“I’m sorry to interrupt,” said Ding Xi, “but we may not have much time. Ben, I don’t want you to take offense at this, but the people of Earth are profoundly ignorant, compared even to other human populations. I’m talking about both technologically and socially. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t even be here. We’d just leave you to your own devices – salvation or destruction, but Kiri especially feels a bond to you.”
“Me? Why me? I’m flattered that you’ve contacted me, but why did you?”
“That’s what we’ll try to explain … in time,” continued Ding Xi, “but it’s not going to be easy. Let’s first look at your technology. Let’s be generous and say that you’ve made rapid progress since the time of your imaginative scientist called Galileo – about 400 years ago. The civilization of Kiri’s planet passed through that stage about 5500 years ago. We sense, Ben, that you’re intelligent enough, but you have a vast amount to learn. It’s a bit like snatching a bright Cro-Magnon of 25,000 years ago and placing him in a job at Los Alamos. He’d have a bit of catching up to do and very little time to do it.”
“So I’m the Cro-Magnon.”
“Well … sort of,” said Kiri. “But if you’re willing to take the journey, we’ll try to gently ease you into a technological world that could be a little like Earth in the 71st century.”
“Sounds fascinating. I’m game. Let’s go for it!”
“First, let me explain something. Do you remember the first time we met?”
“How could I forget?” smiled Ben.
“Do you remember what happened when you picked up the card I left on the table at the café?”
“Sure. And that’s something else I needed to ask you about. When I picked it up I distinctly heard someone whisper ‘IPTU’ in my ear. Come to think of it, that was your voice.”
“Yes,” Kiri smiled.
“And another thing. I don’t remember walking home, and then I must have zonked out for almost 24 hours.”
“I know, “ said Kiri, apologetically. “When you picked up the card, as you say, it whispered ‘IPTU’, but the microwave transmission from the card also initiated a sequence of events in a bionic microprocessor in your brain. It’s … what you call … What do they call it?”, she turned to Ding Xi.
“Booting up,” he answered.
“Yes, booting up. For your own safety, the microprocessor made you sleepy and then when it sensed you were deep in sleep it placed you in a comatose state until the process was finished.”
“Booting up? In my brain?” Ben asked, confused and not a little disturbed.
“I’m sorry about what you went through, but I had to know for sure.”
“Know what?” he interrupted.
“I had to know for sure if you had what we call facetiously the ‘Gift’. I had done research on your genealogy and when I saw you I was quite sure. You look so much like him – your great, great grandfather, Benjamin. Even your manner and your smile are like his.”
“How would you know that?” he asked, incredulously.
“Because I knew him … for one wonderful summer while my father was in northern Syria on an archaeological dig. I loved Benjamin. We were both very young. We did something that … well … seemed so right but was forbidden by interstellar law, and I inadvertently gave him the ‘Gift’, a virus. He got really sick. He was running a high fever – his body trying to destroy the invading organism. It was hopeless, though. His body had no way of fighting this engineered virus. I thought he was dying, but I couldn’t stay with him. My father said they had followed us to Earth. He thought he spotted them in Syria, so he returned to Bowdoin, fearing for my life. We had to escape immediately. I couldn’t even say goodbye. I thought I would die. I loved him so much. I was only sixteen then and now it’s been sixteen more of our years. I had to come back; I had to find out somehow if he lived.”
Ben, overwhelmed, trying desperately to understand what she was saying, asked “When was this? And who are ‘they’ ?”
“Summer of ’76.”
“Thirty-four years ago? . . . It doesn’t compute.”
“No, summer of 1876. One hundred thirty-four years ago, by your clock.”
(To be continued …)
© 2012 Eric Lord Bandurski
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