leaned over the ships rail. Below she could see Mary in the open landing
craft, and she didn’t look comfortable. The massive rollers that swept
around the Southern Ocean were mere wavelets here in the bay, but even so
the flat-bottomed craft wallowed alarmingly. Mary didn’t look back,
and decorum prohibited Catherine from any show of sympathy. Instead she
looked up towards the shoreline.
was impossible not to be awed by the beauty of the continent. The deep blue
of the sky contrasted with the vibrant green of the woodland. Long gone
was the grounded berg of a hundred years ago, now the wide bay was full
of deep blue water lapping gently onto a gravel shoreline. Gone too was
the snow; or at least driven back up the low mountains further inland. It
was a place of beauty and serenity, and hard to imagine how it once could
have been bleak and unforgiving. It just seemed a perfect place to spend
little way back behind the beach she could see the red and white tail section;
already sitting upright. The colors and shape seemed forced onto the setting;
as indeed they were, and she felt affronted at the irreverence they were
paying to the natural site. Maybe Mary was right, it did look crass.
the tail section and erecting it had commenced two weeks before they had
arrived, when a salvage team had cut the tail and placed it on the beach.
But only two people on the several landing craft approaching the shore knew
that work was far from complete, or that as their ship dropped anchor in
the bay a team of engineers had immediately begun attaching a modified submarine
rescue chamber to the submerged plane
first landing craft was almost at the beach so Catherine turned away and
went below decks. The ship was big, the biggest she had ever been aboard:
in fact it was the only ship she had ever been aboard; though she had never
imagined her first cruise would be on a hospital ship. The suggestion had
at first raised a few eyebrows, and there were many more dignified passenger
vessels put forward, but the statement placed on the official website pointed
out that not only was the proposed dissembling of the aircraft a potentially
dangerous operation, but that most of those dignitaries attending the ceremony
would be non-sailors. Nobody needed reminding of the Southern Oceans reputation.
What wasn’t on the website was the unique ability for submarine rescue
craft to surface right inside an open chamber deep in bowels of the vessel.
entered a nursing area and a small woman in blue medical overalls stepped
in her way. “Are you lost?” she said pleasantly. “This
is the nursing area. It’s a private area. You understand?” From
the firmness of tone it was impossible to misunderstand.
looked almost frail but Catherine knew she wasn’t a nurse; she was
a member of the presidential guard. Catherine also knew that if for any
reason she provoked the woman, she would be pinned to the floor and cuffed
in seconds. In as open a manner as possible she presented her identity card
and the woman stared at it intently. “I need access to the Moon Pool.”
woman gave no indication she knew what Catherine was talking about. “Ice
melts when the sun shines; the moon looks over both!” She added almost
as an afterthought, feeling ridiculous. The woman reached for a door handle
and let her pass.
three more decks Catherine opened a door and was assailed with the smell
of salt water. In front of her occupying most of the thirty by fifteen meter
hold was what looked like a swimming pool? The large yellow shape that occupied
over half of the surface destroyed that image. She walked around to the
opening in the hull, and to the ramp. Again she offered her ID.
back. Good timing,” said a young man.
it’s all pretty straightforward now. First get one of those on and
I’ll talk you through,” he gestured to a bench full of Hazmat
no idea how to: but following his example, placed it on the floor, stepped
into, and pulled it up her body. It smelled of plastic and disinfectants
as she pulled the hood over her head. “Is this,” her voice sounded
strange and muffled. “Is this really necessary?”
man stepped behind her and began to seal it up the back. “For you:
probably no. We haven’t detected any toxins, but who knows what was
around back then?”
all this time in the cold: could that be possible?”
certainly, but it’s mainly for them we’re erring on the side
had to physically turn around to see him though the visor. “Everything
that’s being brought up?”
in a Hazmat bag with crushed ice, and drenched before being brought onto
the sub. Fasten me up will you?” He turned offering her the back of
nervously pressed the two wide flaps together hoping she was doing it right
and trying to get the image that had printed itself onto her mind, out of
didn’t seem too concerned and began walking towards the ramp. She
followed and sat in the fold down seat he indicated. “Shouldn’t
need this,” he said dropping a harness over her shoulders. “But
better safe than sorry. It’ll take about ten minutes. Drop out the
bottom of the ship on an umbilical cord. Communications are through the
umbilical; telephone communications only, no wireless. Then power over to
the clip-on: the connection chamber. Attach and vent the water between us.
Stay seated until the crew has brought their load on and then follow.”
A solid thud as the portal shut, interrupted him. “Me; okay?”
nodded feeling slightly apprehensive.
people get a bit claustrophobic. Are you claustrophobic?”
don’t know.” She did know her heart was beating fast and her
flesh felt sticky.
soon find out?” he said with a wry smile. “The connection chamber
is a lot smaller.” He didn’t wait for her reaction. “When
we're inside the clip-on, the door will shut and a disinfecting mist will
fill it. It can be a bit disorienting so hold onto something and breathe
deeply and slowly until the mist clears. Then the temperature will fall.
It was minus twenty-eight point seven centigrade when we arrived, but the
cold was inhibiting work, so it has been raised to twelve below.”
that cause problems?” she said uneasily.
but we either have optimum temp for conditions and slow progress, or borderline
and work fast. Okay we're approaching.”
it was on flat ground it’s pretty much just a stone’s throw
nodded, thinking that for centuries, the alien submarine world was beyond
the reach of the bravest of explorers. The thought was dismissed as a part
of the bulkhead opened to reveal yet another bulkhead, this one was glistening
with fresh wetness. Slowly this opened and beyond she could see two suited
technicians, but her eyes were drawn to the two large packages to their
left and right. She watched as one then the other was rolled through onto
the submersible; shivering slightly, knowing that inside each was a man,
woman; child or even several.
the voice was indeterminable and could have come from any of the suits before
her, but one was entering the connection chamber. After what seemed like
minutes fumbling with the release she shed the harness and followed.
the solid thump, and moments later her vision became hazy. She grabbed at
a stanchion as fog enveloped her. She couldn’t see anything other
than rivulets of water running down the visor. As fast as it had begun,
it began to clear and she heard a low whine, and glancing over to a grill
she could see a multi-bladed fan was accelerating. Suddenly she felt cold
and frost started to form on the grill, and more disconcerting over her
faceplate. She brushed a small area off and saw the technician to her side
was frosted white.
lifted his hand with thumb up. “Watch the cut metal. It slices though
the suits easy as.” He warned.
lifted her hand in the same gesture fascinated by how the smooth frost on
her arm rippled in tiny fractures. The furthest bulkhead was now opening
and she took a deep breath before following through.
the fuselage was a scene of almost carnage. For some way back towards the
rear, a forest of cut and twisted seat legs sprouted from the carpet. Closer
to the door, on the left side were filled Hazmat bags. Opposite were seats
and parts of seats haphazardly placed: on them were frozen people? Catherine
felt herself gasp in both shock and surprise. She forced her eyes away towards
the rear of the aircraft and following the old aisles moved past the frozen
corpses. At the very rear she could see moisture glistening around the toilet
doors, and her eyes followed it down to the floor where a liquid pool had
formed. Something looked different about this water. It seemed threatening
and she knew instinctively that it was leaking through from the tail area.
