a tale in weekly parts
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…
Bernard had given no thought to what Mia’s apartment might have been like. If he had, he would probably have imagined a clean, light, neat, minimally furnished affair displaying a modest level of affluence tempered, of course, by extreme good taste.
He would not have drawn a mental picture of a room – no, a hall some twenty-five metres on each side and at least six metres high. He would never have imagined its walls to be lined with a dozen darkened alcoves, each one lit only by a lamp that would have given no offence to wartime blackout regulations. He would not have expected a black-cloaked woman to emerge from each of the niches, repeatedly chanting in unison, “Is this him? Is this him? Is this him?”
Confused, he looked at his companion, but it wasn’t Mia that he saw in front of him. Yes, the face was similar, but all traces of make-up were gone and, instead of the bright-yellow floral dress, she was wearing the same black, hooded cloak as the rest of the women.
She raised a hand, and the chanting stopped. “Yes, this is he,” Mia said, in a voice that reminded Bernard more of the archetypal evil temptress of cinema than the refined, educated young woman whose company he had so enjoyed for the past minutes.
As one, the women removed their cloaks and revealed themselves to be naked underneath – Mia, too. Dumbfounded, Bernard was unable to speak, move or, momentarily at least, even to think.
Still holding his hand, Mia guided him to the centre of the room where, in the middle of a pentagram formed from LED imitation candles, a cushioned, pentagonal platform rose. At about three metres across, it rose a metre and a half off the ground and was draped with what looked like white raw silk decorated with pentagrams of diverse colours.
“What is this?” Bernard asked when the cat finally released his tongue.
In reply, thirteen female voices chorused, “We want you. We want you. We want you.”
Bernard searched in his head for Julian, but couldn’t find him. He tried to access some memory, some information, anything that could explain to him what was going on here. He found nothing.
Seeing the despair on his face, Mia said, “The floor, walls and ceiling are OTG shielded – composites of mylar, copper and acetate.”
“OTG?” Bernard asked.
“Off The Grid,” Mia replied, “this is one of a very few places on the planet that are out of the reach of Brainstorm.”
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Look it up on… oh, you can’t, can you?”
Thirteen women sniggered.
“Come on, lover-boy,” Mia said, “you’ve got some fathering to do.”
The next morning, Bernard was unceremoniously thrown outside. Immediately he left the room, his mind was again flooded with the ubiquitous and overwhelming presence of the AI, the presence he had been denied for thirteen long hours. The scene around him dissolved and he found himself once again in the darkness of the AI’s circuitry, where he felt strangely calm and safe.
Julian appeared. “Did I or did I not tell you to tread carefully?” he asked.
“Did you know this was going to happen?” Bernard replied angrily.
“We knew that Mia’s apartment was shielded; of course we did; but because of that, we had no way of knowing what was inside. Now, your mind is telling me that something happened to you when you were in that place, something you’re having trouble coming to terms with. Although I can’t and won’t compel you, I would like it if you would tell me exactly what went on. It could be important.”
Bernard related everything that had befallen him between entering through Mia’s door and coming out again. He left out no detail and spared no blushes.
“Wait,” Julian said and disappeared from Bernard’s mind, only to return some minutes later. “It’s worse than we thought,” he said.
“Everything. In this timeline, Mia wasn’t raped by an evil person—”
“So I saved her, then?”
“Yes and no—”
“With reservations on both?”
“Precisely. You saved Mia from being raped, but you impregnated her and a dozen others—”
“How could I do that? I was a hologram, for God’s sake. Or are you telling me holograms are suddenly fertile?”
“It’s not clear. What is clear, though, is that thirteen young women are pregnant.”
“By whom? Bernard, Bernie… Bernice?”
“You heard. You somehow impregnated them with Stimbler’s seed.”
“But Stimbler is—”
“Evil, yes. Instead of preventing an unknown evil seed entering Mia’s womb, a known one has entered hers and those of a dozen other young women.”
“What can be done?”
“I’ve run that question, and there’s only one answer. You have to go back to your first meeting with Mia and do it differently.”
“I don’t see what I could have done in any other way. If she’s in with that group and all the witchy stuff, what can I do to change it?”
“You’re still thinking linear, my friend. You’re still thinking of time like the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. You know, ‘Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’ Linear.”
“That’s how most people experience time.”
“But that’s not how it is. You revealed yourself to Mia too soon. You engaged with her and set up the beginnings of a relationship. She veered a little from expectations when she agreed to have coffee with you. We didn’t anticipate that. When you asked her about her reputation for chastity, her response represented a major diversion from the primary timeline, which culminated in her home transforming from one typical for a young businesswoman to a witch’s lair.”
“Do I get the chance to start again?”
“It contravenes one of Brainstorm’s prime directives, but this is so serious, it’ll be allowed. But you must do it now. Not tomorrow, not even in five minutes. NOW.”
Bernice adopted a new persona: still Bernard Chowdhry, a twenty-seven-year-old single man of north Indian extraction, but now a uniformed officer in the New Singapore Police Service. He approached the young woman in the yellow floral dress, stood close to her but not face-on and coughed into his hand. “Excuse me, Miss,” he said, “Can I have a word?”