lap. They weren’t shaking. But then again, maybe the hallucinations come before the shaking – the white mice and the pink elephants? “I’m not an elephant, and no mouse either!”
The hallucination was still talking, and so loudly it made David’s head hurt: “And I’m not a hallucination. I am Hope–Hope Morgan– and I come from the future!”
“Sure you do,” David told his hallucination, “and you are also a shape-shifting alien from the planet Zorax. And you have come to take over my body or maybe just transport it to your spacecraft for examination.”
The boys on the opposite bench seemed to have heard that one for they were laughing again, giving David sideways glances. But when he looked directly at them, they got up and moved somewhat hastily to stand by the door, waiting for the next stop.
Now he was a bogey-man; he could even scare big kids pretty well. Crazy people are scary…they might get violent any second….
And here came the voice again: “You are not crazy. Even though I’m only in your mind in this time and space, I’m still real. I do exist, just not in your time. My name is really Hope. You have to believe me!”
David didn’t answer and tried not to think, either. He just stared at the dark window, listening to the monotonous sound of the train, interrupted only by the screeching of the brakes and the light of still another subway station flooding the window.
The voice had stopped talking, but from the corner of his eye, David could see that the hallucinated child was still there.
One more stop and he would be getting off. From there it would only be a five minute walk to his cockroach-infested apartment.
I like cockroaches, David thought. They are normal, they aren’t crazy. They haven’t much of a brain, but they can survive an atomic blast.
Once again the train slowed and then stopped alongside a platform.
The doors opened and David got up from his seat, his wobbly legs barely supporting his weight….
Out the door, over to the stairs, then the slow upward climb….
He had to hold the handrail to stay upright. He didn’t look at the hallucination beside him, though he felt her presence every step of the way. And he didn’t look backwards at the train either.
He wasn’t going to do it tonight….not while she was there, watching him. She might be just a hallucination–of course she was–but she still looked like a kid. He simply couldn’t do it in front of a child.
Upstairs he was greeted by the dark chill of the night.
But of course it wasn’t really dark. This was New York — the South Bronx — the corner of 349th and the Grand Sacrecors, a shopping street. The lights here are ablaze all night, even when the shops are closed and the shutters down.
I should head south on the Sacrecors toward the hospital at the next corner, David thought. Kennedy Medical and Mental Health Center it was called, and their mental health department would surely admit him in his condition.
But then again, David was pretty sure that his health insurance policy had run out, so instead, he turned into the direction of Homines Community College.
There were still lights burning there too–some late students or teachers maybe? More likely the cleaning staff; but given the neighborhood, David wouldn’t be surprised if those inside actually had no legitimate business being there at all.
David hadn’t been living in this neighborhood too long–only since Tina had moved out of their downtown Manhattan apartment, taking Mikey with her; and then when the next month’s rent was due, of course David had had to move too.
Manhattan rents were beyond the means of an unemployed reporter, and now, even the South Bronx was becoming more and more beyond David’s means.
He passed the community college, turning into Veriton Avenue. David stole a glance at the quiet figure of the girl still visible beside him (well, visible only to him….)
If he hadn’t known that something was wrong with her before, he surely would now! The girl was actually glowing in the dark, not illuminating anything around her, to be sure, but rather looking as if the light were totally contained within her.
David had had enough. He stopped and faced her straight on. “Why aren’t you talking anymore?”
The girl shrugged: “You weren’t listening; you were too busy telling yourself how crazy you are. And besides, I was sent here to prevent you from killing yourself. And you’re not about to do that right now, so I don’t have to talk.”
“What is it to you anyway if I kill myself, future girl?” David asked angrily. “It’s my life. Why shouldn’t I do with it as I please–get rid of it if I want to?”
“Because it’s a sin,” was the surprising answer, “a real bad sin.”
A sin? David opened his mouth and shut it again. A hallucination is normally an image coming from one’s own sub-consciousness.
But David wasn’t religious. He had been a true dyed-in-the-wool atheist since he was fourteen years old at least. And in all that time, he hadn’t met any religious person, certainly no Christian, whom he had taken seriously enough to have those views become part of his subconscious.
But here she was, standing right in front of him: a religious hallucination.
There had only been one person in his life that had talked to him about God, and even taught him some prayers–his Icelandic grandmother, who had died when he was only ten.
Had she also talked about sin? She must have.
And now, rising from his early childhood and from deep within his subconscious, there was the voice of his Amma.
“Actually,” said the voice, which didn’t sound at all like his Amma’s, “I’m not your grandmother’s voice. Instead, you could say I’m the voice of your great-great-great-,” she started to count on her fingers, “-great-great granddaughter.”
“You are my ….. you say I am your….what.?!” David couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it.
“Yes, you are my great-great-great-great-great grandfather. And that’s the reason I could come here. It wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
David decided to go with it. Maybe he could calm his subconscious enough to get it to leave him alone.
“Because if you want to time-travel with your mind, you have to find another mind that has the same Delta waves as your own, and only close relatives have that.”
“Ah, so,” David said.
“You still don’t believe me,” his subconscious great-great-something-granddaughter accused him.
“It sounds a bit far-fetched,” David admitted, “Delta-waves and so on…”
“I know it’s complicated.” the girl agreed, “Let’s just go home to your place and I’ll explain.”
“Alright,” David nodded and started walking again. They walked up Veriton Avenue in silence until they stopped in front of the most run-down building on the street.
Like most of the surrounding houses, it used to be a red three-story brick building. It was partially covered with red plaster–partially, since more than half of it had crumbled away. The stairs leading up to the first floor were also painted red and here, too, parts of the color and the concrete had gone missing.
David didn’t go up those stairs; his entrance-way was below them. He unlocked the door and walked straight into what could fancifully be called the living-room and maybe bedroom as well, since the couch doubled as a bed.
In the right hand corner was the door into a kitchen so small that two people might have trouble standing inside it between the refrigerator, the sink, the stove and the small table and two chairs without stepping on each other’s feet. Next to the kitchen was the bathroom, containing a shower and a toilet within a space of less than 15 square feet.
The apartment was actually rather clean and orderly; no pizza-boxes or empty Coke or whiskey bottles on the living-room table, and no dirty clothes on the floor or the couch. David had cleaned up the place this morning (probably for the first time in three months!)
–after all, the police or at least his landlord might come inside later on, and one didn’t want to leave a last impression that one was a slob–or so David had figured then….
And now when he pressed the light-switch, David was kind of glad it was more or less clean in there, for after all, he did have a visitor, even though she was neither the police nor quite real.
But once he flopped down on the couch, he again felt exhaustion flooding his mind and body. It had been a long day, a very long day.
It had begun when David awoke and noticed that he had run out of both whiskey and aspirin. The thought of another walk to the liquor store had depressed him just as much as the thought of another useless day–a day without the job he had loved so much, a day without Tina, and most of all, a day without Mikey.
He had remembered how he’d often used to work 24/7, with barely any time for Mikey or Tina. Sure, Tina had been quite happy with that arrangement, being as busy in her own job and as ambitious as he himself. But Mikey, oh Mikey…
They had hired a good nanny for him, and she had done a great job. But David hadn’t been a good father to Mikey. And now all he longed for was another chance, just one more chance to be a good dad.
But he wasn’t given one. He had lost all custody rights and there was a restraining order banning him from even coming close to Tina and Mikey. And since last week, there was now the whole country between them.
If Tina hadn’t taken Mikey so totally away from him, life would still mean something. After everything else was gone, being Mikey’s father was the single last purpose David had had to hold on to. But now, after losing both his job and any chance of ever being hired by a respectable news outlet again, he had lost Mikey too.
And so David had concluded there was nothing worth living for any more. He had cleaned up his apartment and then spent most of the day walking aimlessly around before taking the Line 4 subway from north to south and back again.
This had given him the notion that the subway was the best place to do it. And so at four minutes to midnight on the Spesveniat Station, David stood on the platform, waiting for the southbound train.
The train had been six minutes late, while this girl who claimed to be his great-great-something-granddaughter had been on time. On time for what, David wasn’t quite sure yet.
He looked at her again, that strange vision staring silently back at him as she sat on the room’s only chair.
Feeling so utterly exhausted, David didn’t want to hear any more tonight. “You told me the thing about the Delta-waves would be complicated. Would you mind if we save that for tomorrow? Unless you have to go back to where you come from tonight….”
“No, I’ll stay for a while,” she promised. David wasn’t sure if that was some kind of a threat.
He shrugged, saying with a pinch of mockery in his voice: “I guess I can’t offer you anything to eat, since you aren’t really here so you don’t have a real mouth or stomach.”
“No, you can’t,” the girl answered earnestly as if it had been a real offer.
“Then good night,” said David as he lay down on the couch, swaddling himself with the blanket that normally covered the worn-out cushions, not even bothering to undress. He also didn’t bother to turn off the light (he didn’t want to risk waking up to a glowing ghost in the middle of the night!) He closed his eyes and almost immediately fell fast asleep.
