by: Charlie Crago
The thickening of space and time always made Alex Travler slightly nauseous. Though he had taken many trips forward and backward in time, his body had never been able to adjust to the jolting effects of dimensional shifts. The displacement tank at the State Tourism Bureau slowly came into focus, and Lex instinctively convulsed as he choked down the oxygenated embryonic fluid, realizing he had made it back safely to his Present, 2222. The body relaxed; reanimation was almost complete. Technicians busied themselves monitoring the life-functions of the returned time-tourist.
The TransDimensional Docking Station was filled with displacement tanks, all of them retrieving and sending tourists to the farthest reaches of time in the flash of an eye. Technicians input codes to the terminal of the tank, causing embryonic fluid to drain into a grate in the floor. The door resolved from seamless hinges, and a technician opened it, offering his hand to help the tired voyager back into the Pres.
“Thank-you, sir.” Lex took the technician’s hand, and climbed out of the tank, his hands shakily supporting his naked feet as they searched for traction on the slippery walls of the tank. Immediately, the familiar sanitary smell of the Docking Station greeted him, and he knew he was home.
After emerging from the displacement tank, Lex climbed down the staging area of the Docking station, escorted by Bureau officials, dressed in sterile white lab suits, respirators, and rubber boots in order to lessen the chances of contamination during the materialization process. A second round of decontamination treatment ensued, then Lex was dressed and shuttled back to his building in the center of downtown. Back in his apartment, he showered in a vain attempt to wash the lingering smell of cleanser. No matter how much he scrubbed, the smell remained, inescapable.
Lex dressed in his soft cotton sleep-pants before climbing into the warm softness of bed, the excitement of his holiday still bouncing off the walls of his imagination. He could still hear the sound of the Viennese orchestra pounding out the melodies of his favorite opera, Don Giovanni. Lex had spent previous holidays in more recent times, visiting the late 20th century to experience what was called the “grunge” and “rap” generations. He particularly enjoyed a performance he had seen of three-piece grunge act out of Seattle in the former United States. Although he could not remember the group’s name, he recalled the lead singer and guitarist, a kind of living messiah among his fans, had killed himself shortly after the performance. Lex had promised his wife he would visit a period more renowned for the classic arts, and could not deny the enjoyment he felt witnessing Mozart conduct live.
Of course, Lex Travler was a seasoned time tourist, as was most of the world’s population at the beginning of the 23rd century. Like most citizens newly acquainted with temporal passage, his first visits had been to the great moments of history: the crucifixion of Christ, the height of the Roman Empire, the renaissance, and so on and so on. Most tourists usually only made these holiday visits once, as they were generally unhappy with what they experienced, though discussion of such things was strictly forbidden under the Temporal Code. Small things, like learning Jesus Christ wasn’t really resurrected, but was an alien, or the fact that Charlemagne was a spoiled sissy ruined the experience of these grandiose moments in time. Instead, most tourists chose to spend their vacations traveling to exciting times in culture, witnessing the day-to-day life of previous generations before returning to the Present, satisfied in their world’s technological achievement.
As the population of earth had grown to epidemic proportions by the mid to late 22nd century, the entire planet had become mired by humankind’s compulsion to expand outwards, consuming every viable resource as it did. While civilization was comfortably maintained in the cities, virtually all comprehension of unsettled land, the outdoors, and nature had been forgotten. Thus, a great portion of the world’s economic output was spent in support of society at large. No longer could frivolous attempts at the arts be entertained. Music, theatre, painting, sculpture, and most other creative endeavors had been lost to time, and were now only accessible through time-displacement, or what the passengers called Temporal Tourism.
Lex’s wife,Wreni, especially enjoyed visiting the dynastic periods of Egypt, marveling at the enormous sculptures crafted from the broken bones of man. She was still gone on holiday when he woke the following morning. Aggravated that he’d have to hydrate breakfast himself, Lex grumbled incomprehensibly to himself as he shuffled through his apartment to the bathroom.
After cleaning himself, Lex sat at the small table in the kitchen, taking turns eating hydrated eggs and bacon while taking small sips of coffee. “InfoCast On, News.” The kitchen wall in front of him crackled with life in response to his voice, then beamed the most recent news reports into his brain. The first story reported on some militant environmentalist group or another. “Boring” he thought to himself. “Next” Lex commanded and the InfoCast switched to a new report.
“Tourists lost in the Phoenician empire, holidays to Byzantium delayed. Contribute to you local Docking Station today and earn credit towards your next trip!” The Japanese voice of the InfoCast would then repeat itself until the next big story broke. The door handle jiggled, then burst open; Wreni Travler came pouring in through the entrance of the apartment, beaming from her recent holiday.
