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Zee has given up her entire world to be with David on far-future Earth, confident that their love will overcome all obstacles. But beneath its lustrous surface and dazzling technology, New Earth is full of challenges, including the animosity of David?s wealthy and powerful family.
As Zee struggles to find her place, David travels back to ...
Zee has given up her entire world to be with David on far-future Earth, confident that their love will overcome all obstacles. But beneath its lustrous surface and dazzling technology, New Earth is full of challenges, including the animosity of David’s wealthy and powerful family.
As Zee struggles to find her place, David travels back to past Earth. Then, on a mission to Pompeii on the eve of the Vesuvius eruption, he vanishes. Zee knows he is in mortal danger, but will she be able to rescue him in time?
There was still light in the sky when they reached the space elevator, a taut, immensely strong cable anchored above the atmosphere near the equator. Through the small porthole of the pressurized capsule that carried them up, Zee could see the last of the sun’s rays. Then they rose above the atmosphere and the light vanished, filling the porthole with dark space. Just above them was the object everyone on Earth believed was an Omuran spacecraft. In reality, it was H-Fax, the human fax facility that would destroy every cell in her body after copying its molecular data and sending it fifteen hundred years into the future.
David had warned her about the pain. “You’ll only feel it for a moment,” he’d said. “Then—nothing, until you’re recombined.”
The cold of space radiated through the glass, and Zee turned away. David took her hand in his and did not let go, even when the elevator floated to a stop and a digitized voice said, “Docking initiated.”
The fluttery feeling in Zee’s chest increased. She had officially left Earth. In less than an hour, the body and mind she inhabited would have died and been re-created somewhere in the distant future. What if she screamed when she felt the searing pain? What if the transmission went astray and she was lost forever? What if data was garbled and she got recombined in some horrible way?
Zee’s pulse accelerated, even though David had assured her that accidents were “almost unheard of.” He’d explained everything that would happen and promised that, despite the pain and discomfort of transmission, she would look and feel completely like herself. Zee hoped so. She was nervous about meeting David’s parents, whom they were staying with for a few days before moving to the small apartment David had in central London. “I love you, Zee,” David had assured her. “They’ll love you too.” But Zee wasn’t so sure and didn’t know what to expect. Worse, she didn’t know what they’d expect. David had talked about his brother, Paul, a lot, and sometimes about his little sister, Fiona. But other than telling Zee he’d grown up in the suburbs of London and his father had once been a Time Fleeter, he’d said almost nothing about them. Had she already come between him and his family? Were they angry that he was bringing home someone from the distant past?
* * *
The digitized voice was speaking again. “Docking complete. You have now reached the H-Fax facility. Please pass through the scanners to your left, and have a successful journey home. If you are with us for the first time, please stop at the Medi-Booth for chipping.”
The doors parted, and David led her into a large, round room that resembled a crowded hotel lobby. After passing through the scanners, Zee left David and headed for the softly radiating sign that said MEDI-BOOTH. Though David had told her they did transmissions in groups to conserve energy, Zee was surprised to see how many first-timers were in line with her, mostly women, but a few men as well.
As she waited her turn, she thought of the other things David had told her about New Earth. For months now, she had tried to envision the world she was about to enter, but it was impossible. Food that created itself. Computers that carried on conversations. Men and women willing to explore distant time zones, never quite certain of what they’d find. Zee was leaving her comfortable, familiar world behind, and she was uncertain of what she’d find, no matter how often David tried to describe it.
The line shifted forward, and suddenly she heard a familiar voice several people in front of her. Instantly, she was catapulted back to the empaths’ lounge in the hospital where she’d trained and worked. Feelings of discomfort, rivalry, and confusion flooded her, though she couldn’t immediately identify the voice. Without success, she craned to see over and around the people ahead of her.
You are nervous, she told herself, imagining there’s someone you know here.
“Please, stop crowding me,” the familiar voice said. “You’re practically walking on my heels, and I don’t fancy getting recombined with bruises on my heels!”
There was a slight disruption as the owner of the voice stepped quickly out of line and then back in. In that brief moment, Zee caught a quick flash of a profile.
Piper Simms! Piper, who’d been so jealous of Zee’s empath skills she’d often gone out of her way to trip her up. And now she was time-jumping to New Earth!