Strange images dogged his dreams: a roaring train pursuing him, then a glowing child atop a flying cloud reaching out to bring him to her. Mikey was sitting there too, a bright smile on his little face.
But then Mikey turned around and hopped onto another cloud. David wanted to follow, but he couldn’t move his feet. Mikey’s cloud disappeared in the distance.
And then David wasn’t in the clouds any more but back on the ground. Fighter planes were dropping bombs, he could hear the sound of machine guns, and he saw dead or wounded children lying around him, and heard a scared child’s voice repeatedly calling:
“Not to the Dark Ages, not to the Dark Ages….Dark Ages, Dark Ages…”
Professor Morgan and Mr Wang have scoured out the alley with the scanners embedded in their wrist-controls. There are indeed no surveillance cameras or audio-recording devices hidden in here, nor any living soul for that matter.
Only a handful of windows have a view down unto this part of the alley, none of them are on the ground floor. It’s still early in the morning, unlikely for the residents of this run-down neighborhood to be awake and clear-headed enough to watch our small group standing huddled together surrounding a manhole to the sewers.
Yes, I can congratulate myself, I have indeed chosen the most convenient place as an entrance to my escape exit. The Professor opens the cover again and taps on his wrist-control. A young dark-skinned man in his mid-twenties who has been waiting already on the ladder emerges now. He wears black jeans and an open denim jacket of the same color over a blazing red t-shirt. On his back he is carrying a large gray bag containing some heavy equipment.
I haven’t met him before but he seems to know the Professor and Mr Wang. He barely acknowledges their presence though with a nod before he then bends down to lift several more similar looking bags up to the surface handed to him from below. After that nine more men dressed in the same clothes, except for the color of their t-shirts are now climbing out of the sewers.
The volunteers, with barely a mumbled greeting directed to our group, start immediately to secure the area.
I know what they are doing, of course. They are installing electronic-shield projectors throughout the alley to protect both the volunteers as well as the later on expected refugees from a potential attack. The shield projectors will deflect light in such an ingenious fashion that it will make the whole place and everyone inside invisible for anyone not standing inside the shielded area.
For those who might look down from above as well as from both ends of the alley an image of an empty, dark back-street filled with trash-cans will be projected. Both entrances will also be secured by strong force-fields which in turn will prevent anyone uninvited to enter the area.
The work is well on its way, when the first man finally bothers to introduce himself. He turns around facing me:
“Oh, I’m Darryl Kenneth, by the way. You are Jonathan Galt, aren’t you?”
I just nod.
Darryl Kenneth points to his team: “These are Tom Parshon, Jim Lavon, Jess Porter and Vance Drake. They are all from my village “Roads End” and over there are Cass Dakota and Brent Spanner from “Desert Spring” and Patrick Covat, Derrick Kelly and Antonio Fernandez are from “DeSoto Southwestcorner.”
He then adds proudly: “We are all from the nation of Texas. And the teams from our villages and fifteen others, which are still on their way through the sewers, were the first ones to volunteer after we heard about this problem.”
“Problem” is probably the understatement of the century, I don’t quite know how to respond to that. So I simply state: “You and your team seem to be well prepared.”
What I have heard however is, that the Texans and several other teams from the western nations of North-America have been chosen particularly because their clothing styles need next to no adjustments for them to blend into the Nephilim City environment, where the non-elite male population routinely wears blue or black jeans and jeans-jackets on top of t-shirts of various colors and prints. This of course is a quite different style from the usual dress-code of the Spesaeterna group who now has to cover their own native clothing with its suspicious markings with newly made and rather badly fitting denim trousers and jackets.
Mr Wang now turns to Darryl in his typical abrupt fashion: “Our schedule is tight, are you and your men ready to proceed to the next step, Mr Kenneth?”
“Of course,” Darryl nods and taps on his wrist-control. With that the other Texans turn around leaving the work on the shields to a new group of volunteers who have just emerged from the sewers.
Together they follow me and my companions out of the alley.
David woke up and it was morning. The dim light coming through his basement window competed with that of the bulb dangling from his ceiling. Daylight was winning, but not by much.
David sat up, rubbing his eyes. The hallucination was still there on the chair, staring at him.
“My name is Hope,” she insisted.
“Do you read all my thoughts and know everything I’m thinking?” David asked in frustration.
“No, not everything,” Hope explained, “only what is at the top of your mind, the things you are concentrating on. All the other stuff is too faint; I can feel it, but not understand it.”
Then she asked unexpectedly: “Who is Mikey?” And when David hesitated, she said, “You know, the little boy on the cloud.”
“So you even invaded my dreams. “ There was an accusation in David’s voice.
“Maybe you invaded mine,” Hope replied, defending herself. “I was sleeping too.”
“Really?…. Well, if you must know, Mikey is my son. He is four.” Not wanting to discuss it any more, David got to his feet. “And now I have to go to the bathroom.”
Hope got up as well.
“You are not following me into the bathroom, are you?” Now David sounded slightly desperate—he really had to take a leak. “There is no way I can take a shower and other things, you know, while you are there staring at me.”
Hope was biting her lip again, obviously a habit of hers. “I’ve got to stay with you all the time or I’ll lose the connection.”
Then she had an idea: “I think I can concentrate on other things in my mind while you are in the bathroom.”
And with this, the image of the girl faded and was replaced by something like a blue sky with white clouds moving in one direction. It was a faint image though, only visible to David in the left corner of his vision field, more like the reflection of oneself when passing a store window which allows the display behind the window to be seen as well.
At the same time David heard the sound of a soft calming music and singing. And though they seemed repetitive he couldn’t quite make out the words.
Then the image changed and instead of the sky, he had a view down upon wooded areas interspersed with meadows and housing blocks arranged in a circle—as though seeing it from a bird’s perspective or from a low flying plane. Each block was surrounded by what looked like a number of large circus tents
And then abruptly the image changed again and for an instant David could see the inside of what looked like a church with a cross in front. The words of the song became a bit clearer, and he thought he could make out something about God. Then the image changed back again to the bird’s eye view of the landscape and a different circle of houses and tents.
David stopped watching and went to his closet to pick out some fresh clothes and towels. He showered then wiped the vapor from the small mirror over the sink.
He scrutinized his face and had to admit that it was no wonder the nurse and the kids had been scared of him last night. He looked forbidding.
While he had been employed, he had always taken care of his appearance. Not that he had always worn suits; many times, suits just weren’t appropriate for a reporter, but even when in jeans and a sweat-shirt, he had made sure to look clean and fresh. He had fostered a charming and youthful image which had opened many doors for him.
Now he looked older than his 31 years. He hadn’t had a hair-cut for three months and so his dark-blond hair covered his ears and trailed well down his neck. And while the shower had tamed it somewhat, David knew that his hair must have been standing up wildly last night. He also hadn’t shaved for a week, and dark shadows circled his gray-blue eyes.
And since most of his nourishment in the last few weeks had been of the liquid sort, he had lost a lot of weight and his cheekbones were standing out like the ceilings of two moldy caves.
Well, he thought, shaving might bring some improvement, though probably not much.
When David emerged from the shower, neatly shaven and cleanly clothed, he called: “Hey you– hey Hope–you can come out now!”
The image of Hope appeared instantaneously while the landscape disappeared.
David gave her a nod and then went to the kitchen opening the refrigerator. He felt hungry. As he had suspected, there was nothing edible inside except a can of Coke lurking in the back. With a mock smile he offered it to Hope.
When she shook her head, he pulled the jack opening and gulped down the can’s content himself. Then he leaned against the fridge and declared: “If you are indeed a real person somewhere, you must be hungry or thirsty.”
“While my mind is here, my body is fed intravenously,” Hope explained. “You know, the food gets dripped directly into my bloodstream.”
“I do know what the word intravenously means,” David pulled a half-smile. He felt slightly amused at being lectured on vocabulary by a young girl.
“You feel better now,” Hope stated rather than asked. “You will look better too once you’ve eaten and gotten some fresh air. You really don’t look as old as you think, just tired.”
“You were with me there in the bathroom–you said you’d put your mind elsewhere!” David accused her.
“I was there for just one moment, truly just one, when you were looking into the mirror.” Hope was apologetic and slightly guilt-stricken. “I had to know what your face looks like.”
“But you’ve been staring into my face since last night,” David said, shaking his head. “By now you must know every line of it.”
“I have looked into your mind, not into your face. I see what you see through your eyes. Until now I had to imagine what you look like. Before I saw you in that mirror, your face was kind of blurry for me,” Hope explained.
“I guess you’d better explain to me how this time travel thing works,” David demanded.
“Sure,” Hope complied.
“As I told you last night, it has to do with certain brain emissions called Delta-waves. My great-uncle and some of his scientist friends from other villages have discovered that these waves can somehow pierce through time and space from one brain to another. They have built a device–some kind of enhancing and targeting machine–and now they are able to control and direct this piercing process.
