Special thanks to Todd Embry, who contributed this sci-fi near-future suspense short.
As I thrust my walking stick deep into the campfire to knock it down for the night, pops echoed off the surrounding trees. Glowing sparks were violently launched skyward burning out before they hit the dry grass. Slowly at first then in a crash of more sparks the fire collapsed in on itself. I lay back against my pack and sleeping bag, watching, listening, and waiting for the nightly symphony of the swamp to begin.
I was at my favorite camping spot deep inside the Everglades National park. The native people had been camping here for hundreds of years before the white man came. Campfires are forbidden this time of year but I don’t care.
The rain starved saw grass was a huge tinderbox beckoning for an afternoon lightning strike, or a stray camp fire, the wet season had not yet begun. Wildfires had always been a natural part of the Everglades ecology and each year a seasonal threat to the city of New Miami.
I came here often to rid myself of the stress of a job I hated and the aches and pains resulting from it. I was well outside the city’s security zone. If a government patrol drone happened by I could get in a lot of trouble. Fortunately for me they rarely strayed this far from the automated highway. They concentrated more on issuing speeding fines to those good citizens who illegally disconnected their transports from the automated interstate.
As the flames died down, the fire began to smolder enough to keep the rising clouds of mosquitos at bay. I rolled out my sleeping bag and climbed in. I was soon lulled to sleep by the many sounds of night in a swamp.
The buzzing of the crickets, the croaking of many species of frogs was accented by an occasional grunt from the nearby alligators. The still of night in the swamps was often punctuated by the screams of terrified prey, and thwarted predator, harmonized with the sweet cries of courtship. The sounds of both death and life
As I slept, strange dreams overtook me, causing much to tossing and turning, bunching up my sleeping bag. I did not see the glowing red ball of light that silently rose from the waters of the nearby lake. I did not know it was the source of my dreams, nightmares of a dark future for Earth, terrifying and full of death.
I woke to the bright sunlight of the beginning of another perfect Florida winter day shining in my face. With highs in the mid-seventies and an overnight low in the lower sixties it was perfect camping weather.
I stretched and wiped the sleep from my eyes. Finding to my dismay several large mosquito bites on my neck, where the sleeping bag had exposed it in my thrashing about to the strange dreams. About which I could not remember anything. The harder I tried the more the dreams slipped from my memory. Finally with a snort of disgust, I dismissed them as gibberish and went about packing up my gear for the hike back to my transport.
It was a steady drizzle by the time I reached my transport. As I deactivated the security system I knew my transport would be low on charge. It had been overcast or cloudy for my entire three days at the lake. As a result the security system had drained more power than the solar panels could replace.
I stowed my wet gear in the trunk, then slid into the driver’s seat. As I brought the main computer up I checked the power reading. I was right, less than a quarter charge remained not nearly enough to get home. The navcomp calculated I would have to use the diesel engine just to get to the nearest charging station.
That made me decidedly unhappy as the price of diesel fuel was over one hundred and seventeen dollars a gallon, if they had any. The hydrogen revolution in America had all but made petroleum based fuels a thing of the past. The big oil companies with their dying gasp charged whatever the shrinking market would allow, unwittingly sealing their own fate faster. Only those of us who couldn’t afford the new hydrogen powered transports relied on petroleum anymore.
The Federal Government had put a mandatory end to internal combustions engines in 2030. The mandate to turn in my transport for disposal was less than a month away. If I was going to qualify for the cash for clunkers I had about ten days left. I had my eye on a new Ford hydro powered, two door economy model, the Laser they were calling it.
With the money I would get from the government in its cash for clunkers reclamation program, I would have the down payment on that new Ford Laser. That would only leave 200,000 dollars to finance. With my mandatory good credit I could get at least 27% financing. I would haggle for 25%. But I knew I would probably get 27% and count myself lucky.