“Darling!!! I’ve missed you so!” Wreni dropped her temporal-travel kit and rushed to embrace her husband. Apart from containing the items necessary for sustaining life during temporal displacement, the kit also held the items she had collected during her trip. “How was Figaro?”
“Don Giovanni, dear. It was great…he was great.”
“Yeah?And what else? What else did my little Travler the time traveler do on holiday? Did you bring anything back?”Wreni was using her baby-voice. Lex could not stand it when she used that god-awful voice. She knew this but continued to use it anyway – probably because as a whole Lex’s relationship with his wife was one built on condescension; Wreni rarely heeded her husband’s requests or warnings.
“We’re not supposed to do that; it’s strictly forbidden – ‘Observe Only’, remember?” Lex’s eyes remained fixed on the bowl of cereal he was negotiating, though he used one hand to highlight the first rule of temporal tourism. His voice reminded Wreni of that of a schoolmaster, which made her giggle slightly.
“You’re serious? Alex, please, honey,” she laughed mockingly, “you know they don’t enforce that. Why, just look at all these great relics I’ve brought back – they’ll look amazing in the living area.” Wreni had taken a handful of small artifacts carved from clay out of the kit and was displaying them proudly as she spoke to her husband. The sight of the millennia old sculptures frightened Lex, prompting him to jump from his seat at the breakfast table.
“Are you insane, woman? I told you to stop bringing those here!” Lex covered the relics with a napkin. “If they find these here, they’ll send us both back, forever; damn it, Wreni, we’ve gone over this.” His voiced echoed through the house as he searched for his last travel voucher. “You know how much I hate doing this.” Lex returned to the kitchen with his own temporal travel kit. “Now I have to waste my last holiday going back to – where the hell did you get these anyways?” Lex took a moment to inspect the beautifully carved miniature-statue of a cat. His wife smiled at her husband’s satisfaction.
“Egypt, love, you know that. Oh, Alex, I do wish you’d holiday there with me sometime. The art, culture, oh Lex, the pyramids – absolutely amazing.” Wreni was unable to hide the excitement in her voice.
“I know babe, I’d love to see the pyramids – with you. But now I have to use my last voucher to undo the mess you’ve made here.” Lex was carefully placing the relics under the lining of his temporal travel kit. “We can’t risk people finding out about this.”
“Ohhh, Alex…why can’t we keep just one?” His wife was looking upon the last relic with adoration.
“You know why, Wren: if it stays in the Pres, it might cause a flux in the space-time continuum, resulting in gods know what. We can’t do that, and we can’t risk getting caught either.” Lex took the last relic from his wife, cradling it carefully before securing it in his kit. “I’ll schedule my appointment for displacement, try and get out first thing tomorrow.” He looked into his wife’s eyes as she stared back lovingly in to his, “crazy lady, you’ll be the end of me.”
Alex Travler hugged his wife tightly before turning to the scheduling module fixed on the wall of the kitchen. After inserting his last holiday-voucher, he input the destination, Egypt, 1700 BC. The science of space-time displacement had grown significantly in the last 100 years or so, and the temporal-technicians working for the Tourism Bureau had become quite adept at accurately placing tourists in the requested era within a century or two, though precise time and date had yet to be perfected. Fortunately, the exact space and time placement of the temporal-tourist mattered little in terms of replacing stolen artifacts; as long as relics were returned to generally the same time frame as the one from which they were taken, everything would be fine. Lex breathed a sigh of relief as the scheduler-module confirmed his travel arrangements for the following morning. He turned back to his wife, of which he could now find only her discarded clothes. The silhouette of Wreni’s naked body stood in the doorway of their bedroom.
“The time is now, lover.” Her voice was soft and sweet, filled with desire.
“Indeed it is.” Lex was pulling off his shirt as he moved to take his wife before leaving to smuggle the illegal contraband back into antiquity.
Lex woke the next morning excited for his holiday, even if it was to a destination not of his choosing to perform a task that was considered less-than-legal by the authorities. Breakfast was waiting for him in the kitchen, as was Wreni, dressed only in one of his work-shirts. He kissed his wife before inhaling the meal, then, kissed her again before hurrying out of the apartment to catch the eleven-train at 7:03. “Love you, Wren. See you before too long.” Lex closed the door behind him, carrying the temporal-travel kit with him as he rushed down the stairwell of his building.
