7- Love Long Distance
May 21st, 2055:
Dusk wrapped the camp in a vivid twilight that tainted the sky in purple and red. Refugees were gathered around a bonfire to keep their skeletal frames warm for the long night to come. Done in, Shinichiro let out a noisy yawn and switched on his holopad. He logged in his favourite instant chat host with enthusiasm. No incoming call from Alys however. He stared at its blank dashboard with anxiety. She made the promise to contact him everyday. Did something happen to her? He tried to convince himself there was nothing to worry about but something did not feel right. She was supposed to be having lunch with her colleagues right now. Her profile’s status indicated "No Signal!" She could not be localised by any means either. His hands trembled uncontrollably out of panic. She must have gotten in trouble. If it were true, he would have to go through complicated procedures in order to retrieve her whereabouts. Bradley Strauss, his colleague from Worldwide News, took a peek inside the tent, worried by Shinichiro's sudden unhappiness:
- Are you okay Shin? Let’s meet up with the locals for dinner, they have cooked a feast to celebrate our departure! Don’t you want to come?
- I... I have a lot on my plate to finish for tomorrow's edition of the New World Telegraph...
- C'mon you overwork yourself mate, have a well-deserved break for once in three weeks!
- Deadline is up by midnight. It's the end of me if I don't complete my report on time.
- My, my homesickness it is called. Never mind my invitation, I'll let you brood over your concerns while we're having fun!
Bradley gone partying, Shinichiro tried to contact Alys again. No answer back. The call button turned grey, unresponsive. The young man dealt a violent blow on the pad: "Dammit!"
Shinichiro ruminated over and over these dark thoughts while jotting down ideas to structure his report appropriately into paragraphs. His eyes were concentrated on the page he was writing as if nothing else mattered. Outside resonated the guttural voices of the natives who sung traditional songs. Shinichiro looked up briefly from his typing software to have an overview of his work so far and switched off his tablet. His mind was unfocused on the purpose of his essay. He worried for Alys much more than he expected to. She had grown up. She was no longer the highly sensitive 15-year old girl he met ten years ago, although she tended to cry easily when she felt upset. But looking at the woman she had become, one could tell she had gone through a lot, which strengthened her will to move forward in life to the next obstacle, even if the scars of the past were still burning red.
Enduring that much pain in a lapse of few years could have broken apart any human being. Her had embraced loneliness and loss as her everyday burden during the time she lived inside Society's battlements. He admired her for such abnegation and pitied her condition at the same time. He used to love her and care for her like a substitute brother rather than a boyfriend.
Everything was different from now on. They were engaged to each other by a strong love bound. They were no longer irresponsible teenagers striving to survive in the wilderness. They both had expectations for life and career opportunities. Soon they were going to settle in town once he was back from travel overseas. A smile curled his lips. These past ten years of relationship had been a blast. They had shared good times and gone through hardships side by side. Now was time to set in stone their commitment. He had great plans to make her 25th birthday memorable. Bradley popped in harbouring a wide grin. He held out a plate filled with raw fish snacks:
- Doing well? Have some traditional foods from the countryside!
- I am running out of time to send in my report at the due date, apologies for not taking part in the feast like I should; thanks for inquiring though.
- C'mon bud, it can wait a little while longer, no?
- It cannot, unless I plan to get myself fired.
Bradley noticed that Shinichiro's hands were trembling uncontrollably, his fingers clenched into his holopad on sleep mode. He slipped in the tent and sighed:
- Dude, what's wrong with you tonight?
At first Shinichiro hesitated to answer directly. He did not like to talk in public about his private concerns, unless with close acquaintances. He wanted Bradley to leave him alone and go enjoy the party. Looking up at his partner he saw consideration in his eyes and averted his gaze from his, embarrassed at the realization he was so easily readable.
- I... am feeling unsettled about my future, he avowed.
- You have already earned quite a reputation among the freelance community in the lapse of five years, what more can you ask for?
