Saturday, November 26, 2016

Retrofuturians

They called it the Calendar House without troubling to think past the obvious: how the structure of the south side of their home had been designed to chart the changing seasons. If she'd known that the house had been built by a Kac'hin agent, rather than a human brickmason, Gohrlay might have given thought to when she would depart and abandon the Editor to his task of writing the hidden history of humanity. - Report on the fate of Alpha Gohrlay
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The Editor was trying to get some work done, and Yōd was chatting away at her most irksome level of warp speed prattle. Worst of all, Zeta was nowhere to be found. As was his habit, the Editor usually arose early and he prized a few early morning hours of silence and solitude, only occasionally disturbed by a lonely cat in search of ear scratching. His prized period of early morning productivity had disintegrated after the arrival of Yōd, who seemed unable to adjust to a normal human pattern of sleep.

The editor glanced at the time: 3:18 AM. He put his computer to sleep and wished he could do the same for Yōd. He turned and saw that she was pacing across the room, her silk robe swirling each time she turned. The magical form of Yōd's lithe body was a source of distraction perhaps of greater magnitude than her endless chatter. It was hopeless to wish that Yōd would learn to cover her body like a normal Earthling. She'd lived her life on the planet Tar'tron in the Galactic Core and her standards of modesty were not anywhere near Earth-standard.

Yōd ended her restless pacing, placed hands on hips, glared at the Editor and complained, "Stop undressing me with your eyes. Why don't you listen to what I'm saying?"

The Editor rose from his chair, picked up his mug and headed for the kitchen. He muttered, "I don't have to undress you when you don't bother to dress."

Yōd followed along to the kitchen, still complaining. "Well, true, but you don't have to stare at my breasts."

The Editor opened the refrigerator and looked for leftovers. "Yōd, you have perfect breasts, no doubt sculpted by your carefully programmed developmental nanites. If you don't want people to look at your body then you need to learn to dress and cover yourself up. This is prudish old Earth, not Tar'tron."

"Bah, even if I dressed like a Puritan that would not stop you from looking at my breasts." She pulled her robe closed and tied together the ends of the soft cloth belt, forming a little knot in the center of her narrow waist. "I don't mind people looking at my body, just not my uncle. My married uncle."

The microwave oven began warming some leftover chicken and the Editor pretended that the noise of the fan was too loud to allow speech. To avoid all possibility of even a brief glance at her breasts, the Editor watched the rotating plate inside the oven. Yōd pulled a lemon out of the refrigerator, sliced it into quarters and started eating it, peal and all.

Ding! The chicken was warm and the Editor took it to the dining room. Yōd sat down across the table from him and asked, "Is that your breakfast?"

Several snarky replies raced through the mind of the Editor: 'I'm not your uncle.' 'No, I just eat meat when I want to disgust you.' and 'Is that lemon your breakfast?'. He paused before speaking and gently said, "Sorry I was busy on the computer. What were you telling me?"

Yōd's lips were ruby red, irritated by the acid of the citrus. Yōd loved lemons, but the body she now inhabited (which was the hijacked body of the Editor's niece) did not respond well to acidic foods. Yōd licked her lips and the Editor thought she had never looked more lovely. "I'm worried about Zeta." Yōd loudly smacked her lips as they stung from the acid of the citrus. "She simply disappeared."

The Editor was also worried. He'd already called Zeta's cell phone and discovered it, ringing and abandoned by Zeta's bed.

Yōd asked, "Is it her habit to go out at night, alone, and leave behind her phone?"

The editor shrugged and replied, "Look, I don't know where she is. And don't quiz me about her habits. She moved in here only shortly before you did. I don't know Zeta any better than I know you."

"I've been thinking..." Yōd got up from the table and started pacing. One thing the Editor had learned was that Yōd could not think if she was sitting still. Yōd asked, "Do you remember how we first met?"

"Ya, you walked in that door," He pointed towards the front door, "And then a few minutes later you started vomiting."

Yōd grinned. "That's not nice. I was new to this body and you and Zeta started filling me up with food and drink. Of course I barfed." She patted her tummy. "Anyhow, that's not how we first met."

The editor frowned and asked, "It's not?"

"Don't you remember when you and Zeta visited Many Sails?"

