**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.**
When Alix opened his eyes, the first rays of sunshine streamed through the slight gaps in the drapes over the windows. He could not remember having slept as soundly, not even at Raven’s where he felt extremely comfortable. Beside him Cristina stirred and stretched. She, too, rested well, appearing revived with the world’s energy flowing through her. Always he enjoyed being around her, but especially when she was full of energy. At times her mood infected him almost as if he leeched some of her energy, not that he was incapable of making the natural connection to the world.
Momentarily, following before opening her eyes, she kissed him on the cheek then roused, while complaining he needed to shave. When had she complained about his beard before? It seemed odd, since he did not shave regularly and his beard was always sparse, anyway. She told him several times she liked his rough look – if that was what it was. Why was it an issue now?
Alix stood up, out of bed and hurried to the bathroom where he relieved the pressure on his bladder. As he returned, Cristina was already queued to take her turn to do much the same thing. At the end, she turned on the hot water of the shower and disrobed, stepping into the shower first, foiling any attempt Alix might have contemplated beating her to that necessary part of the morning ritual.
Waiting patiently, he shaved, knowing here might be a lack of hot water after her usual twenty-minute session in the shower. Also, he brushed his teeth. Several times he looked at his reflection in the mirror, meeting his eyes in the process. It wasn’t exactly the same as looking into the eyes of others. How could it be. They reflected the soul a mirror could not. Still, he challenged the reflection that this was probably the day for the big gambit, as Alix had begun referring to it in his mind. Maybe Cristina did not see it in the same way or was not fully appreciative of what was involved. He would need to focus with undivided attention in a way that, to his knowledge, he had only accomplished once before – and then it was unintentional.
Somewhere in the process of focusing all of his attentions, he would find the way to will himself into another place in a completely controlled manner. For the immediate moment, that was his challenge. Later on, he would have to be able to navigate the points in space separated across time to when Cristina and he visually connected with a living sand-morph. She believed that was an open, two-way connection, not merely an observation of past events. He didn’t know how he could do it without both orbs, though. The previous encounter seemed serendipitous. Happening upon the exact moment again would be random chance – something he personally did not believe in and neither did anyone else with the attributes.
In her oversimplified way, Cristina seemed to think the event was merely a thought away. Perhaps it was that simple. She could know something he did not. It was equally possible she was naïve about the finer points of navigating folds in time and space – not that he was an expert but he had greater experience than anyone else he knew.
She emerged from the shower and began drying off even as Alix twisted the knob and resumed the flow of water, taking his turn. His shower was much shorter in duration even though the hot water lasted throughout. When he emerged, Cristina was already half dressed and applying make-up as he towel-dried. Alix went into the bedroom and dressed, then went out into the living room and sat on the coach to watch the news on the world viewer. Turning it on almost as a reflex, immediately he felt stupid. Surely it was not active. The apartment sat vacant for how long? Yet, to his surprise, the monitors came to life and displayed the last previous set of programmed channels in preview with the main monitor displaying the local news, which was what interested him.
Were Emma and Arnie paying the bill all this time without using the service? If that were the case, it smacked of a bureaucracy taking advantage of the lack of technological sophistication of customers who allowed all of their bills to be automatically deducted from their payment wand accounts. The apartment should have been disconnected from the network long ago. It irritated him that a heartless agency of the city’s public utilities might be taking advantage of the elderly couple but, at the same time and for the sake of his entertainment while he waited on Cristina to get ready, he was glad world viewer worked.
When Cristina finished with her makeup, she emerged from the bathroom to finish getting dressed. Her appearance stunned him. For whatever reason she decided to wear make-up as if she were preparing to perform. It had been a while since he saw her in the full treatment. As impressive as she was with normal makeup or no makeup at all, her performance face was instantly distracting. It would serve its purpose on others, drawing attention while allowing Alix to do unimpeded in the background whatever was necessary to free Paul from incarceration.