Urgently she looked across the middle seats to where technicians were using
pneumatic jaws to slice through seat leg with utmost ease. With growing
concern she looked along the seats to gauge how many more there were to?
Her eyes stopped at the body of a man: in the prime of life and handsome,
even in death. But what intrigued her was that he was dressed only in shirt
and jeans. Why wasn’t he huddled like the rest, especially as he was
half draped over a pile of blankets as if protecting them? “I’m
sorry.” She said softly towards him. “I’m so very, very
was late evening, after symbolically dropping wreaths and tokens above the
aircraft; that Philip Downes and Catherine Allen came to Mary’s cabin.
looked at them both. “So how’s progress?”
looked at Philip and then at Mary. “A little too well.”
stared at her. “And what’s that mean?”
she could reply Philip spoke. “I think Catherine is becoming slightly
rebuke was swift. “These are people, human beings.”
looked at her I concern. “Catherine is this going to be a problem?”
Ma’am, I’d just like them to be treated with a little more respect.”
Catherine and I have spoken on the matter, but as I reminded her, we have
to ignore any emotional or moral thoughts and concentrate on what we have
understand that,” said Catherine contritely, “I was just making
a personal observation.”
nodded. “As I also reminded her, if we think of them that way it’s
going to get a lot worse.”
looked at him questioningly.
think Philip is referring to the refrigerated containers?” Catherine
nodded. She looked at Philip. “And the decoys?”
docked the ship is due to undergo periodic maintenance. There will be other
containers moving on and off: waste, recycling: etcetera. Our containers
will be indiscernible from the others.”
can be assured of that?”
said Philip stiffly.
still felt peeved at Philips remarks and saw an opportunity to even the
score. “Ma’am Philip is a master of red tape.”
smiled. “I am, and they will disappear.”
hope you don’t mean that literally Philip.” Before he could
answer she spoke again. “There we’re no actual problems?”
said Catherine. It seems removing the tail has allowed water to enter the
looked fearfully at her. “I thought…?”
we would cut the tail without the risk of flooding the aircraft?”
Philip anticipated. “It was the intention; but apparently cutting
couldn’t be done in one go. Working in the dark and cold are difficult
enough without it being underwater, so a relay of divers did the cutting.
Stopping, starting: mechanical inaccuracies all combined to result in a
slight deviation from that planned. I have to point out that these personnel
didn’t understand the implications of their actions. Their one and
only requirement was to remove the tail.”
seal the leak would have taken valuable time from the recovery, so a decision
was made to carry on as normal.”
think it was mentioned about the temperature being raised. There was also
a tiny amount of humidity from the recovery team’s expelled breath
that could have started deterioration, so extra equipment was installed
to dehumidify and cleanse the air.”
seemed less than assured. “I guess there had to be problems, but otherwise
everything is proceeding as planned?”
much. We estimate about a hundred and fifty bodies have been transferred
to the refrigeration hold; the rest we hope to bring up within the next
looked at him curiously. “You estimate?”
don’t know for sure, groups are in clumps, if I can use that term.”
nodded. “I was concerned there could be a problem when the captain
made his announcement?”
other than what I have said: but there really is a low developing so the
captain felt it was an ideal excuse.” He smiled. “And maybe
that will result in justification for us using the hospital ship: it seems
we may have a few beds occupied once we put to sea.”
didn’t return the smile. “How do they?”
he guessed. “Remarkably good.”
good,” added Catherine. “If you forget to be impartial and look
at the children's faces.”
must have been horrible for them.” Sighed Mary dejectedly.
not,” said Philip. “I would imagine going down in the airplane
would have been more terrifying than the actual dying. None of the faces
show any signs of fear or terror.”
would all have just gone to sleep.” Added Catherine sadly.
whatever will they make of waking up” Mary sounded sad, and then suddenly
concerned. “You can still bring them back?”
everyone; some maybe we shouldn’t. As I just said moisture entered
the cabin following some of the ducting. In a couple of places it collected
in the overhead bins and dripped onto several of the bodies, causing deterioration
to varying extents. There’s other seepage that’s got in over
the years. Ethically it may be better to leave them dead than severe amputees.”
He looked questioningly at Mary.
is no way I'm going to make that kind of decision, especially right now.”
will have to: at some time, but we can keep them on ice until that time
arrives. Others have suffered trauma, and there are indications they may
have died before they froze, we’re working on a ten percent loss.”
ninety percent will be recoverable?” said Mary hopefully.
but we must accept there’s every chance that some of those won’t
so it’s unbelievable?”
really it’s all been luck.”
any been separated?”
yet. They have all been brought aboard still in the airline seats they occupied.
Not the easiest way to move them but the safest, but from what we have seen
it may be that our hope that they we’re in separate wrappings prior
to their deaths may be wrong.”
Mary looked Philip in the eyes. “Should we assume that now, considering
what we are about to attempt?”
prior to their demise”
nodded at the less final sounding word.
what I have just said, we still believe that most will have layered themselves
in blankets and the unpacked clothing except.” Philip sounded puzzled.
“Except one; anyway we hope that will be the case, and that will give
us an area between individual skin surfaces where we will be able to cut
through the fabric layers and separate them. No doubt there will be couples,
or children in parent’s arms that will be more problematic.”
looked at him puzzled, “You said except one?”
a male; he was in ordinary dress of the period.”
opportune, he was exposed to the full freezing gradient. He’s an ideal
candidate for our first attempt.”
shook her head in disbelief. “I can't believe we are doing this.”
it’s nearly done. All going to plan we will retrieve the last by five
in the morning. The captain will delay sailing until after breakfast due
to last minute problems,” he smiled again. “And so that our
fellow passengers have chance to fill their stomachs, at least for a while.”
didn’t pick up the point. “And we return them to Australasia
in a meat fridge,” She muttered disapprovingly.
sat watching a replay of the ceremony. It had been transmitted live to a
worldwide net audience. Mary made her speech. Her words were formal, and
tinged with the appropriate sadness, but not grief. A century had passed
and almost all present were far removed from any personal involvement with
those who had been on the flight that everything was meant to show respect
without the need to be overly emotional.
it was quite an occasion and advertisers paid highly to have their caption
placed discretely in the corner of the web page. In real time, words and
gestures were interspersed with scenic views of the grandeur of the frozen
land, and of the emptiness of the great ocean waters that surrounded it.
could clearly see out in the bay; behind where the president of the Federation,
dignitaries and relatives stood, laid anchored the hospital ship. The whole
event rated highly, and the advertisers got good coverage for their dollars.
Penn looked at the embossed doorplate: ‘William Williams – Director
– Compliance Inspectorate’. He nervously centered his necktie
as he reached for the handle.
man looked up.
wanted to see me director? Tony said anxiously.
Penn, have you read this?” He indicated an observation report at the
edge of his desk.
anxiety eased as he saw the reference code. “Yes,” he said,
without mentioning that even though it was a high profile target, he had
only briefly skimmed the document.
do you make of it?”
hadn’t climbed the militia ranks without learning a few things, and
one was observing the body language that he now saw. “My thoughts
are that it would be worth talking to the writer in more detail. I have
already requested a one on one.” The lie flowed easily off his tongue.
was only scheduled for two days, why four?”
desperately tried to be non-committal. “I was thinking maybe we need
to start asking a few questions.”