“With this machine a person can enable his whole consciousness to ride along those waves to the mind of somebody else, as long as the receiver’s Delta-waves are nearly identical to those of the sender, which is only the case in very close relatives, and even then, this is only occasionally successful.”
“So I guess where you come from, they do this brain-wave riding into the past all over the place? I mean all over the time?” David was somehow intrigued. “Did you visit your ancestors in the Roman Empire or the Stone Age already?”
“Oh no, of course not.” said Hope, dismissing the naive suggestion. “As I told you before, the process is extremely complicated and specific. First you need somebody who matches your own brain-waves.
“And then you also need to know the exact time and place to which to send the waves because sending them to the wrong space-time coordinates would be utterly useless, they would fade into space.
“ Until now, mind-time-traveling has only been done within a few hours or a couple of days at most, and then only between identical twins. You are the first receiver ever who lives in a time-period outside our own.”
“Hmm, let’s see now…” said David, scratching his head while trying to make sense of what he had just heard. “That would mean that you had somehow gotten my space-time-coordinates for that subway platform last night. And that you got them, let’s see… 7 generations, that must be over two hundred years in the future….
“How the heck did you do that? Are the security camera records of the subway system kept for eternity or something?”
“I don’t know about those records,” Hope replied.
“But great-uncle Professor told me that he had found your data on a small metal tube which he had gotten from his own grandmother when he was just a boy about my age.”
All of a sudden something appeared in midair that looked like an ordinary silver-colored USB key.
Hope went on to explain: “However, this tube was somehow damaged and the data corrupted, so that he could only decipher a few words and sentences. But your coordinates for last night were quite clear. And these were the only ones Great-uncle had for you–the only time and place when you could be reached. And this is what I tried to explain to you last night.”
“Alright,” David said looking skeptically at the USB key that was still floating in the air,
“you might have somehow known where I was at a particular time. But what about those Delta-waves you were talking about, those that only match close relatives. A great-grandfather five times removed isn’t exactly an all too close relative, so why should my waves match yours?”
“Well….” The USB key disappeared and Hope was biting her lip once more. “Well, I think it must have been a miracle.”
A miracle…. David exhaled, slightly annoyed with himself. He had nearly begun to believe she was real, that there was somehow a scientific explanation for all of this, and that he wasn’t just crazy. And now she had come up with this religious thing again. How could he possibly fool himself into believing something as crazy as the possibility of a visit from a time-traveler?
Hope was silently staring at David and he realized she knew what he was thinking. Of course she knew, after all she was…..
“You told me you have a son,” Hope interrupted David’s thoughts. “You have a son and yet you planned to kill yourself and leave him an orphan?”
“He would not have been an orphan,” David said, going on the defensive. “He still has his mother–Tina, my girlfriend, well, former girlfriend….”
“You were going to leave him. You are a bad father!”
“He left me…well, that is, Tina took Mikey with her and left for Los Angeles,” said David in self-defense.
“You are a bad father,” Hope repeated.
“I’m not allowed to be a father at all……. never again. Tina got a restraining order against me which took away all my visitation rights and stipulated that I was not to come within a hundred yards of them, I think it said,” said David, feeling miserable.
“You are a bad father,” Hope stated for the third time.
Now David got angry: “Weren’t you sent here in order to make me feel better so that I won’t kill myself? You are just making me more miserable!”
And after looking at Hope’s stony face he added: “Aren’t you just projecting something onto me because your father left you?”
David regretted his words the instant they slipped out of his mouth. He could feel a wave of pain emanating from Hope while she swallowed.
Then she said slowly and clearly: “My father did not leave me. He was killed…killed by you!”
“By me?!…” David was shocked! “You blame me for….”
“Not you personally, but your people, the Dark Ages… They killed my father.”
“The Dark Ages?” David was still puzzled.
“Your times….. He was just going on an assignment for a little while…He promised he wouldn’t be gone for long….”
Hope disappeared and another image coalesced in front of David’s eyes: the faint scene of a younger Hope standing in a door-way holding the hands of a tall black man who was bending down to look her directly in the eye.
David blinked and then realized that the image became clearer when his eyes were closed, so he re-closed them. The man was wearing a cap like Hope’s only with a different Chinese symbol.
He also was dressed in nearly the same clothes, however without most of the colorful patches, except the one over the left breast. Instead around the collar and along the sleeves there were narrow trimmings of what looked like a form of 19. century needle point embroidery.
“Come on, my little honey bee, let my hands go now,” said the man, and David knew instantaneously that he was Hope’s father, just as he knew that they were standing in the doorway of the apartment of Hope’s family .
“I’m going to be late if I don’t go now,” Hope’s father continued.
“Don’t look at me as if I’m going away forever–it’s only three months and then I’ll be back again! It’ll be like no time at all.”
“Maybe for you, Papa, it will seem like a short time, but for me, it will feel so much longer. Sensei has told us that for children, time seems to pass much slower than for grown-ups. This is because children have lived a shorter time and therefore their relation to a time period is different than for grown-ups who have lived longer.”
This younger Hope had already acquired her lecturing voice.
“When I come back, I guess I will have to have a talk with your teacher. He has made you far too clever already,” said Hope’s father with mock seriousness in his voice.
Little Hope hadn’t quite caught on yet.
“You don’t like me to be too clever?” she asked, sounding worried.
“Oh my honey bee, that was only a joke. Of course I like you to be clever. In fact, I’m so proud of you,” Hope’s father stated firmly and then added: “Besides, I just love clever women–that’s why I married your mother! And now let us dance one last round before I really have to go.” With this, he scooped Hope off her feet and whirled her around a few times.
And then the image changed abruptly. Hope was now inside her apartment, sitting at the kitchen table. Two younger children, a boy and girl, were sitting opposite her.
And once again David knew them right away, as if Hope’s recognition was his as well. They were Sissy and Lillebro. Hope and Sissy were laughing while Lillebro tried to balance a fork on his nose.
A woman who in both dress and facial features looked like an adult version of Hope was just putting some sort of soufflé dish on the table. Her long hair, just as dark but less curly than Hope’s and her siblings’, was bound back behind her neck.
Like her husband’s suit the one Hope’s mother was wearing had been trimmed with embroidery but the pattern seemed different, more elaborate and the stripe below the collar was much broader covering roughly a third of the jacket. Embedded in the pattern was one large symbol that looked the same as the patch Hope, her siblings and their father were wearing on the left side of their jackets.
But also Hope’s mothers jacket was a bit longer than theirs reaching all the way down to her knees, covering most of the bulgy trousers.
Hope didn’t wear her cap at the moment, but David noticed four purple caps each with a different Chinese letter combination stitched on it on the shelf above the bench the children were sitting on.
Hope’s mother smiled at her son’s antics and then told him with a stern voice:
“Now let’s stop playing, the food is on the table. Who would like to….”
But then a melodic bell sounded and she stopped in mid-sentence and went to the door. All three children also got up to get a peek at whoever was arriving at dinner time.
There was a man standing in the doorway– Hope recognized him, and therefore David knew his name as well: Mr. Jones from the information-office.
Behind him stood Grandma and Grandpa, and all of them looked grave. David could feel Hope’s rising fear. Mr. Jones was talking to her mother. She could see her mother sway. Grandpa quickly stepped forward and steadied her.
Something was wrong, very wrong. Hope knew it right away.
Grandma came inside the apartment, and walking over to the children who stood huddled together in the kitchen entrance, she said with tears in her eyes:
“My little angels, it’s…. it’s about your Papa.” Her voice was breaking.
“…..There was an accident….He died….” Grandma had knelt down and taken Sissy and Lillebro in her arms and was looking up at Hope.
“No, it’s not true.” Hope’s voice sounded shrill. “It can’t be true. Papa is not old, not like great-grandfather or like Aunt Muriel Miner. He is not. He can’t have died, he can’t…..”
Grandma stretched out one hand toward Hope without letting go of the other children. But Hope didn’t want to touch her. She didn’t even want to look at her. She backed off.
Hope looked toward her mother, but Mamma had her face covered with her hands. Grandpa was gently guiding her to the living-room couch, and then he sat down next to her, putting his arms around her.
More people were hovering in the doorway– neighbors. David noticed that all of them were dressed the same way as Hope and her family. All of them were silent. They were looking at Hope and her siblings, their eyes filled with compassion as well as helplessness.
And then somebody edged himself through the crowd. The bulky figure of Great-uncle Professor appeared.
He went straight over to Hope. She was pressing herself so hard against the wall that it looked as if she wanted to disappear inside it, and she was glaring at the people. She didn’t want any compassion from them—they were all liars, she thought, all liars.
Great-uncle Professor didn’t let Hope’s angry stare deter him—he just picked her up and held her in his arms, rocking her like a baby:
“My little one, oh my little one, I am so sorry, so sorry….I knew there was something with your father, but I didn’t know what or when…..I just didn’t know enough…..if only I had deciphered more….if I only….I could have……I’m so sorry, oh so sorry….my little one….”
