Day Three of Tim’s 12 Days of Writing Challenge
Flash. A sudden gasp as the world just seemed to explode around her. Spinning and twisting, the screech of metal and something else that she could not quite identify torturing her senses. No time to react.
A startling absence of sound.
A crushing stop.
Elda was awoken by the trinkling sound of water. Thinking someone had left one of the bathroom taps on again, she moved to get up. Then stopped abruptly with a cry as a wave of agony ran across her entire body before she could even open her eyes.
Wait. Her eyes were still closed, right? Why was it so dark?
Beginning to panic, Elda fluttered her eyes quickly but found to her dismay that there was no change that she could determine. She was in complete and utter darkness.
“Hello?”, she croaked before jumping at the sound of her own voice. That did not sound like her at all. It seemed so foreign, so old. With a pained swallow to clear any phlem, she licked her lips and tried to repeat herself with more force. But the sound was still the same. It didn’t sound like her at all.
What was going on?
Suddenly, there was a strange rustling sound from somewhere in the distance accompanied by an odd whooshing that appeared to be slowly approaching. She felt afraid.
“Hello”, came a flat though somewhat pleasant-sounding male voice from an area that must have been directly above her. “It seems you have finally woken up.”
Confused, Elda tried to make sense of this last statement. Was this some kind of trick that one of her roommates were making? Everybody knew she was always the first person to get up, the first person to clean up, the first person to leave…
Something clicked. That morning. She had left the house before dawn so she could arrive at the University early to prepare for today’s lectures….
She had just been offered an assistant professor role with the chance to work with the esteemed Dr. Adrian Enara, one of the greatest minds in astrophysics today. While having never been a slouch in any of her schooling she was still adamant that she would throw everything she had into the preparation of this job so as to get his attention as not only a student but as an academic peer. There was nothing she loved more than talking about science, space, and math. All her life had pretty much been devoted to it.
Elda drove towards the Rivercrest bridge, a retired lift-bridge which separated the main University campus from the Island residence that she had lived at for the last four years of her education. In the late autumn air, the fog became super thick as her headlights bounced off of it, which seemed to gain a vivid shimmer as the rising sun to the west activated each particular of water…
She had only moments to realize that not only was the sun not supposed to be rising in the west but it was only 5:00am. There should be no sunrise yet.
Then she saw it. A spiral ring of light high up in the air, getting closer and closer. Soon the proximity of the object threw the curtains of fog away and revealed a large oval object coming towards her car. As it closed within distance of only 20 feet or so she could make out that a single bright rectangle of light was visible towards her, and that the shadow of a figure could be seen directly in the light. It appeared to be gesturing towards something, getting more frantic by the second.
Then she saw why. In her haste to watch this object she had neglected to actually apply the brakes on her car and was still moving forward without watching where she was going. And in horror she saw that she was heading directly towards the old bridge control station, with no chance to stop.
In the ship above, the figure watched sadly as the small purple car slammed into the control booth, was thrown fifteen feet into the air and proceeded to fall over thirty feet into the river beneath. Feeling a little guilty, yet with only moments to go in his mission, he pinched the bridge of his nose, looked upwards for a brief instant, noted the time as 5:01am and then in a snap decision tapped a few buttons on the console to his left.
“No promises. But it’s a chance”, he whispered to himself.
Elda felt panic as her last memories returned. Again, she tried to move, but the pain just seemed to hit her from everywhere all at once. “What’s happening?”, she cried.
The rustling sound returned, even closer this time and the voice had a very soothing tone to it now. “It will be ok. You had a terrible accident and have been asleep for a very long time. What muscles I was able to repair have some atrophy, and the new ones I gave you haven’t begun to work yet.”
Her brain tried to process these last couple of sentences and break them down. She had always prided herself on her intellect and ability to process new data. To make the most of them, and….
…this was not one of those times.
A considered silence. Then a slight chuckle, “Let’s just say you are going to be fine. Better than fine, really. In fact, you kind of got everything you’ve ever asked for. Everything you wanted to be.”