I think we do.” Williams nodded. “She’s been clever and
clean up to now, but this could be our first real chance to get something
to stick on her?”
always make a slip, sooner or later.”
you must make sure we don’t too. The president breaking her commitments
and staying on board the ship an extra day and a half just doesn’t
sound right; unless there’s an ulterior motive.”
relevant reason came to Tony’s mind. “I don’t recall reading
anything in the report about weather conditions?”
isn’t, but we should check that out.”
there is an election coming up; and there were a diverse group of dignitaries
aboard: maybe she’s just creating a higher profile?”
so, but that’s no reason for us to assume anything. We’ll step
this up in priority. Let me know if anything comes out of the interrogation.”
it’s completed director.” Tony waited a few moments to make
sure the conversation had ended before easing back towards the door.
felt absolutely exhausted. Every muscle in his body had turned into a lead
weight. It seemed that it needed more effort than his body possessed to
even open his eyelids. But he could still hear; and he could hear a sweet
It said softly. “Peter can you hear me?”
tried to open his mouth. Tried to form a word, any word, but nothing happened.
The voice sounded nearer this time. “Can you hear me?”
I.” the utterance seemed to come from somewhere else than from him.
Good.” He heard other excited voices, but instead of encouragement
he was told to go back to sleep. “Rest now, you will soon be able
to talk,” said the sweet voice.
thoughts raced through fragmented memories. The trip: his past life: Tracy,
Anita, the crash: the girl; but mostly the cold. It seemed he relived his
entire life before he heard the voice again
Peter.” This time it seemed less excited and more calming. “Peter;
it’s time to wake up.”
felt a sharp prick in is arm; but his cloudy mind was unable to make his
body respond. Fear surged in his brain. He was paralyzed; no, he wasn’t
paralyzed, he could feel drops of liquid falling onto his eyelids. There
was light, as his eyes opened the slightest crack. A light, so brilliantly
bright flooded in, that he closed his eyelids as fast as he could to shut
out the pain. It took an age, but aided by more drops slowly his lids opened
again. Fear surged as he realized he was lying down, and there was no strength
in his limbs. It was as if his mind was disconnected from his body. There
were things above him, machines, clear, glassy drapes: everything was so
blindingly bright until a shadow cast over his vision. It was a face. No,
two: no, three people in white doctor’s style coats. For some reason
they were laughing and embracing each other. He wanted to scream at them
there was a silhouette right over him and more liquid was dripped into his
open eyes clouding his view. Now he could only hear movement and joy around
him, and when he tried to move his head even slightly to the side, he couldn’t.
“Where?” His slowly spoken words were barely audible.
was leaning over and there was the sweet voice. “You're in good care.
Don’t worry.” He saw and took in the smell of her long black
wanted to ask what was happening. “Where?” But the words wouldn’t
come out and they misunderstood him.
close to the place you knew as Hobart, Peter. Do you remember where Hobart
His mind still swam in a chaos of visions.
Peter?” She was talking to others; they seemed confused. “Was
Gareth with you on the plane Peter?”
name,” he said.
are Peter; don’t you remember?”
was more anxious discussion, and he heard his name mentioned several times.
“You want us to call you Gareth?” The voice sounded puzzled.
name?” He murmured.
more discussion: then. “If you want us to Peter, we will call you
scared him that his body wouldn’t work, and he was frustrated that
they seemed oblivious to his distress and confusion. All they could do was
treat him as if he wasn’t who he was. There was a silence and he felt
himself slipping back to sleep.
what is two plus three?”
He was confused. Why was he being asked such a ridiculous question?
please just answer me the one question. What is two plus three?”
knew the answer; it was obvious; it was: it was? Fear surged again; he couldn't
remember. Then from somewhere back in time an image of the number five appeared
in his mind. “Five,” he murmured. Then he heard a fragmented
sentence that talked about further tests, while again they all laughed;
that annoyed him. He began to speak and the room fell quiet. “I didn't
think in time.”
woman leaned towards him. He could see her clearer now. Her eyes were brown
and she had long, sharply defined eyelashes. She looked nice, though he
wasn’t really sure what lay behind the white gown, mask and cap. Strands
of her very black hair had come lose and caressed his cheek
didn't Gareth, but we did,” she said cryptically.
tried again to move, but it seemed that with all the strength he could muster
he could only raise a finger off the crisp bed sheets. Yet more panic swept
over him. “Can’t; move,” he said fearing his body was
broken beyond repair.
alright Gareth.” She said reassuringly. “You’re muscles
have atrophied. They will come back with time. Don’t fight it. Rest,
build up your strength, you will be just fine.”
they were all laughing again: only he didn’t understand the joke.
dark haired woman was right. Each time he woke he seemed a little stronger.
Within a few days he could stand, and for the following two weeks he spent
hour after hour in a gym. At first the exercises were so trivial that it
could have been a little humiliating if he hadn’t been the only patient,
but with the constant help of a physiotherapist, who drove him on unrelentingly,
he was sure that by the end he was fitter than he had ever been in his life.
also spent a couple of hours a day with a psychologist. They had started
doing equally mundane things like fitting pegs in holes, had rapidly passed
ink prints, and now it was almost like the doctor was learning about his
life, rather than examining his interpretation of it. But one thing was
the same with every person he met. Nobody would talk about anything other
than about what he told them, they wouldn’t even tell him how the
plane had been found, and nothing of what had happened to the other passengers.
Other than an enigmatic, ‘They’re close by’.
frustrated Gareth. Although he didn’t know anybody that he had traveled
with, they had shared a common fate. That at least he felt bonded him to
them, especially to Carrie. He wanted to know she was safe, but again the
answer was that she was ‘somewhere close by’. It finally boiled
over in him when the black haired one visited him again.
was sunny, though a slight chill was in the air. He was sat out on the small
balcony, his feet up on the rail reading from what he thought was a very
moth eaten copy of the ‘Star Trek’ series of books.
had not been expecting her, and looked up in surprise as she came out from
his room and sat down uninvited in the chair opposite. At first he wasn’t
sure who she was other than she was very attractive; then he looked into
her eyes. They had played a great part in his semi-waking world.
one?” she blushed slightly.
when I woke?”
had an urge to tell her how she had occupied his mind, but couldn’t
think of the right words, so he let it slip from his mind. “I am.
When do I get the bill?”
she said puzzled.
said I look well; in fact you have given me the body I always wanted. After
years of far too much time sitting, watching television, this last few weeks
recuperating in hospital has been better than a month at a health farm “
she smiled appealingly. “There’s no charge, but I'm glad you
approve. I; we do.”
opened gown hung free from his shoulders and Gareth realized she had been
looking at what she could see of his body. She saw he had seen and dragged
her eyes to his face. “Keep it up “
exercise. I mean; the exercise. Keep up the exercise,” she said apparently
a little flustered at losing the direction of the conversation
will, actually it’s all I do other than reading this.” He held
up the book.
sensed something in his tone. “I thought you liked period fiction.
That style of story?”
did once. It’s been a long time.”
had something similar when you were found.”
I?” Then he remembered. “I was thinking more that I don't seem
to be able to find much else to do. No television; no radio. This place
doesn't go in much for patient facilities.”
