a tale in weekly parts
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, suddenly appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future. Looking down, she saw that she was a naked white man. She was promptly arrested for public indecency and became an involuntary guest of the local police. Initially, she thought it was a dream. Later events, however, convinced her that it was not a dream, but her new reality.
Now known as Bernie, he is befriended by successful author Diane, her husband Jonas and their 'friend' Julian, who introduces him to some pretty amazing technology.
The group arrived at the St Catharines police station to a scene that was more reminiscent of the foyer of a major sporting event than a provincial police post. Amid the throng, Jonas recognised Sergeant Thomson and called his name. The officer approached them.
“What’s all the commotion, Sergeant?” Jonas asked.
“Mr Smythe. Jonas. Thank you for coming so quickly and please, call me Thommo. Everyone else does.”
“Very well, Thommo. We’re here for Bernie Reed. Have we come at a bad time?”
“Bloody Publiweb. Turned the whole world into glorified twitchers. Word got out, somehow, about Reed’s appearance here, and you can see the result. Everybody wants a selfie with the man who appeared nude – and they want him to disrobe for the picture. Dammit a lot of them want to be naked with him. Told them the ten prettiest young men and women could have a nude selfie with me and my officers, but that didn’t satisfy them. Maybe because they don’t want to be pictured naked with an overweight, balding, middle-aged cop like me.”
An attractive, twenty-something woman with short, dark hair severely cut, and a complexion that wouldn’t have been out of place in Mediterranean Europe was standing close to him. He turned to her and said, “Marchesseault, you’re with me.”
The young woman snapped to attention and walked briskly toward the group.
“Natalie here is the officer who found Reed and brought him in.”
“I am pleased to meet you,” Natalie said with the merest hint of a French Canadian accent, “and thank you for coming for him so quickly. Mr Reed was visibly distressed when I found him, and I think the presence of his friends will help calm him.”
Diane looked around at the crowd, and asked, “Is there a back way out we can use, Sergeant?”
“They’ll have all the doors covered. Getting past them won’t be easy.”
“So what can we do?”
“I looked you up before you arrived, Mrs Smythe. Didn’t expect you to be the Diane Smythe. Mrs Thomson has read all your books – you’re her favourite author.”
“I’m flattered, Thommo. But how does that help us now?”
“Tell you what, I’ll have the hovercopter collect you on the roof and take you home. The extra crewman will take your car to your house and come back on the copter. One condition, though.”
“Can you sign one of your books for my wife?”
“I’ll do better han that. Give me your address, and I’ll send her a signed copy of each of the five in publication now. How does that sound?”
“You’ve just made a friend, Diane. Bonus points like that don’t come my way too often. Thanks. Just a bit of paperwork to do and we can be on our way. Let’s get ourselves to the interview room where Reed is waiting for you.”
Sergeant Thomson made his way through the crowd, followed by Natalie, Jonas, Diane and Julian. Just before they entered the room, Julian said, “Don’t worry about me, Sergeant. I need to spend a few minutes here; there’s some information I could usefully gather. The twitchers aren’t interested in me. I’ll make my own way back.”
“Are you sure, Sir?”
“Yes, Sergeant. I’ll be fine.”
Jonas, Diane, Natalie and Sergeant Thomson entered the interview room and closed the door behind them. Julian disappeared from view.
“Am I ever glad to see you,” Bernie said, “thanks for coming.”
“No problem,” Diane replied, handing him a small parcel, “your clothing.” She turned to the policemen and handed him Bernie’s omnicard with a flourish and a voilà. Sergeant Thomson took a small electronic device from his breast pocket and inserted the card into a slot on its side.
“That all seems to be in order,” he said, removing the card from the reader and handing it to Bernie, “now, how did you come to be here in that condition?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Bernie said.
Between them, Bernie and his hosts told the sergeant the full story, from the very beginning and leaving nothing out. Sergeant Thomson’s expression, at first keenly interested and closely following their every word, soon descended into one of resignation and boredom.
“Look. If it’s a state secret, you only needed to say so. No need for that long, involved cock-and-bull story. I get it. If it involves relations with south of the border, you can’t say anything. But why were you excited when my officer saw you?”
Bernie had to think about that one. He could have simply told the truth, that it’s an unfortunate side-effect of time-travel, but that wouldn’t have helped. He became more inventive. “Are you surprised, Sergeant? Imagine appearing naked in front of a beautiful young woman like that,” he nodded toward Natalie, “I think you would be moved, too.”
Natalie tried to assume the most professional pose she could, for one who was blushing brighter than a traffic light on stop.