The younger Hope didn’t know what her great-uncle was talking about, but she could feel a tear dropping onto her forehead, and this tear somehow made Grandma’s words finally real. Hope’s anger dissolved and was replaced by sadness, a sadness so deep she thought it would never end.
She started crying…..
The image dissipated and the older Hope was back. For a moment she appeared as desperately sad as the younger one had been. Then she pulled herself out of her memories, and looking at David, she asked: “Did you see that?”
When David nodded she seemed unhappy.
“I didn’t know I could do that– show you my memories like that. I didn’t want you to……” Her voice became a whisper, then faded out completely.
“I’m sorry….” David felt guilt-stricken.
“I’m truly sorry for what I said before, about your father and you…..”
Hope had pulled herself together, her voice now cold and matter of fact, putting a lie to the waves of pain David could still feel coming from her:
“My father was killed while he was on an ice-breaking assignment in Antarctica, together with a group of nine young volunteers he was supervising at the time. The area had been scanned before.
“But when the nuclear device launched from our leading ice-breaker-ship hit the ice it was supposed to break and melt, it triggered another nuclear device, which had been planted there by some Dark Ages military as a mine. That one had been buried too deep inside the ice; the scanners had been unable to pick it up. It triggered a chain-reaction that magnified the intended power a thousand-fold.
“The explosion was so immense that it destroyed a two-hundred-fifty square-kilometer area around it, including a far-away ice-breaker station from which my father and his volunteer group were operating their laser-ice-breaking equipment. “
David pressed his lips together; there was nothing he could say. He had always been convinced that future generations might have to suffer for the mistakes of today but he hadn’t thought about it in such concrete terms.
Then he remembered something:
“Last night in my dream I heard your voice saying, ‘Not to the Dark Ages!’ You said you were dreaming, too. You didn’t want to come here, did you?”
“No, I didn’t,” Hope admitted.
“Did your great-uncle force you to come?”
“Of course not,” said Hope indignantly. “It was my choice, but…”
Once again an image appeared in front of David. He closed his eyes so he could see it better.
Hope was standing in front of some strange machine.
She was facing her great-uncle saying urgently: “Yes, of course I want to use your device to go back in time. But I don’t want to go to the Dark Ages, to those terrible people. I don’t want to go back two hundred years–only four years, only four, please!”
Her great-uncle sounded sad: “I know you want to do that. And I would give lot if that were possible. But it is not. You are no match for him.”
And when Hope opened her mouth to protest, he stated: “Nor can you go back to someone else who could warn your father.
“My friends and I have tried to send people back for longer than a few days but that has never worked. It is as if the further away the past is, the less we can focus the waves with our device–as if our past blocks itself from us, preventing us from changing it.
There was a time, when I neither understood nor accepted this either. I naively believed that if only I had deciphered more of the information contained in here,”
Hope’s great-uncle opened his fist to reveal the silver-colored USB key David had seen earlier.
“I could have prevented your father’s accident. However changing events of the past just isn’t how time-travel information can be used. When I finally realized the actual principle of time, this was when time-travel became possible in reality. But there is this one single exception to the few days rule of which I have positive proof. Someone did go back further – 212 years back, to be exact. ”
“It is so unfair, Great-uncle. Why can I go back to this ancient ancestor of ours but not to my own father? He was such a good man, a really good man. And he would be the one, who would know what to do now with these terrible troubles, when even you can’t say or do anything that would help.”
Hope’s voice sounded accusing: “But I know he would, I just know…. Why did God let him die? Why won’t he give me a chance to save him now?”
“I don’t know, my little one. The will of God is often a mystery to us. As for now, all I can tell you is, that I know for a fact that you cannot save your father. But you will be able to save another human life, and bring this person out of a dark place.”
“He lives in the Dark Ages.” Hope was now pouting: “I can’t bring him out of there.”
As if having accepted Hope’s rejection to his appeal great-uncle Professor shrugged. He had now turned his back to Hope, while adjusting some dial on his machine. He hesitated for a moment, then spoke in a soft, clear, and calm voice:
“Yes, this man does live in a dark age, but what surrounds his mind is even darker. The girl who went back in time to meet him was called Hope.
“ And I believe that this Hope was you and that you are the only one who has the ability to lead this ancestor of ours out of his own darkness. Though he lives in a time and a culture we do not understand, his life – like the lives of all people- is still of value. And it is in your hands now."
The Professor turned around to face Hope again: “You do remember the First Principle, don’t you?”
And then the image faded and future Hope disappeared and was replaced by present Hope, who shrugged her shoulders and said: “And so I had to come; I couldn’t make any other choice.”
“Because of that first principle?” David wasn’t sure he understood.
A clever manipulator this great-uncle of Hope’s, David thought, an unsavory character for sure. The man had been dead bent on using a child in his care for his dubious experiments and when she had refused he had played on her deep sense of responsibility.
David saw that Hope was frowning. She clearly didn’t like his train of thoughts, but before she could say anything, he interrupted her: “What is that first principle your great-uncle was talking about?”
This was the right kind of question to distract Hope from whatever she was going to say.
“It is what our community, our village, our district, our nation, and our whole world is built upon,” She stated proudly, but then her face darkened again and she corrected herself: “I mean most of our world…all places except Orange Country.”
“What is Orange Country?” David asked.
“Hell,” was the short answer.
After Mr Wang and I have entered the car-dealership we realize right away that we are the first customers.
[_ Four of the Texans -Brent, Patrick, Kelly and Antonio- have already taken off to their first assigned location in a public transportation vehicle. To pay the fees they had to test their fake chips. Brent has subsequently messaged Darryl, that the chips have worked fine. _]
The others have chosen to wait outside the house, spreading themselves out along the street not to arise any suspicion as an unusually large crowd most certainly would. I’ve informed them that security enforcers are the only people here in Nephilim City who ever gather in groups of more than three or four people.
Tom, Jim, Jesse, Vance and Cass are waiting to take the next vehicle in the opposite direction. Darryl will accompany me and the Spesaeterna team later on in the private vehicle, I’m here to acquire. The small car I’ve owned before I left Orange Country, is at the moment parked outside the City, in one of the sea-villages. At the time I thought this arrangement would prevent any suspicion, in case my father had wanted to track me down early.
A loud and domineering voice can now be heard through an office door located behind a row of cheap used cars, painted and polished to look newer than they are.
“You are the worst salesman ever employed at this firm, a total failure doesn’t even begin to describe your performance here so far.”
The first voice is answered by a lower, timid one: “I’m sorry, sir, I will try harder from now on….”
“Try? That’s by far not good enough. Look at your numbers from only the last week: No sale, no sale, no sale, then a single sale of the cheapest model we have in the shop and then… no sale again. And the week before wasn’t any better. You are fired!”
“Sir, please you can’t do that, what about my contract?”
“Your contract? Are you kidding me? Have you even read it? It states quite clear and in bold letters that it will become null and void, if you should ever under-perform for more than a week.”
“But, sir, please sir. If I can’t fulfill a year’s contract with this firm, I will not be able to find another job. And then I won’t have the funds to buy insurance any more. You know, what will happen to me then, sir, please…”
“This cannot be my concern. If I allow you to receive a salary from this firm any longer, my superiors won’t stand for it, my own job will then be on the line and my contract and my insurance fees.”
After a short silence the voice concedes:
“Alright, I’ll give you one more day, one day, I tell you. And it has to be a major sales day or don’t bother to show up tomorrow morning!”
At this moment another sales assistant appears from behind a row of cars: “Gentlemen,” he calls out to us, “you have come to the right place! We have the finest exhibition of cars in all of Nephilim City.”
I’m shaking my head and Mr Wang waves the salesman away, who turns around rather disappointed.
We wait for a few seconds looking at the open door until a small man with a sparse tuft of hair on his head leaves the office steep-shouldered, not even noticing us.
“We want to buy a car,” I state raising my voice slightly to get the man’s attention.
The small man looks up: “Yes, sir, of course sir. In what specific price range have you been thinking?” he asks.
He is most certainly not a good salesman.
“I believe, I need to introduce myself,” I tell him and grab the little man’s right hand to shake it. As soon as our palms touch, a small bell sound chimes from both of our wrist-controls. The little man looks at the writing on his own display and his mouth falls open.
“Mr Galt, sir,” he whispers and then adds with more strength: “Of course you would want the best.”
“Only the best,” I nod. And then Mr Wang and I follow the little man to the section with the largest and shiniest cars, until we stand in front of a red chrome-blinking vehicle, twice the size of any other in the shop.
Hope pressed her lips together and David felt that she didn’t want to talk any more. He thoughtfully looked at the empty Coke can in his hand, then threw it into the recycle bin.
“Let’s go out. I need some food, I’m still hungry. And I also need some daylight and fresh air, and maybe you do, too.”
David pulled his brown faux-fur-lined suede jacket off the coat rack in the corner and slipped it on; after all, it had been rather cool outside all month now, although it was already the end of April. Then he opened his door to step outside only to stumble over a soft obstacle and hearing a muffled groan.