No citizen in their right mind volunteered to go to debtors’ prison, not after the horror stories the State media broadcast every night. The courts ran twenty four hours a day to keep up with the stream of economic criminals. Citizens who had run up debts and were unable to pay were the new criminals of the state. Sentencing citizens to a work camp until their debts were paid.
The big companies and the banks were in control of America now, using the government as its enforcement muscle. If you owed and couldn‘t pay, to the work camps you went. You were there until you worked off your debt to society at a very low wage.
The companies that ran the prisons for the government would then make their newest prisoner pay for their own food and housing. Generously, and legally, tacking it on to the end of the sentence as a gesture of good will.
Those who survived debtors’ prison owned nothing except the clothes they wore out the gates. They had no place in society and no legal rights. The big companies, run by the banks, would then put them to work in the factories for room and board, but only as long as they continued to meet quota. Fail to make quota and that now newest prisoner would be sent to Debtor’s Hell. No ever survived for long at Debtors Hell. Not even the brutish nor the homicidal maniac.
I must be crazy to even consider taking out a debt to the banks, they owned whatever the government didn’t, to buy a new transport. If I was smart I would try and save the money I got from my clunker and buy an education at one of the technical schools that accepted government education grants.
Well I have a month to think about it. As I started my transport, I said a silent goodbye to my favorite place in the world. It was too far from the city to hike to on the occasional three day weekend I got off. After the end of this month I had to turn my transport in for cash for clunkers, or pay the fines, which were huge.
I logged into the net and pulled up the location of the nearest charging station on the info net with my transports navcomp. I was in luck the nearest charging station was only sixty kilometers away and they offered bio-diesel. I set the navcomp autopilot once I got on the automated-highway to the city of New Miami and settled in for a short nap during the ride to the charging station.
I was in luck. There was an empty spot on the solar charger, which was free. Combining my savings by buying biodiesel put a grin on my face. I truly enjoyed depriving big oil of its insane profits. It always gives me a warm glow of satisfaction. I realize they will not miss my five hundred dollars but it is the principal of the matter. The only downside was it was cash only for the biodiesel and I only had five hundred and ten dollars on me.
So as I stood in line to buy my four hundred dollars’ worth of biodiesel I heard myself asking for a multi-state lottery ticket. It had been almost a month with no winner and the jackpot was one of the largest in lottery history. Without thinking I tucked my change and the ticket in my wallet and dismissed it from my mind. I mean does anyone ever really win that much money?
It was late when I finally arrived at my apartment; the traffic on the automated interstate leading into New Miami had been heavy and slower than usual. I went straight into the shower, washing off the grime of sweat and smoke from the last three days. I felt like a new man as I unpacked my soggy gear, spreading it out all around the apartment to dry.
I really wanted a beer. But I have to work the morning shift and after a weekend off there was mandatory drug testing for all the line workers at the mech factory. I spent my working hours assembling mechs who would one day take a humans job. I worked twelve hours on and twelve hours off for the next fifteen days then I would get two days off. That had been my life for the last five years.
As I turned on the halovision to unwind, I noticed I had a message in my inbox. It was from my supervisor telling me that our factory’s quota had been cut back and I was required to take the next shift off. Time for that beer I told myself.
I was surprised it was only one shift. The demand for mechs that I assembled had already peaked, declining sharply since the release of the new generation of mechs. Which were built in fully automated factories. Only a handful of humans were needed to oversee production. I knew I do not have enough seniority or education to warrant a management position at the company’s new factory.
I realized I may soon be out of a job as I finished my beer, reaching for another. In my despair I thumbed through the vid-channels finding nothing that I wanted to watch. It seemed every channel was carrying reruns of those really awful reality shows from the twenty teens. An era often referred to as worse than something called disco.
As chance would have it I stumbled onto the live lottery drawing. If anyone matched all eleven numbers the payout was estimated to be 10,000,000,000 American dollars. It was an unbelievable fortune, the largest Powerball jackpot ever. The odds of any one person winning were approximately 5,000,000,000 to 1. Suddenly I remembered the ticket I had bought earlier that day on a whim.