Riding the metro to work, he clung tightly to the temporal-kit. Not only it contain the only supplies Lex would be able to access during his journey, but the artifacts concealed within would surely wind him up before the Temporal Courts, or worse, in the hands of black-time markets. The Confederated Governments had never released an official report detailing the size and prevalence of the world’s illegal market for stolen relics of time. Hostile to the Confederated Government, black-time pirates had recently engaged in attacks on temporal-tourists, hijacking temporal-travel kits on several occasions. The kits contained a self-sustained rationing system, which could maintain the life functions of an average human indefinitely, and had been designed of temporal-mesh, the only known man-made material capable of rematerializing after the warping process. Additionally, the temporal-travel kit linked to the neural implant possessed by every tourist, sending a beacon back to their Present, ensuring a safe-return. Many speculated on the pirates’ ability to utilize TransDimensional warping technology, especially without the supremely advanced facilities of the government. In reality, though, only a minority of educated peoples believed the enterprise to be strictly fiction, while those ‘in the know’ actively disassociated with idea, having probably participated in the trade as either buyer or seller at some point.
Lex had never bought or sold any relics, though he had returned those his wife had appropriated on several occasions. He could not help but wonder what the cache he hid under his arm could potentially bring on the market. Maybe he could quit his job. “No” Lex thought, “couldn’t risk it.” He knew the potential for a pan-dimensional catastrophe that could arise from moving objects from one Present to another far outweighed the possibility of not having to work again.
The eleven-train pulled to a stop in front of the State Tourism Bureau just before eight, and Lex disembarked with a number of other tourists, all identifiable by the silver dehydration suits they wore in preparation for temporal transport. Each carried a silver temporal-travel kit identical to the others. Lex scanned his temporal-passport across the reader as he reached the front of the queue waiting to enter the building. Beyond the line of waiting tourists, the sound of the TransDimensional Docking Station’s displacement tanks sending and retrieving voyagers through time echoed through the building and out onto the street. Having confirmed his holiday arrangements, the clear partition blocking the building’s entrance from the world melted in to a seamless port and dissolved, allowing the passengers to enter.
After having his identity and itineraries scrutinized once more, Lex made his way into the staging area of the station; male and female tourists casually disrobed, waiting for Bureau technicians to inspect their bodies for foreign entities and contraband. The search was quite thorough, but like Alex, everyone seemed too giddy to mind much, as most were familiar with the pre-screening processes involved with temporal tourism.
After being inspected inside and out more than once by both male and female technicians, Alex was led to the displacement tank waiting to transport him into antiquity, taking only the temporal-travel kit with him; any other materials might fuse with the cellular composition of the tourist’s body during reanimation, and so was strictly forbidden. For all he knew, the two techs currently guiding him through the docking station were the same two that had dragged him out days before. Dressed in the same white lab suits, respirators, and rubber boots, it was impossible to say.
The hatch of the displacement tank resolved, as it had before, and the temporal technicians helped LexTravler climb in, then offered the same reminder as always: “Remember, sir, Observe only, DO NOT INTERFERE.” Lex nodded his head in affirmation. The material comprising the tank appeared glassy, but was soft to the touch of his naked feet. Once inside, the technicians input the appropriate combination of commands into the displacement module, and the hatch dissolved, leaving Lex naked and alone inside the tank, save for the time kit. Having finished charting his course through the many dimensions of space and time, the technicians turned to the tank and saluted Lex, wishing him a fond journey. As he returned the salute, one of the technicians mashed a button which glowed bright green. Instantly the tank filled with the embryonic fluid Lex had come to associate with the moments before TransDimensional warping. The sour-taste of the fluid coating the inside of his mouth, his throat, esophagus, and finally his lungs always made him want to purge, though he never had. Finally, the structure of the tank began to spin and twist around itself before disappearing in to a flash of bright, white-hot light.
The voyage through space and time was never a tangible memory for Lex. After navigating the various dimensions comprising existence, the tourist would be deposited in the appropriate era, then awaken with little or no recollection of the actual trip. Left in the shapeless vacuum of space, the few moments it took for the world to materialize seemed like eternity. Lex waited for the bright light to dim into coherent shapes, and before long, he recognized the world. Deposited on the outskirts of what appeared to be a rather populated city, he surveyed the surrounding desert, and the great monuments towering in the distance. All around him, he sensed the world of old, though it did not sense him.
The trans-dimensional warp placed the tourist in space parallel to that of the known Present, enabling the tourist to observe time without ever actually interfering with it. The temporal-travel kit maintained a stable dimension for the duration of the tourist’s visit, though it could be disengaged in times of emergency. Lex watched as people filed slowly in to a temple yet to be deteriorated by time. For a moment he marveled at the magnificence of the great building, then followed the parishioners as they entered the massive complex, unnoticed by anyone but himself.
