My body felt like a thousand knives had cut me. My mind played images of laboratories, and approaching needles, test tubes, and eager whispers. I lay in a pool of light. The fixture above me swam into focus. I was on a platform, a small cushion beneath my head. I tried to get up, but pain and weakness overwhelmed me.

     A man entered the light and hovered over me. "Take it easy," he said, gently pressing my shoulder down. "You've been through a lot, but you're safe now."

     The man had kind eyes, not at all like those of the others. "Where am I?" I gasped.

     "We got you out. You're in a safe house now."

     "Safe?" I squirmed, and the man helped me to sit up. He took a cup of water from a nearby table, and held it to my lips. My muscles were trembling. I had no control as they spasmed. I drank deeply, my body craving the cool liquid. In a moment I was sated, and my mind began to clear. "Where am I?" I asked again.

     "Your name is Crystal. Correct?"

     I nodded. I could see other people in the room, blurry shadows, murmuring to each other. "My name is Paul," the man said. "You're safe, now. What do you remember?"

     "I remember...," my mind cleared completely. My instincts spoke to me, silently. They had never failed me. I relaxed, and saw that the others around the room pressed closer. "I remember the cab," I said as I searched Paul's eyes. "I got hit. After that, there were doctors...and scientists? People poking at me. Talking about me. And I just lay there, strapped down. I couldn't move."

     Paul nodded. "That would figure. What else?"

     I tried to probe the cotton that was my mind. "Needles," I said, shuddering. "A lot of needles. And test tubes. Whirring machinery. And," I grimaced as I remembered, "Pain," I whispered, in horror.

     "A lot of pain," said Paul.

     I nodded. "Not from the cab. It hit me. An accident. I fell over the hood. I hit my head. Something broke." I searched Paul's face. "When?"

     Paul smiled. "A long time ago," he said, gently. He turned to the others. "Lisa? Mary? Will you help Crystal, please? Are you cold?" he asked me.

     "A little," I said. I only wore a cotton shift. The room wasn't chilly, but it felt huge. I felt weak and nauseous.

     Two women entered the pool of light. One carried a pile of clothing, the other a tray with a bowl of soup and some crackers. Suddenly I was ravenous. I couldn't take my eyes off of the soup. "Easy, dear," said the woman with the food. "Let me help." She put the tray down on the table and spooned some soup into my mouth. I sipped the hop meaty broth. I felt every spoonful that I ate as it coursed down my throat and entered into my starving cells. I ate greedily, munching on the crackers, feeling my strength return. Another bowl was placed on the tray, and I ate that, too, until I felt refreshed and full.

     "Who are you?" I asked the woman with the clothes.

     "My name's Lisa," she replied. "This here's Mary. You want to get dressed? We can help you."

     I rose from the platform and tried to walk. I wobbled, and Mary and Lisa held me steady. "Am I safe?" I asked Mary, looking deeply into her eyes for reassurance.

     "Yes, you are," she answered kindly.

     "I know this is disorienting," said Lisa, "but you are safer now than you have ever been. We're here for you."

     I let them help me wash and go to the bathroom. I was curious, but my instinct told me these women were allies. I glanced in a mirror. For all the aches and bruises I had suffered, I still looked young and healthy. With the food and the water, my body felt stronger.

     As the women watched, I dressed and regained my feet. I fit into sweats and sneakers, enjoying the comfort of them, their softness, their warmth. It had been a long time since I had worn clothes. "You ready?" asked Lisa.

     "For what?" I asked.

     "A meeting with the others. We want to tell you about your new world," Mary answered. The two women led me towards a room with a circle of chairs. Other people, men and women about my same age, sat around, talking. As I entered, the conversations broke off and each person smiled up at me.

     I sat down between Lisa and Mary. "Welcome," Paul started the meeting. He introduced the other people in the room, each one welcoming me. As the last voice died down, Paul said, "Crystal, we have much to explain to you. Should you need anything, Mary and Lisa can help you. Are you ready?"

     "I'm fine," I said. Paul rose from his seat and turned on a projector. Within the center of the circle was a translucent picture of the earth, rotating on its axis. Some countries had red dots clustered, some in the larger cities, most in more remote areas. I noticed a countdown on the lower part of the Atlantic Ocean, reading over two hundred million, and reducing steadily.

     "For starters, you are now in the state of Vermont. Our facility is here." He pointed to the upper portion of the state, where a cluster of about a dozen red lights glowed. "You were taken from New York City. Is that correct?"

     "Taken?" I asked.

     "You were hit by a cab in New York, were you not?"

     "Yes, but I don't understand. What is this number, the two hundred million countdown?"

     "That number is the countdown of the other humans on the planet, the humans not like us."

     That was startling. "Explain," I asked.

     "We, here, are an evolution. Our bodies have accelerated mitochondria production, accelerated stem cell production. It is the natural genome for our type, our bodies. That number counting down represents those humans who do not have our characteristics. They are our progeny, our children and grandchildren. Well, not ours, per se, but of our generation. They live, in their own way, one day at a time. They get ill and die from various ailments and accidents. In short, they are in fact, what you always thought you were: a regular human being.

     "Perhaps, for a time," he continued, "they themselves thought they were an evolution of the human species. Their intellects advanced, but their bodies actually aged at a much higher rate. They may live on the planet for a few years, for example, and may have the intellect to acquire multiple college degrees. But, their bodies age more rapidly. Their evolution is flawed. And it is why we are truly the evolution of the human genome."

