**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.**
Paul sat alone staring out the window, just as he did every morning. He watched the city come to life. He observed the mid-morning bustle and afternoon hustle. Then he settled in for the evening and watched as the city collectively grew bored with tediousness of another day and retired to be lulled asleep with the sounds and images of world viewer, carried into a stupor after imbibing sufficient intoxicants, or some combination of the two.
When the city slept so did he. Between his sessions sitting at the window he did other things but mostly he sat at his desk and read.
He thought it was cruel telling him about the reunion and then preventing him from attending. To his understanding all but four of The Twenty-Four were there, invited to meet their mothers. He heard Cristina, Alix and Pete were going into the studio to record and could not attend. There was no doubt where he was. If anyone of the others had not heard by the reunion, he was certain Chase would tell them the main details.
When Neville and Chase visited, they talked a lot about the past and the similarities between each of The Twenty-Four. Every one of them was rebellious as a youth as juvenile records attested – everyone except for Cristina. For some reason she was unique. He thought at the time Neville was trying to make him feel better. But Paul took it a different way. As bad as his life had become, Cristina’s had been just the opposite.
Neville was the source of his knowledge about Alix and Cristina. He confirmed they went home to New Milan, taking the living sand-morph with them. He said he was sending them invitations but he was not expected their attendance.
Generally Paul liked Neville. He seemed a decent enough sort of guy even if he was an administrator and usually Paul had no use for the administrators. On Paul’s behalf Neville spoke to the magistrate. Otherwise the Colonial Authority’s desire for execution would have prevailed. Had it not been for Neville, Paul would already be dead. He did not like being alone but he certainly did not want to die. As long as he was alive he had some lingering hope that in the future something might change.
He held out some hope for Cristina’s idea of exposing the cover-up. Perhaps the embarrassment would benefit him in a reduced or commuted sentence. During his hearing before the magistrate what seemed to be of overriding concern was that he killed so many agents. Even though he was tortured and was unarmed while the agents were discharging their weapons at him, it did not mattered in the judgment. Agents died, many of them. As a result, Paul needed to be punished.
What haunted him most as he lingered in the silence of every day was his stupidity. He should have listened to his aunt and uncle instead of hanging out with the troublemakers in Haven. He might have never met members of The Resurrection. They sacrificed him in order to misdirect the Colonial Authority’s resources. He became the focus while elements of The Resurrection executed their own agendas. He was the patsy become scapegoat but, unlike the others, he accepted the blame for the chaos he fomented as well as what others refused to own.
Paul had been a true believer. They convinced him it was possible to bring a sand-morph back from the dead. He came to realize it was never the true goal of The Resurrection. From their inception they subverted authority. They used everyone, including him. He was young enough to be willing. He became notorious enough to become the focus of attention. It was merely part of the set up, that he would take the fall. They wanted the Colonial Authority to think Paul was more important than he was. The Security Agency believed he was their leader. There was no leader. There never was.
He deserved worse than the magistrate’s summary judgment: life in solitary confinement. The maximum-security facility in Star City became his permanent home. Offered a better lot if he would identify the others, he refused. The Security Agency still wanted to know what Paul knew. Mainly he was fearful of their retribution. The Resurrection infiltrated the Security Agency. Their people were everywhere, but personally unknown to him. He would not risk their retribution. Maintaining his silence allowed him to live. The Resurrection would be content with the status quo. Besides, they could use the story of his mistreatment to recruit other willing goats for the atonement ahead.
Looking away from the window, he lowered his eyes before closing them. Whenever he closed his eyes, she was always there. Cristina had bright green eyes and a winning smile. Her pretty face beamed as she laughed at something silly that Alix must have said to her. Was it his imagination that he saw her? It could not be just that simple to dismiss. She was real, his sister. He barely knew her yet he felt as if he knew everything there was to know.
