The Dreamer — part 56

a tale in weekly parts

The story so far

Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.

And then it became more complicated…

Episode 56

“Job done?” Julian asked, “What makes you say that?”

“I prevented the rape, didn’t I? So the thing we feared won’t happen. And, as a bonus, Song is behind bars for quite a long time.”

“Both true. For the time being, at least. And I agree, they’ve been looking for ages to find a reason to put him away.”

“And now they have one. So, what else is there to do?”

“Do you remember the possible future I showed you, Bernice?”

“How could I forget, Julian? I’ve never seen anything so horrible in my life.”

“When you had Song put away, I looked at the scenario again.”


“Are you familiar with the saying ‘things are never so bad they can’t get worse’?”

“What are you suggesting, Julian?”

“On first look, it seemed to be okay, but something else intervened.”

“Another evil monster?”

“Not his time. And it doesn’t just involve this planet. This time, something has corrupted the fabric of space-time itself.”

“But what? How? Who? When? Where?”

“All very good questions, Bernice. Questions the core is working on now.”

“So what can we do?”

“Brainstorm is starting from the end-point and working back to find the most probable cause—”

“Most probable cause? That’s pretty vague. I remember the charts the AI did when I was with the Smythes when I first – you-know.”

“I do know, Bernice. I was there too, remember?”

“Of course. Well, surely a chart like that will let them back-track through events to find the causes. After all, each interim effect must have a finite number of causes, known causes at that, and mapping and following them can’t be beyond Brainstorm’s capabilities. Anyway, what are we supposed to do in the meantime?”

“We, my young Padawan, approach it from the other direction.”

“You mean—”

“We look for events that might have the long-term potential to do harm.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Not at all. We each take one situation, then follow through all its most likely direct outcomes, then follow through on each of those—”

“Becoming more complex at each step. How are you going to make that work? Even if—”

“Near-infinite capacity, Bernice. Near-infinite capacity.”

“Before we start, Julian, can I suggest you do the arithmetic. Assume, say, five possible outcomes from each action. How long will it be before the range of results becomes unmanageable? Five? Ten?”

“Well, ten will take us to a number approaching—”

“Ten million!”

“Well, nine point seven six million, but I get your point.”

There followed a moment’s silence, finally interrupted by Julian.

“Wait,” he said, “the AI is showing that something else happened. The predicted outcome has changed. The integrity of space-time is assured, so far, at least.”

“What happened?”

“It’s not clear. Something about the concurrent development of a revolutionary class of spacecraft – by more than one race.”

“How can a spacecraft damage space-time?”

“It was designed to manipulate space in a way that was harmful to its integrity. The races involved were eventually persuaded to abandon its construction, happily before it became operational.”

“That was a lucky break. So, as I said earlier, what’s next?”

“I’d quite like to look for a way of getting you back to where you came from.”

“What, undo the swap with Stimbler? Put me back as I was before all these adventures? Not on your life!”

“I thought the idea would please you.”

“It might have, in the early days. I hated being in that man’s body, but it opened my eyes to possibilities I‘d never dreamed of before. My life in the twenty-first century was okay but no better than that. Back then, although things were improving, it was happening very slowly. In many ways, being black was still enough to put you at a disadvantage to white folks, and being a woman still put you at a disadvantage to men.”

“Is that fair, Bernice? Let me throw just two names at you: Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.”

“You give me two names, I could give you two thousand. Remember, by that time, from a global population of billions, only twelve humans had set foot on the moon. All twelve were men, all twelve were white. I know there were some black men and women involved in space programmes from their earliest days, some even flew in space, but you have to look hard to find more than a dozen names.”

“Are you saying you don’t want to go back to your old life?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Julian.”

“Good. That’s what I expected and hoped for. Now, another choice to make. Revert to the body you were last in or stay in the AI?”

“I assume remaining in here will mean occasional external jobs?”

“Of course. You have qualities that make you ideal for a number of tasks.”

“In that case, my friend and mentor; count me in.”


Waist of Space, part one of the Unlikelihood series, followed Commanders Tarquin Stuart-Lane and Meredith Winstanley; hapless heroes of the Royal Space Regiment; who were sent on a mission to the Moon from which they were not expected to return. There they met with a group of aliens who had forged a living under the surface of the moon, and whose forbearswere testing a new kind of spacegoing vessel that had the ability to be in many places at the same time.