- I wish I could reconcile my blooming career and my discontinuous private life for the better. I am on travel here and there every few months so I haven't managed to build anything serious with my soul mate until now and it bothers my mind to think we could have lived together happily ever after like most long-time couples do. I fear we are going to break up or we have already done so.
- Be ready for that. I used to be in a distanced relationship with a sexy chick who lived overseas, despite of which we trusted each other. We met again once in a while when I was back from report. However, we made promises that we could not keep. One day I came to see her, she had moved on to the city heart where she shared with another guy a snug flat closer to her office.
- I suppose you never spoke to each other again?
- Indeed, just because we could not get engaged in the long term.
- My story is a bit different from yours in the sense we have been dating each other since our fifteenth birthday and I feel like I should not give up yet. Knowing her for that long, I don't think she would run away from home all of a sudden without an explanation.
- I feel for you lucky man and I hope the best for the two of you.
Later when everyone was asleep after the celebration, Shinichiro awoke with a start to the vibration of his holopad buzzing for a couple of minutes. Past midnight at the clock. The moon had begun to descend when he crawled discreetly outside the tent. An hologram of Mikael sprouted out from the screen when he pressed the call button. Alys' brother looked spectral: his hair unkempt, his eyes swollen from exhaustion after a rowdy night. He did not make up a smile:
" Have you got news from Alys?"
- I have been trying to call her several times since yesterday’s evening but she never replied to any of my queries! Do you have a clue on what is going on?
" - I don't know. Sure thing is that she is nowhere to be found!"
- Have you checked the position of her cell phone? Or even tonight's police registries?
" - Something goes off. I can locate her phone on an unknown network that answers back to my requests with a no signal notification. Data cannot be accessed either."
- What are your thoughts about the matter?
" - Let's not jump in unfounded conclusions too quickly."
- But Mikael ... she might be in danger right now!
" - Whatever has happened of her, or might happen next, I can safely assume she won't end up getting harmed under any circumstances;"
- What makes you believe so with that much conviction?
" - She is blessed to be born under an auspicious star, genuinely loved."
Shinichiro knew what he meant and acquiesced. So Hitori had returned from the wonders of the space-time continuum. But it made him feel more anxious than relieved. Hitori held between his hands the power to judge space and time: as such he could foresee a world’s tragic decline. Were times to rejoice of the recovery and the victory against the nuclear industry over? Or had they ever occurred? A corrupted world hindered during two decades by a raging war of interests between an authoritarian regime and a worldwide pacifist committee could hardly mend its scars in the lapse of five years.
- So why has he returned?
" - In the preliminary years of the fourth millenary, from 3050 and forth, Earth has been irreversibly annihilated and humanity forced into exile across the universe. The death of our planet could have been prevented in the current period of time if the inefficiency of the transitory government had not given political scope for Hellmet Pitsbulk's followers to found the nationalist party."
- Does not an almighty rule that applies to the course of time say that no one shall alter the past, present and future? Because if Earth is destined to end at the beginning of the next millenary then there is nothing we can do to prevent it from happening anyway: in other words we're condemned.
" - This is one's pessimistic point of view made into believing our critical lack of resources and our industry portend the premature coming of the apocalypse. On a brighter note, while we're alive, let's make this world a better place to bear with our suffering."
- If so, what about Alys? Why is he coming back only now to meet again with her?
" - God knows. He did not tell me more than you already know about his mission to 2055."
Geminorum 1st, Year 55 - Odyssea
One could easily lose notion of space and time between Odyssea’s iron walls.
However, as to replicate day and night, artificial light bulbs paired to intensity potentiometers were attached to the ceiling in order to indicate the hour. Alys rested in a spacious cabin next to Hitori's inside the Council's quarters. She sighed of relief after this tormented night that had brought up a whole new set of events. She was about to set sail on adventure again, against her will nonetheless. But she was not officially accounted yet as Seventh Counsellor. She would have to go through preliminary examinations first to prove her worthy of that charge conducted by the members of the Council themselves. A white and gold jacket and assorted warm clothes on which were embroidered planetary patterns had been carefully folded and placed in a glassy chest of drawers next to her bed.
