5D Bounty Hunting

“Plasma Spike” Bob and “Grinning” William were just two low-level thugs running a protection racket until they got a little too rough with one of their clients. With three dead at the scene and two more injured during their escape, they had shot up to the top of the wanted list. A one million credit bounty had been issued for their capture, dead or alive.

One of my sources tipped me off that the two were holed up in one of a warehouse on the dark side of the station. I’d been to three so far this cycle and was beginning to think they had fled planetside. I snuck in a side door of the next warehouse and started working my way around the inside perimeter to the office. A radio played softly inside but not softly enough to keep Bob and William hidden. I placed a hand on the office doorknob and pulled my gun from its shoulder holster. The radio cut off suddenly and chairs scrapped against the floor. In a single motion, I pulled the office door open and stepped inside. The bullets slapped into my guts before I heard the boom of their guns. Red blossomed on my shirt. This wouldn’t do.

I stepped back one minute. The door was still closed. I turned the doorknob and flung the door open staying out of the doorway. Three bullets thudded into the plastisteel crates nearby.

“Why don’t you make this easy for me and just give up?” I called around the door frame.

“Slag off copper!” one shouted.

“Yeah slag it!” the other said followed by a round of laughter.

“I’m not a police officer but they are on the way. I’d rather have you all wrapped up for them but if you want a big shootout that can be arranged.” They answered with another round of bullets.

I sidestepped into a frozen moment and walked into the office. I plucked Bob’s gun from his hand and emptied the bullets into one of my coat pockets. After doing the same with William’s gun I returned to outside the office. Time restarted.

“Is that your final answer?” I shouted. I slowed time and strolled into the office. They raised their guns slowly, from my perception, and tried to shoot me. I savored the looks of confusion on their faces as their guns clicked on empty chambers.

I punched William in the forehead and felt something snap in my hand. That wouldn’t do. I stepped back five seconds. Using the butt of my gun this time, I knocked William out. Bob followed right after. Time resumed it’s normal flow, while I secured their hands with disposable handcuffs. Their guns went into the same coat pocket with their bullets. I dialed the police.

“What the nature of your emergency?” the operator asked.

“Hello, what is the current response time to my location?” I asked.

“Current response time is twelve minutes. Do you require police, fire, or medical?” I hung up, stepped back ten minutes to call the police, and returned to present time hear sirens just arriving outside.

After giving my initial statement, I moved off to one side and stayed out of the way while allowing time to slip by at twice normal speed. When a CSI approached, I slowed down to hand over the guns and bullets then I sped up again. A detective I knew walked up to me. I stepped back a minute so I could catch her eye just before she walked over and give her a grin of recognition.

“Another pair of criminals put behind bars. How many is this for you? Fifteen?” the detective asked.

“Eighteen. I nabbed three of the Red Shift Gang over the weekend,” I said with a smile.

“Why does a fifth-dimensional alien care about catching criminals on a backwater space station?”

“I’m just trying to do my part.” I casually leaned back against the wall.

“I’ve been reading up on you fifth-dimensional beings.”

“Have you really? And what have you read?”

“Well a lot of the technical jargon went over my head but one thing I think I understood is you can move through time like we move through space.” The detective paced as she talked.

“That’s true.”

She spun to face me. “Then why don’t you just go to when these scumbags committed their crimes and stop them?”

“I could do that … but what would be the fun in that? Where’s the game for me?” I leaned forward to watch as the meaning of my words sunk in. Her face twisted into a snarl and she raised a hand. I stepped back one minute thirty seconds.

“… when these scumbags committed their crimes and stop them?”

“Unfortunately my people have Time Laws that prevent us from altering the past in certain ways. For the safety of the universe, we dare not violate them,” I said as sincerely as I could.

“Huh, I didn’t read anything about that,” she said doubt soaking her words.

“It’s not something we talk about.”

“Well, your help is always appreciated.” The detective walked away.

“I’m sure it is.”

A Land of Shadow and Substance

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The lander contacted the planet with a solid thump. The foggy atmosphere was blown around by the lander’s jets but quickly returned obscuring its cameras. A ladder lowered on one side from a hatch to the ground. Inside the three astronauts puzzled over the atmospheric readings the lander’s computers were displaying.