Her singing voice was wonderful. The guards sometimes played music, occasionally he heard recordings of her band played over the public address system during the day. Whenever a Duae Lunae song played he would stretch out on his bed, close his eyes and listen in utter amazement at how phenomenally talented his sister was. What was wrong with him? Could he have done something similar with his life and his talents?
As far away from home as Star City, Cristina’s band was becoming famous. The guards knew Cristina was his sister and so he felt that they played her songs more often, just for him.
There were no complaints with any of the guards. They treated him with respect and dignity. Even though he was prohibited from any entertainment other than reading, the guards frequently shared any news with him they thought might be of interest.
Each day, at some point after breakfast, he was taken outside to exercise in a small segregated section of the yard. He was not allowed to approach the fence or talk to anyone through it. Talk to the guard attending him was also prohibited. But they could talk to him and he could listen as he stretched and performed calisthenics.
Afterwards, he returned to his cell and usually he sat down to read until lunch was served. In the afternoon he worked for a few hours in one of the manual labor centers. He could not talk to anyone and he was in his own work cubicle. When he was returned to his cell he would read some more until his dinner tray came.
In the evening a guard came to escort him to a shower where he washed his body for a few minutes before drying off and putting on his sleeping clothes and being issued clean clothes to put on in the next morning when he woke – always too early for his tastes.
Long since his dreams were only regular source of divertive escape. When he dreamed the texture of the illusion seemed more vivid and fantastic than it had before. Maybe his confinement liberated his imagination and refined the detail of his nocturnal delusions. It mattered little to him that his dreams were incredibly life-like. He could not wait to sleep just so he had the chance to return to visit the world his imagination conjured and invited him to rejoin.
A recurring dream about a goddess came often – one of his favorites. As stunning to the senses as anyone imaginable, she was so beautiful he immediately decided that she could not possibly be real. Walking hand-in-hand along a beach, the tides sweeping the salty water across their feet submerging them briefly up to their ankles before sweeping back out into the bay, undermining the sand from beneath them. Always her face he saw and it burned deep into his memory. When he was awake he remembered everything about her, her eyes and especially her smile.
She had dimples in her cheeks that were obvious whenever he said something in the course of the dream that amused her. Probably he loved her dimples more than any other feature. It was hard enough for him to make such a determination because, after all, she was a goddess. Everything about her embodied perfection – certainly, the things he liked about her were abundant. Still, he thought about her dimples most of the time when he was awake and recalling the recurring dream.
As they continued to walk in the dream he heard something approaching from behind them. It was an odd-looking vehicle that rumbled and pinged as it progressed across the sand, gripping at the looseness that slid away beneath it and flared behind as rooster tails shot up in evidence of its passing.
He looked into her eyes while basking in the radiance of her smile.
“It has been a while,” he said to her.
“How long was it this time?”
“Even a second apart from you is too painful to endure.”
“I suppose I could get used to all this adoration,” she said but then she immediately laughed.
“What if I told you I’m not really here?”
“Who is ever where they’re supposed to be?” she countered. “We’re together in this moment. There’s only this, whatever is right now.”
Inexplicably, Paul felt the release of his bonds. Really, no prison could contain him. He could always be somewhere else, even places never before seen and he did not have to sleep in order to engage and experience such fantastic adventures.
Leaning into her personal space, bringing his lips close to hers, brushing across her cheek and then kissing her exactly on the tip of her nose, causing her to giggle.
Then after a few moments she became refocused. “Where else are you?”
“Does that matter?”
“It does to me.”
“It would only matter if you need to know the links and the connections to get there,” he said.
In response she chuckled. “You’re one of the strangest men I have ever met,” she said, as she kissed him on the cheek. “It’s getting dark. Maybe we should head back.”
He sighed. “It’s always the same.”
“I can never get past this part,” he said and he forced his mind to reawaken even if it was to the same painful truth that was his persistent imprisonment.