As I rummaged through the pocket of the pants I had worn home I heard the first number 49, then 50 then 51, then 60 then 61 and 62. No one would ever choose those numbers, I thought to myself as I unfolded my lottery ticket. That will send the players into a worldwide buying frenzy tomorrow, I thought, all but assured by the strange combination of numbers.
The shock of seeing the first six winning numbers on my ticket seemingly made time suddenly stand still. Each second seemed an eternity as I waited for the next number to be drawn. My heart was beating wildly in my chest and I suddenly couldn’t breathe.
As the last number was displayed a roaring sound engulfed me. I slumped over, unconscious from the shock of seeing that my ticket matched every single number drawn. I had just won 10,000,000,000 dollars. I had gone from pauper to prince in sixty seconds.
It was some months later that I found myself back at my favorite campsite next to the lake, deep in the Everglades National Park. I had spent my time since my big win traveling and throwing lavish parties to entertain starlets.
The gossip vid crews constantly followed my every move at first. Slowly the spotlight turned on someone else. Fortunately for me the President had been caught frolicking with another young White House intern and a world class scandal had temporarily distracted the gossip papers.
As I lay stretched out by the camp fire I rolled up a bit of the finest Florida purple I had ever come across. I was just happy to be out of the spotlight for once. I had been on the front page of all the gossip papers worldwide for months. I couldn’t even slip out for takeout without it being a news flash on the local evening gossip show. I was safe from that here, my platoon of security mechs standing guard silently until needed.
As the purple worked its magic I uncorked a bottle of some aged and very smooth peach moonshine. Unwinding slowly as my cheeks flushed and my toes tingled from the effects of the nectar of the gods. Slowly the troubles of the last couple of months slipped away, as I floated into a haze of artificial pleasure. I was soon far to buzzed to notice the silent, glowing red ball that rose silently from the lake, hovering over me as I lay sprawled out and snoring next to the now burned out campfire.
I awoke with a start with the sun high in the morning sky covered in mosquito bites; my sleeping bag still rolled up and unslept in. As reality and its brother my hangover slowly let their unpleasant self’s be known, a wave of shame swept over me. I realized I had accomplished nothing. I had intended to change the world and instead all I had done was party and waste lots of money.
As I packed up my gear, another wave of shame swept over me. I reached into my pocket for my stash. As I looked at its beckoning, beautiful purple color it suddenly took on the appearance of such an evil thing that I threw it as far as I could into the surrounding swamp. I was glad to be rid of it.
By the time my Mercedes all terrain transport had reached the main trail back to the automated highway I had made up my mind to never again lose myself to partying. By the time I had reached my estate on the edge of New Miami I had a plan. I resolved I was going to change the world, or die trying. But where to start?
If I let my intentions be known I would have every crackpot and their brother pounding on my front gate. Each with a sure fire plan if only I would give them the money to bring it to fruition. I would need a front man. Someone I could control.
As I forwarded through the pages of investment brokers, a name jumped out at me, Goldswindle and Crookedstein. Providers of expert financial advice, life insurance and personal injury law all under one roof the huge ad proudly proclaimed.
A perfect place to start for greed is a powerful tool with which to control someone without them knowing it. I placed the call as my Mercedes purred through the massive front gate of my estate. Making an appointment for 8:00 am sharp the following Friday at the new office in the city. The one I had just rented from the classifieds, using my credit card to pay 2 months’ rent in advance. With a few more zeroes added on for no questions asked and no records of the agreement. Security concerns I explained to the landlord’s office mech that answered my call.
