Saving One

St Paul's

St Paul’s Cathedral in London during the Blitz 1940

The dark-haired woman with the shimmering gown sighed. He hadn’t noticed that she was breathing before. “This is only the beginning. There are a great many things you will need to learn.”

“Such as?”

“Such as why you left four people trapped in a collapsed building with a bomb about to detonate?”

“I forgot about them. How could I…?”

Then he woke up. There was about to be an explosion. He could only save one of them.

Sunday, 8 September 1940 – London

A building had collapsed on them. Everyone who had taken shelter in here from the bombing had died except for those four, a man, a woman, and two children. Suddenly another man was standing in the center of what was left of the basement.

“Where…?”

It was dark, night but he could see outside through holes in the walls above them. There were explosions, the sound of thunder, the ground repeatedly shook. The black air was shattered by bright flashes of destruction. The drone of aircraft engines acted as background noise.

Jonathan Cypher saw five important things, a man, a woman, a little boy, an even younger girl, and a bomb. It had a Nazi insignia on it. Was it ticking?

“Sir, please help. We’re trapped here.” The man’s legs were buried under rubble. The woman, probably his wife, was unconscious with a head wound. The two children were clutching at her and crying hysterically.

“There’s about to be an explosion. You can only save one of them but please be careful whose life you save.”

There was only one choice. Jonathan grabbed the bomb and woke up. Then it exploded.

The Present (relative to the date you are reading this)

He was jolted awake by the loud noise. His windows rattled and there was a flash.

“Where the hell…?”

He was in bed. A hotel room by the look of it. Tossing the blankets aside he ran to the curtains and pulled them wide. A construction site just two blocks over was nothing but a crater and a rising plume of black smoke.

“Wait. It was World War Two…1940 London during the Blitz. But this…” He swung around in a circle taking in the room in the semi-darkness. Flat screen TV, cell phone on the nightstand, placard announcing free WiFi at the Travelogue London Central Southwark. It was “today,” whatever that meant.

Jonathan looked back outside. He could hear the high-low alternating tone of emergency sirens and saw police and fire units converging on the scene.

“Didn’t I tell you to be careful who you saved?”

He spun quickly around but Raven had already gone, if she had ever been there in the first place.

“What do you mean?”

He was talking to empty air and shadows.

After using the bathroom, he turned on the television and found a local news station.

"This is Ian Wilson for CTV Breaking News London. At approximately 3:42 this morning, an explosion occurred at a construction site in Southwark London in the vicinity of A201 and The Cut. While the construction equipment is a total loss and there were broken windows in all buildings for a one block radius, so far we have no reports of injuries or loss of life."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jonathan ran his fingers through his thick brown hair. “Oh thank, God.”

When he grabbed the bomb and woke up, he somehow thought he could take it to the “noplace” where he talked to Raven before. He was certain, though he didn’t know why, that nothing in “noplace” really existed or could be harmed in any way. Why did the bomb end up in the construction site instead and how the hell did become a guest in a 21st century London hotel?

"This is Sharlotte Ng at the CTV News Studio. Late yesterday Labour Party spokesperson Emma Wilmington again condemned Prime Minister Lewis Taylor's most recent policy action involving immigration in the aftermath of the latest sweep of London for what he terms "foreign invaders." Some two hundred undocumented immigrants from primarily Arab nations were rounded up by the National Police and herded into Wembley Stadium where several thousand other detainees are already being held."

Jonathan looked up focusing his attention on the broadcast.

"In response to Ms. Wilmington, the PM issued this statement."

“I realize my predecessor would not have taken such drastic actions, but if she had, perhaps nearly 3,000 lives would not have been lost at the Manchester Arena due to an Islamic terrorist bombing, and that was only a single incident. Four months before, 270 passengers and crew on EgyptAir 777 died when a bomb exploded as the aircraft was approaching Heathrow, and then there were the seventeen suicide bombings at cafes, bus stops, movie theatres, and in the Underground before that, all totaling up to thousands more fatalities. My policies may seem harsh and are certainly unpopular, but during my term so far I have reduced loss of life through terrorist activity by over 87 percent. The citizens of the United Kingdom must come first.”

