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.
Bernie had been waiting to see the danjang for more than an hour, when the man whose desk plaque described him as executive assistant grade 3 stood up from his seat and walked towards the door between his and his boss’s office, announcing, “This way, honoured worker. His Excellency will see you now.”
When Bernie entered the danjang’s office, he felt as though he had been transported to another timeline. Covering an area that could easily accommodate the bunk-beds of a couple of dozen men, it displayed a level of luxury that he hadn’t seen since arriving in the PDRC. The room was floored with what felt like the rubberised playground flooring he knew from his (her?) original time and place, while the walls and ceiling were covered with what he assumed to be textured wallpaper. When the assistant closed the door behind him, however, the room fell so silent that he was again aware of his mild tinnitus. Disoriented by the sudden absolute silence and the opulence of his surroundings, he hadn’t yet focussed on the office’s sole occupant, seated behind a mind-bogglingly large mahogany desk at the end of the office.
“Come,” a voice boomed from, it seemed, all directions simultaneously. Bernie looked around some more and spotted speakers at regular intervals around the walls and in the ceiling. He approached the desk.
“Thommo?” he asked, instantly recognising the danjang as none other than the desk sergeant at St Catharines Central police station; the man who had processed his arrest when he turned up naked in Port Dalhousie.
“What does Thommo mean?” the danjang asked, his voice at a more comfortable level – he was not, this time, using the speaker system, “Is this a form of respectful greeting I haven’t heard yet?”
“Yes and no, Your Excellency. I meant it respectfully, of course, but it is not a customary greeting among my people. It is the designation of a man I knew before, and you look exactly like him. I apologise.”
“Accepted. Please take a seat, Rev.” Without the speaker system, the danjang‘s voice was disarmingly, even menacingly soft. Bernie pictured him in a James Bond movie, stroking a white Persian cat.
“With respect, Your Excellency, I am not the Rev. I’m afraid he died yesterday. I am merely 3358-4791.”
“It was the Rev’s wish that you assume his status, with all its rights and responsibilities; that you be designated Rev and that you take his place at our regular meetings.”
“But, Your Excellency, I am not worthy of such honour and I do not believe I am equipped for this much responsibility.”
“It has been written in the camp logs. You are the new Rev and it would be in your best interests to discharge the responsibilities of that office in an effective and efficient manner. Now. How would you have me call you? 4791? Rev? Or would you prefer your other designation?”
“Your Excellency knows that we are not permitted designations beyond our serial numbers.”
“I didn’t ask what you are permitted. I know what you are permitted. This is my camp and my rules. However, I am aware that certain things happen in the camp, things that are not permitted, but that I require my men to turn a blind eye to because it suits me not to punish every minor offence. Personal designations is one of these things. So. In this room, and only in this room, I wish to address you by your designation. What is it?”
“I am known as Bernie, Your Excellency.”
“I shall call you thus. By convention, our regular meetings are less than formal, and you may refer to me as danjang or, in your language, Guardian. Now, Bernie, why did you ask for this meeting?”
“My aim, Your Excellency—”
“Danjang or Guardian!”
“My aim, Guardian, was to tell you that I don’t want to be the Rev. These men need a leader, but I’m not it.”
“Denied. You are the new Rev, Bernie. Our next meeting is due in three days and I expect you to be ready. Dismissed.”
Bernie stood, turned and left the danjang’s office. Thoroughly dissatisfied with the outcome of the meeting, he went in search of Jonas.