There we were, settled all cozy into the back booth, the table sticky and scratched from old beer and old age. I’d been right to choose this place, I thought. No one here but a motley crew of obviously regular drunks, nursing their glasses. Not even the bartender was interested in anyone.
Our drinks came and macho guy, who’d said on the way over to just call him Jim, leaned in across the table. He told me I wasn’t going to believe what he was going to tell me. He seemed to be amused by that possibility, which I frankly found a little annoying.
“Okay, shoot”, I said, bracing myself for crazy.
And here came crazy, all right. They were from the future, he confided. He was actually Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a “star ship”. His companions were Dr. McCoy, ship’s physician, sitting beside me, and Lt. Uhura, Communications Officer.
Oh, crap, I said, to myself. Just when I was starting to like these guys.
I should note here that I’d made sure I was sitting on the outside of the booth, in case I needed to make a run for it. I’m not completely stupid.
Jimmy boy held up a hand, as if anticipating my protests, which I didn’t voice, although my face may well have been muttering them. He began to spin a tale that, however unbelievable, I had to admit was, as he promised, interesting.
There wasn’t enough beer in the bar to make that tale go down easy. I was never a big drinker, anyway. One beer made my already spinning head pound. I switched to soda. It was becoming evident very fast that I needed to keep my wits about me.
They had been chasing a war criminal, he said, a devious and ruthless man who’d been sent to a prison colony for crimes against civilization. Unspeakable crimes, on a scale that was almost indescribable. The things this man had done to an entire planet were beyond the scope of human understanding. Things done with deliberation, plotted over time, instigated with cool disdain, even enjoyment, for the suffering he caused.
The man had manipulated his jailers, resulting in many more deaths, had broken out, hijacked a freighter and made his escape. “Captain” Kirk, with his crew, was sent to recapture him.
But just as they were closing on the freighter, it unexpectedly entered what he called a time anomaly; a kind of eddy in the space-time fabric that allowed their quarry to make a temporal jump, from their time to mine.
All this action had taken place, for them, within the past few hours. But through the time disturbance, the man had actually appeared on Earth exactly 20 years ago.
I don’t know if this is where I started feeling the hair on my neck standing up. I don’t know where my own over-stimulated imagination started connecting dots. I held my breath. It felt like I knew what he was going to say next.
That man, that war criminal, had come to Earth, ready to start doing what he was so good at, wreaking havoc, manipulating from behind the scenes. He arrived out of nowhere, and took the name Lester Worsham.
And he had not only the advantage of his own superior, though psychotic, intellect. While in the time disturbance, he was able to collect glimpses of Earth’s future.
In other words, he knew what governments and politicians were likely to rise and fall, what corporations thrive and fail, what inventions would remake the world, what natural disasters would strike, and where, and when.
An astounding advantage for a master manipulator. It was all his for the taking, child’s play for someone whose pleasure in life was the challenge of seeing civilizations and worlds crumble under his touch.
Captain Jim made the decision to follow Worsham into the time anomaly. In telling me this, he said nothing about the dangers, although, as loosely as I was following this all, it seemed to me pretty foolhardy.
Worsham changed the timeline of Earth, Jim told me. Just when our culture was on the verge of major breakthroughs, destined, in its original path, to begin the upswing toward democracy, peace, universal human rights, toward successfully addressing the environmental damage to the planet while there was still time to turn things around.
The early 90’s. When there was all the promise of Communism crumbling, the Berlin wall falling, the green shoots of democracy springing up around the globe. It should have been the start of a planetary renaissance. Then everything started going to hell instead.
When Worsham stepped in.
What did Sherlock Holmes say? That when you eliminate all the impossible explanations, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth?
I found myself doing a kind of running mental collation, holding up this space case story against all I knew of Worsham, all I knew of what was going on in the world. Jim’s story might be fantastical, but it more or less fit with the real facts, as I knew them.
For some reason, I flashed back to the night I’d talked with Patty, the night I first heard the framework for the path of consciousness I now walked. Then, too, I’d been struck by the weird way in which, by somehow standing at some higher, broader vantage point, things that had never made sense before… started to.
Oh, god, Hani, I snapped at myself, you are so being played.
To Captain Jim, I said only, “Please, go on….”