She resented accepting it as her new place to live despite of its futuristic appeal. From now on she could not get back to her reality and shuddered. It felt like she had lost her loved ones for the second time. Furthermore she was going to witness their disappearance one by one in fifty years or so what made her feel even more depressed about her condition. She missed Shinichiro's presence by her side to give her support. They were going to be forever separated. They would never be able to meet again although they had yet so much to accomplish. It made her feel guilty to know he was going to suffer. Behind her back the door slid open smoothly:
- Are you feeling better? A familiar voice inquired.
The sound of his gentle tone, reassuring, calmed down her torment and swept away her fears for a while. She lied on her back to stretch out her muscles: "Not quite." Worried Hitori walked across the room and sat on the edge of her bed: " I am sorry, it should not have happened that way."
- Truth be told, I am scared.
- Anyone would be, he nodded.
- If only I could go back as if it were a mere delusion born from my wildest imagination.
- Unfortunately you can't, this is no longer possible to battle in retreat.
- Your full name and age? Lancaster queried
- Does it matter for you to know?
- We ask the questions, you answer them.
Time-confused Alys stood still in the middle of them under their inquisitive glares. She casted her eyes up defiantly on intent to keep composure in front of her interlocutors:
- Can you please tell me what is exactly the purpose of my mission?
- All things in good time, Faeri intervened. First tell us more about you.
- Well I am Alys Wonderland, freshly 25, born in 2030 during the Era of No Return. I have grown up inside Society's battlements as I struggled to survive separated from my loved ones after the Traumatism.
- Have you taken part in what we call nowadays the Final Countdown?
- I am not sure to understand what you’re talking about. What is it you call the Final Countdown?
- You dare to ask? You’re quite ignorant about many things, don’t you? Styx exclaimed.
Sylvestre shot glance at him: “Calm down Styx, of course she does not know anything about this part of Earth’s history yet, she has just been transferred to this era of time!”
- There is no reason for you two to be constantly fighting, if there is any you may deal with your personal grudges against each other in private and not disrupt today’s session, Lancaster admonished the fighters. Let’s get back on track, shall we? The Final Countdown, otherwise known as a major event in Earth’s history, occurred in 2050 when a group of pacifists leapt through time back to July 14th, 2040 to prevent the Shovel of Death’s explosion from happening on attempt to rebuild an agonising planet from its ashes. But their mission failed lamentably even if their intentions were praiseworthy. By modifying the future they made it even worse for future generations who lived under the dictatorship of the nationalist party composed of Hellmet Pitsbulk’s followers during forty years what irremediably affected the balance of the worldwide political pattern.
Uneasy about the topic, Alys assumed they were testing her honesty given that they, as supernatural beings, must have the ability to read minds. It seemed that, in the world of the fourth millenary, to gather as much valuable information as you could was primordial to survive. She weighted her words before she took the floor:
- I cannot deny I have. I must say that our motives were all but altruistic. We thought it could solve partly the world’s ongoing crisis at the time. We had not considered yet the consequences of our actions. We might have engaged too brashly in war against the leading classes, revolted against an imperfect system in many ways.
- Sure you did, Styx nodded.
- Was it necessary? You admit that you indirectly sacrificed many innocent lives without a second thought, Zoe observed.
- The world started to recover slowly from its wounds in the beginning years of its rebirth. The past lied behind us; we could only walk forward to learn from our failures. Hope soothed our broken hearts. Did we know that forty years from 2055 we would provoke Earth’s downfall? I don’t think so. We used to think we acted for good.
- Your reasoning is quite interesting and well developed, which weights in your favour. But, considering the charge bestowed upon you, you’re required to possess a supernatural ability out of this world’s standards. You don’t seem to have any.
- It has yet to be awakened.
- Why should we accept you in our ranks, then? Styx asked.