Surprised, he looked down to find a man lying with his head under the stairs and his feet blocking the door. The man slowly pulled in his legs and got to his feet, still groaning slightly.
“What the heck were you doing there?” David asked in a less than friendly manner.
“Sleeping,” said the man, stating the obvious while moving his head and shoulders in an attempt to shake off the stiffness in his limbs.
He had been using the shelter of the stairs as a make-shift accommodation. A black plastic bag had served as a mattress and a white paper-bag that seemed to contain a book had been the pillow; he had used a real blanket, although it seemed rather thin and too short for his tall figure.
“I can see that,” David said. “But why here?”
The man shrugged his shoulders: “It’s as good a place as any. The shelter at St. Mary’s was full last night, and the conductor was about to throw me off the train.”
Now David recognized the man. He hadn’t given him a second glance at the time, but this was definitely him: Black, unshaven, a stained jacket, crumpled and dirty trousers ripped above one knee… the homeless guy from the train last night.
The realization was a bit disconcerting for David. The man must have trailed him from the train, while David hadn’t even noticed that anybody else had gotten out at his stop.
David pulled a humorless smile…so Hope hadn’t been the only one who had followed him home.
But why him?
Remembering his own image in the mirror earlier and the fact that the money for next month’s rent was far from secured, David thought dryly – maybe the homeless guy recognized him as a kindred spirit.
“Perhaps he needs a shower so he will feel better, like you,” Hope interrupted David’s reflection.
She had startled him and so David answered aloud: “You mean I should invite him in?”
“Yes,” Hope stated simply then added: “And he needs a shave too.”
“People don’t do that here,” David murmured now. “We don’t ask strangers into our homes.”
The man had been watching David; he stated without any surprise in his voice: “Somebody is talking to you.”
“Only my conscience,” said David, feeling annoyed and embarrassed at the same time.
“Yeah, mine does that too, all the time…talking, I mean,” the man countered. “What color does it have?”
“Color? My conscience?” Looking at Hope, David felt a tiny twinge of humor lightening his mind so he said: “Purple, I guess.”
“Purple is a nice color,” the man complimented. “Mine is green. He is about that tall,” he said, indicating about 15 inches with his hands. “He never told me his name, but I call him Mr. Green because…”
“He is green,” David completed the sentence.
“Yea, that’s right!” the homeless man agreed. “Does yours have a name, too?”
“Oh yes, her name is Hope, Hope Morgan. She is a little girl, just a little bit taller than your Mr. Green, but not much.” Looking at Hope’s indignant face, David was now thoroughly enjoying himself.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Morgan.” The man gave a slight bow in Hope’s direction, which he got surprisingly quite right, as if he had actually seen her at David’s left elbow.
“My name is Jeremy Johnson. I come from Castleberry, Alabama, where we grow the country’s best strawberries.”
Hope’s face started to lighten up with a smile. She also bowed slightly and returned the greeting:
“Good morning, Mr. Johnson…and Mr. Green” she added. “My name is Hope Morgan. I am from the Nightingale community in the Spesaeterna village, in the 46. district of the nation of New York-New Jersey. And I like strawberries a lot.”
David turned to Mr. Johnson and translated: “My Hope says she comes from around here and she does like strawberries.”
“I thought so,” Jeremy Johnson stated. “All children like strawberries. That’s why Castleberry is a great place to grow up in,” he added longingly.
David had finally made up his mind. Jeremy Johnson might be a nutcase, but in all likelihood, he was a harmless one.
Looking at Hope, David extended her invitation: “My Hope asks if you would like to come inside and use my bathroom for a shower and maybe a shave?”
Mr. Johnson turned his head slightly as if listening to something, then he smiled broadly: “Mr. Green said I shouldn’t mind at all and I should accept your invitation, Miss Morgan,” and so he picked up his few belongings and walked through the open door.
As David went to his closet to get a towel, Hope spoke once again:
“I think Mr. Johnson needs some new clothes too–his trousers are ripped and his jacket isn’t warm like yours. I think he has no others and you have so many in here.”
Wordlessly David picked out a pair of jeans, a checkered shirt, shorts, socks, and a t-shirt. Feeling Hope’s eyes on him, he chose only relatively new things–nothing old or worn out. He even took his second-best rather expensive winter jacket from its hanger.
He turned around and handed the bundle to Mr. Johnson along with the towel: “Miss Morgan also thinks that you might like some other clothes to change into, and she thinks that I have far too many clothes.”
After a short pause with his head bent, Jeremy Johnson answered: “Mr. Green says I shouldn’t mind new clothes either, and I should thank Miss Morgan and you, Mr.?”
“Call me David. I….eh, we were just on our way out to buy some food. Would you…and Mr. Green like to join us for breakfast?”
“We wouldn’t mind, although Mr. Green is never very hungry.”
David grinned: “Well, Miss Morgan isn’t either, but that shouldn’t hinder the two of us from eating something, should it? I’ll be back in a little while.”
With this, David headed out the door while Jeremy Johnson shuffled towards the bathroom.
David hadn’t walked 20 yards before he regretted his decision to leave the homeless man alone in his apartment.
“I bet when I get back, the TV and my computer will be missing, together with Mr. Johnson,” he murmured in Hope’s direction.
“Isn’t the TV the rectangular box that is screwed to your wall?” Hope asked.
“Alright, one point for you,” David conceded, “but my computer is a laptop and can be easily carried in his plastic bag. It’s just sitting there on the coffee table, waiting to be taken away.”
“I don’t think Mr. Johnson is a person who takes other people’s belongings,” was Hope’s opinion.
“And you’ve known him for how many minutes?” David asked dryly.
“Just as many minutes as you, and yet you already suspect him of being a really bad rule-breaker. That’s typical Dark Age paranoia.”
“Typical what?” David asked
“Dark Age paranoia – Sensei taught us about it. During the Dark Ages, everybody believed the worst about everybody else, because they themselves would do all the worst things they could get away with.
And therefore they would lock up all their belongings and all their houses and apartments all the time, always afraid that someone would take something from them.”
David didn’t reply, but felt himself getting quite angry.
Hope went on: “There was, for instance, this one man Sensei told us about. He was a writer who wrote many stories about a fictional man who would kill people, for these killings the fictional man was paid many coins. And many, many, many Dark Age people would read those stories and even liked them a lot.
“But in his real life, this writer would sit in a coffee-house and imagine what bad things other people might do to him.
“He would write to all the people who liked to read his stories, telling them how to prevent having their computers taken away in coffee-houses or when they went to another country how to prevent being themselves taken away as prisoners.
“The writer told his readers that they should always think like an enemy.
“And that they should assume all the people around them might be enemies.
“And that they should take what were known in the Dark Ages as “preventive measures” so the bad thieves or the dangerous people-robbers would have difficulty stealing their belongings or taking them prisoner, and so would instead go on to steal other people’s belongings and take other people prisoner.
“And you know, this writer would even tell his readers that if you and your friend were running away from a bear, you wouldn’t have to run faster than the bear–only faster than your friend.”
Now Hope had an expression of utter disgust on her face. David guessed that in Hope’s time, nobody would ever consider outrunning his friend or even make a joke like this.
David’s annoyance was growing. They must be a rather humorless bunch there in the future, he thought. And he was getting really fed up with that “Dark-Age” name-calling and Hope constantly pointing out the superiority of her own time over his.
He felt like someone whose country was being repeatedly attacked and belittled by a foreigner. And although he could be quite critical of his own country’s faults and he was far from being a proud nationalist under normal circumstances, listening to such deriding remarks would drive him over to the side of those nationalists in no time.
But in these special circumstances, listening to those constant put-downs of his own time what could he call himself now? A time-ionalist maybe?
Hope had been quiet during David’s musings, and when he looked at her, he saw a quite different expression on her face.
“I have been arrogant,” she said, sounding guilt-stricken, “and with a superiority attitude. This is a bad thing I’ve been doing, a really bad thing. I am sorry.”
Her words took David rather by surprise. Hope’s remorse sounded genuine, and David’s own attitude towards her softened somewhat.
“It wasn’t really that bad,” he murmured, and thinking about the scene he had seen in her memories, he added: “I guess you had your reasons.”
They walked quietly the rest of the way. David felt Hope’s sadness mixing with his own dark thoughts.
When they arrived at the store, David found he had lost his appetite and couldn’t think of any kind of food he would like to buy right now.
“What do you think Mr. Johnson would like for breakfast?” he asked Hope listlessly in a low voice, trying not to be too conspicuous in front of the other customers.
“After all, it was you who invited him in.”
“I invited him to take a shower; it was you who invited him for breakfast,” said Hope, insisting on the full truth.
“He might like strawberries, I guess, and maybe cream or perhaps strawberry cheese-cake–that’s my favorite!”
She pointed to one of the patches on her clothes. It really did look somewhat like a strawberry cake and the patch next to it looked like a dish of …
“Fish-fingers! Those are fish-fingers!” David exclaimed, pointing at the patch.
