I’m back. It’s a place that’s not exactly a place, and a time that’s not exactly a time. I have an idea what this all means, but I could be dead wrong.
This is where I left them, the passengers and crew of the ill-fated Flight G-AGLX originating from the U.K., and most recently departed from Negombo RAF Station, Colombo bound for the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and then to Perth, Australia.
History records that everyone was lost when the converted Avro 691 Lancastrian One bomber went down over the Indian Ocean on Monday, March 23, 1946 sometime between 6 and 6:30 p.m.
What history will never know is that five crew members and four passengers didn’t die in the crash. I brought them here, wherever here is. My name is Martin Fields and I’m a time traveler.
My “control” is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, but the thing is, Isis isn’t human. What she is, I think, is a member of a race of beings that lives outside of space and time, who walk up and down the corridors of history as easily as I walk from my living room to my kitchen.
She gave me something called the Temporal Jump Suit. It lets me travel in time. It also let me travel back here.
I can discern a flat plane stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see. There are vague hints of walls and a ceiling but the images are indistinct. Only the horizon is definite.
When I left, a mere thirty minutes ago (though for me subjectively, over fourteen hours have passed), Nine human beings and one entity disguised as a woman were standing here. Captain MacKenzie, the chief pilot of the flight, was arguing with Isis, threatening her, although there’s probably nothing you could threaten her with.
Now the place is empty. I haven’t the faintest idea where to find them.
Or do I?
“The suit’s visual inputs can be adjusted. I never had a reason to so so before but…”
“Argh! Too much, too much!”
I’m on my knees trying to cover my eyes with my hands, but the visual input remains. I’m not hurt, but I’m overwhelmed. How could a human being see this much.
I’m adjusting to what I’m seeing now. It’s like an infinite room, with an infinite number of doors and windows, each one leading to a specific where or when.
I can filter what I’m seeing, detect which of these portals have been used in the last half hour or so. I can see eight of them were active during that time frame.
It’s strange because although this place looks infinite, which means getting somewhere on foot might take days, months, or years, when I start walking to the nearest one, I get there in just a few seconds.
I’m standing in front of it. The general environment is universally off-white, but each portal is like a fuzzy haze shimmering from a light sherbet color to blood-red. I have no idea what’s on the other side. I’m still holding onto the suit’s carrying case. The only way I have to find out what’s beyond the threshold is to step through.
I’m in an alley. There’s a faint glow from the east. Dawn’s coming.
“God, it’s cold.”
I take off the suit and put it in its case. I didn’t activate the suit to get here, but the read out tells me I’m in Dublin, Ireland. The date is Sunday, April 23, 1916, Easter Sunday, for whatever significance that might have.
The suit’s visual input also gives me a location, the front of the second floor of the building to my left. It’s an apartment. One of the nine people rescued from 1946 is in there.
I noticed my clothes, which were 21st century contemporary when I put the suit on, have been converted to fit this period in history, but I have no idea how.
The case has converted into some sort of leather satchel. I wish I’d studied more history to know where I am and what all this is supposed to mean.
The front door isn’t locked. Early on Sunday morning. Probably everyone living here is still asleep. I walk up the stairs as quietly as I can, locate the door to the apartment facing the street, and what the heck, I knock.
To my surprise, the door opens immediately.
“For God’s sake Jimmy, I thought you’d never…”
It’s Brian Phelps, and he cleans up pretty well. Obviously, he’s expecting someone else.
“Who the hell are you? Never mind. Get in here.”
He grabs my arm, and with surprising strength, hauls me into his place, lit by a single oil lamp on a table in the center of the room, and then closes the door.
He produces a gun. “Who are you and how did you find me?”
I drop the case and raise my hands. “Uh, don’t you remember? We were passengers together. I’m Martin, Martin Fields.”
“I don’t be knowin’ ya, Mr. Fields, and anybody I don’t be knowin’ who comes calling at this hour on Easter Sunday can’t be a friend.
There’s another knock on the door.
“You. Walk further into the room. Now your turn your back to me. On your knees, hands behind your head where I can see them.”
I comply with his instructions. I’m no hero and I sure don’t want to get shot. Brian, or whoever he is, walks to the door. I have to assume he doesn’t take his eyes off of me and he still has that gun pointed at my back.
“Who is it?”
“Don’t be daff, it’s me, Jimmy. Let me in Thomas.”
The door opens and “Jimmy” must take the situation in at a glance. “Bloody hell. Who do we have here?”
I hear the other man walk into the room and the door shut and lock.
“Don’t rightly know yet. Maybe a spy, but how’d anyone find out?
My plea is interrupted by a rap to the back of my head. “Shut up you.” It’s Jimmy’s voice.
Then he roughly pulls me to my feet, spins me around so I’m facing him, and pats me down.
“Nuthin’. No wallet, keys, or watch. Alright Mister, who the hell are you and why are you here?
“As I was trying to explain before, my name is Martin Fields and I was trying to find a friend named Brian Phelps. I heard he lived here.”