“There can’t be breathable air out there!” the science officer, Alice Henson, insisted.

“I know logically there can’t be air out there but can all the sensors be wrong?” the captain, Greg Mason, asked.

“If they were malfunctioning, the readings would be all over the place, not consistent like these readings,” the engineer, Jamie Hertz, said.

“Even if we believe the sensors we can not exit the lander without environmental suits,” Alice said.

“Of course not. We’re on an alien planet with unknown biological elements,” the Captain said. “We’ll follow protocol.” An hour later the three had helped each other squeeze into and seal their environment suits. After double-checking their suits, they were ready to begin their survey of the surface.

Captain Greg was the first one down the ladder. He had no quippy sound bites for the moment he first set foot on the alien planet. Alice and Jamie followed soon after. Jamie removed a device from her belt and waved a wand connected by a rubber tube through the foggy air.

“I’m getting the same readings as the lander. There’s a slight spike of xenon in the atmosphere but otherwise it’s Earth normal,” she said.

“Huh,” the Captain grunted. “We’ll keep our helmets on just in case.”

Alice pointed another device at the sky and pressed a button. “This isn’t right. The light from the sun should be much further into the red spectrum,” she said.

“Could the atmosphere be filtering the sun’s light?” Jamie asked.

“Not to this extent.”

“We’re not going to figure this out standing around the lander,” Greg said. “Let’s hook up and head out.” Alice attached a tether from her suit to Greg’s suit. Jamie did the same to Alice’s suit and attached a wire reel from her belt to the lander. The team began hiking through the dense fog away from the lander.

Three hundred feet from the lander, they found a paved road running perpendicular to their course.

“What do you think?” Greg asked the other two.

“It’s not impossible for an alien culture to create familiar looking artifacts. A road is a road no matter what planet you’re on,” Jamie said.

“We’re likely to find more alien structures if we follow the road,” Alice said.

“Sounds good. For safety, we’ll walk beside it agreed?” The other two nodded in their helmets. Several minutes later they spotted a house with a white picket fence on the side of the road. A man, a human man, stepped off the porch and walked to the fence. He raised his hand in greeting.

“Howdy folks. Are you passing through are planning on staying longer?”

“Captain, this appears to be my great-grandfather,” Jamie said. “I think we’ve landed on an alien metaphysical representation of the afterlife.”

“Another one? Ok, people back to the lander.” The team turned around and began following the wire back to the lander.

“Sorry Gramps, we’re looking for actual alien planets to explore.”

“That’s too bad. I’ll tell Meemaw you stopped by,” the apparition of Jamie’s great-grandfather said. Jamie watched him wave until he and the house disappeared back into the fog behind them.

A Daring Escape

She hid her spaceship at the bottom of the ocean. Flew it straight down, opened all the hatches, and flooded it. She swam to shore and stripped off her silver environmental suit; letting it dissolve into the sand. Several hundred hitchhiked miles later, she found a job and a home. For a few years she lived like a human; the happiest time of her life. She waited tables in a bar, bowled with her friends, ran in the park with her dog.

Then they came. A swarm of alien invaders intent on death and destruction. Cities burned and crumbled. Militaries around the world failed to repel them. People huddled together whispering goodbyes to each other. But the end did not come. Reports of a new alien ship began to spread; a silver bird, swooping through the invaders and destroying them.

She had never been far from the ship’s thoughts. Even drowned in the ocean, it had felt the link like a constant buzz in a quiet room. So when she called for it from the depths where she had hidden it, buried it, discarded it, it came. Together they fought and won while surprise was on their side but the sheer number of enemies was too great for one ship.

With no other options left she sent a message out to deep space, “Help me save this planet!” she continued her defense waiting and hoping for a response. Flocks of silver ships fell out of hyperspace and began slashing through the invaders. Soon the invaders fled chased by a contingent of silver ships that would ensure they were destroyed to their last.

Through her link to the ship, she received a message, an order, and a threat, “Princess, the Empire is overjoyed at hearing you are well and alive. Please dock with the flagship. By order of the Empire, we will raze this planet if you do not come with us.” She looked once more at the planet she had begun to think of as home and turned toward the flagship. The Earth was saved.

