**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
Alix awakened startled, not knowing where he was. It was dark and there was a subdued hum, a slight vibration and sensation of motion. Then, he remembered. He glanced over and confirmed that Cristina was beside him. She was swiveled in her seat and he was concerned at first that she had been asleep until he heard her giggle.
“Something is funny?” he whispered.
“I was talking to Clare.”
“I didn’t hear you say anything.”
“She and I can talk without speaking.”
“Oh,” Alix said, simply accepting it. He had come to realize that where the attributes were concerned almost anything seemed possible. He sat back and looked at his chronometer. He had not wanted to sleep for so long, but apparently Cristina had been occupied and had just let him. He was grateful for the extra time.
He stretched. He was not comfortable but he had been tired enough to sleep despite the cramped conditions inside the railcar. Obviously the Colonial Authority had never taken into consideration that travelers might have to sleep on the railcars, especially when traveling great distances and at night. Perhaps they didn’t care that much. It always seemed like the railcar system was an afterthought borne of the realization that perhaps people might want to travel between the cities.
Certainly the Colonial Authority had never actively promoted travel between the cities. In their original models, the cities were intended to be autonomous and self-sufficient. In reality there were shortages and surpluses in commodities and as other cities were established the new cities recruited heavily for people to migrate from the older cities. Many responded, wanting to start out fresh in another city with another, hopefully better living condition and a higher wage job.
Families were separated by such choices and looked to spend birthdays, holidays and other special occasions as a reunited unit. Even though the railcar system was intended to expedite supplies to new cities, passenger railcars became a revenue generating operation that even rivaled the fees and taxes that the Colonial Authority charged for use of the railcar system in transporting goods.
There were alternatives to the railcar system, but they are prohibitively expensive. Sometimes due to urgency, the additional expense was justified. Smaller products could be shipped through an underground pneumatic tube system that was quick and directly linked each of the cities one to another through a series of relay points. Because of its compact design and the speeds involved, it was inappropriate for transporting humans. Some liquids had to be placed into special containers to prevent spillage as the starts and stops in the tube system were highly abrupt.
Transportation by air required a balance between the weight, size and type of lifting body. During the day, the large solar panels stored the excess photovoltaic generated energy for the motors to use at night when generating power by the moonlight from even two full moons would drive the motors only at twenty percent.
The interior of the lifting body was filled with lighter than air gases stored in chambers that were designed to compress or expand the gas according to the lifting requirements. The combination of lighter-than-air gasses and propellers permitted the transport of significant weights. The system was considerably slower than the railcar system. It could be more efficient and even cost effective because its ability to haul up to four times what a railcar could contain.
Higher speed rotary propelled hover vehicles were the choice of those wanting to get from one city to the next as quickly as possible. They hovered a few hundred meters over the desert and traveled up to three times faster than the railcars when in mid-route. They were fairly roomy and comfortable. They were the preferred means of travel for the wealthy, Colonial Authority administrators and the heads of business that could afford the expense.
There had been proposals to construct large ports for each city and create a more efficient means of air travel but every model yet proposed entailed using devices that would adversely impact he environment and the delicate balance in the atmosphere. One other proposal that was being considered and was based on the astralnav device that had fallen to disuse as very large space transports were developed to travel across interstellar space at speeds approaching light velocity. Such vehicles were far too large to use the transition and translation devices that had been constructed as portals to connect distance worlds.
Micro-thresholds as they were being called could in theory permit almost instantaneous connection between any two translation devices, allowing someone to access another city in the span of the few seconds. It required for the device to power up to full charge, which accounted for almost all of the travel time.
The downside of the technology was the power requirements to effectively produce the necessary gap in space/time. It was also considered a risky venture due to the earliest experiments with similar devices on Earth that had resulted in a complete ban from their use within the atmosphere. Even though the problem resulted from an error in the original equations upon which the devices were based – a miscalculation that did not allow for the presence of common dust in the atmosphere – there was considerable skepticism that the devices would ever be popular enough to make them viable for personal transportation.
Their use to replace the pneumatic system for transporting important documents and parcels seemed unlikely as in most cases it only saved an hour or two in transport time between even distant cities, but at an estimated expense of eight times what the fees were for the use of pneumatic tubes.
Alix looked out the window across the car, then back to his side. The sky was lighter, in anticipation of dawn. In a few hours as light from the nearest star refracted off the atmosphere, and was bent toward the surface as diffused background illumination, it would even be light enough to make out features in the desert landscape outside of the railcar well in advance of the local sun’s ascent into the daytime sky.
When he was younger he had studied light and sound for a while at the Performing Arts Institute in New Milan. One of the required courses was ‘the physics of the electromagnetic spectrum’. Never before that course had he ever considered that sound and light were part of a single spectrum of which humans could only perceive a very narrow visual and aural range. He had an epiphany that everything in the electromagnetic spectrum should have similar properties and behaviors.
The orb taught him more along the same lines, of how to bend back the illusion of reality around him and enter a part of the physical universe that was concealed from humans and how they perceived the world.
“Did you say something?” Cristina asked.