"Oh, ya. I don't remember well. I was sleeping at the time."

"That's no excuse; you should remember. Its not like you get to teleport everyday."

A chill ran through the Editor. Usually he allowed himself to forget that teleportation technology existed. Anyone could be instantly plucked from the surface of Earth and taken into the Hierion Domain or sent off to a distant world in the far reaches of the galaxy. As far as the Editor was concerned, that was a fact worth forgetting because nobody on Earth had the power to teleport; that was a trick reserved for alien visitors to Earth. And current rumor suggested that under the terms of the Trysta-Grean Pact, a strict embargo was in effect, preventing aliens from visiting Earth. "Do you think Zeta was teleported away?"

Yōd asked, "Did you hear her leave the house?"

"No, but when I sleep, I'm dead to the world."

"Well, I wasn't asleep, and I heard nothing."

"You think Many Sails took her away?"

Yōd shrugged. "I don't know. But I do know we were on course back to Earth. Unless she changed course again, Many Sails should arrive in System sometime this year."

The Editor got up from the dining room table and fetched one of his notebooks. His "trip" to Many Sails had taken place the previous year and now it seemed like a blurry dream. He read the notes that he had jotted down upon waking that day. "Now I remember... Asimov almost told us the story of how humans experienced First Contact with aliens in the Asimov Reality."

Yōd stood close beside the editor and tried to read the notebook. She asked, "You can read those chicken scratchings?"

"I can only write neatly if I write slowly." The Editor strained his eyes, trying to make out an illegible word. "When I wrote these notes I was desperately trying to jot down fragments of a dream before they slipped away from my consciousness." He tried to remember being aboard Many Sails. He knew that he had seen Yōd there with Asimov, but he only has a clear memory of Asimov. Yōd had been wearing one of the risque fashion items that was characteristic of the Kac'hin culture of Tar'tron and only a provocative image of her shapely body remained in the Editor's mind. While briefly inside Many Sails, he'd been astounded to suddenly be in the presence of Asimov, more than 20 years after his death. "Now that I think about it, you were there with Asimov and you must know the First Contact story that Asimov tried to share with me."

Yōd shook her head and her long dark hair fluttered. "No, I was teleported to Earth right then along with you, just before Asimov completed his sentence."

"But you were with Asimov for the entire trip back from Andromeda, right? He must have spoken to you about the Asimov Reality on other occasions."

"No, I did not, and that he suddenly started talking about Deep Time was very strange. I'd been told by Many Sails that you had driven Alpha Gohrlay away and I was needed on Earth,'for damage control'. Until then, I'd been anticipating my return to Tar'tron and I was not happy to learn that I had to go to Earth. I was told the exact time that I would teleport to Earth, and I was squirming nervously as my last few minutes with Isaac were quickly slipping away. I grew quite anxious; my last moments with Asimov were being stolen..." Yōd was breathing rather rapidly and her stiff nipples pushed outward against the fine fabric of her robe. "I wanted to say goodbye to Asimov, but he was talking and...." She fell silent, seemingly lost in thought, her eyes sparkling with emotion.

After half a minute of silence, the Editor reached out and gently touched her shoulder, "Are you alright?"

Yōd nodded, but she seemed on the brink of spilling tears. "I really miss Isaac."

The Editor gently patted her shoulder. "What were you telling me about Asimov... his last words?"

Yōd refocused her eyes and smiled at the Editor. She resumed the story: "Suddenly Asimov told me that you and Zeta were in the bedroom and that I should go and wake you both. I rushed in and found the two of you... well, there were two bodies that seemed to contain your minds."

The Editor frowned and asked, "Wait, now. You mean it wasn't until the very last minute that Asimov told you..."

"Exactly. And how could he know? Well, Many Sails might have told him. Maybe even by telepathic contact." Yōd again fell silent. She paced once around the dining room. Finally she asked, "But why make it such a last second thing? That was just rude!"

"Zeta's theory was that our quick trip to Many Sails was all just a trick to get me thinking about the Asimov Reality."

Yōd sighed. "Well, it made no sense. In all the time I was with Asimov, he gave no indication that he knew anything about past Realities."

The Editor rubbed his chin and narrowed his eyes. "And then, suddenly he was very eager to tell me something important about the Asimov Reality. Weird."

