Iced

Part One - Page Two

Catherine 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.

It 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 eternity.

A 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.

Removing 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

The 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.

Catherine 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.

She 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.”

The 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.

Down 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.

Welcome back. Good timing,” said a young man.

Everything is okay?”

Yup, 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 suits.

She 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?”

The 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?”

After all this time in the cold: could that be possible?”

Almost certainly, but it’s mainly for them we’re erring on the side of caution.”

She had to physically turn around to see him though the visor. “Everything that’s being brought up?”

Sealed 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 his suit.

She 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 it.

He 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?”

She nodded feeling slightly apprehensive.

Some people get a bit claustrophobic. Are you claustrophobic?”

I don’t know.” She did know her heart was beating fast and her flesh felt sticky.

We’ll 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.”

Won’t that cause problems?” she said uneasily.

Yes but we either have optimum temp for conditions and slow progress, or borderline and work fast. Okay we're approaching.”

Already?”

If it was on flat ground it’s pretty much just a stone’s throw away.”

She 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.

Okay.” 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.

Again 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.

He lifted his hand with thumb up. “Watch the cut metal. It slices though the suits easy as.” He warned.

She 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.

Inside 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 sorry.”

.

It was late evening, after symbolically dropping wreaths and tokens above the aircraft; that Philip Downes and Catherine Allen came to Mary’s cabin.

Mary looked at them both. “So how’s progress?”

Catherine looked at Philip and then at Mary. “A little too well.”

Mary stared at her. “And what’s that mean?”

Before she could reply Philip spoke. “I think Catherine is becoming slightly emotionally involved.”

Catherine’s rebuke was swift. “These are people, human beings.”

Mary looked at her I concern. “Catherine is this going to be a problem?”

No Ma’am, I’d just like them to be treated with a little more respect.”

Madam: 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 to do.”

I understand that,” said Catherine contritely, “I was just making a personal observation.”

Philip nodded. “As I also reminded her, if we think of them that way it’s going to get a lot worse.”

Mary looked at him questioningly.

I think Philip is referring to the refrigerated containers?” Catherine volunteered.

Mary nodded. She looked at Philip. “And the decoys?”

Once 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.”

I can be assured of that?”

Madam?” said Philip stiffly.

Catherine still felt peeved at Philips remarks and saw an opportunity to even the score. “Ma’am Philip is a master of red tape.”

Philip smiled. “I am, and they will disappear.”

I hope you don’t mean that literally Philip.” Before he could answer she spoke again. “There we’re no actual problems?”

Yes,” said Catherine. It seems removing the tail has allowed water to enter the fuselage.”

Mary looked fearfully at her. “I thought…?”

That 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.”

So what’s happened?”

To seal the leak would have taken valuable time from the recovery, so a decision was made to carry on as normal.”

Any other problems?”

I 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.”

Mary seemed less than assured. “I guess there had to be problems, but otherwise everything is proceeding as planned?”

Pretty 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 few hours.”

She looked at him curiously. “You estimate?”

We don’t know for sure, groups are in clumps, if I can use that term.”

She nodded. “I was concerned there could be a problem when the captain made his announcement?”

None 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.”

Mary didn’t return the smile. “How do they?”

Look?” he guessed. “Remarkably good.”

Too good,” added Catherine. “If you forget to be impartial and look at the children's faces.”

It must have been horrible for them.” Sighed Mary dejectedly.

Maybe 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.”

They would all have just gone to sleep.” Added Catherine sadly.

But whatever will they make of waking up” Mary sounded sad, and then suddenly concerned. “You can still bring them back?”

Not 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.

There is no way I'm going to make that kind of decision, especially right now.”

Someone 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.”

And ninety percent will be recoverable?” said Mary hopefully.

Possibly, but we must accept there’s every chance that some of those won’t respond.”

Even so it’s unbelievable?”

Well really it’s all been luck.”

Have any been separated?”

Not 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.”

Deaths” Mary looked Philip in the eyes. “Should we assume that now, considering what we are about to attempt?”

Then prior to their demise”

Mary nodded at the less final sounding word.

Notwithstanding 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.”

Mary looked at him puzzled, “You said except one?”

Yes a male; he was in ordinary dress of the period.”