The rustling sound shifted to a quick single whoosh and then she began to hear the sound of a keyboard being clicked on in what felt to be directly behind her. Extra sounds began to fill the room, both electrical and hydraulic in nature and suddenly she started to feel a change in her body. Curiously, she moved her left arm and noted that the pain was gone. Something was still amiss though, an odd sensation she couldn’t recognize. As she reached out with her right arm to touch the other she felt a strange material there that crossed the line between fur and a brush. “What am I wearing?”, she asked. “And why can’t I see anything?”
Another pause, then a light cough. Almost…embarrassed in nature?
“To answer the first question honestly? You’ve been in sedation for quite some time while you healed, and because of your autonomic functions it made no sense to spend quite so much time on the steps of dressing and undressing…”
She took a moment to process that statement as it did not sound like anything that any normal person would speak. And then it hit her.
“So, you’re saying I’m lying here naked?”, she gasped, “What kind of nutball hospital am I in?
The voice, seemingly trying to balance some kind of psychotherapist mojo with the cracking yodel of a small child caught with their hand in the cookie jar quickly continued, “I’m sorry. I know this must feel confusing to you. Terrifying even. I’ve spent enough time with your kind to see your social norms, but you have to understand…”
Your kind? What did that mean? She focused back as he continued, “This was not my plan. Not my mission. I was just to observe and then get out before…” He trailed off.
Elda didn’t know if there was some kind of cool drugs suddenly flowing through her system that allowed to not suddenly start screaming for an orderly to get this quack out of her room. Or perhaps it was the bizarre earnestness in his voice. She felt safe somehow, and her curiosity had begun to override her pride.
The voice sighed, “I don’t think that is something I can explain so easily without causing you more discomfort.”
“OK, bedside manner school dropout, that really didn’t help.” But then she shifted her tone to try to find some balance in this conversation, “C’mon, if you knew me, you’d see I’m someone who loves facts. And I understand a lot. There isn’t much you can say that would shock me.”
“Understood. As you insist. At exactly 5:01 and 24 seconds AM, you experienced an accident that would have ended your life. It took your car almost 12 seconds to hit the river below. Which, was the exact amount of time that the rest of humanity had as the most powerful eruption of solar energy witnessed in your history just happened to slam into the planet…” He trailed off again to let her absorb that fact.
Elda worked her mouth, gobbing like a fish in the need to identify the right response to this seemingly innocuous yet horrifying answer. She tried ridicule, then stopped herself. Denial? Didn’t feel right. Sadness sounded like a good place to start but she was still just absorbing this numbing shock…
Shock! That’s what she was looking for! “Everyone is gone?”
Oddly enough, this seemed like the right question, “Well, almost everyone. And possibly nobody.”
That made zero sense to her and her companion seemed to realize it so continued, “By almost everyone, I meant not you. And it should have been everybody based on the mission I had. It was going to be a simple observation of something that was intended to happen. The Earth in that timeline was doomed and there was nothing that could be done about it. But in the months and weeks during my observation, I suddenly discovered a being that the others before me had missed, because they were looking for the wrong thing. They were looking for a celebrity, a politician or somebody in the military that could bring around a reason for change.
I went in a different direction.
I looked to those able to work with data, to understand how mathematics can be an expression of beauty and the most pure aspect of creativity. And one day, I met her.”
Before Elda could respond, he continued, “Of course you aren’t stupid, so you know I mean you. It just so happened that I knew exactly where you would be just before the exact moment of the end, ask you to join me and nobody would be the wiser. Because if I had come to you earlier the sequence of events could have made things worse, not better.
But then I didn’t consider that I was approaching you directly from the same direction as the solar flare, which caused my ship to light up too early. And this caused your crash. If I could turn back the time to stop it I would have, but unfortunately that’s not the way this works. I only get one pass. So instead, I managed to provide a field that protected the area around your car and a small area of the river below.”
This was so much to take, but again something within her drove her away from the fight or flight instinct and into more of an analytical one, “So, we are on your ship?”