“All right Guberman I have a hot new client for you. It’s that guy who won the big lottery jackpot a couple of months ago. This is your last chance. If you screw up such a sweet deal, I will fire you, nephew or not,” said Crookedstein the most senior partner shaking his fist. “I want you to bleed this chump dry. Is that clear Guberman?, he screeched having worked himself up into a nearly maniacal fit from the thought of so many easy dollar signs dancing in front of his eyes. “And stay out of the liquid joy or I will fire you even if you are my sister’s son. Do I make myself clear?”, Crookedstein shouted saliva spraying into his nephews face, a wild look in his eyes. “Yes Uncle I will bleed him dry. It will be different this time you’ll see,” mumbled the young Guberman. “It better be. Now get the hell out of my office and find out everything you can about this guy before you meet him at this address on Friday,” shouted Crookedstein, dismissing his now crestfallen nephew.
It was just after 8:00 a.m. and Guberman squirmed in his seat as he waited for the client to arrive, having been announced by the secretary mech manning the reception desk. It was now 8:20 and still no client. He is probably hung over from partying until the morning hours thought Guberman. The fact was that his soon to be new client was all over the gossip vids, each party a little more outrageous than the last.
At long last the huge wooden doors swung open and a heavy set, balding redhead man strode toward him, his right hand thrust out. I imagined he would be bigger thought Guberman as he shook the client’s hand. This will be easier than I thought.
“Please come in Mr….? I said to the young man waiting for me in the reception room. The security mechs had profiled him as Otto Guberman, a junior partner, known drunk, womanizer and the son of the senior partner’s sister and most importantly, no threat.
“Otto Guberman is my name sir,” he answered returning my handshake with a firm grip.
If his good manners continue I will start my acquisitions. That will give me two nights to spring my trap on young Mr. Guberman. I thought as I slid into the chair behind my new desk. I grinned inward, calling this work of art, made from driftwood and Flexi, a desk was like calling a Siberian tiger a large house cat.
“Today is your lucky day Mr. Guberman. Your commissions from today alone will be worth several million dollars,” I said as I called up the comterm from the “desks” innards. As I watched the younger man worked his mouth several times but no sound came out such was his astonishment. He finally managed to squeak out “I won’t disappoint you sir. I will double your investment.”
“Be that as it may I have a list of assets I want to buy. It must be done discreetly I don’t want the gossip vids to find out. Is that clear Mr. Guberman?” I asked.
“Yes sir, absolutely sir you can count on me, my uncle has some very good “connections” if you get my drift,” answered the young Guberman with a grin.
“I am not opposed to using less than legal means to acquire what is on this list. BUT only as a last resort. Is that clear Mr. Guberman?” I said in my sternest voice.
“Yes sir, absolutely, you can count on me,” he gushed, his youthful enthusiasm obvious.
“All right then Otto, sit down and let’s get started shall we,” I said in a more friendly almost fatherly tone.
It was on the second night that young Otto took the bait, or perhaps it could be called a fall from grace. It depends entirely on your perspective I suppose.
As he put another on the stack of shot glasses in front of him Guberman said to the mech bar tender, “Then he says to buy all this land in the desert. That’s not even the stupidest thing he wants to do. He bought a research facility that specialized in Virology. Seems he thinks he can cure R.E.D.S and cancer at the same time. THEN he is going to give away the vaccine to anybody who is sick for FREE,” slurred the now very intoxicated Guberman, who was oblivious to the many trades being made on the advice he was giving the mech bartender. “I mean I can understand buying the automated highway construction equipment manufacturing company even though no one is going to build a new highway any time soon. But he still got one hell of a deal.”
“I think the best deal he got was on that bankrupt concrete manufacturing company. I mean concrete is almost never used in construction anymore. My new client says he can modify the plant to produce something he calls carbon blocks. Gunna revolutionize the building industry he says,” mumbled the now nearly unconscious Guberman, his head on the bar, drool on his chin.
It was sometime the next day when young Otto Guberman woke to the smell of fresh made waffles coming from his apartment’s small kitchen. As he tried to rub the grainy sleep from his eyes his hangover came crashing in.
Once the room stopped spinning Otto noticed he was in the wrong bedroom in his apartment. Just who is cooking in my apartment Otto thought as he lurched to his feet, the room spinning again. He finally made his way into the tiny living room to see just who was in his kitchen. As Otto passed the floor length mirror he noticed that the clothes he was wearing were not the ones he had on the night before.