Yōd suggested, "It only makes sense if Many Sails had made herself an Asimov appendage."

The Editor asked, "Appendage?"

Yōd held out her hand and wiggled her fingers. "When we were visiting the Andromeda galaxy, Many Sails would make use of what she called 'appendages'." Yōd explained, "She can take on any convenient form as needed for interacting with others."

Sudden realization came to the Editor. "I see. So, I might have been tricked into thinking that I had met Asimov."

"Exactly. In fact, there-"

At that moment, Zeta and Asimov appeared in the room. With the aplomb of a stage magician at the end of a complex conjuring trick, Zeta said, "I'm back."

Yōd cried, "Isaac!" They rushed towards each other, then Asimov paused and looked carefully at Yōd. She reached out and placed her hands on his arms. "This is me; I'm just in a new body now."

Asimov quickly glanced around the room and his knees seemed to sag. Yōd threw her strong arms around Isaac and steadied him on his feet. Asimov smiled at Yōd and they embraced and then they shared a rather passionate kiss.

The Editor was surprised to see Zeta dressed in dark leather: a jacket, pants and high boots. She took a stylish beret off of her head and then hung it on the hat rack by the door. The Editor asked Zeta, "So, did Many Sails finally reach Earth?"

Zeta slumped down on the couch. "I don't know." For a few moments she seemed to listen to a distant voice. "According to the Retrofuturians, she wouldn't dare approach Earth. The Overseers are enforcing a strict ban against alien visitors." She yawned and rubbed her eyes.

The Editor lamely repeated, "Retrofuturians?"

Zeta nodded and again yawned. "It's been a long night. I'll explain, but I really need some caffeine."

The Editor stepped into the kitchen and turned on the coffee machine. Returning, he said, "It will be daylight soon. I need to be at work by-" He glanced around the living room and the dining room, but Zeta was the only person present. Fearing that Asimov had been teleported away, he asked quietly, "Where is Asimov?"

Zeta jerked her thumb towards the back of the house, "The two love birds have been apart for almost a year." She pointed to smudges on the floor, "And Asimov is tracking mud through my house."

The Editor asked with surprise and wonder, "You mean they..."

Zeta admonished, "Don't be jealous."

"I'm not jealous."

Zeta gave a knowing nod, "I've seen the way you look at Yōd when she's bouncing around the house naked."

The Editor shrugged, "She's very sexy, but I'm not jealous." He sat next to Zeta. "Maybe I am a bit envious. What did you say..... Retrofuturians?"

Zeta seemed to gather her thoughts, then she tried to explain her quick trip to New York. "As soon as I dropped off into sleep I found myself summoned into the Hierion Domain. I was inside my replicoid and I spent a few minutes adjusting my mind to that body. It was a strange sensation, and I could feel that my replicoid's memories were all still there, just one level down in my consciousness. Having been given a wonderful opportunity, I was just starting to explore the memories of my replicoid when another replicoid arrived. The mind of my replicoid spoke to me and introduced the newcomer as Mahasvin."

The Editor repeated the name, "Mahasvin. I've heard that name before. Meena Mahasvin? She was a member of the Dead Widowers."

Zeta shrugged. "I heard only the name 'Mahasvin'. She said that I would have to help her by bringing Asimov here, so that you and he could meet."

The Editor was greatly relieved to have Zeta back and thrilled by the prospect of having Asimov as a house guest. He told Zeta a rather long, jumbled and confused account of a Mahasvin clone who had long ago lived as an Interventionist agent on Earth. Part way through his description of Mahasvin's Interventionist mission, the Editor went to the kitchen and returned with the freshly made coffee.

Finally concluding the rambling tale, he said apologetically to Zeta, "Like all of the stories I got from Angela, her account of Mahasvin's adventure on Earth hardly seems believable."

Zeta yawned, poured herself another cup of coffee and then she asked, "Who told you that story?"

"Ivory. Before her untimely death, she gave dozens of such stories to me, mostly tales about alien visitors and their missions on Earth. Those stories were relayed to me by Ivory from her sister, Angela."

Zeta complained, "But you don't really know the true, original source of such tales. Angela might have simply made then up from scratch."