Although he could not be detected in his Present temporal dimension, Lex still found himself migrating to the rear of the temple, as he always had when, as a boy, he had gone to worship with his parents. The chanting of the congregation was hypnotic, and he found he very much enjoyed the ancient sound. After a quick listen, Lex opened the kit and removed the hidden contraband from its’ lining. Unsure of where to return the objects, he decided the mantel at the rear of the temple would be as good a place as any, not to mention, the congregation had become focused on the priest at the front of the room. Lex scanned the room one last time for any sign of the temporal police before pulling one of the circuits loose from the kit’s control panel. The sensation of the parallel dimensions melding with one another was smooth, though it retained the same type of sensation as falling. The room of parishioners continued to pray, taking no notice of the time tourist, and so Lex placed the small sculptures on the mantel before kneeling to re-attach the circuitry of the travel kit.
The blinding light of the trans-dimensional warp was unmistakable – Lex was being transported without having hailed his Present. To his knowledge, there was only one instance in which a tourist would be pulled from holiday without having requested so: arrest. Before he could compute this correlation in his mind, the waking world came back into focus, though it was completely formless – just open space. Immediately Lex recognized the silver robes of the men and women looking down on him from a podium that seemed to be constructed from the same material as the travel kit – the Courts of Time.
“Wha…wha…why am I here?” Lex fumbled with the words as he fought to remain calm.
“LexTravler, you have been under investigation for the crime of material displacement for some time now. Surely your arrest comes as no surprise – this isn’t the first time you’ve broken the laws of temporal tourism, is it?” The soft, yet authoritative voice of the woman judge, probably Chief Justice of the Time Courts, made real the magnitude of the situation.
“Material displacement? No, no, no…I’m trying to replace materials that have been previously displaced. You see, my wife always wants to show me the amazing things she’s seeing on her holidays, so occasionally she brings home a relic or two for me. We never keep them…I always bring them back.”
“We are well aware of you and your wife’s actions,” the rest of the judges nodded in affirmation of the Chief Justice’s accusations, “stealing artifacts of time, selling them on the black-time market, and returning whatever you can’t sell to random eras.”
“I assure your honors, this is just a big mistake…we are honest people.” Even as he begged, Lex knew he was lying.
Without any further hesitation or the slightest bit of concern, the Chief Justice delivered her sentence. “LexTravler, due to your repeated violations of the Temporal Penal Code you are condemned to spend the rest of your days wandering the annals of history. Because the severity of your crime has yet to be determined, you will serve the preliminary portion of your sentence in the Bermuda Holding Colony, after which you will be delivered to your final resting time.” Before he could protest, all around him time and space thickened into one, and Lex Travler was again sent spiraling through the circuits of eternity.
Before he could comprehend where, and when he had been deposited, Lex was being pulled by his arms through a dark, dank corridor. He instantly became aware of the tattered clothes he wore, though the garments were unlike those he was used to. Rather than the sleek, efficient material he had grown accustomed to, he was now wrapped in materials of an obviously organic nature. They smelled. The flashes of light peeking through from the other side of what could only be a prison took a moment to resolve before he could make out the court proceedings occurring in rapid succession. The moaned lamentations of prisoners echoing through the halls was intermittently broken by the sound of a trans-dimensional warping system dropping off and picking up prisoners. The frightened protests of an inmate preparing to serve a terminal sentence were snuffed out as the surgical lab dissected his brain. Lex looked up, straining to make sense of what was happening around him.
“Where am…what is this place?” The words evaporated into the abyss of the dark cell, though one of the two guards stopped pulling long enough to look down at him.
“Bermuda Holding Colony, your trial’s tomorrow morning.” The voice was muffled through the respirator both guards wore as they dragged their prisoner through the prison.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Lex thrashed his arms violently, causing one of the guards to lose his grip, “you can’t do this – I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“That’s for the courts to decide; for now, you’re our charge.” The first guard was very matter-of-fact in his delivery.
“And we’re gonna see that you do as your told until then.” The second guard, from whom Lex had freed his arm, was more hostile in his tone, and smashed his fist into the prisoner’s mouth as he spoke. Lex felt his head bonk against the floor of the prison before his body relaxed. The second guard once again took him by the arm and continued dragging him through the musky corridor.
As the guards locked the door of the holding cell that would house Lex Travler until his sentence was delivered, the last shred of light was cut from the room. Blackness enveloped the temporal tourist.
“Hey, boy, whatcha in for?” The foreign voice startled Lex, and he quickly turned around. Through the darkness of the cell he couldn’t make out where the voice was coming, though it did not sound like that of a person from his Pres.
“I don’t…I don’t know” Lex pawed at the cold, empty air as he spoke. The sound of a match striking rang through the cell, and suddenly he could see again. After giving his eyes time to focus, Lex made out the outline of a person sitting quietly in the corner of the cell, holding a candle in one hand, and a large mouse in the other. The dark skin of the man reminded Lex of syrup, and reflected beautifully against the light of the candle. Before he could speak, the stranger’s voice again filled the tiny room.