Just another dream, a mental kind of masturbation without any particular intent or physical gratification, misdirected stimulation served only to fuel his desire to be free again. Paul sat up in the bed. His heart ached for her. He wanted to find her. She was perfect for him, but she was not there. She could never be there. Incarcerated, forever or as long as he lived and, as he understood it, the average expected lifespan for someone like him with the enhanced package of the attributes was around 225 years.
Outside of his dreams there would be little hope for him to ever find Clare. Even if he was certain she were real, he had lost any possible access to her through the stupidity of chasing less unlikely dream than pursuing his private goddess – the embodiment of perfect for him.
Almost dawn, Paul decided to assume his position at the window, just as he always did whenever first he awakened. Following routine, he did not have to think about his present situation. It freed his mind for other diversions. Yet he observed every slight deviation from whatever happened the previous morning. He refused to give up on the idea that, in time, there would be an opportunity. A single chance of a lifetime was all he needed to escape. Every dreamer awakens. The living nightmare would eventually conclusion. The opportunity would come to wake up from his life.
The guard came as he always did, delivering his breakfast, which he gratefully consumed. He was very hungry, as hungry as he had ever been. It seemed as if the salt air he breathed within the dream increased his appetite, except that seemed silly even as he considered it.
Quietly consuming his eggs, ham, buttered toast and juice – everything synthetic, as good s a prisoner might expect. What was not artificial in his present circumstance? When he finished he returned the tray to the slot in the door from whence it came. Then he sat down on the edge of his bed and picked up the electronic tablet that contained the book he was reading. He found the place where he had left off and went back a few paragraphs and re-read it to jog his memory as to what was going on with the characters and reacquaint him with the plot.
It was a good story. Lyle, one of the good guards he trusted recommended it to him. Lyle told him the news of the day. He was one of the several Duae Lunae fans who played the music on the institution’s public address system just so Paul could hear his sister’s voice.
The day melded into the sameness of any other day as it became a part of a larger routine. Overwhelming him with boredom as he returned to sit at the window as he always did, looking out at the world that, like his life, moment by moment was passing him by.
Unexpectedly, the door to his cell opened. He turned to see what was going on, a little apprehensive as he remembered the torture sessions at the detention facility always began with an unexpected intrusion. The man who stood in the doorway of his cell he did not recognize. Considering he might be a medical or dental technician, Paul might have relaxed – except he had recently endured a complete physical examination that included every orifice.
Unwarned of any visitors, it was unlikely it was official or scheduled in advance. He studied the face of the man, apparently middle-aged and reaffirmed that he had never met him before. There was potential in that as long as the man was unbiased.
Paul stood up. As he walked toward the stranger who had been admitted into his confined, private universe, he stretched out a hand in greeting. “I’m Paul.”
“It’s good to meet you Paul,” the stranger accepted his hand but did not reveal his name in return.
“What’s your business with me?”
“I’m into speculation, probabilities and such. Actually, it has been the passion of my life since I was very young.”
“And that has what to do with me?”
“Actually, it has a great deal to do with you, both directly and indirectly. Do you mind if I sit down?”
“It is the only reason that I can think of for why they gave me a couple of chairs – just on the off chance that anyone would ever come to visit and might actually want to take a load off his or her feet. Sometimes I use the other one of course, like I was just now, sitting beside the window,” Paul said as he went back to the window to retrieve it and bring it to the table where he settled across from the man.
“I can already see that we have a lot in common,” the man said, and then he spent what seemed an uncomfortably inordinate amount of time staring at Paul before he continued. “As I understand it you can kill people with only the power of your mind.”
“Let’s say I can find weaknesses and vulnerabilities to exploit. Almost everyone has them. But yeah, if they turned off the electromagnetic dampers in this place, even if I could find nothing medically wrong with you, I could constrict your throat. At least I could render you unconscious – certainly, disabled for a period of time.”
“Well, if I were to have a choice in my ultimate demise I would opt for something far more dramatic than that.”
“Are you up for a massive coronary?”