"I don't think so. Angela had access to reliable sources of information about Earth's history."

Zeta took hold of the pot and poured some more coffee to bring her mug back up to full. She took a sip and shook her head in wonder. "Mahasvin took pains to make certain that I had no chance to bungle my task. First, she explained how she was going to arrange for you to obtain some interesting information about the Asimov Reality. My assigned role in her mission was simple: she explained that I would be teleported to Brooklyn where Asimov would be waiting. Then he and I would be teleported here. I asked, 'Fine, but why do you need my help?' Mahasvin explained: 'I'm going to be busy distracting the Overseers and you are an obvious choice for making the needed connection between Asimov and the Editor. Yōd would get too emotional if I asked her to perform this little chore.' I asked, 'Why are you trying to sneak a replicoid onto Earth?' but she never replied; I was suddenly teleported again."

"I thought I had arrived in Brooklyn. Everything happened the way Mahasvin had warned me to expect. There was an Overseer there who objected to the idea that Asimov was back on Earth. Suddenly Mahasvin was teleported away by the Overseer. Right after the Overseer and Mahasvin vanished, Asimov and I were also teleported out of Brooklyn. However, rather than appear here, I found myself back in the Hierion Domain."

Mahasvin's replicoid was there; she explained that what I had just experienced was only a simulation of Brooklyn, all taking place within the Hierion Domain; a practice walk-through before I would carry out my actual assignment. I muttered a few complaints about her not trusting me. Mahasvin made a sarcastic comment about my petty insecurities then she asked if I was ready to try the real mission. I asked if it would be my biological self or my replicoid that got teleported to Brooklyn. Mahasvin never answered that question either, she just smiled enigmatically then I was teleported to New York."

"I found my mind back inside my biobody and I was inside a bedroom of an apartment somewhere in Brooklyn. I was in constant communication with my replicoid who instructed me to get dressed. There were clothes there waiting for me that fit my body and were perfectly suited for the cool early morning of a spring day. I dutifully got dressed and my replicoid, back in the Hierion Domain, kept telling me what to do. I was told to leave the hotel and I made my way to a constructions site along the street. Everything happening exactly as it had during the practice run-through of the mission. I entered into the construction site through a door, but I was challenged by a guard. Mahasvin had planned everything, and I found in my pocket an admission ticket to the Brooklyn Heights Library time capsule ceremony that was going on. I watched the capsule contents being displayed to the crowd, including a copy of one of Asimov's first published books."

The Editor sat down at his computer. A quick internet search revealed that there had been an event scheduled for 8:00 AM at the Brooklyn Heights Library. He muttered, "New York is three hours ahead..."

Zeta sipped her coffee and then continued, "People in the crowd started asking 'Where's Asimov?' and some of them chanted, 'We want Asimov.' I was still in contact with my replicoid, who directed me to detach myself from the crowd. I wandered through the constructions site towards a trailer. Inside I found Asimov, Mahasvin and the Overseer, just as they had appeared in the simulation. Mahasvin took the Overseer away and then Asimov and I were teleported here." With that, Zeta had completed the account of her night, and she took a gulp of coffee, draining her mug which she then refilled. The pot was now empty.

The Editor shook his head, rather amazed by Zeta's tale. He took the empty coffee pot into the kitchen. Upon returning, he asked, "You say that Mahasvin teleported the Overseer out of Brooklyn?"

She shrugged. "All I know is that they both vanished. Poof. They were gone."

The Editor scratched his head. Frowning, he told Zeta, "I can't believe that the Overseers would allow a replicoid to visit Earth."

Zeta smiled and noted, "Well, he's Asimov."

The Editor gestured towards Yōd's bedroom, "But it's a replicoid!" His voice was overly loud. "Asimov died 25 years ago."

"Sh! Calm down." Zeta observed. "Don't take it so hard, just because a replicoid is under your roof and making love to your niece."

"I'm not upset. I just can't believe that the Overseers would allow a replicoid to come to Earth. I was not even sure that such a thing is possible."

Zeta smiled with glee. "Only because you allowed yourself to believe that crazy idea that replicoids are microscopic artificial life forms."

The Editor asked, "How do you know that this copy of Asimov is a replicoid? Maybe this is a clone?"