Part two, FLATUS, follows our dynamic duo as they help the aliens build their own multi-locatable craft (and the RSR to build one, too). Will the ships be built and if so, will the drives work? What are the possible effects of having potentially three such vessels in finite space at one time? Will the ineptitude of key personnel result in disaster, or avert it?

FLATUS — Fantastically Large Assembly for Travel at Unbelievable Speeds. The most unlikely spacecraft never built?

FLATUS. Chapter one, scene five

Almost two hours later, a car and driver finally turned up. Had our fearless foursome been sitting idly in the Wiltshire countryside all this time? Not at all. There was a lot of discussion between Meredith and Joan, with some contributions from Patsy and the odd confused (and confusing) interjection from Tarquin.

Let’s listen in to just a small part of this discussion.

“Like I said, Joan, all this talking isn’t pushing the plot forward. Perhaps we should speak more concisely.”

“I’d be all in favour of that, boss. Honestly, I would. I mean, look at the amount of time we’re wasting saying the same things over and over again.”

“In fairness, we’re saying it in different ways.”

“I’ll grant you that. We’re not saying it in exactly the same way all the time, but we’re saying the same thing, aren’t we?”

Tarquin felt the need to interject at this point, “Does anyone know what we’re supposed to be doing? I mean, is that all we have to do; wait for this car? There must be more important things going on.”

“He’s right,” Patsy said, “Surely the aliens are doing something. Wouldn’t it be better to tell about that, than just report that we’re talking?”

“That’s the problem we have, Darling,” Meredith said, “Our hands are completely tied. We know there’s something going on in there – bound to be, but the idiot who’s writing this stuff seems to be more interested in our chatting.”

“Do you suppose he’s exploring the developing interpersonal relationships within our little group?” Joan asked.

“Why would he do that? We’re just three women—”

“And one man…”

“That’s open to debate, as well. Why don’t we do that, Boss? Let’s propound our various thoughts on what makes a mere male into a man, what conditions we look for, then we’ll hold Tarquin up against those standards and see how far he falls short.”

“That sounds fun,” Patsy said.

“Can I join in?” Tarquin asked.

“Tarquin. Parse the following sentence: The women are discussing the man,” Joan said.

“Oh, I say. This is a jolly game. Remember parsing from school. Let me see… erm… The women would be the subject of the sentence, a plural noun; discussing, the verb, obviously—”

“And the man?”

“Is the object, of course. You want me to translate into Latin? Be much clearer.”

“Why not? We’ve precious little else to do until this damned car comes.”

“Okay, right, here goes. Erm… let me think… Yah! Feminae virum disserant,” Tarquin pronounced with a degree of smugness that was neither necessary nor becoming.

“Now think about this, Tarquin. If the object of the sentence were to join with the subject in actioning the verb, what does that do for the sentence structure?”

“Ahm. Feminae vir disserant. Word order not important. All the meaning is in the word endings, it… Oh! Golly. See what you mean. Messes it up completely.”

“Messes it up completely, Tarquin. And that is why it would be most unwise for you to join us in the discussion. Can you see that?”

“Now you put it that way, yah. I suppose it was obvious, really. Can’t have the sentence structure mucked up, can we? That’s not the sort of thing an educated chap should even think about doing. Not going to apologise, though,” he said, casting an eye towards Patsy and, more particularly, towards her raised gloves.

“Why not?” Patsy asked.

“Don’t want another slapping.”

“Boss…” Patsy said, “Can I anyway?”

“Look at that face,” Meredith said to Joan, “how can I refuse. Go on then.”



“Where were we?” Meredith asked.

“I believe we were about to start dissecting our tame idiot, Ma’am,” Joan replied.

“If I can be allowed to start,” Patsy said, “I agree that there should be a lot less talking and a lot more action.”

“Not that idiot. We’re tearing Tarquin to bits.”

“Okay. I think he should do a lot less talking and a lot more action.”

“Good point,” Tarquin said, “every time I talk, I seem to get in trouble. But when I actually do something…”

“When was that?” Meredith asked.

“When was what?”

“When did you ever actually do something?”

“Good point. Let me think.”

“Don’t do that, there’s a good boy. Leave the grown-ups to do the thinking for you. I’d hate to see you hurt yourself,” Patsy added.

“Now you’re all being jolly beastly to me.”