On Earth, her friends searched for her but would never find her. They mourned her and one took in her dog. A galaxy away, the princess planned another daring escape.

The Wrong Sort of Circle

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I studied accounts of UFO sightings, plotting the locations and times, cross-referencing the earth’s position around the sun and the lunar cycle. Then I factored in abductions and landings. Throughout it all, I studied crop circles learning their shapes and patterns.

After five years, I had learned enough. I traveled by plane then by rented car and finally by foot to a remote grassy field. It was after dark when I arrived. I drove a stake into the ground and tied a string to it as a guide. Using various planks and my own feet I crafted circles within circles and patterned lines and dashes. I returned to the center, removed the stake, and sat on the flattened grass. Soon I would be meeting beings from another world.

While I waited I listened to the croaking of the frogs nearby and watched fireflies twinkle on and off. And of course, I watched the sky for moving lights, which was why I was surprised by the first stones thumping to the ground around me. I stood quickly and saw tall thin beings walking through my crop circle. The shortest stood at least six feet tall. Their heads were bald, a light gray, and slightly too large. More of them approached carrying more stones that they dropped on top of the first ones forming a ring six feet across. One paused at the edge and reached out to me. I stepped back.

“Please this way. Please out of the way, please. They will light the fire soon. Please, this way,” they said motioning out of the ring of stones. Their voice was high pitched, kind, and gentle. More stones had been laid forming a short wall around me. I stepped toward the being who, with gentle touches, guided me away from the center of the circle. Up close I could see their faces were featureless and flat. Instead of a nose, they had small holes just above a thin lip-less mouth.

I turned hoping to slip away into the night but found a thick gray fog had rolled in. The beings walking in and out of the circle appeared and disappeared from the fog in all directions. I looked up to get my bearings from the stars but the stars were not where they should be. I could see Cassiopeia and Orion but Ursa Major and Minor eluded me. However, the Southern Cross was plainly visible which was impossible at my latitude. I quickly found a few more constellations wildly out of place. My rental car was less than a mile away but I had no idea which way it was.

With the ring of stones complete they began piling wood inside and soon a fire was roaring. One of the beings stayed by the fire pit to tend to it. In the light of the fire, I could see it wore a loose gray tunic over loose pants. Smaller fire pits were quickly constructed around the edge of the circle. A rotisserie was constructed over the central fire and a large animal I couldn’t identify on a spit was brought out of the fog and set to cook over the fire.

A number of tall tables, made of thick planks and stout legs, were brought in to encircle the main fire pit. They were set away from the pit with gaps between them so no one’s movement was hindered. More of the beings stayed at the tables as others brought vegetables and fruits for them to chop and slice.

Another circle of tables was dropped in place. These, like the others, were solidly made of thick planks but were finely polished and not as tall. Chairs were brought in and formed the final ring. A tall-backed chair, almost a throne was set on the inside curve of the tables. It was to this chair, I was pointed to with polite whispers to, “Sit, please, sit.”

“What is going on?” I asked.

The being smiled, lip-less mouth opening revealing rows of shark teeth, “It is a feast. You called for a feast and we came. There has not been a feast for many years. Very exciting.”

“Are you aliens or,” I paused not sure if I was really ready to make the next jump. I continued with a whispered, “The Fair Folk?”

They nodded and bobbed their head, “Our names are many. Please, sit,” they gestured again to the chair. As I walked toward it, they pulled it out from the table and pushed it in behind my knees once I was in front of it. A plate of roasted vegetables and fruits was set before me. A tankard was pressed into my hand.

“If I eat and drink this will I be trapped here?” I asked.

“Only if you choose to stay. The guests are arriving.”

“What guests?” I asked. The being pointed out toward the impenetrable gray fog. A woman stepped into the light of the fires. She carried a shield and sword and wore what I assumed was armor. Two of the beings approached her, half bowed and hands raised, from either side. She tensed for a fight but relaxed as they reached her and allowed them to take her sword and shield. A third being wrapped a cloak around her shoulders and guided her around the table to a chair. Before she had taken her seat a man walked out of the fog carrying a rifle. He too was calmly disarmed and seated. The another and another and another walked out of the fog. Soon the outside edges of the tables were full of people. From the center plates of food were prepared and set before the guests.

“Who are these people?” I whispered.

