If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow, and which will not,
— Macbeth, Act I, scene iii
Only when I saw my guests wandering around my living room, interested in every book, every knickknack, did I realize just how isolated I’d been for such a long time. Bob had gotten sick so soon after we moved that we’d never had a chance to develop a circle of friends, never had people over socially.
The only time this place had seen visitors was when the hospice staff moved in.
Suddenly, I felt like the stale air was finally circulating, like all the light bulbs had been replaced with a higher wattage. These people radiated energy, something about the way they took in everything around them with curiosity and enthusiasm. Despite my first impression about their cluelessness, since then, I’d been steadily revising my opinion. Whatever all this starship crap was about, I had to admit, they carried themselves with a businesslike, maybe even military, esprit de corps that inspired a certain confidence.
I kept an eye on them while I dished out the Chinese, wondering why on Earth I should feel this comfortable, my house invaded by total strangers who claimed to be from outer space. They were clearly more interested in unraveling the problems at hand than in eating, though Captain Jim, after I explained fortune cookies to him, was highly amused at his, which said “Time is on your side”.
Getting down to business, Jim laid it out, pacing around my living room like a caged lion. Set up Worsham and take him out.
“Take him out? You don’t mean…?” I blurted, shocked by the implication.
Jim looked at me thoughtfully, like he was keeping his options open, but his words were a relief.
“You see, at this point, the problem isn’t just Worsham, it’s all the forces that have been set in motion. Removing him by itself might keep the trends from accelerating, but they’re already playing out. We have to find a way to… turn the tide. To… reverse what he started, try to give events a little shove in the opposite direction.”
“And you think you can do that? Change the course of the world, in the next… what… 16 hours?” I asked dubiously.
Jim gave me a smile I was already beginning to recognize. The guy didn’t seem to be intimidated by anything. I was still withholding judgment as to whether he was as good as he thought he was, or whether he was well, full of it.
“We do have… resources,” he grinned.
The biggest resource they appeared to have was access to the future; the ability to look at the present – my present – from the vantage point of what they already knew had happened or was supposed to have happened. Or will have happened in some version of the future.
Being a writer, I couldn’t help thinking there was no grammatical tense to encompass this time-twisted mess. Future perfect? Things will have come to pass, seen from some future vantage point?
I thought about my own tangle of a life: how I’d just realized (shortly before the death threats and the arrival of the gang from outer space) that I no longer had any attachment to my own present tense. The past was gone. Bob was gone.
I understood, intellectually at least, that both past and future are illusions, that Truth only exists in the present moment. Be here, now, and all that. But if my own personal past was gone, and my present on-going life held nothing for me, suddenly Future Perfect seemed like the only tense that was worth a damn.
I wrestled my attention back to the conversation at hand.
The loose plan that emerged was that they had to take Worsham out of commission somehow; frame him, for some crime or preferably crimes. It had to be something big enough, serious enough, lurid enough that he couldn’t twist his way out of it. Had to be blatant enough, horrific enough, to turn his followers against him.
At the same time, they could use their information about the future to provide the right people with enough leverage to counter any after-effects of Worsham’s manipulations. They could plant the seeds for inventions, innovations, solutions and cures that might have taken many years to discover otherwise. They could provide enough hints and leads for honest reporters to expose the depths of the corruption, and for a handful of decent politicians to rise to key positions of power.
If Worsham had been playing with a stacked deck, they could deal a new hand, and stack the deck with their own cards. It was the best they could hope for. And there wasn’t much time.
Now all that remained was to find the right frame up and pull it off, literally overnight.
In the end, they got their inspiration where most of 21st century people did: from television.
Jim was deep in conversation with someone on his cell. At least that’s what I was still calling it, even though he showed the thing to me when we got to my place. It sure wasn’t like any cell I’d ever seen. And I’d lived with an industry insider.
If I’d had my doubts before about these guys, now I was beginning to feel almost superfluous. The flat robotic voice he kept talking to seemed to have more dope on Worsham than I’d been able to dig up over the past couple of years. I’d pulled out my laptop and was shamelessly running down the snippets of information I overheard. It was all checking out. How could they know so much?
And yes, I was a little miffed that Admiral Jim wasn’t asking my opinion or input on any of this. After all, I was the one who was up to my eyeballs in this thing.
Uhura, curious, had spotted my TV, and, after she tried to work it like a touch screen, I intervened to explain our primitive remote controls. She didn’t need any further guidance, but seemed to intuit our best technology – digital video, the latest thing – without missing a beat. She scrolled through the channels, the usual mix of crime dramas and trash reality shows, then came across something that caused her to call the doctor over.
He stood staring in fascination at some show, reacting here and there with a derisive laugh. Finally he turned and motioned to his buddy.
“There’s your answer, Jim,” he said. “CSI. Crime Scene Investigation. You said we need to frame him. The forensics here are so primitive it’s laughable. I can set something up easily. We just stage a little murder scene.”
Murder. Jim mulled over the word. We all did.
Dr. McCoy added, more forcefully now, “Don’t forget, Jim, I’ve seen what he did on Cigna 8. I was with the first rescue team that went in. I want to take this bastard down. And we’re going to need Spock.”
Jim talked into his cell-thing again, and told the robot voice – this “spock” – to join us. Dr. McCoy sidled over to me and said I might want to brace myself. I thought he was talking about the light-beam thing.
That turned out to be the least surprising sight awaiting me.
A few moments later, not six feet in front of me, in my very own living room, that column of dancing light appeared, accompanied by a slight hum, then somehow solidified into the figure of a man.
He was tall and lean. He wore a uniform of some kind, pretty snappy-looking, actually. His dark hair was cut straight across the forehead, very weird. Long, grave face. Odd eyebrows, just two slashes up and out from center. And…it took me a second to finish my inventory. Something wasn’t normal – not just the weird hair and eyebrows, but his… ears. They were large and … they came to a pronounced point on top.
Connect those dots, Hani.
There was a guy in my living room who didn’t look quite… human.
I took a step back, and stumbled against the coffee table.
Then, realizing what I’d done, I hoped he hadn’t noticed, hadn’t taken offense. I didn’t want to insult anyone. Political correctness, all that.
And I sure didn’t want to make this guy mad. He was a little scary.
The newcomer acknowledged Jim. “Captain”, he nodded. He nodded at the others, too, and turned to introduce himself to me. “I am Commander Spock, First Officer of the Enterprise. And you are Hanalie Surat?”
Unnerved, I blurted out the first thing my scattered mind came up with.
“Actually,” I said, “I think I’m the murder victim.”