“Wait. Lewis Taylor? I thought…Theresa May was the Prime Minister.”

“She would have been.”

Jonathan looked toward the door and this time Raven was standing in the shadows, though somehow self-illuminated. He was distinctly aware that he was clothed only in a t-shirt and briefs, however she gave that fact no apparent notice.

“What do you mean?” He stood up to face her while using the remote to mute the television.

“I told you to be careful who you saved. You chose to remove the explosive device rather than select one of the human individuals, which was a unique decision, however it resulted in this outcome.”

“What outcome? A different British PM?”

“A distinct move toward what you would call Fascism in this nation with similar movements growing in Europe and the United States.”

“All because I saved one family from dying in an explosion almost seventy-eight years ago?”

“Time is a merciless fire. It cares not what it consumes as long as it burns, Jonathan.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Then he woke up. There was about to be an explosion. He could only save one of them.

Sunday, 8 September 1940 – London

A building had collapsed on them. Everyone who had taken shelter in here from the bombing had died except for those four, a man, a woman, and two children. Suddenly another man was standing in the center of what was left of the basement.

“Wait! I’m back?”

It was dark, night but he could see outside through holes in the walls above them. There were explosions, the sound of thunder, the ground repeatedly shook. The black air was shattered by bright flashes of destruction. The drone of aircraft engines acted as background noise.

Jonathan Cypher saw five important things, a man, a woman, a little boy, an even younger girl, and a bomb. It had a Nazi insignia on it. Was it ticking?

“Sir, please help. We’re trapped here.” The man’s legs were buried under rubble. The woman, probably his wife, was unconscious with a head wound. The two children were clutching at her and crying hysterically.

“There’s about to be an explosion. You can only save one of them but please be careful whose life you save.”

The choice he made last time hadn’t worked or at least not the way Raven thought it should. But how could he save only one of them? He stood there.

“For pity’s sake man. It could go off at any…”

The bomb exploded.

Then he woke up.

Thursday, 13 August 1964 – Needles, California

It was hot in the room. Afternoon sunlight streamed through the window. The hum of an overworked box fan mounted in the lower half droned in his ears but the fan itself did nothing but blow warm air toward him.

“Where the fu…?”

Jonathan got up. It looked like a seedy motel but at least it was clean. Box TV against the far wall with “rabbit ears” poised Bugs Bunny-like from the back.

route 66 motel.

The Route 66 Motel – Needles, California

He used the toilet and then after washing up, saw a newspaper sitting on the night stand. He picked it up and looked at the front page.

“Los Angeles Times, Thursday August 13, 1964. Why 1964?”

Then he looked at the headline. “Rubella Variant Outbreak Kills Thousands in South America.”

Reading on he discovered that a runaway epidemic of a previously unknown strain of rubella was killing thousands, particularly the young and elderly, in Brazil and Columbia.

“Local medical facilities are overwhelmed and the Center for Disease Control is completely baffled as to how this variant of what is commonly referred to as the measles has become so deadly.”

“You could have saved one of them, Jonathan.”

He tossed the newspaper on the unmade bed and this time slowly turned toward her.

“What do you expect me to do, Raven? Guess which person is the right one? Maybe none of them are and the world would be a better place without them? I’m tired of playing God.”

“The choice is yours, however…”

He exploded, just like the bomb that was the catalyst to this nightmare. “You say that but you don’t mean it! I got rid of the bomb and Nazis took over England. I let them all die and what…I caused this epidemic killing thousands?”

“The person who had been doing medical research in Brazil in 1960 and who developed a preventative treatment for this disease variant does not exist.”

He took a deep breath and forced himself to speak in a more reasonable tone and volume. “So I have to save the right one to prevent a Fascist regime from emerging in England and Europe in the 21st century and prevent a deadly epidemic in 1964 South America. How am I supposed to know which one?”

“It’s not a matter of knowing which one since any resulting timeline is a valid one.” Raven might as well have been reading a grocery list for all the emotion she expressed.

“Then how am I supposed to choose?”

“The answer to that is the reason you are now the Never Man. You are human. We are not. We can only detect anomalies which allow you to enter a quantum reality. Only you can decide how to act as a result.”