“You don’t know? Come on, mon…you no know?” The stranger laughed. “Then I guess you innocent bro, probably the only one in dis place.” The stranger continued to laugh loudly as he stroked his pet. Annoyed by the jovial aura of the man, Lex hardened his resolve and took a step closer towards the stranger.
“I am accused of ‘material displacement’ in the first degree, but…”
The stranger interrupted, “But what? You never entered the present-dimension of dem times you visit? Never took no thing home for da misses? You innocent? Then why you here, boy?”
“My wife has been collecting artifacts from her holidays for years now – I just return them for her.”
“Ohhhhhh,” the stranger let the vowel roll out of his mouth, “then you did mess with dem temporal exchange?”
“No, sir, no – my wife did – I just tried to fix it.”
“None dat gone make no different to dese tieves,” the stranger spit on the floor is disdain, “all dem want is to curb dat population of da Pres – dem no care ‘bout us.” Lex sat on one of the rough and rugged mattresses lying on the floor of the cell as the Stranger continued petting the mouse. “Es all ‘bout dem monies, and dem lands; why you think so many of us here anyway? You thinking we all so dumb we get caught? Member, you here too friend; you fucked too.”
“Wait, I don’t get it…what are you here for?” The Stranger laughed at Lex’s question.
“Been in dis place for some time – abandoned the Pres when me’s just a boy. My Dada was one of the great temporal rogues: fought to live him life in the freedom of the past, away from dems violent overpoplation of the Pres., see?”
“How were you not immediately captured and returned to the Pres?” Lex had never heard of anything as bizarre as wanting to live in the past.
“Well I here, aren’t I?” The Stranger tapped at his own head. “It’s up here, boy. This is how they track us…but ol Dada, he knew how to fix it…kind of.”
“You tampered with your neural implant? No wonder you’re locked up.”
“Of course me tampered with it…don’t want dem awful time-cops telling I when I can go where. So, before Dada die, him fix up dat chip; now dem fools have to work to find me.”
“You mean you were able to stop the dimensional transmissions of the implant? How’d they get you then?
“More like alter, not stop, dem transmissions. Eventually, if dem want you, dem takes you, see?” The Stranger gestured to the tiny cell, then continued to stroke his pet. “Now Wally is mine only friend…and you. Say, where dem sending yous anyways, huh? You know?”
“I’m waiting…they haven’t decided yet.” Lex’s voice was sad as he realized he would probably never see Wreni again.
“Oh no, boy, dats not goode…dat’s really no goode – If dem not sure what to do with you, dem send you back to the most terrible of times , rife with lawlessness and disease – no place you wanna be, boy.”
“Shit, whaddya mean? I’m gonna be sentenced to a time where I’ll surely die? No, no, no…I’ll have a definitive sentence, with an expiration date.”
“Think so, boy? I’s been here for longer than I’s knows, and me ain’t never seen no body go back to the Pres.; they always come back here…or what’s left of ‘em. I’s think maybe you want I fix your chip for you, no?” The Stranger’s deep island accent bounced off the walls of the cell. “Or you can see what dem courts have for you.”
Lex paused a moment before responding, unsure of what the Stranger was offering. “What do you mean, brain surgery? In here? It’s practically pitch-black. What…are you going to operate by candlelight?”
“But of course…how else you think I can fix that ting in yous head?”
“No, no, no…there has to be another way. I’ll appeal”
The Stranger let loose a booming laugh. “Hah! Appeals – there taint no such thing, boy. Once your gone, you gone for goode, until the end – only then dem bring you home. Say yous got dead on holiday some ways or nothers.” Just as the Stranger finished speaking, the sound of the surgical lab engaging lasers muted the screams of another restrained tourist. “See, dis it, boy, all of it. Aint no gone home for yous – it’s either me or dem…but no home.” The sound of approaching footsteps caught the Stranger’s attention, causing him to snuff the candle’s flame. “Quite, boy, dem’s coming now.” The shadow of the approaching figure appeared in the tiny crack under the cell door, followed by the sound of the peephole sliding open, allowing the artificial light of the prison to pierce the darkness of the tiny room.
“Travler, Alex Jones…”
“Yes, that’s me…I’m Alex Travler…” his voice interrupted the prison official who ignored the prisoner and continued speaking.
“For the crime of wanton material displacement, a crime to which you have confessed, under the confederated penal code the Temporal Courts have decreed you spend the remaining duration of your sentence in the Present of the years 10,000-15,000BC. Upon successful temporal rehabilitation, to be completed under the supervision of sanctioned custodians of time, you will be eligible for parole, and may be granted a return to your original Pres.”
“Wait! For how long? I want an appeal! How long till I can go home?! I want an appeal!!”Lex’s voice crashed against the cell door as the prison official closed the peephole, returning the room to darkness.