The question disarmed Alys who had no reason to give for her presence there given that she did not know what her mission consisted in. She noticed that a young girl wearing a silver dress gazed at her with attention. Nervous, she clasped hands in her back and cleared her throat:
- I don’t know it myself. Having survived from a near death experience has become a part of the woman I am today. I have suffered a lot, much more than a regular human being would thus why I am an emotionally driven person most of the time. My willingness to go forward is my strength, to have gone through many hardships.
- Styx, I am sure that God always makes decisions with reason and equity, we may have to find out ourselves why he sent to us a mere human being, Faeri intervened.
The Counsellors agreed, even Styx with unconcealed resentment. His showed contempt for the human race intrigued Alys, which made her want to know more about him despite of his pushing character. The concerned shrugged his shoulders:
- Sometimes the ways of Fate are unpredictable.
“ I want to go back now!” Alys thought with bitter while staring at her reflect throughout a daylight mirror. This white and gold uniform weaved of pure gold looked eccentric, heavily embroidered, but fitted her body shape quite well. She buttoned her jacket to the top and combed back her hair in a ponytail, then turned around when Hitori knocked lightly at the door. She rushed to get her last preparations done and wondered how did she know he was coming, an extrasensory intuition maybe. He sketched a gentle smile: "It suits you pretty well." Alys acquiesced, eyes down: " It feels like I'm dressing up though." He let out a burst of laughter and preceded her outside: " Don't you worry, there is a first time to everything."
Once every week, the Council held a consultative assembly with the citizens of Odyssea for anyone to speak up. Comprehensive communication between the masses and their representatives was the key to maintain harmony inside Odyssea's battlements, as Hitori explained to Alys while they hurried alongside the corridor leading to the lower floors. Most Odysseans lived humbly, worried for the coming times in which an end to their misery could not be seen. The Confederation itself was hardly recovering from the consequences of the Third Great War. The conference took place in an immense auditorium. One by one the Council members seated at their respective chairs feared and admired at the same time by the crowd gathered in the front most terraces. Murmurs spread among the audience when Alys sat down at the farthest end of the stage. To be the center of attention made her blush involuntarily.
Faeri stood up and cleared her throat:
- We have a lot to discuss today: shall we begin?
May 21st, 2055:
Mikael was reading the latest online edition of the New World Telegraph stretched out on his sofa when the electronic device tied around his wrist he used as regular watch started to giggle vehemently. Its touch screen shined alternatively from bright red to ocean blue. Fritz's custom-made time capsule incorporated in its machinery had stopped working for long. Why did it suddenly go on rampage? The light intensified as he tried to take it off, in vain. If it had willpower of its own, it would not bulge. "What's going on sweetheart, where's this light coming from?" His girlfriend Dyna stood in the doorframe entangled in her pyjamas, half asleep, looking at Mikael with wonder. A blindfolding ray of light surged out of thin air, which opened an interdimensional portal. Inside of it boiled darkness itself in its elemental state. His eyes widened in shock and horror as he felt forcefully and unstoppably attracted by nothingness, then an extraordinary vision of the Milky Way unfolded before him. The view narrowed closer to the solar system, or the remains of a fallen galaxy, dimmed in eternal night. The thought of it sent cold chills down his spine. Amidst the chaos stood a gigantic cruise ship redesigned to travel across time and space at light speed like in science-fiction blockbusters around which gravitated an indefinite mass of asteroids. “Mikael! Hey Mikael!” Dyna’s voice yelling his name snapped him back to reality. A striking pain radiated throughout his forearm due to the explosion of his watch shattered to splinters of plastic and metal. He remembered to have seen a gigantic spaceship lost in the middle of space before he blacked out. He took off the destructed device and came to the couple’s bathroom to bandage carefully his wounded wrist, clueless about what had just happened. He lied down in bed with the feeling something went off with the time capsule he held in the curve of his palm. He would have eventually to ask its inventor for further user instructions, which annoyed him greatly. Fritz Davis was the last person on Earth whom he would ask for help.
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