“That doesn’t help.”

“You can only learn by doing.”

“But everything I’ve done so far is wrong.”

“That’s an opinion.”

He started to raise his voice again and then stopped himself. “How can the deaths of thousands be an opinion?”

“I’m sure you have noticed that many people die everyday and most of the time, there is nothing to prevent this. Mortality is a defining characteristic of humanity.”

“Then why does it matter if I save any of those four people from the explosion in London?”

“If that is your decision, then we can proceed forward.”

“No, it’s not my decision. Answer the question. You sent me back to London in 1940 and said I could save only one of the four. You told me to be careful which one I saved. You intended me to save one of them.”

“Something intended that however, it was not me. I merely see a doorway and open it. You have to decide to cross the threshold and then act in whatever way you see fit.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Believe as you will, Jonathan.”

“Send me back.”

“What will you do this time?”

“I don’t know only I have to do something. Send me back.”

Then he woke up.

Sunday, 8 September 1940 – London

A building had collapsed on them. Everyone who had taken shelter in here from the bombing had died except for those four, a man, a woman, and two children. Suddenly another man was standing in the center of what was left of the basement.

“Where…?”

It was dark, night but he could see outside through holes in the walls above them. There were explosions, the sound of thunder, the ground repeatedly shook. The black air was shattered by bright flashes of destruction. The drone of aircraft engines acted as background noise.

Jonathan Cypher saw five important things, a man, a woman, a little boy, an even younger girl, and a bomb. It had a Nazi insignia on it. Was it ticking?

“Sir, please help. We’re trapped here.” The man’s legs were buried under rubble. The woman, probably his wife, was unconscious with a head wound. The two children were clutching at her and crying hysterically.

“I’m coming. Just hang on.” Jonathan rushed over to the man calling to him. Now that he was closer, he saw the man’s legs were pinned by a wooden beam. He was lying on his stomach and couldn’t push up.

“Relax. I’ll have you out of there in a minute.” Jonathan grabbed the beam and lifted. It didn’t budge. He tried again and it began to give. “I’ll hold it as long as I can. Use your arms. Drag yourself forward.” He groaned as he pulled up the stubborn weight. “Hurry. There isn’t time. It’ll blow any…”

The bomb exploded.

Then he woke up.

Sunday, 8 September 1940 – London

A building had collapsed on them. Everyone who had taken shelter in here from the bombing had died except for those four, a man, a woman, and two children. Suddenly another man was standing in the center of what was left of the basement.

“Where…?”

It was dark, night but he could see outside through holes in the walls above them. There were explosions, the sound of thunder, the ground shook and shook. The black air was shattered by bright flashes of destruction. The drone of aircraft engines acted as background noise.

Jonathan Cypher saw five important things, a man, a woman, a small boy, an even younger girl, and a bomb. It had a Nazi insignia on it. Was it ticking?

“Sir, please help. We’re trapped here.” The man’s legs were buried under rubble. The woman, probably his wife, was unconscious with a head wound. The two children were clutching at her and crying hysterically.

He screaming into the air, “Raven you bitch!”

“Sir, please! Quit ranting and help us.”

There wasn’t time. He looked over to the man. “I’m sorry. There’s only one thing left I can do.”

Jonathan grabbed the children and started to pull them away from their mother. He saw her eyes were open but she wasn’t breathing. One less person to save.

He had the hysterical five-year-old girl pressed against him with his left arm. He grabbed the older boy with the right. “Come on, kid. We’ve got to get out of here.”

“No!” The child pulled away from him with surprising strength. “I’m not leaving Mummy!” He dropped back down to his dead mother and held her tight around the torso.

The man realized what the stranger was trying to do. “Jeffrey, go with the man. Hurry. Daddy and Mummy will be…”

The bomb exploded but this time it was different. The Never Man could see the detonation in slow motion. He had maybe two seconds until the flash reached them. Jonathan twisted his body as if he could use it to shield the little girl from the explosion.

Then he woke up.

The Present (relative to the date you are reading this)

It was still dark outside but he was definitely back in the room at the Travelogue London Central Southwark. He picked up the cell on the night stand next to him and pressed the “Home” button. 3:42 a.m. No explosion.

travelodge

Travelodge London Central Southwark

After using the bathroom he turned on the television to the same station he’d watched before.

