Continued from “It’s about time…”
It was one of those moments that the brain rebels against. Dan stood rigid. This was a situation for which he was totally unprepared. Although he had led an interesting, even exciting life; a life where danger, while not a constant companion, was no stranger; nothing that had happened to him, nothing he had seen, heard or read about gave him a frame of reference to hang on. Faced with this, his brain did all that it could do under the circumstance; it called for a timeout and went absent for a while, leaving Dan in a crumpled heap on the ground.
“Great, another fainter,” the deep voice said, mimicking Prof. Stephen Hawking’s classic line from The Big Bang Theory; although, as there was no-one to hear it, perhaps it didn’t.
Dan’s brain eventually decided to return to the field of play, allowing Dan to regain his feet, though in deference to his recent collapse, he sat on the bench next to the table.
“Did somebody speak?” Dan asked.
“We have a job for you, Dan,” the voice repeated.
“Job? What job? And who are you?”
“Who we are isn’t important. Who you are is,” the voice replied.
“Am I dreaming this? Am I hallucinating? Have I been drugged?”
“You’re asking a lot of questions, that’s for sure. Try this one: why is it important who I am?”
“It’s important who you are, Dan,” the voice explained, “because you’ve been chosen. You’ve been chosen because, while you may not know it yet, you possess certain attributes that uniquely suit you to carry out a task; a task that it is imperative be carried out now; a task that can only be carried out by you. Now: eat and drink your fill. It may be some time before you will be able to eat or drink again.”
“Is this somebody’s idea of a joke?” Dan said, “Okay, big laugh, very funny. You can all come out now.”
“You need to take this seriously, Dan,” the voice said, “Four hundred years ago, a creature that is not of this planet landed here and burrowed into the ground. It spawned thousands of young, which have developed and reproduced until their number is enough to overwhelm the human population of Earth. That number will be reached in the next seven days as you measure time. We have placed into stasis every living thing on the planet—“
“So why not me?”
“We have left you in normal time because we need you to journey back four hundred years and prevent the creature burrowing into the ground.”
“And how am I supposed to do that?”
“When the time comes, you will know.”
“Hang on. I read science fiction. What about the time paradox. What if something I do has a cascade effect that ends up with me not being born? How could I go back to do it? I wouldn’t be here.”
“That’s not how it works, Dan. The creature and its descendants haven’t interacted with anyone or anything. If… no, when you stop it, nothing in history will change.”
“Except that you won’t be asking me to stop something that didn’t happen because I had already stopped it.”
“Are you beginning to understand why we chose you?”
“Because you are intellectually up to the job; because you have a grasp of the potential pitfalls of time travel and because your DNA, and only your DNA is suited to handle the rigours of time travel itself.”
“So, how come my DNA is the only one suited?”
“Because your genetic make-up was designed over a dozen generations, specifically for this job.”
“You’ve been manipulating my DNA? Breeding to order? Who the hell are you? We’re not dogs, to be selectively bred, we’re human beings; sentient, self-determining; the pinnacle of evolution or creation; take your pick.”
“Timeout,” the voice said. Dan fainted again.
When Dan regained consciousness, he was on a hot, dry, arid plain; totally alone. He knew, although he had no idea how he knew, that the area was populated by semi-nomadic San. He knew that San lived in tight family units, joining together to form bands of twenty to fifty hunter-gatherers to find food. Looking around, he could see no sign of human activity. A machete was on the ground beside him. He picked it up, supposing that it would be useful if not for the job he was there to do, at least as a form of defence.
Dan had a lot of information in his head that he was sure was new. He knew which plants were good (and safe) to eat and which he should avoid. He also knew, when he looked around, that there were no edible plants where he awoke. No animals were visible, either; that would explain the absence of San.
The voice brought him up with a start.
“Walk for about one hour with the sun on your left,” the voice said, “That is where the creature will appear. You will know the spot when you arrive, there are San paintings on the rocks.”
“Oh, hi. You still here, then?”
“Of course. You’d never find the place on your own.”
Dan did as he had been told, and had walked for what he judged to be about an hour when he came across some rock paintings. He stopped, sat on a rock, and thought how good it would be to find an ice-cream stall at this point.
“How long before the thing arrives?” Dan asked, looking skyward.
“Not long,” the voice replied, “today at around sunset, according to our calculations.”
“How will I recognise it when it comes?”
“You’ll recognise it. Just stay awake and alert.”
Hoping that some things hadn’t changed too much in four centuries, Dan estimated that it was about two hours before the sun would go down. He lay back and closed his eyes. The voice awoke him from a deep slumber.
“It’s time,” it said, “get ready.”
He looked around at the sky, but saw nothing.
Suddenly, something resembling a giant slug materialised in front of him. An opening appeared in its body, and a man walked out, carrying a bag that was wriggling as though it contained something living.
“Who are you?” Dan asked.
“You can call me Albert,” the man said, “and who, may I ask, are you?”
“Not important,” he replied. “What’s in the bag?”
“Just organic waste. Some kind of virus. I just need to dump it and we’ll be on our way.”
“Well, don’t. Not here. Not on this planet.”
Dan was never one to turn down an opportunity for a bit of grandstanding. “I’m a traveller from the twenty-first century. I’m here to stop you dumping that creature. In four centuries, its progeny will rise up against the human population and overwhelm it.”
“And how do you know that?” Albert asked.
“Because we told him,” the voice boomed.
Albert recognised the voice and knew he had to obey it. It was, after all, his own voice.
He returned to his vehicle, still carrying the creature, and phased out of visibility.
“Good job,” the voice said.
“Twas nothing,” Dan said.
“What was nothing?” Matt asked.
This week's challenge at esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com asked for a story or poem on one of the following themes: The storm, Blood, Jealousy, Nighttime, Reflections, Time travel, Love or Nature. I may have used one or more of these.