“See, boy? Taint no gone home for yous…yous only gone one place, where dem sends you.” The Stranger struck another match against the wall of the cell and relit the candle. By the meager candlelight, the Stranger revealed a small, circular device camouflaged in the palm of his hand . “I tinks this be your only option, blood. I tinks you should take it.” The device, which was no more than two inches in diameter, one side shiny, the other opaque, seemed to separate from his hand, becoming its’ own entity.
“What is it anyway? And why are you helping me?” Lex examined the device held by the strangers midnight-black hands, who smiled in anticipation of the newcomer’s reaction.
“Magnetic Interference, boy…makes dem homing beacon act up real goode so dems can’t find you so easy… dem won’t know till dem try and locate yous.” The Stranger offered the device to Lex for inspection.
“How does it get me home?” Lex examined the tiny disc-shaped device as he spoke.
“Home? Home, boy? Yous got no home now, you don’t know? Best ask yoself – dems time or mines? Tat’s yo only choice.”
Lex looked up at the Stranger, “Choice? That’s not a choice, that’s the lesser of two evils. Besides, you’re here, right? So obviously this thing doesn’t work anyway” then handed the device back.
The Stranger remained calm, unwilling to engage in argument. “Dat’s fine, boy. Just relax, wait for dems to come get you, and enjoy holiday, right? Sounds good.” He struck a third match and lit a self-rolled cigarette. “Yous right, I’s here…but not cause dis ting don’t work,” the Stranger took the device back from Lex, “dems people in the Pres can’t track you after your first warp, but dat trans-dimensional state taint stable, so every twelve hours or so, you autowarp, to where, none bodies knows, not the yous, not dems, not the Pres…none bodies.” The Stranger leaned back against the wall of the cell, puffing on the cigarette. The familiar smell of tobacco tickled Lex’s nose; he hadn’t smelled a cigarette since they were banned sometime during his teenage years.
“Alright, let’s do it.” Lex stood as he spoke, hoping to indicate his readiness. The Stranger followed suit and also stood, offering the cigarette to the other prisoner.
“Good, boy, now you’s ready.” Lex accepted the cigarette, inhaled deeply, and proceeded to cough violently.
“T’aime?” The tone of the Stranger’s voice did little to hide his obvious amusement. Lex took a moment to compose himself before answering.
“Where did you get this?”
Unsure whether Lex was referring to the cigarette or the Magnetic Interference device, the Stranger answered cautiously. “Two doors down, him got green, too.”
“The device, where’d you get the device?”Lex inhaled on the cigarette and coughed again, though less violently than before.
“I tolds you: I done traveled through more time than I done spent in my own Pres; shit, I’s done even know when I’m from no more. In dems future, it’s all pretty lites and ha-ha, bling-bling, boom-boom. Peoples needed some ways to protect demselves; call it a personal protection device, PPD. Meant to conceal dat user’s local from dem prying eyes of dat future.” The footsteps of the returning Prison Warden suddenly became faintly audible. “Hurry, boy, taint got no time.” The Stranger leapt to onto Lex from where he stood, forcing the two men onto the floor of the cell. The cigarette still burned in Lex’s mouth as he fought to free himself from the Stranger’s grip. “Relax, boy, just relax.” The footsteps of the Warden grew louder as the Stranger pressed the bronze disc against Lex’s left temple. “Dis won’t hurt none.” Instantly the PPD sent a surge of what felt like electricity through Lex’s brain, short-circuiting the neural implant. The sensation was not painful, but was certainly not pleasant either.
The door of the cell burst open and guards filled the tiny space, pulling the Stranger off ofLex, but not before the bronze disc melted back into the man’s palm. “Damnit, Marquis, we told you not mess with the recruits” one of the guards was saying as another pummeled the Stranger.
As he was dragged out of the cell, the Stranger called after Lex. “Hey, boy, enjoy yous holiday, yeah?” His deep laughter echoed through the prison and the image of the man called Marquis being brutally assaulted was burnt into Lex’s mind as he was hauled away by gurney to the Bermuda Holding Colony’s staging center.
After being stripped out of his prison rags at the staging area, LexTravler was wheeled to the Docking Station of the Penal Colony, where another panel awaited him. The judges sat quietly, unmoved by the justice being delved out all around them. The Chief Justice of this panel was not the same as before; though female, this Justice was far younger, a fact Lex could not help but notice, even in the midst of his fear. The aloofness of the panel frightened him; he had never imagined anyone could be so casual about handing out criminal sentences. The booming of the displacement tanks was underscored by the frantic pleas of the prisoners protesting the judgement of the courts. The guards raised the gurney to a sitting-position so that he could look his accusers in the eye.