I'm afraid they don’t.” She seemed hesitant and changed the
subject. “I’m sorry I haven’t said who I am, have I? I’m
Catherine, Catherine Allen.”
nodded. “I’m Gareth, but you know that?”
nodded back. “Gareth there’s some questions I wanted to.”
interrupted her. “Can I have a television?”
television?” she said uneasily.
of those things that sit in the corner of a room and is full of commercials,”
he joked unsure at her reaction.
I know; but there's no connection for one in these rooms.”
some reason he felt he was being patronized. “Why not?”
bluntness of his challenge caught her off guard, “Why not?”
she repeated not able to immediately answer him.
why not. If this is a hospital, why is there no television, or radio, or
trolley with newspapers and stuff?”
have your books.”
have books brought to me.”
can have the books of your choice, all you have to do is ask.”
not what I want; there is nothing to tell me what is happening now, today,
outside there.” He pointed out across the lawns to the trees in the
in isolation Gareth. You have had a traumatic ordeal and don’t need
to concern yourself with all the world’s problems.”
in isolation, but it’s not for my good, is it?” He hadn’t
meant to mention it, but the idea had been playing on his mind.
don’t know what you mean.”
isn’t an ordinary hospital is it?”
went to speak but he held up his hand.
remind me it’s some kind of isolation unit. I know it is, but it’s
not meant to keep me isolated from the world, it’s meant to keep the
outside world isolated from me.”
fail to see the difference.”
think you do. For some reason you don’t want me to know what’s
couldn’t look at him as she tried to bluff through his observations.
“For what reason?”
don’t know; that’s what I want you to tell me.”
can’t imagine whatever makes you think something like that. It’s
like I said, we want you to be fully recovered.”
recovered! I am fully recovered, and don’t say I have caught some
deadly disease on the plane, because I don’t see anybody taking any
precautions against catching it from me.”
have no disease; you know that.”
But I know I’m so isolated that I’m beginning to think that
the alternative is that the disease is out there.”
looked at him as if she was considering something, then her attitude changed.
The friendly, though meek visitor took on an assertiveness that for a moment
put Gareth at a disadvantage. Suddenly he was the pupil and she the teacher.
“Gareth there is a great deal that you are unaware of, in fact it
could be said that you are aware of nothing. You are quite right though,
that we have kept you here while we monitored your physical and mental states.
What you have endured is at the extreme limits of what the human body can
endure, so we needed to ensure that there is no lasting damage. And you
can believe me or not, when I tell you that your fellow passengers are dependent
on your complete and full recovery, and rehabilitation.”
not making any sense. Why would anybody else from the plane be dependent
sighed deeply. “I have already gone too far into a subject that I
am not at liberty to talk about. I need to make a phone call,” and
with that she stood and strode from the room.
was not left long puzzling over her reaction. Ten minutes later she came
back into his room. He was still sat where he had been before she left,
though he had not turned a page in the book.
walked straight to the chair she had recently vacated. She did not look
at him this time; instead she stared out to the distant hills and ocean.
was obvious she had, had a heated conversation as she still had a defensive
attitude about her. Gareth said nothing, instead staring at the same words
he had stared at for some time.
am not a doctor, or a social worker.” She suddenly blurted out.
looked up from the book but she was still not looking back at him.
name is Catherine Allen,” she repeated formally, “And I am personal
secretary to Mary Masters, President of the Federation of Australasia, and
presently acting as the President of Pacifica.” Now she looked at
him, straight into his eyes. “The name Mary Masters will mean nothing
to you: neither I assume will the federation. But the federation is made
up of what you knew of as Australia and New Zealand. Together with what
is left of the pacific islands; a fair part of what was Southern Asia, and
remnants of the West Coast of the Americas. This is what makes up the Federation
of Pacifica.” She could see disbelief and incomprehension in his face.
She gave a faintly satisfied smile. “All this has come about while
you were; sleeping. You have been asleep for a long; long time: in fact
you have slept for a hundred years.”
first reaction was to smile, but she wasn’t, instead she stared at
him in a challenging way. The grin faded as his mind stumbled between incredulity
and shock. A question appeared in his mind immediately replaced by another
even before he could utter the first. A trillion questions jostled, needing
to be asked, but instead he sat unable to speak as she began to explain
what had happened.
was still dumbfounded when she left him some time later. He didn’t
move until well into the evening, long after the midges and mosquitoes had
begun to fly noisily around his face.
looked up as Tony entered his office. “You have something for me Agent
details on person one.”
pushed the document he had been reading aside. “So what have you got?”
seems we had one class three, and four class five sources on the ship. Taking
their reports individually, and weighting towards the class three we have
Tell me more.”
is reason to accept the weather for the delay. There was a front; cold and
warm air mixing just out to sea from the departure point, so the shuttle
returning her would have had problems with visibility.”
shuttles fly through fog?”
are official documents from air traffic control stating the pilot requested
the delay, due to the difficulty of landing on a small target I poor visibility,
and on a ship that was heaving and underway.”
see.” Williams sighed in disappointed way. “So it was the pilot
who requested the delay and not the target?”
ship was delayed, but yes.”
nodded. “Very well; keep me informed if there is any other development.”
made no attempt to leave. “Actually there is something else.”
containers to be precise.”
information is that it was a hospital ship?”
was, but after the voyage it was due for maintenance. As part of that exercise
containers are brought on full of materials. They are emptied, and other
materials are removed from the ship. Such things as stored waste products,
recycling; and the removal of all upgraded or replaced materials. The problem
is that more containers may have come off than went on?”
have; surely that can be determined?”
you would think so, but there are discrepancies in the record of containers
coming onto site.”
can’t happen; how can they keep security?”
seems there is almost none in the case of a refit.”
is completely wrong.”
fact is we have to locate all the suppliers if we want to know what went
on, but it’s what came off that concerns us, and the problem is we
don’t know what did?”
stared at him mystified.
don’t know how many, but it seems more containers came off than went
on, and the extras were probably refrigerated.”
was Rip Van Winkle: he was ‘the sleeper’ he had read of in a
Jules Verne; or was that a Well’s book? Whichever it had been, it
was many years: at the very least, a hundred. Gareth too had woken after
that magical time to discover a world where he was a stranger, and a world
where he could barely cope. He knew Catherine had told him only a taste
of what he would in time find out for himself, but right now he had to survive
losing the old world, rather than facing the new. Gareth’s immediate
thoughts were with memories of those close to him. The first was of his
daughter Tracy. “No not Tracy?” he gasped aloud as his heart
went cold; but the reality could not be denied: she would have grown to
be a woman and lived her life in the full. He hoped it had been a good one.
He forced his thoughts to the others. Anita, did she ever re-marry? What
about Clive and his other friends? They all would have reached old age and
passed away decades ago. It was wrong; it was a nightmare; it was more than
his mind was ready to accept. For a moment he wished he were still blissfully
oblivious from the knowledge.
following morning he was brought a portable television: though it was nothing
like he imagined. Catherine had not lied; there were no connections, as
apparently the set didn’t need any antenna or power. The orderly sat
with him for a while showing him to how to use his voice to access the multitude
of Internet channels and options. He was assured everything he needed to
know was available: somewhere. The orderly apologized, but said that for
security reasons he would not be allowed to communicate through the web
with the outside world. After a short exploration Gareth ignored all but
an old movie channel, choosing instead to watch movies made long after he
had died, instead of thinking. It was close on dusk when Catherine returned.
happened to my world?” He asked. “I don't even recognize the
weather map anymore.”
a political graduate Gareth, not a scientist. I can tell you something of
what has happened, but as you are already discovering the last hundred years
have been by any measure dramatic: in both humankind and in its natural
upheavals.” She walked out onto the balcony again, waiting while he
followed and leaned forward against the balustrade alongside her. She looked
sideways at him. “You would have been aware of the rise in global
warming at the end of the twentieth century?”