That sounds odd?”

But opportune, he was exposed to the full freezing gradient. He’s an ideal candidate for our first attempt.”

Mary shook her head in disbelief. “I can't believe we are doing this.”

Well 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.”

Mary didn’t pick up the point. “And we return them to Australasia in a meat fridge,” She muttered disapprovingly.



Catherine 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.

Nonetheless 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.

She 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.



Tony Penn looked at the embossed doorplate: ‘William Williams – Director – Compliance Inspectorate’. He nervously centered his necktie as he reached for the handle.

A man looked up.

You wanted to see me director? Tony said anxiously.

Agent Penn, have you read this?” He indicated an observation report at the edge of his desk.

Tony’s 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.

What do you make of it?”

Penn 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.

She was only scheduled for two days, why four?”

Tony desperately tried to be non-committal. “I was thinking maybe we need to start asking a few questions.”

Yes 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?”

People always make a slip, sooner or later.”

And 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.”

A relevant reason came to Tony’s mind. “I don’t recall reading anything in the report about weather conditions?”

There isn’t, but we should check that out.”

Considering there is an election coming up; and there were a diverse group of dignitaries aboard: maybe she’s just creating a higher profile?”

Possibly 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.”

Immediately it’s completed director.” Tony waited a few moments to make sure the conversation had ended before easing back towards the door.



Gareth 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 female voice.

Peter.” It said softly. “Peter can you hear me?”

He tried to open his mouth. Tried to form a word, any word, but nothing happened.

Peter.” The voice sounded nearer this time. “Can you hear me?”

I; I.” the utterance seemed to come from somewhere else than from him.

Good, 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.

His 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; Peter.” This time it seemed less excited and more calming. “Peter; it’s time to wake up.”

He 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 to stop.

Suddenly 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.

Someone 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 hair.

He wanted to ask what was happening. “Where?” But the words wouldn’t come out and they misunderstood him.

You’re close to the place you knew as Hobart, Peter. Do you remember where Hobart is?”

Gareth.” His mind still swam in a chaos of visions.

Gareth: Peter?” She was talking to others; they seemed confused. “Was Gareth with you on the plane Peter?”

My: name,” he said.

You are Peter; don’t you remember?”

Gareth.”

There was more anxious discussion, and he heard his name mentioned several times. “You want us to call you Gareth?” The voice sounded puzzled.

My name?” He murmured.

Yet more discussion: then. “If you want us to Peter, we will call you Gareth.”

It 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.

Gareth what is two plus three?”

What…?” He was confused. Why was he being asked such a ridiculous question?

Gareth please just answer me the one question. What is two plus three?”

He 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.”

The 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

They didn't Gareth, but we did,” she said cryptically.

He 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.

It’s 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.”

Suddenly they were all laughing again: only he didn’t understand the joke.



The 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.

Gareth 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’.

It 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.

It 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.

You look well,”

He 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.

You’re the one?”

The one?” she blushed slightly.

From; when I woke?”

She smiled.

He 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?”

Sorry,” she said puzzled.

You 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 “

Oh,” she smiled appealingly. “There’s no charge, but I'm glad you approve. I; we do.”

His 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 “

Keep it up?”

The exercise. I mean; the exercise. Keep up the exercise,” she said apparently a little flustered at losing the direction of the conversation

I will, actually it’s all I do other than reading this.” He held up the book.

She sensed something in his tone. “I thought you liked period fiction. That style of story?”

I did once. It’s been a long time.”

You had something similar when you were found.”

Did 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.”

No; 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.”

He nodded. “I’m Gareth, but you know that?”

She nodded back. “Gareth there’s some questions I wanted to.”

He interrupted her. “Can I have a television?”

A television?” she said uneasily.

One of those things that sit in the corner of a room and is full of commercials,” he joked unsure at her reaction.

Yes. I know; but there's no connection for one in these rooms.”

For some reason he felt he was being patronized. “Why not?”

The bluntness of his challenge caught her off guard, “Why not?” she repeated not able to immediately answer him.

Yes, why not. If this is a hospital, why is there no television, or radio, or trolley with newspapers and stuff?”

You have your books.”

I have books brought to me.”