“No. I was just thinking we’ll be there soon, another hour,” Alix responded, not knowing what else to say and certainly not even wanting to venture a guess as to whether she had intercepted some of his thoughts. “It will still be dark but lighter than it is now.”
“You can sleep more.”
“I really can’t,” Alix said. “These seats do not make good beds.”
“No, they don’t,” she said. “Say hello to Clare.”
Alix turned in his seat and rose up enough to see over the back of his seat and observed what he could of the shadow of her face, as she waved at him. He waved back.
“You keep attracting others of us,” Alix said aloud to Cristina.
“Yeah, it’s a gift.”
“She is the only other one on the railcar?”
Cristina nodded, knowing that he meant the only other one with the attributes.
“Three out of forty, that sounds about right.”
‘I’ll talk more later,’ she projected to Clare. Then turning toward Alix, she continued. “She tells me she has friends with the attributes who have had children with average humans that do not have the attributes. Regardless whether it’s the male or female in the pairing that has the attributes, from her experience the child always has the attributes.”
“Then what you were considering as a way of saving everyone may be possible.”
“I mean there would have to be some study of it and especially when one of the offspring had children with another human without the attributes, as that would be the most dramatic effect of dilution.”
“Perhaps there could be a means of establishing the maximum extent of dilution before it would affect fertility.”
“That was my thought exactly,” Cristina smiled.
“That would be wonderful news, though.”
“If we can overcome the barriers of bigotry against us in the general population, then maybe we can save everyone.”
“The people our age and younger will be more receptive to the idea.”
“Then that’s really all we need.”
“Let the ‘old school’ thinkers die off.”
“And by the time we are considered ‘old school’ thinkers the problem will be fixed.”
“Hopefully,” Alix said.
“Yeah, well it has to be that way because nothing else seems right. Honestly, how can we sit back and watch everyone else on this planet die when we have the answer?”
At that moment the railcar slowed at the approach of a relay station, and then came to a complete if fairly brief stop. The internal illumination increased slightly as a gentleman wearing an AE uniform boarded the railcar and took a vacant seat a couple of rows in front of them. Immediately, the railcar continued and the interior lights dimmed. In a few minutes it had regained its previous velocity.
There was nothing in and of itself all that odd about an AE climbing aboard. It had happened on their way to Andromeda. They had a good deal going for their rest and relaxation, but no one could ever deny the hard work they did to earn the free ride into the nearest city. It was just Alix was hypersensitive and suspicious of everything. What if he was an agent from the Colonial Authority?
There was only one of them, or was there perhaps someone else already aboard. Cristina had purchased tickets enough in advance that the authorities had more than enough time to respond. Obviously, they had attacked them, trying to prevent them from getting to the station. They could have planted an agent on the railcar just in case and now that they had confirmed that they were aboard, another agent boards in disguise.
Alix’s mind raced with the possible intrigue lying just beneath the surface. Should he and Cristina dare to enter the railcar station? If there were no agents aboard, still there would be agents all over the station, perhaps waiting for them to see what they were going to do, or who they contacted. Perhaps they would be so direct as to arrest them immediately.
Although they had reserved tickets they had obviously never picked them up. Without tickets they were traveling in violation of the laws of the Colonial Authority. They could be arrested and detained – as if the authorities needed any further reason.
Alix reached for and clinched Cristina’s hand.
“What’s the matter?” Cristina spoke in a voice that only he could hear.
He leaned over and whispered into her ear. “Something doesn’t feel right. It is bothering me.”
“About the guy that just boarded?”
“He has no calluses on his hands. I noticed that when the lights were up. I’m not sure how you can work agriculture and not have calluses.”
“Can you read his mind?”
“That only seems to work with some people, usually other people with the attributes and the same ability.”
“I was just hoping.”
“I mean it could be nothing. Maybe he’s a supervisor.”
Alix squirmed in his seat. “There’s a confrontation impending, regardless of whether there are agents aboard or not.”
“I understand that,” Cristina said.
“Let your new friend know that she probably doesn’t want to be associated with us.”
“I already have. She has other things more important to her right now. She doesn’t want to get involved in any of this stuff.”
“I’m afraid we will all be involved sooner or later, but for now she can ignore what’s going on behind the pretty facades,” Alix said as he looked at his chronometer again. “We have an hour and a half, maybe a few minutes more.”
Cristina nodded. “This is a very long trip.”
“Star City is not close to anything,” Alix said.
“When we were touring we came from Star City to Andromeda.”
Alix nodded. “Always takes a whole a night and the last two times we had a chartered railcar so we could stretch out.”
“I remember that. We left right after our show and traveled all night. When we woke up we were still not there. It was late morning before we pulled into the station.”
“The charter had to exit onto a spur a few times to let scheduled trains pass,” Alix explained.
“You were awake.”
“The first time Pete, Keith, Tim and I were playing cards. We took a nap at the hotel before the show. The second time it was just Pete and I talking most of the night.”
“Whatever about?” she asked.
“About everything and nothing. You know, it started out about the show and what we did wrong and how to fix it by the next show. Then we just talked about a lot of random things. You and Chase were toward the front talking to each other. Pete suggested Chase had a thing for you.”