“Travler, Alex Jones – you have been brought to the Bermuda Holding Colony to await your sentence.” The other judges looked to the Chief Justice, nodding in agreement. “At this moment, the Temporal Courts are prepared to divulge your sentence, to be carried out at once: for the crimes of flagrant disregard for the laws of temporal displacement, temporal interference, and contributing to the black-time market, you are sentenced to the Present of the year 10,000 BC. There you will learn of the violent legacy that is mankind’s, and in turn, will come to appreciate the former life which you have forsaken.” The Chief Justice looked to her counterparts, who again nodded in affirmation. “Do you have anything to say before the sentence is carried out?”
Lex was able to collect himself and immediately cried out. “Yes – how long? How long till I can come back…till I can see my wife?” His body fought against the restraints of the gurney as he tried to stand.
“How long?” The voice of the Chief Justice was mocking. “How long? Mr. Travler, you are accused of crimes most heinous – if I were you I would be less concerned with your return date and more so with survival.”
“But no, you can’t…I’m a citizen of the Confederated Government…you can’t do this… the government won’t allow it. My wife – Wreni – she’ll come looking for me…I want an appeal!” Lex pled with the panel, hoping to strike a chord of sympathy with one of its members.
“Oh, but we can, Mr. Travler.” The Chief Justice glared at him, unforgiving. “And we will. And as for your wife – she’s to be tried and sentenced as well, immediately. The time is now, Mr. Travler.”
The guards detached the restraints binding Lex to the gurney, securing him by his arms and legs. Though he fought to free himself from their grip, the guards were too well trained to let their charge escape. Once the restraints had been removed, Lex’s naked body was hoisted into the displacement tank, the hatch sealed before he could argue. As he pounded on the walls of the tank, the embryonic fluid he usually equated with holiday travel began filling up the space around him. The panel of judges ignored his muted screams as the next prisoner was brought before them, a bruised and battered Marquis. Just before the blinding white light of trans-dimensional warp engulfed him, Lex observed the guards force Marquis to his knees, and then everything was gone.
As the world once again resolved around him, Lex Travler felt the familiar air of the Present world tickling his face. The sensation was brisk, intimating the first snow of the season. Suddenly, the pounding of hoof against earth shook his body, causing Lex to instinctively jump to his feet. All around him people covered in animal skins rushed past, chased by enormous creatures covered in matted fur. Warriors armed with spears and arrows hurried past, pushing Lex out of the way as they sought cover. A young warrior carrying a spear twice her length struck Lex with her shoulder, knocking him to the ground as she ran for the shelter of the caves in the distance. The girl stopped, crouching behind a boulder.
“You there, man, what are you doing here? When are you from?” The girl’s voice took on an accent Lex could not place.
“Lila, keep moving. He’s not our concern.” The deep voice came from above, where a man stood on a large rock, watching the events unfolding below him.
The girl looked to the man, then back to the Lex. “No Father – perhaps he knows something – we must help him.”
“He knows nothing, not even when he his.” The old man’s voice was lost on the girl as she hurried into the commotion of the stampede. Lex tried to stand, but could not; a long wooden arrow had pierced and partially passed through his outer leg. A stampeding mammoth charged directly towards him, though he could not react. Until this moment Lex had only known of the great mammals through the vid-books he borrowed from the Confederate library.
The girl reached Lex as dirt swirled all around them. After quickly examining his wound, the girl grabbed the arrow and snapped it in two. “It’s just a flesh wound. Where are your clothes?” The girl’s voice hinted to some gag of the old world, completely lost to time and to Alex Travler – all he could think of was his naked body. After pushing the intruding half of the arrow through his leg, the girl helped Lex hobble to the safety of the caves. “When did you come from? I’m Lila” The girl’s stern voice was hard to differentiate from the danger spreading around them.
“I dunno, I just woke up here – I don’t even know where here is.” Lex could not understand why he had lied. The chaos of the hunt died down as they reached the safety of the caves.
“He knows – he’s a temporal transgressor – that’s the only reason they’d put someone like him here.” The voice of Lila’s father followed them into the cave. “Why else would he be naked? There’s no way a man could survive out there dressed like that.” The old man looked Lex’s bleeding body up and down. “So, what’d you do?”
Lex surveyed the cave as he sat as the place designated by to him by Lila. Remarkable drawings covered the walls of the cave, though unlike any he had seen in the vid-books – these illustrations were not crude but quite were quite refined, the vibrant colors almost leaping out. Then he realized he was being addressed in his native-language. “Wait, how do know how to speak…”
The old man interrupted him. “We’ve all been sent here as punishment; to the beginning of civilization. This is the civilized justice system of the future hard at work.”
Lex looked around the cave and noticed the very modern features of the men and women living there. The large foreheads and protruding jaws found commonly in the remains of humankind’s ancestors were absent. Rather, these people looked like him. “I don’t understand…where are all the cavemen?” His comment elicited a round of laughter from those in attendance.