“Warriors. Fighters. Those who have lost their way,” my attendant whispered back.

“Are they dead?”

“Not all.” They raised their voice and called out, “Let us have a toast.” All around the table tankards, cups, goblets, and glasses were filled by the ever-present servers. They turned to me, “If our host will do the honors.” Hesitantly I moved to stand and felt my chair pulled deftly out to give me room. I grabbed my tankard and raised it high over my head.

“Tonight is …” I took a deep breath and began again projecting my voice, “Tonight is a feast. For victory. For fighting the good fight. For good food and new friends. A toast!” Not the most inspiring speech but it got a hearty cheer from the crowd. I paused just before upending my tankard but decided I was beyond saving myself. The liquid was sweet, tangy, cold, and invigorating.

I returned to my chair and began eating. Soon enough my tankard was refilled. Bowls of stew, platters of meat, bread baskets, and more vegetables were brought to the tables and the real feast began. From out of the fog a troupe appeared playing flutes, guitars, drums, tubas, harps, kazoos, cellos, and instruments I had never seen before. They played folk songs, symphonies, blues, jazz, opera, salsa, swing. Between the songs, people told stories or proposed more toasts or sang their own songs. The night had been half over when I made my circle but the feast seemed to go on for days.

Eventually, my memory turned to black and I woke up the next morning in the empty field, wrapped in a cloak. The circle was trampled flat, the center and several points around the perimeter were burnt but no other trace of the feast remained. I got my bearings and began the walk back to my rental car.

Colony Constructors

During my last trip through the dark, I was paired with the newest recruit for the second shift. Second shift is the boring middle months after the ship has left one system but before it reaches the next. There were other crew members out of cryro at the time but the foreman had asked me to mentor Joanne on the ship systems.

After five minutes of watching numbers on display screens, I asked her a question, “So, why did you join this mission?”

She looked out the viewport at the stars and said, “I wanted to explore a new world.”

I laughed, “You do know new planets are mapped and explored by satellites and rovers, right?”

“Yeah, but is it really explored if no humans have been there before?”

“Yes. It doesn’t matter if I see a rock or if a robot sees it. It’s been seen. Anyways we aren’t an exploration mission. There aren’t any manned exploration missions.”

Joanne sighed, “I know. This mission was the closest I could find.”

“You’re not going to have a lot of time to ‘explore’.” I counted off items on my fingers. “We have ten habs, fifteen farms, ten labs, and six storage buildings to set up before the colonists arrive. And then the real work of getting the colony running starts.”

“Still we get to be the first people on a new world. That’s still something.”

I couldn’t help smiling. “I wish I had half your spirit.”

“Why did you sign up for this mission then?”

“Same reason I signed up for the last ten colony missions: I wanted to build something.”

“You never wanted to settle down, have kids?”

“Thought about it but I wanted to travel and Colony Constructor is strictly a single person’s job. Children were straight out of the picture.”

She pointed an excited finger at me. “Ah! So, you do have some of the explorer spirit in you.”

“Maybe a little but after you see a few planets it starts to wan. We go where life is possible, which means Earth-like planets, which means they all kind of look the same.”

“There’s still some stuff to discover on these planets,” she countered.

“Yeah, but we don’t get to stick around to discover it. If you really want to pioneer a new world, you should have applied for immigration and joined a colony.”

“I might do that someday but first I want to see a few planets first.”

“Don’t wait too long or you’ll end up like me,” I warned her.

“You’re not that old.”

“Physically I’m only old enough to be your aunt but relativistic time dilation means I’ve outlived everyone I knew on earth.” I paused thinking about the distant family members that were still on earth that I barely knew. “This is my last mission. I’m staying this time.”

“What are you going to do?” Joanne asked.

“I’m going to build something new.

The Bad News, The Good News, and The Ugly Truth

The courtroom looked completely ordinary, except for the reptilian aliens. The jury box was filled with twelve brutish crocodile smiling creatures jammed into the human-sized chairs. On either side of the box I was sat in, two more leathery creatures sat at the defense and prosecution tables. Behind us, an audience of similar gecko aliens sat in the audience. Before us behind the raised dais was the judge, twice as wide as the jurors, flat-faced, plates of bone shifted over their shoulders. Their voice was raspy, dark, and ear shaking.
“Present the case against humanity.”