“And I’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

“Precisely,” Meredith said, “It’s exactly because you’ve done nothing that you deserve it.”

“I’m sorry you think that. I thought we were friends.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Well, when we – you-know…”

“We didn’t, Tarquin.”

“No, but we might have if you hadn’t been so—”

“So what, Tarquin. And be careful what you say,” Meredith said, pointing to the insignia of her rank.

“If you’d been a bit more Merry and a bit less Meredith.”

“Oh,” Patsy said, “I can’t wait to see what you get for that remark!”

And so it went on. For nearly two hours. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can’t help but feel sorry for Tarquin. Yes, I know he’s an upper-class twit, but his heart’s in the right place, as far as I know. Having said that, I’ve haven’t yet subjected him to a full physical, although that’s a thought for later.


“Who’s that?”

It’s me. I’m writing this stuff.

“I don’t know if I like you.”

I don’t know that you have that choice.

“What do you want, anyway?”

How would you feel if I offered you an electrocardiogram?

“Do they still use those? I thought everything was emailed these days.”

Not a telegram, Tarquin, an electrocardiogram. It measures your heart output and tells the medics about the condition of your ticker.

“That sounds like jolly good fun. Does it come with an anaesthetic?”

No, but it does come with a cup of tea and biscuits if you behave.

“Like giving blood?”

If you like.

“Oh, I do. Sign me up.”

Okay, we’ll do it in a later chapter. I’ll leave you to the tender mercies of your companions, now.

“Must you?”

Yes, Tarquin. I must.

“Who were you just talking to?” Meredith asked.

“Nobody,” he replied.



“Actually, it was my imaginary friend.”

“What’s he called.”

“He doesn’t have a name.”

“Doesn’t have a name? What kind of silly talk is that?”

“It’s true, Meredith. I’ve never given him a name.”

“But you’re sure it’s a him?”

“Well, yah. Naturally. Wouldn’t do for a chap to have a female imaginary friend, would it?”

“Why not?”

“Bit creepy, eh?”

“One of these days, Tarquin.”


“Just one of these days. Ey up – cars arrived.”

The replacement car and driver turned off the road and into the driveway. Meredith walked up to the driver’s window.

“What’re your orders?”

“I’m to pick up three officers and a rating and tek em back to t’ camp.”

“Forgetting anything, sailor?” Meredith said, again pointing to the insignia of her rank.

“Appen I am, Ma’am. Begging your pardon.” He jumped out of the car and held the rear door open. Meredith and Joan climbed in. Patsy was about to get in when the driver looked at her and closed the door.

“Oy,” she said.

“Sorry, luv. I only open t’door for higher ups. I outrank you, so I don’t have to.”

“Cheeky bugger,” she said, “I’ve been promoted to Chief Petty Officer!”

“When I see t’ badge, I’ll open t’door for you. Till then, you’re on yer own.”

“What about me?” Tarquin asked.

“You can get in’t front,” the driver replied.

“I’ll have you court-martialed for impudence!” he said.

“I’d like to see you try, Sir. I reckon Uncle Alasdair’d have summat to say about it.”

“And who might your uncle Alasdair be, young man?”

“He might be the Aga bloody Khan, but he’s not, he’s Rear-Admiral Farquharson.”

“Reggie? Give him my best.”

“Who’re you, then?”

“Lieutenant Commander Stuart-Lane.”

“Oh, you’re the famous Tarquin, are you?”

“I am, and who are you?”

“Leading Hand Jacob Postlethwaite, at your service, Sir.”

“Well, Jacob, take us back to HQ, will you?”

A polite cough came from the back of the car. “I think I give the orders around here,” Meredith said.

“Okay, Ma’am. Give th’order.”

“Take us back to HQ, will you?”

“Surely, Ma’am. Any particular preference as to route?”



“And Driver…”


“Raise the soundproof glass, and turn off the listening device.”


Tarquin was convinced they were about to spend the journey talking about him, and he’d never know.

“I say, Jacob?”


“Oh, call me Tarquin – we’re practically related.”

“What’s your pleasure, Tarquin?”

“Well, golly. We’ve only got an hour, and I have so many pleasures I could tell you about. Hmmm. Where to start?”

“You said, ‘I say, Jacob’ as though you wanted something, Tarquin. What were it?”

“Oh yah. Is there any way you can turn the listening thingy on without the fillies knowing?”