Looking the part of a star, phenomenally attractive and photogenic in exactly the way that caused people to stop whatever they were doing to take notice, she posed between him at the world viewer screen. Alix had trouble tearing his eyes from her anyway but then, he always had. Flashing a smile she was the bait fishing for a compliment – as if she needed it. “How do I look?”
“Like the total diva you are!”
She laughed and she leaned over and he attempted to satisfy his natural compulsion to kiss her. He wanted to ravage her, but he figured they were on a timetable. Cristina was solely focused on rescuing Paul, however that might become possible.
They went over the details of the plan, her part of it anyway. A great deal depended on him, particularly his ability to do something he was not sure was possible. He wanted to try it out first. It seemed prudent. Cristina had the utmost faith in him and told him everything was going to be fine, but he wished he had more time or her confidence because, honestly, he was doubtful.
As crazy as the idea was of returning a living sand-morph from the past, the mission just ahead was more dangerous. They were agreed that it seemed like the only viable means of liberating Paul from his present dire situation. The agents of the Colonial Authority had him in custody and as a branded subversive accused of terrorism, all bets were off about giving him individual rights. Certainly they were interrogating him, perhaps exercising physical threats and torture to extract information. Alix had heard horror stories from some people whose relatives died at the hands of interrogators. They spoke about it in discrete whispers not wanting to risk bringing the same treatment onto themselves or their other relative. Getting on the bad side of the Security Agency of the Colonial Authority was a very bad idea, the kind with lethal consequences regardless of innocence or guilt. If their clandestine undertaking went awry they could expect similar treatment.
“Are you hungry?” Cristina asked, her question breaking in on his mulling over concerns for the day ahead.
“Yeah, actually I was waiting for you to get dressed.” Whether he was or wasn’t didn’t matter. He’d already been to the fridge, saw the making of breakfast inside and decided he’d fix something for both of them.
“Are they in the shop downstairs?”
“I haven’t heard them. At some point – I’m guessing yesterday – Emma must have brought us some things from the kitchen downstairs. We have eggs, bacon, bread, butter and juice. I guess they are reserving the making of coffee to experts.”
Cristina smiled. “Are you cooking or am I?”
“I got it,” he said as he leapt up. “Scrambled as usual?”
“Over easy,” she said.
“Well, that’s a bit of a change.”
“You always have them over easy so I thought I’d try it that way.”
“You are really in the mood today, taking chances and doing things differently,” Alix said as he winked at her from across the room.
“I think it’s the influence of the nature around us. The world wants to change. It’s demanding our attention.”
Alix nodded, soberly accepting the truth underlying her comment. He felt the same thing but found describing it ineffable until hearing her express it in her way. She was directly on target. It was not going to be an ordinary day at all. If he had to do what Cristina fully expected of him it could be a very important day with precipitous consequences in ways they might not fully appreciate.
By the time Alix finished making breakfast, Emma knocked at the apartment door. Cristina answered it.
“I know you slept well,” she said as she brought a tray bearing a pitcher of orange juice and small pot of fresh coffee along with empty glasses and cups for two. As she sat the tray down on the dinette table she continued talking. “This old building has one very good thing going for it, like all the buildings in this part of the city the walls are thick and the windows are made to withstand sudden depressurization of the dome. In the old days, all the doors and windows had to be sealed and the buildings were fitted with their own air supplies and filtering systems. None of that stuff’s needed anymore. I’m not sure it still works. The major benefit is the older buildings are they’re well insulated and very quiet. Hardly any outside noise gets through. The downside is you have to periodically open windows and circulate the air because the buildings don’t breathe like the ones they construct nowadays.”
“Was it common to have breeches in the dome?”