-The Bad News-

One of the lizard aliens stood. I felt a shiver run up my spine. Thoughts and memories began to pop into my mind. They appeared projected in the air in front of me changing too fast for me to really see. All I got were quick impressions.

Sexism. Racism. Acid in pools. Bigotry. Intolerance. Oil spills. Clear cut forests. Nuclear waste. Greed. Over-fishing. Guns, jets, tanks. War. Hiroshima. Nagasaki.

“That will be enough,” the judge said with a nod. The alien prosecutor sat back down. “Present the defense of humanity.”

-The Good News-

The other alien rose to their feet and again my memories were raided and displayed.

Friends holding hands. Babies laughing. Babies smiling. Babies crying. Babies. Family eating together. Communities banding together after disasters. Children on playgrounds. Sunsets. Rainbows. Dancing. Hugs.

“That will be all,” the judge said. “I will now pass judgment.”

“Wait,” I said. “Don’t I get to say anything?” The audience began squealing and squeaking among themselves.

“Quiet! Quiet!” the judge yelled. Silence retook the courtroom. “This is irregular but I will allow it.”

-The Ugly Truth-

I stood shakily in my box.

“You have looked at my memories of the good and bad things humans have done to ourselves, to our world but we are so much more than just the good and the bad things. We have potential to be more if you give us more time.” I paused trying to think of more to say. No bolt of inspiration hit me, so I sat back down.

“Your words have been heard and added to the record. It is the judgment of this court that Earth shall remain on the restricted contact list. Humanity will be reassessed in fifty galactic standard years. The human will be returned with their memory wiped of these proceedings.”

“You’re not going to blow up the Earth or wipe out all of humanity?” I asked.

The judge turned to look directly at me, “Of course not, we’re not humans after all.”

You Get To Choose

I scrolled through the contacts on my phone looking for someone who still owed me a favor. The past week had been a hectic sprint from safehouse to safehouse while I voided debts in exchange for sanctuary. Now I was stuck in a motel room that I knew wouldn’t be safe for more than the night. By tomorrow they would know where I was. I was done. Tomorrow I would turn myself over to my boss and hope for a quick death. All because I’d made a minor miscalculation that ended up costing my boss not only a large amount of money but also their reputation.

Unless …

I stripped the case off my phone and popped open its back cover. Inside was a business card, white, matte finish, and blank. “If you ever find yourself backed into an impossible corner, you can use this to get out but afterwards you work for us.” I just needed to write down a place and time. It could be any place at any time so long as the room was empty before I chose it.

I wrote down the motel’s name, my room number, and added five minutes to the current time. I stepped outside and set a five-minute timer on my phone. After what seemed like a lot less than five minutes my phone began buzzing. I turned back to the door to my room and stopped hand on the knob. Was this really what I wanted to do? No, but I had exhausted every other option. I had no more favors to call in nor friends to back me up.

I hesitated another minute, straining to think of some way to not have to walk through the door. Finally, I gave in and turned the knob and pushed the door open. Inside an old woman sat at the small table by the window playing with triangular cards. She looked up and smiled.

“Took you long enough. Would you like to know your future?” She chuckled. Her face though lined and wrinkled was still as familiar as the one I saw in the mirror. The few gray hairs I had started to notice around my temples had replaced her entire head of hair.

“How old are you?” I asked. I sat down opposite her.

“Hmm, let’s see.” She flicked her wrist and a display projected from her bracelet onto her forearm. “According to this, I’m one hundred and eighty-three years and some months old.”

“How?”

“One of the perks of time travel is you can always go to when medicine is best. I’m due for another rejuvenation in a couple of years. If I keep up with them, I might make three hundred. It’s a shame the tech was only available for twenty years.”

“What happened?”

“A collapse. Like always. Nothing lasts. A war or an economic crisis or revolution. Things get better then they get worst and then they get better in a different way. Over and over. You’ll see when you take your tour of time.”

I was silent, watching sadness and anger and disappointment wash across her face. After a moment, she resumed her card game.

“So, I need help,” I said.

“Of course you need help and we’re here to help you.”