Gareth hesitated wondering if he should say what he guessed she was thinking,
but he said it anyway. “Apparently my generation has some explaining
wasn’t meant to be an accusation,” she said softly. “Yours
was the generation that bore the blame of denial; and in some ways the responsibility
of inaction; but in truth you only perpetuated what had been started before
you, and was continued after. You share the guilt only for delaying. Anyway
there is little benefit in laying blame now, especially as the world has
come to terms with what happened,” she stopped and began to smile.
looked at her. “I think I missed the joke.”
you didn't. I was about to say well before our ancestors were halfway into
the twenty-first century, but they were not your ancestors. They were your
descendants.” Catherine smiled again: he liked her smile. “Well
whatever we call them, I only asked the question so that we start from a
point of mutual understanding?”
we have it. Go on.”
the first decades of the twenty-first century the full reality of what had
been termed global warming came to be known. By then the world was experiencing
worsening weather conditions. It became such a regular occurrence for coastal
cities to be inundated some were abandoned and their populations forcibly
moved; but moving the majority of the world's population to higher ground
was a task beyond the resources of many countries. I assume I don’t
need to explain how many major population and industrial areas came within
the tides reaches back in your time?”
shook his head. “From memory it was a lot.”
than you probably realize. In hindsight what was happening seems very obvious,
but even the first signs of the coming disaster: when vast floating ice
sheets broke away, still did not cause serious concern, and in reality they
caused little change other than icebergs the size of small countries, were
drifting around the world, and that’s not an exaggeration. Some took
years to melt, but it was a dramatic warning. More gradual and more serious
was the expansion of the water within the oceans, and the melting of the
continental ice sheets,” she looked at him inquisitively. “The
ones that covered Greenland and Antarctica?”
they released their stored volumes into the oceans the water really began
to rise. From there, there was no going back. Relieved of the weight of
kilometers of ice, entire landmasses rose up; releasing tremendous tectonic
activity. Individual and whole groups of dormant volcanoes erupted around
the world. They caused a brief respite with a period of what I understand
was termed a nuclear winter; but the poles remained clear, and where the
equatorial zones carried high level particles that cooled them, the poles
became the ovens of the earth, and very soon became completely ice-free.
With the hot poles sending warm water to the cooler equatorial zones, the
world became a cauldron of unpredictable weather. Ocean currents changed;
jet streams reversed; drought, monsoons: the whole shebang. It was an unstoppable
cycle that threatened, and almost amounted to the destruction of civilization;
at least economically if not physically.” The tone of Catherine’s
voice changed. “You know Gareth as a race of people we never really
make plans; we wait until the conditions dictate options to us.”
there’s no guessing, we don’t. Nothing has changed, even now:
we protest and we complain, and we say someone should do something, but
other than talk nothing ever gets done.”
beginning to wonder as to how come we are still here?”
was silent and stared at him strangely, before she nodded understandingly.
“Are you aware of the concept of Gaia?”
don't think I am?”
an old belief; even back in your time. Suffice it to say that the planet
can be considered a life form infested with parasites.”
that meant to refer to us humans?”
particularly, but is an apt description.” She smiled captivatingly.
found he was thinking more of her than of what she was saying, so he just
mine is a biased description, but I do believe the Earth has its own immune
protection, and decades after it had unleashed its forces they settled back
down into the equilibrium we have today.”
have to take your word that, that’s okay?”
you will, and it is, but you get the picture?”
think so: unprecedented weather; massive storms; devastating flooding: population
upheaval; total disruption to the world’s economies, and that’s
only just the part my mind has had time to process.”
was actually laughing at him now. “Yes I know. I’ve painted
a black picture, but it wasn’t total catastrophe.”
did I miss the good bits?” He was feeling very comfortable with the
woman. It suddenly struck him that he looked forward to her coming to see
we may be a careless and procrastinating race, but we can sometimes be very
smart at the belated resolution of problems; well at least most of them,”
she added cryptically.
tell me, what did we do?”
Able Jones: he was the president of Fed. Oz at that time “
Federation of Australasia. A bit of a mouthful so we just call it Fed. Oz.”
just referring to Australia: or what remained?”
the other remnants?”
countries within Pacifica use their own abbreviation. Each give precedence
to their locality, but it amounts to the same, something like what you knew
of as the European Union. Individual countries, but one block in many functions.”
going to be a steep learning curve.”
nodded. “Well he; Able Jones, came up with the idea of the inland
seas. A massive amount of the Australian continent was below what would
become the new normal sea level. He proposed to breach the continent at
the Gulf of Carpentaria; and flood central Australia.”
said nothing but he was shaking his head in disbelief.
course,” she said haughtily at his reaction. “It was not a popular
or even well received decision by the Australian people, and there was a
massive outcry. But his bait was that the World Government Body: Think of
the W.G.B as a greatly expanded United Nations: be charged a sea-level tax.
The Americans, the Europeans, the Japanese and Chinese: to example just
a few, were contemplating spending incalculable amounts to literally walk
away from their cities, and considering that, what was a few trillion dollars
if it bought them extra time?”
this explains why the map of Australia is nothing like the one I remember.”
was said at the time that it would keep the sea levels to those around the
end of the twentieth century; and keep them there for fifteen, twenty years;
maybe more. It didn’t, but it did buy time, and allowed the evacuation
of the coastal cities to be done in a relatively orderly way; well at least
suppose it makes sense, but from my memory it would have taken a miracle
to convince the green lobby to accept flooding the deserts.”
miracles were simple to achieve when there was a flood of cash pouring into
Australia, and once Jones as good as abolished all income and company taxes
the voice of conservation was swept aside when people saw pay packets pretty
much double overnight.”
suppose that shows you we lived in a very principled time.”
like to say people have changed, and maybe they have in some ways, but many
people are still more interested in their own welfare rather than that of
others. Jones probably counted on that because by flooding through a series
of dykes he created virtually unlimited hydroelectrically power from the
inflow of the oceans. So much that Australia became an electricity exporter.”
the conservationist; the green parties, they still stood by while this was
the average family they were switching on every newly bought appliance;
but he didn’t stop there. The inundation was controlled while he pumped
billions of dollars into accelerated mining programs, removing vast amounts
of minerals before flooding that excavation and moving on to the next. The
surplus spoil went to create thousands of island farms that were almost
given away in a land rush for displaced communities. As the sea and newly
irrigated islands grew, rain patterns changed, and suddenly the dead heart:
well what was left of it, was the new food bowl of the southern hemisphere.”
was almost past comprehension.