You can have the books of your choice, all you have to do is ask.”

That’s 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 middle distance.

You’re in isolation Gareth. You have had a traumatic ordeal and don’t need to concern yourself with all the world’s problems.”

I’m 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.

I don’t know what you mean.”

This isn’t an ordinary hospital is it?”

She went to speak but he held up his hand.

Don’t 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.”

I fail to see the difference.”

I think you do. For some reason you don’t want me to know what’s going on.”

She couldn’t look at him as she tried to bluff through his observations. “For what reason?”

I don’t know; that’s what I want you to tell me.”

I can’t imagine whatever makes you think something like that. It’s like I said, we want you to be fully recovered.”

Fully 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.”

You have no disease; you know that.”

No. But I know I’m so isolated that I’m beginning to think that the alternative is that the disease is out there.”

She 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.”

You’re not making any sense. Why would anybody else from the plane be dependent on me?”

She 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.



Gareth 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.

Catherine 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.

It 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.

I am not a doctor, or a social worker.” She suddenly blurted out.

He looked up from the book but she was still not looking back at him.

My 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.”

His 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.

He 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.



Williams looked up as Tony entered his office. “You have something for me Agent Penn?”

More details on person one.”

Williams pushed the document he had been reading aside. “So what have you got?”

It 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 some; answers.”

Some? Tell me more.”

There 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.”

Can’t shuttles fly through fog?”

There 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.”

I see.” Williams sighed in disappointed way. “So it was the pilot who requested the delay and not the target?”

The ship was delayed, but yes.”

Williams nodded. “Very well; keep me informed if there is any other development.”

Penn made no attempt to leave. “Actually there is something else.”

Something else?”

Containers.”

Containers?’

Shipping containers to be precise.”

My information is that it was a hospital ship?”

It 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?”

May have; surely that can be determined?”

We’ll you would think so, but there are discrepancies in the record of containers coming onto site.”

That can’t happen; how can they keep security?”

It seems there is almost none in the case of a refit.”

That is completely wrong.”

The 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?”

Williams stared at him mystified.

We don’t know how many, but it seems more containers came off than went on, and the extras were probably refrigerated.”



He 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.

The 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.

What happened to my world?” He asked. “I don't even recognize the weather map anymore.”

I’m 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?”

Yes.” Gareth hesitated wondering if he should say what he guessed she was thinking, but he said it anyway. “Apparently my generation has some explaining to do.”

It 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.

Gareth looked at her. “I think I missed the joke.”

No; 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?”

Then we have it. Go on.”

During 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?”

Gareth shook his head. “From memory it was a lot.”

More 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?”

He nodded.

Once 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.”

I guess so.”

No; 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.”

I’m beginning to wonder as to how come we are still here?”

Catherine was silent and stared at him strangely, before she nodded understandingly. “Are you aware of the concept of Gaia?”

I don't think I am?”

It’s an old belief; even back in your time. Suffice it to say that the planet can be considered a life form infested with parasites.”

Is that meant to refer to us humans?”

Not particularly, but is an apt description.” She smiled captivatingly.

He found he was thinking more of her than of what she was saying, so he just shrugged.

Maybe 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.”

I’ll have to take your word that, that’s okay?”

Yes you will, and it is, but you get the picture?”

I 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.”

She was actually laughing at him now. “Yes I know. I’ve painted a black picture, but it wasn’t total catastrophe.”

Oh, 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 him.

No; 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.

So tell me, what did we do?”

Well Able Jones: he was the president of Fed. Oz at that time “

Fed Oz?”

The Federation of Australasia. A bit of a mouthful so we just call it Fed. Oz.”

We’re just referring to Australia: or what remained?”

Yes.”

And the other remnants?”

Other 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.”

It’s going to be a steep learning curve.”

She 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.”

Gareth said nothing but he was shaking his head in disbelief.

Of 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?”

All this explains why the map of Australia is nothing like the one I remember.”

It 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 without panic.”

I suppose it makes sense, but from my memory it would have taken a miracle to convince the green lobby to accept flooding the deserts.”

Gareth 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.”

I suppose that shows you we lived in a very principled time.”

I’d 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.”

And the conservationist; the green parties, they still stood by while this was going on?”