“We?” The door opened and a woman in heavy body armor walked in. Her boots thudded on the floor as she walked to take a position behind the old woman. Beneath her visor, I could see a familiar smirk.

“That was unnecessarily dramatic,” the old woman said to the armored woman.

“The kid likes drama otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”

“How are you going to help me?” I asked.

“However you need us to. I can provide medium to far combat support. Or supply you with weapons and training if you’d prefer,” the armored woman said.

“I can give you guidance and advice,” the older woman said.

The door opened again and another woman, younger than me, wearing a black business suit walked in carrying a briefcase. Her heels clicked on the floor as she walked to the side of the card table.

“Or we can just pay off your debt.” She set the briefcase on the table and opened it. Inside it was filled with neat stacks crisp banded high-value bills. More than enough to save my life.

“You’re younger than me?” I asked.

“Yes, I didn’t wait as long to use my card.” From a pocket inside her jacket, she pulled out a white card with writing in blue ink on it.

“But aren’t you me? How can you be younger than me?” The old woman pulled out a card with flowing purple words. The armored woman’s card had brown stains around neatly printed black ink numbers.

She smiled. “The multiverse is much bigger than you think. You’ll learn about that doing your orientation year. So, what do you want to do?”

“I get to choose?”

“Of course it’s your future that you’re shaping.”

Space Spies

The ceiling spins overhead. They’ve given her too much of whatever drug they are using these days to loosen the lips of enemy spies. She’s too disorientated to understand their questions but still, they ask. “Who gives you orders? What was your last mission? How many targets have you eliminated? What is the launch capability of your nation? How many space capable landers do you have?”

After three hours, she the drug begins to lose its effect and starts to answer their questions by narrating her life’s story. I was born to poor farmers in the eastern providence. “When I was ten I skinned my leg riding down a hill on a sled. At twelve, I was advanced two grades and then another three a week later. I was disappeared from my family when I was fourteen. I saw the curvature of our world from space at seventeen.” Another two hours pass in this way, the two conversations fighting for volume.

Then she gets one hand free from her restraints. In the struggle to re-secure her, a guard loses his gun. The lights explode and darkness buries the room. The door cracks open. Two shots force it closed.

“When I was eighteen, I ‘joined’ the program. I was the best shot in my class with the highest marks for accuracy. I’ve killed for my ‘homeland’. For my people. For a cause that I believed in. I killed to escape all of it. I’m here to defect, which I would have told you if you hadn’t drugged me.” The gun drops to the ground. “Can I get some coffee?”

***

Five years earlier, she sits in a ruined sanctuary, turned by the war into just another abandoned building among a city of abandoned buildings. The sanctuary was abandoned before the city. The regime had no need for a higher power. The altar is gone. The symbols are stripped from the walls. The pews trashed for firewood. The chair for the orator remains. She sits in it gazing at the pendant on her necklace, a symbol of a faith she barely knew. Her captain and co-pilot find her there.

“You come here too often,” her co-pilot says. She distrusts her the most.

“Only when I need too.”

“Our mission is a go. Launch at 1834 hours. Be ready,” her captain says.

“Will you wait a minute while I pray for us.”

“The gods are dead. No one believes in them anymore,” her co-pilot says.

“I don’t know if I believe in them but I remember them.”

“The Regime has no need for the gods,” her captain says. She places a hand on her shoulder. “But in our line of work, we can not turn down an help.”

She nods and bows her head. Two minutes later they leave together.

***

The launch goes off without a hitch. Sub-orbital insertion by the numbers. On and off the enemy radar before their trajectory can be tracked. Their lander blends into early morning traffic disguised as an RV. Four hours later they are in position.

They know target’s name, description, daily routines, job description, friends ranked by trust, pet’s names, and extended family tree. He is a scientist in the enemy’s space program. One that is obviously close to a breakthrough. This can not be allowed.

She takes her shot. Five hours later they rendezvous with the stealth submarine to return home.

***

After they return home, she sits alone in the ruined sanctuary and wonders how the Regime spies can know so much about their targets. Everything about their lives is neatly typed up in file folders referenced and cross-referenced. How can they know so much? Do they have a file on me with as much detail? Do they know what I think about while sitting in this desecrated place of worship? Does it even matter as long as the Regime knows what is right? As long I follow the Regime all will be ok. Right?