“We’re it…we’re the first men, and women.” The voice of the old man had become soothing, like that of a school teacher. “What’s your name, future boy?”
“Alex…Alex Travler. What about fossils?”
“Good to meet you, Alex” the old man energetically shook Lex’s hand, “Fossils don’t lie, friend, but stories do. Are there other, less evolved humanoids in this Present? Sure. Would they accomplish anything without our guidance? Not so sure…” The cave erupted into another round of laughter.
“Then what? You’re all from my Present? Sent here to die?” Lex struggled to make sense of the situation.
“Alex, my boy, you must understand: the Present is wherever your consciousness resides, regardless of the actual year. For now, your Present is here, with us.” Lila attended to Lex’s wounds as her father spoke. “We’re not all from your origin; some of us were born many years after you, and know the name Lex Travler. And although, yes, we were sent here to die, we will not.” The old man’s voice began to rise as excitement filled the cave. The light of the single fire illuminated the face of the old man, highlighting his battle-weary features as he spoke. “For lifetimes we have waited for a messenger from the future to be returned to us; now he has come. I, Josephus of the Rutufe clan, was sent here personally by the Emir of 2360 to await his arrival. Now, Alex Travler has come, and with him, the possibility of return for all of us.”
The hushed grumbles of the clan confirmed Josephus’ declaration, which struck more fear into Lex’s heart. “Wait, what? Now you’ve been expecting me? How’s that?”
Lila’s voice became soft as she answered his queries. “The Confederated Governments continued to send expired citizens to Crumbled Ages long after your sentence. Gradually, the tales of your exploits reached our origin. My father was sent here to guide you back so that you may eventually retrieve us all.” Josephus nodded to his daughter in agreement.
“Crumbled Ages? You’ve got to be kidding me; I’ve been sent to a temporal colony for the insane. How can I possibly get back?”
“You met our man inside, Marquis de Dase, did you not?” Lex nodded in response to Josephus’ question. “Then surely he modified your implant, did he not?”
Lex touched his head as he strained to remember the encounter than seemed to have taken place lifetimes earlier. “I did meet him, and he did something to me – though it obviously didn’t work, did it?”
“You misunderstand, boy: Marquis created in you a Temporal Tourist that cannot be controlled. When the Temporal Courts seek to locate you, which they do to all prisoners every twelve hours to ensure no dimensional contamination has taken place, you will be automatically warped to another holding Present. Now, unfortunately, no one can control where, or when you’ll be warped to, though we are sure that you eventually return to your origin.” Josephus’ voice was full of hope, content in the belief of a future already written.
“How can you be so sure?” Lex’s voice pinched slightly as Lila finished bandaging his wound.
“Because you’re here, Alex Travler, just as the legends said you would be.” A slight smile etched its’ way onto Josephus’ face. Lila collected the dried animal hides she had used as dressings and joined the group of women engaged in quasi-domestic chores. Lex’s eyes followed her through the cave before realizing the gaze of the girl’s father was locked onto him.
“You will help us, Alex, won’t you?” Though phrased as a question, it was clear that the leader of the Rufute clan was not asking.
“I will do what I can, of course, sir. And thank you for your hospitatlity, without which I would surely have succumbed to the harsh environments of this Present.” Lex smiled at his host before accepting the wine-filled animal bladder the old man offered him.
“Your death serves no one; it is by your actions that salvation will be visited upon all of us.” Though he did not understand the words of his host, Lex lowered his head in submission before taking the first of many long slugs off the wine bladder. Primitive drum beats and raw meat filled the confines of the cave as the Rufute clan celebrated the hunt and the arrival of their messiah.
By the time Lex had finished imagining and re-imagining his future exploits with his hosts, the fire burning in the cave had died out to little more than a smoldering heap of ash, as most of the clan had assumed their various places of sleep after the large meal of mammoth meat. Lex, now clothed in the hides of his clan’s people looked around the dark cave for a place to rest his tired body. As his eyes moved through the quickly diminishing light of the near-extinguished fire, they locked with those of Lila, who sat alone in a deserted corner of the cave.
“Come, Travler man, you may bed with me.” Lila held the fur of her bed open, inviting Lex to join her.
Although his subconscious-self immediately moved to join her, his conscious-mind fought in vain to protest. “I’m…I’m married…I should…”
“In your origin, you are married. In this Present, you are but a man, alone in the wilderness but for the companionship of your clan. Come, let us take solace in one another’s embrace.” By the time she had finished speaking, Lex had already removed his animal skins and was working his body into the furs next to Lila’s. The fire finally burnt itself out, its light replaced by the anonymous moans of the Rufute people striving to populate the world of the future.
Artwork by Rush Bourque (c) 2011