Like 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.”

Gareth was almost past comprehension.

While 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.”

He 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.”

Catherine 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.”

So in the end you decided no more drip feed, just straight between the eyes.”

Everything is interconnected. To tell one thing is to tell all.”

I realize that but in reality by keeping me in the dark you only confused me.”

We understood that, but we had to choose our time. So anyway, now you know a little more, do you feel any less confused?”

Less?” He smirked.

Well 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.”

Why do I get the feeling that you are going to tell me more than I want to know?”

Because I am.” She turned back and sat in one of the balcony chairs.

I’ll 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.”

I’ll pass on that.”

Anyway as I said, I cannot tell you one part without telling you the whole: everything is interconnected.”

What if I say I have heard more than enough to come to terms with; at least for the moment?”

I would reply that what I have said is nothing to what I am about to tell you.”

He 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.

It was in the year two thousand and seventy-three that we received the first communication from an alien civilization.”

Hold 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?”

Catherine smiled again. “Well that’s where aliens were generally supposed to come from in your time, wasn’t it?”

He brought his open palms to his face massaging his eyes and cheeks. “Tell me this is a wind up?”

I’m 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.”

Then at least Catherine; tell me right now that this is it. There is nothing else?”

I 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.”

She stopped as if her mind was seeing it once again.

As 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.

Her 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.

She 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?”

I always wanted the best for her,” he stuttered.

Well 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.”

At last Gareth found his voice. “Microscopic machines?”

Yes 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.”

Gareth looked at her. She knew his question before he asked

Yes 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.”

Gareth wished he could have found words to say but there were none.

They 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.”

Still 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.

I 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.”

He 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.

In 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.”

Gareth gasped. “Disciplined?”

Disciplined; controlled, call it what you will. We can think whatever we like as long as we act in an approved manner.”

It seemed impossible. “How?”

No 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.”

The aliens; are they still here?”

I’m not sure. They only need a few on the planet now the population is under control.”

Through the Nanonites?”

I 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 groups.”

Greeks bearing gifts.”

I 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?”

No.” 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.”

Then what way did you mean? What would you have done facing the same choices?” Her voice was breaking.

I don’t know.”

Then don’t you dare criticize those who thought they did?” she began to cry.

Gareth 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.

You have to help us Gareth, you must,” she said her voice faint, muffled as it was against his chest.

I will.” He said trying to comfort her best he could.

She 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.

You must help us,” she sobbed softly.

I said I will; I’ll do anything I can.”

I never thought this could happen. You don’t know how desperate I have become these last months now that the time is getting close “

Close?”

The aliens harvest the geneticized children at thirteen, Julie is almost that age.”

Julie?”

Is my daughter.”

He felt a feeling of apprehension. “What do you mean by harvest?”

When the first of the geneticized children turned thirteen, they took some of them away to colonize other planets in their system; they still do.”

Gareth 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 with them?”

She nodded.

And they are still?”

When a child turns thirteen the credits are summed; if the quota is unfilled.”

It 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.”

But she will.” Catherine snapped.” She will. I have no credit.”

None?”

Again she shook her head.

Gareth wanted to offer what he had, but he had nothing. “Is there no way you can borrow some, or get a loan?”

No Gareth, it’s not money; it’s recognition. You have to give service to the aliens to get credit.”

Surely as the president’s secretary, that places you in a position?”

No.” 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?”

His 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.

She seemed relieved: walked to the door and was opening it when she seemed to remember, “Ooh yes.” She turned back to him. “About your child.”

He looked at her perplexed.

You can stop feeling sad; she is alive and well.”

Catherine turned away and left the room.



Gareth 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.

Maybe 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.”

Err; Mr. Vaughn?” The voice sounded off guard at his abrupt response.

He smiled to himself; feeling in control, even in such a trivial way. “No.”

No?” The person on the other end was confused, and Gareth realized that was what Catherine had called him

Yes; Gareth speaking.”

It is Gareth Vaughn I’m speaking to?”

Why 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?”

She went to call somebody some time ago. She never came back.”

Catherine is my secretary Mr. Vaughn; it was me that she called.”

But she works for the president?”

Mary 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.”

Whatever 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 to a.”