***

Many years later, after more missions, after defecting, after the final war, after peace is declared, she is once more preparing for a launch. Their goal is orbit and then farther out. The lander is just a box to get them to space and back.

“When I was a space spy assassin for the Regime,” she tells the technicians, “Our lander could function as an RV after we landed.” They laugh at her and she laughs with them.

“You should not share old secrets so freely,” her old captain tells her. She never defected but after the war, travel and exchange of knowledge opened up.

“The Regime is dead and their secrets are now ours to spread even if no one believes us.” She pauses to stare at the lander. “No matter what they told us, we weren’t saving the world or even our homeland; just slowing down the future.”

“We’re building the future now.”

“Yes, we are.”

Ghostly Defense

The world watched live on tv as alien ships hovered over every major city on earth. I never thought I would live to see our hopes and fears about extraterrestrial life play out on CNN. To be accurate I hadn’t lived to see it.

I had died in my sleep years before but it wasn’t peaceful. My killer stabbed me twenty-three times but the first three would have been enough. The violence, my pain, my fear, my suffering bound my spirit to earth. At least I think that’s how it happened. Maybe I’m just a remnant, a torn scrap of a soul. Existence is weird after you die.

Time is moves differently. Sometimes days blurred by; other times a night lasted forever. Then there is moving around. I could effortlessly pass through all walls, ceilings, and floors. Except I couldn’t leave my home. The outside walls were simply impenetrable to me. And worst of all, I had no body. I mean, I was a ghost so of course I didn’t have a body but I also didn’t have, like, a ghost body I could see or feel. I learned to “walk” like I had feet and “grab” things like I had hands. After a while, I fully grounded myself and settled down to quietly haunt my house.

When I was alive, I didn’t care who might live in my house after I was gone. I hadn’t expected to be around to care. Turns out I did care. I drove out several new owners for various reasons. My methods were classic haunting. I opened cabinet doors. I stomped in the hallways at night. I rattled doorknobs. I moved small items. Once I managed to break a window. It was never earth-shattering scary but if done randomly and often enough, anyone will give in. If I had to “live” with these people, then I needed to like them.

Finally, a nice lesbian couple, Lou and Betty, moved in after buying at a discount because of my haunting. They burned incense and left small food offerings, neither of which I could truly enjoy but the gesture was nice. Better than the previous owners who tried to have me exorcised. I stopped being a problem ghost and “lived” in peace with them. They didn’t know my name but knew I had been a woman so they called me Jane.

Years passed. Betty went back to school, meanwhile, Lou wrote a book but never finished the sequel. They had two kids, Diane and then Henry a couple of years later, and a parade of cats most of who mostly ignored me. The main exception was Miss. Whiskers, an older rescue, who hissed near constantly at my presence. After a couple of years, she only hissed when I entered a room.

Through it all they never forgot me. The incense burning and food offerings dwindled and stopped but I didn’t mind. They were nice people and often tried to include me in discussions. “Do you think Jane would like to watch a comedy or action movie tonight?” Most times I didn’t answer. It felt voyeuristic to be an unseen and unheard presence except by knocking on a wall. I did occasionally put on a mild show when their skeptical friends would visit.

When they brought Diane home for the first time, Lou stopped just inside the front door and introduced me to her. I gently held her hand and she tried to squeeze back. At night, I watched over her and as she started to crawl and walk I guarded her steps. Henry was much the same. I fretted all day when Diane began preschool causing the wind chimes hung in the living room to sound randomly. Betty thought it was funny that I seemed more active when the kids were out of the house. I couldn’t guide them away from sharp corners or steady them when they tripped when they were out of the house.

In my death, I had found a family. Then they appeared. Silent massive hovering alien ships. I watched the news from behind the couch as Lou, Betty, and the kids huddled together. We hoped they came in peace but when the pods began to drop that hope died. Alien controlled machines began terrorizing cities around the world.

Nearby, I heard and felt an explosion rumble through the house. They were coming and there was nothing I could do to protect my family. I became erratic; pacing through the walls, flying from floor to floor, causing doors to bang open and closed. I only stopped, when I heard Betty yelling, “Jane stop it! You’re scaring the children!” I froze in the kitchen. From outside I could hear more explosions and people yelling. Then the front of the house tore open. One of the alien machines stood staring in through the hole it had made. It raised what I could only guess was a weapon and took aim.