“Who the hell told you that, Fields?” Brian used to be such a nice guy, inept but nice. I get the feeling this version of him would kill me in a New York minute if I give him the wrong answer. His gun is looking more formidable all the time.
“Look, obviously I’ve got the wrong place. Let me go. I won’t tell anyone.”
“A likely story. Jimmy, search that satchel. It belongs to Fields.”
“Aye.” Jimmy bends over and opens it up. I guess Isis never thought to put a lock on it.
“Bloody hell. I don’t know what to make of it.”
Brian or Thomas or whoever he is, steals a look into the case. They can see the suit components, but probably can’t make heads or tails of what it means. Who could?
Brian turns his attention back to me. “Mind tellin’ us what sort of contraption this might be, Mr. Fields?”
“I could but you’d never believe me.” I can’t believe I just used one of the most cliché lines in fiction, especially science fiction.
“Thomas, we’ve got to be gettin’ rid of Fields and whatever’s in his luggage. There’s too much to do before the Uprising tomorrow.”
“Shut your mouth, Jimmy.”
I don’t see the blow coming and then I’m out like a light.
When I come to, My head is ringing and I’ve got the mother of all headaches. When my vision clears, I see Isis standing over me. I glance around and I’m back in that place, the one with all the portals, only I can’t see them now because I don’t have the suit on.
“The suit!” I try to sit up too fast and my headache explodes inside my skull.
“The suit and it’s case are safe, Martin.”
I sit up much more slowly and see it sitting on the floor (or whatever this is) next to Isis.
“The more important question Martin, is what were you doing here and why did you enter one of the portals?”
“I was looking for those people I rescued from that Qantas flight.”
I chance standing up. My head is throbbing where Brian hit me with the butt of his pistol. A wave of nausea sweeps over me but fortunately passes without me puking.
“I needed to know what you did with them.”
“I had to know they were alright, that they hadn’t been harmed.”
“Why do you think I would harm them?”
“Because I don’t know a damn thing about you, what this place is, why you gave me the suit, and what you wanted with Brian and the others!”
Shouting at her was a mistake. I get dizzy and almost pass out again. Is this what a concussion feels like?
“In other words, you care about these people and you came back here without my permission or instructions in order to ascertain their status.”
“Yeah, you could put it like that.”
“Congratulations, Martin. Your initial training period has come to an end. I believe in your vernacular, I should express this as ‘you have passed with flying colors’.”
“I had to see how far you would go if you perceived an injustice. You were selected in order to correct temporal anomalies and restore what you call justice and equity across the time line. Today, you showed the initiative to do so, even when you thought the injustice was me.”
“Great, but what about Brian, The Charles’ Walker, what about MacKenzie and his crew? Brian didn’t even recognize me.”
“That’s because he is under deep cover. He must play out a highly specific role.”
Before she answers, I’m back in my apartment again. She’s standing in front of me in my living room. I look out the window. Just after dawn. Then I smell freshly brewed coffee. She thought of everything.
The suit’s case is still next to her. I’ll put it away later. First I want to get a cup of coffee, then I want to hear about this deep cover thing.
I sit down in my reading chair and she sits on the sofa. For just an instant, it’s like we’re two ordinary human beings talking over coffee, except I’m the only one here who’s human, and I’ve never seen her eat or drink anything.
“Martin, yours is not the only role we need in maintaining order in your time stream. There are certain events that require human agents to participate in so completely, they must take on an identity for months or even years at a time. Their memories and experiences are adjusted so that they completely conform to the era they are in and the mission they’ve been assigned.”
“What, they’re robots?”
“No, Martin. They are covert agents. Your own government employs such individuals.”
“Individuals who have taken on those jobs under their own free will.”
“Don’t be so sure about that, Martin.”
The Bourne Trilogy pops into my head.
“They’re living human beings. You can’t just take their identities from them.”
“The substitution is only temporary. Besides, they are dead.”
“No they aren’t. I saved them. They didn’t die.”
“If you hadn’t intervened, they would have died. It’s the same thing.”
“No it isn’t. They were still alive. You can’t just kidnap people because the world believes they’re dead.”
“The moment their flight went missing, as far as history was concerned, they died. A simple choice was made. Return to the interior of the aircraft moments before it crashed, or work with us.”
“So you didn’t just hijack their brains.”
“I am not human Martin, but I am not a monster either.”
I’m failing miserably at evaluating the moral and ethical implications of all of this.
“Who was Brian?”
“Brian Phelps was playing out the role of Thomas MacDonagh. His companion was James Connolly. They were members of a group called the Irish Republic who opposed British rule over Ireland. On Monday, April 24, 1916, those two men, along with the five other members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, led what was called the ‘Easter Uprising’.”
So that’s the “Rising” Thomas was talking about.
“It was an armed insurrection which lasted six days. Two-hundred men and women seized key locations in Dublin and declared it an Irish Republic.”
“What happened to Brian?”