Again she interrupted. “Catherine said you would be prepared to help us.”

She did?”

She says, you said you would?”

Well I think so.”

You think. Is that a yes or a no?”

He was hesitant. “Yes; I’ll help in any way I can.”

Gareth it must be your free choice. I don't want to force you into agreeing to something you don’t want to do.”

He already felt he was. “No really, I’ll do anything I can.”

Very 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.



Precisely 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.

The orderly had stopped a few paces in front, and was looking back concerned. “Is everything alright?”

Do you realize how good it is to be alive?” Gareth asked him.

Err yes, I think so.”

Well think about it again. I have survived an air crash; I have been frozen into an ice block. I've?”

Not improved on saying corny things.”

He 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.”

Carrie?” he said, beginning to laugh.

Sure is,” she beamed.

This is great,” and he meant it. “I tried to find out what had happened to.”

Immediately 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?”

She 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.”



The 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 end.

Gareth 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.

A 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.

Once 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.

A 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.

He 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.

Carrie 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.”

Gareth 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.

Gareth waited until they were almost alone before he leaned over to her. “Carrie we have to talk.”

We are doing dad.” She said, still with an unmistakable sound of wonder in her voice.

That’s just what I’m talking about.” His voice fell to a whisper. “I can’t pretend you’re my daughter.”

Why not?”

Well for a start, I’m not.”

But nobody else knows that.”

If nothing else there are probably dozens of laws that I; that we are breaking.”

She sounded hurt. “I thought you cared what happens to me?”

Strangely he did, “Yes; I do.”

They have told you, what this century is like?”

He wondered how much she knew. “Some.”

What do they do with orphans?”

He thought of Catherine’s words. “No; but I’m sure they are very well looked after.”

But you don’t really know do you?”

No.”

What 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.”

He 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?”

That I’m your daughter.”

And then what?”

What; what?”

I don’t know anything about you.”

About me?”

Friends, school; likes, dislikes: nothing. I hardly know anything about you.”

She looked at him and shook her head. “How many people know anything about their fourteen year old daughters?”

You’re fourteen?” He said shocked.

Her voice dropped even lower. “No I’m sixteen; well almost seventeen, but they don't know that.”

And you want everybody to think you are a child?”

No; I don’t want them to expect me to react as an adult.”

Do you make a habit of telling lies?”

Dad. I don’t tell lies; I’m just imprecise with facts. It’s what we all do, teenagers.”

Gareth shook his head and grinned. He reached his hand to hers and squeezed it caringly. “What am I buying into here?”



It 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.

He looked sideways her sensing something in her voice. His words were drawn out, suspecting a problem. “Go on.”

They; they think you’re my dad because you gave up your blankets for me.”

I guessed that.”

She 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.”

How?”

Because of who he was: his name was Peter Vaughn.”

Gareth nodded his head. “I guess that explains why everybody thinks I’m him.”

He 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.”

Don’t tell me they think I’m a pilot?”

She looked at him in an embarrassed way. “They think you are: an air marshal.”

A what?” He gasped disbelievingly.

Air police: airline security: dad was their top man,” she said proudly.

Gareth couldn’t believe what she had just said. “They think I’m a policeman?”

Not just an ordinary cop: he was in the army special operations, before he went to work for the airline.”

Suddenly a lot of things began to make sense to Gareth.

They asked me; and I told them you were.”

He almost choked on the words. “You said I was an air marshal?”

She nodded as she looked meekly at him. “Actually: I said you were the most skilled and deadly one they had.”

Gareth breathed deeply. “Carrie; why did you tell them that?”

I'm 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 me?”

Gareth 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 myself?”

Yes.” 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 into action.”

In spite of what he thought he began to laugh. “Carrie, I’m nothing like that.”

Her 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.”

I'm not brave.” He said conscious of how she was looking at him.

When 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 me.”

He 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.

I was cold and frightened. All I wanted was to stay alive, and you gave me your blankets knowing you would die.”

Anybody would have done the same,” he said in embarrassment.

She 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.”

She had begun to cry so Gareth put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close to comfort her.

I’ll never believe anything other than you are the bravest man I have ever met.”

Carrie.” He said sighing deeply. “I think you had better tell me everything you told them?”

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