“Yes, they are my second favorite food. And my third favorite is falafel.”
This sounded like a typical New Yorker’s menu: melting-pot food from every corner of the planet.
“Fish-fingers were my favorite, too, when I was about your age,” David said softly.
The thought of fish-fingers had reminded him of Iceland and his Amma and her “fisk í raspi,” and the times when his Mom and his Pabbi had still been together, back when he was little and things were still good.
“You still eat these foods in your time?” David was amazed.
“Sure we do. Cooking has a long tradition. Some dishes are hundreds of years old; they were cooked even before the Dark-… I mean, before your times.”
“Are the other patches favorite foods as well?” David asked, steering his shopping-cart to the fruit section to pick up a carton of strawberries.
“Of course not, these here are my three favorite animals – a camel, a cow, and a nightingale, and these here are my three favorite flowers,” said Hope as she pointed to two other groups of patches. And yes, the animal and flower pictures were easily recognizable.
“And here are my three best friends,” she said, pointing at patches showing Chinese letters.
“And your most favorite number is three,” David guessed as he placed a can of whipped cream, a package of bacon, and a carton of eggs in the cart. Hope grinned.
“Are your best friends all Chinese?” David asked
“No. Why? Oh I see…. you mean because of the letters. These are their names written in Interlingua: Jenny, Marcella, and Ameenah.”
“What language is Interlingua?” David asked, intrigued.
“It is the global communication language, the language all the children in the world learn in school so we can talk to people from every country when we’re on the Peace-Web or when they come as tourists or when we go together on assignments.”
“And is this Interlingua written in Chinese letters?”
“Oh no, that would be too complicated. Only names are written in Chinese letters; everything else is spelled in Latin letters, and the words come from all the languages in the world. But most words come from Spanish, English, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Swahili, Hindi, and French.” Hope was counting on her fingers again, trying to correctly convey her memorized knowledge.
“Now that doesn’t make sense,” David interjected while picking up a loaf of bread. “How can you write English names in Chinese letters? They are not phonetic like our letters.”
“True,” Hope smiled, “but all names have a meaning or at least they once did. And for every meaningful word, we have a letter or a couple of letters. Like my name–it still has the same meaning.”
She pointed at the brim of her cap: “This is ‘hope’ in Chinese. And I know what the meaning of your name is.” Hope smiled affectionately.
“You see, Lillebro’s real name is David. It means “beloved,” and there are letters for that.”
A couple of white Chinese letters appeared in the air floating in front of Hope’s face.
David was now queuing in front of the cash register.
Beloved, he thought–not exactly a name that fit him well.
When he finished paying, David pointed to a picture that was not like the other patches but seemed to be embroidered directly onto the fabric of Hope’s clothes, covering a good part of her left side.
He had seen the same one in Hope’s memory on the jackets of her family members and, if his memory didn’t fail him, on the jackets of some of the neighbors as well. It looked like the letter X combined with the letter P above a simple drawing of a fish with a small cross on its belly.
“What does this symbol mean?” David asked.
“It’s my religion, of course. I am a Christian. The letters are the Greek Chi and Rho, the beginning of Christos, and the fish means that the first Christians were fishermen. My friend Ameenah is Muslim; she has this symbol on her clothing.”
A triangular combination of white swerving lines and dots appeared in midair. David recognized them as Arabic calligraphy which he had once seen when he had gone to a mosque to conduct an interview.
Hope explained: “This means ‘In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Gracious.’
“And our neighbors Chan-Luan and Enlai are Buddhist and they have a Dharmachakra.”
The calligraphy was replaced by an eight-spoked wheel.
David preempted Hope’s explanation: “The eternal cycle of life.”
“You know this symbol?” she asked.
David nodded: “Somebody explained it to me.”
Hope went on with her own explanations: “All religions have their own symbols for their believers to wear. I live in a mixed community–Christians, Muslims and Buddhists live there.”
“Does everybody wear these religious symbols on their jackets?” David asked with growing interest.
“In our village we all wear them and in some other villages they do it also. But in most villages they don’t,” Hope answered.
David’s next question was: “What about people who have no religion–do they also have symbols?”
“People with no religion?” Hope looked confused. “You mean people from smaller religions. They also have symbols and in some villages they wear them on their clothes, which often look quite different from ours.
“But mostly they live in their own communities and sometimes even their own villages because they are afraid that among all the people of the three big religions, their own customs and faith could get lost.”
“No, I didn’t meant that,” David insisted. “I meant people without any religion, people who think that there never was any supernatural being or force responsible for human existence or for the existence of anything else, for that matter. Do they also wear symbols on their clothes?”
The look on Hope’s face changed: “Oh I see, you mean people who have a religion without any God, my great-uncle told me about those, they are called philosophies and many people in your time believed in them.
“There are no people like this in our community or our village. There might be such people in other villages I guess, but I have never met any of them. They would probably live in villages where people dress differently from us anyway and where nobody wears any kind of symbols.”
“A philosophy is not a religion,” was all David could say to that explanation, “a philosophy is a construct of reason.”
Hope shook her head in rejection: ”But to be without religion is not reasonable at all.”
“Not reasonable? What are you talking about? It is religion that is not reasonable. Reason is actually the opposite of religion!” David blurted out as they left the grocery store.
Hope looked at him as if he were crazy. She didn’t reply, but he could feel her thoughts: “Dark Age insanity….”
And David thought that it was a truly strange and unexpected future Hope was coming from, one he surely didn’t want to live in, one that might not even have a place for him to live in. It was a future that had gone back to the past, reverting from the Age of Reason to an Age of Superstition.
He felt once again a deep gulf opening between himself and the girl who said she was his great-granddaughter-five-times-removed, the same gulf he had felt whenever he had to interview religious people for his paper.
There was no reasoning with people like that.
At the moment, David didn’t feel up to a discussion of the irrationality of religion on an empty stomach, so he walked in silence while attempting to block Hope from his thoughts, if that was even possible.
When he turned onto his street, David started to wonder if he wouldn’t actually prefer Jeremy Johnson to have disappeared from his apartment along with his laptop–just to prove Hope wrong on her claim that he was paranoid.
David had always seen himself as down–to-earth, a realist, relying on rational thinking. He had held on to this self-image in all previous life-crisis, and even his suicide attempt was a result of rational reasoning: He had lost all reason to live; he had no prospects of getting back what he had lost; his life was of no value to him or anyone else.
So why live?
To assume that a homeless man without any money would steal a computer or a flat-screen TV or anything else he could find in David’s place to sell to get some money was not paranoia–it was rational reasoning.
But when David opened his front-door, he realized that Mr. Johnson hadn’t done him the favor.
He was still there, freshly showered and shaved, dressed in the clothes David had given him, with the TV still screwed to the wall, and the laptop lying untouched on the coffee table.
Mr. Johnson was sitting in the easy chair reading a book, his book actually, the one he had taken out of the white paper bag.
But before starting to read, Mr. Johnson had been setting the table in the kitchen; through the open door, David could see the water pitcher, four glasses, four knives and forks, and four plates–two big and two small.
Jeremy Johnson followed David’s glance and said apologetically: “I thought, just in case Mr. Green and Miss Morgan were hungry as well….”
David nodded and then opened his shopping bag: “I bought some strawberries. You can wash them while I fry some bacon and eggs for us.”
When they eventually sat down to eat, David realized that the clothes he had given the homeless man were actually a good fit; he and Jeremy were about the same size.
And looking at his clean-shaven face, David now estimated the two of them were about the same age as well.
Jeremy ate with a good appetite, and surprisingly (to David’s prejudiced mind), with excellent table manners.
Then David noticed the book his “guest” had set down on the table—Nicholas Nickleby—another surprise.
“You read Dickens?!” David asked
“I wasn’t used to read much before cuz I was more into movies and watching TV. But nowadays I can’t watch TV too much, and I got no money for the movies, so Sister Veronica from St. Mary’s shelter loans me a book once in a while.
“Of course she’s got the Bible and those other church books, and she reads them to the people who come to the shelter. But besides those books, most of the ones she’s got are from this guy Dickens.
“And I kind of like them. Of course you’ve got to get used to those old-fashioned words. I think the man lived more than a hundred years ago and he was an Englishman on top of it, but after a while you barely notice.
“The people the man writes about in this book, you could just as well meet them here on the streets of New York or in the subway–all of them, the nice ones and the mean ones too.”
“So you think not much has changed since the times of Charles Dickens?” David asked, intrigued.
Jeremy Johnson shrugged his shoulders: “Nothing important–maybe some technical stuff, but nothing people-wise.”
“You think that “people-wise,” 21st-century New York is like Dickens’ 19th-century London?”
David found Jeremy’s views rather interesting. “But what about Castleberry? Would you say the same about Castleberry, Alabama?”
“No, I wouldn’t. Castleberry is different, a lot different.”
“You mean different “people-wise”?”