Just then, Asimov and Yōd came back down the hallway, arm in arm, their bare feet slapping on the tile floor. Asimov was wearing the Editor's bath robe and Yōd was almost wearing a silk robe that belonged to Zeta. They sat in the love seat, snuggling close. Asimov was a bit flushed and Yōd was glowing.

The Editor asked, "Mr. Asimov, do you remember me?"

Asimov replied without even shifting his gaze away from Yōd. "Have we met?"

"Long ago. It was almost 40 years ago, at a science fiction convention."

Asimov finally took a moment to glance at the Editor. "Sorry, but this artificial body that I was given upon my death has all of the same limitations as a biological body, including forgetfulness. I don't remember you." Asimov then recalled that he was supposed to meet an editor. "You are an editor of some sort? Did I know you professionally?"

Zeta explained, "He's what we call the Editor, but he's not an editor in the usual sense. You see, we are trying to write a comprehensive history of Humanity."

Asimov chuckled. "Indeed? That seems like a large task."

Yōd picked up her tablet computer and handed it to Asimov. "Look at this."

After reading for a few minutes, and playing for a while with the computer, Asimov looked at the Editor and said, "Yes, I knew Thomas well. So, that young man with Thomas and, um..."

The Editor said, "My friend's name was Peter."

"Yes! Peter! I do remember. As I recall, Peter and you were accompanied by two charming young ladies. We all drove out to Peter's house, outside of town. That was quite a party! Had I known then that Thomas would haunt me for years and dog my heels, I would have made an early departure."

Zeta said, "And now Thomas is the leader of the Retrofuturians."

Asimov laughed loudly then he sputtered, "Retrofuturians? Is that a joke?"

Zeta shook her head. "No, they are quite serious. I suspect that you will soon get to know them. Surely you will not be allowed to remain on Earth."

Yōd asked, "Why not? Unlike you and I, Isaac was born on this world."

Zeta shook her head. "No." She pointed at the replicoid, "This is not the biological version of Asimov who was born on Earth. He's an artificial life form, a copy of Asimov. I've never heard of a replicoid being allowed to reside on Earth. Their place is in the Hierion Domain."

Yōd suggested, "But an exception makes sense in this case. Asimov can help the Editor."

Zeta was skeptical. "Help with what? Isaac knows nothing about Deep Time."

The editor moved behind Asimov and quickly navigated the tablet computer to another webpage.

Asimov began to read the text of the displayed webpage. He looked up in consternation and asked, "Dead Widowers? Is that another joke?"

"Scroll down to the page to The Wailing Mirage." The Editor waited a minute while Asimov read all the way to the end, then he asked, "Is that how First Contact took place?"

Asimov was puzzled, "What does this mean: 'Asimov Reality'?"

The Editor replied, "You might know it by another name. It was the Reality in which you went to Alastor Cluster and discovered how femtobot endosymbionts of the Phari could be used to liberate humans from their zeptite endosymbionts."

Asimov set down the tablet. "I'm afraid you are starting to sound as crazy as Thomas. Like him, you seem unable to tell the difference between fiction and reality."

Yōd spoke to the Editor in a firm quiet voice. "I'm afraid that Many Sails tricked you into imagining that Asimov could be useful and provide insight into the course of events in Deep Time."

Asimov picked up the tablet computer once more. "Many Sails took on the form of a woman named 'Mahasvin' when she brought me to Earth. However, Many Sails is a sentient spacecraft... anartificial life form of advanced design. Exactly who are these Dead Widowers and Retrofuturians? What are they trying to accomplish?"

Zeta tried to explain, "There is a struggle going on, a struggle for the future of Earth and Humanity. It was Jack Vance who formed the Dead Widower Society. Thomas became a member and they tried to tell the world the truth about human history. The Overseers dismantled the Dead Widowers, but Thomas would not give up his revolutionary impulses and so he formed the Retrofuturians, but they only exist within the Hierion Domain. Still, they work towards the same goal, informing the people of Earth about the Hidden History of Humanity."

Asimov shook his head in dismay. "Ug. Thomas hounded me for years with these fantasies... unseen alien visitors to Earth. Bah!" He turned to Yōd and asked, "Don't tell me that you also believe this nonsense about time travel and past Realities? I've been assured by Many Sails that time travel is impossible."