“The British Army brought in thousands of reinforcements. There was fierce street fighting resulting in heavy casualties on both sides…”
“What happened to Brian?” My head didn’t hurt so much anymore, so raising my voice to make my point wasn’t painful, except I was scared to death about Brian.
On April 29th, Patrick Pearce, the leader of the rebels, agreed to unconditional surrender. The Irish Republican leaders were all taken captive and stood trial, that is, all except Thomas MacDonagh. He went missing and was presumed killed in the fighting. The British used artillery so not all of the bodies of the combatants were found.”
Brian’s dead, and for what? I felt my throat closing, my face got hot. I could feel tears well up behind my eyes. It was a toss-up whether I’d start crying like a baby or explode in blind rage.
“He’s not dead, Martin. He was presumed dead. With his mission accomplished, we pulled him out of that time frame. He and the others are quite safe. Between missions, we allow them to live in any time and place of their choosing. They are not only safe, but very comfortable.”
I remembered how much money simply appears in my back account each month.
“Do they remember who they are, what happened to them?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Don’t they want to go back to their lives?”
“That’s the one thing they cannot do. In accepting our offer, they each have agreed to establish new lives any place and any time they want, except for the place and time they call home.”
“What about me? If you have them, why me, why the suit, when you have a place with portals to anywhere, any point in history?”
“These agents of ours operate on a strict script. They have no autonomy in how they complete their missions, but we also need agents who do have autonomy. Our…kind tends to lack that quality you call ‘imagination’. Some situations require individuals who can ‘fly by the seat of their pants’.”
“You need me because I can enter a point in history and achieve a goal based on my own resources and judgment.”
“Correct. You’ve proven today that you possess the qualities we require, an imagination and courage.”
“What did Brian accomplish? What was his mission?”
“As one of the leaders of the Uprising, he was positioned to give certain orders, provide input to the exact plans and execution of the Uprising. In that capacity, he unwittingly organized events so specific individuals lived when they should have died, and some would die when otherwise, they might have lived.”
“What gives you the right to play God?”
“What do you know of the nature of God, Martin?”
She had me on that one. My Mom and marginally my Dad, were Christians, but I stopped going to church the minute I was old enough to make the choice. I never looked back.
“Are you saying you think you are…”
“I am saying no such thing. I am saying that having a perspective on your world from outside of time space allows us to view human history from a unique point of view. We see the flow of time the way you see a painting or a photograph, as a single experience where all interrelationships are discernible. We see the flaws in the image and seek to correct them. We cannot make those changes ourselves, so we recruit humans to travel through time and to make your world a better place.”
“Who are you to know what is better?”
“We are who we are, Martin. There is no other answer I could give you that would make sense to a human mind.”
I quit once before, but it didn’t work out. Now I know why. As Martin Fields, junior copy editor for a small publishing company in Los Angeles, I’d never make a difference in the world. My life wouldn’t matter. I’d never be able to really help anyone, correct even a single injustice, right even my own wrongs, let alone anyone else’s.
As Martin Fields, time traveler, I could do so much more, especially if I wasn’t expected to be just a puppet on a string. I think Isis is telling me she trusts me.
“What now?” I take a sip of my coffee and realize I had let the cup sit on the end table and grow cold.
“You will periodically receive assignments. For the most part, you will be autonomous, but occasionally I will assist you.”
“I’m going to need a few other tools. The ability to defend myself. Today, I could have been shot. Also, sometimes I end up in places where people don’t speak my language. I need to communicate.”
“Those things will be provided. You are only just now learning the full capacities of the suit.”
“An instruction manual would help.” It was a joke but of course, she didn’t laugh.
She stood. “If our business is concluded for the present, I have other matters to which I must attend.
I stood facing her trying to figure out how a time traveler could run out of time. “Okay. I guess that’s it for now.” I had a billion questions.
“Very well. I’ll be in touch.” She vanished. I reheated my coffee and considered breakfast.
What I hadn’t considered was that I didn’t have questions for the most important things because they never occurred to me.
On Monday, March 23, 1946, Qantas flight G-AGLX went missing and five passengers and five crew were lost and presumed dead.
I’d taken the place of one of the passengers, who in the original history, would have died. Since that person never boarded the aircraft, he or she had lived. What happened to them? What happened to their children, and their children’s children?
Isis knew. She knew the original passenger was David Bridgeport. He married in 1947 and subsequently had three children. One child, Michael, was born in 1949. He grew up, married in 1969 and had little girl who was born in 1970.
Her name was Diane Audrey Banning who, in 1991, married Michael David Fields and in 1993, she gave birth to me.
By replacing David Bridgeport, I had ensured my own existence. I’d never know that, though. The really important questions are never asked.
Sorry about being so “wordy,” but to tie up the series, I had to explain a lot.
This concludes the seven-part mini-series that began with On Wednesday the Time Traveler Got Wet. Although all seven stories are interrelated, today’s story is a direct sequel to On Monday the Time Traveler Took Off.
I hope you enjoyed my little experiment. Let me know if you’d like to see Martin and Isis in future stories.