this was happening, all over the World cities and industry were moving to
higher parts of the continents, and preparing for the shrinking of the land
masses. Other countries soon followed up with the ideas begun in Australia:
Jordan and Russia to name just a couple. But Australia had the advantage
of being first, and as it had language and legal systems at least in common
with America, it profited best. If you judge the man in hindsight, it was
in fact an extremely shrewd move by Jones. Cheap unlimited power, climate,
inexpensive land, combine them all with almost zero taxes and there was
an economic surge as what seemed like every business in the Western World
rushed to locate their corporate headquarters here. Australia may have lost
well over a third of its land area, but within five years of Able Jones's
breaching the gulf, Australia was economically the most powerful nation
that had existed: plus,” she said with a sarcastic smile. “At
two hundred kilometers, we had the widest waterfall in the known universe:
well at least for a few years.”
let her comment slip by and when he replied his voice was melancholy. “It
seems that everything I thought I knew, I will have to learn all over again.”
looked at him her face now serious. “So you see why we had to isolate
you from the world. Nobody intended to keep you ignorant, it was just the
timing of telling you, that we were trying to control.”
in the end you decided no more drip feed, just straight between the eyes.”
is interconnected. To tell one thing is to tell all.”
realize that but in reality by keeping me in the dark you only confused
understood that, but we had to choose our time. So anyway, now you know
a little more, do you feel any less confused?”
Gareth life is not a case of being at peace because you have knowledge,
even if it is only a little of it that you have.”
do I get the feeling that you are going to tell me more than I want to know?”
I am.” She turned back and sat in one of the balcony chairs.
leave out the conflicts that erupted because of all those changes, and how
old grievances became opportunities: you can find out all about that from
the history channels.”
pass on that.”
as I said, I cannot tell you one part without telling you the whole: everything
if I say I have heard more than enough to come to terms with; at least for
would reply that what I have said is nothing to what I am about to tell
stared at her wondering what could be more remarkable than a complete upheaval
of the World he had known. Even having an open mind to what was to come
her next words hit Gareth like a clenched fist to the gut.
was in the year two thousand and seventy-three that we received the first
communication from an alien civilization.”
it there,” Gareth sharply interrupted. “Don’t say another
word.” He held up his hands in a gesture stop her. “Alien; you
mean from outer space?”
smiled again. “Well that’s where aliens were generally supposed
to come from in your time, wasn’t it?”
brought his open palms to his face massaging his eyes and cheeks. “Tell
me this is a wind up?”
not sure I know the term, but if you mean I’m tricking you, I wouldn’t
be that cruel. What I have, and am about to say has already happened and
to us is history.”
at least Catherine; tell me right now that this is it. There is nothing
understand that the things I am telling you are an incredible leap of acceptance.
What to us happened over a period of a hundred years, a bit at a time, I
have to tell you in a few hundred seconds. I know it’s hard to think
about, and it’s hard sometimes to fully accept what we ourselves have
experienced through those times. I was an infant when the first messages
were received, and I was still a child two thousand and eighty-four when
the first space ships arrived.” She gave him no further chance to
speak, even if he had been able to. “The vanguard comprised a single
small ship, but over the following months more arrived. Within a year a
battle-star arrived. It was so big that it had to remain in orbit. It was
an awesome sight, and in those days we were looking upwards at the heavens
both day and night where it could be seen quite clearly.”
stopped as if her mind was seeing it once again.
you can imagine the first message caused every range of opinion, fear and
emotion that could be imagined. But Pandora had opened her box. The message
was not an undirected signal; it was a direct welcome to the club: for us.
Whoever was out there knew we were here. Governments the World over tried
to control the panic saying that there appeared no cause for alarm, and
when the aliens actually arrived it truly did seem like the dawn of a new
age. Initially they brought such advanced technological help that we literally
couldn’t refuse. Endless clean power: the eradication of illness and
disease contained within a single vaccination. In the space of three years
practically every known medical scourge had been defeated. They introduced
genetic engineering of our children; every baby would be beautiful; healthy
and strong. You have a child Gareth?” She said it as a statement,
not expecting an answer.
words cut deeply into him as image of Tracy came into his mind. For a moment
he was silent, he couldn’t bring himself to say once, but she had
begun talking again.
stared straight into his eyes. “Imagine. What if upon your shoulders
laid the decision that would directly influence how long and how well she
lived. That she would be disease free: mentally and physically strong: for
life Gareth, for her entire life?”
always wanted the best for her,” he stuttered.
I did too and rightly or wrongly I made that choice. It was something I
could not refuse.” Catherine was quiet for a moment: seemingly either
unsure at his response or at how much she had revealed: as if it was more
of herself rather than just what he had to know. “Of course not everybody
thought the same; there was a great deal of objection at the interference
in the natural order, and whole groups of people literally disappeared,
especially after scientists discovered that the vaccinations in actual fact
implanted millions of microscopic machines into our bodies.”
last Gareth found his voice. “Microscopic machines?”
I know it may sound ridiculous, but that’s basically what they were.
Research on them is forbidden so our scientists have only been able to understand
the smallest details of how they work, but we do know that they are created
from organic material, and are designed and built by the aliens to function
inside living tissue. We called them Nanonites. They secrete themselves
in every organ.”
looked at her. She knew his question before he asked
I have. They are throughout my own body. And I’m not particularly
happy knowing that I have them inside me, but there is nothing I or anyone
else can do about it now.”
wished he could have found words to say but there were none.
all but replace the functions of the white blood cells, only in a much more
vigorous and effective way. They search out and eradicated every malfunctioning
or malformed cell. In some ways it seems less than grateful to complain
that we have what once would have been considered a gift from God.”
Gareth could find no words but he wanted to change the subject as it clearly
pained the woman. “People disappeared?” He said in weak attempt.
don’t mean to imply they were harmed; well I don’t think they
were. People just went into the remote areas. Many objected to what was
happening, and maybe even foresaw what was to come next, as shortly after
we were told that to ensure no resistant strains of disease could develop,
it was made law that only geneticized children would be allowed.”
had long since passed any display of surprise. It seemed that every time
he thought nothing she could say would surpass what she had already said;
she would say something that would shock him all over again. His mind barely
comprehended as she went on.
time we found that the Nanonites were not as benign as we thought: neither
we’re they independent cell equivalents. They were in fact an interconnected
colony and the aliens were able to control them from outside the body. Individuals
or whole groups of the population can; and have been disciplined through
their implants, by the aliens.”
controlled, call it what you will. We can think whatever we like as long
as we act in an approved manner.”
seemed impossible. “How?”
one knows how they work, but our scientists are sure that though each Nanonite
operates as an individual, programmed for a specific function; they in other
ways behave like bees in a hive. We’re fairly confident that the programming
can be switched on, off, or amended by a signal from an ultra-high frequency
radio signal. It was quite ingenious really; the aliens knew we make a great
use of ultra-high frequency radio waves for the net, television, cell phones;
virtually everything. We are all constantly bathed in radio waves: that
was part of why some people went bush, underground.”
aliens; are they still here?”
not sure. They only need a few on the planet now the population is under
have seen it happen. In the early days there were protests, some became
violent; beyond what the militia could control. It was weird watching but
the police completely withdrew and let the crowd to run wild. Then suddenly
every one; every single man woman and child fell to the ground writhing
in agony. It was horrible to watch. A while later the militia returned;
and carried them away. Some died there on the pavement, and others have
never recovered. The Nanonites have brought us miracle cures, but they can
just as easily cause excruciating pain, or completely incapacitate whole
know what you mean.” She suddenly snapped at him. “I have read
mythology. I know of Troy. Do you think we wanted this to happen; do you
think we parents really realized what we were doing when we offered our
children up for vaccination?”