“Ahhh, good afternoon sleepy head,” called out a disgustingly cheerful and vaguely familiar male voice. That fact brought a whole new set of questions with it to Otto pounding brain. What happened last night Otto wondered, half afraid of the answer. Did I do something stupid again? Otto thought as he approached the male figure, which was busy at the stove working a waffle maker. It occurred to Otto that not only did he have no idea what transpired last night, nor who this person was but that he owned no waffle maker.
As the man finished piling a plate with a huge serving of golden brown waffles he turned placing them on a table set for two. Otto realized with a shock that it was his client, the lottery winner, from the day before yesterday, the chump. What the hell is going on is the question that threatened to make Otto’s hung over brain explode, causing flashes of pain to stab at the back of his skull. “Damn tequila,” he mumbled his tongue dry and his mouth seemingly full of cotton.
“What the hell are you doing in my apartment,” Otto finally managed to half shout half mumble past his tongue that seemed too large for his mouth.
“Now now Otto, that is no way to treat a guest, especially one who can send you to prisons for a very long time,” the client said cheerfully.
“Get the hell out of here,” bellowed Otto with much false bravado, wondering what his uninvited house guest meant by prison. What had happened last night Otto could not remember, struggling mightily too.
Instead of leaving the client sat down and heaped several waffles on his plate, buttering them as he spoke. “I will gladly leave if you insist however I should tell you that you were a very very bad boy last night. I mean babbling my secrets in one of the most popular bars for stock market traders in New Miami. You really should not drink so much,” he continued.
“There were several large trades made on the advice you spilled in your drunkenness. Insider trading is a crime as I am sure you are aware, said the client happily.
“You will never be able to prove anything,” blustered Otto, not nearly so sure of himself as he sounded.
“You see, the client continued, there were some very heavy hitters in that bar last night. All of the confidential trades I instructed you to make on my behalf were acted upon and now the stock is in play. So tell me Otto, who do you think will take the fall for all that insider trading that transpired last night? Surely you don’t think the CEO of Sterns Trading or the OOE of Briar Financial will do you? Both of who were in the bar by the way, and who were listening very intently to what you had to say. Do you think your uncle is going to sacrifice himself to save you? Who does that leave holding the bag my young friend?” asked the client.
“You son of a bitch, Otto snarled as he realized his situation finally sunk into his tequila soaked brain, You set me up!”
“Actually yes I did, answered the client nonchalantly as he stuffed in another mouth full of waffles. I arranged for your date to take you to that bar, your stupidity did the rest. I am however here to help you, not prosecute you, he said once he finished chewing. Now sit down and have some waffles.”
“What do you want from me,” mumbled a much subdued Robert as he slumped into the empty kitchen chair.
“Not much actually, I like you Otto and I think you might be smarter than your uncle gives you credit for, said the client. All I require is two years of faithful service doing what I say just the way I want it done.”
“Two years,” moaned Otto.
“After which you will be free to go, and you will be a very wealthy and hopefully wiser man, “answered the client reassuringly.
“Do we have a deal or shall I call the FCC task force?, asked the client with an innocent smile.
“How do I know you won’t double cross me,” asked Otto.
“You don’t, you will have to trust me, answered the client. From now on you will be working for Ben Cross, a false persona I created just for the occasion. Any and all communications with me will use that name. Is that perfectly clear?, the client now known as Ben Cross asked. Now eat up my boy you are going to need your strength we have a lot of work to do.”
“It was almost a year later before I saw Ben Cross again. That is when he told me the craziest thing I ever heard. Otto, he said to me, I want to mine the moon for Helium 3 with automated miners. If anyone of my other client had said that I would have called the mental health commission and had them committed for psychiatric treatment, Otto said. And then I would take all their money after they were committed to the government sanitarium.”