Time slowed as I launched myself at the machine not caring that I could do nothing. As I approached, I felt heat coming from the machine. It grew in intensity until I felt like I was burning but I continued toward it. I grabbed at the weapon and electricity lit up every nerve in my non-existent body The weapon sagged and the machine staggered back with twitchy uneven movements. I followed it out on to the lawn and reached into the body of the machine. Again electricity surged painfully through me but what was that going to do, kill me? I pressed forward to the hottest part of the machine. A horrible screeching sound came from inside the alien machine and then it collapsed to the ground.

My amazement at my apparent victory was cut short by Diane yelling, “Are you a superhero?!” I turned to see all four of my adopted family staring at me.

“You can see me?” I asked. I glanced down seeing my body for the first time in years.

“Yeah, we can see you. Who are you?” Lou asked.

“I’m … I’m Jane the ghost,” I said opting for the name they would know.

“You’re our ghost!” Diane shouted. She broke into a run towards me and passed right through me. I reached back, grabbed the back of her shirt, and pulled her back inside the house. A hand passed through me followed by a squeak from Betty.

“You really are a ghost,” she said. “What did you do to it?”

“I don’t know. I just touched it.” I heard a crash, nearby. I stepped out on the lawn to get a better look. Another machine was tearing into a house down the street. I was outside; no longer trapped in the house. My adopted family stood behind me.

“Are you going to fight it?” Henry asked.

“Yeah.” I turned around. The front of the house was torn open. “Listen the house might collapse so go someplace safe. I’m going to … take care of this.”

“Are you coming back?” Lou asked.

“Of course. You’re my family. I love y’all. I’m going to keep you safe.” I turned around and started running toward the second alien machine before I could find out if ghosts could cry.

The second machine went down as easily, except for the nonexistent burning nerve endings, as the first. Over the next few days, other empowered ghosts began to appear around the world but ghosts are rarer than most people think. There weren’t enough of us to decisively change the tide of the invasion at first. After we lured a few alien machines on to some Civil War battlefields, we started to have the numbers. The Ghost War had just begun.

Memory Dive

The final test is a solo dive your own memories. After a year of theory, six months of simulations, and six months of tandem dives, most are ready for the challenge. It’s not dangerous; not physically dangerous. Nothing can prepare you for what you will find. Diving into your memories is not like remembering or reconstructing a memory. Recalled memory is fluid, unreliable, and easily changed. Memory diving bypasses the mind and shows the diver exactly what the brain has stored.

Memories aren’t organized by date or alphabetically. One leads to another to another to another. Branching pathways that can circle back into repeating loops. Finding your way requires laser-like attention. Waver for a second and you’ll find yourself lost among the debris of your life.

Ok. Go.

Follow the chain of memories. A conversation leads to a college lecture leads to a movie leads to a birthday party leads to an office party leads to Friends leads to a field trip. Almost there. Wait, didn’t you already see this birthday party?

Office party. Friends. Field Trip. Lecture. Movie. Birthday party. Office party. Friends. Field Trip. Lecture. Movie. Birthday party. Office party. Friends. Field Trip. Lecture …

Breathe.

It’s a feedback loop. Circular memory path. Feedback loops can trap even experienced divers; for a first timer, they’re usually dead ends. Try running the path a few times to see if you can find an out. There’s no shame in surfacing. Even professionals do it.

Field Trip. Lecture. Movie. Birthday party. Office party. Friends.

Field Trip … Lecture … Movie … Birthday party … … Club.

That’s the ticket. Now just straight on till morning. That was good memory awareness back there. When you dive into a stranger’s mind you won’t have that advantage but you won’t get sidetracked as easy.

Stop here. Watch carefully. Not like how you remember it, is it? Hurts to see yourself like this, doesn’t? That’s because you’ve been lying to yourself. Everyone lies to themselves. They lie about what they said, about how they acted, about how they felt. We can’t help it. In the dive, these lies are stripped away. You see yourself.

Breathe.

Follow the memory chain out. Good. Everyone cries their first time through their own memories. Take your time. When you’re ready, surface and head into the next room.