“Until they had all the seals in place and tested everything under full load, yes, sometimes it happened. It took many years to complete the dome. By the time we moved in here, though, it was rare to have an alert – maybe once a year. After we were here for ten years, there were no more alerts,” Emma said. “Neville, our eldest, hated the alerts. He could not go to school and play with his friends. He had to sit home and take his lessons through the world viewer. The systems back then were primitive. “Right before we moved out into our new home, public utilities sent people out to remove the old viewer screen because they said it was far too inefficient and it also would not receive all of their new entertainment channels – especially all the single view pay channels. Since we were original subscribers, they did the up-conversion free of charge and we are only charged for one service between our two residences.”
“I was wondering why it was still active,” Alix said.
“Arnie said there’s no reason to ever cancel the service if they’re going to provide it for free. Once we cancel it, then the next people who would live here – you at the moment – would have to contact them and reactivate it and then receive monthly debits from payment wand accounts.”
“It was a pleasant surprise when I turned it on and it worked,” Alix said. “I was hoping you weren’t being charged for something you weren’t using.”
“He’s addicted to the thing.” Cristina explained.
“I am not! I just want to stay informed.” Alix insisted.
Cristina laughed, as did Emma. “Arnie’s the same way,” the latter said. “You look like you have plans. You are far too pretty to need makeup, but I have to say, you look like a model from the ad channel.”
“Why, thank you.” Cristina blushed though Emma probably could not tell through all of the makeup.
“Well, I’ll leave you to enjoy your breakfast in peace,” she said as she carried the tray with the coffee and juice back with her toward the door.
“Thank you for the juice and coffee,” Alix said as he opened the door for her.
“And the hospitality,” Cristina added.
“If you want refills of either just come on down to the shop. There’s more juice in the fridge.”
“We saw that,” Alix said.
“We’ll be fine,” Cristina said.
Emma paused by the door, her attention drawn to a whatnot shelf where there was a stuffed animal she had not seen for a very long time. “Where on Pravda did you find that old thing?”
“There was a loose floorboard in the back of one of the closets. We noticed it when we were cleaning and when we pulled up the floorboard in the process of fixing it we found that. We dusted it off and thought it would serve to decorate the apartment. I hope you don’t mind.”
“It was Neville’s favorite toy when he was a little boy. I thought we’d never see it again. He outgrew it, of course. The day he couldn’t find it he was far too old to be playing with it but, even so, he cried and cried. At first I thought he would never get over it. But he did. Arnie’s long talk with him helped. Whatever he said to him worked. He never told me what he said – just that it was man to man.”
“How old was he then?” Cristina asked.
“He was ten, I think. As I said, he was far too old to be playing with stuffed animals anymore. But he talked to it all the time. It was his friend. Growing up the only boy with two younger sisters, he always seemed able to entertain himself when need be.”
“What’s its name?”
“He called it Staash – a good, strong and friendly name. Arnie has an ancestor with that name who was a member of the last administration of the nation of Poland on Earth. In family lore he’s something of a hero as he’s reputed to have aided many millions of people to escape the devastation of the wars and escape to the colonies.”
“That’s impressive,” Cristina said.
“When Staash here disappeared, Neville’s sisters were old enough to tease him by taking and hiding it. I always thought they did and just wouldn’t tell him where, but they denied it.”
“Well, next time you talk to him you can tell him you found Staash.”
“Yes, I will,” Emma smiled, returning the stuffed animal to the shelf. “That’s a good place for it, right out where everybody can see. Thank you for finding it. I’ll see you later, downstairs.”
“We’ll be leaving out soon.” Cristina responded.
As the door closed behind her, Cristina picked up the stuffed animal, looking at it, staring into the odd holographic sort of button-like eyes – the kind that change colors and depth whenever moved a certain way to reflect the light. “Staash.” She uttered the name that Neville had called it.
Shadows intruded from the past becoming refined and more resolute by the passing moments. Observing three children at play sitting on the living room floor. Seeming from nowhere a tall man materialized, wearing shimmering robes of the kind Raven wore when they dined with him. In the palm of his hand he held an orb and, as he stood over the children they looked up in amazement as he levitated it between this two hands. The light of the orb illuminated his face casting an eerie glow that accented his prominent facial characteristics and also accentuated the reality of his advancing age.