     Paul sat down. "This is difficult to explain. Let me see. Ah! Time, all of time, is carried differently inside each of us. Inside your body, and in each of the people you see here, we each have mitochondria in each of your body's cells. They rapidly reproduce. Your stem cells do the same, particularly during trauma. Crystal, after your run in with the cab, you were taken to a facility that wanted to experiment on you. Your cells were harvested, and your body was subjected to numerous tests and traumas. You have been poked and prodded, shot full of various concoctions, and studied from hell and back again. Again and again. Those that did this to you, as well as to all of us, were seeking a solution to their own physiology. They wished to slow down their own aging process, to find cures to their diseases. And, they wanted the time that you carry within your body to slow their own lives down."

     Another man spoke. "In other words, they seek in you, and in all of us, a veritable fountain of youth. They want their time on earth to change its nature, to give them more time, and more, besides. But it is not to be."

     "Exactly," said Paul with a nod.

     I was confused. "Are you saying that times moves differently in my body than in other peoples?"

     There were nods all around. "Precisely. Crystal, think about this: when you used to work, did you often spend an entire eight hour day, and did it seem as if it flashed by? Were you stimulated by the time? Were you tired after working your hour shift?"

     "I do remember. It had struck me that my fellow co-workers were always so tired at the end of the day. But I often forgot what time it was. I never bothered looking at the clock. Time just zipped by. Sometimes I stayed very late, and yet it felt as if I just gotten there." I smiled ruefully. "My coworkers were not happy."

     "Your coworkers at the time were about your age, yet they were often quite exhausted at the end of the day, were they not?"

     "Yes," I replied. "Yet I was exhilarated." I remembered their complaints. "They never understood where I got my energy from."

     Paul nodded. "It is their progeny, your coworkers and the like, who are now the leaders of earth's society. They want more time. They want to live past their cut off time, which seems to be about puberty. To them, they have evolved into a greater human being, yet they are highly mistaken. Their so-called evolution was a two-edged sword. Their intellect increased, but they have a shorter life span.

     "For example," he continued, "The head of the lab who performed the experiments on you had several medical and science degrees. Yet his age on his death was fourteen. He was still but a child. The onset of puberty is a death blow to them. Eventually, as they age, they will simply die off, without producing another generation."

     "And me?"

     "You have no children," he explained. "That is why you were selected for experimentation. They may have tried to induce pregnancy within you, but the signs are that they have failed. You have not, as yet, passed on your genome to another generation. That is for later, when their species, if you will, dies off. That is why we have a countdown. Your age, in physiological years, is different than your time on earth. Time passes slowly within our bodies. Tell me, Crystal, how old do you think you are?"

     I shrugged. "Thirty. I just had a birthday."

     Paul smiled. "Yes. That is your time on earth. Physiologically, you have the body of a young woman. Actually, however, your thirtieth birthday was seventy two years ago."

     I started. "I'm...a hundred and two?"

     "Yes," he said. Paul continued, "We call them rotations, to indicate the time you have been on this planet, as opposed to how old your body is in actuality. As I said, you have been on this planet for one hundred and two rotations around the sun. How do you feel?"

     "Uncomfortable," I said aloud. I had to think about this. "Wait a minute," I asked, "Am I an alien?"

     "Unknown," said Paul. "Crystal, when that two hundred million reaches zero, we plan to break into the Pentagon and various other secret laboratories to discover who, and what, we are."

     "But I had a mother and a father," I protested.

     Paul nodded. "Let me guess. They died at a young age, didn't they?"

     I nodded. I did not like where my thoughts were going. I asked, "Am I an experiment?"

     "Not one of our, let me reassure you. You are, as are all of us, an evolution of the human genome. Nothing more, at least as much as we can determine. Every red dot on the globe before you represents one of us. We are, as you can see, few and far between. Yet our organelles are all similar. We each have the same genetic markers, the same physiological longevity as each of those dots. There are about twelve thousand of us all, located throughout the planet."

     "But you don't know if we're part alien or not," I insisted.

     "We do not," he admitted. "However, the others are hunting us, wanting to lock us away in their laboratories, to experiment on us and drain us of our organelles. You were rescued from their laboratories, because you are one of us, a being far superior to those who experimented on you."

     Paul paused and studied me. "I see that this has hit you pretty hard."

     "I'm not special," I insisted. "Why pick on me?"

     Lisa chuckled beside me. "Honey, we've all asked that very same question. It is what it is. This is who we are, what we are."

     Paul said, "Crystal, I think you have some things to think about. You are looking tired."

     I was feeling tired, and a bit overwhelmed. "I could use some sleep," I admitted.

     Paul nodded. "That's okay," he said. "We've all gone through this, this disorientation. It is a lot to handle. Mary, will you show her to her quarters?"

     "Of course," she replied.

     "And Crystal, I would encourage you to use our library. You'll see books, movies, newspapers--all sorts of media. We have found that if you immerse yourself in some of the things you've missed, you can 'catch up,' so to speak, with your own life. In the meantime, rest, read, explore, ask questions. Whatever you need. Any and all of us will answer your questions and help you through this transition. We have all had to absorb the idea that time virtually stops for our bodies. Perhaps you will experience it first-hand." He smiled ruefully. "You have all the time you need," he said.

March 29, 2024 15:37

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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