He was surprised and embarrassed at her reaction. He stumbled over his words.
“Catherine. I'm sorry I didn't mean it in that way.”
what way did you mean? What would you have done facing the same choices?”
Her voice was breaking.
don’t you dare criticize those who thought they did?” she began
moved closer, wanting to comfort her. “I can’t, and I never
meant to. It was a stupid thing to say. I was just trying to say nothing
is ever what it seems.” He put his arm around her shoulder; almost
immediate she threw her arms around him and held him tight.
have to help us Gareth, you must,” she said her voice faint, muffled
as it was against his chest.
will.” He said trying to comfort her best he could.
said nothing for several minutes but he could feel her weeping softly. When
at last she pushed herself away she turned from him. Gareth reached out
and put his hand under her chin turning her head to back to him. Her face
was streaked with tears.
must help us,” she sobbed softly.
said I will; I’ll do anything I can.”
never thought this could happen. You don’t know how desperate I have
become these last months now that the time is getting close “
aliens harvest the geneticized children at thirteen, Julie is almost that
felt a feeling of apprehension. “What do you mean by harvest?”
the first of the geneticized children turned thirteen, they took some of
them away to colonize other planets in their system; they still do.”
looked at the woman. He wanted to think she was joking, or at least mistaken,
but he knew she was neither. He desperately sought answers to the thoughts
in his head, but all he could think was: “They colonize other planets
they are still?”
a child turns thirteen the credits are summed; if the quota is unfilled.”
seemed inconceivable, but he could imagine how he would feel if Tracy. He
tried to sound comforting. “Don’t worry, maybe Julie won’t
be one of the.”
she will.” Catherine snapped.” She will. I have no credit.”
she shook her head.
wanted to offer what he had, but he had nothing. “Is there no way
you can borrow some, or get a loan?”
Gareth, it’s not money; it’s recognition. You have to give service
to the aliens to get credit.”
as the president’s secretary, that places you in a position?”
she said firmly. “First you have to be accepted as a member of the
military; and then at various stages you gain credits. Make a mistake and
you lose some: or all of them. At harvesting, children are chosen according
to the parents who have the lowest credit counts until the quota is filled.
That way if you get credits you don’t do anything to lose them. We
are all parents: I would die for my daughter; to others total obedience
is a small price.” She broke away. “I have a phone call to make;
I can say that you will help us?”
reassurances earlier had been little more than to comfort the woman, rather
than as a commitment. Now Gareth was not quite as confident. “I’ll
do anything I can,” he said unconvincingly.
seemed relieved: walked to the door and was opening it when she seemed to
remember, “Ooh yes.” She turned back to him. “About your
looked at her perplexed.
can stop feeling sad; she is alive and well.”
turned away and left the room.
was sat in front of the television. He had no idea what he was watching,
but he needed the movement and noise. It was dark outside, long past the
time he would normally have been asleep, if he could have slept. Back before,
his life had seemed lonely, but what kind of crazy world had he woken into?
It was like some B-grade sci-fi film. He almost expected some bug-eyed monster
to crawl out of the toilet bowl.
the answer was simpler than that. Maybe he was hallucinating because of
the freezing conditions in the aircraft, and any minute now he would wake
up in a hospital bed: in a time he knew and was familiar; but he had woken,
and if this was all an illusion it certainly didn't feel it. The pulsing
tone of the telephone broke into his thoughts. He picked up the hand piece.
“Speak to me.”
Mr. Vaughn?” The voice sounded off guard at his abrupt response.
smiled to himself; feeling in control, even in such a trivial way. “No.”
The person on the other end was confused, and Gareth realized that was what
Catherine had called him
is Gareth Vaughn I’m speaking to?”
did everybody keep calling him who he wasn’t? “It seems I’m
Gareth Vaughn.” He could hear the female voice talking to somebody
in the background, then. “I think there must be a problem with the
connection. Is Catherine there?”
went to call somebody some time ago. She never came back.”
is my secretary Mr. Vaughn; it was me that she called.”
she works for the president?”
sharply cut him off. “Mr. Vaughn this line is re-routed through countless
proxies and scrambled several times, but nothing is one hundred percent
secure. So please just call me Mary.”
elation he had felt it was short lived. He had just embarrassed the president
of the federation. “Sorry; err, Mary, but I’ve never spoken
she interrupted. “Catherine said you would be prepared to help us.”
says, you said you would?”
I think so.”
think. Is that a yes or a no?”
was hesitant. “Yes; I’ll help in any way I can.”
it must be your free choice. I don't want to force you into agreeing to
something you don’t want to do.”
already felt he was. “No really, I’ll do anything I can.”
well I will send a car for you in the morning, and we will meet during Penny
Lane. Please don’t mention this call to anyone; anyone at all.”
The line went dead leaving Gareth totally bewildered.
at nine the following morning; accompanied by an orderly carrying a small
suitcase of new clothes, Gareth stepped out into the sunny; if cool Hobart
morning. He felt delighted. He was outside, looking up at the pale blue
sky, feeling the weak but wonderful sunshine on his face, and the chill
of early morning air tingling his nose.
orderly had stopped a few paces in front, and was looking back concerned.
“Is everything alright?”
you realize how good it is to be alive?” Gareth asked him.
yes, I think so.”
think about it again. I have survived an air crash; I have been frozen into
an ice block. I've?”
improved on saying corny things.”
turned quickly to the female voice behind him. A young pretty blonde was
walking up to them. She had a great big smile over her face. She walked
directly up to him and threw her arms around his neck. “Hi Dad.”
She grinned as she pulled herself up and hugged him, before whispering into
his ear. “You kept your word; but you didn't tell me it would take
a hundred years.”
he said, beginning to laugh.
is,” she beamed.
is great,” and he meant it. “I tried to find out what had happened
Carrie threw her arms around his neck again, almost pulling him over this
time as she hung off him by all her weight. “Oh daddy it's so good
to see you again,” she called out a little too loud before giving
him a glancing kiss high on his cheek, close to his ear. “I’m
your daughter.” She whispered quickly. “Who knows what they
do to orphaned kids in this world?”
dropped back onto her feet again, and he reached out and held her by her
shoulders. He could see both the orderlies watching them. “And it’s
wonderful to see you again: daughter,” he emphasized the bond loudly.