“Are you okay?” Alix’s voice interrupted her as well as his hand placed on her shoulder. “You seemed in a trance.”
“I was seeing the past.”
“Not the sand-morph.”
“No, something more immediate back when kids were young here. One of them has the attributes – at least one.”
“I saw Raven here. He had them mesmerized doing tricks with an orb.”
Alix shrugged. “Maybe the boy, since Staash belonged to him.”
“I think you’re right,” she returned the stuffed animal to the shelf. Then, turning toward her love, she looked into his eyes. She shared a smile.
“Your eggs are getting cold. There’s nothing worse than cold runny eyes – well maybe there actually is something worse but nothing right now.”
She returned to the dinette table. He held the chair for her and assisted in scooting it into place beneath her. Eating breakfast allowed her to focus on the present and claw back into her immediate life. She drew a deep breath. “I’m okay, now,” she verbally confirmed, prompting Alix to look up.
She finished her eggs and bacon. With the edge of her buttered toast the sopped up what remained on the plate of the broken yolk.
Alix laughed as he observed.
“I see you’ve finally learned how to enjoy breakfast.”
Cristina smiled as she wiped her lips with the corner of a napkin, then they both busied their dishes where she rinsed them off before placing them in the dishwasher.
Afterwards, she immediately returned to the bathroom to touch up her makeup, especially her lipstick. Then they returned to the table to finish their cups of coffee before setting out for the day.
It was an ambitiously concocted plan. Neither of them knew exactly how it would play out. Cristina was going to enter the Colonial Authority detention center where all the prisoners were held for interrogation pending any hearing for formal charges. She was going to ask to see one of the prisoners, a name she’d obtain, drawing it from someone’s mind.
Meanwhile, as attentions were hopefully focused on Cristina, Alix was going to come in all alone and sit down as close as possible to the door that accessed the detention cell blocks. At the first chance of an open door he was going to penetrate, slipping in behind someone. He needed to know where he was going if he was going to shift in space – otherwise he might end up somewhere he didn’t want to be, like inside a wall.
From that point on, the plan was dicey. Depending on luck and timing as much as skill and caution Alix needed to find the control room and shut down the security system. This would require him to catch someone leaving the room and immediately step back into time and shift inside the room and watch what they were doing, acquiring access codes and everything. Then, before being discovered, slipping back into the present – or rather a few seconds after where he was before.
If he were challenged for why he was in a security area, he would play dumb, saying he followed a guy from the reception area that he thought might be going to the restroom. He expected to be escorted back outside of the secure area, or at least he hoped they would be that lenient, giving him the benefit of doubt. Knowing the precise location, he could shift back into the control room, disable the alarms and the communication relay that linked the center to other Colonial Authority assets within the city and in other cities as well. He would shut down the electromagnetic jamming system that projected into the interrogation rooms and detention cells. Before leaving the control room, he would disable the network server putting, applying a different administrator password. It was nothing he had not done before, just he had not needed to do it since college. Unfortunately, he was caught then, changing grades for his friends.
When they arrived at the Security Agency’s detention center complex, Cristina executed her role flawlessly. Alix did exactly as he planned. Upon discovering the control room, the door opened and he immediately stepped back a few moments across a fold and observed the passwords and key commands before returning to the hallways a few seconds after he left.
Immediately discovered and questioned, as expected he was escorted back to the reception area where Cristina was still working her charm to its fullest. Alix smiled as he watched her at work. She was a natural at flirting and had everyone’s attention and they were smiling as she performed her role flawlessly. All Alix needed to do was access the control room.
In a thought he was back inside. Immediately, he accessed the computer and changed the passwords to reflect a code requiring knowledge of hexadecimal mathematics – and the solution to the square root of quantity ten minus pi expressed in base sixteen.
