We Need You in Alpha 3-g
by Tony Rauch
I’m sitting in the back of the public library, reading a graphic novel over my lunch break. I work at the bank down the block, but need a break from it all for a while. It’s nice to have a quiet moment to myself. I‘m hidden in a corner, tall shelves of books towering all around, just the way I like it. I feel very comfortable here for some reason. Maybe it’s the quiet coziness. Maybe it’s a break from all the hectic, churning masses.
The next thing I know, a panel opens in the wall. There is a coffered wood wainscot that runs between a gap in the shelving. One of the wood panels slides open like a little door. Out from the void climb two men in light gray suits. The panel slides back into place as they straighten themselves. They fix their thin olive ties then sit across from me at my table. They both wear dark sunglasses. They have a very clean, crisp look about themselves.
“Barry? Barry Younger? Correct?” one of them begins in a stern voice.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I nod, lowering my book. I figure these guys are bank investigators or something. They’re always checking up on things, making sure everything’s on the up and up. “Ever hear of using a door?” I look over to the wall where they appeared from.
“Barry,” the other continues in a similar stern tone. “Our calculations indicate that you’ve been placed in the wrong time stream. You’re really supposed to be a shoe salesmen, not a banker. Unfortunately, there already is a Barry Younger in this time signature. There must have been a mix-up in the sequencing somewhere.”
“Wrong time?” I cough, disbelieving them.
“Well, maybe not in the wrong time exactly, just needed elsewhere, that’s all,” the other one leans in to explain.
“Yeah, more like an urgent need. . . . We need you in Alpha-3g. There is a strange void there. Unexplainable. A ripple,” the other man nods. “An obvious ripple.”
“A ripple?” I furrow my brow incredulously. “Yeah, obvious ones are the worst kind,” I nod sarcastically.
“That’s what the sensors indicate. An imbalance. . . . Something is off. . . And it appears there is a duplication here.”
“Oh, a duplication,” I close my book. “A duplication and a ripple.”
“That’s what the data has led us to conclude. . . It can be quite serious, with terrible ramifications.”
“Now we have ramifications. Can’t have the ramifications without the ripples. . . Is this a joke?” I ask, looking them both over, then I look down the aisle, thinking someone may have put them up to this.
“No joke. Our agency is chartered to safely monitor activity in all twelve habitable dimensions. That is to say, in the ones we are able to currently access with present technology.”
“Was World War II a joke?” the other asks sternly. “‘Cause those are the types of ramifications that can happen. It starts as a ripple. Ripples can create bulges. Need I say more?”
“And we’ve detected and isolated an abnormality. Well, I mean, there are always ripples. Small ones. But they can bubble up and lead to tears. And then the really serious consequences . . .”
“The ramifications,” I nod.
“Bad stuff entering the time streams. The corruptions. The anomalies. Wars. Natural disasters. Epidemics. What ifs. It’s all we can do to balance things out. To offset the delicate imbalances. To avoid the unpleasantness.”
“Listen, we could just drug you and drag you off, but we’re experimenting with alternate procedures.”
“The whole hypnotizing and all that seems to take a lot of time and effort.”
“Although it has been mostly effective in the past, there are some lingering side effects with that approach.”
Both agents are serious, pale faced and expressionless, almost robotic.
Then two arms grab me from behind and pull me off my chair. The men in front of me are already around each side of the table. They bend to lift my legs. Four men in suits maneuver me through the opening, and down through the darkness, into the bowels of the library.
“Are you sure you’d rather not be drugged or hypnotized?” one of them asks as they rush me though the darkness.
“Ah, no. No, this is fine, I guess,” I say, not really knowing how to respond to the question.
“Good. Good. ‘Cause that’s all getting to be a lot of hassle.”
“Plus the side effects. Oh, all the side effects.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“Oh, you know. The usual. The residual memories. The lingering uncertainty.”
“Yeah, the haunting uncertainty. . . Sometimes it takes years of therapy to dissipate. Anyway, it can be quite a tangle. And we’re working to avoid all that now.”
“We’re trying to be a more sensitive agency. No reason to put people through years of trouble and doubt.”
“Well, sometimes I do have that, that ‘haunting uncertainty’ you mentioned,” I sigh as they jostle me along, each agent supporting a limb. “Like a void. Like I’m not really where I’m supposed to be. Like a mistake has been made somewhere. That I’m not really where I actually belong. But I just figured it was sort of normal – to feel that way from time to time, as if something was pulling at you, some urge, like from a past life or something.”
“To a degree, that feeling can be normal. Within average standard deviations that is. It’s just the real bad cases that worry us. Situations like yours.”
“Yeah, we figured as much. That’s what the profile indicates. That’s what the sensors, tests, and secret observations have revealed. That’s one of the symptoms, one of the reasons we concluded that you’re in the wrong place.”
“Yeah. It happens. With so much going on, so much to keep track of . . .”
They carry me through a dark corridor, open a door, and then carry me through a long dark tube.
“Really, guys, I can walk. Honest. It’s no trouble. No trouble at all. Really,” I report.
“That’s not the procedure.”
I hear some people in the background. I glance over. There are some people in suits talking in a room we pass. I can overhear some of what they’re saying. One says to the other, “We have some unusual activity in sector G.” But before I hear more, they continue whisking me away.
Finally we enter another hallway. There is a sleek golf cart type machine. They place me in back. An agent sits on either side of me and we zoom off, down a long dimly lit hall. We accelerate faster and faster. “Hey, this is kind of cool,” I report. Eventually we enter a large white room. They zoom me to the middle of it and toss me out of the cart, then zoom away. I roll on the hard floor and look around. The room is huge, like an airplane hanger. There is a long, thin window on one wall. In the window are two shadowy technicians in white lab coats. They wear safety goggles and masks over their mouths. They look to be fiddling with some knobs on a council in front of them.
I start to feel funny – all wiggly and vibrating, all dizzy and tingly and funny. They have whisked me off, away from all I know. The air around me snaps with silvery static and sparks and things go all wavy and fuzzy.
The next thing I know I’m groggy, as if waking. I raise my head. I’m in a back room somewhere, slumped over a desk, tall shelves of shoeboxes surround me. I shake my head. Slowly I rise. I feel sleepy and all tingly. But, strangely enough, I also feel at peace, not as if a weight has been removed, but more as if a great void has been filled, as if a big mess has been cleared away, as if answers have been provided, ideas and notions clarified and fulfilled. Yeah, this is strange. I feel good, clear – a strange feeling of belonging, of comfort, of contentment and ease washes over me. I stand and look around at the tall shelves of shoes surrounding me in the cramped back room of some shoe store somewhere. I reach out to touch it all, to make sure it’s all real. I look around. I feel comfortable, relieved, at home. I no longer have on my bank suit. Now I’m wearing a short sleeve shirt with a pocket protector and pens sticking from the pocket. I have on a name tag. It is pinned to my shirt pocket. I lift to read it. It says, “Roy.”