“Now let’s go where these people want us to go.”
trip took some thirty minutes the airport, and other than chatting about
what they saw through the vehicles window, both avoided any talk about their
experience. As they left the car, the driver gave them tickets through to
Brisbane; directions to the check in and said they would be met at the other
wasn’t sure how Carrie felt, but he was slightly nervous as they entered
the building. It brought back memories of last time he had boarded an aircraft,
and they were more than ominous. But while everything looked different,
nothing really was. As of old there was airline staff to answer inquiries,
and oversee the electronic ticketing. Security seemed more for show than
function. He assumed it was either stealthier, or as a nicer thought, that
had become no longer required in the passing of time: though the latter
seemed more fanciful. Once through they had hardly any wait in the departure
area before they were walking on the aerobridge. It was at this point everything
really did change. The aerobridge was more of a ramp leading straight into
the fuselage. Gareth looked before him and hesitated. Gone were the rows
of seats: instead he faced what had all the appearance of a tavern. People
were gravitating between several bars, or stood, singly or in groups drinking
or eating. He felt Carrie push his side a little and realized he was creating
a blockage in the main entrance. He quickly stepped forward softly muttering,
“Where do we go?” but Carrie was already pulling him towards
an entrance to their left.
smartly dressed steward smiled and held out his hand. Gareth stuffed the
tickets into his palm. The smile didn’t change but suddenly carried
a different meaning. “Section B.R. sir.” The steward said as
if talking to a child. Gareth glanced above him to see the letters C.L.
above the doorway. Carrie was already retrieving the tickets and pulling
through the growing throng of humanity to another doorway.
another steward had led them through, Gareth had the impression he was entering
a cinema: furnished as it was with tiered seating. Through the panoramic
windows he could see they were being ushered way out to the edge of the
right side wing. Gareth glanced at Carrie hoping his unease wasn’t
showing. The steward guided them to the third row up and the third and fourth
seats in from the very wingtip: they sat and Gareth looked around. The flight
was barely half full and passengers were spread out: he made a wild guess
it was to distribute the load, which suited him fine. By mimicking their
fellow travelers actions they found the concealed restraints and reclined
their seats; staring up at a wall sized screen showing advertisements and
short tourist films.
few minutes later a voice announced they were ready for departure. With
a faint hum the seats automatically laid almost completely horizontal. Strange
as that felt what happened next filled Gareth with amazement. The entire
roof became transparent. The head and shoulders of a gigantic holographic
stewardess suddenly appeared between the aircraft and sky, and she bid them
goodbye from the Apple Isle. Suddenly they were lifting off, but not as
he had expected. To Gareth’s great discomfort they were going straight
up at a rapidly increasing velocity.
clutched desperately at the seats arms. Besides him he could hear Carrie
squeaking with delight. She seemed even more excited when they passed through
the cloud level. The pale blue became deeper and deeper until it was black,
then the sky filled with countless stars.
was gasping in amazement. “I always, always, always, wanted to go
into space,” she purred. “But I never realized I’d have
to die before I could.”
was equally awed and stared in wonder for some time as the young girl excitedly
pointed out star formations. Then in almost pitch blackness the seats returned
to the upright position. There was a pinging noise and a number of people
around them stood and moved back into the central fuselage.
waited until they were almost alone before he leaned over to her. “Carrie
we have to talk.”
are doing dad.” She said, still with an unmistakable sound of wonder
in her voice.
just what I’m talking about.” His voice fell to a whisper. “I
can’t pretend you’re my daughter.”
for a start, I’m not.”
nobody else knows that.”
nothing else there are probably dozens of laws that I; that we are breaking.”
sounded hurt. “I thought you cared what happens to me?”
he did, “Yes; I do.”
have told you, what this century is like?”
wondered how much she knew. “Some.”
do they do with orphans?”
thought of Catherine’s words. “No; but I’m sure they are
very well looked after.”
you don’t really know do you?”
happens if they send them away somewhere not nice?” Her voice became
softer. “This is not our world; maybe these people are like us, like
the world where we came from, but right now you are the only person I know,
and the only one I trust.” Her voice became child-like. “Please
don’t let them do anything to me.”
wanted to say that she probably knew him less than anyone, but they shared
a bond that made a short time into an eternity. “I won’t, but
what if somebody asks me about you, what do I say?”
I’m your daughter.”
don’t know anything about you.”
school; likes, dislikes: nothing. I hardly know anything about you.”
looked at him and shook her head. “How many people know anything about
their fourteen year old daughters?”
fourteen?” He said shocked.
voice dropped even lower. “No I’m sixteen; well almost seventeen,
but they don't know that.”
you want everybody to think you are a child?”
I don’t want them to expect me to react as an adult.”
you make a habit of telling lies?”
I don’t tell lies; I’m just imprecise with facts. It’s
what we all do, teenagers.”
shook his head and grinned. He reached his hand to hers and squeezed it
caringly. “What am I buying into here?”
seemed such a short time but they could sense the plane, if that was what
it could be still called, was descending. Outside the sky was lightening
to a pale blue when Carrie turned slightly, grabbing hold of his hand in
both hers. “There is something you should know.” She said seriously.
looked sideways her sensing something in her voice. His words were drawn
out, suspecting a problem. “Go on.”
they think you’re my dad because you gave up your blankets for me.”
smiled at him affectionately as if thinking of what he had done. “My
dad: my real dad couldn’t be on the plane; he was going to be but
at the last minute he was reassigned. He didn’t want me to miss the
trip, so he gave me his company jacket. Not to wear if I got cold; but because
it had a company identification card clipped inside; he said it would get
me special treatment.”
of who he was: his name was Peter Vaughn.”
nodded his head. “I guess that explains why everybody thinks I’m
told me that if I flashed the card to show who I was, I’d get onto
the flight deck, and get treated as if I was in first class.”
tell me they think I’m a pilot?”
looked at him in an embarrassed way. “They think you are: an air marshal.”
what?” He gasped disbelievingly.
police: airline security: dad was their top man,” she said proudly.
couldn’t believe what she had just said. “They think I’m
just an ordinary cop: he was in the army special operations, before he went
to work for the airline.”
a lot of things began to make sense to Gareth.
asked me; and I told them you were.”
almost choked on the words. “You said I was an air marshal?”
nodded as she looked meekly at him. “Actually: I said you were the
most skilled and deadly one they had.”
breathed deeply. “Carrie; why did you tell them that?”
sorry,” but her smile said she wasn’t. “But I was scared
and unsure of what was happening.” She looked at him shyly. “I
thought that if I told them you were my father, and that you were the strongest
and most fearless marshal there was, that they wouldn’t dare hurt
wanted to be angry, but couldn’t, especially looking at her pleading
face. “Didn’t it ever occur to you what I could have told them
She giggled. “I told them you always work undercover and you wouldn’t
admit anything until you had sussed out the situation. Then you would explode
spite of what he thought he began to laugh. “Carrie, I’m nothing
voice suddenly became intense. “Yes you are,” she said with
such conviction that he was speechless. She looked at him intently before
her voice became soft and full of feeling. “I wanted them to know
you are very, very brave.”
not brave.” He said conscious of how she was looking at him.
the engines stopped you knew only those who could stay warm would have a
chance to live. For all any of us knew help could have arrived any second.
You could have walked away and kept your blankets, yet you gave them to
wanted to make a trivializing comment, but she was right, he had, and he
didn’t really know why, other than she was a child in need.
was cold and frightened. All I wanted was to stay alive, and you gave me
your blankets knowing you would die.”
would have done the same,” he said in embarrassment.
looked up at him with wet eyes. “No they wouldn't. They said when
they found us you just had your shirt and jeans on. You had no warm clothing;
everything you could have worn was draped over me: that’s why they
thought the jacket was yours.”
had begun to cry so Gareth put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her
close to comfort her.
never believe anything other than you are the bravest man I have ever met.”
He said sighing deeply. “I think you had better tell me everything
you told them?”