"Repeating our top story, the Bank of Canada is raising its trend-setting interest rate this morning for the third time since last summer."

"The central bank says the recent run of strong economic data is a key driver behind its decision to hike the rate to 1.25 per cent, up from one per cent."

Using the nearby remote to mute the TV, he picked up the cell again, made sure it had a WiFi connection, opened a browser to Google, and searched “uk prime minister.”

The words, “Theresa May, Since 2016” appeared alongside her photograph.

“I have absolutely no idea if this is good or bad.”

“It simply is, Jonathan.” She was standing in the same position by the door as the last time he saw her here.

“What happened to the little girl?”

“She was the only survivor, Jonathan. Her parents and older brother perished in the explosion and she was found by rescue workers wandering in a street nearby in an apparent daze.”

“The epidemic?”

“The required person existed once again in 1960 and the epidemic never occurred in this quantum reality.”

“So it was the girl. She’d have been almost forty in 1964. She must have grown up to become a doctor or scientist.”

“You shouldn’t substitute suppositions for facts. There are many possibilities.”

“But it worked. This is the world I left. No Fascist England. No South American epidemic.”

“From your perspective, thousands were saved who otherwise would have died, but consider the reverse. How many have since died who might have lived?”

“I can’t know what’s right all the time, Raven. I told you, I’m not God.”

“I have no ability to evaluate God Jonathan, anymore than I can evaluate human beings. I can experience anomalies. You can only enter any given quantum reality through an anomaly. Once there, you must decide the best course of action. Only you can make this decision because you are human.”

“I can only enter a specific place and time because of an anomaly.” He was talking more to himself. Then he stood and faced her.

“Send me back.”

She paused. He had never known her to hesitate before. She was still impassive, almost completely without expression. Her dress flowed and shimmered and seemed more alive than she was. Then her lips parted and he noticed she was breathing.

“If you wish.”

Then he woke up.

It wasn’t what he expected. He thought that if it were the right decision…

Sunday, 8 September 1940 – London

He saw himself grabbing the little girl and turning away from the bomb just as it exploded.

Then he woke up.

Sunday, 8 September 1940 – London

He saw himself grabbing the little girl and turning away from the bomb just as it exploded.

Then he woke up.

Sunday, 8 September 1940 – London

He saw himself grabbing the little girl and turning away from the bomb just as it exploded.

Then he woke up.

Sunday, 8 September 1940 – London

He saw himself grabbing the little girl and turning away from the bomb just as it exploded.

Then he woke up.

Noplace – Notime

She was the most beautiful woman in the world. Jonathan couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She had long, dark auburn hair, deep brown eyes, and skin the color of mocha. Her face looked vaguely Asian or Middle Eastern. Her lips were painted pink.

Her dress was long and it shimmered between white and pale lavender. It extended to the ground and flowed with the breeze, except the air was perfectly still. He looked down. As the dress pooled around her feet and flowed forward toward him, it stopped being cloth and became water.

They were standing facing each other, maybe three meters apart. Rolling hills, a grassy countryside, very few trees but a large one stood behind and to the right of him.

And then she spoke.

“My name is merely Raven, but I speak for one more important than I, someone who has never existed and will always exist. He walks the pathways between shadow and light, in the heart of reality and at the edge of fantasy. Your name is Jonathan David Cypher, but in worlds both mundane and beyond imagination you are and will be called the Never Man.”

“I couldn’t change it this time well…all those times.”

“Then the Never Man saved one small child and some portion of that reality was set because of it.”

“Am I done? Can I go home now?”

“Where is home, Jonathan?”

He tried to remember. “I don’t know. I have no idea where I come from or how I came here. Am I dreaming?”

“There’s only one way to find out, Jonathan.”

And then he woke up.

This is the third story in the series involving Jonathan Cypher and the mysterious Raven as he moved from one dream to the next and discovering that whatever he does has actual consequences. Is he dreaming or is this something else?

The previous two adventures are:

  1. I is an Illusion
  2. My Semi-Controlled Nightmare
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