“However this was not just anyone. That virology company he bought found the cure for both REDS and cancer. Then just like he said he would he gave the cure away to anyone who was sick, wiping both illnesses out forever.
“Then there was the matter of his carbon blocks made from all that reclaimed desert sand. He revolutionized the construction industry just like he said he would. And then he did the same to the aerospace industry.”
“So what else could I do but believe him. It was hard to tell what his next move would be. As his fortune approached 1,000,000,000,000 dollars he began to give away grants to any invention he thought worthwhile. Everything he thought worthwhile, from an organic fertilizer to water desalinization and waste reclamation. There was no industry he didn’t have an interest in. It wasn’t long after that that he released me and disappeared off the face of the Earth. True to his word I am a very wealthy man. I spent a considerable fortune trying to locate him so I could thank him in person but I never did find him,” Otto said finishing his official statement to the Government agent who was interviewing him.
“You sound like you would do anything for him. Perhaps even lie to protect him, said the interrogating agent accusingly, watching Otto’s reaction with a trained eye.
“If I knew where he was I would not tell you, declared Otto defiantly. But since I don’t you will get nothing more from me. What is your interest in Ben Cross anyway?”
“He is considered at this point to be an enemy of the state and his meddling in government affairs must be stopped. If we find out you are hiding him you will be charged as an accomplice and spend the rest of your life in prison. If he contacts you it is your duty as a patriotic American citizen to contact us immediately,” said the major, standing behind the interrogator, as he handed Otto his card. You are now free to go Mr. Guberman, for now.”
I knew that eventually one government or the other would connect the dots and poor young Otto Guberman would be in a great deal of trouble on my behalf. No private citizen had ever amassed as much wealth as I had.
The governments of the world would soon see me as a threat so I had to disappear. The question of the hour was if I should leave poor Otto holding the bag or not. I decided not to. He had done his job faithfully, telling the state the story I had drilled into him for all these years. Some people never change however; he continued to skim the profits even after he joined the Church of True Enlightenment quite some time ago.
So I returned to my favorite place one last time to say goodbye. I had always found the answers I sought here by the lake. Sparks flew as I poked the campfire with my walking stick, the same one after all these years, for the last time.
The only safe thing for me to do was leave Earth because there was no place I could hide from the governments for much longer. They were getting closer to finding me by the day. I had doubled my security mechs but they were no match for a Special Forces raid, which I expected to come at any time. The mechs were a delaying tactic, one that would give me just enough time to escape in my sub orbital transport.
The colony on Luna would be complete very soon and ready for human occupation. I had spent most of the last ten years working on its completion and staffing. As I had not used any government technology or money there was little the government could do or say, it was a private enterprise. That is when I realized that I would have to die or everything I had built would crumble in a world war against the super-rich.
To placate the U.S government I had arranged for an exclusive agreement for the purchase of all helium 3 harvested. To keep the peace I brokered deals with the grossly overpopulated countries for the anticipated grain shipments from the hydroponic growing domes on the surface of Luna. The 24 hour light cycle and the intense sunlight made for an estimated phenomenal growth rate for the genetically modified wheat.
I had spent months working on the problem of staffing such a large enterprise with qualified experts of every branch of science. I finally hit upon the solution of training the experts I needed without them knowing I was doing so.
I recruited from high school any student who excelled in the fields of science and mathematics. Arranging for college scholarships and then graduate school for those who met the criteria I needed. As a result I was intimately familiar with every soon to be citizen of Luna’s background and education.
The day finally came when I stepped into Luna City for the first time, having lost myself in the throng of pioneers who clamored to escape the festering socialist boil Earth had become. Everything was so new it looked otherworldly in design. As if a race of aliens would return at any moment. I can only imagine their shock to find that their new city had been infested by humans.
I slipped away from the milling crowds awaiting billeting assignments making my way to my secret quarters. Everything went smoothly for the next several weeks as the new citizens of Luna City made themselves at home.
