Literary Challenge #38 : We'll Always Have New York
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Join Date: Jun 2012
02-10-2013, 12:50 AM
Captain's log, no stardate. Current Earth date, April 13, 2053. Our mission into the past has encountered an unexpected complication: a woman who seems to know far too much about who we are.
Dark hair, tucked modestly under a plain scarf, with eyes of the same deep brown shade. A long oval of a face with a sharp jaw and chin, and a knowing smile that threatened to become a toothy, triumphant grin. Vibrantly middle-aged, by the standards of their own time. Dressed simply, as they were, to avoid notice. She'd been waiting for them when they returned to their arrival point - a back alley in what had once been a poor neighborhood, then a Sanctuary District, and remained such for all practical purposes even after the walls came down - to distribute newly-acquired currency and information and make plans for the next stage of their operation. Waiting to step out from a shadowed doorway and proclaim confidently that the three of them were time travellers from the future.
"You might be able to fool the regular satellites, even the military ones, but the Beta-9 picked you up as soon as you made orbit. And when you beamed down, you might as well have sent up a flare." She smirked and crossed her arms, considering the away team. "So, lemme guess... Starfleet, right? Twenty-fourth, twenty-fifth?"
Kyle Sinclair looked at his officers, then shrugged. "I suppose there's no point trying to deny it. Yes, we're Starfleet. From 2409."
"Captain, I advise that--" Sarat's cautionary words were interrupted by a peal of laughter from the strange woman, who'd just gotten her first good look at the olive-tan Vulcan.
"The hat! You guys and your little
, you're so precious." She clapped her hands, which happened to be gloved like his. "Take it off. C'mon, I wanna see. I'll show you mine if you show me yours." She leered and waggled her brows suggestively.
Slowly, with great dignity, Sarat reached up and removed his cap. The stranger squealed with delight. "I knew it!" Honoring her bargain, she untied her scarf and shook out her hair, letting it fall to her shoulders. Combined with her suddenly gleeful mood, it made her seem much younger.
Sinclair decided it was time to take the initiative. "I'm afraid you have us at a disadvantage, Miz...?"
"Rain. Just Rain, as in 'right as'. Do they still say that when you come from?" Sinclair nodded; she smiled and went on, addressing all three of them. "So here's the deal. I'm not here to stop you or blow your cover or anything. I just want to borrow your captain for a little while. It'll be fun and I promise to return him with his virtue intact."
Kyle managed to keep a straight face, ignoring Sarat's raised eyebrow and Adray's slight flush. (A particularly close observer might have noted that it did not extend to the thin coat of plastiskin that covered her spots.) "I'm afraid we have rules about that sort of thing, Ms. Rain. We're not allowed to interfere."
She dismissed his objection with a wave of her hand, stepping closer until they were face to face. "I know all about your Prime Directive, Temporal and otherwise. I swear to you, I'm not asking you to do anything that isn't meant to happen. Trust me." There was a long pause, and then Sinclair finally gave a wary nod.
It was Adray's turn to speak up. "Captain, we're on a tight schedule here. We don't have time for this."
"There's always time to do the right thing." Rain's tone was still light, but her expression was utterly serious.
Sinclair looked between the two women, feeling a bit like the rope in a tug of war. "It's all right." Turning fully to his science officer and friend, he spoke quietly to her. "Liss, I know you and Sarat can handle this just fine on your own. And if you do run into any trouble, just..." He held up his commbadge, set to silently alert him, then tucked it away again. "Meanwhile, I'm going to try to gather a little information myself," he finished, flicking his eyes to indicate the mysterious stranger.
Adray nodded reluctantly, then frowned. "Just be sure information is the
thing you gather. Sir." Sinclair rolled his eyes but nodded, eliciting a small but genuine smile from the Trill.
Staten Island was not on the mission itinerary; in fact, it was not expected that the away team would have to leave Manhattan. And so it was that Kyle found himself completely lost as Rain led him through areas of the St. George Terminal not open to the public, past conveniently vacant security checkpoints, and down to the docks where the great ferries floated in the oil-slick waters of the Upper Bay. The sun had set hours ago, and a shift change was in progress - the perfect opportunity. An equipment locker supplied them both with hard hats and safety vests with NYDOT markings, making them look almost as if they belonged there. They moved quickly but quietly, with Sinclair keeping a lookout, boarding the first ferry and making their way to the engine room. There, Rain went to a junction box attached to the massive turbine and unlocked it with a much smaller and more advanced gadget that lit up and hummed briefly. Placing it on a convenient surface, she opened the box and plunged her arms in up to the elbows.