“But why should it be different? Is it because it is smaller than New York or ….” David watched as Jeremy, who had finished eating his bacon and eggs along with several pieces of bread, now piled strawberries on his plate and sprayed them with whipped cream.
“Or is it because the people down there eat more strawberries? You said they were the best, so I suppose Castleberry’s strawberries are better than the ones you can buy here?”
“Maybe,” Jeremy Johnson said, “but I think it’s because Castleberry is home.”
Then he added: “You don’t happen to have a small drop of whiskey lying around the house to help wash down the food?”
David shook his head: “I’ve given it up. You want some more water instead?”
Mr. Johnson declined and sighed: “Mr. Green tells me I should give it up, too. But I can’t right now–I need the drinks for the pain.”
“Are you sick?” David asked wondering if Jeremy was suffering from AIDS.
“I don’t know if I’m sick or not, but there is so much pain, here and here,” said Jeremy, pointing to his head and breast, “and sometimes all over my body.”
Hope, who so far had quietly listened and watched, now interrupted the conversation: “Ask Mr. Johnson why he doesn’t go back home to his own community and his family. Perhaps they could heal his pains and he would get well again.”
David relayed her suggestion to Jeremy Johnson: “My Hope thinks you should go home to Castleberry and to your folks. Maybe there’s something that could be done to alleviate the pains or maybe just being home would make you feel better.”
“One day I will go home, but not yet, not now. I just can’t….” Jeremy looked in Hope’s general direction with a sad expression on his face.
“I just can’t look in the eyes of those little kids back home, not in their eyes….
“There are kids here in New York too, but they are so far away you can barely see them. But back home, the kids are close. They look straight at you; they look you right in the face. I can’t deal with that.”
“Why not?” Hope and David asked in unison.
“Because in every kid’s eyes I see the same eyes, and in every face I see the same face. I see that little kid everywhere. You’ve got to understand–I killed her mother and her father and her brother and her sister and her grandmother.”
David stopped breathing and nearly fell off his chair, but then grabbed the table to steady himself. Shaken and horrified by this new revelation and not knowing what to do, he looked at the man who had just confessed to being a mass-murderer. David’s expression was mirrored by Hope’s; she was white in the face and shivering.
Jeremy Johnson didn’t notice any change in David; he was in his own world, borne along on painful memories: “There was three of us at the checkpoint and we didn’t know, we just didn’t know and so we were shooting and shooting….”
David latched on to the one word that did make sense: “Checkpoint…you mean you were in the war? You were in Iraq or in Afghanistan?” David exhaled with relief. It was alright then—this was just a war-incident he was talking about.
But Johnson hadn’t heard the question; he was now oblivious to the world around him: “I lifted my arm; the car slowed down at first but then it sped up again to drive through. They never told us over there in Iraq that to lift an arm means to go, not to stop. Why didn’t they tell us? Why? Why? We didn’t know, we really didn’t know….”
Johnson was now rambling. David looked at him with pity but Hope’s expression hadn’t changed. She still looked horrified and continued to tremble.
Jeremy went on: “The car did speed up and we thought… I thought…well, we had heard about all those suicide car-bombers in other places, and I was so scared and the others were scared too, and so we just started shooting and shooting and shooting…..until the car finally stopped. But then we discovered there were no bombers, they were just people…just normal people.
“In the front seat we found a man and a woman–they were the mother and father. And in the back seat were two young kids and an old lady…. All of them dead.
“And then we heard her. It was a muffled sound but we realized there was another kid in the backseat. I pulled her out from underneath the bodies. She was so small–no older than three or four–and she was covered with blood.
“But it wasn’t her blood–she didn’t have a scratch. Her grandmother had shielded her, protected her, covered her with her own body. She was so tiny, that little girl, and she cried and cried. She looked at me with these big tear-filled eyes and so I took her in my arms and rocked her so she would stop crying.”
Jeremy held his arms as if he were cradling an invisible child. He was looking at the wall with a far-away expression. Clearly his mind was somewhere thousands of miles from David’s kitchen.
He went on: “And then she held on to me. She held on to me so tight cuz there was nobody else to hold on to. Here I had killed her father and her mother and her little brother and her older sister and her grandmother… but she held on to me.
“Even when we came to the hospital, she didn’t want to let go. She held on so tight, it was nearly impossible for me to loosen her grip. And when the nurse took her, she screamed again. She screamed until she couldn’t even breathe, and then she cried silently….”
I see her every night in my dreams and I hear her crying.
I see the car coming at me, I start yelling to the other guys:
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” but no sound comes out of my mouth.
“I try to throw my gun away but it is stuck to my hands. I don’t wanna shoot, but the gun, it shoots all by itself…
“and then I see all the blood, blood all around me….
“and then I see her eyes looking at me and I feel her tears on my neck and her little arms holding on so tight….
“And when I wake up, there’s so much pain, nothing but pain inside me and all around.
“When I came back from Iraq, the pain kept growing. And when I thought I couldn’t bear it any longer, Mr. Green appeared and he stayed with me, talked to me, told me I was still human….“
When Jeremy Johnson stopped talking, David felt as if the ensuing silence laid itself like a blanket over his kitchen, heavy and suffocating.
Then he realized that Hope was now crying. Jeremy exhaled and then took a deep and labored breath. He seemed to have come back to the present.
He looked at David as if trying to make him understand: “And I am, ain’t I?”
“Of course you are,” David answered, then paused and asked compassionately: “And so you drink to forget?”
“Oh no, never to forget!” Jeremy shook his head violently. “Never to forget! Mr. Green says I need to remember, for I am still human. He keeps telling me that.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” David said, trying to reassure him. But the phrase sounded weak and cliché, something everybody would say when confronted with someone suffering from guilt, but which never convinces the one to whom the platitude is offered.
But Jeremy wasn’t looking at David; he might not have heard him at all.
Instead, he was looking in Hope’s direction as he asked:
“Mr. Green is telling the truth, isn’t he?”
Hope answered in a low voice, tears still coursing down her cheeks, her right hand reaching over the table to Jeremy Johnson, nearly touching his:
“Of course you are still human; you always will be, no matter what! That is the First Principle.”
Jeremy nodded as if had heard her, and then to David’s surprise, he said:
“Don’t cry for me, little Hope, don’t cry.”
He then covered Hope’s hand with his own.
“You can see her!” David was awed. “You can really see her!”
Johnson nodded: “I see her now; she’s crying.”
“But how….” David’s voice trailed off.
Then he asked: “Doesn’t she bother you, like all the other children you can’t bear to see up-close?”
“She isn’t like the others. She’s tomorrow’s Hope.”
One more surprise for David–Jeremy knew where Hope was from.
Once again Jeremy directed himself to Hope: “Don’t cry for me, little Hope, I’m alright, because in my mind I can see the face of the little girl who survived and remember those others who have died and so I can understand. But you understand that I can’t go home…. not yet?”
Hope nodded: “Yes, but one day you will.”
“One day….” There was so much longing in Jeremy Johnson’s voice, “One day….
“But I’m still worried for those other guys. I heard that nowadays they use unmanned drones for shooting missiles.
“The soldiers direct the drones from their base with joysticks like some kind of computer game. Those who shoot never see the faces of those they hit. So how can they understand? They have no Mr. Green to tell them that they are still human….”
Hope wiped the tears from her face, looked straight at Jeremy and said earnestly: “One day they will understand! I promise, one day they will.”
Jeremy nodded with relief and then turning back to David, he said:
“I should go now. Sister Veronica needs her book back. And I… I need….”
He walked into the living-room, slipped his book into its white paper bag, and then picked up his black plastic bag which now contained his old clothes in addition to his thin blanket.
David followed him to the door and opened it for him: “Maybe I see you again, Jeremy?”
Jeremy Johnson shrugged his shoulders and said:
“Good bye, David, and goodbye, little Hope.”
They answered in unison: “Good-bye, Jeremy / Mr Johnson.”
They then watched Jeremy Johnson slowly shuffle down the street and around the corner– stoop-shouldered, carrying his black bag, once again lost in his own personal purgatory.
All alone, comforted only by the invisible Mr. Green…
At the moment I’m driving my new car through the early morning traffic. Though inwardly I’m beating myself up for my grandstanding at the car dealership. Ms Alba is sitting next to me while Darryl and the two older men have taken the back seats.
Sure, I do have unlimited funds. My father has seen to that, and he won’t mind me spending all I can. After all a good car is a status symbol. But still, this car is far too fancy. It draws attention to us, one we can’t afford. Some of the people we pass are turning their heads, including a group of security enforcers.
That’s not good, not good at all.
“Watch out!” Ms Alba yells, but I’ve already seen it, and by pure instinct I’ve stepped on the breaks, pushing them practically down to the floor. The car has come to a screeching halt only inches in front of a woman, who just barely managed to yank her young child to safety. She is now holding the boy enclosed in her arms breathing heavily, while the shopping bag she has been carrying before is crashed below the front-wheels of my new car.