Zee pulled quickly back into line, hoping Piper hadn’t noticed her. Piper would be the only person she knew on New Earth besides David. But after all that lay between them, did she even want Piper to know she was there? Before Zee could decide, the line moved forward and Piper disappeared into the Medi-Booth.
Zee waited until, finally it was her turn in the Medi-Booth. A technician fired a microchip into the base of her skull with what looked like a power drill, but hurt far less than a drill would have. When she emerged, David was waiting for her, but Piper was nowhere in sight. Zee breathed a sigh of relief.
“Can you understand what I’m saying?” David asked.
Zee realized he was speaking the swift, whooshing language she’d heard him speak twice on Earth, once when he’d mistaken her for a fellow New Earther, and again to Mia, his research partner. Only now did she realize the language was English, spoken so rapidly words seemed to almost swallow one another.
“I understand,” she said, surprised to hear herself speaking in the same rapid style. The chip wasn’t just an identity tag, it would also help her make the transition to New Earth. The fact that she could both understand and speak New Earth English proved that it had already begun to interact with her brain.
“Pretty cool, huh? The chip picks up whatever language is being spoken around you and translates it both ways.”
“It’s amazing,” Zee said, still getting used to the sound of her new voice. Then she noticed the air had a slight acrid quality to it, like someone was burning paper.
“What’s that smell?” she asked.
“Oh, uh, yeah.” David hesitated. “They started transmissions while you were getting chipped.”
Zee realized the burning smell must be the residue of human cells. It made her feel a bit sick to think about, and she couldn’t help wondering if she was inhaling a molecule of Piper.
“Come on,” David said, taking her hand. “No sense waiting. Let’s go.”
He led her to a stairway she hadn’t noticed before, a smooth fold in the wall that turned out to be a kind of glass escalator. Staring down through the glass, she couldn’t see any machinery at all. The glass steps seemed to move upward of their own accord, depositing them in a large, circular room like the one below. Half of the room was ringed with what at first seemed to be a series of low, curving benches that disappeared into a larger, curving tube that encircled the other half of the room. Then she saw that the bench was slowly rotating, and that it wasn’t a bench but a conveyor belt. People were lining up to lie down on it; each long seat was in fact a kind of cradle. Once they disappeared into the tube, people did not come out.
Zee was suddenly terrified. A cold chill gripped her stomach. “I—I don’t know if I can do this.”
He put his arms around her. “The first time is scary. This part is, anyway. The before part. The actual transmission isn’t as bad as waiting for it.”
Zee straightened her shoulders and looked straight into David’s gray eyes. As always, the connection was there, that special spark, strong and immediate. “You’re right. Let’s go.”
David got on the conveyor belt ahead of her. The idea of transmission and the pain it entailed still scared her, but knowing David had just gone through the same thing would make it easier.
“See you soon,” David called back to her. “In about a millennium and a half.”
It wasn’t a great joke, but Zee smiled anyway. If anything went wrong, that was what she wanted David to remember: her smiling.
But nothing was going to go wrong, she told herself as she lay down on the conveyor. Everything was going to be fine. Still, her heart was beating hard and her chest felt tight. The belt inched forward slowly, an agonizing snail’s crawl, giving her imagination time to envision all the things that might go wrong. What if she couldn’t adapt to life on New Earth? What if she’d been wrong to think the love she and David shared was strong enough to bridge any gap?
After what seemed an eternity, she advanced into the dark tube. At first she could see nothing, and her only sensation was movement as the conveyor continued its slow crawl. Then she began to sense bursts of light exploding somewhere in the darkness ahead. She lifted her head for a better look, but before she could see anything, a domed glass shield lowered over her. Like the lid of coffin, Zee thought with a shudder. After a few moments, the shield began to glow with tiny pinpoints of light, like a night sky filled with more stars than anyone could count. Their light obscured the outline of the shield, and for a moment, Zee imagined they actually were stars, dancing millions of miles above her head. Maybe what she’d thought was a shield was actually a window. No, for the pinpoints began to pulsate, and their color changed from white to blue to violet. Zee gasped at the soothing, unexpected beauty of it.
Suddenly, the lights exploded and a searing pain ripped through her, so intense she couldn’t breathe. But before she could register the full force of the pain or experience the panic of suffocation, her molecules crumbled into a handful of dust, were swept away by a burst of pressurized air, and the twenty-third century into which she’d been born went on without her.
Copyright © 2014 by Susan Waggoner
Posted November 1, 2014