"Normally I'd have another set of hands - or paws - but while I was waiting for you, my assistant got himself picked up by Animal Control." Rain grimaced, intent on whatever she was doing to the engine. "After we're done here, I'll go spring him from the pound and then tease him mercilessly for at least a week."
"Right," Sinclair replied, having understood only every other word of that. "So are you going to explain to me what we're doing here?"
"As usual... gumming up the works for a good cause. Here, take these." She dropped a few small square objects into his hastily cupped hands. "Or throw 'em overboard, whatever."
He stared at the control chips that she'd just pulled out of the engine's guts, then looked up at her with dawning amazement and admiration. "So
the reason why the ferries weren't running that morning!"
"Got it in one." She closed the cover quietly and started leading him back the way they came. "Some will have problems and have to turn back; some, like this one, won't start at all. So tomorrow at 10:44 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, a few thousand people who would have been on the island..."
"Weren't," Sinclair finished, tucking the chips away in his vest pockets. "Very neat. I'm impressed." It was the best sort of intervention, easily mistaken for coincidence and equipment failure rather than deliberate action. In fact, he knew from his own pre-mission research that it
been - a minor footnote to a much greater tragedy, of interest only to a few historians.
"Thank you. Like to think I've learned a few tricks in fifty years." She caught the surprised look he threw her and smiled. "How old would you say I am?"
Sinclair coughed politely. "One thing
learned is to never answer that question."
Rain laughed. "Smart man. Let's just say that in addition to being exciting and personally rewarding, my job offers
healthcare." They emerged from the bowels of the ferry, crossing the gangplank and heading for the next. "My boss and I, we could pass for... well, not sisters, but classmates. And she's old enough to be my mother."
Coming around a corner, they didn't see the security guard until he was less than a dozen paces away. Sinclair forced himself to keep his head down and his pace steady, wiping at his hands with a grimy rag he'd picked up along the way, thinking of long shifts and Jeffries tubes and replacing EPS conduits. His companion began chattering about some recent sporting event whose rules and players were utterly unfamiliar to him.
"Evenin'," the man said, his gaze and flashlight flicking only briefly over them. Sinclair returned the half-hearted greeting with a grunt and nod of his own and kept walking. After thirty seconds, he finally let himself relax and turned to Rain just as she finished her tale of the epic contest between the "Nicks" and the "Pistons".
"Yeah." She grinned, and there was pride in it, but also other things; weariness, and maybe a little sadness too. "A wrench in the gears here, a report leaked to the net there. Bobbi and me, we held it back as long as we could, but..." She sighed, looking her true age for the first time since they'd met. "At least we gave everyone a few more decades. Long enough for some kids to be born and grow up and old people to die in peace. And maybe it won't be as bad as it might have been. Easier to pull ourselves up from, once we meet the Vulcans and all. For real, I mean."
"I think you're right." He smiled. "And it's... amazing and humbling to think of all you must have done. And if you've done it right, no one will ever know."
She shrugged. "The Klingons, I hear, have a saying: the stars see everything, and they remember. Well, you can't even
the stars here," she added wryly, waving at the opaque dome over the city, glowing faintly amber with reflected light. "But I like to think they're watching just the same. I used to watch
, before I got mixed up in all this. Fair's fair." They shared a chuckle at that.
The rest of the hour passed quickly, with Sinclair assisting Rain in minor acts of sabotage while listening to deliberately vague and partly redacted tales of a half-century of adventures behind the scenes - along with her assistant and her enigmatic superior - to prevent or delay global war. They were carefully draining most of the oil out of an engine when she finally ran out of stories, or at least the ones she could tell him.
"That's what makes it worth it," she finished. "The people. The ones I've helped, the ones I've met along the way... even the ones like you. I mean, look at you!" She turned to him and gestured wildly. "You're
, the future, the proof that it all works out in the end."
Kyle looked away, his cheeks warming, feeling unworthy of such praise but reluctant to disappoint. "Where I come from... it's not perfect. It's actually a pretty troubled time."