I’m in shock, but so is the woman:
“Are you crazy,” she yells banging one hand on the hood of the car. “Don’t you have eyes in your head? You nearly killed us!”
The child has now started to cry. Squirming in his mothers arms he bangs his feet on the hood of the car. I’m guessing the boy to be about five years old. I’m getting out of the car to calm down the woman who is still yelling:
“We are insured,” she screams, “insured you hear me, insured! Over there are the security enforcers. I will talk to them.”
I look behind, yes the enforcers I’ve passed only moments ago are making their way towards us. This is not good. I see that Mr Wang is about to open the door on his side. I give him a sign to stay inside and keep quiet. His way of riling everyone up he meets would most certainly not help. And what we now can afford the least would be a confrontation with the enforcers.
No, with me being there they certainly won’t detain any of us, but they have scanners and the false or the missing chips might raise an alarm.
And then there is Ms Alba, of course, the much too old woman in male clothes. Who knows, how fast information about such anomalies will reach my father, and what he will make out of them. He has always been a suspicious man.
I’ve realized now that the woman won’t be calmed by mere apologies. I look down on the hood of the car. It seems the little guy has scratched the paint, a pebble must have been caught in the sole of his shoe.
Forcefully I grab the angry mother’s hand, and when our palms touch, her wrist-alarm sounds. The woman looks on her display and pales. She starts trembling.
“It was your son, who ran in front of my car and now he has scratched it,” I state coldly in a low voice looking back at the security enforcers.
“No,” the woman now starts wailing, “don’t let them punish him. He didn’t know. It was me, I did it. Let them punish me if you must, not him, please.”
I look back at the enforcers who are now in calling distance: “It’s all a misunderstanding,” I wave at them.
“A misunderstanding,” the woman repeats in a cracked voice, while picking the leftovers of her crashed shopping-bag off the ground.
I nod to the enforcers and climb back into the car. I start the engine again, driving off as fast as I dare, while the woman, carrying her child and her broken bag, hurries to the entrance of the block across the street.
I turn my head to Darryl who is sitting behind me. “You have to make sure that she will leave the country today. The enforcers have seen us together, she won’t be safe.”
“We’ll see to it,” Darryl answers. “And the little boy,” I add.
Darryl is already tapping on his wrist-control, sending the message to his men.
“I think,” I murmur more to myself than to the others, “the boy is about 5.”
It was about a week after my fifth birthday, when my father appeared in my bedroom one morning, something John Galt had never done before.
A gray-haired old man walked in behind him. But the one person who would always come in every morning, she didn’t, and already I knew, that something was wrong.
“Son,” my father started, “your mother has died last night. This is Mr Tanner. He will take care of you from now on.”
“I want Mamma,” I cried.
“You can’t have her,” my father answered coldly, “she is dead, dead and cremated.”
I didn’t understand, giving my father a blank stare and so John Galt added: “Burnt in a fire! She won’t come back, ever!”
Tears were now flowing down my cheeks.
“Stop it, it won’t change anything!” My father snarled, then he pointed again at the old man.
“Mr Tanner will do all your mother has done before. And he will do more! It’s something she couldn’t do, because she was a woman. He will teach you, educate you, so one day you will become a man of knowledge, someone worthwhile.”
When I kept on crying, my father turned to Mr Tanner: “Take care of him,” he snapped and left the room.
Mr Tanner lifted me up in his arms, though I struggled against him. He then sat down with me in the rocking-chair, Mamma’s chair, and started rocking it.
“I want Mamma,” I screamed in desperation and banged my small fists against Mr Tanner’s chest.
I kept on screaming until I was all out of breath, while Mr Tanner continued rocking us both. After a while my screams turned into a low keening: “I want Mamma, I want Mamma.”
It was less of a demand now, more of a humming to sooth myself in an attempt to find peace in the sound of my own voice.
I laid my head on Mr Tanner’s shoulder and Mr Tanner whispered in my ear: “You will see her again, one day I’m sure of it, not here though. But there will be a time and place, where you will see her again.”
TO BE CONTINUED
on June 1, 2017
also as Free Download
contact the author at
Thank you so much, dear reader, for reading this first part of my story. I’m truly grateful, that I could share this with you, for it contains my heart’s deepest desire, a future where peace and justice is possible.
Hope’s Spesaeterna is kind of a vision I have of such a future. It’s the dream I embrace. Built by fallible humans this village is surely not perfect, as you will find out in later installments, but still it’s by far more peaceful than David’s, our world.
Jonathan’s Nephilim City, on the hand, grown out of David’s world with all it’s particular logic, is the nightmare I fear.
I’ve always enjoyed a good science fiction story. But I’ve noticed in time that most sci-fi stories, be they written or shown on screen, describe a dystopian, quite often a post-apocalyptic world.
Even in Gene Roddenberry’s somewhat utopian Star-Trek universe, it’s peaceful condition had not emerged before a World War III had killed of Billions of the earth’s population and subsequently a world-government had been established.
Of course with the example of Star Trek we can observe quite clearly that some person’s Utopia is actually the other one’s Dystopia.
When I watched the different shows or the movies more closely I realized for myself that the ‘Star-Trek’ universe show, more or less subtle, the advantages of a military and scientific dictatorship ruling everyone on Earth and beyond. Politicians within the ‘Federation’ or outside of it are most often portrayed as greedy and corrupt or as self-important and basically useless, while elections, where Billions of people vote for a single governing entity, are in this fictional reality nothing more than a ritual to give legitimacy to this control system.
The real powers are the military leaders of Star-Fleet. They are portrayed as the predominantly good guys who protect all those Federation worlds from danger. The Star-Fleet also brings progress to Earth and the other planets via their research institutes.
All of it is controlled in a strict hierarchy in which few people have anything to say, and only admirals, captains and their first officers have anything to decide. On the decision of the space-ship captains the lives of their crews can be endangered or even be sacrificed and the whole ship might be put into self-destruct mode killing everyone on board.
And in spite of so much power over the lives and deaths of thousands or even billions of people those Star-Fleet leaders rarely ever abuse their powers for nefarious purposes or they own selfish advantages, for they are the most perfect individuals in the universe.
Roddenberry’s belief was, that in a perfect meritocratic hierarchical world only the most brilliant and ethical would rise to the top.
Experience has shown us, that that is rarely the case.
On the contrary, even the most well-meaning person can be corrupted by the lure of power or the persuasion of fear.
So yes, dystopian scenarios are far more realistic than the Star-Trek Utopia.
But are the nightmarish visions of Orwell and Huxley the only possuble prospects for our planet’s future?
Is WW III inevitable?
Maybe not, I truly hope so.
Though the first step, I think, would be instead of only constructing nightmare scenarios to take the daring step to dream again, though in a different direction than Gene Roddenberry did. He believed in the brilliant few, the supermen both in mental as well as in ethical capacities.
I’m not so naive. Saints are in heaven, the sentient beings on earth are always fallible humans.
I dream about the brilliance, which resides in all of us, when we join our mental and ethical capacities. Via the internet, we could freely and without coercion be interconnected throughout the whole world, and still in our daily lives we would be self-determined individuals. We would be conducting our interactions through face to face communication within our own autonomous communities, “where everybody knows your name”.
I dream about a real democracy, a real rule of the people, all the people, power from the ground up. I believe this to be actually achievable. And I’m convinced such a system, where the most important decisions were made in the smallest political units, the local communities, would be the most reasonable of all.
I dream about a cultural diversity that enriches humanity as much as diversity of species enriches the earth.
I dream about healthy food produced ecologically sound by people who respect nature in flora and fauna alike.
And most of all I dream about peace, a lasting peace throughout the whole, a peace in freedom and justice.
And so I formed these dreams into the words of a story, a story about the future and about David and Jonathan, who live centuries apart connected by Hope, the child of the future.
And then there is the check-point story of Jeremy Johnson, inspired by a real event I read about during the early years of the Iraq war. I asked myself how those soldiers were coping with the things they had done inadvertently in the context of war. And if it were incidents like those which causing so many veterans to commit suicide or slip down into substance abuse and homelessness.
War, in real life, is not a romantic tale of heroes and villains, ‘A Game of Thrones’, an heroic measuring of strength, a fun exercise to escape boredom. Instead it’s nothing else but a destruction of human beings in body and soul, for the armed perpetrators and the unarmed victims alike.
War is always a catastrophe, a human and an environmental catastrophe.
War conducted with modern technology might eventually become the ultimate catastrophe for all life on earth. We can’t afford it any more.
And so I dream of a world where the scourge of war has been abolished and respect for life is considered to be the First Principle and the common ground for everyone.
And so I wonder how such a world would come into being.
In this day and age, though, we have been conditioned to the point, where a story about how to prevent acts of violence instead of how to commit them, will be considered quite boring.
But never the less that is what this 7-part dream of ‘A Time-Travel Story’ will be all about.
And you, dear reader, can follow me on this, my dream journey, at your own peril,
This story analyzes the past, observes the presence and speculates on the future.