Dr. David Cervantes' eldest son had gone back in time 30 years ago and had not been seen since. His only daughter had gone into alternate universe 3XC-28 four years ago and had not
returned. His younger son had killed himself on his 95th birthday to see what
might be on the other side of the door. And just a year before, his wife had
died in a mag-lev train wreck leaving him completely alone in the year 2549. He
was 283 years old.
His publisher thought it would be a good idea to get him out of his depression by assigning
him a project they had both discussed over the past few years but never got around to implementing. He lived on the shore of the Utah coast in a large house overlooking the Pacific Ocean and would sometimes
sit on his deck and wonder what the geography might have been like before the earth shifted, sending California and Nevada
into the deep. Although he had done some time traveling, he never went beyond
that point when the earth rotated on its axis. He chose not to go beyond this
point on principle, just as he opted not to travel into the future for the same reason.
The event occurred over a hundred and fifty years before he was born.
He was a sociologist who had minored in history, and while many were concerned with the adventure
of exploring other domains (earthly as well as alien), his sights were always with the earth as he knew it and of the times
in its past. But more than the geography of the past, he wondered about the mindset
of the people. War had been a prevailing mainstay to their way of life. The last global conflict nearly destroyed the planet and everyone on it. The earth shift had been devastating but it also served to unite the world in a way it had never known
before. The petty nationalistic bickering had given way to a unified allegiance
of all nations. He was convinced that if the earth had not shifted on its axis
the world would have eventually been destroyed in additional strife. The shift
had been both a cleansing and a decisive call for sanity.
Aside from his poor mental state, he was in relatively good physical condition, considering
his age. So far, he had gone through two cloned heart transplants, one kidney
replacement, and new optic nerves and corneas. Rejuvenating cellular therapy
had preserved his body to the chronological age of a man in his sixties. His
mental condition was something else. Even though he was given mood pills to alleviate
his melancholy, he preferred not to take them, feeling that to mask the symptoms was just as bad as having them. He would need to work this out in the way nature had prescribed it.
Cervantes was a man who believed that life and everything in it regarding the human soul had a purpose. A state of grief was meant to be experienced for a reason, not to be glazed over with a pill.
As he watched the sun preparing to set in the horizon, he thought of the assignment. All of the hard copy research had been done. There wasn't
much because little was known about the people he was going to study. What remained
was the actual fieldwork.
What was known was that the People of the Book did not take well to outsiders. It took some negotiating to allow him access to their settlement.
He could have written a dry account about them without interfering with their daily activities, but he felt it would
serve the book well to be there first hand to see them interact with each other and thus give the end product a flavor that
would otherwise have been lost. Civilization had gone its own way, leaving them
to their own social structure that, to many people's way of thinking, was utterly primitive.
The sun had washed the blue horizon in a wide swatch of orange shades as its last piece of
circumference dipped into the sea.
Behind him, in the house, the phone announced a caller: "Dr. Petrie is on the line, sir."
"Let him through," Cervantes said.
"David," the voice greeted. "Good news!"
"What is it, Allen?"
"I've made contact!"
The woman in question had passed away three years ago at the ripe age of 325 years. Even before she died, Allen Petrie had been working on a computer capable of communicating with the dead.
"David, you must come over and see for yourself."
"It'll have to wait. I'm leaving in the morning
to do field research. I still have some loose ends to deal with."
"You must call me the minuet you're back in town. You
must see for yourself."
"First thing," Cervantes assured.
Allen Petrie wanted to be the first man in history to speak with the certifiably dead. There were empaths, psychics, and intuitive individuals galore, but Petrie wanted
no hazy interpretations; he wanted the absolute, indisputable evidence, nothing less.
One could say that the man was obsessed. In a third dimensional world
there were only third dimensional realities, whether their own or of the many others their civilization had breached. However,
Allen Petrie wanted to break the code to allow him admission to the spiritual realms, something no one had yet done. Until now. Heady stuff, Cervantes thought. Nevertheless, if his civilization had unlocked the secret to enter alternate realities,
why not the ultimate reality of all? Wasn't death after all a different dimension?
But it would have to wait.
That night, Cervantes thought of Petrie, and other people like him, who took it upon themselves
to know when they were going to die. There were individuals who traveled in time
to retrieve this information, and for a small credit debit you could know for a certainty how you met your end and from what
circumstances. Other people, like Cervantes, preferred not to delve into such
matters. When it happens, it happens, he would think.
Cervantes realized that people who live too long have a morbid curiosity about their own death
and how it will result. The reality he was born into was the only reality he
had explored in depth. The vacation time trips he had taken were merely out of
curiosity. The same could be said for his dimensional travel. It was all about amusement and nosiness, which served to tell him that life in the universe was vast and
unending. Despite his civilization's strides in technology, they were still tadpoles
in a very small pond. He knew this, and this was the irony. Disease had been eradicated; physical and psychological defects could be repaired. But they still had questions about death and what followed.