"I've never known any that weren't. It's times like these that test us, show who we really are." She finished screwing the cap back on and borrowed his rag to wipe her hands with. "But it gets better, right? And that doesn't happen on its own. It gets better because we make it so." She handed the rag back and checked some device strapped to her wrist. "And we are done. Just in time for you to get back to your crew, and me to get my furry pal out of the joint."
Sinclair nodded, following her up and out into the open air again. "Are you... I mean, are you going to be okay?"
"Aren't you sweet." She grinned, reaching up to lift off his hard hat so she could ruffle his hair. "Don't worry about me. Bobbi and I have our own ride out of here. Like I said, the people we work for take care of their own. And when the shooting and bombing stops, they'll be needing someone to help the survivors pick up the pieces. How's that for job security?" Again, her light words and tone were at odds with her sober expression.
"One." She sighed again, tilting her head back to look up at the patchy nightglow. "I never got to see Saturn."
Adray and Sarat were waiting right where he'd left them, behind the ancient brownstone long abandoned to squatters and decay. (A faded sign on the wall, barely legible through the stains and scratches and graffiti of latter days, identified it as the "21st Street Mission.") They perked up as he approached, not quite standing to attention. Relief was plain on Lissa's face, and even Sarat wore a look of solemn approval along with the knit cap that had so amused Rain.
"Mission accomplished, sir."
"Glad to hear it. Did you get everything?"
Lissa nodded, then qualified, "Almost. Some of the books on the list were already checked out, but we got all the ones that weren't. And then we beamed in after closing time and tagged all the really rare ones that were locked up - enough to fill a shuttle or two. No one should notice they're missing before..." She trailed off, reluctant to say out loud what they all knew.
Sarat came to the rescue, breaking the brief silence. "And I was able to download the library's entire electronic archive to my tricorder - a total of 4.74 kiloquads."
Kyle stared. "That's
Sarat cocked his head and one eyebrow. "The sum of human knowledge was much smaller in this era, Captain. It was, as you have said, a simpler time."
Sinclair smiled in rueful acknowledgement. "Well then, I think we can declare this part of Project Alexandria a success. Let's signal for--"
"'Scuse me." The man who'd interrupted was in even worse condition than the buildings around them, wrapped in layers of shabby and dirty clothing against the chill of the April night and shivering anyway, cheeks covered with stubble, hair lying in slack curls atop his head. "'Scuse me, sirs, ma'am, but I was just wonderin' if you could spare any change. Tryin' to get bus fare, see." He cracked a weak smile when he was not immediately dismissed, showing yellow teeth and not enough of them. "Please?"
Sinclair looked at the beggar - poor, hungry, hopeless, and possibly diseased, everything that his own century had managed to finally abolish, at least on Earth - and made a decision. He turned to his people. "How much cash do we have left?" They looked back at him dubiously, then began going through their pockets. He collected it all, the coins and paper slips bearing the faces of men long dead even in this century, and presented it to the scruffy man. "Listen. You take this and you buy a ticket. Anywhere you like, as long as it's far away from here and you leave tonight."
"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!" Bowing and babbling in gratitude, clutching the money tightly, the man turned and hurried off with a shambling gait.
Lissa cleared her throat. "Captain, are you sure that was a good idea?"
"No, I'm not," Kyle admitted, still watching the panhandler as he shuffled away. Maybe he'd do as he was told; maybe he'd just go drink himself into a stupor, and still be there tomorrow when a second sun dawned over the city. There were limits to what they could do, and in the end it wasn't Kyle's choice to make. "But I am sure of something a wise woman said to me earlier. 'There's always time to do the right thing.'"
There is an old story in which a man walks along a beach. Lying on the sand, tossed up by the surf and stranded by high tide, are many small fragile creatures. Most of them will surely die in the hot sun before the waters return.
The man comes across another beachcomber - a man, a woman, a child - who is bending down and picking up the helpless castaways and hurling them back into the ocean. The man dismisses this as futile folly, for the beach is long and there are far too many to save them all. "What difference does it make?" he asks. "What does it matter?"
For answer, the second picks up another of the tiny creatures and smiles. "It matters to this one," he/she says, and throws.
Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
-- Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a)
"Let me help."
-- Bonner the Stochastic, 2030
Join Date: January 2011
Last edited by hfmudd; 12-11-2013 at