“Yeah, both of us thought it and frankly it irritated me. Chase admits he still has feelings for you.”
“I had a thing for him, too, for a while. It never went anywhere. The one time I allowed him to know how I felt was when he told me about Julie. He made it very clear to me how devoted he was to her.”
“He loves her.”
“She loves him too. It’s nice to see it when only the love seems to matter.”
Alix smiled, and then sighed before he expressed his wish. “It would be nice if we could be alone, just you and me. No cares, no concerns, no obligations to anyone – just free to do whatever.”
Cristina squeezed his hand. “I think we’ve progressed well past that.”
“Unfortunately, it’s impossible to go back and change things.”
“Maybe it’s possible, but we just don’t know how to do it.”
Alix smiled. “My dearest Cristina, the eternal dreamer.”
“What’s wrong with dreaming?”
“Nothing at all. It’s one of the many reasons why I love you.”
“You remember when we brought our orbs together,” Cristina said. “We saw into the past. Later, I saw both of my parents and they were holding my brother and me.”
“You aren’t seriously suggesting it’s possible to go back into the past, are you?”
“How you got us on the railcar was impossible until you did it.”
“Yeah, well, I practiced a little with doing it before, and I sort of thought it through.”
“Well, think it through, then. Figure it out. It has to be related somehow.”
“Like not only is the real world an illusion, but so is time?” He questioned.
“That’s really kind of out there, hon.”
“Then you explain how we can see the past with the orbs. It has to be accessible to us, somehow. Why else could we see it if it wasn’t important to us to know. Somehow we gotta be able to act upon it!”
“What do you want to do in the past, go back and tell us not to take this ill-advised course?”
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe we would have to go back a lot farther than that. You know, maybe back to birth or beyond.”
“All the way back to when they were evaluating the planet for terraforming? Why not just go back to Earth and convince people in the 18th Century that the impending industrial revolution will eventually pollute the Earth making it uninhabitable. Why stop there? Let’s go back and change some key event in the more distant past, maybe it will fix everything.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Cristina countered.
“Am I? If it is possible to go back in time, regardless of what we do, the people in the past will think we are nuts. They will be so myopically focused they will ignore any warning. Why is it any of their concern? Even if they believe us they would rather leave it for the people in the future fix all the problems. It’s the same thing as now. If someone from our future came to us with a solution, would we listen? First and foremost, would we believe them? It is part of being human, focusing on the moment and thinking nothing is more important that what affects you and those who you love. You hope the future is better so you’d resist anyone from the future telling you otherwise as much as you resist the message of the preachers of doom and gloom who surround us now. Some of them claim prophetic visions.”
“I believe some people can see the future. How can I not? I have seen the past – we both have.”
“Well, the people around us expect the future to be better. The Colonial Authority sells them on believing in science and technology, like time has made us wise enough to know which technologies we can use without destroying our civilization. We expect that in the future people will know what we did wrong and before it’s too late we’ll figure out a miracle to fix it.”
“You are carrying it out to an extreme case.”
“How can I not? You’re the one talking about changing the past and you think I’m being ridiculous?” Alix shook his head as he laughed.
“Have an open mind, okay. That’s all I’m saying. There has to be a reason why we can see events in the past.”
“Well, I don’t think it is so that we figure out how to change things. Seeing the past and being there are very different things. In the larger scheme of time, there is a negligible difference between tomorrow and yesterday, where they are in space. We call it today, but to get to anywhere else in time, you have to also move in space to where the world was or where it will be. That’s the hard part of traveling in time.”
Cristina sat in silence for a few moments, not completely following what Alix said.
“Now you are mad at me,” Alix suggested, though he was misreading her quiet consideration.
“No, I’m disappointed you are unwilling to consider the possibilities. It has nothing to do with where the world was in space of going so far back in time that whatever you could change might not matter anyway. It has more to do with destiny. I think some things are going to happen no matter what anyone does. Altering anything might delay the change but it would never prevent it completely.”
“That’s my point, though. If we went back and told ourselves what was going to happen on this trip, do you think you would still not want to find Paul? Knowing one path led to failure, you’d try something different. Maybe you wouldn’t call so early for a reservation on the railcar. Maybe you would not tell Chase and Julie until the last minute or…”
“You don’t think they betrayed us.”
“Cristina, I don’t know what to think anymore. All I’m certain of is very soon we are going to reach Star City and have to get off this railcar and have to deal with whatever is waiting ahead of us.”
“What if we stay on the railcar? There are two stations in Star City.”
“They are expecting us at the nearest one not the furthest one.”
“They wouldn’t be stupid enough not to cover both.”
“I think it is worth a gamble. Besides, I’ve been to Raven’s on the public transit from the other station. It would be easier for us to go from there because I already know the way.”
“Okay, so we stay aboard. What then?”
“We see what happens. If there are agents onboard, then we will know. We force them to reveal themselves.”
Alix sat back in his seat and closed his eyes, trying to sort through the confusion and frustration he felt at not really knowing what to do. Other than staying close to Cristina and helping her, he had no plans. He needed her as much as she needed him, if not more.