Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Sixteen)

The next day I slept late, had breakfast, then checked out of my hotel and walked around Midtown, amusing myself as I went. I was at Grand Central long before six o’clock for the 20th Century Limited, but soon enough was on the train, heading back to Chicago. I was in my cabin and asleep before ten o’clock.

I slept well, until I was awakened by a fairly large thud, right in my cabin. I pulled open my eyes to see a naked man, picking himself up from the floor and smiling at me. Feelings of shock, startle and fear rose in me, but slowly, I suppose because I was coming out of a fairly deep sleep. And before I could process those impulses, the man, in a cheery British accent was speaking.

Terribly sorry to surprise you. I had to be suspended in mid-air to materialize within a moving train.”

I was relieved to have at least a basic understanding of what was happening. And then, once that thought passed, I laughed at the incongruity of the accent; the whole thing felt like an absurdist British comedy.

We tried to give you a full night’s sleep,” he went on, still smiling, “and can you spare some clothes?”

Sure,” I said, still laughing, as I clambered off my bunk and dug through my bags. I was traveling light, but I had enough extra to clothe him reasonably. I cleaned up at the same time, trying also to feel some of this man’s substance. I’m not sure how that really works, but it was almost instinctive with my previous other-worldly friends. With this man, however, I could feel only a little bit something from him. I was convinced he was benevolent, but not a great deal more.

There was no time to spend on that line of thought, however, as we were coming into the station. We got off the train without incident, and soon found ourselves walking into the Loop just as thousands of people were piling into their offices.

I escorted this man, who informed me that his name was Martin, to the barbershop where I had my hair cut while I was still a maintenance man trying to renovate my appearance. I didn’t want to go in, but I handed him some money, told him what to say, and said I’d wait for him at a diner across the street. He very much needed to get rid of the ‘entry’ hairstyle.

I waited at a window booth in the diner, sipping coffee. But soon enough my hunger kicked in and I ordered breakfast. The waitress offered me a copy of the Tribune, which I took, more for Martin’s use than my own. He seemed to have a high level of curiosity.

Soon enough he reappeared and made his way to me, fitting in better and looking even happier than he had before. I was about to ask him about that, but he was speaking as soon as his bottom hit his seat.

Shall I change the accent of my speech to match yours?” (By yours he was referring not just to me, but the people of Chicago… you in the plural.)

No, I kind of like it as it is.”

Very well then. I would have matched yours, but I put language off until just before I was scanned, and records from your England were the only ones I had.”

The reference to being scanned was of some interest to me. It gave me a clue as to how they could recreate someone in one of these worlds.

And you put it off because you had more necessary things to do?”

Precisely… such as hardening myself for this environment.”

Hardening how, if you don’t mind me asking.”

Mainly, I had to repurpose some of my brain areas and routines. That’s what took nearly all of my time. Rewiring one’s brain is no mean feat.”

At that I laughed, having spent years attempting to do that myself. But then I felt serious again.

Why, then, did you go through it? You saw all the action and needed to check it?”

Partly, but I’m from the same place as your friends Robert and James. I knew you, and trusted that you’d do your best to create benefit here. But I didn’t know about the other man.”

At that point the waitress returned for Martin’s order. He glanced at my plate and said, “I’ll have the same as my friend here.”

Coffee too?” she asked, “with cream?”

Why not,” he said to her warmly, and smiling.

You know,” I said, “you’re better at interacting than Robert or Jim.” Then I waited for his reply.

I should hope so,” he said, “I’ve imagined scenarios like this thousands of times.” I didn’t know how to respond to that and so I said nothing. “I’m a historian,” he continued, “one of not very many in my time.”

Ah, very nice! I study history myself!”

Yes. As I said, I know you.”

I couldn’t miss the fact that now he had twice said “I know you,” and not “I know about you.” And so I asked him about it.

Yes,” he said, “that’s what I meant… you hold images of people you know, correct?”

Yes, and I can project what they’d do in a given situation by referencing those images.”

Brilliant,” he said, “We do the same thing, with more depth and breadth, and we can share those images with one another.”

So, for lack of a better term, you share… the taste of our souls, rather than details about us?”

He laughed. “Taste of your soul is an odd way to say it, but yes, that’s a fair description. We can communicate that quickly and easily, and so we do that first. Then we add facts around it.”

I sat there for some time, looking out the window at all the people passing by, zoned out, as we used to say. And he was happy to let me. Finally I brought myself back and got back to the things I most needed to understand.

So, you’re a historian. And so you came here for historical research?”

Yes and no, actually. We tried to find Robert or James, or at least someone they might have trained a bit, but they were unavailable. We wouldn’t have sent anyone at all, except for the fact that someone else popped in… and then popped in a second time while we were still trying to track down your friends.”

They’re well, I presume?”

Assuredly, but Robert is relativistically out of touch, and James is presently doing what we call childing.”

Martin’s food arrived. He commenced eating and I started poking at my food again. (I had stopped for the conversation.) I knew what I needed to do next, because I was starting to feel some overload.

All right, I need to slow this down. You understand my need for that, yes?”

Most certainly I do. But before you continue, can I give you some additional perspective on myself?”

Just at that moment I realized how useful that would be to me, internally. And so I asked him to please do so.

I am roughly as ‘advanced,’ as you like to put it, as your friend Jenns. It doesn’t feel quite that way to you because of what I said earlier: I had to harden myself in order to bear the conditions here.”

I was ready to say something like “I understand,” but before I could, follow-on thoughts from what he said invaded my mind.

By implication, are you saying that…” I was trying to put pieces together and formulate word-borne thoughts at the same time, and so I forced myself to slow down, to take a sip of water (instead of coffee), and to gauge the speed of my thoughts, then to slow them.

Let me try again, slowly…” He nodded, then did something I can only described as pushing, upon which I felt a wave of calm coming from him, directly to me, and only me.

You had to push that through the shell you built, didn’t you?”

Yes,” he said, quite pleased with me.

Thank you, it helps.”

Just let me know if you need more.” He smiled and I returned it with some gratitude.

So, our inability to spread or transfer impressions and emotions like you do – however it should be described – is made much harder by what I call the Earth ambient.”

He nodded, “Yes, very much so,” but he said it slowly, to keep me slow and comfortable. “All the reports we had said that your environment was surprisingly difficult, and so I went through the process.”

I took another bite, chewed slowly, and went on.

Okay, so let’s get back to Robert and Jim. Robert is traveling somewhere at fairly close to the speed of light, and so communications are difficult at best?”

Quite so.”

Is it rude of me to ask where he was going?”

Only if you demand an answer rather than requesting one.”

Okay, then, if you can, where has he gone?”

He’s doing a variety of things, and will probably be gone for a few centuries in your terms. He’s visiting old friends, learning from various people along the way, and doing some of what you call scientific research… figuring out how things work.”

Good for Robert,” I murmured. He was a good man and I was pleased he was doing rewarding things.

Now, Jim… James… is child-ing? He and his spouse… his parallel…” (a term I remembered from my short meeting with Arnon in 1978) “are having a child?”

Correct, but the way he’s doing it isn’t something you’re familiar with.”

I was learning how to manage my conversations with these people, and so I said, “I want to hear about that, but I think I should take a break. How about if we finish our meals and be mundane for a bit?”

He thought that was a good idea and I handed him a section of the paper, “for historical research.”

Buy Now On Kindle


Paul Rosenberg