Then came the day of the mysterious halo- message, from and older me to me today. I was sitting at my command terminal observing the day to day operations of Luna city when a hologram activated itself from the com terminal. As the image of a man in a dirty and worn p-suit slowly came into focus I was stunned to see myself as an old man. I will never forget what I said to me.
“If you want to save Earth from a terrible fate you will follow these instructions precisely. If you don’t Earth will be destroyed and you will end up a lonely old man. One who watches every citizen on Luna driven crazy by grief of losing Earth die in a mass suicide. All you have to do is find the origins of this message. When you find that answer follow it no matter where it takes you. I am sorry I can’t be more specific but if anyone else were to find this halo-message Earth would be doomed to becoming a radioactive ball of nuclear waste. Once they start shooting off those missiles they will not stop until the planet is uninhabitable. We are the only ones who can stop it. I only hope we are in time to stop it.”
As the hologram faded my mind was racing. Earth destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. Why? What would start such a thing? Then I remembered Ben Cross. Horrified I logged onto the Earth news nets. They were highlighted by the hunt for Ben Cross and the riots that resulted from the governments’ heavy handed search. The war against the super-rich the banks and the world wide government had begun.
Individual freedoms had been suspended as martial law was declared. Border skirmishes between Russia and China had brought the world to the brink of World War Three. For the next 2 months I watched as Earth slowly tore itself apart. How was I going to save Earth if I couldn’t even find where that message came from? I had searched every inch of the databases and found nothing. I was at my wits end. When suddenly the door leading to my command center slid open, and a young woman stepped inside.
I recognized her immediately of course. I had recruited her straight out of high school and arranged for her college and graduate school in computer design. Her designs ran most of Luna city’s many automated functions. I was stunned to say the least.
As I sat there with my mouth hanging open she blushed then smiled a shy smile and said,” I thought I might find you here.” I was speechless. “You know who I am?,” I finally managed to say in a horse whisper. “Yes, she said simply, you are Ben Cross. You are the one who recruited me out of high school. You are the one who saw to my scholastic opportunities. You are the one who saw to it that I ended up here on Luna. I have been looking for you for a very long time. I am glad to finally meet you,” she finished.
“Who else knows,” I demanded. With a giggle she said, “My name is Patricia.” “I know who you are, what I want to know is who else knows about me,” I snapped.
“I told no one, she said meekly, I mean who would believe such a story from a slightly neurotic computer nerd? If I told anyone that I thought someone who couldn’t be found and that I had never met was manipulating my future, I would have been sent to mental reconditioning for a psychosis.”
“Well now that you are here maybe you can help me find something,” I said.
“You are looking for the origin of the mysterious message from you as an older man., she said quietly. For the second time today I sat with my mouth open in amazement. “How do you know about the message,” I snapped.
“That is why I am here. I came across it two days ago while I was doing some recompiling of the automated systems database. I also found the plans that revealed the location of your hideout,” she answered pretending to pout.
“Did you find out where the message came from?” I asked excitedly.
“Of course I did, she answered a little too defensively. It came from an encrypted file that was uploaded after the city was complete but before any personnel arrived.”
“WHEN did you say? After completion and before occupancy? That’s impossible who could do such a thing,” I wondered aloud, completely lost in thought, pacing back and forth in the suddenly much too small room.
“What is even stranger is where this message was uploaded from,” said Patricia.
“Huh? WHAT, What do you mean uploaded from,” I asked as I quickly turned to face my new partner in crime.
“That signal was originated at these coordinates,” Patricia continued. As I fed the coordinates in to the computer we both reach the same conclusion saying almost in tandem, “That’s on the dark side of Luna.
Turning to Patricia with a mischievous smile I said, “Go and get your p-suit and helmet. Then meet me at transport bay. I think we need to go to those coordinates. I don’t know why exactly but go we must.”
It took me over an hour to commandeer a Luna rover suited to our needs. One with room for two people, enough power to get to where we were going and return with fuel to spare.