“No. We are in a small boat house. It just happened to be exactly in the area you crashed. Quite fortunate, really as you suffered a lot of damage and needed a place to heal. My craft could provide the tools but you couldn’t survive on it, yet.”
I mentioned early that I gave you some new muscles. These were not just to repair the damage. Some of these prepared, altered, and amplified your body for what I am hoping are your next steps.”
“To be better than me. To solve what I could not solve. To save what I could not save.”
So much to take in, but the heat was on and she had to see this through. Whether she was in the mouth of madness or a sudden candidate for savior she didn’t know but there was still one problem.
“How am I going to do this when I can’t even see?”
That chuckle again, “Oh. You’re thinking of those things in your ocular cavities? You don’t need them anymore. Just stop for a moment and think about it. Think of what you need to really see.”
That she did. And the world suddenly exploded into a cavalcade of textures and colours, many she couldn’t yet describe but felt her brain working to solve them. And then she saw her companion for the first time.
But not really the first time. The person she had grown to admire the most stood before her, wreathed in a gown of gossamer feathers.
Yes, that was what she had felt on her arm. Not fur, but feathers!
Adrian Enara’s face was still mostly the same as she knew, but it seemed stretched a bit and similarly covered in feathers. Like a large black bird without the beak. He noted that she was looking up and down at his features and then down at her own and shrugged, “In some times and places, humanity evolved from primates. Many others evolved from arthropods. It just happens that I am descended from good avian stock.”
“So, I’m a bird now too?”, a sudden concern about alka-seltzer and cloaca’s suddenly crossed her thoughts.
Adrian winced a bit, “It’s considered rude to consider my species a bird. That would be the equivalent of me calling you an ape. We call ourselves human as well. But to answer your question honestly? Yes and no. While you remain a primate genetically, you now have many of the avian features and abilities you will need to take this next journey.”
“To go back and save your planet, of course.”
“Elda abruptly sat down and eyed her former professor skeptically, “But I thought you said you couldn’t change it.”
Adrian nodded, “That’s right. I can’t. Too many chances of temporal paradox. I spread myself so thick throughout your society, trying to get anybody to listen to me about the solar event that I knew was coming, but nobody listened. The mathematics didn’t yet fit their preconceived notions. It interested them, but not in a practical way. Instead, I found myself forced into academia.” But then he grinned, “But it was not for nothing. I found you. And now you will take my mission. And you will succeed where I failed.”
“But how? I have too many questions. And too little understanding.”
Suddenly it seemed the room had begun to gently shake, and she realized that the sound of water that had persisted so long was gone. She perceived motes of dust beginning to rain down from above and Adrian smiled one last time, “You have the best of all of us. The genes I have provided you, and that amazing brain in your head will work together. You will find the way. I’m convinced of it. Besides, the ship will now accept you, and you can find the rest of your answers there.”
“But won’t you need it?”
With a sad smile, Adrian shook his head. “My time is done. Only problem in my trade, failure is seen as definitely not an option. We don’t get do-overs. But, there is one thing I can do. Give you yours.”
He reached over and entered a few commands into a console. And suddenly all the movements of light and shadows began to accelerate, and a keening wail began to rise from the floor. The walls were beginning to vanish. And so was he. With one final burst of energy, he grabbed her hand and shook it mightily, “I am so very proud to have met you, Elda. It is so very rare to meet a peer of your talent. You’ve got this.”
And he was gone. And suddenly Elda found herself in a room, surrounded by an amazing array of computers and scientific devices, some of which she knew and others that she had yet to explore.
She turned her head and looked at one specific terminal that seemed to be running through multiple translations of names. She noted the name Adrian Enara surrounded by words and characters in so many different languages and then noted one specific translation appear.
Blackbird. How fitting for her. Can’t be the old her now. So, let’s try something new.
Elda Blackbird sat down at a console and looked out into the large screen at the front of the ship. A glimmering field of stars and planets appeared with one very specific blue dot appearing around a sun that had not yet become a harbinger of sorrow.
Perfect. Three years to go. She leaned back and thought of one song her dad loves to play for her.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
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