Category: The Dreamer

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.”

“And?”

“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.”

The Dreamer — part 55

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 55

“Smart moves,” Julian said to Bernice back in the depths of the AI, “what made you think to slow him down?”

“I knew there was a real cop on the way, so I had to bail—”

“And you knew that, because you’d summoned him, so to speak?”

“Of course. Well, I didn’t want the cop to find me, but I did want him to be able to deal with the incident effectively. So I relieved Mia of the clicker—”

“Because that could have been evidence of your involvement?”

“Maybe not that, but it would have muddied the waters more than they are already by what Mia was bound to say. Obviously, I couldn’t detain the bad guy, not being a real policeman, but I didn’t want him to get away and I didn’t want to do him any lasting harm.”

“That’s good. I knew I was right to trust you with his job on your own. What’s your next move?”

“I’m off now, so I can be at the station when Mia goes in to make her statement. I may want to take some control of what her attacker says, too. I don’t want either of them saying anything that could jeopardise our operation.”

Bernice transferred herself to New Singapore’s central police station. Her chosen persona was the image of her mother – a black woman in her fifties and clearly down on her luck. She entered the station and approached the desk officer.

“Ma’am?” the officer asked.

“I think I might have seen a crime, Sir.”

“Oh yeah? What sort of crime is it you think you may have seen?”

“I’m not sure I know.”

“Tell me what you saw.”

“Well. I see a young woman walking towards the bookshop in my lane—”

“Your lane?”

“Sure. It’s where I live.”

“You’re homeless, then?”

“Hell, no. I got four shop doorways to choose from, and if one of ‘em ain’t locked – well I pop inside to sleep. Except if they turn the aircon off, then it’s cooler outside.”

“So you saw this young woman.”

“I did. Then I see this man – fearful ugly man, all tattoos, couldn’t see his face for ‘em – he stops this woman and tries to rip her blouse open.”

“He ripped her blouse open?”

“No, he didn’t, Sir. I said, if you were listening, that he tried to rip it open, but she – God bless her – she slaps him in the face and fair sends him flying. Dunno where she got the strength from, him being a sturdy man and all, but she did. Maybe she just caught him off-balance or such.”

“Then what happened?”

“Well. He gets up, draws his gun then throws it away again—”

“Why’d he do that?”

“I only see what he did, Sir. I can’t say why he did it.”

“Go on.”

“Then he starts to run away. That’s when your officer turns up and arrests him.”

The desk officer picked up his phone and tapped in a number. “Yeah. Front desk here. Got a woman with me says she saw your offence happen.” A pause while whoever was on the other end spoke. “Okay.” He put the phone down, turned to Bernice and said, “Third door on the right. Officer MacDougal will see you.”

Bernice went to the door indicated, where she was met by the officer she’d seen in the alley.

“I don’t recall seeing you there,” said officer MacDougal in dismay.

“I was hiding,” Bernice replied, “didn’t want to get caught up in what was going on.”

“Okay. Wait here. I’m just about to take Miss Harper’s statement,” he said, passing through a side door.

Bernice reached through the wall and listened in, exerting occasional light pressure as Mia recounted her version of events.

“So, Miss Harper. All you did, when Song tried to attack you was to slap his face.”

“That’s right.”

“I don’t get how a slap from one of your size could knock a man as sturdy as Song off his feet. I mean, you wouldn’t describe yourself as Amazonian, would you?”

Mia smiled. “It surprised me too, Officer. Yes, I’m small and light, but I have trained in various forms of self-defence. I didn’t have the wits about me to employ any of the techniques I had learnt, but I must have subconsciously used his weight against him. It all happened so quickly.”

“Now, tell me about the way Song dropped his pistol.”

“It’s all a bit of a blur. I have a recollection of the other officer—”

“That’d be Bernard Chowdhry?”

“That’s right.”

“The officer who, my checks tell me, doesn’t exist. It must have been someone pretending to be an officer of the law, in which case I’ll make it my job to track him down and bring him to justice.”

“Whether he was a real cop or not, he probably saved my life.”

“Bloody superhero complex, most likely. Happens more than you’d think. I blame all the comics and movies—”

“Either way, he did me a great service.”

“Okay, Miss Harper. I have all that. I’ll have it written up and prepared for your signature.”

“What about Song?”

“Have you ever heard the expression ‘sing like a canary’?”

“Only on TV. Do people actually say it for real?”

“Not usually, but that’s what he did. He seemed eager to let it all out. I can’t prove it, but I think he was on something.”

“Why so?”

“His story is similar to yours, but some of what he said was such pure fantasy that we can’t believe any of it. He seems to have a problem separating fact from fiction. I’ve had him declared unreliable, and we’ll base his prosecution on the CCTV evidence backed up by your statement.”

Bernice probed into the next room and saw Mia’s attacker, Song Sung Bloo, sitting with his head in his hands, alternately weeping, sniffling and muttering something incomprehensible.

Bernice withdrew again to the AI and said to Julian, “Job done. Next?”

The Dreamer — part 54

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 54

Entering the alleyway, Mia looked around as if she had heard or somehow felt a presence behind her. Tossing the booklet into her back-pack, she rested her right index finger on the band she wore on her left wrist. Remaining out of sight, Bernice surveyed the scene and watched her mark closely. Mia strode purposefully into the depths of the alleyway, making for the antiquarian bookstore at the far, dark end of the narrow, poorly lit road. High buildings on both sides funnelled the wind through the alley and ensured that, apart from a few minutes each side of solar noon, the rays of the sun never touched more than the few floors at the very top of the buildings.