Jim went on.
Within the time anomaly, he said, their own ship’s computers went crazy, yielding constantly shifting information. Time and energy interacted, almost as if a lightning-like strike of energy would spark a new time line, and everything from that pinpoint of new energy began to inexorably branch out, fractal-like, forming probabilities that didn’t have… well, time… to form into actual new alternate realities before some other strike set off a different pattern.
They watched this erratic, chaotic playing out of time tracks through the ship’s database, in which all historical data shifted before their very eyes, one moment reporting one version of events, the next, names and dates were changed, something that had “happened” no longer having happened, setting in motion an entirely different chain of events and futures. History, recorded, erased, re-written, second to second.
Even the rate of change was itself lurching and unpredictable.
They’d made the decision to follow Worsham to Earth in 1990, to apprehend him at the start and prevent his disastrous interference with the planet’s rightful progress and evolution.
But the chaotic environment of the anomaly interfered as they “transported”, he said. Placing them precisely 20 years… too late. The instability of the anomaly made the risk of trying again too dangerous. But based on what they had been able to observe from the shifting historical data – and future glimpses, as well – they had identified the likeliest probabilities, and now believed that just maybe, they could still, from this point in Earth time, do something to stop Worsham and at least turn the tide back in its original positive direction.
They just had to figure out exactly what to do before the shifting events of the past – my present – could ripple out into a potential future in which they themselves might not exist.
So I’m sitting there, in this dark and dreary dive, the cigarettes of the drunks at the bar starting to get to me, my head pounding, my lungs feeling thick with smoke and too much information, too many wild ideas.
God help me, I kind of followed the whole time warp thing. Bob was such a sci-fi geek and I read to him a lot, those last few months. The idea of other worlds somehow comforted us both. I felt kind of like I’d already been bodily lifted off the planet myself, totally displaced, like the worst kind of jet lag.
I did have a few pressing questions. First, why did they show up in the middle of Rock Creek Park, of all places?
Because, Jim explained, given the shifting realities being generated, it was calculated that a natural setting ran less risk of their being beamed into the middle of some unanticipated man-made structure. Surely I could understand that being transported into, say, the middle of an unexpected brick wall would be hazardous to one’s health?
“Oh, sure,” I nodded, like I knew all about these things.
Second, how did they know who I was?
“Your name…cropped up…in a number of …scenarios, linked to Worsham’s,” Jim replied.
Okay, again, I could see that, too, like maybe they had some sort of space-Google search function. I did write a lot about him. That thought brought back uncomfortable reminders of the several hundred scurrilous emails I’d just spent the afternoon deleting.
But here was the bigger question, the elephant in the barroom.
How did they explain the fact that they first managed to end up twenty years off their target, then smacked right into me, of all people, in the middle of a very big city, and a very big woods? Me, the one person who had made Lester Worsham my obsession? I mean, what were the odds of that?
“According to Spock, about 1 in 50,000,000,” Jim shrugged, with a “who knows?” smile.
“That’s damned imprecise. Spock must be slipping,” the doctor quipped with a tight smile, looking oddly pleased at the thought.
I had too much else on my mind to ask what a Spock was.
In the end, I did what I’d sworn I wouldn’t.
There was no rational reason to, no sane woman would have done what I did, actually invite these loony tunes strangers back home with me, after everything I’d been through, after all the impossible, outlandish, wacko things they’d told me.
So why did I?
Maybe I was lonely. Maybe I was scared of what else lurked out there in the city and didn’t want to be alone. Maybe these three seemed like the best of my bad choices.
Maybe I just …liked them.
Whatever impulse drove me, it felt like fate had simply taken over the driving, some unseen hand on the wheel. I found myself acting as if I’d known them all for a long time, or maybe in another life. They needed a private place to work on their “plan”. Or maybe they were going to bump me off, eat my brain, and steal all my 21st century goodies.
Either way, I just seemed to be along for the ride now. So, I paid the bill – of course, they had no money. Space people. I led them home, through the Friday evening dinner crowds out for a stroll, through the balmy Washington spring evening. The only link I could find to normal reality was to ponder the choice between delivery pizza or take out Chinese.
I mean really, like I was going to cook for company myself? Now that would really be science fiction.