“Strictly against orders.”

“Don’t want to know if you’re allowed to. Can you do it?”

“Aye. Appen I can, if you make it worth my while.”

“What do you want in return?”

Jacob leaned across and whispered into Tarquin’s ear. Tarquin blushed. Jacob whispered some more. Tarquin blushed some more.

“Well, can you?” Jacob asked.

“I can, but I don’t know whether I should. Isn’t it a bit, you-know?”

“It’s a lot you-know, but then, so’s turning on’t listening device.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Do I have your word on that, Tarquin?”

“As long as you never breathe a word about it to a living soul.”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Do you want me to… you know… now? Here?”

“Best not, Tarquin,” Jacob said, patting Tarquin on the… again, best not go there.

“When we get back, then,” Tarquin said, “I’ll set it up.”

Jacob smiled and turned the listening device on.

The conversation coming from the back was educational, in the way that listening in on a hen party with a bunch of male exotic dancers is educational. The difference was, whenever the conversation turned in that direction, the name that passed their lips was never Tarquin’s. And I don’t think it my place to reveal whose it was.

The call

“Ravi, did you practise and rehearse at home, like I told you?”

“I don’t need to rehearse, Priti. I know what I am doing. I have been doing this since long before I even met you.”

“But this is not your usual event, Ravi. It’s special.”

“Special? What do you think is so special about it?”

“Well, it is not just the usual prayer and song meeting, you know.”

“I know that. I have performed at meetings of this type before. Many times, in fact.”

“But you have never had me with you.”

“I know. And I’ve always managed perfectly well.”

“I don’t think so. You want me here. You need me here. And, deep inside, you know you do.”

“I do?”

“Yes, you do.”

“Why, my precious little gift from the gods?”

“Because you know that without me, you are nothing. Without me, you have no confidence. Without me, you will forget your role. Without me, you will be incapable of making your performance as you should.”

“Then how do you suppose I have managed all these times, for all these years?”

“That, Ravindran Shankaranpillai Nair, is one of life’s mysteries.”

“Have you ever heard any complaints about my performances?”

“No, I haven’t?”

“And why do you suppose that is?”

“Look at me. I am a woman. I am your wife. No man will complain to a woman about her husband’s poor performance, especially where such matters as these are concerned.”

“My before wife never spoke of any complaints, either.”

“Again. Woman, wife – why are you surprised?”

“Listen. Shankar is starting up the introduction music. The men are beginning to take their places. I must prepare.”

“And there’s another thing. Why am I the only woman here?”

“Perhaps it is because none of the other men has a wife who does not trust him.”

“No, Ravi. It is because these events are always advertised as being for men only. Why is that?”

“Now you are going too far, Priti. It would be unseemly for a woman to take part in this activity. Particularly one who should now be at home preparing the evening meal for her husband and children.”

“So you are one of those men who think that a woman’s place is in the home. Is that what you are telling me?”

“Where else would she be?”

“You don’t believe that a woman can function as an individual, only as an appendage of her husband?”

“Priti – why would she want to? Where would any self-respecting woman want to be if not in the very heart of a well-run household, doing what she was born and brought up to do?”

“And yet here I am. And, for your information. I do respect myself – more, it seems, than my husband does!”

“Yes, you are here. But remember. This was your idea, not mine. I expect we’ll end up having to eat at a hotel this evening because you have not prepared our meal.”

“At least if we eat at a hotel, the owner will have some income to buy food for his family.”

“True. Food that his wife will prepare. At home. In the heart of her well-run household. While the man does his work to provide for her and the children.”

“Is that what you’re doing here, Ravi? Doing your work to provide for your family? And when will you make me with child, so we can be a real family, not just a couple?”

“Alright. I’m not paid for this. I do this as a service to our temple and its community.”

“And you still expect me to stay at home while you’re here taking pleasure.”

“Who said anything about pleasure? This is still a job.”

“But one that pays no bills. And what about my other question. When will you make me with child, so we can be a family, not just a couple?”

“Can we talk about that later, at home?”

“No, husband. I want to talk about it now.”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t. The music has stopped, the clients are poised and ready, I must start.”

“Then start.”

“Thank you.” [Switches on the microphone] “Good afternoon gentlemen. On card number one, we’re looking for the four corners; and the first number is: clickety-click, sixty-six…”


I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 165, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.