“Yes, that would be more dramatic but painful and not in a particularly unique way.”
“A unique way to die would present quite a challenge.”
“I’ll assume I’m safe until you’ve finally arrived at one.”
“You’re safe because the electronics in this facility have just as well as neutered me. The attributes I possess are nearly useless here.” Paul forced a smile but then after the brief amusement passed the one lingering question remained. “Excuse me, but you never did get around to answering my initial question.”
“What is it you need to know?”
“Obviously you didn’t come here to shoot the shit. What is it that brings you here?”
“I’m a private contractor, Mr. Scalero. In the past, I have written artificial intelligence subroutines for very sophisticated control programs. I’ve told the Colonial Authority that I’m an expert in branch prediction decision matrices and can program the Colonial Authority’s computers to better track fugitives. Your recent life is rife with very curious, unanticipated decisions that fascinate them. Nevertheless your behavior was well within the range of the potential variables for rational decisions. Of course, they do not realize this. However, it gave me the opportunity to get past security and meet you.”
“And now we’ve returned once more to the initial question, what’s your business with me?”
“Your decisions were not expected. That’s the essential point for selling my research. In your case the decisions you made meant major, even life and death consequences for many agents. The Colonial Authority wishes to prevent needless danger to their agents and would be very grateful for your cooperation.”
“I’m alive because I promised to be a good boy. I guess that means I will help you in any way I’m able. However, I surmise that the reasons you told them were phony.”
The visitor positioned a tablet where he could jot down notes and then focused intently on Paul. “Look, most of what I said is true. I need to understand the processes behind the decisions you made in order to predict what you might do in the future.”
“In the future, I’ll do the same thing I’m doing now unless I’m relocated or set free.”
“The future is never completely predictable regardless of the conditions in the present,” the visitor said.
“I’ll not debate the point, but from where I view it, I’m not anticipating significant change anytime soon.”
The visitor cleared his throat and then looked directly into Paul’s eyes as he began. “Tell me about the conditions that prevailed before, during and after your escape from the detention facility.”
“I was subject to interrogation. At first it was polite, even cordial and respectful. But the more I refused to cooperate, the more ugly the interrogation became. The more painful parts of my experience came after refusing to provide the information about other members of The Resurrection. Then, after several hours of questioning and psychological torment, the physical torment began.”
“You were physically accosted.”
“That’s way too polite a term for what happened. I had my pubic hairs singed off or plucked out one by one with pliers. Hanks of hair were ripped from my scalp. I was whipped repeatedly with flexible tubing until I was so numb I could only feel the dead pressure of the contact. I was punched with bare fists, slapped, backhanded, picked-up and dropped on my head with force. I was tied-up and flailed until my back was raw and bloody. They administered electric shock to me, through my nipples and genitals. Is that sufficient for you to comprehend or do you need anything more graphic? I assure you I can give you details that will give you bad dreams for the rest of your life.”
“I get the picture.”
“Well you should have been there except that maybe I would have mistaken you for another of the multitude of self-righteous, sadistic sons-of-bitches that predominated throughout that facility. Those agents who died made wrong decisions and were punished. I’m certain I was not the only one who they tortured to within an inch of life in order to extract information. I killed no one who didn’t try to harm or kill me, something which, for whatever reason, was inadmissible in defense at my hearing.”
“Perhaps you were railroaded. Immediately, after the incident a lot of the dead agents’ wives and children were featured in news reports on world viewer crying out for justice against the man who murdered their husbands and fathers. It was a well-orchestrated effort against which you could never have possibly prevailed. Even if it had been revealed how brutally you were tormented, I doubt it would have mattered. Perhaps the same sort of rage that borders on insanity drove you momentarily. Any one of us might have felt the same under the conditions, but in the present world, there is little empathy. There’s certainly no sympathy for someone who kills another or in your case multiple others. That may not be the only reason you’re where you are now, but I’m certain it figured prominently in the decision of the magistrate.”