As she approached the shop, Mia again looked around, her brow furrowed, and increased the pace of her steps, reducing the distance between herself and her destination. Passing a bookmaker’s shop, a man pulled the door open to the side of her and shouted, “Stop where you are!”

Mia stopped briefly and looked towards the voice. She saw a short, stout man with facial features almost totally obscured by garish tattoos. What she could divine from the look on his ink-laden face suggested to her that he was not driven by motives of friendliness to her. She upped her pace but her high heels and narrow skirt gave her no advantage over the man’s sweatpants and trainers. He overtook her within a few paces and stood mere inches away, facing her.

“I said stop,” he said, “and I meant stop.”

“What do you want?” Mia asked her assailant.

“I just lost a bunch of money on the horses. I want recompense.”

“I have no money. Only enough to buy a book I’ve wanted for ages. This shop has it and—”

“Shut up. I don’t want your money.”

“Then what?” she asked, constantly tapping her finger on the device on her wrist.

“Nervous?” the man asked with a leer, “or angry? Your quack might have told you tapping your wrist helps with anger or fear, but it isn’t true. It sure won’t help you now.”

“What are you after then? You just want to make me afraid? Cos if that’s what you want, you’ve succeeded.”

“No. I want this,” he said, reaching forward with both hands to rip open Mia’s blouse.

Without considering the likely consequences, Mia instinctively delivered the man a healthy slap across the face. Although he was prepared for this and braced himself against what should have been a relatively gentle blow, he hadn’t reckoned on what he actually received. The force of the impact he felt lifted him off his feet and deposited him in a heap on the ground almost three metres away. Mia looked at her hand in disbelief.

“Is this man bothering you, Miss?” a different, softer male voice asked from behind her.

She turned and saw Bernard looking at her quizzically.

“Well, yes. Actually. How did you get here so—”

“Hold on,” Bernard said. He had noticed that Mia’s assailant was back on his feet and beginning to run from the scene. Bernard sent a message to the man’s brain to such effect that the escape the miscreant had begun to undertake became, to him, like running up a dune of soft sand.

Bernard approached the man. “You. Stand still. Stop right here.”

“You gonna make me, copper?” he asked, drawing a pistol and aiming at Bernard.

“Sure am,” Bernard said, as the man screamed and dropped his weapon.

“What the—”

“See? I made you. Said I would, didn’t I?”

Driving close to the alley, a real police officer had a sudden urge to stop, leave his vehicle and run towards the scene, gun drawn. Arriving at the scene, he saw a young woman crying and a man, a known gang-member, standing in the middle of the narrow street, trembling. He saw no-one else.

“Can someone tell me what’s going on?” he asked.

“This man tried to attack me, officer, but your colleague took care of it.”

“What colleague?” the officer asked, “I don’t see anyone except the pair of you.”

Mia looked around for Bernard, but he was nowhere to be seen, “Oh, he’s gone.”

“Yeah, he’s gone. If he was ever here. Tell me what happened. Did you get this officer’s name?”

“Yes. His name-badge said Officer Chowdhry, but he told me to call him Bernard.”

“Bernard Chowdhry… Bernard Chowdhry… Never heard that name. I don’t know every officer on the Force, of course, but I know all the ones that work from my station. You sure about the name?”

“Sure about Chowdhry. I read it off his badge.”

Turning to Mia’s assailant, he asked, “So, Song… yes, I know who you are… tell me what happened.”

“Find out for yourself!”

“Don’t worry, I will.” Pointing to surveillance cameras at various points on the buildings either side of the lane he said, “See those CCTV cameras? It’ll all be on there. Can you tell me anything, Miss?”

“Yes, Officer. I was walking through to the bookshop – they have a book I’ve wanted for some time – when this man,” she pointed to the man Song, “told me to stop. When I didn’t, he ran past me and tried to rip my clothes. Said he’d lost money on the horses and presumably wanted to rape me as recompense.”

“Miss—”

“Please, call me Mia. It’s my name. Mia Harper.”

“Mia. Didn’t you know how dangerous it can be for a young woman to be walking through these alleys alone?”

“Of course, but I’m part of the security survey programme and I have this…” she looked at her left wrist and noticed that her data collection device was no longer there. “That is, I had a clicker.”

“Mia, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I know nothing of the programme you mention or the clicker.”

“No, you wouldn’t. He, Bernard, did say that only some officers were involved. Anyway, he said that if I found myself in real trouble, I should click it repeatedly, and he’d come to my aid. I was, I did and he came. What I don’t get is how me slapping that man across his face sent him flying and why, when he drew a gun on Bernard, he immediately screamed and dropped it. He couldn’t run away, either.”

“What do you mean, couldn’t run away?”

“Well, he started to, but then kind of went into slow motion.”

The officer walked away, his face betraying a level of confusion he wouldn’t expect to meet in a normal day’s work. He seized Song’s arms, turned him and clamped handcuffs on his wrists.

“Song Sung Bloo, I’m arresting you on suspicion of assault and attempted rape. You’ll be read your rights at the station. In the meantime, my advice to you is to say nothing.”

“Wasn’t going to anyway,” Song replied.

“Mia,” the officer said, “can you come with me to give us a statement?”

“I don’t want to share a ride with that man,” she said, “I’ll make my own way there.”

“Fair enough, Miss. See you there.”

The officer walked off with his prisoner.