Yōd pulled Asimov's hand to her lips and kissed the back of his hand. "Listen to me, Isaac. What Many Sails told you is only part of the truth. Yes, time travel is no longer possible, but at one time..." She fell silent, aware that a look of dismay was on Asimov's face.

Asimov looked around, briefly staring into each of their faces. "I see that you all share this delusion." He stood up and walked out of the room, back down the hallway.

Yōd giggled, "Isaac thinks we're all crazy."

Zeta shrugged and asked her sister, "Are you currently in contact with your replicoid?"

Yōd shook her head. "No. I asked for some privacy."

Zeta explained, "Many Sails kindly bought you some alone time with Isaac, but we all know the truth. A replicoid cannot be allowed on Earth. The Overseers must-"

Asimov returned, now again wearing in his own clothing and fastening the buttons of his shirt. He demanded, "And why is that? Who are these Overseers?"

Yōd stood up and went to Asimov and put her hands on his shoulders. "The people of Earth have never been allowed to know that alien creatures like Many Sails visit this world."

Asimov nodded. "So I was told years ago by Lili, the first alien who I ever met. I suppose I never really understood the implications, but now it has become personal." He placed his hands on Yōd's hips and he gently kissed her nose. "Why can't I stay here with you?"

Tears welled up in Yōd's eyes. "I'm a human, a creature of flesh and blood. The Overseers are too stupid to realize that I was not born on this world. But you... your kind... has never been allowed on Earth."

"Why this discrimination? Many Sails assured me that Earthly science is not capable of distinguishing my artificial body from that of a human being. Yes, I am an artificial life form, but what harm would be done if I stayed here with you?"

Zeta began to reply, but then she noticed a flicker in the dining room and suddenly Overseer Sachiz was there. The Overseer strode confidently across the room to stand close to Asimov. "Allow me to answer your question, Isaac." She noticed the tears on Yōd's face and commented, "A touching scene, but completely unacceptable."

Sachiz glanced at the Editor and muttered, "Nothing but trouble. You should have been removed from Earth long ago." Turning her attention back to Asimov, she said, "A young and wild species like we humans can be a great danger to itself. As a replicoid, your body is composed of hierions. With just a small amount of effort, Earthly scientists could notice that you are not a biological entity and discover your physical nature, the fact that your body is composed of hierions. But Earthlings are not yet ready to deal with the technological power that could be unleashed were they to gain knowledge of hierions."

Sachiz continued, "It falls upon we tryp'At Overseers to patrol Earth and make sure that meddlesome Interventionists do not contaminate Earth with dangerous knowledge. Come, Isaac, we must go."

Yōd asked, "Where are you taking him? Why must you do this? Isaac knows nothing about-"

Sachiz clasped a hand on Asimov's arm and rudely yanked him away from Yōd. In a blink of the eye, they were gone.

Yōd tittered. She wiped the tears from her eyes and then she laughed rather hysterically.

Zeta put an arm around her sister's shoulders and asked, "Are you alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine." Yōd, still smiling, looked at the expressions of concern that were on the faces of Zeta and the Editor. "You didn't notice the little trick that Many Sails pulled on the Overseer, did you?"

The Editor stupidly repeated, "Trick?"

"That wasn't Asimov who Sachiz carted off just now."

Zeta exclaimed, "What?"

"Well, it was some sort of copy of Asimov, but my Asimov went into the bedroom and was teleported by Many Sails into the Hierion Domain." Yōd's eyes unfocused and she gazed off into space for a moment. "He's now with my replicoid....safe."

Zeta glanced at the Editor and nodded, "Ah, now I see it, too. How clever!"

The Editor sank down on a chair, deflated. "I wish I'd been given more time to talk to Asimov."

"He truly knows nothing about Deep Time."

The Editor voiced his laments, "There are a thousand things he could tell me about his life, both his first life on Earth and his travels through outer space for the past 25 years and the aliens that he met during that time."

Zeta seemed to be watching far away events in the Hierion Domain. She whispered, "I don't think we've heard the last of Asimov."

Next chapter: the tryp'At Overseers
Table of Contents
 
A Search Beyond is copyright John Schmidt, but the text of the story is  licensed for sharing under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license. 

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