As Patricia and I glided over the lunar surface at the top speed of 10 kilometers an hour we took turns piloting the rover. It was easy at first as we followed one of the main automated miners’ tracks.
We soon reached the end of the miners track and the terminator was just ahead. We would have to slow down and navigate the pitch black lunar landscape with what lights the rover had and sensors, very nearly blind, carefully navigating the many pitfalls.
“Sensors indicate our target coordinates are just ahead at the top of that mound,“ Patricia’s voice came in over the p-suit com channel. I adjusted the rover’s course to navigate the steep rise that was just ahead.
Once we reached the summit of the mound we found a most unusual thing. The top was perfectly flat with four columns, one at each corner of the perfect square. “That is not man-made,” I said in amazement. “If not us then who?” whispered Patricia. “Who is a good question indeed”, I answered.
As I turned back toward the rover I saw a glowing red ball of light hovering right behind me. I did not jump in fright; I stood transfixed my face frozen as the hidden memories crashed in. I now knew that my good fortune had not been by accident as I had thought all along. My plan was not my own. Well it was formed by an older me so I guess in effect I was responsible for the path my life had taken. I had simply been following the orders given to me by the red ball of light. But why?
The message said Earth would be destroyed by a nuclear holocaust if I didn’t find the source of this message, or if anyone else found it. Patricia had found the message and it was with her help that I found this place. Old and alone echoed in the back of my mind as I realized how much of a part Patricia played in my future.
Then I saw the bright flashes of light from Earth. The realization that Earth was for all practical purposes now a soon to be lifeless, radioactive ball, hit me hard as I sunk to my knees in grief. I was too late to stop it.
Patricia pulled me to my feet as she asked, “What’s happened, what’s wrong?
“Did you see those flashes of light coming from Earth just now?, I asked.
“”Yes, but I thought it was just the solar power stations array reflecting the sun,” she answered. “Unfortunately I think the war against the super-rich has turned nuclear and engulfed Earth. Whatever wasn’t destroyed right away will slowly die as the radiation kills everything. We are orphans and the last of our kind, I answered bitterly, because we are too late”.
The question of the origin of the red light surfaced through my grief capturing my attention. If I found this place as an old man then how did the red light get to the lake when I was a young man? I must have sent it back in time!
Then the realization that if I had sent it once before why not again. I could save Earth; I would just have to change the plan in my past and not create Ben Cross. That had been my mistake, inadvertently starting the war of the masses against the super-rich.
As I turned to face the red ball I heard a disturbingly familiar sound crept into my consciousness. The red ball had now become bright white light causing me to squint. I remembered where I was as my reality snapped back into focus.
That sound, it meant the orderlies were coming; they were dragging their batons on the wall. I instinctively huddled in my cell in the corner farthest from the door, praying aloud that they weren’t coming for me. “Please lord not me, I begged, not again please not again.”
The sound of the key scraping in my cell door lock filled me with dread, which quickly turned to terror as I saw which orderly had come for me. It was Robert. He was the cruelest and most sadistic of them all.
After dragging me to the shock therapy room, he leaned over me as he strapped my head into place on the examination table. My arms and legs already shackled. “Ben, he said, first we are going to resume your shock therapy only a little higher this time. The Bishop is very angry with you. You tried to smuggle out a message again didn’t you,” he smiled his pupils enlarged by his mania, spittle on his chin. Sparks flew from the metal contacts as Robert touched them together, testing the conductivity of the circuit.
“Then, he whispered in my ear, I am going to cut your tongue out so you won’t be spreading any more lies about life on other planets. Somebody might actually believe your story. Then they would be in here too and that makes more work for me. Plus the fact that I am so, so tired of hearing your blasphemy no matter how well you tell it. We all know that man is the only intelligent life in the universe,” he hissed grinning savagely, one eye twitching, his mania now in control.
As I succumbed to the blackness caused by the second high voltage electrical jolt running through my head, my last thought was who would save the world now for I have failed again.