“Who are you?” Paul finally asked as he focused on the man’s face, considering it in the growing light of the day that shone true through the one and only window of his cell. There was silence for the moment as he waited for a response to his question. Still, all along he was mentally enumerating the imperfections of the disguise. “You’re old, older than you appear.”
“You can sense that how?”
“By my eyesight alone but I dare say you are barely even what you have determined to appear to be.”
The visitor laughed as he relaxed a bit. “There’s an irony about this sort of confinement, Mr. Scalero. They cannot fully monitor you. Ordinary means of surveillance are useless beneath the highly dampened electromagnetic fields that surround you. Since your last escape, you now wear a collar that serves as a failsafe in controlling you. For the moment they are right in their assessments. You do not threaten them.”
“But you’re telling me we’re safe to talk?”
“We’re hardly safe -merely safer than might otherwise be the case within one of the Security Agency’s facilities. If they knew my true purpose here, I’m unafraid they would retaliate. My concern is entirely for your well being. You’re more important than you realize.”
“I feel spent and discarded.”
“In their myopia the Colonial Authority has no further use for you. If they were enlightened they might understand you hold one key to the viability of the future they once sought and still envision. Under normal circumstances, I would be reluctant to tell you except that they’ll never be able to extract any of this conversation from the background noise that they are generating ancillary to the effort to subdue your abilities.”
“I think it’s good for you to know there’s always balance involved. Whatever they do to control you creates an opportunity to defeat their efforts. I offer that just for your future reference and ultimate consideration.”
“You really do want to help me, then.”
“Of course I do.”
“It’s just not easy.”
“There’re some obstacles.” The visitor confirmed. “I assure you, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome.”
“Who are you?” Paul asked again.
The visitor stood up and in the palm of his hand he produced a single alabaster orb that as he withdrew his hand from supporting it, it still floated between them. “I’m seeking one to bear this burden, yet I have not found him or her. Until then, I assist as best I can in the efforts of others to deliver their burdens while preventing the world from destroying any who are its last hope for survival.”
“I’m afraid I already have one of those orbs. So, alas I’m not the one you seek.”
“Ah but that is where you err. The orb is your ticket?”
“My ticket to what?”
“Why is it that none of you have ever once realized the fullest capabilities of these orbs?” The visitor asked rhetorically even as he moved closer to the door of the cell. “Did they take it from you when you were imprisoned?”
Paul stretched out his hand and his orb immediately appeared. “See,” Paul said. “But little good it does me here.”
“Is that a fact or just what you choose to believe? That’s the only real question where the attributes are concerned. This is the truth. Believe it or not, it is what it is. Despite everything you have done, you are not the largest threat to the stability and order of their world.”
“She desires to alter the past. Once the past is changed it will be irreversible for any event stream that follows. There may be no one born with the attributes. She will have created an inalterable sequence of events that terminates those of us who are alive in this context.”
“Why would she seek to end our lives?”
The visitor shrugged. “Maybe she doesn’t realize the full impact of what she is doing. Since the very first of us who was able to slip through a veil or cross a fold in time, we have always been mindful that changing anything may produce undesired outcomes. Perhaps neither Cristina nor Alix who is assisting her realizes anything about the significance of events streams or the consequences of what they intend to do. That’s why I’m here. You can reach her. You have a bond with her that no other has.”
Paul looked into to palm and studied the orb. He rolled his hand over and allowed the orb to follow the contours to the back of his hand. Then he stared at it and the orb rose away from his outstretched hand that he quickly withdrew from supporting it in the physical universe.
“Good, very good. You understand at least that.”
“It’s not where it appears to be.”
“In this universe what is?” the visitor asked. “The orb can be your connection to everyone else who possesses one.”
“That was never explained to me.”
“Why should something so obvious ever need to be explained? If any of you had merely done as you were instructed then he or she would have all the secrets of the universe in hand.”