He had done something very similar when he was in college. When he was caught it was fortunately after he had completed his operation. By then, the college was much more interested in getting everything put back the way it was than officially prosecuting him – even if he was on probation and watched carefully for the remainder of his self-abbreviated collegiate career.
It would take the Security Agency a while to access the computer again. Then, he shut down the communication links and the internal jamming equipments before shutting down the main server, effectively crippling every workstation in the facility from accessing files and information on the host holographic array.
With the entire security system off-line Alix figured the overall authority structure would react within a few minutes to alert the center through other means. He disabled the local communication access as well to delay notification. It would be several minutes to maybe as much as an hour before anyone discovered what he did to the communications systems. It would be days before they could undo what the damage to their internal computer network.
Having completed his tasks, Alix concentrated and reappeared exactly where he had been seated before, just the few minutes it had taken him to do his handiwork had elapsed. Due to Cristina’s masterful performance, no one noticed when Alix vanished from where he was sitting or when he returned.
He stood up and walked over to the desk, asked a question of someone who seemed perturbed to be disturbed as his attentions were focused on Cristina. Then he turned toward her, “Hey, I think I know you.”
“That line’s so old it should have been left on Earth.”
“No really, I’m sure we have met. Julie introduced us, right. You know Julie, of course.”
“Yes, Julie and I are friends.”
“See, I knew it,” Alix said. “It was at that concert.”
Cristina smiled. “Yes, now I remember you. Bert, right?”
“Bart. Your Patricia.”
“Close enough both ways. You were wearing body paint last time I saw you.”
“And nothing else.” She winked.
“Damn, hon, you look good even with your clothes on.”
“Thanks she said. So, Bart, what are you doing today?”
“Nothing now,” he replied, offering his arm. “I have the whole day free, just for you.”
“What a coincidence. So do I.”
“We could go back to my place and…” he paused, and then glanced at all the astonished and envious faces behind the counter. “I could play my guitar.”
She giggled and then hand-in-hand they exited the building. Even outside she continued playing her role, occasionally bumped into him, pushing him off course until he pushed back. “You did it?” she asked in a whisper.
“Of course,” he said. “It was actually pretty easy. But I have doubts it will help Paul. There are real, mechanical locks on the doors that stay locked even when the electronic open-and-close functions are off-line.”
“As long as you disabled the waves that frustrate his senses. That is all Paul needed. The rest of what you did buys him the time he needs to escape.”
“Well, I hope it’s enough.”
Having reached the nearby bench for the Starport transit coach stop Cristina sat and waited. “It won’t be long. We’ll see it from here.”
“Are you going to talk to him?”
“Paul, no. Not right now. He needs to get away. We need to stay clear of him for the time being,” she said. “In fact, maybe we should disappear, too. I mean, not hang around here.”
“The coffee shop isn’t that far. We could walk.”
She stood up. “Let’s do that. On the way we can talk about the next challenge. That’s really how we solve everyone’s problems.”
“Cristina, I have been thinking about it ever since you first suggested it to me.” He took her hand. I have no real experience shifting except for the times I’ve done it and never beyond what I did in a serendipitous way. A day or two is nothing on the cosmic scale. The world is just about where it was relative to the rest of the universe, close enough for argument and accessible as obviously I could still sense it when we shifted. I suppose the danger of being somewhere unintended was yet there, but certainly it was not an extreme departure like going back eighty years.”
“You are telling me you can’t do it?”
“I am telling you I can’t do it unless I know exactly where I am going. And the only way for us to ever find where we are going is…”
“Using the orbs.”
Alix nodded, and then continued. “I’m sure I can do it, though. I mean, in principle, folding time for a minute or a millennium should not matter much. The relevant issue that’s the major logistical challenge is the spatial concern. I have to know where I am going to be, precise coordinates even. Maybe our orbs can give us some of the answers, but I need to project where the exact coordinates for where I’m going to be – eighty years ago.”